Monday, 17 September 2018

Dinosaurs up close!

Crystal Palace is home to the fantastic, much-loved dinosaur park - or more accurately, prehistoric animal park, since it has more than dinosaurs. Its most famous residents are on an island, usually firmly off-limits to the public.

However, the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs offered a very special opportunity to cross a temporary bridge onto the island during its Dinosaur Days. Our guide was Anthony Lewis, creator of a fantastic 'Lost Valley of London' video about the dinosaurs. Close up, they are full of usually-unseen details. 

There was even an opportunity to look inside one of the dinosaurs. These models are hollow, with a brick framework. Their creator Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins carefully developed scale models based upon the latest research, then made a full-size version of clay with wooden supports. This was used to create a mould, from which cement sections were cast. For the larger dinosaurs such as the iguanadons, a brickwork structure was built around a metal frame, then given shape with iron hoops and tiles. Finally, mortar was used to attach the cement cast sections and to add details. Lead teeth were fastened into the dinosaurs' gums with pins, and the whole model was painted.

Not all of those details are happy ones. The Grade-I listed dinosaurs require ongoing conservation, suffering as they do from exposure to the elements (and, sadly, sometimes deliberate vandalism). 

Fancy making the trip? Opportunities are rare at the moment, because a bridge has to be temporarily (and expensively) constructed each time. However, the Friends are crowdfunding for a permanent bridge: if the money can be raised, then we will all have more chances to walk among dinosaurs!


Ralph Hancock said...

On New Year's eve 1853, Hawkins held a dinner party for his friends inside the mould of the Iguanodon. This picture of the event, from the Illustrated London News, shows the horn mistakenly applied to the nose of the creature. The excavation had found a mysterious conical fossil, and Hawkins could only suppose that it was a single horn like that of a rhinoceros. Later discoveries showed that it was the creature's heavy thumb claw, used as a defensive weapon. But the horn is still there at Crystal Palace.

CarolineLD said...

Yes, one of the things I love most about them is that they're as much a museum of Victorian ideas about dinosaurs as a museum of dinosaurs!