Crystal Palace Park’s historic dinosaurs are in danger of becoming extinct… or at least, crumbling apart.
And conservation agency Historic England has stepped in, adding the 30 Grade I-listed, life-size statues to its Heritage at Risk Register – which will assist in raising further funding to help maintain and preserve this eye-catching and truly unique feature of the popular south London park.
The beautiful, impressive sculptures are the creation of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, one of the best natural history artists of the Victorian era. They were built and installed in the park when it was laid out around the Crystal Palace in 1852-1855, once the Great Exhibition relocated to Sydenham from Hyde Park.
At the time of their construction, these would have been an extraordinary and sometimes terrifying sight for Victorian day-trippers.
This was just before Charles Darwin published On The Origin Of Species, and a dramatic shift in scientific outlook and the public interest in natural sciences. The term “dinosaur” had only been coined 10 years earlier. This was Victorian era CGI. And they have enthralled and educated people for the past 166 years.
But now, like the creatures they were modelled on, their very existence is under threat.
Large cracks are appearing in the bodies and limbs of some of the dinosaurs, and they’re in danger of losing toes, teeth and tails. The cause of the deterioration is not yet understood, but ground movement on the artificial islands which are home to the monsters and changing water levels in the surrounding lakes is suspected.
In announcing the Crystal Palace dinosaurs on the Heritage At Risk Register last week, Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England (pictured right), said, “These wonderful creatures are in a state of disrepair and require significant conservation works. We don’t want them to become extinct again!
“By adding them to our Heritage at Risk Register, we can focus attention on them and ensure a lasting programme of repairs and on-going maintenance is carried out. Working in partnership with Bromley Council and the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, we hope to secure their long-term future.”
The project will be part of a major regeneration of Crystal Palace Park to be carried out by the local council.
Conservation works have been conducted before, including two significant projects within the past 20 years, but the statues are beginning to show the signs of their age. According to Historic England, “a major research project and survey work is needed to try to get to the bottom of the problems and find a long-term solution”.
Historic England said, “The sculptures are internationally important and represent the first major outreach project worldwide of science as ‘edu-tainment’ – the democratisation of science. They represent the cutting edge of scientific knowledge at the time, even though the statues are now deemed to be inaccurate by current understanding.
“They help tell the story of how science advances, and interpretation improves, with better data, analysis and research.”
The animals are arranged in chronological order – from the oldest land animals known from fossils found by the Victorians, such as the Dicynodons, to the most recent species, the extinct Ice Age mammals, such as Giant Deer and giant Ground Sloth, at the far end, close to the café.
A new project to build a bridge to the islands will reinstate access for guided visits and maintenance has been crowdfunded by many hundreds of members of the public, businesses, the mayor’s office, and council, and supported by Historic England.
Dr Ellinor Michel, the chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, said, “We’ve been working for years to improve the future for this site, which is one of the most important in the history of science, with the support of many thousands of Dinosaur friends locally and around the globe.
“While it is distressing that the sculptures need to be called ‘at risk’, it is the best way for them to get the professional conservation work they need. Thank you, Historic England; the future suddenly looks brighter for the birthplace of ‘Dinomania’!”
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