I Take a Walk with Dinosaurs in London’s Own Jurassic Park

No matter what way you look at them dinosaurs are pretty cool. Let’s face it what isn’t to like about things that are big and dangerous, but have been dead for so long that they could never have eaten you or any of your family!

Gwwwr

Grrrrrrrrr

What I find even more fascinating is how science has tried to make sense of these creatures since their discovery only 200 or so years ago. It was relatively easy to reconstruct the marine reptiles that Mary Anning first excavated in Lyme Regis.

Crystal Palace's Marine reptiles

Crystal Palace’s Marine reptiles

The sediments of the early ocean had preserved complete skeletons of the creatures and in some deposits in Germany even the outline of the animals’s bodies, but it was more problematic with the fragmentary remains of the first terrestrial dinosaurs that were found in the UK. All the early palaeontologists had to go on were the skeletal plans of existing reptiles like crocodiles and monitors, so the early reconstructions were of creatures that scuttled through the undergrowth on splayed legs, dragging their bellies along the ground.

Got any fish? Icthyosaur -Crystal Palace

Got any fish? ichthyosaur Crystal Palace

By the mid 19th century Richard Owen (the man who invented the name dinosaur) had worked out from the thighbones of creatures like Iguanodon and Megalosaurus, that they actually stood upright on straight legs like an elephant or a rhino. These new-found ideas about what these creatures looked like really fired the public’s imagination. So much so that when the Crystal Palace Company decided to relocate the 1851 Great Exhibition buildings from Kensington to Sydenham Hill, they hired the sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to populate one of the ornamental lakes with replicas of these prehistoric creatures.

Pterodactyl - Crystal Palace

Pterodactyl – Crystal Palace

Waterhouse worked with Richard Owen to ensure that when his models were finally unveiled in 1854 they were as accurate as possible, although compared to the more graceful creatures that we know these animals to have been now, some of Owen’s reconstructions still look like lumbering beasts.

The mighty Megalosaurus

The mighty Megalosaurus

And as for the horn on Iguanadon’s nose we now know it’s really a spiky thumb,

Iguanadons - Crystal Palace

Iguanodon – Crystal Palace

that might have been used to poke hie enemies in the eye.

In Jurassic Park Dr Alan Grant was rather alarmed when he discovered some of these,

Icthysaurus 5but I think that particular egg may have belonged to one of these present day descendents of the dinosaurs.

Greylag goose - Crystal Palace

Greylag goose – Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is easy to reach from central London with frequent London Overground services and mainline trains from London Bridge.

All aboard graphic at Crystal Palace Railway Station

All aboard graphic at Crystal Palace Railway Station

Just take a right into the park on exiting the station and follow the path past the athletics stadium to reach the lake.

Labyrinthodon

Labyrinthodon

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4 thoughts on “I Take a Walk with Dinosaurs in London’s Own Jurassic Park

    • I probably made my first visit there around the same time, but I have been writing an article on the early dinosaur discoveries made in the UK (we found them and worked out what they were before any other nation) and I found the whole process of how the creatures were discovered and then reconstructed based upon the evidence people like Buckland, Mantell and Owen had, was just as interesting as the creature themselves and that piqued my curiosity to see them again, plus with the new London Overground links Crystal Palace is a lot easier to visit than it used to be, no need to go into town and come out again.

  1. I really should go while I still live in London. I find parks like this are always much better than I expect. At Drayton Manor in Birmingham they have a dinosaur trail for children, with plastic models, and even that’s a lot of fun.

    • Hi Jonny

      Having done the research on Owen and his ideas about what these animals looked like I had to go take another look at these creatures, it was quite fascinating to look into the mental process that put these things together, especially given the small amount of evidence these guys were working with. Almost as fascinating was the way in which tghey tried to make them fit their idea of how the universe worked. Owen from his anatomical studies came to the conclusion that God worked upon a central plan when designing animals. Given the fact that he was by many accounts a pretty nasty person to his rivals the drubbing he got from Huxley in the Oxford debates over evolution is that much the sweeter.

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