85 years on, Crystal Palace’s great fire sparks imaginations

On Nov 30, 1936, the Great Fire of South London could be seen across eight counties

At 7.10pm on November 30, 1936, the first sparks of flames were seen emerging from the Crystal Palace.

The smoke and glow from the great fire later that night were reported to have been seen as far away as the south coast, as the blaze consumed the People’s Palace, three times bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral, which had stood proudly for eight decades, welcoming millions of visitors every year from around the world, including Queen Victoria.

Write on: the winners and judges at this week’s ceremony at the Crystal Palace Museum

At 7.10pm on November 30, 2021, nine young writers, aged between seven and 13, came together with their families in the Crystal Palace Museum to celebrate winning the “Your Crystal Palace Writing Competition”.

Some of the children chose to read their winning story aloud to the crowd of almost 50 people. Others asked Graham Whitlock, the author of The Crystal Palace Chronicles, to read on their behalf.

Each brilliant story, evocatively read in the museum, the last standing part of the Palace, brought to life an imagined tale of what could happen if the Crystal Palace were to return again.

The competition saw entries from 10 schools from south London and Kent, with the prizes including an iPad for overall winner China Wright, and a bundle of goodies for each of the nine children, including a book token, a copy of The Crystal Palace Chronicles: Star of Nimrod with a bookmark and poster, a certificate, a book from publishers Parakeet Books and some Crystal Palace Park dinosaur gifts.

Judged by a panel that included Whitlock, Emily Jewell, the director of Upper Norwood Library and Richard Watkins, a guide from the Crystal Palace Museum, each of the winning stories are now exhibited in their own dedicated display at the museum, along with a bronze helmet that one of the firemen wore trying to battle the flame 85 years ago.

Museum pieces: the displays at the Crystal Palace Museum now include the prize-winning stories

The stories are also on display at the Upper Norwood Library.

The winners are:

Ages 7-8
China Wright (St Joseph’s School, London); Gemma Jackson (Paxton Primary School, London); Louis Mason (Rockmount Primary School, London); Eleanor Cox (Heavers Farm Primary School, London)

Ages 9-10
Annie Grossart (Crown Lane Primary, London); Macy Lewis (Headcorn Primary School, Kent); Nancy Hildon (Sutton Valance Primary, Kent)

Ages 11-13
Emilia Swallow and Louise Smith (both Maidstone Grammar).

Whitlock’s books are a series of time-travelling adventures for 11 to 14-year-olds.

The author said, “The imaginations of these nine young storytellers rose like phoenixes from the ashes and planted this historic event firmly in 2021.”

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