Famous Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Declared ‘at Risk’
The 30 Grade I listed, life-size statues of dinosaurs and other extinct animals at Crystal Palace Park that have thrilled visitors for 166 years, have been added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
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.
By adding the much-loved sculptures to the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England is raising awareness of their plight and is focusing attention on their repair and conservation. The project will be led by Bromley Council as part of a major regeneration of Crystal Palace Park.
While significant specialist conservation work was carried out in 2003 and 2016-17 thanks to council, the Mayor of London, Lottery and partnership funding, 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.
By adding the Dinosaurs to the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England and Bromley Council can focus on their repair and conservation with a fresh approach.
The beautiful, impressive sculptures are the creation of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, one of the best natural history artists of the Victorian era. At the time of their construction in 1852-5, these strange creatures would have been an extraordinary sight.
The term ‘dinosaur’ had only been coined 10 years previously and the endeavour to bring life-size extinct animals to the general public was radical. They would have enthralled and educated people, much as they do today.
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 they 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, at the ‘Deep Time’ end 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 and its vibrant human life today.
The animals are located on three artificial islands and in lakes in the south section of the park, indicating the lost landscapes the creatures might have roamed when they were alive. The island representing the Age of the Dinosaurs gave the first views ‘in the flesh’ of the three first named dinosaur species, Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus. There are also many sculptures of the marine reptiles found by famous fossil collector Mary Anning along England’s World Heritage site, the Jurassic Coast.
A new project to build a bridge to the islands will reinstate access for guided, up-close-and-personal interpretation 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.
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.
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. Whilst 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’!
Despite recent investment and restoration works the dinosaurs are continuing to deteriorate. A radical new approach to their conservation is required to ensure they survive the next hundred years for everyone to enjoy, and we will be working closely with Historic England to build a specialist team dedicated to safeguarding these sculptures, the money for which will generated by the sale of sites on the periphery of the park, which are one of the subjects of the current planning application, which is before the Council. Their repair, along with their landscape, is a priority of the Crystal Palace Park Regeneration Plan for which the outline planning application will be determined this year. We invite the community to support this planning application to ensure that the funding and permissions needed are secured to restore this exceptional historic park.