News that Historic England is to add London’s Crystal Palace Dinosaurs to its Heritage At Risk Register prompted memories of the time Doctor Who companion Ace had an encounter with them, back in 1990. Or, rather, actress Sophie Aldred, who played the role…
Sophie generously supported the arrival of her alter-ego in the fiction of Doctor Who Magazine with a photo shoot in costume, organised by the title’s former designer and freelance photographer Steve Cook.
Providing the cover of Doctor Who Magazine 162, published in 1990, the issue included the text story, “Living in the Past“, written by Andy Lane – one of his first professionally published works – and illustrated by Cam Smith.
In it, Ace saves the day on prehistoric Earth, riding a dinosaur, a story created with the help of “dinosaur consultant” Steve White – now well known for his incredible prehistoric animal art.
Both Sophie and Sylvester McCoy were incredibly supportive of DWM during my tenure as the Magazine’s editor, and this was just one example of their generosity with their time. Sylvester also committed to original photo shoots, most notably to help promote the title’s “Nemesis of the Daleks” comic strip, written by Richard Alan (Richard Starkings and John Tomlinson) with art by Lee Sullivan.
A photo shoot during the recording of The Curse of Fenric (Sylvester in the Doctor’s white jacket, because the brown one was still a secret) was again shot by Steve Cook, with Daleks provided by Alistair Lock and Steven Allen. A lack of internet meant there were no wild rumours of a surprise appearance by Terry Nation and Raymond Cusick’s evil creations!
It wasn’t the first time a Doctor Who companion encountered the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Back in the 1970s, Carol Ann Ford, who played the First Doctor’s grand-daughter Susan, dressed up in furs for a photo shot at the park, dinosaurs in the background, for a feature that ran in the Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special.
The decision to place the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs on Historic England’s At Risk Register was made after cracks started to appear in the models.
Many of the iconic sculptures of dinosaurs and other extinct animals have large cracks in their bodies and limbs, and some are in danger of losing toes, teeth, tails and antlers. The causes of the deterioration are not yet fully understood, but ground movement on the artificial islands which are home to the statues and changing water conditions in the surrounding lakes are suspected.
The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs note that outdoor sculptures are particularly at risk from damage and deterioration, and the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs have so far endured over 150 years exposed to the elements.
Commissioned to accompany the Crystal Palace after its move from the, the sculptures were unveiled in 1854. They illustrate prehistoric animals with associated geological strata including lead mine and were constructed between 1852 and 1855 for The Crystal Palace Company on a 20-acre site.
The sculptures were constructed out of re-constituted stone on a framework of iron rods on brick plinths by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, an artist and sculptor who specialised in natural history subjects, with advice on their authenticity by Sir Richard Owen, who is probably best remembered today for coining the word Dinosauria (meaning “Terrible Reptile” or “Fearfully Great Reptile”).
The associated geological strata and lead mine were probably laid out by David Thomas Ansted, consulting geologist, but constructed by James Campbell using geological rocks.
The surrounding landscape was designed to represent the geology of Britain from the Primary (Pre-Cambrian and Lower Palaeolithic) rocks through the Secondary (Upper Palaeolithic-Upper Cretaceous) and Tertiary (Tertiary and Quaternary) eras with economic rocks, geological structures and reconstructions of associated animals and reptiles on the lakeside and islands.
Included were reconstructions of animals recovered from these geological formations – two Dicynodonts and three Labrinthodonts from New Red Sandstone, three Icthyosaurs and three Plesiosaurs from the Lias (discovered by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis), two Teleosaurus, two Pterodactyls re-constructed in fibreglass of the Oolite and Chalk, one Megalosaurus from Stonefield Slate and its prey from the Weald, two Iguanodons and one Hyaelosaurus and the chalk marine monster Mosasaurus.
The statues include a South American Megatherium (giant ground sloth) brought back to Britain by Charles Darwin on his voyage on HMS Beagle.
Originally the lake water rose and fell as the park fountains played, alternately submerging and revealing the aquatic animals. Separated from the Secondary island by a weir is the Tertiary island with animals placed on a geological backdrop of worked aggregates representing this era’s relatively unconsolidated rocks. These comprise two Palaeotheriums and three Anoplotheriums from the Paris basin, one Megatherium from South America and four Megaceros or “Irish Elk”.
Further planned reconstructions for the Secondary era and none of the Primary era were never constructed because the project ran into financial difficulties and was terminated in 1855.
Although incorrect by modern standards, the sculptures are considered of exceptional historic interest in a national and, probably, international context, because this was the first attempt to accurately re-construct the three dinosaur species known to the scientific world by the 1850s within their geological environment and the sculptures and associated geological strata form a unique display of the state of palaeological understanding in the 1850s, opened five years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species.
(Richard Owen, by the way, rejected Darwin’s theories).
Also known as Dinosaur Court, the models – the world’s first dinosaur park – were classed as Grade II listed buildings from 1973 and upgraded to Grade I listed in 2007. Despite major specialist conservation work undertaken in 2003 and 2016-17, Historic England, Bromley Borough Council and the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are once again very concerned about their condition.
By adding the much-loved sculptures to its Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England is raising awareness of their plight and is focusing attention on their repair and conservation. They will work in partnership with Bromley Borough Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs to ensure their long-term survival.
Future conservation work will be facilitated by the building of a new bridge in 2020 to the islands that will reinstate access for guided, up close-and-personal interpretation visits and maintenance. The bridge project, led by Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, was crowdfunded by many hundreds of members of the public, businesses, the mayor’s office, and council, and supported by Historic England.
“These wonderful creatures are in a state of disrepair and require significant conservation works,” notes Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England. “We don’t want them to become extinct again!
“By adding them to our Heritage at Risk Register, we can focus attention on them and ensure a lasting programme of repairs and on-going maintenance is carried out. Working in partnership with Bromley Council and the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, we hope to secure their long-term future.”
“Despite recent investment and restoration works the dinosaurs are continuing to deteriorate,” commented Councillor Peter Morgan, Executive Councillor for Renewal, Recreation and Housing. “A radical new approach to their conversation is required to ensure they survive the next hundred years for everyone to enjoy, and we will be working closely with Historic England to build a specialist team dedicated to safeguarding these sculptures, the money for which will generated by the sale of sites on the periphery of the park, which are one of the subjects of the current planning application, which is before the Council.
“Their repair, along with their landscape, is a priority of the Crystal Palace Park Regeneration Plan for which the outline planning application will be determined this year. We invite the community to support this planning application to ensure that the funding and permissions needed are secured to restore this exceptional historic park.”
“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,” notes Dr Ellinor Michel, Chair, Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs and evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum.
“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’!”
• Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End by Sophie Aldred is available now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)
Past, present and future collide as the Thirteenth Doctor meets classic Doctor Who companion Ace – in the first epic novel from the woman who played her, Sophie Aldred
• Photographer and Designer Steve Cook is online at www.steven-cook.com
• “Living in the Past”, first published in Doctor Who Magazine Issue 162 we reprinted in the Doctor Who collection Evening’s Empire
Andy Lane has written a number of well-reviewed novels based on various television series, including Doctor Who. In addition, he has written ten nonfiction books on various aspects of film and television, eleven original short stories for various magazines and anthologies, and a television script for Sky One.
• The “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model” is the best known story about the work creating the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. It took place on New Year’s Eve 31st December 1853 and was immortalised in the picture published in Illustrated London News, 7th January 1854.
Professor Joe Cain has an item about it here (thanks to Sophie Aldred for this!)
• Ace wasn’t the only time traveller to the Crystal Park Dinosaurs. Team Timeslip were there too – the ITV children’s drama, the show’s stars Cheryl Burfield and Spencer Banks photographed by Paul Stokes for an article about the show that ran in Look-In, detailed here by Lew Stringer (thanks to Andrew Mark-Thompson for reminding me of this)
Thanks also to Alan Roman Walsh for reminding us about the Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special