20 September 2019
Friday 20th September marks the start of the global #ClimateStrike calling for more concerted action to tackle climate change. #ArtStrike encourages museums and galleries to show support for the movement by putting a selected specimen ‘on strike’ for the day.
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs have a unique place in the history of public engagement with science, being the first ever reconstructions of extinct animals unveiled in 1854, so we felt well-placed to take part in this outreach event.
During our educational and fun-packed Dino Day on Sunday 15th September we took some time out to shroud one of the magnificent Giant Deer, inspired by Bristol Museum’s decision to shroud endangered and extinct animals to highlight the biodiversity extinction crisis.
This enormous beast, also known commonly as the Irish Elk, stands 2 metres at the shoulder with antlers 3.5 metres wide, and lived from around 400,000 - 7,500 years ago in open park-like woodlands of Europe and central Asia.
Fossils of the Giant Deer were discovered in the late eighteenth century which was an important time in the natural sciences. The great French scientist of the day, Georges Cuvier, studied fossil remains of species like the Giant Deer and mammoth and concluded that they were not like any animal alive at the time.
This led to an astonishing revelation: some animal species had actually vanished from the face of the Earth. The idea of extinction was thus born. The notion of ‘failed’ species was highly contentious in religious Victorian society’s understanding of a perfect God, and took some time to be accepted.
Soon after Cuvier’s revelations, the concept of extinct animals and lost worlds was first brought to the imagination of the everyday person here in Crystal Palace Park. Over twenty different extinct species were built here between 1851-1853, the first ever life-sized depictions of such creatures.
The sculptures are historic in marking this profound expansion of our understanding that the world can change quite dramatically, and significantly shaped the public’s view of nature and evolution.
Many of the species in Crystal Palace Park lived long before humans and died out from huge environmental catastrophes in mass extinction events. However, the Giant Deer lived much more recently, overlapping their range with humans in Eurasia from around 35-40,000 years ago.
The latest scientific research indicates that fluctuating and deteriorating climatic conditions at the end of the last Ice Age led to severe loss of habitat for the Giant Deer. Hunting by human populations that were expanding across Eurasia were then likely to have put the final nail in the coffin for the species.
The extinction of the Giant Deer thus serves as a stark reminder of the effects that a rapidly changing climate and human impacts can have on even mighty beasts.
We were honoured to be joined on the day by the poet and Crystal Palace local Joe Duggan who performed two poems for the event, ‘Bogland’ by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney featuring the Irish Elk and ‘Tiger Drinking at Forest Pool’ by Ruth Padel. We were also joined by Kate Shipp, a local member of Lewisham Extinction Rebellion. Trustees Ellinor Michel and Jennifer Crees spoke about #ArtStrike and the extinction of the Giant Deer.
We are hugely grateful to Tom Fishenden, John Barrett and Kevin Ireland for their photography and our army of volunteers for help with the shrouding.
20 August 2019
Love the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs? As part of Heritage Open Days Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are offering a day of fun for the whole family including:
There will be talks to stimulate your curiosity, art inspired by the Dinosaurs and ancient plants brought back to life.
Tours of the island will be free but must be booked in advance. Click here to book tickets.
Find out more at https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/dino-day
10am, 10.30am, 1pm, 1.30pm (booking in advance via Eventbrite essential)
Meet at the Info Centre 15 mins before your allotted time
Local author Judy Skidmore will read ‘The Mysterious Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace’ on the island where the dinosaurs live. If your children love stories and dinosaurs there’s no better place to hear about how the sculptures come alive when all the visitors have gone home! We think younger children will enjoy this, but all ages are welcome.
11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm (booking in advance via Eventbrite essential)
Meet at the Info Centre 15 mins before your allotted time
If you’ve ever wanted to see the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs up close and personal, this is your chance. This 45-minute tour will take you back in time and explore the history of the unique sculptures and the ancient creatures who inspired them. Best suited for adults and older children (approx 8+). Younger children might enjoy our Storytime on Dinosaur Island more.
Please note: Access to the Dinosaur Island is via a long narrow bridge and a small, steep, muddy path and hill. Unfortunately it is not suitable for wheelchairs or buggies. Visitors are advised to wear sturdy footwear. You must enter with the group, so latecomers will not be able to join us.
11.30am (booking in advance via Eventbrite advisable), picnic area (near the giant sloth)
Local author Judy Skidmore will read ‘The Mysterious Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace’ in the park where the dinosaurs live. If your children love stories and dinosaurs there’s no better place to hear about how the sculptures come alive when all the visitors have gone home! We think younger children will enjoy this, but all ages are welcome.
12.30- 4pm, Info Centre
Dr David Hone, palaeontologist, Crystal Palace Dinosaur enthusiast, and author of The Tyrannosaur Chronicles will be available to show you some real fossils and answer your questions. His research focuses on the behaviour and ecology of the dinosaurs and their flying relatives, the pterosaurs, so get your questions ready.
10-5pm, Info Centre
Come and find out about our exciting project we’re working on in collaboration with the Natural History Museum to digitally scan the dinosaurs. In time we’re hoping this will help us in lots of ways, e.g. conservation and ‘virtual tours’. We’d love to hear what you think of it!
10am-5pm, Picnic area by the giant sloth
Badge and mask making, colouring and exploration activities to help kids learn about endangered and extinct animals. Local artist David Vallade and mask-maker extraordinaire Ben will be on hand to help!
Approx. 11.45am, Picnic area by the giant sloth
Dancing Dinos – a chance for your little ones to dance along with some friendly dinosaurs.
2pm By the giant deer sculptures
The extinction of the giant deer serves as a stark reminder of the effects that a rapidly changing climate combined with human impacts can have. Across Britain museums ae shrouding their extinct and endangered species to highlight the global biodiversity crisis. Join FCPD trustee and extinction-researcher Jen Crees and local friends including from Extinction Rebellion at the giant deer statues for a poetry reading and to find out more.
…and much more! Come along to the Info Centre in Crystal Palace Park or the Picnic Area (near to the giant sloth) to see what else is going on. Note that timings and locations may be subject to change, especially in the event of rain. Come along to the Info Centre on the day to find out the latest.
4 August 2019
Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs was nominated to win a £1,000 boost as part of specialist insurer Ecclesiastical’s Movement for Good awards, which is giving £1 million to charities this summer.
Members of the public were invited to nominate causes close to their hearts, with 500 gifts of £1,000 available for donation. FCPD was one more than 7,000 charities nominated by an amazing 98,000 members of the public to be in for a chance to win a financial boost.
We are delighted to announce that FCPD was one of the lucky winners!
FCPD runs a vibrant and fun outreach and engagement programme with a serious message about the importance and excitement of history and science. FCPD also campaigns for conservation of one of the UK’s most important Grade 1 listed historic assets, which needs global support and funding, as the 30 sculptures and the acres of ‘geologic landscapes’ are severely neglected and crumbling. The delights of our Victorian dinosaurs are a gateway to participation and understanding of big picture questions for people of all ages.
This donation will make a huge impact to our aims. We are so grateful to everyone who nominated FCPD for this prize.
23 January 2019
Thanks to the Mayor of London, over 600 generous pledges on our crowdfunding project and some enthusiastic bidding on our online auction we have raised the £70,000 we needed to build a bridge to the dinosaurs!
We are incredibly excited and so grateful to all the individuals and organisations who pledged, bid, donated auction items, helped publicise the cause, provided logistical support and generally supported us along the way.
We are already well under way discussing designs with our fantastic architects Tonkin Liu and engineers Arup who have given us their time and expertise, as well as donations in the form of pledges and auction lots.
10 December 2018
We are now in the final week of our fundraising to build a bridge to the dinosaurs and we need your help more than ever!
Unfortunately we have had to cancel our live auction at the Taproom tonight (Friday 14th Dec) due to unforeseen circumstances but we have a fantastic online auction up and running! If you’ve not got all your Christmas shopping yet, we have some exciting lots - including private tours and viewings of dino-related museums, original artworks, memberships, help for budding writers and public speakers. AND….an exclusive signed top hat from Slash of Guns N’Roses! More goodies will be coming online over the next day or two so do keep checking back, too…
You can also still pledge at https://www.spacehive.com/bridges-to-the-crystal-palace-dinosaurs and help by sharing this via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for your help.
FCPD are fundraising for the long term conservation of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. We are currently crowdfunding to build a bridge onto Dinosaur Island, which will help us maintain the statues and site and provide more opportunities for public access. Money raised from this auction will go towards our bridge fund in the first instance. If our crowdfunding efforts are unsuccessful, then the money raised by this auction will go into the charity’s overall funds. You can find out more about our fundraising principles here.
22 November 2018
The Friends of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs have been awarded £30,000 by the Mayor of London for their campaign to improve public access to the island where the world’s first life-sized dinosaur models were built back in 1854.
The campaign has already attracted hundreds of supporters, including local residents, businesses and award-winning architects Tonkin Liu. This week the Mayor of London confirmed his support for the plan, pledging £30,000 towards the scheme as part of ‘Crowdfund London’.
With a Dino Bridge, the Friends will be able to provide access for conservators to maintain and restore the 164-year-old Grade I listed sculptures. They will also run regular educational tours for members of the public and schools.
Chair of Trustees Ellinor Michel said “A Dino Bridge will mean many more people can get up close to the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, and help us to look after them too.
“But don’t worry – we’ve learned our lessons from Jurassic Park: the Dino Bridge will be secure. We don’t want the wrong people getting in – or the dinosaurs getting out!”
Talking about the ‘Crowdfund London’ programme, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said: “All Londoners should feel that they are part of the regeneration of their neighbourhoods and crowdfunding is a really effective way of giving people a stake in their part of the city.
“The Mayor’s Crowdfund London programme empowers Londoners to bring about positive change in their local area and I would encourage people to support these innovative projects.”
The charity still needs to raise more than £35,000 between now and 17 December. Individuals and businesses can pledge at https://www.spacehive.com/bridges-to-the-crystal-palace-dinosaurs.
You can also help by encouraging your friends to get involved, and by sharing this via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for your help!
15 November 2018
Do you want to get up close and personal with Crystal Palace’s iconic Dinosaurs? Help us BUILD A BRIDGE so we can run tours, volunteer opportunities, school trips & more to our unique Dino Island! Pledge today right here.
Thank you so much to everyone who attended Dino Days on 15-16th September. We had an amazing time and we hope you did too. More than 200 people toured Dino Island, getting up close and personal with the Dinosaurs on the world’s first ‘Jurassic Park’. Our intrepid tour guides were on hand to explain the science, history and conservation behind the sculptures - and to rescue any unwary visitors who strayed too close to the ‘Terrible Lizards’!
We’d like to be able to do events like this more often – and 95% of visitors told us in a recent survey that they would like a tour of the island, too.
Currently, however, this isn’t easy. At the moment we have to arrange a temporary bridge, which is inconvenient, expensive and ugly every time we want access to the Island.
A new, permanent bridge would allow us to run tours for around 1200 people per year, helping to build love of the Dinosaurs, natural history and the history of the local area. Building a physical bridge to the Island will mean we can build imaginative bridges to the past.
It will enable us to run more opportunities for the general public, schools and volunteers to get up close and personal with the Dinosaurs, and will enable other local groups to do so, too. We will also be able to access the dinosaurs more easily for vital conservation work of the sculptures and maintenance of the island - helping to conserve the Dinosaurs for the long term.
We have had an extraordinary offer from architectural practice Tonkin Liu to deliver a pro bono design for a bridge to the Dinosaur Islands. This practice is known for its innovative pedestrian bridges, lightweight constructions, and sensitive designs. Their work has been featured in numerous urban landscapes, RIBA and the Royal Academy. With Tonkin Liu, our aim is that the new bridge will be practical, elegant and a fitting addition to this beautiful landscape.
We are crowdfunding to get the funds needed to build our bridge. If you would like to help, please pledge today at www.spacehive.com/bridges-to-the-crystal-palace-dinosaurs - where you can also find out more about the project. Pledges can be any amount from £2 upwards – and if we get enough backing from the local community, the Mayor of London may also put money towards it through his Crowdfund London initiative.
You can also help by encouraging your friends to get involved, and by sharing this link via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for your help!
28 August 2018
As part of Heritage Open Days weekend we’re giving you two full days of fun with:
These are FREE but require tickets. See below for full tour schedule.
2:30pm – Mammal Tour led by Adrian Lister
2:30pm – Island Tour led by Darren Naish
3:30pm – Island Tour led conservators Sophia Oelman, Birthe Kruse and FCPD trustee Sarah Slaughter
3:45pm – Mammal Tour led by Adrian Lister
4:30pm – Island Tour led conservators Sophia Oelman, Birthe Kruse and FCPD trustee Sarah Slaughter
11am – Lost Valley of London, led by Anthony Lewis & conservator Patricia Falcão
12pm – Lost Valley of London, led by Anthony Lewis & conservator Patricia Falcão
2pm – Lost Valley of London, with Anthony Lewis & conservator Alice Tate-Harte
3pm – Lost Valley of London, with Anthony Lewis & conservator Alice Tate-Harte
4pm - Lost Valley of London, with Anthony Lewis
The Iguanodon Restaurant – a hilarious, historically accurate street theatre performed in a life-sized, moving, travelling Iguanodon!
Showtimes 12:30 and 15:00 both Saturday and Sunday, FREE and drop-in.
Hands-on events for kids, including drawing, mask and badge-making on extinct and endangered animals, with David Vallade of ‘David Draws…’, Ben Courtney, Hugh Dames of Adventure Learning Crystal Palace.
Palaeo Planting Project around the Dinosaurs, bringing ancient landscapes back to life around the sculptures in a volunteer gardening session.
These are FREE but by sign-up only:
Works by artists inspired by the Dinosaurs at the Info Centre.
Talks – ‘Brain food’ for enquiring minds on myriad topics around our historic site including science, art and conservation. Approximately 30-40 minutes long.
These are FREE and drop-in at the Info Centre at Penge Gate. See below for the full talk schedule.
The Crystal Palace dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals were a watershed moment in the history of palaeoart, but they represent a relatively early entry into the palaeoart canon. In this talk, find out how scientists and artists have continued to refine and better understand the life appearance of prehistoric animals, and how we can increasingly credibly restore them in art.
Dr Mark Witton is a globally recognised palaeoartist and a vertebrate palaeontologist, specialised on flying reptiles. You can follow his work at his blog markwitton-com.blogspot.com and on Twitter @MarkWitton.
The 20-acre site that is home to Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins 30 animal sculptures also has a story to tell about the evolution of plants through time. Dr Kenrick is the author of an outline for replanting the site with living relatives of fossil plants. With a team of volunteers and guidance from garden designer Lou Yates, weare bringing this plan to life. Dr Kenrick will give us a feeling for the evolution of plants and ecosystems through time, and link it to the horticultural theatre we aim to recreate on the Dinosaur Islands.
Dr Paul Kenrick is a palaeobotanist whose scientific research focuses on the early evolution of life on land and its broader impact on key Earth Systems (e.g., Carbon Cycle). Current interests include the development of soil ecosystems, the origin and evolution of plant organs and tissues, and the co-evolution of plants and fungi.
Often derided, and today somewhat neglected and forlorn, the famous prehistoric animal models of Crystal Palace in London have a lot to teach us… in fact their message is about things much bigger than just dinosaurs.
Dr Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist at the University of Southampton. He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com.
Solveig will discuss her recent installation at the Slade, which was cast directly from the Hylaeosaur at Crystal Palace, and show footage from the process and finished piece. She will present the ideas behind the work, involving the imagination of scientific research and how objects move and transform through time.
Solveig Settemsdal is a contemporary artist whose work has been presented throughout the UK, Europe and Australia
From the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs to Jurassic Park, the popular image of dinosaurs has always been a bit wrong. Why is it that we find it so hard to accept that dinosaurs might have looked very different from how we think about them?
Helena Stroud is a trustee of Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, and a lifelong dino-fanatic. She graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, and has since worked as a cryptic treasure hunt writer, squirrel conservationist, and charity events manager. She currently divides her time between a charity supporting education for Burmese scholars, and a running magazine.
Events are all free but some will require advance booking. Times and tickets can be found here.
3 August 2018
Dinosaurs and dicots (that’s flowering plants to you and me) will be the focus of this exciting talk from a world expert on the evolution of plants and ecosystems. Sir Peter Crane, former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, will speak on behalf of the Palaeo Planting Project (PPP) from the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Sir Peter will give an overview of the evolution of flowers in the age of the dinosaurs, and then be joined by PPP garden designer Louise Yates to talk about how we are bringing this story to life in the world’s first Jurassic Park, the Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace.
Have a glass of wine, enjoy the talks, meet our speakers, and have a first look at the planting designs for our heritage site. With the support of the trustees of the Crystal Palace Museum, we welcome you to spend an evening with us in this charming venue.
Sir Peter Crane is among the most lauded palaeontologists working today, and has been recognised for his contributions to science as a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), American Academy of Arts and Sciences, (US) National Academy of Sciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the German Academy Leopoldina. He was the director of Kew Gardens and the Field Museum in Chicago, and is currently a professor at Yale University. The Queen knighted him for services to horticulture and conservation.
Louise Yates is a garden designer and actor, with a deep commitment to improving the green landscape of Crystal Palace. She is a co-chair of Transition Town Crystal Palace and has worked on gardens and public spaces throughout the area. Lou will present her designs for the Dinosaur Islands, and talk about how we are building a team of committed volunteers to keep the Dinosaur landscapes green and true to the story they were created to tell.
Tuesday 21st August, 7.30pm
Crystal Palace Museum
Tickets cost £5.
19 June 2018
The Dinosaurs inspire, and conservation work keeps these impressive Victorian sculptures vibrant and intact for future generations. We celebrate this in a new documentary short by award winning film maker Tal Amiran. It features conservation work done over the winter of 2016-17 on eight of the water-based sculptures. The conservators speak about their work, their feelings for the sculptures and the magical sense of the site.
We had a fantastic launch night with a Q&A hosted by Picturehouse Cinemas at the East Dulwich Picturehouse. We started with Anthony Lewis’s excellent Lost Valley of London to provide historical context, and The Seven Deadly Agents of Destruction to introduce the cast of malevolent characters that cause our beasts to crumble. It was riveting to see the films in a full screen, professional theatre!
Thanks to the Crystal Palace Park Community Fund (London Borough of Bromley & London Mayor’s Office) for funding the film.
19 June 2018
In just a couple of hours on an scrumptiously warm spring day, our team of energetic volunteers hacked back masses of weedy growth from Dinosaur Island. Loppers cut away the destructive Buddleia, sturdy forks dug out unwanted roots and willow was whacked to create space for exciting new, scientifically appropriate plants to fill their place.
Many volunteers were from the local area and had seen our FaceBook posts and fliers calling for help. Helen, a “massive local enthusiast” said she practically lives in Crystal Palace Park. She told us: “I’m in the park every weekend, walking, feeding the ducks, even running the Race for Life. I’m helping out today as it’s a great way to give something back.”
Martin, who works at the Natural History Museum told us: “I used to get brought here by my mum, then I used to bring my kids and now I bring my grandkids to see the Dinosaurs. I’m hoping one of them will become a palaeontologist - although at the moment he’s also interested in becoming a ninja!”
It was a great atmosphere and many on the team were keen to carry on long after our scheduled finish time. Owen and Benji, both students, came with Benji’s mum, Laura, an aromatherapist and therapist. “I used to bring my kids here - their dad grew up in Crystal Palace and we used to have such great days in the park. Gardening is so good for well-being. I’ve bought my teenager and his friend along today. I’m having a real “proud mum moment”. The boys worked hard to clear creeping ivy from a tree and digging out the roots of another. Having just pulled up a big root, Benji said: “I used to come here when I was little and it’s nice to make a difference today and help make it more special.”
We couldn’t have cleared so much without our fabulous volunteers, so a huge thanks to all of them - including some North London friends. Nick from Holloway found it especially lucky to have been given the chance to come onto Dinosaur Island. “I love secret places. I live in North London but South London is my spiritual home. I love South London history and it’s great to be able to come on the island and come to this special place.”
As Claire hoiked out a big grass next to one of the dinosaurs, she said, “Now I’ve stood next to them I can appreciate just how big the dinosaur sculptures are!”
Our next volunteering day is on Sunday 20th May. If you can lend a hand or two, please apply to join us! Gardening helps the Dinosaurs and gives you a great few hours on the unique island.
Watch this space for details of the wider project which will include free educational talks, spectacular street theatre, family-friendly art events and behind-the-scenes island conservation tours.
Go to the Palaeo Planting Project main page for a link to the sign-up form.
17 February 2018
How the ‘Seven Deadly Agents of Destruction’ can help preserve the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
Liesa Brierley, Ellinor Michel, Anthony Lewis, Chris Aldhous and Lois Olmstead
Compared to collections kept safe inside museums, outdoor sculpture is affected by additional risk factors. Sculpture in the public realm is exposed to the elements, pollution and direct sunshine. It is more vulnerable to vandalism and the proximity to nature can also take its toll. At the same time, the condition of outdoor sculpture is often not monitored as rigorously as that of museum collections. However, damage doesn’t go unnoticed by the public and, channelled in the right way, the public’s critical eye can be turned to positive pressure, increasing support for conservation work and helping to improve conditions for the displays.
To conservation professionals, the Canadian Conservation Institute’s framework of Ten Agents of Deterioration is a familiar and well-established way of describing risk factors to cultural heritage. This paper describes an attempt to translate this framework into a short animated film about risks to outdoor sculpture, using the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, a renowned Victorian sculpture park in south London, as the stage for the message. The film is aimed at a broad audience of non-professionals of all ages and it is hoped that it will deliver an increased sense of both understanding and ownership of the sculpture park.
22 November 2016
On Wed 26 October, around 120 Dino fans joined us for our latest Open Day to see up close the second phase of the conservation programme currently being carried out by Skillington Workshop.
Our team of professional conservators, education specialists and artists explained the conservation work happening on the other side of the fence through activities the whole family could enjoy.
The Open Days are part of our programme to increase understanding of why these Grade 1-listed sculptures require on-going specialist conservation. Although they’ve been voted London’s favourite public sculptures, the work required to stabilise and protect them is just beginning.
Before venturing on to the island, the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs conservation team explained what is being done to combat the severe deterioration attacking the sculptures.
Sometimes, the principles and techniques of conservation can be difficult to understand. Our film The Seven Deadly Agents of Destruction is a great introduction to what the Dinos are up against.
The seven sculptures being worked on at the moment are suffering from cracking due to a range of ‘evil agents’:
To demonstrate the skills and techniques conservators need to treat cracks, we set up a table of ‘Dinosaur parts’ in need of help. Kids could try their hands at filling the gaps and replacing lost material with Plaster of Paris. Then the fills had to be painted in, so the repairs blended with the original material.
More than just a bit of fun, this not only demonstrated some of the practical skills that conservators use but also helped us explain the difficult choices we make when selecting materials for conservation. Gap-filling material has to fulfil a range of strict requirements, such as:
After all this thinking and working, it was a relief to visit the island and see the professionals taking care of the conservation. David and Mark from Skillington Workshop took tour groups right up to the edge of their site to discuss the ethics and practicalities of their work.
Details of the next conservation open day on Saturday 26 November are available on our Twitter and Facebook pages.
With huge thanks to: David Carrington and Mark Porter from Skillington Workshop, the FCPD conservation team (Jill Barnard, India Carpenter, Louise Peddie and Hazel Gardiner), other Friends (David Vallade, Ellinor Michel, Erykah Brackenbury), id verde UK (Tomas Vnucak), Bromley (Penny Read) and Friends of Crystal Palace Park (Lucy Hopkins).
Rebecca Bennett, FCPD Conservation Team
10 October 2016
On Wednesday 26 October bring the family down to Crystal Palace Park to get up close and personal with the famous Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. During major conservation works on seven of the swimming statues, Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Skillington Workshop and Bromley Council invite you to see the famous sculptures as you’ve never seen them before…
When you arrive, the Friends’ conservation team will provide an introduction to the sculptures, their design and construction and how they’re being restored. You can even roll your sleeves up and try your hand at some conservation techniques!
You’ll then join a small group for a 30-minute tour of the Dinosaur island and an explanation of the conservation works from Skillington Workshop, the specialist sculpture conservators undertaking the work on the two ichthyosaurs, two plesiosaurs, two teleosaurs and a mosasaur.
Wednesday 26 October from 12 to 5pm in Crystal Palace Park.
Tours are free but booking is essential.
Conservation activities are free and run on a drop-in basis between 12 and 4pm.
Find us by the picnic tables on the lower lake just behind the Giant Tree Sloth (Megatherium).
28 September 2016
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!
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.
6 September 2016
University of Leicester and Natural History Museum, London, UK
Britain was the birthplace of the dinosaur. The first ‘fossilists’ making major collections of dinosaur bones were renowned British geologists and zoologists and the taxonomic group was given its name, Dinosauria, and thus its conceptual framing, by Richard Owen in 1842. From the 1820s to the 1850s, while many of these bones were being discovered, a great tradition of popular writing by British palaeontologists such as William Buckland, Gideon Mantell, and Hugh Miller vividly brought the prehistoric world to the public in romantic and evocative books. Dinosaurs were ‘given flesh’ in the first attempt at three-dimensional life-like reconstructions when they formed the centrepieces of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s inspired Crystal Palace geological islands. Yet, by the 1890s, they had become better known from elsewhere—sometimes Belgium and most definitely from America. This is an overview of how dinosaurs evolved in popular culture on both sides of the Atlantic after the great discoveries of the late nineteenth century.
Although the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs were convincingly lifelike for the Victorian public, the dethroning of Hawkins’s models as accurate reconstructions was brutally swift. Excavations in New Jersey just four years after the Crystal Palace’s opening suggested to American savant Joseph Leidy (“the last man who knew everything”) that dinosaurs may have been bipedal, in contrast with Hawkins’s elephantine and crocodilian Iguanodons. Even worse for the enduring concrete creations that had been interpreted from disparate bones, complete skeletons of Iguanodon itself were discovered in 1878 in a coal mine at Bernissart, Belgium, confirming the obsolescence of the Crystal Palace attempts once and for all.
Nonetheless it was Hawkins himself who took the lead role in introducing Americans to the discoveries from New Jersey when he moved to the United States in 1868. He did this by constructing the first-ever mounted dinosaur skeleton of the famous Hadrosaurus in Philadelphia, made in collaboration with Leidy, by an extensive East Coast lecture circuit, and by a series of evocative mural paintings at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Less successfully, his ambitious ‘Palæozoic Museum’ in Central Park, New York City, was vandalised by political gangsters in 1871 before it could be completed. Had it survived, this was to have been a grand American equivalent to the geological islands at the Crystal Palace.
Meanwhile, in the American Wild West, palaeontologists E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh fought a brutal fieldwork and publication battle to discover and name as many new species of gigantic prehistoric life as they could. In the process they unearthed dinosaurs even bigger and stranger than any found in Britain: amongst them were the frilled Triceratops, long-necked Brontosaurus, and armour-plated Stegosaurus. Significantly, many of these skeletons were substantially complete—a great contrast with the fragmentary bones that the Crystal Palace dinosaurs were based on.
Although British writers brought word of the existence of dinosaurs to the world, all three of the founding popularising palaeontologists were dead before the discovery of Hadrosaurus. Only a limited number of popularisers continued to bring news of the changing science to the lay reader and by the 1890s even the leading books of popular palaeontology were severely outdated—especially those in English. The secrecy, pedantry, and competitiveness of Cope and Marsh in the US meant that they had little time or inclination to popularise their discoveries outside palaeontological circles, and few other writers picked up the challenge for several decades.
However, at the end of the century, after Hawkins had brought fame to the Hadrosaurus of New Jersey, another English populariser saw the potential interest—and income—in the newest American dinosaurs, along with the strange new species of mammal. The man who brought the newest dinosaurs to hungry readers was a non-practicing clergyman recently moved to London: Henry Neville Hutchinson. Not long after deciding to take up science writing professionally, Hutchinson produced Extinct Monsters (1892), a charming exposition of the palaeontology of recent decades and filled with exciting yet scrupulously accurate imagery. This ‘antique world’, Hutchinson argued, was ‘quite as strange as the fairy-land of Grimm or Lewis Carroll’.
Hutchinson worked zealously with his artist Joseph Smit and the staff at the British Natural History Museum, London,to ensure that his popular book held nothing but the latest information. Extinct Monsters and its sequel, Creatures of Other Days (1894), were published to great success. In America, readers found that the great dinosaurian discoveries of the Wild West were being unveiled to them, not by a native palaeontologist, but by a British clergyman.
It was only at this time, in the mid-1890s, when the word ‘dinosaur’, rather than ‘saurian’, slowly started to gain popular currency. After Hutchinson’s worthy text, various palaeontologists employed at major museums caught on to the appeal of these entertaining publications. Amongst the most notable successors to Extinct Monsters were F. A. Lucas of the Smithsonian’s Animals of the Past (1901), E. Ray Lankester of the London Natural History Museum’s Extinct Animals (1905), and W. D. Matthew of the American Museum’s Dinosaurs (1915).
Surely the strangest attempt at popular palaeontology was Henry R. Knipe’s Nebula to Man (1905). Inspired by Hutchinson to produce his own work, the Tunbridge Wells geologist and eminent citizen turned the history of evolution into a rhyming epic poem. Reviewers of the expensive tome preferred to focus on the sophisticated illustrations by talented artists, including Alice Bolingbroke Woodward, rather than the embarrassing poetry: ‘Here lumbers Stegosaurus on his fours, / With high-arched back, a king of dinosaurs. / Big is his bulk, with solid bones secure, / And great his length, a score of feet and more’.
Especially thanks to shamelessly sensational headlines such as the New York Journal and Advertiser’s 1898 description of the so-called Brontosaurus giganteus as the ‘Most Colossal Animal Ever on Earth’, dinosaurs began to flood into fiction, much of which was by British writers in the cheap and entertaining periodicals of the day. Frank Savile’s serial novel Beyond the Great South Wall (1899), for example, told the tale of an exploration team that discovered a murderous Brontosaurus at the South Pole, and Henry Francis’s short story ‘The Last Haunt of the Dinosaur’ (1908) depicted the hunting of a South African Megalosaurus. The most famous of these often lurid stories was, of course, to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912).
Finally, and crucially, at the turn of the century mounted and freestanding dinosaur skeletons were becoming museum staples. The galleries of the British Museum (Natural History) acquired a cast of the Belgian Iguanodon in 1895, as well as a slightly discombobulated Cetiosaurus from Peterborough in 1903, but it was the Diplodocus of 1905 that would become iconic. A gift from Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the cast of the sizeable sauropod was the latest and greatest in the long—if uneven—line of transatlantic partnerships that had been bringing the newest dinosaurs to the people ever since the Crystal Palace models made their brief stand at the cutting-edge of dinosaur science.
Bramwell, Valerie, and Robert M. Peck, All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 2008)
Debus, Allen A., Prehistoric Monsters: The Real and Imagined Creatures of the Past That We Love to Fear (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010)
Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Lost World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912)
Francis, Henry, ‘The Last Haunt of the Dinosaur’, English Illustrated Magazine, 39 (1908) 577-84
Hutchinson, Henry Neville, Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life (London: Chapman & Hall, 1892)
——, Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life, rev. edn. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1893)
——, Creatures of Other Days (London: Chapman & Hall, 1894)
Knipe, Henry R., Nebula to Man (London: J. M. Dent, 1905)
Lankester, E. Ray, Extinct Animals (London: A. Constable & Co., 1905)
Lucas, F. A., Animals of the Past (New York: McClure, Philips; 1901)
Matthew, W. D., Dinosaurs with Special Reference to the American Museum Collections (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1915)
O’Connor, Ralph, ‘Victorian Saurians: The Linguistic Prehistory of the Modern Dinosaur’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 17 (2012), 492-504
Savile, Frank, Beyond the Great South Wall: Being Some Surprising Details of the Voyage of the S.Y. Racoon (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1899)
 Henry Neville Hutchinson, Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life (London: Chapman & Hall, 1892), p. 1.
 Henry R. Knipe, Nebula to Man (London: J. M. Dent, 1905), p. 70.
13 May 2016
By Libby Ireland, Masters in Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s magnificent creatures were clearly a time consuming and labour intensive project, but it’s not obvious exactly how they were made by looking at them. We’ve been lucky enough to get up close to the dinosaurs and you can actually look inside several of them to see that they’re made of a lot of different materials you might associate more with building houses than making sculptures.
In fact, to make just one iguanodon took:
650 half round drain tiles
900 plain tiles
38 casks of cement
90 casks of broken stone
100 feet of iron hooping
20 feet of 1” square bar
So how exactly were the dinosaurs constructed using these materials?
Waterhouse Hawkins began the project with a period of research. He examined fossils and other material at the British Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Geological Society and started to create a series of detailed sketches. From these he then made a series of clay models around 1/6th or 1/12thof the final size to explore how to give the forms a realistic look. Although he is supposed to have discussed these with the anatomist and palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen to ensure they were accurate according to theories and common knowledge of the time, it is uncertain how much input Owen had in developing the models. We do know that Waterhouse Hawkins was regarded as the best natural history illustrator at the time, and an expert at bringing animals ‘to life’ from limited information. It is certain that his interpretation and artistry was the major determinant in the forms of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
Once alterations had been made and agreed, work on the final models could begin. This long process started with the creation of full sized clay models with internal wooden supports. Waterhouse Hawkins had a team of workmen who would make the structure and shape of each animal before he himself added the final details. Once he was happy with each creature, the team were then ready to create the mould from which the final external details would be cast.
A mould was created from each clay model using plaster. These would have been made in sections that slotted together and in the process the clay model would probably have been destroyed and the materials reused. These moulds were then used to create large cement sections which would later be pieced together to form the outer skin of the dinosaurs which we can see today. Some smaller sections such as tails or smaller creatures were cast as solid sections, whereas the larger sections of the bodies are hollow.
All of this had been done in Waterhouse Hawkins’s workshop, but now they were ready to begin installation onsite. When the large cast sections were ready to be used, they were taken to their new home by sledge.
The different sculptures were put together using various methods; this variation is due in part to the different sizes of the animals, but also reflected the financial constraints Waterhouse Hawkins faced nearing the end of the project. The largest sculptures, such as the iguanodons, are hollow and have a brickwork structure with a metal framework inside which Waterhouse Hawkins compared to a ‘house upon four columns’[ii]. To make these rectangular ‘houses’ more dinosaur-shaped, tiling and iron hooping were used. The cast sections were then attached to this using a strong mortar and any gaps were filled with rubble and concrete.
At this stage, the dinosaurs were ready for the final details to be added. Mortar was used to fill any gaps between the cast sections and to sculpt any lost details. The teeth were cast from lead and had pins which slotted into holes made in the dinosaur’s gums and were fixed with mortar.
Finally, the sculptures were ready for their paintwork. They were first primed with a protective layer of paint to try to prevent damage from the elements – this paint was bright red, causing a joke among locals that Hawkins had had to feed the dinosaurs carrots due to the lack of vegetation over the winter![iii] This bright red was then covered in a layer of white so that they were ready for their final colour. Finally, the creatures were brought to life with the colours thought most accurate at the time. The dinosaurs were ready to roam the Crystal Palace Park and to inspire and educate the public.
Waterhouse Hawkins, B., 1854. On Visual Education as Applied to Geology, Illustrated by Diagrams and Models of the Geological Restorations at the Crystal Palace. Journal of the Society of Arts 2(78) p447
[iii] The Observer, 1855. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham. 7 January 1855
Doyle, P. & Robinson, E. 1993. The Victorian ‘Geological Illustrations’ of Crystal Palace Park. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 104 181-194.
Morton, Edward, 2002. Supporting Columns: Dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park. [Online] Available at http://ihbc.org.uk/context_archive/75/dinosaurs/dinos.html [Accessed 11/04/2016]
The Observer, 1855. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham. 7 January 1855
Read, B., 1982. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University press
Secord, J., 2004. Monsters at the Crystal Palace. Models: The Third Dimension of Science. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 138-169
Waterhouse Hawkins, B., 1854. On Visual Education as Applied to Geology, Illustrated By Diagrams and Models of the Geological Restorations at the Crystal Palace. Journal of the Society of Arts 2(78) 443-449
27 April 2016
A number of the Friends (and friends of the Friends!) will be in Lyme Regis for the annual Fossil Festival from Friday 29 April–Sunday 1 May.
We will mostly be found in the Cobb Gate car park for the debut of Iggy the Iguanodon restaurant. Brought to life by Emerald Ant, this exciting and informative show recreates the infamous ‘dinner in the iguanodon’ on New Year’s Eve 1853. Public performances will be at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm on Saturday and Sunday. Iggy will be touring the country at a later point in 2016 – watch this space for more info!
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs will also feature in two talks taking place on Saturday night, starting with ‘The Bone Wars hit London: how Wild West Dinosaurs brought Dinomania back to Victorian Britain’ by Richard Fallon at 7pm.
At 8pm, chair of the Friends Dr Ellinor Michel, with Emerald Ant’s Sarah Butterworth, will talk on ‘Dinner in the Iguanodon and other Participatory Palaeo Thrills: sparking engagement with the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, the first extinct animals brought “to life”’.
These both take place in the Masonic Hall for £3 each. Tickets are available from Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre or call 01297 442138.
In addition, the Friends will be around all weekend selling merchandise, fundraising, and are available to chat about all things dinosaur – see you there!
18 January 2016
The conservation works to stabilise the standing Iguanodon sculpture were completed at the beginning of January.
Poor Iggy was starting to feel every one of his 162 years. Iggy has been stitched, pinned and re-painted and is now looking resplendent.
Full details of the treatment to follow soon – watch this space!
19 December 2015
by Rebecca Bennett, FCPD
A team from Cliveden Conservation, in conjunction with The Morton Partnership, have undertaken an initial six-week programme of repairs for the London Borough of Bromley to treat Iggy, the iconic standing Iguanodon.
We explained some of Iggy’s problems in a previous post.
This work started in mid-November and involves:
- Stabilising the whole structure
- Repairs to cracked and lost concrete and render
- Overall cleaning and removal of damaged paint
- Restoring paintwork and lost areas
- The first few weeks of work have now been successfully completed.
Work so far:
Cleaning: The existing cracks have been cleaned, the dirt and organic growth between the scales have been removed. The team has started removing damaged paint and cleaning the whole structure with a pressure washer. They have also tested different methods of removing all paint across the entire surface.
Operating: Failed concrete and render has been cut out and Iggy’s cracks have been stitched up with stainless steel pins and clamps.
Cosmetic surgery: samples of mortar and paint have been prepared to decide how best to fill in the areas of loss and repair the surface damage.
Dentistry: The team are taking out very damaged teeth and thinking about how to repair ones that are only a little chipped.
13 December 2015
By Rebecca Bennett, FCPD Conservation team
On Saturday 5 December, 40 lucky Dino fans braved Storm Desmond to climb Iggy’s repair scaffold and examine at close quarters the problems he faces. They also learned first hand from the Cliveden Conservation team about the work in progress to stabilise the famous sculpture, the ‘symbol of science’ that helped launch ‘Dinomania’ in 1854.
The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs conservation and history teams, together with volunteers from University College London’s conservation training programme, set up a drop-in surgery open to everyone in the park. We explained the history of the park and its sculptures using handling objects to talk about Iggy’s construction methods and materials, together with the approaches, techniques and skills that are being applied right now to help combat the Deadly Agents of Destruction attacking Iggy. Small groups had ticketed visits to the Dinosaur Island, facilitated by Bromley’s Crystal Palace Park Improvement team. Tickets went fast – being up close to these huge sculptures is a rare treat.
Along with the other sculptures in the park, Iggy suffers from a range of ailments that need to be treated:
- Cracking all over his body where the original joints made by his creator, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, are beginning to fail
- Movement in his toes, feet and tail as the foundations to these areas settle or sink
- Peeling and disrupted paint layers exposing the vulnerable original surface
- Tooth decay as the pegs underpinning his teeth start to fail or the teeth snap off
- Organic growth and dirt between his scales pushing the existing cracks further apart
We will explain details of the treatments being applied to Iggy right now by Cliveden Conservation and the Morton Partnership in a following blogpost.
Watch this space and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for details of the next Conservation Open Day.
With thanks to: the Cliveden team (Nick, Lewis, Katie), all the Friends (in particular Ellinor, Jill, David, Erykah, Richard), the UCL Institute of Conservation team (Libby, Anna, Anjali) and LB Bromley (Tyler and Lydia).
16 November 2015
The iconic Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are getting a specialist repair work to halt their recent perilous decline in condition. Specialist stone conservators have begun working on the famous ‘standing Iguanodon’, one of 31 sculptures that form the atmospheric assemblage of the first-ever life-sized reconstructions of extinct animals. The sculptures 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 standing Iguanodon has been a symbol of British influence in science since the ‘Dinosaur Court’ 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!
Three 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 extensive 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.
The initial work will take about six weeks and will bring the standing iguanodon back into robust shape. A blogsite, tour day and 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 a series of improvements to Crystal Palace Park that total £2.4 million. £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 sculptures.
The work is being done by a specialist heritage conservation company, Clivedon, overseen by Morton, Co.
28 July 2015
by Chris Aldous
Chris is a creative consultant via www.goodpilot.co.uk. For example, he created www.ghostsofgonebirds.com. Chris is a former member of the FCPD Management Board.
Jules Verne eat your heart out.
This is the tale of my expedition to the prehistoric Lost World of Forgotten Dinosaurs. A collective leap into the unknown. The Ranger, the Photographer, the Scientists and me.
A sun-drenched day last summer. Base camp was the café by the station where ominously the dinosaurs made their first appearance in a selection of painted pictures on the wall, one depicting a pair of Megalosaurus emerging out of the nearby rail tunnel as if they were suburban commuters that had just taken a wrong turn.
Dinosaurs on the City line.
I couldn’t help but be whisked back to a childhood populated with the Dynamation creations of Ray Harryhausen: prehistory rearing up in the cinema stalls, all bloody of tooth and claw: what’s not to love about stop-start dinosaurs fighting cowboys in the “Valley of Gwangi”?
And that was what was so irresistible about this South London pilgrimage: tracking down the re-appearance of dinosaurs in the real world. Not just artfully re-arranged bones in the safety of a roped off glass box, but creatures lurking in the parkland shrubbery, emerging from the undergrowth, sprawled out on the banks of a mysterious shoreline.
Waiting to pounce.
The trek through the park took in another set of dinosaur illustrations, this time a colourful mural of Hollywood hopefuls stomping all over the collective consciousness of impressionable kids.
The starbucking of saurians.
As we moved deeper into the park, my natural assumption was that we would be punting out across a dark water expanse - something akin to the River Styx - heading out to a mist-enshrouded Skull Island.
Fact was there was no boat needed: when we reached the water’s edge, we simply had to skirt the shoreline then balance our way across a narrow 10ft wide concrete weir (but note to any hopeful invaders: not only is this route treacherously precarious it has subsequently been defended by some intimidating new ironwork).
Even from the opposing bank, the shapes of the creatures were unmistakeable. They loomed and lurked. They re-sized their surroundings. Tall trees looked smaller. Fences looked frail. A visiting heron looked toy-like.
Here be monsters, boys and girls - way beyond the usual blue screen CGI inventions of tech-wizardry. Smoke and mirrors not needed. These Jurassic giants stand their ground in real life. Fantasy made flesh and stone.
Welcome to Isla Nublar, SE22.
Within three paces of leaving the weir behind it was evident we had stepped back in time. At our feet lurked the gaping maw of a hidden creature. An ambush of teeth bursting out of the foliage.
A prehistoric gargoyle, bulging eye tracking our passage to a safer vantage point. He looked hungry. The spray of weeds that decorated his dental array only seemed to suggest a meal half-finished as if we had caught him mid-chomp, Homo sapien salad with a balsamic vinegar dressing.
We didn’t hang about. He was at rest but that could change in an instant. One shake of that mighty head and we’d all be running for the hills.
We used a half hidden path to climb the bank, scrabbling for purchase amongst the sun-dappled overflowing undergrowth. A rocky outcrop jutted above our heads and as we crested the small rise, two angry Pterodactyls slid into view, bat-wings splayed, long lizard necks uncoiled, razor-sharp jawlines set indignantly at our outrageous intrusion to their prehistoric stone slumber.
They looked like winged gods. Rampantly enraged.
I couldn’t help but bow a little as we moved past them, guilty that we were not there to offer some small sacrifice to these overlords of the island. But perhaps they had already received their daily supplication: a whiff of something dead wafted our way and in the clearing ahead we not only confronted more great lizards but a half-eaten meal of fresh fish. It was big – almost too big for the murky waters surrounding the island.
A cloud of flies restlessly swarmed around it. The towering Iguanadons remained indifferent. Perhaps a fox swam ashore with it. Or that heron was a lot more ambitious than it looked. The Ranger wasn’t sure.
Nature buzzed all around us. Insects hived around the stone bodies as if they offered living sanctuary. Birds flitted through the canopy, nervously unable to quite accept the immobile, un-threat of the giant creatures below them.
Couch potato terrapins lounged about, sunning themselves on decapitated tree stumps and half-drowned logs. They resembled mini-monsters from a more up to date epoch. Again, I was transported back to those wonderful films where modern day lizards were fixed with extra frills and fake horns and shot in slo-mo from low angles, back protected in front of screaming actors, flickering ghosts evoking their prehistoric ancestors.
Maybe it was more than the summer heat that was making me feel light-headed.
It occurred to me that the dinosaurs themselves were like time machines: they exerted a chronal gravity that drew you into a previous orbit of childhood delight, warping your adult cynicism, re-forging it into a weightless trance of wonderment.
I inspected the weather wounds of the creatures – fractures and fissures where fingers of cold had forced their way in to wreak insidious harm on the internal superstructure of the dinosaurs.
Cracked toes: broken tails in desperate need of repair. Up close these island lizard kings had a desperate air of decrepitude and neglect. Suddenly the Mysterious Island seemed to feel more like one of those reprehensible retirement homes you see exposed on the News At Ten.
Megalosuarus stuffed in a wheelchair, parked in a draughty corridor, all requests for assistance blindly ignored. That seemed a rather sad state of affairs for such ancient creatures.
Down by the shoreline, a Teleosaurus raised its sinuous big beak of teeth as if to trumpet some triumph. I marvelled at the frozen rhythms of its swaying body. I’m sure I’d read somewhere that this species had been found along the Yorkshire coast. I tried to imagine a crowded Sunday on Scarborough beach being cleared by one of these crocodilian giants crawling ashore.
The Photographer waded out into the reeds for a closer look, camera at the ready to capture the first sign of something unexpected. I feared the worst. My imagination played out a sudden muscular blur of ravenous reptilian fury. A hopeless cry for help, thrashing limbs, splashing water and a dark shadow disappearing beneath the spreading ripples.
Alas poor snapper, we knew him well: just a single shoe left stranded in the antediluvian mud.
Hmm. Fantasising Jurassic homicides in Crystal Palace Park. I might need to adjust my early morning intake of caffeine. But I liked the idea of the dinosaurs biting back, putting up a fight.
It made the island seem less like the forgotten retirement home it had been moment earlier.
Retracing my steps, I noticed a wreath of twigs adorning the snout of one of the Megalosaurus. Evidence of nesting in the great stone jaws – a new accommodation of past and present life.
The island and its present day inhabitants seemed determined to reclaim their Victorian stone cousins. A new ecology was evolving. A new battle for supremacy.
I looked closer at the hide of the Hylaeosaurus. A stone maze of interlocking plates now being invaded by bright-coloured lichen. Life was sprouting all over the creatures. But for the dinosaurs, it was anti-life; it brought further damage deterioration, decay – stone-death. A double extinction.
As we eventually left the island, I realised the tragedy of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs is that we could still lose them: and what our little expedition had made clear was the fact that the threat they face is a daily one.
Nothing as dramatic as species-obliteration by meteorite or volcanic upheaval. Not even some biological blight.
No this time the threat these dinosaurs face is a lot more insidious.
The never-ending assault of the Seven Deadly Agents of Deterioration.
And that, dear reader, is an entirely different tale.
4 June 2015
Have you been to see the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs recently? Did you notice any damage?
Please help the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by filling in a brief survey about the condition of the ensemble. You can do it in five minutes if you are quick. Your answers will be part of to the scientific publication and presentation at a conference SPark on the conservation of sculpture parks in Croatia in September!
3 June 2015
Dinosaur Doctors! is a short family-oriented performance on Dinosaur Island in Crystal Palace Park, highlighting the unique history of the Dinosaurs and the need to conserve them.
Devised by the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, the inaugural performance at the Crystal Fun Palace in October 2014 was a roaring success.
In Dinosaur Doctors!, our Victorianesque heroes emerge from the foliage of Dinosaur Island and treat the beasts for ailments such as broken tails, athlete’s foot and sore throat. Using humour and theatre, the performance educates about dinosaurs, how the sculptures were created, and why conservation is an important part of preserving our local heritage.
Watch this space as we announce further upcoming performances of Dinosaur Doctors, and follow us on Facebook for updates!
Photos by Newton Photographic
20 September 2014
By Dr Simon Jackson
In my previous article, I wrote about the reconstruction of the Labyrinthodon, at Crystal Palace Park. But the Dicynodon, seen to the left of this Hawkins’ illustration, was to prove an even greater challenge — perhaps the hardest of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
When you see dinosaurs in productions such as Jurassic Park or Walking with Dinosaurs, or the animal statues at Crystal Palace Park, it’s easy to forget that what you see is the end-product of a process — a process built piece by piece by scientists and artists.
All palaeontologists struggle with the same problem — reconstructing an animal from a few bones or parts. It’s like putting together a jigsaw — but from only a few pieces! And to make it harder, there’s no picture on a box to follow.
The famous British anatomist, Richard Owen was particularly good at these types of puzzles. Perhaps his most famous example was in 1839, when he was able to predict the existence of a huge unknown flightless bird in New Zealand — from a fragment of a femur alone .
Although his supposition was not initially accepted by all of the scientific community, he was proved right three years later, when he was able to reconstruct the Dinornis (more commonly known as the “moa”) from more complete material . Thus Owen’s reputation was vindicated (and even fabled) and the photograph of him standing next to the complete moa skeleton, is his triumphant “I told you so” moment. It appeared, he “could wield the same predictive powers as mathematicians or astronomers” .
Owen’s reputation also reached South Africa. In 1844, whilst constructing military roads in the Cape of Good Hope, Mr Andrew Geddes Bain, road engineer, and geologist, had discovered some highly unusual skulls . Curious to find out exactly what these really were, he transmitted the material to the Geological Society of London, with a request that Owen would undertake their description .
Of course, Owen eagerly accepted the challenge. This was another opportunity for him to apply his puzzle solving skills — another chance to describe a new type of animal. However, he could not have anticipated the strange animal he was about to uncover….
The strangest character which struck Owen was the sharp-pointed tusks projecting from the skulls (an obvious feature which formed the basis of Bain’s initial name for them; “Bidentals”). These tusks, he compared to those of the walrus; “borrowed as it were from the Mammalian class” . As the hard sandstone was painstakingly removed under Owen’s keen supervision, other strange features of the skull also became more apparent.
The front of the upper and lower jaws, Owen deduced, were sheathed with horn, forming a bill, like that of a turtle. But turtles do not have tusks, Owen noted, making the Dicynodon a very strange animal indeed — a chimera which may have reminded him of the platypus creature, from Australia. (The only other clues that Owen had, were a few vertebrae, from which Owen concluded that the Dicynodon had an aquatic, perhaps marine, lifestyle).
Now, in the case of the moa, Owen was able to able to reconstruct the animal from just one fragment — using the technique of functional correlation to determine that a particular kind of (bird) upper leg bone, was associated with a particular kind of lower leg bone, and so on, until the entire animal was built. This principle worked well when a complete skeleton of a closely related animal (ostrich) was known, which provided Owen with a framework (or if you like, the picture on the front of the jigsaw puzzle box). However, when the remains of a completely new creature — such as the Dicynodon — were found, this picture simply did not exist. The same kind of reference was not there.
Presented with such a strange mix of features, Owen seems to have been unwilling to state his reputation on what the actual creature looked like (judging from the absence of any scientific whole-animal illustrations of his, like the Labyrinthodon, see below). The palaeontologist in him was simply waiting for more fossils — more evidence to guide him through putting the jigsaw together. But in this case, there simply wasn’t time…
A statue of the Dicynodon was to be erected at the famous Crystal Palace Park, less than 10 years later (1854), by the artistic hand of famous sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins — and the reconstruction was needed now!
Hawkins worked closely with Owen in creating many of the statues — making smaller macquettes (models) of some animals to seek Owen’s scientific approval, before scaling them up to create the finished statues . However, as far as we know (and we would like to be proved wrong) there was no such miniature model of the Dicynodon. This raises the question —what kind of conversation, if any, was taking place between sculptor and scientific consultant on this particular project? Was Hawkins on his own with the Dicynodon reconstruction?
We know from studying Hawkins’ illustrations, held in the Natural History Museum Picture Library Archives, that Hawkins illustrated the Dicynodon with the head emerging above the horizon . So clearly, Hawkins did not know how to illustrate the rest of the body.
But in order to breathe life into this extinct animal, and to fit the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, Hawkins would have to edge further into the dark of the “speculation zone”, even if Owen was not prepared to.
Now, Hawkins too was a scientist — or, at least, was a student of the scientific work of Owen and the famed anatomist, Baron Georges Cuvier . Could he also apply the same logical principles which served Owen so well in reconstructing the moa? If the head of the Dicynodon animal, was like that of a turtle, with a beak, then should not the body also be like that of a turtle — with a shell? And, that is exactly what we see in the statues.
It is also highly probable that Owen’s interpretation of the Dicynodon as an amphibious animal, based upon the nature of the vertebrae, also influenced this reconstruction of Hawkins. But why did Hawkins not choose to base his Dicynodon body-reconstruction on the walrus? — given that the significant tusks, were a more prominent feature of Owen’s descriptions . I think, this is to do with Hawkins’ chronological sequence of animals in the Park. Cuvier’s large extinct mammals, such as the mammoth and mastodon had been retrieved from much younger (Tertiary) deposits (than the Dicynodon) and Hawkins had planned to show representative of mammals in a separate part of the Park (The Tertiary Island). So, the suggestion that a walrus-like animal lived in much more ancient times (as was represented by Dicynodon and other animals on The Secondary Island) would have been met by ridicule. So turtle may have won out, simply because it “fit” into this accepted chronological framework.
So, what did Owen think, then, of this strange sabre-toothed turtle? We can really only speculate, but if his comment in the 1854 Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World  guide he — supposedly — wrote is anything to go by “Mr Hawkins [has] taken upon himself the responsibility of adding the trunk to the known characters of the head”, it seems Owen very much left Hawkins to the reconstruction of the Dicynodon body, and then wanted to distance himself from it.
As we briefly touched on in the previous article on the Labyrinthodon, Owen is often credited more for the creation of the Crystal Palace Park statues. But at least in these two instances, we see that these jigsaw puzzles have been put together not just by scientist, but also by artist. In fact, this is the way that palaeontological jigsaws today are often put together. The palaeontologists place the pieces which make up the bones, muscles (and in some rare cases, skin or body covering). The final pieces for creating the living, ‘fleshed-out’ jigsaw (e.g. colour), will be put in place by the artist (guided by scientific facts). Although, for the Dicynodon, Hawkins seems to have placed a large part of the jigsaw (i.e. the shell) himself.
Although it is tempting to perhaps judge Hawkins rather harshly with “you got it wrong”, we must remember the very little material that he was working with. There is nothing like the Dicynodon, with its strange mix of features, alive today (we now think these animals are more closely related to mammals than turtles). Most importantly, the Hawkins’ reconstruction, still standing 160 years later, is a ‘living’ testament to the changing process of science — reconstructions change with new discoveries and theories, so we can go back and question older reconstructions, or ideas critically. We can say “we have got it less wrong now”. Ideas, like animals, evolve too.
The sabre-toothed Dicynodon, a turtle no more.
1. Owen, R. (1840). On the bone of an Unknown Struthious Bird from New Zealand, Meeting of November 12, 1839. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (Vol. 7, pp. 169-171).
2. Owen, R. (1843). On the Remains of Dinornis, an Extinct Gigantic Struthious Bird. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (pp. 8-10).
3. Dawson, G. On Richard Owen’s Discovery, in 1839, of the Extinct New Zealand Moa from Just a Single Bone. BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [Last accessed 20 September 2014].
4. Bain, A. G. (1845). II.—On the Discovery of the Fossil Remains of Bidental and other Reptiles in South Africa. Transactions of the Geological Society of London, 53-59.
5. Owen, R. (1845). III.— Report on the Reptilian Fossils of South Africa: Part I. — Description of Certain Fossil Crania, Discovered by AG Bain, Esq ., in Sandstone Rocks at the South-Eastern Extremity of Africa, Referable to Different Species of an Extinct Genus of Reptilia (Dicynodon), and Indicative of a New Tribe or Sub-order of Sauria. Transactions of the Geological Society of London, 59-84.
6. Hawkins, B. W. (1854). On Visual Education As Applied to Geology. Journal of the Society of Arts, 2, 444-449.
7. Doyle, P., & Robinson, E. (1993). The Victorian ‘Geological Illustrations’ of Crystal Palace Park. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 104(3), 181-194.
8. Owen, R., & Hawkins, B. W. (1854). Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. Crystal Palace Library.
27 August 2014
By Simon Jackson @drsimonjackson (2014).
When most people go to Crystal Palace Park, they expect to see the iconic dinosaur statues, such as Megalosaurus and Iguanodon. However, there are many other extinct (non-dinosaurian) animals in the Park. All have interesting stories to tell. It is unfortunate that so many of them are overlooked.
Several of these can be seen in a sketch below by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the famous creator of the Crystal Palace Park statues. In my previous article, Have We Found “Missing” Footprint? I wrote about the series of footprints, seen in the centre of this illustration, which - supposedly - was replicated as an exhibit in the Park . In this article, I will focus more on its trackmaker — the animal seen in the centre, the Labyrinthodon.
From the sketch, this creature presents a strange combination of characters. What was Hawkins really trying to illustrate here? The back-half of the animal looks very frog-like, particularly the way the relatively long limbs are folded next to the body. The head looks nothing like a frog, and it’s hard to interpret what exactly Hawkins was illustrating.
So, where did Hawkins get this strange Labyrinthodon reconstruction from?
Hawkins created the extinct models under the “sanction and approval” and guiding scientific hand of the famous British anatomist, Sir Richard Owen, the “British Cuvier” . Owen coined the name Dinosauria in 1842 . He also was an expert in early amphibians and reptiles, describing the first Triassic amphibians and reptiles from England .
Of greatest importance here, Owen described [3,5] several species of Labyrinthodon from fragmentary material that he was sent from Warwickshire (particularly the Coten End Quarry — a quarry worked in the 19th century for building stones). Owen lumped together the material he was sent; combining several very different animals with the correctly identified ‘amphibian’ (temnospondyl) skull. Thus, a chimera was born.
Most importantly, Labyrinthodon pachygnathus included a hip element (ilium), now attributed to a quite distantly related animal (the holotype specimen for the archosaur, Bromsgroveia walkeri ; an animal more closely related to the crocodile). Owen concluded [3,5] the Labyrinthodon had a disproportionately large set of hindlimbs, agreeing in form with “some of the living anourous Batrachians” — meaning, frogs and toads.
Owen’s ‘creature’ can be seen in his restored outline (above) reproduced by Lyell . Here, it is seen making the Chirotherium trackway, it was, then, believed to have made; as the set of footprints also indicated relatively large hindlimbs. The head is also very crocodile-like, and reflects the many crocodilian features which Owen believed the animal possessed.
Now, from a historical point of view, this is where things become more interesting. Clearly, Owen’s drawing differs to that of the Hawkins’ sketch, with which we began. Before reading on, have a look yourself and see what you think the differences are.
Spot the difference? In Hawkins’ illustration and one of actual statues of the Labyrinthodon (L. pachygnathus), seen in the photograph above, the back is clearly arched, reminiscent of a frog — much more flattened than in Owen’s drawing. Why is this?
Hawkins could be most likely trying to represent an extinct animal, by reproducing the image of a known living animal, to which the public would be familiar. Thus, the Labyrinthodon of Owen became transformed to the more frog-like creature of Hawkins. The arched back may have also been based upon the interpretation of the backbone (dorsal vertebrae) that Owen described  from Labyrinthodon scutulatus; “[the vertebrae] indicating an habitual inflection of the spine, analogous to that in the humped back of the frog” (we do know that Hawkins was scholarly and would have consulted in detail the work of Owen ).
Hawkins seems to have deviated from the amphibian bodyplan with the somewhat unusual block-like head, in the statue, lined with short teeth. If not frog, then what animal does this unusual head resemble? The Hawkins’ sketch of the Labyrinthodon, that we began with, has an even more unusual head. We would be interested to hear your thoughts of what you think it looks like. But, clearly it deviates from the crocodile-like head in the sketch that Owen reproduced.
Interestingly, the smaller scaled model of the Labyrinthodon (above), which Hawkins supposedly presented to Owen, to seek his scientific approval, closely resembles the finished statue product. Does this mean Owen actually approved of it though? — Consider the significant differences we discussed above between Owen’s sketch (i.e. crocodile-like head, flat back) and the statue…Or, was his disapproval ignored? In absence of more data, this is something at which we can only speculate at this stage (we of course would be interested to hear your views on this).
So, to summarise; it is a real shame that people at the Park rush past the Labyrinthodon, so eager to either look at the marine reptiles, dinosaurs or ‘pterodactyles’. Spare a thought for the little ones. The Labyrinthodon has interesting stories to tell, stories that pertain to the complex relationship between the artist (Hawkins) and the scientific consultant (Owen), which we are only just beginning to understand. Owen is often given more credit for the reconstruction of the models, but we think Hawkins’ frog-like reconstruction differs significantly from Owen’s vision. So, the scientific description and basis for the Labyrinthodon, of course, lay with Owen, but the finished product, the final vision we see at Crystal Palace, was created by the artistic eye of Hawkins.
In addition to the frog, Hawkins may have been influenced by other animals when creating his Labyrinthodon creature. So have a good look at the models and let us know what other influences you think could be present. Please send your tweets to @cpdinosaurs.
1. Owen, R, and Hawkins, B. W. (1854). Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. Crystal Palace Library. 39 p.
2. Hawkins, B. W. (1854). On Visual Education As Applied to Geology. Journal of the Society of Arts, 2: 444-449.
3. Owen, R. (1842). Report on British Fossil Reptiles, Part II. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1841–1842:60–204.
4. Benton, M. J., & Gower, D. J. (1997). Richard Owen’s Giant Triassic Frogs: Archosaurs from the Middle Triassic of England. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 17(1), 74-88.
5 Owen, R. (1842). Description of Parts of the Skeleton and Teeth of Five Species of the Genus Labyrinthodon (Lab. leptognathus, Lab. pachygnathus and Lab.ventricosus, from the Coten End and Cubbington Quarries of the Lower Warwick Sandstone; Lab. jaegeri from Guy’s Cliff, Warwick: and Lab. scutulatus from Leamington); With Remarks on the Probable Identity of the Cheirotherium with This Genus of Extinct Batrachians. Transactions of the Geological Society of London, series 2, 6:515–543.
6. Lyell, C. (1858) A Manual of Elementary Geology. Reprinted from Six Edition. New York, Appleton & Company.
18 July 2014
The lost Oolite pterodactyls have been found.
For years, we heard rumours about the lost pterodactyl models. These reinforced glass fibre models were created as part of the extensive reconstruction work in 2000s. They were done by John Warne (Fredrica Banks Sculpture) in consultation with geologist Peter Doyle and Morton Partnership.
These gorgeous models went on display in 2002, with the reopening of the displays. They were destroyed by vandals in 2005. The broken pieces were removed by park rangers. Vandalism is a long-running problem in Crystal Palace Park, and the statues suffer alongside many other features in the park.
Locating the broken pterodactyl pieces hasn’t been easy. Records are missing. Rumours are plenty. Wires have been crossed many times. But as is so often the case, there’s one key person who knows the answer. Once you find that person, everything falls into place.
This week, Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs got lucky. We had the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Result!
The location cannot be disclosed. But Ellinor Michel, Joe Cain and James Balston were given special access and shown the fragments We had a chance to count up the pieces and to make a quick inspection. most pieces are in sad condition now. However, there’s enough for further work, something we have in mind for the future.
One feature is clear. These models weren’t hollow. In a discussion about making the pterodactyls, John Warne said they had trouble with the delicacy of the glass fibre. The hollow models were filled with a mixture of sand and resin to give them heft. That worked well. These models are quite heavy.
These two pterodactyl models are reconstructions of one species, Pterodactylus bucklandi. Owen’s guide to the dinosaurs mentions them (p. 22), noting their remains are “found pretty abundantly” in Oolite rocks.
Fossil material for these organisms were first discovered in the 1830s, and the species was named in honour of William Buckland by Meyer (1832). Seeley (1880) renamed this genus Rhamphocephalus and the current name for this material is Rhamphocephalus bucklandi (details).
“Oolite” refers to a geological period now assigned to the Middle Jurassic. This is best featured in slate rocks near Stonesfield, near Oxford. Stonesfield provides not only some of the best terrestrial reptile material in the world, but it also yields turtles, crocodilians, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and mammals. Quarries in Stonesfield were worked for roofing materials well into the 20th century.
Written by Joe Cain including research by Simon Jackson.
15 June 2014
British Pathe filmed the short clip, “Restoring Monsters” (1959). This is a short clip about recent restoration work on the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, including some restoration, painting, and generally just looking after the site. This kind of maintenance is essential for the long-term survival of the statues and the rest of the display.
Special thanks to Richard Luck circulating this material via our Facebook page:
8 June 2014
“There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected, as the art of tracing footsteps” — Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet
There is a curious note in Richard Owen’s official guide to the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, his 1854 book, Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World (note 1). When writing about Labyrinthodon, one of the creatures he had researched in great detail, Owen mentions a series of footprints installed with the animal models in the Crystal Palace Park. These came from a related fossil animal known as Chirotherium, sometimes spelled Cheirotherium (note 2). The drawing at the top of this page shows a slab of fossil footprints similar to those supposedly installed in the display.
While Megalosaurus and Iguanodon are impossible to miss, the footprints mentioned by Owen are nowhere to be seen. But perhaps we’ve found a clue.
In the mid-19th century, the study of footprints was an exciting new frontier of palaeontology. Discoveries had recently come to light from Dumfriesshire, Scotland (note 3); Hildburghausen, Germany (note 4); Cheshire and Merseyside (UK) (note 5) and the Connecticut Valley, US (note 6). In some cases, footprints provided the only clues for the existence of a species (note 7).
The Victorian fascination with fossil footprints was reflected in the large number of museum displays in which they featured. For instance, footprint slabs were on display at the British Museum, now the Natural History Museum (note 8). Casts of footprint slabs also could be purchase from commercial suppliers, such as through Henry Ward’s 1866 Catalogue of Casts of Fossils (note 9).
It’s not surprising that Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins chose to include footprints as part of his sculptures in Crystal Palace Park. Probably with Richard Owen’s consent (note 10), footprints accompanied the models for their presumed animal creators or near relatives, the Labyrinthodons. Owen had described these from fragmentary material found in Warwickshire (note 11), suggesting they were essentially giant amphibians.
I’ve seen a photograph, from approximately 2002, of a Chirotherium footprint set in water next to one of the Labyrinthodon models. But it was loose, set there for the photograph. I suspect it had been lifted up from elsewhere on Primary Island and later set into the spot where it’s now been seen. I don’t know if other footprints await discovery.
I have spotted what we think may be the only surviving footprint, or pair of footprints in a photograph shown to me by Professor Joe Cain (note 12). That photograph was taken in 2013. Strangely, I have seen this footprint in only one photograph. Cross-checking this observation against many other images of virtually identical views, I can find nothing. It’s just not there!
Compare the images above and below. These were taken five years apart.
Last week, I went to check myself. I took my best camera and a pair of binoculars because I could not get onto the islands without special permission from park officials. The spot was covered over with growing plants. I cannot express how frustrating that was. So very close…
Specialists like me who study footprints (we’re known as ‘ichnologists’) know footprints can be highly elusive to the human eye. The slightest change in lighting, for instance, can unveil or shroud these prehistoric enigmas. This is because they are often of low relief and, paradoxically, if you’re staring straight down at one…you could likely miss it. The secret to spotting footprints is to look for them when the sun is at a much lower angle, for instance, at daybreak or dusk. Then, get down as low as possible, and look across the surface (bedding plane) to spot the ‘newly’ emerging footprints.
We do know that our images were taken five years apart. It’s possible that the footprint has been filled with loose sediment or dirt. So we need to get out there with a brush, under the careful eye of park rangers of course.
So, if you have had the fortune to visit the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, take a close look at your photographs. If you can spot anything that looks like a footprint, tweet the Friends at @cpdinosaurs or add a post on the Friends’ Facebook page. And when you next visit the park, don’t just visit the dinosaurs. Give the little ol’ Labyrinthodons some of your time.
References and Notes
1 Owen, R, and Hawkins, B. W. (1854). Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. Crystal Palace Library. 39 p.
2 From Kaup, J. J. (1835). Das Tierreich 1. Johann Philipp Diehl, Darmstadt: 116 p.
3 Duncan, H (1831) An Account of the Tracks and Footprints of Animals Found Impressed on Sandstone in the Quarry of Corncockle Muir in Dumfriesshire. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,11:194-209.
4 Kaup, J. J. (1835). Mitteilung über Tierfährten von Hildburghausen. Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geologie und Paläontologie, 1835:327–328.
5 Cunningham, J. (1838) An Account of the Footsteps of the Chirotherium and Other Unknown Animals Lately Discovered in the Quarries of Storeton Hill, in the Peninsular of Wirrall between the Mersey and the Dee. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, 3: 12-14.
6 Hitchcock, E. (1836) Ornithichnology-Description of the Footmarks of Birds, (Ornithichnites) On New Red Sandstone in Massachusetts. American Journal of Science, Series 1. 29:307-340.
7 For an example of how footprint evidence may be the only proof of an animal’s existence, in the geological record, see Tresise, G. R. (1989) The Invisible Dinosaur. National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. Eaton Press, Wallasey, Merseyside. 32 p.
8 Mantell, G. A. (1851) Petrifactions and Their Teachings; or, a Handbook to the Gallery of Organic Remains of the British Museum. Henry G Bohn, London.
9 Ward, H. A. (1866). Catalogue of Casts of Fossils: From the Principal Museums of Europe and America, with Short Descriptions and Illustrations. Benton & Andrews, printers.
10 Hawkins, B. W. (1854). On Visual Education As Applied to Geology. Journal of the Society of Arts, 2: 444-449.
11 Although Cheirotherium is the correct spelling in Greek for hand beast, Chirotherium (the incorrect spelling) was used first and therefore, under the provisions of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, is the valid name, used now. It is now thought that this type of footprint was made by animals more closely related to crocodiles, than to amphibians (see Tresise 1989, above for more details).
12 There is a short note in McCarthy and Gilbert (1994) that one of these footprints still survives. McCarthy, S. and Gilbert, M. (1994) The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: The Story of the World’s First Prehistoric Sculptures. Crystal Palace Foundation.
Author: Dr Simon Jackson (@DrSimonJackson) is a scientist and Friend of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
1 February 2014
Eric Boardman’s YouTube video, with him paddling in the tidal lake, shows a typical example. He laughs as he crashes into a Plesiosaurus statue. That statue shows cracks on its side. Related? This is no accidental passing by from a causal boater. The water here is separated from the boating lake by dams and other barriers. Someone must have physically lifted that boat into this pool of water.
This young man was working hard to impress a girl. Those statues were not designed to take this weight. It would be impossible to replace the Iguanodon if it collapsed.
These young men were doing the same, whilst their friend hides behind the Hylaeosaurus.
Here, a couple seeks an isolated spot to share a spliff (judged from the smell).
27 July 2013
Conservation is steady work. Things break. Things weather. Things get knocked about both by accident and by carelessness. Even when things are made to last, it can be hard work holding them together.
When the Friends raise conservation issues about the dinosaurs, we often see puzzled faces. “Didn’t they already do that?”
But it’s like your teeth. Brush them daily. Floss. Visit the dentist. Teeth need regular care. The dinosaurs are the same. Plus, they’re made from softer materials than teeth. They also spend all day every day out in the British weather: some days freezing; other days baking. Some days soggy; other days, parched. It’s tough being a dinosaur.
This page provides a brief on major recent conservation work. The goal is to salute the hard work previously undertaken, and to show that regular care is essential.
Major conservation was last completed in 2003 by Morton Partnership in a £3.6 million restoration programme headed by the London Borough of Bromley with contributions from HLF and the UK SRB scheme. This involved repair and restoration. It also produced several recreations. Owing to prolonged neglect, conservation work for 2003 was exceptionally extensive. Credit goes to geologist Peter Doyle for his contributions. For instance, he was responsible for rediscovering forgotten elements and for facilitating several fiberglass replacements.
Vandalism can have a devastating effect on the displays. The restored pterodactyl group (above) were destroyed in 2005 when vandals kicked them over. The pieces were collected, but the statues have not been replaced.
Previous conservation took place in 1952. Keith Wyncoll has written a fine article about this work for Crystal Palace Matters (Summer 2013, number 69), published by the Crystal Palace Foundation.
21 July 2013
The “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model” is the best known story about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. It took place on New Year’s Eve 31 December 1853 and was immortalised in the picture published in Illustrated London News, 7 January 1854, p. 22.
“Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of—at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853 An answer will oblige.”
The scene depicts a collection of gentlemen sitting around a table inside one of the Iguanodon models under construction over the winter 1853-54. In the image, waiters deliver dinner. On the floor are pieces of the mould used to cast the model. Different reports put Richard Owen at the head of the table and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins standing centre and facing the viewer. The model is surrounded by a tent decorated with a chandelier and four plaques honouring famous palaeontologists (William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Gideon Mantell). Because the Iguanodon model stood tall, a stage was required for waiters and guests to reach inside.
This picture in Illustrated London News was based on a drawing made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, preserved in the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. This drawing was meant to be a report to the geologist Joseph Prestwich, but Waterhouse Hawkins intended it for wider circulation. At the time, much was made of the fact that Professor Richard Owen was placed at the head of the table - quite literally, sitting where the brain was located.
Waterhouse Hawkins’ drawing was accompanied by a small report.
THE DINNER IN THE MOULD OF THE IGUANODON
Given by Mr. B Waterhouse Hawkins
To Prof R Owen, Prof Edward Forbes, Mr Joseph Prestwich and 18 other Scientific and literary gentlemen at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham on the 31st of December 1853
The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends. The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening. The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left.
Original drawing by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins for the invitation to Dinner in the Iguanodon Mould. This is preserved in Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (link). A printed invitation is preserved in the Waterhouse Hawkins collection at the Natural History Museum (link). The scale of the Iguanodon is extraordinary.
Because this event has such a special place in legends about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, some people seek absolutely precise knowledge of events over the night. This is quite difficult to do. Evidence is sparse. Different pieces suggest different answers.
We know who was invited. That information comes from preserved copies of the invitation. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was the host. Guests included Richard Owen, Edward Forbes, John Gould and Joseph Prestwich. It also included some key people in the Crystal Palace Company, owners of the park. The promotional value of this event was not ignored, so some newspaper editors were invited, too.
Different versions of the invitation survive. Waterhouse Hawkins frequently drew images that were far too elaborate for his engravers to reproduce. This was true for these invitations. His hand-drawn version shows an exaggerated scale for the Iguanodon, though it suggests a key feature of the evening.
We know the menu for their eight-course dinner. This comes from preserved copies of the menu card.
Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare
Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise
Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce
Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole
Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes
Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux [Confiture ?]
Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c
Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret
We know how they behaved, if press reports are to be believed. The event became quite boisterous. Waterhouse Hawkins said the proceedings lasted well past midnight.
Many newspapers reported the event in the following days. All press accounts followed the tongue-in-cheek spirit of holiday celebrations. For example, Punch reported “Fun in a Fossil” (1854 volume 26 page 24),
“The world of scientific gastronomy will learn with interest that Professors Owen and Forbes, with a party of other gentlemen, numbering altogether 21, had an exceedingly good dinner, the other day, in the interior of the Iguanodon modelled at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. We congratulate the company on the era in which they live; for it it had been an early geological period, they might perhaps have occupied the Iguanodon’s inside without having any dinner there.”
And the London Quarterly Review’s report spoke in terms of domination:
“Saurians, Pterodactyls all! . . . Dreamed ye ever . . . of a race to come dwelling above your tombs and dining on your ghosts.” (need to confirm this quote)
There are things we don’t know about this famous dinner.
For instance, did the guests sit inside the model (the Iguanodon we see when visiting the park), or did they sit in the mould for the model (the outer casing used to give shape to the model), or did they sit in both, perhaps while the concrete model was setting inside the mould (notice the smooth surface on the body of the Iguanodon versus the texture of the head and on the inner side of the piece of mould). It’s also possible they did not truly dine inside the model as depicted. Perhaps they dined near the model, and variously sat inside it as the evening progressed.
One report reports “Eleven guests could sit inside the belly; ten more places were prepared on a table alongside.” Close inspection of the Illustrated London News image suggesst a perpendicular table moving off into the distance behind the Iguanodon. This T-shaped setting seems plausible given the construction of a stage around the model. It is the most likely arrangement for the guests at that dinner.
In its accompanying report on the dinner, Illustrated London News implies Waterhouse Hawkins wants his scientist guests inside the body of his model as a symbol of their tacit support for the accuracy of his work. Owen obliged him with a short complimentary presentation about the sculptures. They were state-of-the-art, Owen said.
Another question we don’t have a specific answer for relates to where the Iguanodon statue stood on the evening of the dinner. Some suggest it stood in the studio shed used by Waterhouse Hawkins. This was located off the islands, on a nearby hill. This suggestion is based on the illustration appearing in Illustrated London News on the afternoon of the famous dinner.
Others suggest it was on site, where the Iguanodon is located today.
This rare photograph by Philip Henry Delamotte (published in 1855 but taken in 1854 prior to the opening of the park) gives a clue to the techniques used by Waterhouse Hawkins. The big statues weighted many tons and most likely were cast in place or were assembled in place from pieces cast in the studio. (Under canvas in this photograph are the Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus. In the distance, teleosaurs are complete.) This suggests the New Year’s Even dinner took place on site, with a stage constructed around the Iguanodon.
4 May 2013
Hat’s off to Anthony M R Lewis for his film about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. This shows how much fun a visit to Crystal Palace dinosaurs can be. Exciting to see what an imagination gone wild can produce. Part of the Lost Valley of London.