On the edge of London, there are dinosaurs. Not real ones, not even very realistically modeled ones, but they are impressively large and enjoy the highest historic protection classification given to man-made structures in London. There are around thirty of the models gathered around a couple of lakes in Crystal Palace in south-east London. Some look more like huge deer, frogs or even crocodiles because less was known about dinosaurs back in the 1850s when these were made.
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs was the passion project of sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen, a renowned biologist and palaeontologist. They were commissioned to make life-size models of extinct animals when The Crystal Palace was moved from central London after the Great Exhibition of 1851 closed. A park was developed around the palace (the building itself burnt down in 1936) and the dinosaurs were unveiled in 1854.
To give you an idea of the scale of these things, a New Year’s Eve dinner party was held inside one of the Iguanodons in 1853. At that time, the dinosaurs were so popular that people bought small take-home sets of models to show their kids what dinosaurs looked like. Science has definitely taken a few steps forward since then and the models are no longer considered even close to reality, but they are still fabulous and well-loved by the Londoners who know they’re there. Their popularity is rising again since they were restored in 2002.
The best way to find the dinosaurs is by train to Crystal Palace, then head into the park – you’ll find maps to guide you – or just turn a corner and find yourself confronted by a Megalosaurus or Iguanodon. Afterwards, head up the hill to Crystal Palace village for great views over central London.