24 September 2013

World Fair, London 1862

A few articles have drawn my mind back to The Second London Exhibition of 1862. The International Exhibition of 1862 was cited by The Victorianist and Alexandra Palace London. And my post references Robert Wilson as my guide for the 1862 London Exhibition.

Although the English had already put on an extravaganza performance in 1851, within a decade they already felt it was their turn again. And because of the first success, support was immediate; the original 1851 commissioners granted land in South Kensington. Henry Cole again led the drive to appoint an architect and engineer.

The design of the building echoed the interior decoration of the building – intricate and Renaissance in taste. Gone were the gaudiness and over-decoration of 1851. In its place was the restrained style that Wilson called High Victorian.

There was only one problem. As everyone noted at the time, and since, it was a terrible shame that Prince Albert died just six months before the grand opening. Queen Victoria and all her court went into full blown mourning.

Illustrated London News, 1862

Otherwise the timing of the 1862 exhibition was perfect, given that the pavilions displayed big changes in style and technology. Steam power in agriculture, the electric telegraph and developments in photography mingled with Japanese inspired furniture and pre-Raphaelite paintings. Ernst Leuteritz first created his designs for Meissen vases in 1856, and in 1862 they were selected as some of the key pieces in London. Minton and Josiah Wedgwood Companies were delighted to use Christopher Dresser’s designs, and both companies exhibited his porcelain at the 1862 exhibition. Bohemian glass was very popular and Lobmeyr of Vienna sent engraved work that was highly praised. The greatest glory went to a Minton majolica fountain, designed by John Thomas. St George slaying the dragon was on the top of this mammoth 11 ms structure.

The Queen's representative made a speech. "We heartily join in the prayer that the International Exhibition of 1862, beyond largely conducing to present enjoyment and instruction, will be hereafter recorded as an important link in the chain of International Exhibitions, by which the nations of the world may be drawn together in the noblest rivalry, and from which they may derive the greatest advantages."

Minton fountain with St George

The procession then passed along the north side of the nave to the eastern dome, where the special and truly memorable musical performances took place. The music, specially composed for this occasion, consisted of a grand overture by Meyerbeer ; a chorale by Dr. Sterndale Bennett; and a grand march by Auber. The orchestra, consisting of 2,000 voices and 400 instrumentalists, was presided over by Mr. Costa, except during the performance of Dr. Sterndale Bennett's music, which was conducted by M. Sainton.

By the close of the exhibition, attendances exceeded 6 million and the small deficit was met by the building contractor for the royal commissioners. So successful was the 1862 effort that the Irish were not to be outdone. They held the International Exhibition of Arts and Industry in Dublin in 1865, building an enormous complex called The Winter Palace that contained restaurants, an art gallery and everything that opened and shut.


Student of History said...

Whenever we have studied World Fairs in lectures in the past, it has been a great way of examining Victorian and Edwardian history. 1862, hey. Who knew?

Hermes said...

I was exploring this great set only the other night.


great summary Helen

Hels said...


my fault entirely - I didn't take enough notice of the 1862 exhibition and was more dazzled by the French Eiffel Tower and the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings.

See if you can find a small book called The International Exhibition of 1862, published in 1962 by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Hels said...


thank you.. a super find.

I think I underestimated the importance of music in the 1862 World Fair. Apparently even Dostoyevski made a point of visiting and thought the entire event was brilliant.


Student of History said...

Something else worried me. Zeably thought that the brick entrances on the east and west fronts and two great glass domes were meant to be permanent. The timber-framed Machinery Galleries were the only parts of the structure intended to be temporary. What happened?

Hels said...


thanks for the useful reference. My feeling is that exhibition buildings and facilities were almost always intended to be temporary. What a terrible waste of materials and of workers' time.

The 1862 exhibition was held in South Kensington. When it was pulled down, the materials were all sent to Alexandra Palace which was built in 1873. [The derelict South Kensington site was used instead for The Natural History Museum, which was not built until 1881].

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of these musicians that composed works for the Exhibition of 1862, except Meyerbeer.
whatever happened to them?

Jim of olym

Hels said...


good question, especially if we assume music wasn't as important in earlier world fairs and possibly not in later world fairs.

Frenchman Daniel Auber's career was coming to an end by 1862 - he had been famous in comic opera and grand opera. German Giacomo Meyerbeer, as you know, was also at the end of his life. He too had had a terrific career full of operas and songs. The younger Englishman, Bennett, was a close colleague of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, and conducted the premiers of their works in England.

The organising committee had also invited Gioachino Rossini to participate, but he felt too old to travel.

Jim said...

It's awesome.

Hels said...


I believe the Sydney (1879) and Melbourne (1880) World Fairs were just as spectacular, but they came decades after the London extravaganza. So by 1879, people knew what to expect.

The tragic part is that apart from Melbourne's stunning exhibition building, there is nothing much to see these days.