The Man who Moved the Crystal Palace by Horse and Cart



Reconstructing the Crystal Palace after its move from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill. Philip Henry Delamotte c.1854. Wellcome Collection.

If you read my post on Loddiges Nursery and the Empress Josephine’s palm tree, you might have wondered who the man on the horse was. Well, the answer is one Thomas Younghusband, and I know this because he wrote a letter to The Times on 29 July 1854, that is to say two days after the transporting of the tree from Hackney to the new Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill.

The letter gives technical specifications — the height and weight of the tree, the precautions taken in securing it to the carriage, the number of horses needed to haul it through the streets — and one wonders what readers of the newspaper would have made of it all. No doubt they were impressed by Mr Younghusband’s achievement, and no doubt his business did not suffer for the publicity.

There is in fact an intriguing story attached to the name of Thomas Younghusband. It begins with the address printed with the letter in The Times, namely Gerard’s Hall Inn, at No. 23 Old Bailey.

Josephine’s palm tree takes to the road. The Illustrated London News 5 August 1854.

First the tavern — or was it a hotel?

Curiously enough, Gerard’s Hall was originally not in Old Bailey at all but a short walk away on the southern side of Basing Lane, which ran between Bow Lane and Bread Street parallel with Watling Street. According to John Stow, the Elizabethan historian, it had at one time been the property of the Gisors, who belonged to a powerful medieval guild and enjoyed great civic influence — the thirteenth-century John Gisors served two terms as Mayor of London.

The wooden figure of a giant once stood outside the building, an effigy, it would seem, of the original Gerald. But by the early nineteenth century Gerald had disappeared, and a trade card printed for Younghusband with a detailed drawing of the building has the handwritten note ‘before 1835, the effigy stood here’ scrawled across it. An X marks the spot.

Interestingly, the card in question advertises Gerard’s Hall as a ‘hotel’, which seems to be at odds with Younghusband’s occupation as a carter of imperial trees. The fact is, though, that the enterprising fellow ran two businesses. One was the hotel — or, as the Post Office directory described it, the tavern — at No. 2 Basing Lane. The other was a ‘carrying’ operation for the conveyance of goods, which Younghusband and his son Joseph operated from No. 3. But it makes sense. Carriers needed stabling for their horses and parking space for their carts and carriages, and taverns provided both.

Trade card for Thomas Younghusband of Gerard’s Hall in Basing Lane. London Metropolitan Archives.

Entertaining the Lord Mayor

Younghusband was born in 1787 in Caldbeck in Cumbria, but we find him in his mid-twenties in London. His life in the capital certainly had its ups and downs. In 1833, when he was already running the tavern, he was passed a forged fifty pound note. In 1848 he was relieved of a chest of tea worth thirteen pounds, which was on a three-horse wagon waiting to be carried to Paddington Station. The two teenage thieves were transported for seven years.

On a happier note, even while assorting unwittingly with the London underworld, Younghusband was prospering. He had a sideline in what we would call event catering, and he was paid fulsome tribute in the newspapers. In 1847, for example, he provided the dinner served in Guildhall on Lord Mayor’s Day, Guildhall being of course only a stone’s throw from the tavern. The bill of fare was of such staggering proportions that it is worth recording it in full:

250 tureens of real turtle, containing five pints each, 200 bottles of sherbet, 6 dishes of fish, 30 entrées, 4 boiled turkeys and oysters, 60 roast pullets, 60 dishes of fowls, 46 dishes of capons, 6 dishes of Captain White’s Selim’s true India curries, 50 French pies, 60 pigeon pies, 53 hams ornamental, 43 tongues, 2 quarters of house lamb, 2 barons of beef, 3 rounds of beef, 2 stewed rumps of beef, 13 sirloins, rumps, and ribs of beef; 6 dishes of asparagus, 60 dishes of mashed and other potatoes, 44 dishes of shell-fish, 4 dishes of prawns, 140 jellies, 50 blancmanges, 40 dishes of tarts creamed, 40 dishes of almond pastry, 30 dishes of orange and other tourtes, 20 Chantilly baskets, 60 dishes of mince pies, and 56 salads.

The Removes: — 80 roast turkeys, 6 leverets, 80 pheasants, 24 geese, 40 dishes of partridges, 15 dishes of wild fowl, and 2 peafowls.

Dessert: — 100 pineapples, from 2 lb to 3 lb each; 200 dishes of hot-house grapes, 250 ice creams, 50 dishes of apples, 100 dishes of pears, 60 ornamented Savoy cakes, 75 plates of walnuts, 80 dishes of dried fruits and preserves, 50 dishes of preserved ginger, 60 dishes of rout cakes and chips, and 46 dishes of brandied cherries.

Wines: — Champagne, hock, claret, Madeira, port, and sherry.

There is a picture of the carving of the beef in The Illustrated London News, and it is amusing to think that the frock-coated gentleman astride the massive joint may have been our man. At all events we can pinpoint him a few years later advertising his ‘Tavern and Family Hotel’ in James Gilbert’s Visitor’s Guide to London. The write-up — it promised a central location, every comfort and accommodation, warm baths, two set menus a day and a night porter — could have come straight out of a modern vade-mecum.

Carving the ‘baron’ of beef at Guildhall. The Illustrated London News 13 November 1847.

The Great Exhibition

The high point of Younghusband’s remarkable career was the Great Exhibition of 1851. We know that he catered for the crowds that flocked to the first Crystal Palace in Hyde Park because he features in advertisements for Thomas Stirling’s Patent Rapid Water Filters, a product he happily — and no doubt profitably — endorsed. In these he is quoted as enthusing that the filters provided ‘an abundant supply’ — half a million gallons, to be precise — ’of bright, pure, soft water’.

He was stationed in the Central Refreshment Room, where he evidently insisted on only the best for the visitors — and I do not just mean the filtered water. In May he purchased 812 lb of prime beef from Messrs Wilkinson and Carricks of the Penrith Shambles, and, given that Penrith was less than twenty miles from his native Caldbeck, we must assume that he knew whereof he bought.

Carbon water filter of the sort patented by Thomas Stirling and endorsed by Thomas Younghusband. Late 19th / early 20th century. Science Museum.

Moving the Crystal Palace

When in 1852 it was decided to move the Crystal Palace from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill, Joseph Paxton contracted the Smethwick firm of Fox Henderson & Co. to carry out the operation for the sum of £120,000, and they in their turn contracted Younghusband to provide the vehicles. The 1851 Post Office directory listed no fewer than twenty-five carriers operating from Gerard’s Hall, but how many of these were employed in the Crystal Palace project is hard to say.

What we do know, though, is that Younghusband mustered a force of three hundred carts and horses, and over a period of twenty-one days these hauled between 17,000 and 18,000 tons of iron, glass and other materials from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill, a journey of over twenty miles by road.

An article in The Illustrated London News gave a whimsical account of the operation, mourning the loss of the mighty iron and glass structure, which had ‘vanished as if by a touch from a fairy’s wand’. The reality, namely that ‘the last column and the last girder have been carried away in Mr Younghusband’s vans’, was rather more prosaic!

Site of what had once been the north-east transept at Hyde Park. The Illustrated London News 30 October 1852.

Farewell Gerard’s Hall

About this time, and by a rather sad coincidence, Younghusband was involved in another salvage operation when his own premises in Basing Lane were pulled down. As so often happens to buildings with deep roots and noble histories, Gerard’s Hall fell victim to progress. At this moment in time — it was still 1852 — progress was the extending of Cannon Street from the corner of what was once Wallbrook to the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral.

When the proposals were made public, there was an outcry, for Gerard’s Hall had been built over a beautiful medieval crypt. It was suggested that the crypt might be transported to Guildhall to be reconstructed beneath its western end. However, the idea was dismissed as unworkable, and that might have been the end of the crypt, had not the Crystal Palace Company intervened — Younghusband clearly profiting from his professional connections — to rescue it as a fine example of old English architecture.

The stones were numbered so that they could be reassembled on arrival in Sydenham. However, the proposed reconstruction never took place, and the stones were used instead by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to sculpt model dinosaurs for the ‘geological islands’ in the park.

Vaulted crypt beneath Gerard’s Hall Inn. Henry Thomas The Ancient Remains, Antiquities, and Recent Improvements in the City of London volume one 1830.

Meeting Victoria

If Gerard’s Hall came to an unseemly end as strange prehistoric creatures in a public park, Thomas Younghusband was at least compensated for the loss of his tavern by an extraordinary event. For in about 1854 he was asked to conduct Queen Victoria on a tour of the newly completed Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill.

The occasion was recorded in an oil painting that now resides in the Museum of London. In it we see a dapper Thomas, standing on the left with his wife Sarah and their daughter Matilda. In the centre are Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and to the right Thomas’s son Joseph with his wife Charlotte. The four children are the Prince of Wales, Princess Victoria, and a son and daughter of Joseph and Charlotte. The story goes that Joseph had commissioned an artist — a shadowy figure by the name of Wells — to record the meeting. The actual painting of the picture was carried out some time later in the artist’s studio and in Joseph’s drawing-room at his home in St John’s Wood.

Thomas Younghusband and his family meeting Queen Victoria and her family at Crystal Palace. C. Wells c.1854. Museum of London.

More than a common carrier

And, as if this royal encounter were not compensation enough, Younghusband did not entirely lose Gerard’s Hall. For there arose, phoenix-like, a ‘New Gerard’s Hall’ a few streets to the west of the defunct Basing Lane at No. 23 Old Bailey — the address on the letter to The Times with which this story began. These premises had at one point belonged to a firm of hay salesmen, and so they were well-suited to a business that relied on the maintenance of horses.

And there Thomas Younghusband died on 22 June 1857. He was seventy, and he left effects worth up to £1,500 — a tidy sum. His official epitaph must remain the entry in the National Probate Calendar, where it is recorded that he was a ‘common carrier’, that is to say a carrier who could be hired by one and all. But I hope you would agree that this perfunctory statement is not — and allow me to borrow a phrase that regularly rings out in another Old Bailey establishment — the whole truth.

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