Visitors comments in 1857

Considering that the original 1857 exhibition attracted over one million visitors, it's likely that many people wrote about their experiences. Of those comments that we know about, some were published in the press, while others were committed to diaries and journals, to be discovered at a later date. A selection of these comments from some very noteworthy individuals is published below.

One rather interesting portion of the Exhibition is the Refreshment Room-or rather rooms, for very much space is allowed both to the first and second classes. I have looked most at the latter, because there John Bull and his female may be seen in full gulp and guzzle, swallowing vast quantities of cold boiled beef, thoroughly moistened with porter or bitter…

Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist

…and oh! how he (the visitor) will enjoy that marbled sirloin of Aberdeen beef-those plump thighs of Dorking chickens-and a cool and sparkling bottle of Moet, topped up with a becoming share of a magnum of that ’40 port now piled in fabulous numbers of dozens under the floor of Mr Donald’s strong room!

Gustav Waagen, German art historian

At the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester there are refreshment rooms of three grades. The first class was so poor that I think the second must have been cold water and the third ‘cold water and poetry’…

Maria Mitchell, American astronomer

The care for the common people is admirable...but they want more amusement, and particularly something in motion, though it were only a twisting fountain. The thing is too still after their lives of machinery; the art flows over their heads in consequence.

Charles Dickens, author

The study or enjoyment of the exhibition itself, we found to be a matter for many days, and still the treasure was left exhausted.

Chambers Journal

…a wonderful sight materially, & not less remarkable morally, but bewildering to the mind & exhausting to the eye from vastness when viewed wholesale: it ought to be visited in compartments.

Prime Minister, William Gladstone