An Exhibition of London, 1851

The year: 1851. The location: London during the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. Imagine yourself walking through the glittering doors to find over ten miles of objects and contributors. It was the first time the world had ever seen anything like it, even London, which was at the time, the “metropolis of the civilized world”.

London as it is to-day (title page)

London as it is to-day (title page). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. 

Great Exhibition 1851: The Crystal Palace

Great Exhibition 1851: The Crystal Palace. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. 

London As it is To-day: Where to Go, and What to See, During the Great Exhibition, published by H.G. Clarke and Co. in 1851, is a tourist’s guide to the many attractions of the city, giving foreigners in town for the exhibition the chance to experience the city of London in its entirety. While the actual content in the guide is informative, it is no simple to-do list. Luckily, the guide is complete with over two hundred engravings on wood, most of which are drawings of London’s impressive architecture and sights.

One of the various illustrations available in this guide is the ground plan of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Diocese of London. St. Paul’s is one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe–its majestic dome has only ever been exceeded in height by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome–and, like most great European Cathedrals, has an illustrious history. Five churches were constructed in the area where the current church now stands, and the final design, proposed by Christopher Wren, was accepted for construction in 1675. The Cathedral was completed in 1711, just a hundred and forty years before the Great Exhibition. Anyone with a passion for sightseeing, architecture and history would have satisfied all three by taking a trip to the Cathedral.

Ground Plan of St. Paul's Cathedral

Ground Plan of St. Paul’s Cathedral. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. 

St. Paul's Cathedral today

St. Paul’s Cathedral today. 

Okay, so maybe we aren’t all Cathedral enthusiasts–and that’s perfectly fine. The other chapters and engravings in this guide range from religious edifices to government buildings, from gardens to the National Gallery of London and everywhere in between. Whether a newcomer in town for the 1851 exhibition or a citizen of London who simply wanted to know more about the city’s history, the guide provides information for people of all backgrounds. The only requirement–an interest in learning about a city that was, at the time of the fair, a global center for art, architecture, commerce and culture.

The National Gallery, 1851

The National Gallery, 1851. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

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