The 1862 London Exhibition
Before we look at flutes shown at the 1862 London Exhibition, it would be useful to know something of the Exhibition itself. Adrian Duncan fills us in....
The first World Exhibition held in London in 1851 had set a high standard for future International exhibitions of this nature. The long-standing rivalry between the English and the French, coupled with a feeling on the part of the French that their achievements had been under-valued at the 1851 event, spurred on the latter to organize a World Exhibition of their own. This event took place in Paris in 1855, and was clearly intended as a form of commercial “reprisal” against the British, whose products had dominated their own 1851 event. The Paris Exhibition actually became known colloquially in Britain as the “revenge for 1851”!
In the event, the Paris Exhibition was successful in terms of restoring the French to the position of pre-eminence which they saw as their due. No expense was spared in making this event far larger than its London predecessor. The number of exhibitors was considerably higher at 23,954 (as opposed to 13,937) and the Exhibition site was also substantially larger at 16 hectares (as compared to 10.5 hectares in London). And French commerce was front and center, both in terms of representation in the displays and in terms of the awards.
Nevertheless, the Paris event of 1855 was far less successful financially than the London affair of 1851 had been. The Paris event cost a total of 11,500,000 francs to stage, and the receipts totaled a mere 3,200,000 francs for a crippling shortfall of 8,500,000 francs. This had to be made up by a grant issued by the Government. Attendance too did not quite match that in London during 1851, although the event did attract 5,162,00 visitors (compared to just over 6 million in 1851).
Across the Channel in London, these proceedings were watched with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Paris Exhibition had gone deep in the hole financially, whereas the British event in 1851 had raised a profit of over 400,000 pounds which had been put to good use on behalf of the Nation. Furthermore, the French had failed to out-draw the 1851 event despite the far greater scale of their efforts. On the other hand, the French had undeniably outdone the British in terms of the sheer scale of their event, and had dominated the proceedings in a fashion which must have been difficult for the British to swallow.
Motivated by thoughts such as these, in early 1858 the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Trade (the organizers of the 1851 Exhibition) decided to stage a repeat of that highly successful event. There were many good reasons for holding a new World Exhibition. The 1855 Parisian “revenge for 1851” had successfully proved that it was possible to repeat a show of this magnitude after a relatively short interval and still draw a sizeable attendance. Numerous smaller industrial exhibitions, for example in Dublin, Manchester and Florence, had demonstrated new technological developments in specific areas of industry since 1851. Furthermore, heavy industry, in particular steel production, had made enormous advances during the intervening years. The more economic and efficient use of steam engines for railways and ships had led to major savings in energy. In the chemicals sector, the discovery of aniline had led to the revolutionizing of the dyestuffs and drugs industry. In communications, telegraphy had begun its triumphant march, and photography, which in 1851 had still been very much in its infancy, had in the meantime gained universal respect as a graphic medium. Thus it was time once again to exhibit to a large audience the technological progress that had been achieved worldwide in all spheres.
It was accordingly decided that another World Exhibition should be staged in London in an attempt to repeat the success of the 1851 event and also put those “upstart Frenchmen” in their place once more. However, in going all out to repeat the success of 1851 but on a far larger scale, the organizers of what was to become the 1862 Exhibition in London were to make several grave errors of judgment, as we shall see.
The Exhibition Planned during a Time of Crisis
During the decade of the 1850’s, Britain had been involved in the Crimean War and had also fought a number of bitter battles to suppress insurgents in South Africa. However, these crises had more or less passed by the late 1850’s, and Britain now felt ready to throw all the economic and political energies of the Nation behind the proposed repetition of the 1851 event on an even grander scale.
Originally, the second London World Exhibition was to have taken place in 1861 to mark the tenth anniversary of its highly successful predecessor. As we have seen, planning for it began in 1858, and the plan was quickly taken up in leading industrial circles. At the end of 1858, the Society of Arts approached the Commissioners of the 1851 Exhibition, who were still continuing their public-spirited management of the assets acquired for the Nation using the proceeds of that event. The Commissioners were enthusiastic, and offered their full support and assistance. They were asked to make available part of the land of the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kensington, which was under their administration. They readily agreed to this proposal.
However, concurrent events elsewhere began increasingly to appear as significant impediments to the successful staging of the proposed 1861 Exhibition. The first of these events was the Italian War of Independence, which broke out in 1859. This conflict almost brought the preparations to a complete halt, since nobody in London could imagine that, in the midst of this crisis, it would be possible to find sufficient foreign exhibitors to justify the Exhibition. However, a further promotional campaign, started towards the end of 1859, got things moving once again, this time with a planned Exhibition date of 1862 to accommodate the delay occasioned by the events in Italy.
In March 1860, after a surety of £250,000 had been collected by subscription, a decree was enacted by the Queen granting adequate powers to the organizers. The Bank of England made available a line of credit in the amount of ₤250,000 for the purpose of erecting what was to be called the Palace of Industry and Art. The course at last seemed set fair for a repeat of the 1851 Exhibition on the eleventh anniversary of that highly successful event.
On 14 February 1861,
by means of an act of incorporation, Queen Victoria appointed a commission
for the second London International Exhibition of Industry and Art of
The actual preparatory work finally began in March 1861. The plan to hold the World Exhibition was officially announced and invitations were sent to other countries. On 9 March 1861, surveying of the ground started, and at the beginning of April 1861 the foundation stone was laid and construction began. As construction began on 9th March 1861, Kelk and Lucas were facing a daunting deadline of only eleven months to complete the project.
The crisis in Italy was now in the process of resolving itself, to the point where the Italians felt able to stage their own National Exhibition in Firenze in 1861 as a dress rehearsal for the 1862 event in London. But now another foreign conflict erupted which once more jeopardized the entire scheme. The 1861 secession of the southern states in America posed perhaps the most serious threat of all to the success of the planned event. The resultant American Civil War caused a severe shortage of cotton, and the important British textiles sector suffered badly due to this. Many companies in that sector accordingly had to cancel their participation at the World Exhibition due to financial problems. Unemployment and lower wages were a direct consequence of this unhappy state of affairs, and this in turn threatened to reduce the number of visitors. Furthermore, the Civil War made it doubtful whether the USA, which had made a considerable showing in London in 1851, would participate at all. In the event, this latter fear proved well founded - there were only a few American exhibits in 1862.
Despite this new threat to the success of the event, the work proceeded with all the energy that could be mustered. However, Fate had not done yet with the organizers, and the death of Prince Albert on 14 December 1861 placed yet another great burden on the plan. Albert had been the spiritual father of the original World Exhibition concept leading to the 1851 event, and now his support and his symbolic presence were absent.
But one of the characteristics repeatedly demonstrated by Victorian engineering and enterprise was resilience and the ability to rise above any set-backs. As had been the case in 1851, the contractors once again demonstrated the ability of the Victorian building industry to achieve the seemingly impossible, and against all expectations the Exhibition building was handed over to the organizers on 12th February, 1862, within the assigned deadline.
The Exhibition Building
With the Exhibition Palace of 1862, the Commissioners wanted to put the Crystal Palace of 1851 in the shade in every respect. As it was intended to leave the building in place and use it after the Exhibition for further trade fairs and industrial exhibitions, there was no question of erecting a temporary steel and glass structure such as had been designed by Joseph Paxton for the 1851 event. In accordance with the tastes of the time, the facades and entrances of the new building had to be solid and embellished with sculptural decorations. This building was intended to last!
The responsibility for the design of the building was entrusted to Captain Francis Fowke, an engineer and architect on the staff of the government’s Department for Science and Art, who had already supervised the construction of the original Crystal Palace and had obtained further experience at the Paris World Exhibition of 1855 as secretary of the British section. Building contractors Kelk and Lucas received the contract for the construction of the building, on the basis of having submitted the low bid following an invitation to tender. They undertook to accept full responsibility for the construction of the building, with their remuneration being based on receipts at the Exhibition. In doing this, they were actually demonstrating great faith in the success of the venture – their fees were completely dependent upon the success of the Exhibition.
The building consisted of a main structure and two adjoining wings set at right angles for machinery and agricultural equipment, though these wings were in fact demolished after the Exhibition. The 350-metre-long main facade on Cromwell Road consisted of an almost endless row of high arched windows, corner pavilions, and a main entrance decorated with columns and flags. From here, one entered a spacious and highly decorated entrance hall. The nave formed a central axis right through the Palace from east to west, 26 meters wide and 35 meters high. In a style reminiscent of the Crystal Palace, it was covered by a filigree glass and iron construction. At each end of the nave, a large octagonal room opened up, and above each of these rooms soared enormous domes. From here transepts, which were shorter but still 35 meters in height, stretched to the north and south. This created an H-shaped layout. The courtyards between the nave and the transepts leading to the main facade and to the gardens were roofed over with glass, and also made usable as exhibition space by means of built-in galleries.
The two domes, made of iron and glass, were intended to be the main attraction of the architecture, but to a contemporary critic they appeared to be “neither attractive nor imposing”. It is true that, with a diameter of 49 meters, they exceeded by a few meters the domes of St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome, but at a height of 79 meters they were not as high as these cathedrals. For this reason, one could only gain a view of both domes simultaneously by viewing them from the higher terrace in the gardens. The cost of their construction was out of all proportion to their extremely limited benefit. The national press was most unflattering, calling them “colossal soup bowls” and “a national disgrace”. Nevertheless, the interior fittings received praise from some foreign commentators, as it was possible to view almost the entire exhibition from the dome rooms, the floor having been raised here somewhat.
The nave and the two transepts were adjoined by lower subsidiary aisles and galleries. This made it possible to increase the size of the exhibition area substantially, although, as had been the case in 1851, the exhibitors forced into these spaces complained of restricted access to their audience.
As constructed, the Exhibition Palace covered about 6.5 hectares (16.1 acres), and took up the entire southern part of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens. The building had been designed too large for the limited space available without encroachment upon the gardens. The remaining north section of the gardens could be visited free of charge by holders of season tickets to the Exhibition.
The Exhibition Opens
Despite all of the vicissitudes with which it had had to contend and the relative lack of planning and co-ordination time which had been available to the Royal Commission, arrangements somehow proceeded to a conclusion, and the second great London Industrial Exhibition opened on schedule on Thursday, May 1st, 1862.
The Queen, who was in mourning for her recently-deceased husband, did not attend the opening ceremony. An empty throne, together with busts of the Queen and her deceased consort at its side, underscored the loss to the Exhibition and indeed to the Nation as a whole. Albert had been a popular figure, and his loss was keenly felt by Queen Victoria’s subjects as well as the Queen herself. In every address, reference was made first of all to the death of Prince Albert, and his great contributions were praised. The Choral Ode composed by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Tennyson, also acknowledged the prince consort as having been the creator of the world-embracing exhibition concept.
Problems at the Exhibition
Even after the opening – as is the case with most World Exhibitions – the building work was nowhere near complete, and the exhibits were still far from all being in their rightful positions. This situation was exacerbated by another major mistake on the part of the Commissioners – they had given the exhibitors a free hand to organize the space allocated to them.
The press complained vociferously about the monstrous exhibits and over-ornate architecture which resulted from the lack of direct control exercised by the Commissioners. In some such cases, the Commissioners felt obliged to pay for corrective work. However, some excesses could not be undone – for instance, it was no longer possible to remove a wall that the French had built in order to gain more exhibition space and to separate themselves from the nave. The wall thus became a tangible symbol of the nationalist contest between the industrial states for superiority in the world markets.
Another serious problem became apparent very quickly. In their attempt to surpass the very successful first London World Exhibition of 1851, the organizers of the 1862 London Exhibition had planned an event that would eclipse all others (including the Paris event of 1855) in terms of sheer scale. In their pursuit of this objective, they undoubtedly succeeded. However, in terms of its value in a display context, the sheer scale of the event was to prove to be a major Achilles’ Heel of the Exhibition.
On the positive side in terms of meeting their goals, the organizers had undoubtedly succeeded in assembling and displaying more exhibits by more exhibitors from more participating countries than had ever been attempted before. Some 29,000 exhibitors representing 37 countries participated, a truly staggering number which would have been substantially higher if the USA had not been preoccupied with the Civil War. This eclipsed the scale of the 1855 Paris event by a comfortable margin. Over 9000 of the participating exhibitors came from Britain alone, together with a further 2600 from the British Colonies.
This was all very well, but the sheer volume of the exhibits meant that it was barely possible to present the outstanding products and innovative developments from around the world in an adequate and instructive manner. Nor was it possible for visitors to the event to take in anything like the full scope of the Exhibition within a reasonable time-frame. In effect, the organizers of the 1862 Exhibition found themselves trapped by the law of diminishing returns – the scale of their event greatly reduced the incremental impact and exposure of the individual exhibits, and it was clear in retrospect that the optimum scale for an event of this nature had been exceeded by a wide margin.
The design and layout of the Exhibition building was widely criticized on account of its general design and enormous dimensions as being monstrous and ugly. A typical reaction was penned by Alphonse Esquiros, who recorded his impressions of the Exhibition in “Revue des Deux Mondes”, Vol. 40, pp. 50-90. On page 62 of that volume, he wrote as follows:
“The shape of the building received criticism from all quarters: as indicated by the origin of the word itself (monere), every monument should be the expression of an idea, but that of the building in South Kensington could just as easily be used for a railway station, a military barracks or a model prison. (……..) As far as the aesthetic aspects of its architecture are concerned, the interior is greatly to be preferred to the exterior. I do not mean by this that it is irreproachable, however; but the naves, which stretch from one dome-covered space to the other, even though they are supported by iron columns that are far too slender, impress one by their size and by their titanic boldness, which are in healthy proportion to the intellectual gifts of the English and to the event being celebrated. It was, I believe, impossible to enter without being gripped by a profound and solemn sensation”.
Clearly, the designers of the 1862 building had signally failed to produce an edifice which could measure up to the fabled Crystal Palace of 1851, which had been universally praised by all who experienced it.
On a somewhat more positive note, an exhibition of fine arts had been added to the industrial fair following the example set by the Paris World Exhibition of 1855. The picture gallery in the main building, which was 350 metres long – a feature praised by the British press – equaled the length of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Paris. A cleverly designed lighting system using skylights and a sawtooth roof ensured glare-free illumination of the pictures. Needless to say, they were displayed according to nationality, in accordance with the desire of the Commission, in order to make obvious the contribution of each nation “to progress in the arts and to their present condition”. Thus each nation could select a founding father for its artistic traditions and demonstrate his influence up to the present day. In the British section, this role was given to William Hogarth, represented by 33 paintings, and to Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. From here, a line could be drawn to Constable, Wilkie and the Pre-Raphaelites, whose strengths lay in landscapes, portraits and genre painting.
In the side annexes of the exhibition building, visitors were offered machinery pure and unadulterated. The halls were simple wood and glass constructions, and the machines had no need of ornate décor or cooling fountains. Machines weighing as much as 35 tons were on display, in contrast to 1851, when none of the machines on display had weighed more than 9 tons. The steel industry, in particular, had undergone enormous innovative progress. Since the invention of the Bessemer process, which meant that steel could be produced faster and in larger quantities, the production quality of boilers, bridge girders and cannon had been taken to new heights. Henry Bessemer’s patented process was made much of at the World Exhibition. Friedrich Krupp from Essen, however, did not have to rely on this form of propaganda - he had already set up his first Bessemer furnace a few weeks earlier.
None of the problems noted above prevented the event from being attended on a scale very similar to that of 1851 – by the close of the Exhibition, some 6.1 million visitors had passed through the Exhibition doors, just topping the mark set in 1851 and also beating the attendance of the Paris event of 1855 quite comfortably.
The Awards System
The organizers of the 1851 Exhibition had given very careful consideration to the development of an Awards System for that event which would recognize innovation of ideas and excellence of workmanship and production as separate and distinct criteria. Moreover, they had divided the exhibits into a readily comprehensible system of classification which ensured that broadly similar products would be competing side by side for recognition against each other rather than against the overall contents of the Exhibition as a whole.
Although the 1851 system was not perfect and was subject to abuse, it was a rational attempt to recognize various facets of excellence for the various categories of objects exhibited. Moreover, the Juries were very clearly instructed and appear to have applied very high standards to the granting of an award – only some 22% of the exhibitors in 1851 received any kind of medal, and most of those were clearly specified to be for workmanship rather than for innovation.
Unfortunately, this was one of a number of areas in which the Commissioners of the 1862 Exhibition failed to learn from past experience and build upon what had been tried before. They made no attempt to develop a consistent classification system for the organization of the exhibits. Even the hefty catalogues made available to the public were unable to help the knowledge-hungry visitors, as they failed to follow any comprehensible classification criteria and, in addition, were disfigured and unnecessarily distended by advertising.
Furthermore, the fact that the contents of the building itself were organized by Nations led to fragmentation of the exhibits of similar types, making the task of the Juries very much more difficult. For instance, the western side of the nave was given over to the exhibits of Turkey, Greece, Brazil, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. However, even these groups were repeatedly interrupted by mixed exhibitions of arts and crafts, jewelry and sculpture. The western transept had been earmarked for exhibits from Austria and Germany. Most of the German states appeared together as the German Customs Union or Zollverein. However, as there was little money for elegant arrangement of the products, the German section appeared to many critics to be frugal, and the exhibits had to impress their audience on the strength of their own merits.
So the task of the Juries was considerably more complex than it had been in 1851. But there was a worse problem that they had to deal with – they were given no clear criteria upon which to base the award of a Medal or an Honorable Mention. Unlike 1851, only one category of medal was awarded in all classes, and there was no specific direction regarding the basis for a medal to be awarded – whether for innovation or execution of ideas. Thus it was unclear exactly what qualities in a given object a specific medal was awarded for – even the Jury citations often mentioned nothing more than the item for which the medal had been granted, with no indication of the particular merits of that object which had attracted the Jury’s favorable notice.
The sole alternative to the granting of a medal was the Honorable Mention. This inevitably led to the value attached to an Honorable Mention being considerably inflated by its recipients and being touted as a kind of “second place” medal, very much in the same manner as the Prize Medal had been touted by many in 1851.
The Commissioners had most probably reverted to the single-medal approach to avoid the problems which had followed the 1851 awards of medal-winning exhibitors attributing their awards to criteria which were in fact irrelevant – a notable British example had been Richard Carte, who had claimed to have won a Prize Medal in 1851 for the design of his 1851 Patent flute whereas in fact the award had specifically been won by Rudall & Rose for their fine workmanship displayed in the manufacture of that instrument. By making all medals equal, the Commissioners doubtless hoped that such abuses would not be possible.
However, in the event it proved that the system (or lack thereof) adopted in 1862 was if anything even more open to abuse. Basically, medal-winners could apply any criteria they liked to the medals won in 1862, since there were no written criteria to give them the lie, as there had been in 1851. Not only that, but because of the absence of formal written guidance, Juries had far more latitude when it came to awarding medals, since there were no criteria on the basis of which their decisions could be challenged. There was a very high potential for “deals” to be made within Juries on the lines of “You vote for my countryman’s exhibit, and I’ll vote for one of yours!” There were no checks and balances to prevent this kind of abuse.
These problems and their inevitable attendant consequences were as obvious to contemporary observers as they are to us today, and the judging of the exhibits and awarding of medals and honorable citations attracted harsh criticism at the time. Some exhibitors even staged protests within the Exhibition building regarding their treatment at the hands of the Juries, and a great deal of bad feeling was engendered. In addition, the intrinsic value of the awards was substantially diluted - the very loose award criteria and the under-the-table deal-making which must have taken place among the Juries quite predictably resulted in no less than 12,300 of the exhibitors (42%!!) receiving awards (as opposed to only 22% in 1851). Consequently, the system could hardly be taken seriously as a true reflection of outstanding relative merit.
However, it was possible to identify certain trends from the statistics in connection with the awards process. When the dust settled, and despite having to compete on British soil under the terms laid down by a British organizing Committee, France had still received 4% more awards than Great Britain, thus maintaining a slight but nonetheless appreciable edge in terms of recognition of her National accomplishments. This can hardly have sat well with the organizers or indeed with the British public! In addition, the medal itself, which showed Britannia, complete with her lion, laying her products at the feet of personifications of trade, industry and the arts, was denigrated as being “too large and ugly”. The whole awards process left a bad taste in the mouths of many observers, both in Britain and elsewhere.
In summary, it must be said that in terms of the awards process and the true value attached to the granting of an award, the organizers of the 1862 Exhibition failed to build upon the work of their predecessors of 1851. As a result, the value and significance of the awards granted in 1862 were considerably diluted in comparison to those of the awards granted in 1851.
The Exhibition Closes
When, on 1st November 1862, the doors of the second International Industrial Exhibition in London closed, the critics were unanimous - in terms of significance and success, this World Exhibition was a long way behind the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851. To be sure, the political circumstances and the death of Prince Albert had contributed to its bad press. But most of the problems were internal. The work of the Royal Commission was to a large extent deemed to be inadequate. Exhibitors complained of the limited space allocated to them and hardly anyone was willing to accept responsibility for clearing away the vast quantities of packing materials or for maintaining order. Due to the restricted space in which the Exhibition Palace was erected, there were repeated chaotic scenes at the entrances. As entry only cost a shilling on some days, but was considerably higher on others, there was a lack of clarity regarding the rights of season-ticket holders.
The particular aim of the world exhibitions in the 19th century was to promote peaceful competition between nations, the idea being that this would take the place of belligerent confrontations. However, given the competing nations’ appetite for power, such an idealistic concept was bound to fail.
Nevertheless, this World Exhibition made an enormous contribution to popularizing technological progress. The over six million visitors also ensured that the Exhibition closed having succeeded in making a modest profit. Once again, the British had achieved what the French had failed to accomplish in 1855 – stage an event of world magnitude and finish in the black financially.
Moreover, in spite of
all the criticism there were some positive outcomes. This World Exhibition
allowed lay people as well as specialists to come face-to-face with the
latest technical developments and products. The demonstration of
production processes and the appealing exhibition of machinery gave rise
to an improvement in the image of technical equipment, which was
increasingly finding its way into private households in the form of
Having demonstrated once again that anything France could do, Britain could do bigger and better if she tried, Britain was now content to rest on her laurels. There was no intention to hold any further large international exhibitions in Great Britain after 1862, and the British were henceforth content to leave this field of activity to France and in particular to Paris, the city of World Exhibitions par excellence, where these events could be held with greater style and pomp. In London, the intention in the future was only to hold national or specialist exhibitions and trade fairs.
Facts and Figures
Official title: The
London International Exhibition on Industry and Art of 1862
Bibliography of the Exhibition
de Brisse, Album de l’Exposition universelle de Londres en 1862.
Count Ad. De Pontécoulant, Voyage d’un Mélomane a travers L’Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1862
Thanks to Adrian Duncan for putting together that overview of the 1862 London Exhibition.