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How Did The Public Aquarium Develop in Britain?

Anna Thynne (1806-1866) is credited with opening London’s first biologically balanced marine aquarium when she put her corals and sponges on public display at Westminster Abbey in 1847 (Stott, 2003). In the wake of the extravagant displays of the London’s Great Exhibition (1851) and its glazed Crystal Palace complex, aquariums increasingly looked to exploit the “mass transparency” of glass to satisfy a spectacle-hungry population (Armstrong, 2008).

In 1853, a ‘Marine Vivarium’ opened in Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens, London. Dubbed ‘The London Fish House’, it kept its crabs, molluscs, and fish healthy with little need for aeration or water changes. Its success led to other aquariums opening in Britain, Europe, and the U.S.A in the next two decades.

In 1871, Britain’s first large-scale aquarium opened in a basement of the re-sited Crystal Palace structure in South London. It relied on casks of seawater brought by train and a steam-driven circulation system devised by its Superintendent, the retail aquarist William Alford Lloyd (1826-1880). In this extensive public aquarium, under-floor reservoirs and non-corrosive vulcanite pipes fed sixty-one tanks at a rate of 5-7,000 gallons an hour. 22 of these were reserved for behind-the-scenes research (Lloyd, 1871). Its remains are still visible.

  • Crystal Palace Aquarium, Kevin Edge− © Kevin Edge
    , Kevin Edge

  • Crystal Palace Aquarium in plan, taken from Lloyd (1871), Licensed publisher: Nature Publishing Group. Licence number: 3331950013718 (via RightsLink, 2014). , Nature Publishing Group− © Nature Publishing Group
    , Nature Publishing Group

  • Crystal Palace Aquarium, a tank elevation, taken from Lloyd (1871), Licensed publisher: Nature Publishing Group. Licence number: 3331950013718 (via RightsLink, 2014). , Nature Publishing Group− © Nature Publishing Group
    , Nature Publishing Group