The purpose of the Great Exhibition was to showcase the best in industrial design and manufacturing across the world, with special emphasis on British invention. Its 100,000 exhibits included rail engines of every type, prototype bicycles (‘velocipedes’), raised ink (the forerunner of braille), high-speed printing presses, even papier mâché furniture. An expensive and controversial undertaking, the Exhibition was widely forecast to make a loss, which led the organising committee to spread its publicity wide. As a result, the Exhibition was one of the first public events that royalty and the working classes attended side by side.

Occupying almost 20,000 square metres in London’s Hyde Park, the structure that housed the Great Exhibition was one of the largest public buildings ever made. This guide was intended both as a means of navigating the vast site and as a souvenir for visitors.

Attracting more than six million visitors in five months, the Exhibition generated a profit of £186,000 (roughly £16,190,000). The Exhibition’s chief sponsor, Prince Albert, used this profit to establish the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington. Joseph Paxton’s elaborate plate-glass and cast-iron building – the famous Crystal Palace – was dismantled in 1852 and moved to Sydenham, South London, where it survived as a popular sporting and cultural venue before burning down in 1936.