From a talk by Dr Colin Shrimpton.
The 4th Duke of Northumberland became involved in the Great Exhibition, the 150th anniversary of which fell in May last year and took great interest in the whole project.
As he was a naval man, he suggested one of the I700 exhibits should be the newly-invented unsinkable life-boat, built by a Yarmouth boat-builder, for which his Grace received a golden award.
Henry Cole, architect, put the idea of the exhibition to Prince Albert, who decided there should be both national and international competitors. After the opening, Queen Victoria visited the exhibition at least once a week. Various businessmen became involved. Thomas Cook for instance, began his now famous organisation by organising tours for visitors from all over the country.
At the end of the six months it was open, the total amount of visitors reached six million. As more and more people came quite long distances, they needed something else to entertain their interest, besides the exhibition. Therefore the Duke opened both Zion House and Northumberland House to the public. His steward Thomas Williams arranged the sale of tickets, organising orderly queues.
When Crystal Palace closed in October, the Duke decided to keep his two houses open until November. He organised a trip for 155 of his workers on the estate. Thomas Williams arranged for accommodation and a very full itinerary for the whole week, which included Buckingham Palace, Thames Tunnel, the British Museum, Regents Park, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.
As the Duke had paid for everything, when the men returned from their wonderful trip they wrote an excellent address thanking the Duke, showing their gratitude.