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The 1851 Exhibition: A National Festival

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

The Illustrated London News, No. 479 (vol.xviii), Saturday, 28 June 1851

The Exhibition has been shown to be a great Peace movement, a great moral movement, and a great industrial movement - all of which it most undoubtedly is. Within the last few weeks, a novel and unexpected result has been witnessed, not less gratifying than any other of the more prominent and obvious ones which preceded it.

The classes who could afford to pay for their admission having had their turn, from the holders of season tickets, and the more aristocratic and exclusive visitors who love elbow-room in their amusements, down to the five shilling Saturday people, the half-crown Friday people, and the great bulk of the independent in somewhat humbler circumstances, who congregate on the shilling days, the turn of those who are too poor to pay for such an amusement has come also. Without any infringement of what we must consider the wise and judicious rule of allowing no gratuitous admissions, the doors of the Crystal Palace have been opened to many thousands of industrious, grateful, well-behaved, and admiring people, without cost to themselves. Parties of humble emigrants have come to Hyde Park, in order that they might not take their last look of England without seeing the wondrous Exhibition; and their expenses have been paid by the philanthropic individuals by whose assistance they were enabled to leave the old world for the new. Clergymen and landed propietors in remote rural districts have organised plans by which whole troops of agricultural labourers, with their wives and children, have been enabled to visit London once in their lives, and to see the marvels of art, skill, and industry congregated together in a building so novel in construction, and so imposing in appearance; and not among the least pleasing of the episodes in the history of the Exhibition has been the appearance of these bucolic or agrarian groups, staring with mute admiration at the splendours of so unusual a spectacle. Manufacturers in the provincial towns, and extensive employers of labour in the metropolis and its environs, have not only given their workpeople a holiday to enable them to visit the Exhibition, but have innumerous instances paid the expenses both of the trip and of their admission. Wholesale and retail traders have imitated the admirable example. Public companies and schools have done likewise; and bankers, solicitors, and others have remembered the scrviccs of their clerks and employes, and afforded them both time and the means to partake in the general jubilee.…

We rejoice to see such examples of kind feeling. They tend to obliterate their jealousies, that to a greater or less extent, exist between the rich and the poor, and to the fusion of society into one homogeneous and contented mass of mutually related and mutually dependent people. The sympathy manifested by employers for their workpeople throughout the whole country, as well as in the metropolis, has been too general not to have been the spontaneous growth of the national character.

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