Roofing the County

of Surrey with Crystal

Roofing the County of Surrey with Crystal

What price authenticity?  Rows break out in the Crystal Palace about the significance of its exhibits.  Set in October 1854, soon after the Palace relocated to Surrey.

On a brilliant day in 1854 the campaigning journalist Harriet Martineau visits the Crystal Palace with her old friends Erasmus and Charles Darwin.  Harriet is passionate about the new museum’s potential, but she soon runs into the art critic John Ruskin, who detests both the building and its contents. “You might roof the whole of the county of Surrey with crystal, and still not see any worthwhile art.”  There on the same day are Jack Jackson, one of the navvies who moved the Palace from Hyde Park, his wife Nancy, and their 10-year-old daughter Lizzie.  Rows break out, and down by the dinosaurs Charles has a conversation with Lizzie about extinction and survival. 82 years later she is still alive to witness her fairytale Palace burn to the ground, on November 30, 1936. Running time: 60 minutes

Performed by members of the South London Theatre, at the SLT and in West Norwood Cemetery, November 2011

Roofing the County of Surrey with Crystal, the Greek Chapel, West Norwood Cemetery, 2011. Left to right: Jeanette Hoile, Stevie Hughes, Lorraine Spenceley, Christopher Poke, John Irvine, Derek Dempsey, Janet Haney


The play gave voice to the contrasting views of notable opponents and proponents of the Crystal Palace. It also contrasted the wealth and ingenuity on display with the poverty of some of those who had contributed to its success. The performance in this marvellously atmospheric venue was judged an unqualified success by an appreciative audience …

Paul Graham

Friends of West Norwood Newsletter, Roofing the County of Surrey with Crystal

… a magical evening – there was an atmosphere of an early broadcast radio play. I particularly liked the relationship between Charles Darwin and the young girl, and the evocation of the dinosaurs, with the sound of the geese flying across the lake. A very local experience still accessible today.

Audience member

Roofing the County of Surrey with Crystal