Crystal Palace: Design, Politics and Society in Britain 1850 –1920

Ref: C2422659

The 1851 Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations was the first of its kind and represented a definitive moment for Britain. Housed in a glass and iron structure that gave the exhibition its popular name, the Crystal Palace, it was a showcase of British technological innovation and, with exhibitors from America and India, commercial and political dominance. However, many of the machine-made goods that Britain displayed were viewed as cheap and shoddy compared to those produced by France. In the wake of the Crystal Palace were a number of debates on design reform that crystalised in the Arts & Crafts Movement. Ostensibly about objects and the decoration of houses, the Arts & Crafts movement provided the perfect vehicle for political reformers covering workers’ rights, socialism and Irish independence. This course will use a material culture approach to look at political and social changes in Britain between the Crystal Place and the Arts & Crafts Movement, from 1850-1920.

Course aim

Using material culture and the Arts & Crafts movement to explore the political and social changes in Britain between 1850-1920.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • An understanding of the link between design and politics in the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • An understanding of how the ideals of the Arts & Crafts Movement were used by both social and political activists.
  • We will be able to trace the way that these ideals were used further afield in both India and Ireland as part of nationalist political movements.
  • We will consider the legacy of this period and how it underpins a number of political and social debates today.

How will I be taught?

What kind of feedback can I expect?

What else do I need to know?

A look at the Arts & Crafts Movement and related objects on the Victoria & Albert website ( would be useful.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

What can I do next?

View full course information sheet

Crystal Palace: Design, Politics and Society in Britain 1850 –1920


This course is funded by the Greater London Combined Authority but is also open to residents of other areas.

As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2021
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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