Home / Blog / Saving swimming saurians – Conservation of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Phase Two

 
A Crystal Palace ichthyosaur gets a ‘doffing’, a specialist steam cleaning, by conservators from Skillington Workshop, Ltd. These extinct animals were known from their fossil bones discovered by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis and other place on Britain’s Jurassic coast, but had never been imagined ‘in the flesh’ until their reconstruction in the Dinosaur Court in Crystal Palace in 1854. Major repair work is beginning to bring these Grade 1 heritage sculptures back to stable condition. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

Figure 1. A Crystal Palace ichthyosaur gets a ‘doffing’, a specialist steam cleaning, by conservators from Skillington Workshop, Ltd. These extinct animals were known from their fossil bones discovered by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis and other place on Britain’s Jurassic coast, but had never been imagined ‘in the flesh’ until their reconstruction in the Dinosaur Court in Crystal Palace in 1854. Major repair work is beginning to bring these Grade 1 heritage sculptures back to stable condition. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

The iconic Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are getting further specialist repair work to halt their recent perilous decline in condition. Specialist sculpture conservators have begun working on seven of the water-based sculptures that form the atmospheric assemblage of the first-ever life-sized reconstructions of extinct animals. The 29 sculptures and geologic illustrations are central in the history of British science, educational engagement and social change, and are recognised with a Grade 1 Heritage listing, putting them on par with other British treasures such as Stonehenge.

The ‘Dinosaur Court’ has been a symbol of British influence in science since it opened in 1854 to huge acclaim from the public and with encouragement and visits from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Although the sculptures are not considered accurate by today’s understanding of dinosaur biology, they tell the story of how science is built on the best evidence available at the time, and how it improves as more evidence becomes available. They are the birthplace of ‘Dinomania’ and are famous worldwide. They are also a hugely engaging mixture of being rather scary and a bit hilarious at the same time, making them the key attraction of Crystal Palace Park. Everyone loves the Dinosaurs!

Figure 2. A teleosaur gets his ankle seen to by a ‘Dinosaur Doctor’, or specialist sculpture conservator. His dodgy ankle and toes are visibly crumbling. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

Figure 2. A teleosaur gets his ankle seen to by a ‘Dinosaur Doctor’, or specialist sculpture conservator. His dodgy ankle and toes are visibly crumbling. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

Four years ago, Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (FCPD), a volunteer group, noticed that the sculptures were suffering serious problems, with tails, toes and teeth falling off, and huge cracks appearing in the bodies of several sculptures. The damage is not immediately obvious from the normal viewing area, but up close, it is extensive and clear that repairs are urgently needed. Working with support from the owners of Crystal Palace Park, Bromley Council, and with input from Historic England, FCPD devised a plan for conserving the sculptures and simultaneously increasing the appreciation of the site for everyone. When more people understand their importance, and realize how amazing the CP Dinosaurs are, it will be easier to keep the necessary maintenance high on the agenda and they won’t fall apart as fast.

This round of conservation work will bring back two ichthyosaurs, two plesiosaurs, two teleosaurs and a mosasaur into robust shape. There will also be repairs to the waterways, and new interpretation signs will go up. This stage of the project will take about sixteen weeks, to be finished by Christmas. A blogsite, several Conservation Open Days, tours, info boards in the park and local Sainsbury’s, and a newly commissioned film will lift the veil on conservation work, allowing the public to follow the repairs as they proceed. Current works are funded by London Borough of Bromley and the Mayor of London as part of an Improvement Scheme for Crystal Palace Park that totals £2.4 million, which has been campaigned for by the Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholder Group. £400,000 will be spent on interpretation, landscapes and repairs to several of the Dinosaur sculptures. Future fundraising aims to raise £800,000 to repair the remaining 21 sculptures.

 

Figure 3. Crystal Palace swimming saurians see specialists. ‘Dinosaur Doctors’, or sculpture conservators, will be repairing many of the teleosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs that represent Jurassic seas in the Crystal Palace tableau of past worlds and deep time. This is the classic view of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, looking from the sculptures of animals found deeper in geologic time towards the younger dinosaurs. The iconic ‘symbol of science’, the standing iguanodon that was conserved last year, is at the back. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

Figure 3. Crystal Palace swimming saurians see specialists. ‘Dinosaur Doctors’, or sculpture conservators, will be repairing many of the teleosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs that represent Jurassic seas in the Crystal Palace tableau of past worlds and deep time. This is the classic view of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, looking from the sculptures of animals found deeper in geologic time towards the younger dinosaurs. The iconic ‘symbol of science’, the standing iguanodon that was conserved last year, is at the back. Photo copyright Lynn Hilton.

 
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