New bridge for Crystal Palace Park’s dinosaurs

A new addition may be on the way to help keep Crystal Palace Park’s dinosaurs roaring, writes Lachlan Leeming.

The island where these relics prowl is to get a new £70,000 bridge, under plans being considered by Bromley’s planning committee – only two years after the last one was demolished.

The 30 statues, pictured, are better known as the inaccurate depictions from an age which was only just discovering about the prehistoric big lizards.

But they have been Grade-I listed, and a report to be considered by councillors notes that they are one of Crystal Palace Park’s most important features.

But their condition continues to deteriorate despite interventions from specialist conservators and engineers in recent years, according to town hall officials.

The plans “will allow a high quality permanent but retractable bridge to the dinosaurs to allow limited access for maintenance, repair and limited managed
public tours”, according to the report.

The new bridge will allow easier access for around 1,200 people per year, as well as making routine maintenance easier and cheaper, in turn helping to conserve
the dinosaurs.

Historic England has given the move its tick of approval, stating: “We appreciate that such access is necessary to secure the long-term future of these highly significant and fragile historic assets for maintenance, repair, planting and limited public access.”

Crystal Palace’s historic dinosaurs were commissioned in 1852 to go beside the Crystal Palace after its move from the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

They were the first attempt anywhere in the world to model extinct animals as full-scale, three-dimensional creatures from fossil remains.

They were unveiled in 1854 as the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, as part of a commercial attraction. The models were designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins under the scientific direction of Sir Richard Owen – and represented the latest scientific knowledge at the time.

The models, also known as Dinosaur Court, were classed as Grade-II listed buildings from 1973, extensively restored in 2002, and upgraded to Grade-I in 2007.
They depict 15 species of extinct animals, not all dinosaurs, from across geological history.

There are true dinosaurs – ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, mainly from the Mesozoic era – and some mammals from the more recent Cenozoic era.

They were the result of improperly reconstructed fossils which reflected the biases and failings of the people who made them.

The Iguanodon especially has been superceded by more accurate recent palaeontology.

There are also five geological displays, and related landscaping in the vicinity of the tidal lake in Crystal Palace Park.

Only four are strictly dinosaurs – the two Iguanodon, the Hylaeosaurus and the Megalosaurus.

The statues also include plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs discovered by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, as well as pterodactyls, crocodilians, amphibians and mammals, such as a South American Megatherium (giant ground sloth) brought back to Britain by Charles Darwin on his voyage on HMS Beagle, from 1831-36 – even though his On the Origin of Species book would not be published until 1859.

This section of the park was constructed in 1853-1855 and has remained largely in the places they are today.

The planning sub-committee will meet on November 21.

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