The Great Exhibition of 1851.

Some facts and figures


Fred Peskett

Doubtless you will have read many facts and figures associated with the Great Exhibition of 1851, however, here is a few that you probably have never seen before? The Refreshment Courts and the toilet facilities!

The following has been extracted from The Reports of the Jurors published in 1852, some several thousand pages in three large volumes, I was lucky to find a set of these volumes some years ago in a secondhand book shop in Ryde, Isle-of-Wight. I paid seven pounds for the set, (they had been in the shop for many years, the owner was glad to see the back of them) and very near a hernia getting them back to the ferry and home to Portsmouth. The contents of the volumes, like themselves make very heavy reading, but no expense was spared in the details published, no matter how uninteresting.

The Commissioners for The Great Exhibition contracted the catering arrangements to Messrs. Schweppes who paid the Commission £5,500 for the privilege, by the end of the exhibition they made a profit of some £45,000. The records of the goods sold were very detailed, the Jurors included Schweppes lists in their report.

The amount of refreshments sold was as follows:-

Bread, quarterns                                   52,094                                            Savoury Patties                                 23,040 lbs 
Bread, Cottage loaves                         60,698                                            Italian cakes                                        11,797 
Bread, French rolls                                7,617                                             Biscuits                                                37,300 lbs 
Pound cakes                                         68,428                                             Bath buns                                          934,691 
3d cakes                                                36,950                                             Plain buns                                          870,027 
Savoury cakes                                     20,415                                             Banbury cakes                                     34,070 
Savoury pies                                       33,456 lbs                                       Sausage rolls                                        28,046 
Victoria biscuits                                  73,280                                             Mustard                                                  1,120 lbs 
Macaroons                                            1,500 lbs                                       Jelly                                                         2,400 quarts 
Rich cakes                                             2,280 lbs                                       Coffee                                                    14,299 lbs 
2d pastries                                          36,000                                              Tea                                                           1,015 lbs 
School cakes                                       4,800                                               Chocolate                                                4,836 lbs 
Preserved fruits                                  4,840 lbs                                         Milk                                                        33,432 quarts 
Pineapples                                          2,000                                                Cream                                                     32,049 quarts 
Pickles                                                 1,046 gallons                                  Schweppes soda water, lemonade, 
Meat                                                      113 tons                                            and ginger beer                            1,092,337 bottles 
Potted meats / tongues                 36,130 lbs                                          Pear syrup                                                 5,350 bottles 
Hams                                                      33 tons                                        Rough Ice                                                     363 tons 
Potatoes                                                36 tons                                         Salt                                                                  37 tons

No tobacco or alcoholic drinks were on sale at the exhibition. It is interesting to compare the amount of tea sold with that of coffee. Tea was still one of the most expensive products in the mid 1850's.

Location of the refreshment rooms,
A Western Court 
B Transept 
C Eastern Court 
D Location of Post Box and Telegraph 
Location of the Ante-rooms
   L   Ladies 
   G  Gentlemen

Public Toilet facilities (noted in the guide as Ante-rooms) were something new for large gatherings in this country. The Great Exhibition building had some sixty nine toilets, thirty in the Transept, six for the Gentlemen and twenty four for the Ladies, the cost of use was 1d. In the Eastern Refreshment Room there were six for the Gentlemen and eleven for the Ladies the charge was ½d and in the Western Refreshment Room there were ten for the Gents and twelve for the Ladies, the charge was also ½d. In addition fifty four male urinals were provided in the Gentleman's Ante-rooms free of charge.

The cost of setting up and managing the toilets came to £1,600, and with the income from the use of the sixty nine toilets a profit of £1,769..18..6d was made. The records show that 827,820 persons made use of the facilities or 14 % of the total number of visitors over the five months duration of the exhibition. One wonders how the other 86 % managed? 532 lbs of soap and towels to the value of £281..4..8 were used during the exhibition. The toilets were maintained by six male and ten female attendants, overseen by one Superintendent (who received a "For Services" medal). Lavender Water was provided free in all the female washrooms. Lavender Water could also be obtained free from one of the fountains in the Eastern Nave.

There is one dubious postmark said to be from the Great Exhibition, but it is very doubtful. The Juror's Report seems to clarify the postal arrangements for the exhibition: "A “post” has been erected in the Transept, after the fashion used in Belgium, it is a hollow cylinder (tastefully decorated) and in imitation bronze. The post times are inscribed on a ticket on top of the “post”. On average 500 letters per day are dispatched and 300 received, the letter bags are registered and leave thrice a day at 11, 3 and 5. The Postmaster sends for the letter bags, which do not pass through any Branch Office".

I think that the above makes it clear that there never was an exhibition postmark, perhaps only the registration labels tied to the bags may be found one day?


© Exhibition Study Group 2006