With much pomp and ceremony, Queen Victoria declared the Great Exhibition of 1851 open to the cheers of thousands and the firing of a canon in Hyde Park, that surely would wake a baby at Middle Queen’s Buildings. It was May, and baby Phlip Henry Burden was a few months old.
Partly organised by Prince Albert, the husband of the reigning monarch, and financially supported by the Queen herself, the Exhibition was the first international display of raw materials, industrial inventions and cultural artefacts.
There had been much excitement in the United Kingdom leading up to the event. Newspapers reported the arrival of ships laden with packages for display – exotic carpets and silk from Turkey; an 8 ton block of zinc from America that took 70 men working a capstan to raise it from the ship’s hold; the world’s largest known diamond from India; and horsehair blankets from Canada. The warehouses of London and Southampton docks were full of the treasures, waiting for the Exhibition building to be finished.
A short walk from Philip Burden’s shop was the site of this marvel in Hyde Park, a huge structure of iron and glass, the Crystal Palace as it was dubbed. It was tall enough to enclose three large elm trees near the Prince of Wales gate. The threatened felling of the trees had been the subject of bitter public protest, resulting in an altered design to the building to accommodate them. The Crystal Palace covered 19 acres and could house 90,000 visitors at once – six million during the five and a half months of the Exhibition.
Horses and people jostled as they slowly made their way to Hyde Park. In the first two weeks after the opening of the Exhibition hundreds of carriages, including hansom cabs, broughams and omnibuses, blocked the roads, inching their way to the site in Knightsbridge.
Inside the Crystal Palace.
Mary and Philip, with Philip pushing the perambulator, dodged horse droppings as they threaded their way through the halted vehicles to cross the road. Mary and the baby had only recently returned from Finsbury, about 5 miles away, where she had stayed with her sister Ann, and Ann’s husband, Matthew Goode. The noise and commotion as 2000 workers built the Crystal Palace had been too much for Mary, with a newborn. Philip had spent his time between both places. He had the help of his younger brother, Frederick, in the shop, and Charles Harrod was spending more time there as well. 
Philip had paid 3 guineas for his season ticket and 5 shillings for Mary to go to the Exhibition on this day, but he dared not wait until the shilling days to buy tickets. There were masses of people expected on those days; 200 extra police officers would be present to control the predicted throng. Today’s horde was enough to grapple with.
“I’m looking forward to showing you the Exhibition,” Philip said, raising his voice above the noise of the crowd, “especially the exhibit from South Australia. There are magnificent opals, and the specimens of copper ore from Burra Burra are such beautiful greens and blues. That mine has saved the colony.”
“Oh yes, Matthew’s parents are emigrating to Adelaide. They say it is so prosperous now, and Ann and Matthew are talking about going too, after the baby is born,” replied Mary.
Once they were across the road, the pair’s excited chatter about South Australia became part of the general hubbub as they merged with the river of pedestrians, baskets of daily provisions floating along with them.
Sightseers from home and abroad travelled to view the spectacles of the Exhibition, over 100,000 items from around the world. London was flooded with visitors. Wealthy visitors. The Great Exhibition made a profit of £186,000.
Prince Albert’s dream for the use of the profit generated was to develop a complex of museums and galleries in the area. The museum precinct which followed helped transform the locality. New shops sprung up to cater for the influx of tourists, and the region thrived.
There were changes too at the little grocer’s shop, with house attached, at Middle Queens Gardens. Another son, Frederick Britten Burden, was born in 1852. By this stage, Charles Harrod’s involvement in the shop had increased, and in 1853, when the turnover for the business was £20 per week, he bought the property outright. This occurred just as Philip and Mary, with their two young sons, were stepping aboard a ship, ready to start their new life in South Australia.
This is where we leave Philip and Mary. Their life in South Australia may feature in a future story. The next blog post, the last in this series, will continue the story of the little grocer’s shop for a few years after Philip and Mary left it.
1. “The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, 1851,” British Library Board, http://www.bl.uk/learning/images/victorian/crystalpalace/large102733.html. [back]
2. On the day of the 1851 census (30 March), Philip and Mary were in the house of Mary’s brother-in-law, Matthew Goode, in Finsbury. There is an Elizabeth Goode, housekeeper, listed as Matthew’s wife. But Matthew’s wife should be Ann (sister of Mary). There is an Ann Goode, a visitor, married and aged 24, in Herefordshire with Edward Jones and family. I suspect this is Matthew’s wife, and she is visiting her parents. Incidentally Matthew’s parents are also listed as visitors in the same household. This would be a few months before the Goodes left for South Australia. I believe the Elizabeth Goode in Finsbury in 1851 is Matthew’s sister, Elizabeth, and the census enumerator mistakenly listed her as Matthew’s wife. Frederick Burden, Philip’s brother, is listed at No 8 Queen’s Buildings (the site of the house and shop) on the day of the census, so I have assumed that he may have been working in the shop. [back]