Punch pictured the young Prince begging, cap in hand, for subscriptions:
Pity the sorrows of a poor,
Whose costly schemes have borne him to your door;
Who’s in a fix, the matter not to mince,
Oh! help him out, and Commerce swell your store!
Such constant worry and anxiety affected the Prince’s health, but the support of Sir Robert Peel and of many great firms gradually wore down the opposition.
The building was designed by Paxton, who had risen from being a gardener’s boy in the Duke of Devonshire’s service to the position of the greatest designer of landscape-gardening in the kingdom.
He took his main ideas for the Crystal Palace from the great conservatories at Kew and Chatsworth. It was like a huge greenhouse in shape, nearly one thousand feet long and ninety feet high, with fountains playing in the naves and a great elm-tree in full leaf under the roof.
On May 1, 1851, the opening day, everything went well. The crowds in the streets were immense, and there were some 34,000 visitors present in the building during the opening ceremony.
Lord Macaulay was much impressed with the Exhibition, for he wrote after the opening: “I was struck by the numbers of foreigners in the streets. All, however, were respectable and decent people. I saw none of the men of action with whom the Socialists were threatening us. . . . I should think there must have been near three hundred thousand people in Hyde Park at once. The sight among the green boughs was delightful. The boats, and little frigates, darting across the lake; the flags; the music; the guns;—everything was exhilarating, and the temper of the multitude the best possible. . . .
“I made my way into the building; a most gorgeous sight; vast; graceful; beyond the dreams of the Arabian romances. I cannot think that the Caesars ever exhibited a more splendid spectacle. I was quite dazzled, and I felt as I did on entering St Peter’s. I wandered about, and elbowed my way through the crowd which filled the nave, admiring the general effect, but not attending much to details.”
And again on the last day he wrote: “Alas! alas! it was a glorious sight; and it is associated in my mind with all whom I love most. I am glad that the building is to be removed. I have no wish to see the corpse when the life has departed.”
The Royal Party were received with acclamation all along the route. “It was a complete and beautiful triumph,—a glorious and touching sight, one which I shall ever be proud of for my beloved Albert and my country,” wrote the Queen. Six million people visited the Great Fair during the time it remained open.
In one respect, however, it could scarcely be considered a triumph for this country. It was still an ugly, and in some respects a vulgar, age. The invention of machinery had done little or nothing to raise the level of the public taste for what was appropriate and beautiful in design. That an article cost a large sum of money to manufacture and to purchase seemed sufficient to satisfy the untrained mind.