Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park

When we were about to move south, I was surprised that it took my husband three days to find a rented flat in London; even more surprised that it was somewhere I'd never heard of.

As my knowledge of London geography was based on CND marches to Trafalgar Square in the early 60s, I wasn't prepared for Penge. I soon learned the latter was a by-word for South London dinginess and the subject of much media mockery.

I joined a local drama group and later went to Goldsmiths, only ten minutes by train to New Cross. At the height of the hippy era, it was an exciting place to be.

Best of all, we lived round the corner from Crystal Palace Park. Apart from something called a 'One O'clock Club', a kind of big shed with toys, where mothers with toddlers gathered on wet afternoon, it had a flamingo pond, a children's zoo and a lake area with monsters.

Nowadays a Sunday visit to Penge usually means lunch at the the Moon and Stars, which used to be a cinema, but on the first sunny Sunday afternoon for weeks a side-visit to the dinosaurs seemed in order.

Installed as an adjunct to the Crystal Palace, home to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the giant lizards were set up in 1854, not very accurate replicas of the prehistoric monsters, but at the time state-of-the-art. A big dinner was held in the bottom part of the biggest one and speeches made by local and national dignitaries before the top half was attached.

I notice they've cut back the vegetation so more of the creatures are visible and there's been quite a bit of tourist development, with notices round a 'trail' and better amenities, such as a big cafe nearby and a car park.

It's a shame so much of the park was neglected over the years - being situated at the wrong end of Bromley borough didn't help - but in the fading light of a winter afternoon it does recreate a quite magical sense of a primeval landscape. Much better than Jurassic Park , in my opinion.

You can download an audiotrail on your mobile to listen to when you visit

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