Revolutionary Britain: National Exhibition of Works of Industry
The National Exhibition of the Works of Industry, also known as the National Exhibition, or simply the Fox Palace exhibition, was an exhibition of industry held from 1 May to 15 October 1849 to showcase British industry around the world. It was organized by the British government, led by Prime Minister Wilfrid Lawson, in what was and is generally viewed as an attempt to showcase British strength to the rest of Europe after the tumult of the Headless State era (from 1827 to 1847) after the Popular Revolution. It proved vastly popular and today it remains a symbol of the era of Lawsonian radicalism.
In France, exhibitions of industry had first been held in 1789 during the Directory era to showcase industry, in what was an attempt to push the message that the root of the French Republic was not the Reign of Terror of its first few years, but industry. This exhibition proved a grand success, and was repeated through the Sieyesian era and beyond to push much the same message and generally to promote the development of French industry.
The idea of such an exposition was taken up by the British government after the Popular Revolution, when it suffered legitimacy issues owing to its "provisional" non-monarchical head of state, and indeed the British Isles faced the political violence and parliamentary instability that marked the Headless State era. This violence began to dissipate following the institution of the secret ballot, and the parliamentary fully dissipated when the charismatic Wilfrid Lawson became Prime Minister in 1846 with a sizeable majority. His reforms proved popular, and the intervention in the New Granadine War of Independence (1848-52) dominated his premiership while giving his government vast amounts of popularity as the Isles fought for the cause of liberty half a world away. This enabled him to be prime minister for ten years, from 1846 to 1856, and though he did eventually fall, his tenure as prime minister is generally viewed as stabilizing the British state, enabling the survival of the young reluctant republic. Though the idea of an industrial exhibition was proposed during the 1830s, the various events of that decade it was put into practice during the stability of the Lawsonian era.
Furthermore, 1849 was a momentous year for the Isles. Charles James Fox (1749-1806), one of the great heroes of the British pantheon of liberty, was born a century before that year; his belief in parliamentary reform, strengthening the rights of the people in Commons, disdain to royal power, and famed opposition to the authoritarian attitudes of Pitt and Addington made him a hero to Radicals and Moderates alike, and indeed make him a national hero to this day. His birthday of January 24 was celebrated well after his death, and the Charter, that great achievement of the Popular Revolution, was given assent on January 24, 1829 in his honour. As such, this year enabled the British government to look to its heroic past and celebrate it, while looking ahead at a future of liberty and stability.
And so, in preparation, a vast palace, made with the new technologies of glassware, was constructed; characteristically, it was named Fox Palace and a grand statue of the great Fox was placed within it. The very fact that glassware could now be used to cover a grand palace is considered emblematic of the great progress of the era, and it was met with a combination of disdain towards the "modernity" it represented as well as wonder.
As such, six million people in total from across Europe visited the Exhibition. At its peak, about one hundred thousand people visited it, and it proved massively profitable, allowing Lawson's grand reductions of taxation.
But at the same time, there were fears it could cause a revolution. Charles James Fox, after all, was a radical figure associated with the sovereignty of the people - some feared his commemoration, along with the vast crowds near Whitehall, and members of the working classes visiting, would inspire rebellion. But, importantly, it didn't, demonstrative of the stability of the era.
At this exhibition, much was featured, most famously Wedgewood prints, enabling the capture of images onto prints with fairly high quality. Other such stuff was featured - new instruments, railways, telescopes, and diamonds from the empire.
By the time it was over, it was a grand success. Fox Palace would be moved to Kensington, where it stands to this day, acting both as a monument to the Lawsonian era as well as a place for exhibitions and grand events. The exhibition would in turn inspire a similar event in Prussia after the war, with similar grandeur - but nevertheless, the British exhibition is remembered best.