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  • 1 Paxton, Sir Joseph

    b. 3 August 1801 Milton Bryant, Bedfordshire, England
    d. 8 June 1865 Sydenham, London, England
    English designer of the Crystal Palace, the first large-scale prefabricated ferrovitreous structure.
    The son of a farmer, he had worked in gardens since boyhood and at the age of 21 was employed as Undergardener at the Horticultural Society Gardens in Chiswick, from where he went on to become Head Gardener for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. It was there that he developed his methods of glasshouse construction, culminating in the Great Conservatory of 1836–40, an immense structure some 277 ft (84.4 m) long, 123 ft (37.5 m) wide and 67 ft (20.4 m) high. Its framework was of iron and its roof of glass, with wood to contain the glass panels; it is now demolished. Paxton went on to landscape garden design, fountain and waterway engineering, the laying out of the model village of Edensor, and to play a part in railway and country house projects.
    The structure that made Paxton a household name was erected in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was aptly dubbed, by Punch, the Crystal Palace. The idea of holding an international exhibition for industry had been mooted in 1849 and was backed by Prince Albert and Henry Cole. The money for this was to be raised by public subscription and 245 designs were entered into a competition held in 1850; however, most of the concepts, received from many notable architects and engineers, were very costly and unsuitable, and none were accepted. That same year, Paxton published his scheme in the Illustrated London News and it was approved after it received over-whelming public support.
    Paxton's Crystal Palace, designed and erected in association with the engineers Fox and Henderson, was a prefabricated glasshouse of vast dimensions: it was 1,848 ft (563.3 m) long, 408 ft (124.4 m) wide and over 100 ft (30.5 m) high. It contained 3,300 iron columns, 2,150 girders. 24 miles (39 km) of guttering, 600,000 ft3 (17,000 m3) of timber and 900,000 ft2 (84,000 m) of sheet glass made by Chance Bros, of Birmingham. One of the chief reasons why it was accepted by the Royal Commission Committee was that it fulfilled the competition proviso that it should be capable of being erected quickly and subsequently dismantled and re-erected elsewhere. The Crystal Palace was to be erected at a cost of £79,800, much less than the other designs. Building began on 30 July 1850, with a labour force of some 2,000, and was completed on 31 March 1851. It was a landmark in construction at the time, for its size, speed of construction and its non-eclectic design, and, most of all, as the first great prefabricated building: parts were standardized and made in quantity, and were assembled on site. The exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851 and had received six million visitors when it closed on 11 October. The building was dismantled in 1852 and reassembled, with variations in design, at Sydenham in south London, where it remained until its spectacular conflagration in 1936.
    Principal Honours and Distinctions
    Knighted 1851. MP for Coventry 1854–65. Fellow Linnaean Society 1853; Horticultural Society 1826. Order of St Vladimir, Russia, 1844.
    Further Reading
    P.Beaver, 1986, The Crystal Palace: A Portrait of Victorian Enterprise, Phillimore. George F.Chadwick, 1961, Works of Sir Joseph Paxton 1803–1865, Architectural Press.

    Biographical history of technology > Paxton, Sir Joseph

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