2: The first exhibition?

© Bob Denton 2018
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2.1     1851, Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations

As mentioned above the OED suggested this was the first evenet, while it was a very remarkable event, it was not the first such event.

We shall examine how the Great Exhibition built on almost a century of European events, in particular upon a series of eleven expositions held in Paris. This was not even the first British event, but it offers us an interesting start-point for our deliberations.

See data sheet, The Great Exhibition 1851, London

Sir Henry Cole 1808-1882

Sir Henry Cole was an inventor and civil servant. He is credited with the notion in 1843 of sending greeting cards at Christmas. He was a member of The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (see 1761 below), and he regularly lobbied government with initiatives to improve standards in British industrial design. He gained the support of the Society’s President, Prince Albert, for the notion of industrial exhibitions. The Society had already run an Exhibition of Art Manufactures in 1847 which grew in 1848 and 1849 (below) to underline his point.

1849 Paris Exposition

Cole visited the 1849 Paris exposition (more below) and persuaded Prince Albert to make the next British exhibition in 1851 a truly international affair. This was by no means a straightforward decision because ‘free trade’ had become a feature of world trading, and the event might detrimentally expose British design to foreign competition. The notion of allowing foreign competitive products to have a showcase without the safety net of tariffs was a real concern for many. However, the British Empire had confidence, it had created an ‘entire world economy’ for itself, becoming the world’s workshop, importer, exporter, carrier and foreign investor (Hobsbawm, 1999, p.xi). That confidence is implicit in Prince Albert’s suggestion that the time had come to prepare for a great exhibition, ’not merely national in its scope and benefits, but comprehensive of the whole world.’

Rotten Row, Hyde Park

It faced opposition from those fearing foreign competition and those who objected to Hyde Park being its venue; this latter concern led to the concession that it would be a temporary site.

A Building Committee of the ‘great and good’ announced that the design for a building to host the exhibition would be the subject for an open competition. It attracted 248 entries but the Committee did not like any of them. It decided instead to design its own approach by cherry-picking elements from the various entries.

When they published their concept in May 1850, one year before the scheduled opening, it would have required the use of fifteen-million bricks and the projected lead-time was calculated to be eighteen months. The eventual winner was not an industrialist, he was someone who would go on to cultivate the banana that is today the most consumed in the western world, the Cavendish banana.

Joseph Paxton
Source: Maull & Co, London

Joseph Paxton was born in 1803, the seventh son of a Bedfordshire farming family. At the age of fifteen he became a garden boy at Battlesden Park, near Woburn, and at twenty moved to the Royal Horticultural Society at Chiswick Gardens. This was near Chiswick House, one of the estates of William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish had inherited his title and eight grand estates, some 200,000 acres – 810 sq kms (30% larger than today’s Greater Manchester). Cavendish was impressed by Paxton’s enthusiasm and skills, in 1826 appointing him as head gardener of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, responsible for implementing an early Capability Brown landscape.

William Cavendish

Cavendish was known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’, because he never married and instead kept various mistresses. As a Whig politician he notably supported Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery and reductions in factory working hours. However, advancing deafness curtailed his public ambitions and he devoted his efforts instead to horticulture and gardening.

The two (Cavendish and Paxton) collaborated on a number of projects, the rebuilding of Edensor village, creation of a 40-acre conifer arboretum and the Emperor Fountain, double the height of Nelson’s Column requiring a feeder lake with 100,000 cubic yds (76,000 cubic m) of earth moved.

Paxton became interested in greenhouse design, then in its infancy. He learned of the ‘ridge and furrow roof’ notion from the 1828 Encyclopaedia of Gardening and developed this by locating it at right angles to the morning and evening sun to maximise the light captured. He designed hollow pillars that could ‘double-up’ as drainpipes, and cross-members that acted as guttering.

Great Conservatory at Chatsworth

In 1836 Paxton began building the ‘Great Conservatory’ at Chatsworth. Completed in 1840 it was 275 ft (84m) long, 123 ft (37m) wide and 62 ft (19m) high. It used cast iron columns and beams, with arches of laminated wood. At this time the largest sheets of manufactured glass were 3 ft (less than 1m), Paxton arranged for Robert Chance to make 4 ft sheets for his project. It was then the largest glass structure in the world, Chatsworth hedges its bets by saying it was the largest in England. It was heated by eight boilers and seven miles of iron piping. The high cost of this heating meant that in WWI it was switched off. The plants died and the greenhouse was demolished in the 1920s.

Significantly the greenhouse was created without ugly pillars and other structures interfering with the working greenhouse space. Further its elements consisted of batch-produced components that could be mass-produced and speedily assembled into various shapes and sizes. It might be considered a new industrial aesthetic, the shape of things to come.

In 1848 Paxton completed the ‘Conservative Wall’, a 298 ft (91m) long by 7 ft (2.1m) wide protective cover for fruit trees, today it is called ‘The Case’. A series of flues and pipes maintain temperature in winter.

Conservative Wall at Chatsworth
Source: chatsworth.org

In 1849 Paxton became involved in a fad for importing and growing exotic tropical plants. In 1936 Kew Gardens had acquired from Guyana the seeds of the Victoria amazonica or Victoria regia lily but it had not prospered there. Paxton acquired a seedling from Kew and built a heated pool and the ‘Lily House’ at Chatsworth. He was later to be inspired by the lily’s structure as his inspiration, he stood his daughter, Annie, on one of its leaves to test his theories.

Paxton’s daughter, Annie, supported by a Victoria regia lily

He saw that the lily’s rigidity was created by radiating ribs that were interconnected by a series of flexible cross-ribs and so experimented with this approach. It was applied in his construction of the Lily House, a flat roofed version of the Conservatory, with a curtain wall of hanging vertical glass panels held by cantilevered beams.

Quite independently others were developing similarly spanned buildings with minimum internal supports, for market halls and railway stations.

Covent Garden market building

Covent Garden had been a market for many years and was redeveloped in 1830 as much to bring the market activity under some sort of management control. The architect for this project was Charles Fowler who bucked the trend for gothic buildings by using a neo-classical Greco-Roman approach, more about function than form. William Cubitt & Co was the building contractor. They created a wide-span market Piazza that is still in use almost two centuries later.

Euston Station

Euston station was the first intercity terminus in London. It was opened in July 1837, for the London and Birmingham Railway (‘L&BR’), its engineers were, father and son, George and Robert Stephenson. The Stephensons had been key players in the 1821 Stockton and Darlington Railway and 1830 Liverpool and Manchester Railway (‘L&MR’). They appointed Philip Hardwick as the architect to design Euston station as a two-platform 200 ft (61m) long wrought iron train shed. However, he is better known for his 72 ft (22m) high portico, the main entrance to the station, based upon his studies in France and Italy he designed it as a ‘propylaeum’, a Doric monumental archway.

Hardwick’s Euston Propylaeum

Charles Fox was a train driver for the L&MR when it opened, but went on to design innovations for railway points after Robert Stephenson appointed him to the L&BR. Fox subsequently formed Fox, Henderson & Co specialising in railway equipment, including wheels, bridges, roofs, cranes, tanks and permanent way (aka track) materials.

Joseph Paxton’s original impromptu sketch for the design of the Crystal Palace

From these disparate origins – Chatsworth greenhouses, Covent Garden, Euston station – the team was ready and primed for the Great Exhibition’s ‘Crystal Palace’. Paxton had sketched out his thoughts and appointed Charles Fox for his expertise in structural ironwork, Cubitt became the contractor. Fox, Cubitt and Paxton would all later be knighted for their efforts, on 23Oct 1851.

The royal commission commenced on 3Jan1850, with Queen Victoria heading the subscription list by donating £1,000

The opening of the Great Exhibition
view of the Crystal Palace Nave

Construction of the Crystal Palace started on 6Sep1850. A standard pane of glass was chosen and this in turn determined the size of the modular units. Paxton’s prefabricated design enabled low cost and quick build.  In just nine months 19 acres of Hyde Park were under glass. Its tall barrel-vault transept was crossed by a long flat-roof nave.

It was 1,851 ft (564m) long and 408 ft (124m) wide, with an extension on the north side 936 ft (285m) long and 48 ft (15m) wide. The height of the central portion was 64 ft (20m) and at the centre the transept was 108 ft (33m). The building was completed on 1Mar1851 at a total cost of £176,000. It was opened to a great fanfare on 1May1851 by the Queen.

Crystal Fountain at the heart of the Crystal Palace

It was opened on schedule by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert amid claims that it was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. As we shall see this was not truly the case, though it was the largest to-date and nonetheless proved to be influential in the development of art and design, tourism, international trade relations and the exhibitions’ industry.

Britain’s Great Exhibition was held across 164 days in 1851 from 1May-15Oct. Sources argue that there were between 14,000 and 17,000 exhibitors representing 25 to 32 countries. there were 14,000 exhibitors representing 25 to 32 different countries. While no comprehensive record of exhibits was made, it is estimated that there were over 100,000 exhibits on show.

It is claimed to have attracted 6,039,000 visitors; Greater London had only a 2.4m population. There are claims that 20% of the English population visited the Great Exhibition, though this was probably skewed by multiple visits. On 7Oct it achieved its peak attendance of 109,915 visitors in a day.

Its site in Hyde Park covered a total 10.5 ha (26 acres) with the Crystal Palace offering 7.6 ha or76,000 sqm of covered space. Visitors were charged between one shilling and £1 entry.

Sections were dedicated to the countries and colonies with foreign exhibitors occupying 40% of the space. Artworks tended to be arranged together while sculpture was distributed around the palace to add appeal to the venue. Machinery was also gathered together.

Great Exhibition Medal

Some 5,084 medals were awarded. In manufacture and machinery the British received the majority of the prizes, for miscellaneous manufactures the foreign exhibitors gained more medals, while in raw materials foreign exhibitors took four times as many prizes as the British exhibitors.

Great Exhibition Medal

Among the notable exhibits were a large number of gems, the most significant being the Koh-i-Noor which when first cut was a 186-carat colourless diamond. Prince Albert thought it dull and had it recut as an oval, but this removed 80 carats (43%) in the process!

The financial results showed subscriptions at £67,800, admissions at £425,000, refreshments etc at £13,200. Total income was £506,000, with expenditures of £330,000. When interest and small receipts were added the final profits were £186,436. As a result, those on the guarantee list were not called upon to fulfil their subscriptions.

As a direct legacy of the event, the proceeds with additional parliamentary grants were used to establish a Royal Commission for the advancement of the fine arts and of practical science. The Commission purchased an 87-acre estate in South Kensington between Cromwell Road and Kensington Gore, nicknamed ‘Albertopolis’. On this land it created the Royal Albert Hall, the South Kensington Museum (today the V&A), the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music. It remains to this day as the landlord of these properties.

With the residue it also established the Science Research Scholarships from 1891, each year providing eight research fellowships, nine industrial fellowships, a single design fellowship, and nine industrial design studentships. It has made awards to the British School at Athens, an educational charity, and the British School at Rome, a prestigious research academy. It also supplied funds to the National Physical Laboratory.

The Crystal Palace was sold off to a company and re-erected at Sydenham in south London, the area becoming renamed as Crystal Palace.  Original components were used to build using an enlarged plan beginning 5Aug1852, it was reopened by Queen Victoria on 10Jun1854. It was subsequently used for horticultural shows, concerts and other entertainments. On 30Nov1936 it was gutted by fire, some 89 engines and over 400 firemen fought the blaze. Winston Churchill was among the 100,000 who came to see the fire, commenting ‘This is the end of an age’.

Crystal Palace, moved to Sydenham

But we should look now at other events that pre-dated the Great Exhibition.

© Bob Denton 2018
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2.2     Early trade markets and fairs

The Mesopotamians, used the rich soils between the Euphrates and Tigris to manage irrigation and agriculture, they invented the plough and the wheel. This developed into the first cities, they invented and defined cuneiform writing, mathematics and developed laws and religions. They used astronomy to develop a concept of time, their sexagesimal numeral system is why we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour and a circle of 360 degrees. With few natural resources they became consummate traders, developing techniques for mapping, navigation and sailing. Interactions with other communities saw them develop chariots and warships. Their successors, the Phoenicians, became powerful by establishing a series of Mediterranean trading colonies and by inter-trading to the east with other emerging civilizations. The Silk Route extended trade routes eastward bringing products from India and China, India, Persia, Arabia and the Horn of Africa.

The first exhibition must therefore have been caravans of merchants, who would arrive outside towns and cities and set up displays of their wares, essentially an open-air marketplace. As these were established inside the town a distinction arose between many local food markets and one central area where durable goods, luxuries and money-changing would take place.

From the 6th century BCE, in Middle Eastern and north African regions, this sort of market became known as the souq (souk), initially located outside the city. Souk came down from the Akkadian šūqā meaning ‘street’ and including a sense of ‘narrow’, and the Aramaic sūqu meaning ‘street market’.  These markets moved into the city and become a commercial quarter often covered and enclosed. It kept the name souk or became a bāzār (bazaar), from the Persian.

Greek Agora

A similar approach became formalised as agora in Greek cities and fora in Roman cities. These were early forms of exhibition too, displaying items for sale, exchange and barter. They were set-up alongside entertainments and religious festivals.

The Roman Empire used many sinews of power to keep its empire unified, for example specifying a calendar of religious festivals when the provinces should remember major deities and imperial family members (eg the feriale duranum). They were great believers in pursuing otium (leisure) as well as negotium (work), expecting governors and provincial elites to organise parades and entertainments, with buying and selling run alongside these religious festivals. The Latin word feria is the origin of today’s usage of ‘fair’ but its original meaning was ‘holy day’.

Roman triumph

Roman generals’ triumphs into Rome exhibited the flora, fauna and the riches of the provinces and peoples they had conquered. Perhaps these were thus early, albeit mobile, exhibitions? These prompted cultural shifts, for example Rome under Augustus developed an Egyptomania that saw a magistrate build a pyramid tomb, and emperors erected obelisks.

The Romans spread the significance of cities around its western empire. Local elites were expected to run a regular series of events in their local amphitheatre, circus and theatre. Some of these would run for several days and assembled all levels of the local society, with seating clearly delineating by rank. Perhaps these got closer to what we today think of as an exhibition.

© Bob Denton 2018
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2.3     The Rise and Fall of Medieval Fairs

For a millennium after the end of the Romans’ Western Empire, the Roman Catholic Church unified much of Europe as ‘Christendom’ with its own busy calendar of festivals and saints’ days. These were worshipped in their network of local parishes, parishioners obliged to attend or be socially vilified. On special days for a parish, like the anniversary of the church’s inauguration and/or their dedicated saint’s feast day, these would be taken as a holiday. A fete would be organised with tradesmen displaying their wares in the churchyard. In England these were called vigilia or wakes.

Foire du Lendit (Fair at St.Denis, Paris)

One of the earliest annual fairs in Europe began in the seventh-century at Saint-Denis. By the eleventh-century this was joined by a summer royal fair, the Lendit fair. Today Saint-Denis is a suburb of Paris, famous for its royal necropolis at the Gothic Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis. It is the resting place of forty-two French kings, thirty-two queens and sixty-three princes and princesses. It is also close to the location of the national sports stadium, the Stade de France.

St Germain Fair, late 17th century

Of course, the Catholic Church like all religions venerates relics of sacred places and holy people important to its faith. The New Testament began this practice by referring to the healing power of objects touched by Christ and his apostles. Monasteries and cathedrals keenly collected any such relic, their value reflected in the creation of ornate reliquaries, some fashioned within life-size statues. The notion grew that pilgrimages to sites with relics might intercede and forgive sins or aid salvation. The priests would offer blessings and, where successful in attracting large numbers of pilgrims, the sites inevitably grew into commercial centres, exhibiting and selling mementoes and other products. These early fairs mixed commercial enterprise with entertainment. Attendees danced and sang, listened to troubadours, watched celebratory and religious processions.

There is mention of a fair in Frankfurt as early as 1074, it was also attested in 1150 when Elieser ben Nathan of Mainz talks of Jews coming to visit the ‘Fair of non-Jews’. Medieval vendors met at the Römer building to present their wares.

Römer building today, Frankfurt

But the first Frankfurt trade fair found in written documentation was on 11Jul1240. This was an autumn trade fair authorised by Emperor Frederick II, who guaranteed its success with a decree that merchants travelling to the fair were under his protection. Some ninety years later, on 25Apr1330, a Frankfurt spring fair was authorised by Emperor Louis IV. From then on, trade fairs were held in Frankfurt twice a year, in spring and autumn, forming the basic structure for Messe Frankfurt’s modern consumer goods fairs.

After the Norman Conquest the practice of fairs had reached England. The very first was approved to be held at St Gile’s Hill in Winchester. This was granted in the late 11th century by William I to his relative, Wakelin the Bishop of Winchester (1070-1098).

By the twelfth-century England’s towns were expected to acquire a charter from the Crown, and/or Parliament, to hold an annual fair. They lasted for two or three days and consisted of a market, an exhibition and a festival. They gathered a large number of people from across a wide area and so represented a real commercial opportunity. From 1238 the St James’ market in Bristol was held to celebrate the festival of St James. Stalls came from all over the country, shows and spectacles that included wild beasts and a waxworks. Later it had proved so successful that it lured privateers into the Bristol Channel to attack laden ships arriving and leaving the fair.

The practice grew, for example in 1284 Robert, Bishop of Bath and Wells was granted the right by Edward I to hold a 10-day fair each year at his manor in Bath. Between 1199 and 1483 some 2,800 grants of franchise markets and fairs were issued, half of these granted by kings John and Henry III.

Bristol Fair

Markets in England were focussed on fresh goods and held as frequently as daily in major towns, perhaps weekly in rural areas. But fairs often associated with religious festivals and were held on a periodic cycle. Fairs sold more exotic goods (like spices and waxes) and non-perishables ceramics, cloths, farm tools, homewares, furniture and rugs. They were usually supported by entertainments like tournaments, dance and music – they became a focus of social life.

In England five fairs became rather prominent, creating an annual cycle of international trade fairs. These were Stamford Lincolnshire at Lent, St Ives Huntingdonshire at Easter, Boston Lincolnshire in July, Winchester Hampshire in September and Northampton in November. Between these some smaller fairs operated at Bury St Edmunds, Kings Lynn, Oxford, Stourbridge and Westminster. St Ives’ Great Fair attracted buyers from Brabant and Flanders in today’s Netherlands, from France, parts of modern Germany and Norway.

Bartholomews Fair and Piepowder Court

The business was so significant that ‘courts of piepowders’ were specially created to deal with attendees who were often not local residents, these courts were run by the town’s mayor and bailiffs. They settled disputes on contracts, weights and measures, thefts and violence at the fair. Decisions had to be made ‘before the third tide’, thus within a day-and-a-half. Those unable to meet the judgement fine had property seized and sold to pay the sum. One suggested origin of the unusual name is pieds poudrés or dusty feet, because the courts members were not sat in a courtroom, instead they moved around the fair to dispense their speedy justice.

However, by the end of the twelfth-century some of the commercial element of these fairs was changing. In Henry III’s reign (1216-1272) his household accounts indicate that some 75% of his requirements were obtained from the great fairs, but by Edward II (1307-1327), the king was buying much of his requirements through major merchants. For instance, the trading in wool and cloth became more trans-European and became controlled exclusively by staple towns and staple ports, that held monopolies for these products; though this was often extended to include corn, grain and wines.

England’s trading with continental Europe was initially solely through Bruges and later Calais. This trade was not just reserved to certain towns but also to specified merchants. This trade therefore moved away from fairs and became more of a structured, organised business. Merchant guilds, often little more than a cartel, became more powerful and formed confederations, as for example the Hanseatic League which in the late 1100s represented just a few northern Germanic towns, but grew to dominate much of the Baltic sea trade between the 15th and 19th centuries.

The ‘Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516’ has painstakingly assembled a list by county and by place as to when each was granted a charter to run a fair or market

Sir Edward Coke 1552-1634

Sir Edward Coke held numerous high public offices in the 16th/17thc, serving under Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. He is most famous as the attorney general that prosecuted the earls of Essex and Southampton, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators.  He progressively became a champion for the supremacy of Common Law over the monarchy. He produced 11 volumes of his ‘Reports’ setting out the principles of English law. Within these he sought to define a hierarchy of events as marts, fairs and markets. All three he saw as ‘periodic gatherings of buyers and sellers in an appointed place, subject to special regulation by law or custom’, but he saw the ‘market’ as the simplest of these events, with the ‘fair’ as a ‘greater species of market recurring at more distant intervals’, and believed that the ‘mart’ was the largest species of fair.

© Bob Denton 2018
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2.4     Book Fairs

Johannes Gutenberg c.1400-1468

The Frankfurt trade fair developed a reputation for the sale of manuscripts. Perhaps fortuitously, it was in nearby Mainz that Johannes Gutenberg developed his printing press technologies in the first-half of the fifteenth-century. Gutenberg had received funding from Johannes Fust, a local merchant, perhaps already a seller of manuscripts, but the two fell out before Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible was completed.

Peter Schoeffer 1425-1503

Peter Schöffer had been apprenticed to Gutenberg but took Fust’s side in the legal wrangle, and would, years later, marry Fust’s daughter. There are suggestions that Schöffer had been sent into Gutenberg’s operation specifically to gain knowledge and experience of his techniques. The two men edged Gutenberg out, with Schöffer taking over the printing operation and Fust selling the books produced. Schöffer went on to produce 300 different titles and invented the notion of the title page and of a sales catalogue.

Fust sold the 42-line Bible in paper or vellum versions, the paper Bible sold at 40 guilders and the vellum version at 75 guilders. He set up a branch in Paris and was soon selling the books ‘globally’ before the notion of a global market was considered a reality. In France they accused him of working for the devil because the notion of such a sales performance was difficult to comprehend.

It was Fust and Schöffer that established the first specialist printed book fair at Frankfurt, perhaps as early as 1454, but certainly by 1462. It would become the most significant book fair in Europe until the 17th century.

Leipzig Market Square

Leipzig also boasted an early fair and ran its Book Fair from 1478. It supplanted Frankfurt in 1632 when it first presented more books than Frankfurt. In 1764 the transfer of allegiance of a notable bookseller, Philipp Erasmus Reich, from a Frankfurt publisher to one in Leipzig dealt the Frankfurt Fair a serious blow. Leipzig held the supremacy until 1945 when it was subsumed into the DDR Frankfurt was able to regain its top slot.

Frankfurst Book Fair 2018

Today the Frankfurt Book Fair is run across five days every October, attracting some 7,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries and attracting over 277,000 visitors. It is considered to be the most important book fair in the world for international deals and trading.

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2.5     Manufacture-sample exhibitions

The Age of Enlightenment is usually presented by historians as an eighteenth-century movement sitting somewhere between the death of Louis XIV (Le Roi Soleil or ‘Sun King’) in 1715 and the French Revolution of 1789. But other historians believe the beginnings of this intellectual movement, began earlier as a revolution in scientific thinking, often termed the ‘Scientific Renaissance’.

Louis XIV 1638-1715

Louis XIV, the great grandfather of Louis XV, had been an absolute monarch who presided over building France into the leading European power of his time, belligerently tackling his neighbours in three wars. His pro-Catholic religious policies led to the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre and the expulsion the Huguenots. Perhaps then it was understandable that Enlightenment would not have found a ready reception.

Louis XV ruled from the age of five for 58 years of the Enlightenment, and on reaching maturity is credited with presiding over a growth in French culture. However, his abandoning of absolute monarchy appeared to sap the strength of France and damage its treasury.

Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543

But other historians believe the beginnings of this intellectual movement, began earlier as a revolution in scientific thinking, often termed the ‘Scientific Renaissance’. This perhaps began as early as the sixteenth century with Copernicus in 1543 and his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). This overthrew some 1,400 years of acceptance of Ptolemy’s Earth-centric view of the universe. However, it took until the seventeenth century for Galileo Galilei to bring light to the Ptolemy versus Copernicus debate. In 1632 he wrote Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo {The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems). For some reason the Ptolemy version was strongly defended by the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo was declared ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and his book was placed on the Catholics’ Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) – it remained there until 1835!

Newton’s Principia Mathematica

This false start meant any enlightenment had to wait on new thinking in mathematics, physics and chemistry, botany, biology and medicine to change the views of the natural world. For example Isaac Newton published in 1687 his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) outlining many fundamental principles; it is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

These important books were not cultural islands, there was a groundswell of interest in these new ideas. They were discussed in coffee houses and salons, in the Quakers’ Friends meeting houses and in Masonic lodges. Pamphlets and books were published, and learn-ed and scientific academies were created, as for example the Royal Society was founded in 1660 for ‘improving natural knowledge’.

Early scientists were usually also philosophers, or at least metaphysicists, and became popular presenters. Among these were Francis Bacon in 1620 claiming that ‘knowledge and human power are synonymous’, that knowledge would re-establish the ‘Empire of Man over creation’.

Sir Humphry Davy 1778-1829

Sir Humphrey Davy in 1840 cautioned that ‘Every discovery opens a new field for investigation of facts, shows us the imperfection of our theories. It has justly been said, that the greater the circle of light, the greater the boundary of darkness by which it is surrounded’.

Michael Faraday 1791-1867

Michael Faraday was also cautious about what they could achieve, providing a maxim for modern conference organisers, ‘Lectures which really teach will never be popular; lectures which are popular will never really teach’. Though his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures began to deliver sessions suitable for the young, these captured their imaginations and were immensely popular – perhaps why these are still held today.

It was this combination of learning and entertainment that became encapsulated into the first series of what we might recognise as exhibitions. These events demonstrated new techniques and equipment as an entertainment while educating potential trade buyers. Some term these as ‘sample exhibitions’ but they are more generally referenced as manufacturing exhibitions.

The first of these was held in Paris in 1683 and although there are coincident books and inventions there appears to be little direct record of the exhibition itself, just its date and the city.

So my vote for the first documented trade fair is the first of two machinery exhibitions held in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic).

The first was a 1754 event, ‘The Big Fair of Commodities of the Czech Kingdom’ held in Veltrusy in the Central Bohemian region.

The second event was also in Bohemia, held in August/September 1791, Called the ‘Waarenkabinet’. As we shall see It was the centenary of this second event, in 1891, that proved to be the inspiration for the creation of Prague Exhibition Grounds at Stromovka park (updated in 1999).

In between the two Bohemian exhibitions there were a number of poorly-recorded events held in London, The Society for the Encouragement of Arts… (1761); in Paris, Societe d’Encouragement de l’Industrie National; in Geneva (1789) and in Hamburg (1790).

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