If you’ve ever wondered exactly how the dinosaurs became extinct, it turns out that it wasn’t an asteroid, a mystery disease, the ice age or Noah’s flood, but in fact due to hairline cracks in the clay and brickwork. Of course we’re talking about the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, which have been placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register and are now at risk of actual extinction.
The giant creatures have roamed Crystal Palace Park for 165 years since they wowed the Victorians in what must’ve been the Jurassic Park of its day, minus the Velocoraptors. And they make an absolutely charming weekend visit (don’t take our word for it, Guns’n’Roses guitarist Slash is a huge fan – and yes you did read that right), but they also are hopefully on-track to being saved.
Created when the word dinosaur was less than a decade old, the giant clay creations were based on dinosaur bones brought back to Britain by Charles Darwin onboard HMS Beagle as well as plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs discovered by early palaeontologist Mary Anning in Lyme Regis. The 30 dinosaurs have recently succumbed to age, and after 166 years cracks are putting the dinosaurs at risk of losing toes, teeth and tails.
According to Dr Ellinor Michel, the chairwoman of Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (a job title that’s akin to royalty in my eyes), “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’”
And it seems that the Victorians really did go dippy for dinosaurs. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the dinosaurs many times, as did many of the great-and-the-good of the day. Created between 1853 and 1855 by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a natural history illustrator and famous sculptor, the dinosaurs were thought to be highly accurate, based on many fossils. Of course today’s dinosaur experts rather scoff at Hawkins’ interpretation, but the sculptures were designed on the latest scientific knowledge. They were then set into a landscape designed by Joseph Paxton designed to look like a junglescene.
Being added to the register is already paying dividends, with £15,000 funding from the government to help meet the £80,000 estimated cost of ensuring the dinosaurs make it through another 160 years. It’s unclear exactly why the dinosaurs have become damaged but research is needed to discover if the water table is rising or if ground movement is to blame.
In the meantime, it’s a great reminder that this is one of London’s quirkiest attractions and one that we should all be visiting. In the same way that the dinosaurs stunned the Victorians, they continue to do so generations of Londoners later. Can we visit? You bet Jurassican.