Crystal Palace dinosaur conservation work restores Iggy the Iguanodon to his former glory

By Sophie Beckwith | 19 January 2016

Conservation work to repair the historical Crystal Palace dinosaurs has reconditioned one of the park's most famous extinct residents

Restored Iguanodon
The restored Iguanodon© Lynn Hilton
In 1853, a group of eminent professors and palaeontologists held a New Year’s Eve feast inside the concrete mould of an Iguanodon in Crystal Palace’s Dinosaur Court. The first full-scale reconstruction of dinosaurs ever attempted went on public display when the park opened in June 1854.

Dinosaur remains were being discovered up and down the country and dinomania was in full-swing. English sculptor and natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was commissioned to build the Crystal Palace figures based on cutting-edge science and theories of the time.

Scaffolding and restoration workers around the concrete Iguanodon monument
Conservation work on the Iguanodon sculpture© Lynn Hilton
The Park has four dinosaurs in the true sense of the word, along with pterodactyls, plesiosaurs, crocodilians, and amphibians with many statues based on specimens currently on display in UK natural history museums. But the Grade I-listed concrete figures are now in a serious state of decline.

restoration worker digging at the feet of the concrete Iguanodon monument
Dinosaur statues, Crystal Palace Park© Lynn Hilton
Ellinor Michel is an evolutionary biologist at London’s Natural History Museum and the chair and a trustee of the conservation group Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

She describes the statues as “old-fashioned, scary and crazy, looming out of the landscape in a way you don’t expect." “The weirdness of having a Jurassic Park in South London is so improbable," she adds.

Restoration worker scrubbing concrete on dinosaur statue
Conservation work being carried out on the concrete© Lynn Hilton
“Sculptures are being repaired according to priority. We chose Iggy because it’s one of the most iconic; it was seriously splitting with cracks opening up to four centimetres.”

The whole of Iggy’s structure has been cleaned, dirt between the scales that was adding to the monument’s cracks has been removed and rotten teeth have been replaced. Fresh paintwork means Iggy is once again a resplendent green, complete with bright white toenails.

Dinosaur model having toes painted by restoration worker
Painting work on Iggy the Iguanodon's toenails© Lynn Hilton
“The dinosaurs are a fantastic demonstration of science, history and conservation, they show an appreciation of extinction and represent the first big public outreach on natural history,” Michel says.

“At the time scholars worked in splendid isolation, then there was the general population- not worth communicating with about complex stuff- notably science, the park was the first 'edutainment'.”

Two dinosaur structures in park
Crystal Palace's Iguanodon monuments© Lynn Hilton
The construction of a new park café housing a dinosaur interpretation centre starts in April and information signs are being updated.

Emerald Ant will premiere a giant “Iggy” at Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in May 2016, beginning a three year geology-themed schools tour telling the story behind the famous dinosaurs and raising awareness of their need for restoration.

scaffolding up against the Iguanodon statue
Conservation work in Crystal Palace Park© Lynn Hilton
teeth of concrete structure close-up
A close-up of Iggy's restored teeth© Lynn Hilton

  • Find the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park, London. Visit for more on the conservation work.

Three museums to meet dinosaurs in

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The current exhibition, Fossil Hunters: Unearthing the Mystery of Life on Land, features tetrapods (four-legged land vertebrates), fish, plants and land invertebrates, some of which were found as recently as summer 2015. They offer unique insights into an ecosystem that existed millions of years ago. Until August 14 2016.

Worcestershire County Museum, Kidderminster
Visit the museum on May 30 for Let's Rock, an event where you can make your own clay dinosaurs and snake mobiles, meet Vernon the life-size Velociraptor and follow the building stones trail.

Great North Museum Hancock, Newcastle
Visitors to the permanent Fossil Stories exhibition can become palaeontologists and re-assemble a prehistoric creature using virtual technology. Sound, touch and animation brings alive a world that disappeared millions of years ago.
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