Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace Park is the largest of the Penge Parks. The park was created within the former grounds of Penge Place, a mansion designed by Edward Blore on Penge Common in the 1830s which had a short-lived life of about twenty years.
Penge Place was demolished in preparation for the transfer of Joseph Paxton’s innovative iron and glass structure, the Crystal Palace, from Hyde Park in 1954.
The two hundred acre Grade 11* listed park is within the ancient boundaries of Penge and is at the intersection of five London boroughs: Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Bromley and Croydon.
The Crystal Palace was very popular with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who visited it many times. Remnants of is former grandeur survive today in the sheer grand scale of the enterprise which has distilled down to a captivating green space.
The park is the home of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s sculpted Dinosaurs which were built on site when the park opened. The park has open access for all and is managed by the London Borough of Bromley.
From 1854 the Crystal Palace was one of the wonders of London, if not the world. It was opened by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who made many return visits. The Dinosaurs were the first images of extinct animals ever built and, though largely inaccurate, predated the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.
The Crystal Palace evoked visions of the future in possibly every exhibit on offer in the various halls and rooms whilst shoring up valued additions from the past and celebrating the immediate present. The grounds evoked the palace of Versailles in its lakes, fountains and flowerbeds. There was a full programme of continuous activities. These ranged from orchestral concerts, drama productions, a tightrope walk by Blondin, spectacular balloon ascents and firework displays. There are the remains of the Palace in the outdoor terraces, the ornamental walls and the statuary. The famous sphinx has recently been restored to its original terracotta colour. The Palace survived, with its distinctive tall water towers, for the next 82 years until it caught fire and burned down in 1936.
For a period speedway and motor racing took place in a specially created track in the park.
The park today is home to the National Sports Centre with stadium and swimming pool, the iconic transmitting station, a children’s farm, a café, an outdoor concert stage, a maze and acres of green space. The former concert stage, reminiscent of the Hollywood Bowl, was enjoyed by hundreds of people sitting on the grass on a summer evening with picnic basket and drinks. Fireworks often ended the evening.
The boating lake is popular with families and a new skateboard area has been constructed. Closing times vary according to the season e.g. 6.00pm in January to 9.30pm in July.
Local artists frequent the park to sketch the many attractions and their paintings appear online or at various exhibition spaces such as in the Penge Art Trail, at the Paxton Centre or in the Penge Congregational Church Hall.
The park is a reminder of the great Victorian vision, like so much in Penge, which ran its course but laid the foundations for much that we take for granted in our own times. Plans are afoot for a revisioning of the park although it is as yet unclear what this will be. So far there is a splendid new cafe near the Penge West entrance and the Dinosaur scupltures have been assigned to Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register to protect them.
The park does remain a much-loved green space which holds precious memories for those who have lived in the area for a long time and inspires new feelings of affection in all newcomers.
The Friends of Crystal Palace Park hold regular meetings and plan activities ‘for the good of our wonderful park’. They are represented at the Penge Parks meetings and uphold its aims and initiatives. For further information and how to join, see the link below.
Crystal Palace Park website: Crystal Palace Park
Friends of Crystal Palace Park: Friends of Crystal Palace Park Facebook Page
The Crystal Palace Foundation: Crystal Palace Foundation