I pose a question to you.
Where would you go dinosaur hunting in London?
My guess is that the city’s south probably wouldn’t top your list. So, it may surprise you to hear that you will encounter dinosaurs on London’s Green Chain Walk. In Crystal Palace, of all places.
As a forewarning, you’re probably going to hear me harp on about London’s Green Chain Walk in the next few weeks. The weather is (slowly) getting warmer, which means it’s prime time for trekking through the city’s many walkways and paths. If you ask me, the Green Chain Walk is one of the most underrated things to do in the capital.
But more about that later. Let’s discuss the dinosaurs.
These Victorian sculptures don’t exactly resemble these ancient creatures as we would picture them today.
They are the work of the natural history artist and sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. He created 33 life-size concrete models of various extinct animals (not only dinosaurs), the construction of which was based on the latest scientific knowledge at the time.
Scientists of the 19th century had collated nowhere near the amount of information we now have available to us. As a result, many of the sculptures were created on speculation, rather than solid fact.
That being said, the likeliness to modern day drawings is pretty darn close. Looking at them, you can hardly call them artist’s renditions.
This is because Hawkins was under the instruction of biologist and palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen – the man who coined the term Dinosauria to describe these “fearfully great reptiles”.
The Crystal Palace dinosaurs were completed in 1854 – the first of their kind to be created in the world. To put this into perspective, they pre-date Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by six years.
Recognised for their historical value, the sculptures have been restored on countless occasions, the last time being 2003. Four years later, they were listed as National Heritage Grade I. The dinosaurs are here to stay!
Dinosaurs ruled the earth somewhere between 230 and 65 million years ago, in what was known as the Mesozoic Era (which itself is divided into three periods known as Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous).
Now, we share the planet with their descendants, who you can see in all their feathered glory in Crystal Palace Park.
I’m talking of course, about birds. The park is home to many species of both water and land birds – swans, ducks, geese, the fancy-footed coot and several types of pigeon.
So, you could say that these ancient creatures are not extinct – as many of those who have dedicated their lives to studying them, believe that birds are dinosaurs too.
A trip to Crystal Palace Park offers you a chance to see dinosaurs, both as they were imagined in the 19th century and as we know them today.
The park is easily accessible from the Crystal Palace train station. Signs for the Green Chain Walk will take you directly to the sculptures and loop you around the perimeter of the lake.
Looping the park, we saw many plants and animals, including my all-time favourite animal – a local German Shepherd!
I’d love to come back later on in the summer, when the flowers are in full bloom – and the paddle boats that litter the lake in full swing.
And people say there’s nothing going on south of the river…