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General view of the
Crystal Palace c.1900

About a year from now, the Millennium Dome will be finished and people from Britain and abroad will be able to see for themselves whether this expensive, conflict-ridden project has been worth it. But almost 150 years ago, the British were having virtually the same arguments about another building and exhibition -- the Crystal Palace housing the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Three teams of history hunters will be investigating both the Palace and the Exhibition. One team -- comprising engineers working on the Millennium Dome -- will be looking at parallels between the Palace and the Dome: how the design was chosen and how it was constructed in such a short time. The second team, made up of local enthusiasts, want to discover why the Palace was moved to the site in Sydenham in south London, where it burned down in 1936, as well as something about the company that ran it. And the third team -- consisting of a scientist and firefighters from nearby New Cross Fire Station -- want to find out how the fire started and how it was fought.

The Crystal Palace in 1911

The teams and their quests

Millennium Dome team

Four engineers working on the construction of the Millennium Dome for Buro Happold.

Brian Gash Civil engineer
Chew Pieng Ryan Building services engineer
Tania Ross Project manager
Julian Shepherd Structural engineer

They want to know how the Crystal Palace came to be. How did they pull off the Great Exhibition in only 22 months -- from the germ of the idea to the opening ceremony?

Sydenham team

Four local residents of Crystal Palace.

Ian Bevan Project manager for a gas company and ex-chair of Crystal Palace Foundation, has written a book on the sporting history of Crystal Palace
Brian Dann Resident of Crystal Palace since 1936 (he witnessed the fire as a 10-year-old); now a poet and a Crystal Palace Triangle campaigner
Sue Nagle Local shopkeeper
Keith Wyncoll Resident in Crystal Palace for 20 years; moved to Gravesend, Kent two years ago, where he is community services manager for Kent Social Services; ex-chair, Crystal Palace Foundation; editor, Crystal Palace Is on Fire!

They want to discover why Crystal Palace moved to Sydenham after the Great Exhibition and what effect this had on the building's future.

Fire team

Four fire investigators.

Paul Weatherley Watch commander, Beckenham Fire Station -- one of the fire stations that sent units to the 1936 Crystal Palace fire
John Crowley London Fire Brigade fire investigator, based at New Cross Fire Station
Ernie Marshall London Fire Brigade fire investigator, based at New Cross Fire Station. He and John Crowley carry out investigations into unexplained fires.
Nigel Herring Scientist based at Stanger Science & Environment, London, which provides scientific support for London Fire Brigade fire investigators.

They want to see whether, using modern fire investigation techniques, they can crack the mystery of the fire -- why did Crystal Palace burn down in 1936?


The webmaster would like to thank Ken Kiss of the Crystal Palace Museum, Mick Scott of the London Metropolitan Archives and Michael Gilbert of the Crystal Palace Foundation for the use of old photographs and archive documents.
Tony Robinson introduces History Hunters from inside the Millennium Dome