Monday, August 6, 2007

Victorian Dinos Get an Upgrade

The Victorian dinosaur models in Crystal Palace Park, London, were granted status as a Grade I-listed monument today by the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. They had been listed Grade II since 1973.

The models were constructed in 1852-54 in the grounds of the Crystal Palace after the building was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham following the Great Exhibition of 1851.

They were created to demonstrate the process of evolution -- notably five years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. They were built at the lower end of the park, near Penge, and were accompanied by exhibits illustrating the geology that existed at the time of each dinosaur. The site soon came to be known as Dinosaur Court.

The models, comprising 15 separate prehistoric species, collectively formed the first-ever "dinosaur theme park," although their accuracy has long been disproved.

"The prehistoric animal sculptures and associated geological formations provide an insight into the mid-nineteenth century reconstruction of dinosaur species that had only recently been discovered," said Margaret Hodge, culture minister, in a statement.

"They are believed to be unique and are clearly of exceptional historic interest in a national and probably international context. I am delighted to upgrade their list entry to reflect their importance.”

They were designed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and built out of brick and artificial stone on a framework of iron rods. The park's geological strata exhibits were constructed at the same time by engineer and mineralogist James Campbell.

A £4 million restoration of Dinosaur Court was undertaken in 2002 by the London Borough of Bromley with contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Government’s SRB scheme, and Bromley Council.

Related links and resources:

Crystal Palace Panoramics (BBC)

Crystal Palace Park, London Borough of Bromley

Crystal Palace Foundation

Martin Rudwick, Scenes From Deep Time (University of Chicago Press, 1992)

Steve McCarthy and Mick Gilbert, Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (Crystal Palace Foundation, 1994)

Shown here: Megalosauri on the prowl at Crystal Palace Park, with pterodactyls in back. Hawkins incorrectly portrayed the former as a quadruped with a sloping gait rather than the two-legged agile predator we now know it was.


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