The Festival Of Britain Pleasure Gardens – Battersea Park

The next stop in my exploration of the Festival of Britain is the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea. Many of those who visited the South Bank festival site would have taken one of the shuttle boats from the South Bank piers to the pier at Battersea Park, however I had a day off work on the hottest day of the year, and caught the Circle Line to Sloane Square then walked across Chelsea Bridge to explore Battersea Park and see what reminders there are of the festival.

The Pleasure Gardens at Battersea Park were very different from the rest of the Festival of Britain events.

  • All the other core events were educational and informative. The intention of the Pleasure Gardens was to balance the other events and add an element of fun to an otherwise mainly serious festival.
  • The Pleasure Gardens allowed commercial sponsorship. Unlike the other events where the display of a manufacturers product was based on the excellence of the design, demonstration of innovation and a British manufacturing success, the Pleasure Gardens had a number of sponsored events and displays.
  • Whilst the majority of goods displayed at the rest of the festival were British, the Pleasure Gardens sourced a number of the fairground rides from the US. The latest and most exciting rides could not be obtained in Great Britain at the time.
  • You could shop at the Pleasure Gardens. The experience of shopping for luxury goods was a core part of the Battersea event.

Although the other festival sites presented a history of the land and people of Great Britain, they were essentially forward-looking – how the creativity and industry of Great Britain would create a better future – the Pleasure Gardens were more nostalgic including references to earlier pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne, traditional entertainments such as Punch and Judy and Music Hall along with gardens, water features and Rowland Emett’s Oyster Creek railway.

As with the South Bank festival, Battersea was a target of the Beaverbrook press along with much of the Conservative party who viewed the festival as a waste of money. The plan for the Pleasure Gardens was put on hold for a year, and then only went ahead with half of the budget estimated by the planners (hence the real need for commercial sponsorship).

The cover page of the guide for the Pleasure Gardens is very different from all the other official guidebooks to again highlight that the visitor would have a very different experience here than at the other events such as the main festival site, the exhibition of science etc.

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Despite these differences, the focus on design was just as important as with the other sites and all the main features had an individual designer, for example:

  • The Chief Designer was James Gardner, responsible for the overall design themes of the Pleasure Gardens
  • The Chief Architects were D. Dex Harrison and Ernest Seel
  • High Casson was responsible for the Aviary Restaurant
  • Rowland Emett for the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway
  • Bernard Engle for the Vauxhall and Ranelagh Beer Gardens
  • Arthur Braven for the Festival Fare Snack Bar

These were highly qualified people, for example Bernard Engle who was responsible for two of the beer gardens was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Arthur Braven, responsible for the Festival Snack Bar was an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. They also designed other aspects of the festival, for example Arthur Braven designed the interior of several London double-decker buses that carried out a publicity tour of Europe for the festival.

The main areas of the Festival Gardens were:

  • The Riverside along the Thames which included the pier where boats docked bringing visitors from the South Bank piers.
  • The Parade – the shopping area of the Festival Gardens along with access to all the other spaces and events
  • The Grand Vista – a view of towers and arcades, lakes and fountains, eating and drinking and the location of the evening fireworks
  • Oyster Creek – the Rowland Emett designed railway that ran between the festival gardens stations of Oyster Creek and Far Tottering
  • The Fun Fair
  • Lawn and Flower Gardens
  • Specific areas for children such as the Punch and Judy and Zoo

The overall view of the Festival Gardens site is shown in the following map from the Festival Guide (as usual, click on the map to open a larger version).

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As with the South Bank festival site, my father took very few photos of the Pleasure Gardens, just a set of photos of one of the entertainments which I will show later, so as with the South Bank site I have been collecting postcards over the years to understand what the site looked like and I will feature some of these in this post.

Of all the festival locations, it is Battersea Park where there is still much to be seen relating to the festival. This was probably helped by the fact that many of the festival installations, such as the fun fair remained for many years after the festival closed, and Wandsworth Council have also carried out some excellent restoration work to some of the festival locations.

The main information plaque in Battersea Park recalling the festival:

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I took along a copy of the guidebook to help understand the site, probably the first time it has returned to Battersea Park since 1951.

Referring back to the map of the site, I will start at the large round tent just to the lower right of the top staple. This is the Dance Pavilion.

The external appearance of the Dance Pavilion was of yellow and brown canvas, but on entering the pavilion a more sophisticated sight greeted the visitor where a second layer of canvas was hung from the central pole on which was also mounted a large chandelier. The Dance Pavilion was apparently the largest tent of its type in Europe at the time.

The dance floor was made out of oak strips surrounded by a red carpet. There was an orchestra stage and along the walls of the pavilion were alcoves. The majority of the lower surround of the pavilion was of glass.

There was space for 400 couples on the dance floor and 700 spectators on the surrounding red carpet. Regular dances were held, but it was at night when the chandelier lit up the pavilion that, in the words of the guide “the pleasures of the night are afoot”.

The Dance Pavilion:

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Although there is no sign at the site, by checking the map against the physical features that still remain, the location of the Dance Pavilion seems to where this circular raised flower bed is located today.

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Just to the right of the Dance Pavilion, is the Fountain Lake. This was part of the Grand Vista that ran from the Parade through to the Fern House and firework platform and formed a long view with water features on either side.

The intention with the Grand Vista was to emulate the visual effects seen in the parks surrounding English country houses, or along the processional vistas of Paris and within the grounds of Versailles. Battersea was on a much smaller scale and importantly, cost, but still produced a dramatic effect.

Designed by John Piper and Osbert Lancaster, the Grand Vista was approached from the Parade. Firstly, two great flights of steps led down to the area where two rectangular lakes each 100 foot long and containing fountains, with the visitor walking along the central walkway between the two lakes.

On either side of the lakes were Gothic towers, arcades containing shops and cane-work statues.

At the end of these two lakes was Fountain Lake. A single lake with central and side fountains that led down to the Giant Fern House and the Firework platform.

View of Fountain Lake:

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The rectangular lakes, arcades and Gothic towers leading up to the Parade:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 13

Circular feature at the end of the arcades. The round tent at the back of the photo is one of the Vista Tea Houses, blue and white umbrella roofed and where tea and coffee could be purchased.

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The main features of the Grand Vista and Fountain Lake are still to be seen today. The following photo is looking back towards the Parade from the end of the Fountain Lake. Central and side fountains still play across the lake and to the left and right are round structures of poles that mark the positions of the circular structures at the end of the arcades in the original festival (see the photos above).

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What I really like about the lake is the surrounding fencing at the top of the lake. I suspect this was installed as part of Wandsworth’s refurbishment of the site rather than original, however the style is perfect for the Festival of Britain.

The central fountain features also look to have been restored to as they were with a concrete base to the central fountains, and the edges painted in blue and white stripes.

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View of the twin rectangular lakes leading up to the Parade. As well as the circular structures the four box structures mark the positions of similar installations during the festival – seen in the original photos above where they had cones mounted on the top of each box.

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Looking up towards the flights of steps leading up towards the Parade. Note the diamond patterns on the central walkway – identical patterns can be seen in the original photos.

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And a final view of the Grand Vista from the top of the stairs. This would have been the view that met the visitor, however at the time of the festival, there were Gothic towers, arcades, statues all lining the water features and at the far end a large fern house. It was also from the far end that the nighttime firework displays were launched.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 32

Wandsworth Council have done an excellent job in restoring this part of the Pleasure Gardens, and whilst the majority of features have long since disappeared, walking along the Grand Vista and Fountain Lake does provide a sense of what the Pleasure Gardens must have looked like in 1951. Today, the lakes provide a perfect location for Londoners to sunbathe on very hot summer days.

One feature that has long since disappeared is the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway.

This was one of the nostalgic features of the Pleasure Gardens. The railway had started as a cartoon series in Punch by Rowland Emett, but was created as a working, 500 yard miniature railway taking visitors from one side to the other of the Pleasure Gardens. Three trains from the cartoons called Neptune, Wild Goose and Nellie ran between the stations on a single track.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 1

The guide to the Pleasure Gardens includes a description of the trains that illustrate the imagination and fantasy of Rowland Emett’s work:

“One thing this certainly won’t do justice to is the locomotive Neptune brought here specially for the nautical section of the railway. Even the directors are not quite clear about its origin but believe it was built from the wreck of the Packet Boat ‘Comet’, (she foundered – do you remember? – on a barnacle off Star Fish Point in the year eighteen hundred and what’s it). Measuring 10 feet to the funnel and 20 foot length with tender, Neptune is tough enough still to pull a train of 8 coaches with 12 passengers in each.

Wild Goose is another fine bird which has been pressed into similar service. She is, I understand, the railway’s reply to British Railways air services; owing to abnormal loads being carried at Battersea, however she may have difficulty in taking off.

There is also Nellie, whom nothing daunts. After all this it’s hard to realise seriously that these three locos can provide a two minute service, pulling a thousand passengers an hour.”

Festival Pleasure Gardens 2

The Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway was one of the most popular attractions at the Pleasure Gardens.

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Whilst concentrating on the fantasy nature of the railway, the guide also states “For the interest of the technically minded (but don’t tell Emett) the engines are diesel electrics and the track 15 inch gauge”.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 4

The Parade at the Pleasure Gardens ran the length of what is now Carriage Drive North.

Along the parade, there were many decorative structures and features along with a range of shops. The guide stated that along the Parade “is to be found the Bond Street of the Gardens – shops whose very names spell quality and luxury.

Here you will find exquisite antiques, figures in porcelain and ivory, miniatures and elegant fairings of a past age as well as modern pottery and china of all kinds.

Here, too, are bright adornments for my lady – earings and necklaces of pearl and brilliants, costume jewelry of every description. And while madam yearns over gems and fine perfumes, elegant slippers and diaphanous underwear, the mere male can can comfort himself with the contemplation (and purchase) of pipes, snuff, fountain pens, cameras, watches or razors, while younger members of the family gape at miraculous toys, stamps (including the special Festival issue), and other wonders”.

Looking down the Parade in 1951:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 6

The Parade today:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 21

The Tree Walk, a raised walkway among the tops of the trees ran across the Parade.

Commercialism and sponsorship was one of the main differences between the Pleasure Gardens and all the other festival sites and events. This was essential to the Pleasure Gardens due to the very limited budget allocated for the site and could be justified as the aims of the Pleasure Gardens were very different from the rest of the Festival of Britain.

After the war, and post war period of rationing and austerity, the availability of products such as those on sale at Battersea must have seemed remarkable and if you can ignore the gender assumptions in the text from the guide, the use of words such as yearns, gapes, miraculous and wonders, as well as the reference to Bond Street are indicative of the wide spread retail commercialism of the decades to follow the 1951 festival.

The adverts within the guide to the Pleasure Gardens are also different to the other guides.

In the Pleasure Gardens guide are adverts from the sponsors along with adverts for luxury goods:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 18

Festival Pleasure Gardens 20

Sponsors included Guinness and their advert in the guide included a picture of the Festival Clock – their sponsored exhibit at the Pleasure Gardens.

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Which could be found along the Parade:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 5

Other sponsors included:

  • HMV – the Music Pavilion
  • Franco Signs – the Tree Walk
  • Leichner – Powder Room
  • Lockheed Hydraulic Brakes – the Mermaid Fountain
  • Nestle’s – Playland and Fountain Tower
  • London Zoo and News Chronicle – the Children’s Zoo and Aviary
  • Schweppes – the Grotto
  • Sharp’s Kreemy Toffee – Punch and Judy and the Macaws

There were also three beer gardens, named after original London pleasure gardens, Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne, that were sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Brewers.

The sponsors took full advantage of advertising and selling their products during the festival. At the Ladies Powder Room, “Leichner, having added lustre to the beauty of nearly four generations of stage stars, here offer facial magic to ordinary mortals. In the dove-grey salon with its twelve mirrored dressing tables, the ladies, in their pause for beauty, will find a full range of powders, lipsticks, eye-shadows in all the colours of the spectrum and cleansing creams and lotions”.

In the Powder Room, advice was free, but “if you wish to be expertly made-up by one of Leichner’s Young Ladies, there is a small charge”.

The restoration work by Wandsworth Council includes these structures which run parallel to the Flower Gardens. Again I doubt these are original, however the styling is perfect for the Festival Gardens, including the small fence.

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Plaque commemorating the Pleasure Gardens:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 26.

A couple of other photos of the Pleasure Gardens. Many of the structures were temporary, constructed with canvas, but all highly coloured. I have not found any colour postcards of the Pleasure Gardens however some of the films I provided links for in an earlier post include colour film of the Pleasure Gardens and show a brightly coloured site, decorated throughout with bold colours.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 8

Festival Pleasure Gardens 11

Walking from the Grand Vista, back along the Parade, the site shown in the photo below, to the west of the Pagoda, was the site of the Riverside Theatre where shows were given by Britain’s leading puppet-makers, including names such as The Hogarth Puppets, Walter Wilkinson’s Hand Puppets along with Eric Bramwell and the Stavordales.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 33

There was also plenty of entertainment for children, including the Zoo, a Peter Pan’s Railway, the Nestle’s Playland and Punch and Judy.

It was at the Punch and Judy that I found the only photos that my father appears to have taken at the Pleasure Gardens. He took a series showing the expressions of children watching one of the shows. After originally scanning these negatives, I was not sure of the location, however in one of the shoe boxes containing photos he had printed, I found one of these photos with the location written on the back.

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In the guide book there is a drawing of the Punch and Judy showing the railings around the seating area and benches which are the same as in my father’s photo. The drawing also gives an impression of what the children are looking at:

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The Punch and Judy was at location 13 on the Pleasure Gardens map. It was located along the Parade which is also lined with large trees. I have no idea how long these particular species of trees take to grow, but they look large / old and on the assumption that these are the same trees as at the festival, or later trees planted in the same places, I counted the number of trees from the entrance to the Grand Vista in the map and along the Parade today which took me to the following spot, which if correct, the Punch and Judy was in the space to the left of the bench.

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The Mermaid Fountain (sponsored by Lockheed Hydraulic Brakes) was on the space currently occupied by the Pagoda.

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Further along is the entrance to the Children’s Zoo. Originally, this was further back, to the east of the Flower Gardens, but has since expanded to take up the space occupied by The Piazza.

The Zoo at the time of the Pleasure Gardens had two bear cubs called Ruff and Scruff along with baby lions, foxes, wallabies and a crab eating racoon with the unusual name (for a racoon) of Sally.

There was a cage with monkeys, a “Mousetown building where hundreds of mice perform their antics all day long”, a  llama, goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and tropical fish and a reindeer called Rudolph.

The original entrance to the Piazza, now the entrance to the Zoo is shown in the photo below:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 37

The commercial aspects of the Pleasure Gardens extended to children. The Nestle’s Playground was advertised with the text that “Nestle’s have immense experience at looking after children and making them happy.” When the parent collected their children at the end of a two hour session at the Playground, each child was given a present, which I am sure was Nestle’s branded.

The other main attraction area of the Pleasure Gardens was the Fun Fair.

The Fun Fair was probably the most controversial of the Pleasure Gardens entertainments. For the previous 12 years, the development of fun fair rides has been the last thing in the mind of British industry. The American fun fair business had continued almost without interruption and new rides had been developed with height and speed increasing their excitement and attraction to visitors. There was nothing available in Great Britain that could hope to bring visitors the level of excitement expected from such a one off event as the Festival of Britain.

The organisors of the festival therefore decided to go to America and purchase rides for use at the Pleasure Gardens. The Treasury agreed a sum of £30,000 (a significant sum at the time – even more so considering national prioirties) to spend on rides from America and a team traveled out to select and purchase suitable rides (the team included representatives from other British fun fairs as the intention was to help justify the purchase, the rides would be sold to other British fun fairs after the festival had closed).

The Beaverbrook press found out about the visit and the budget with the resulting Daily Mail headlines criticising this waste of national funds.

As a result of the visit, the Festival Gardens ended up with some of the latest American fun fair rides, which including the small number sourced from Great Britain provided the fun fair with Three Abreast Gallopers, Lighthouse Slip, Leaping Lena, Octopus, The Whip, Dodgems, Caterpillar, Waltzer, Moon Rocket, Big Dipper, Scenic Grotto, Peter Pan Railway, Ghost Train, Bubble Bounce, Hurricane, Fly-o-Plane, Rotor, Boomerang, Flying Cars and the Sky Wheel which would carry riders 90 feet into the air. I am not sure of the type of ride of all these, but it does sound as if the visitor would have had a good time.

Parts of the fun fair continued long after the Festival Pleasure Gardens closed – a story for another time.

The Pleasure Gardens after dark were one of the main attractions for visitors. Whether the chandelier lit dances in the Dance Pavilions, the brightly lit shops, the Fireworks, the lighting on all the main features and the lakes and fountains, it was a very different experience for those who had lived through the long years of war and post war austerity.

Rockets and fireworks could be seen launched from the end of the Grand Vista or from on the lake. The trees along the Parade were lit by sodium and mercury lighting concealed on the roofs of the shops that lined the Parade. Fairy lights and multi-coloured diamond lights lit the pier on the river. Far Tottering station was lit by bright platform lights and above the Children’s Zoo a huge lighted bird was placed above the aviary whilst fairy lamps light the pony rides below.

All the individual shops, restaurants, cafes and bars had their own individual lighting scheme.

It must have been quite an experience to walk the Festival Gardens at Battersea after dark.

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The Pleasure Gardens were very different to the rest of the Festival of Britain exhibitions, although they did share the same aim of bringing – in Gerald Barry’s words – “elegant entertainment” to the masses and creating a classless environment where different and new forms of entertainment were open to all.

The Pleasure Gardens aligned with the Labour Government aim of trying to broaden the types of entertainment enjoyed by the majority of the British population, which an earlier Labour report had identified as being too dependent on pubs and the cinema. There was also concern with the population being too dependent on passive forms of entertainment, and the creeping Americanisation of entertainment (despite the purchase of fun fair rides from America).

The last section in the guide to the Pleasure Gardens quotes Dr Johnson’s description of Vauxhall Gardens, suggesting that the description could well apply to the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea:

“That excellent place of amusement…is particularly adapted to the taste of the English nation, there being a mixture of curious show, gay exhibition, music, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear…and though last, not least good eating and drinking for those who choose to purchase that regale”.

The Pleasure Gardens at Battersea were a great success during the Festival of Britain, however as with much else portrayed across the Festival of Britain, the ambition of bringing “elegant entertainment” to the majority of the British population would take a very different path in the decades that would follow.

Battersea Park is well worth a visit (although perhaps not on the hottest day of the year) and Wandsworth Council have done a good job with the restoration of the area around the Grand Vista, Fountain Lake and Flower Gardens and features such as the railings really do evoke the designs from 1951.

Next week is my final post on the Festival of Britain with a visit to the Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar.

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The Festival Of Britain – Maps, Football, Guidebooks. Science And Abram Games

The aim of the Festival of Britain was that it would touch as much of the population of Great Britain as possible. It would encourage the population to explore and learn more about their country, science, engineering art etc. and would use the best in design and graphic art to portray the festival. The festival symbol created by Abram Games is one of the most easily recognizable symbols for an event.

In this latest post in my series on the Festival of Britain, I want to move from the South Bank Exhibition and cover some other ways the festival involved the wider population, some of the other exhibitions and the designer behind the key festival symbol.

The South Bank was the main festival site, however there were many other activities in London and across Great Britain that were associated with the Festival of Britain along with views of the country that aligned with how the Festival of Britain aimed to portray the country.

One of the themes behind the Festival of Britain was that the people of Great Britain were a family. If you have watched the film by Humphrey Jennings and the Central Office of Information for the festival: Family Portrait – A Film on the Theme of the Festival of Britain this view of the British as a family is clearly seen.

There were a number of other examples of how the country was presented as a family and with the twin themes of the Land and the People. One of these is the map of Great Britain called “What do they talk about” produced for the Geographical Magazine and Esso.

The map is shown below and the detail is a fascinating snapshot of the country in 1951 (click on the map to open a new window with an enlarged view):

Festival Map 1

The Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition is shown in London. London is surrounded by Trippers in Southend, Royalty in Windsor, the Army in Aldershot, Hoppers and Pickers in Kent. Weather and Crops covers much of the east of England. The Pit, New Factories and the production of Nylon is shown in south Wales and in Bristol, the Bristol Brabazon, constructed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company is shown.

Shakespeare’s birthplace is shown in Stratford, Potts in Stoke, the Mill in Lancashire, Turbines in Newcastle, Hydro-Electric, Whisky and the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland ship building is represented by “Our Latest Launch” along with agriculture with milk, potatoes and pigs.

It is a fascinating map and it would be an interesting exercise to produce an equivalent map today to show how the country has changed since 1951.

The Festival of Britain was educational and informative, and one of the aims of the festival was to encourage people to understand more about, and explore Great Britain. To help with this aim, a series of guide books were published for the festival covering the whole of the country and detailing guided tours to help explore each region.

Thirteen different guide books were published by Collins covering the whole of Great Britain. The cover of the guide book for Wessex is shown below:

About Britain Guide 1

The “Using this book” section advises that “These guides have been prompted by the Festival of Britain. The Festival shows how the British people, with their energy and natural resources, contribute to civilization. So the guide-books as well celebrate a European country alert, ready for the future, and strengthened by a tradition which you can see in its remarkable monuments and products of history and even pre-history”.

The guide-books were priced at three shillings and six pence, a level which the publishers intended to be a very reasonable price for as wide an audience as possible. They were written by well known authors and specialists in each of the regions and the books had a coloured title page by either Kenneth Rowntree (who worked on the Freedom mural in the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion) or Barbara Jones. The title page for Wessex:

About Britain Guide 3

The format of the guide-books was to start with a portrait of the region being covered. This would start with a geological introduction followed by a detailed guide to the various villages, towns and cities, main features of the region, the countryside, traditional industries, churches and cathedrals and monuments. Illustrated mainly with black and white photos along with a number of colour photos.

After the portrait of the region, the guide-book then provided a series of detailed tours to take the visitor through all the main features of the region. The tours used the strip map format first used by John Ogilby in the 17th century. Along the side of each map was a list of the main features of interest. For the Wessex region there were six tours which would give the visitor a comprehensive understanding of the region in question.

An example of one of the tours – tour 1 a circular route starting and ending at Bridport.

About Britain Guide 2

The guide-books concluded with the sentence “The Festival of Britain belongs to 1951. But we hope these explorers’ handbooks will be useful far beyond the Festival year”, which indeed they are, again to provide a snapshot of the country in 1951 and as the country was portrayed in line with the themes of the festival.

The News Chronicle (the paper of which Gerald Barry, the Director of the Festival had been the Editor) published a map, the Festival of Britain – Guide to London, which as well as showing the Festival of Britain locations, also showed other features of interest for the visitor to London. The map included pointers to areas outside the coverage of the map including Epping Forrest, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal Football Clubs, Greenwich, Hampton Court and Wembley.

The map also had the underground stations shown in their geographical positions rather than using the traditional underground map format. The map also shows a number of stations that have either changed name or closed since 1951 for example, Trafalgar Square Station.

The map is shown below. Again, it is a fascinating map with lots of detail from 1951. Click on the map to open a large scale version.

Festival Map 2

A special map for the Festival was also published by London Transport and British Railways which provided visitors to the festival with detailed guidance on how to reach the various festival sites across London. As well as English, the map included details in French and Spanish.

The cover of the map included the Abram Games festival symbol.

Festival Map 4

The transport map for the festival (again if you click on the map a larger version should open).

Festival Map 3

As well as the underground and overground rail routes, the map details the special bus services to the exhibitions of architecture, science and books as well as the Festival Pleasure Gardens.

The map also provides details of two events hosted by London Transport.

There was a London Transport Poster Exhibition in the subway at South Kensington Station where London Transport exhibited a display of past and present posters.

And in the ticket hall of Hyde Park Corner Station there was a London Area Art Exhibition displaying representative work from London area art schools.

In my posts so far on the festival, the tone of the festival has been educational and informative with a focus on the arts, science, design, architecture and industry, however a key aim of the festival was to involve as many people as possible in the festival summer and to use many different types of events to broaden interest and raise the profile of the Festival of Britain.

Sport was a route to reach sections of the population who may not normally attend an event such as the Festival of Britain, so to raise the profile of the festival and engage as much of the population as possible a range of sporting events were organised across football, rugby etc.

Games were organised under the banner of the Festival of Britain and outside of the normal league or cup games. A series of football matches were arranged between British and International clubs. This involved clubs from across Great Britain and a London example is the following game between Charlton Athletic and S.C. Wacker of Austria.

Charlton Athletic 1

These games were organised after the end of the normal league season and involved international clubs touring the country in a series of “club internationals. Unfortunately for Charlton, they lost this game by 3 -1 to S.C. Wacker.

The centre of the programme provides a team listing, the state of League Division 1 (now the Premier League) and a notice that the next Festival of Britain match to be played at the Valley would be London Schoolboys v. German Schoolboys – I could not find the result of this match.

Charlton Athletic 2

As well as Battersea and Poplar, the other main London exhibition outside of the South Bank was the Exhibition of Science held in South Kensington.

Exhibition of Science 1

The Exhibition of Science was very factual and detailed, it was not, to use a current term, “dumbed down”. The exhibition assumed that the visitor wanted to, and could understand complex ideas if presented and explained clearly.

The exhibition guide was written by Dr. Jacob Bronowski who would later be responsible for the BBC series “The Ascent of Man” in 1973.

The exhibition was within part of the Science Museum buildings and featured the following exhibits:

  • What matter Is
  • Inside the atom
  • Chemistry of life
  • Chemical and Physical Structure
  • Light, Rocks, Crystals, Metals, Colour
  • Structure and Mechanism of Life
  • What is Life?
  • Cosmic Rays and the Universe
  • Luminescence
  • The Electronic Computer

The exhibition aimed to show that science is knowledge with a set of underlying ideas that can be understood and enjoyed by anyone.

The exhibition featured chemical formula, for example showing the chemical formula for Vitamin C, how it prevents scurvy and what happens to its effectiveness when the chemical structure is changed slightly. Technical names were used such as Para-Amino-Benzoic for the body chemical that feeds bacteria.

An example of one of the illustrations from the guide showing the periodic table:

Exhibition of Science 8

The exhibition, along with the whole of the Festival of Britain was based on the premise that the British public had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to understand the world about them, and how the world would be changing in the future. The war had resulted in significant technical change and developments in nuclear energy, computing and materials would soon be making a major impact on the world.

Take for example the computer. Although early forms of computer had cracked German codes at Bletchly Park, this was still highly secret in 1951 and a very new concept and technology to the average person. One of the displays in the exhibition was on the Electronic Computer and the guidebook explains:

“No calculating machine is really a brain, because it does not think out its own instructions – it merely carries them out. But it can relieve the human brain of many mechanical tasks in calculations, and it can carry them out several thousand times faster than a human calculator. These tasks are not only addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. We can now construct a machine to solve long and difficult problems in algebra and calculus which require it to remember its answers to earlier problems, to choose between different answers and to use these to proceed by different methods. We can even make a machine to play NIM, because it is a mathematical game. Although it will not always win, the machine cannot make a mistake!”.

The exhibition also included a Chemical Laboratory and a Science Cinema with a programme of 40 minute films on a range of scientific topics being shown throughout the day.

Recognising the rapid developments in Science there was also a STOP PRESS section which highlighted recent achievements in science.

Jacob Bronowski summed up the exhibition and the part that British science has played in his closing paragraphs to the guide:

“The 1951 Exhibition of Science, South Kensington is part of the Festival of Britain. There is nothing fiercely British about this exhibition. Science is international, and the ideas and discoveries which are shown here belong to all mankind. Yet it is right to take pride that some of the greatest names in this exhibition are British: Newton and Darwin, Faraday and Rutherford and J.J. Thomson. Their work is our heritage: it is our ambition to continue it: but the greatest pride of each of us should be that we understand it.

The new work which you have just seen in the STOP PRESS is an inspiration, to remind us that in the last five years, Great Britain has won the Nobel Prize for physics three times, for chemistry once, and her three discoverers of penicillin have won the prize for medicine. And a British philosopher has won the prize for literature, and a pioneer in nutrition the Nobel Peace prize”.

As with all the guide books for the various festival exhibitions, the guide book to the Science Exhibition has a wealth of adverts for companies and industries associated with the theme of the exhibition. I featured adverts from the South Bank exhibition in an earlier post which you can find here.

The following are a sample from the Science Exhibition guide book. Reading through these adverts, it must have seemed at the time that British industry had an extremely bright future.

The industry failures, foreign take overs and loss of industrial capacity that would take place over the next few decades must have seemed unimaginable.

Sangamo Weston – the company behind the Weston light meter (I have one of these – see the post here). The company is still going, now renamed just Sangamo and based in Scotland, and I understand owned by the Schlumberger company of the US.

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Imperial Smelting Corporation Ltd – once the operator of the largest zinc smelter in the world at Avonmouth. Went through a number of changes in ownership, becoming part of Rio Tinto Zinc in 1962 with the site closing in the 1970s.

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EMI – mainly known as a record label and for the music industry, however EMI was also a very major player in the electronics industry and developed and produced a range of world leading products, including the worlds first CT Scanner. The electronics and research sides of the business were sold off over a number of years, for example the defense business went to Thales of France, the optoelectronics business went to Pilkington which was then also sold onto Thales.

The remaining music business went through different owners and is now a music label within the American-French Universal Music Group.

How different the future must have seemed in 1951 when EMI were advertising a secure future for technologists and offering training through EMI Institutes.

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Leland Instruments Ltd – cannot find anything about this company.

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British Shipbuilders whose ships are known throughout the world for their quality and reliability – from the largest Ocean liner to the smallest harbour craft. Another industry that has reduced considerably with most Ocean liners now being built and serviced in France, Italy and Germany.

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ICI – once one of the countries largest industries, was taken over by the Dutch firm AkzoNobel in 2007. See my post on ICI’s Millbank building here.

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Abram Games

The designer of the Festival of Briton symbol, used on all festival literature, seen throughout the festival and across the country during the summer of 1951 was Abram Games.

Games was born in East London in 1914 and after attempts at formal art education at St. Martin’s School of Art, Games followed a path of being largely self taught and working freelance. Walking the London streets with a portfolio of poster designs looking for any work which was difficult considering his approach was very different to the current style of advertising and commercial posters and is now considered to have been many years ahead of its time.

In 1940 Games joined the army as an infantry private. As during World War 1, posters were being used in the Second World War as a key format to inform and educate the public as well as recruitment into the many new roles required by a wartime economy.

Games watched the development of wartime posters and during a period of leave in 1940 went to see Jack Beddington at the Ministry of Information (Beddington had been a previous employer of Games’ freelance services when Beddington worked for Shell). Games offered his ideas on Army Poster Propaganda and later in 1941 was told to report to the War Office and became one of the few designers working on Army posters.

One of his first posters was for the Ministry of Information, for a recruitment poster for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (see the poster below). Although 10,000 were printed, they were later withdrawn after a debate in Parliament where it was argued that the poster was not the kind that would encourage mothers to send their girls into the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2832)

Games continued poster design through the war and was overwhelmed by demands from so many wartime organisations. After the war he continued freelance work and lectured at the Royal College of Art.

In 1947 his first stamp design was issued for the 1948 Olympic Games and he then went on to win the competition for the 1951 Festival of Britain symbol, which brought Games to a much wider audience.

The symbol is simple, but very bold and clear. The figure of Britannia and the compass points with the coloured bunting and the year 1951 manage to convey in a simple design so much about the Festival of Britain. The symbol also had to work across a wide range of sizes and formats, from very small printed versions (for example on the maps and book cover shown in this post), it was used on flags and large versions where used across the festival sites.

The Festival of Britain symbol is a perfect example of Games’ approach to design:

Maximum Meaning

Minimum Means

Games continued to work on poster design as well as other mediums such as televison where he was commisioned to design for the BBC including the first animated identity for BBC television.

His work through the 1950s, 60, 70s and 80s included posters and designs for British Rail, Penguin Books, various national tourism authorities, British European Airways, Trade Exhibitions, The Times, London Transport – a very wide range of work but all with the same Games distinctive style.

Games was awarded the OBE in 1958 and appointed a Royal Designer for Industry in 1959.

A sample of Games’ posters ( © IWM (Art.IWM PST 2832), IWM (Art.IWM PST 2891), IWM (Art.IWM PST 2909) and IWM (Art.IWM PST 2911) )

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2891)

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2909)

The posters above and below were two from a series of three published in 1942 titled “Your Britain – Fight For It Now”. The poster below shows the planned Finsbury Health Centre. The poster aimed to show that from the devastation of war a new future would be built, much better than the past, however when Churchill saw the poster he ordered that it be banned as the child with rickets in the background was considered a very negative image to portray in the middle of the war.

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2911)

Abram Games died in August 1996, however his work continues to be some of the best work in graphic design, and the symbol he designed for the Festival of Britain must be one of the most recognisable symbols for an event, still easily associated with the festival 65 years later.

The symbol that Games designed for the festival can still be found across London and the rest of the country including a pub in Poplar which will be the subject of a future post.

In my final posts on the festival over the coming weeks, I will visit the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea and the Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar.

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A Walk Round The Festival Of Britain – The Downstream Circuit

Following the walk round the Upstream Circuit of the Festival of Britain on the South Bank, in this post I will take a walk round the Downstream Circuit – The People, however first a couple of other aspects of the festival.

There is a small display in the Royal Festival Hall covering the Festival of Britain. This display includes a superb model of the overall festival site showing all the major landmarks of the festival, pavilions and Thames piers. If you visit the Royal Festival Hall, please do take a look.

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The Festival At Night

I mentioned in my last post on the use of colour across the festival site after long years of war and austerity. As well as colour, the festival was very brightly lit after dark, which again was a major attraction for visitors given that nothing had been this brightly lit for many years.

The following photos show how good the South Bank site must have looked after dark.

The first photo is looking towards the Station Gate from the embankment. On the left, the side of Waterloo Station is lit, then the arches over the Station Gate entrance, followed by the screen which separated York Road from the festival site, then the Dome of Discovery. In the foreground are the Fairway Fountains.

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This photo is looking at the Transport Pavilion.

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From the north bank of the river looking across to the festival site. The brightly lit Skylon is in the centre of the photo, Royal Festival Hall to the left followed by the Shot Tower.

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The Royal Festival Hall and the Shot Tower.

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A colour view of the Royal Festival Hall with the Skylon in the background.

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It was not just the South Bank site that was illuminated. Surrounding buildings were as well, as this photo shows, with floodlit buildings along the north bank of the river, including the Houses of Parliament.

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As well as the information and products displayed in each of the pavilions, the use of colour and lighting during the Festival of Britain after so many years of war, austerity and rationing aimed to inspire visitors to the festival with optimism and that there was a much better future ahead for the people of Great Britain.

A Walk Round The Downstream Circuit – The People

The Upstream Circuit told the story of the Land of Britain and in this post we will walk round the Downstream Circuit which occupied the space between Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges and told the story of The People.

Firstly, a couple of views of the Downstream Circuit from Waterloo Bridge. The first shows the Royal Festival Hall and Shot Tower. On the river is the Rodney Pier, named after the British naval officer Admiral Rodney who served in the Royal Navy and was involved with many battles against the Spanish, French and during the American War of Independence. There was a second pier on the Upstream Circuit named the Nelson Pier. These two piers allowed boats and their passengers arriving from along the Thames to access the festival and also shuttle services to two of the other main London events. A shuttle service ran to Battersea for the Festival Pleasure Gardens and a second shuttle service ran to the West India Dock where a special bus service would take visitors to the Architecture Exhibition at Poplar.

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A view of the Downstream Circuit close to the river bank showing the cluster of pavilions, cafes and event spaces around the Shot Tower.

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Here again is the map of the South Bank Exhibition.

Festival of Britain Map 1

The first pavilion in the Downstream Circuit is number 16 – The People of Britain. The guide-book stated that the pavilion will answer the following questions:

“The story that has been told so far shows that, in achievement, the British are a nation of many different parts. In appearance, too, they are just as mixed – certainly one of the most-mixed people in the world. But who are these British people? What different breeds of ancestors have contributed to the shaping of such a rare miscellany of faces as confronts the visitor in any London bus? Where did those various ancestors come from? And how did they reach this land?”

The pavilion told the story of the first islanders from the stone and bronze ages, the Celts then came from Northern France and gave a fresh impulse to the development of agriculture across the country. Then came the Romans who gave the Britons “a first taste of a civilisation”. This was followed by Christianity, then the Norse and Danish Vikings and finally the Normans – the last invaders.

The long history of arrivals to the country from the earliest settlers to the Normans were all absorbed into the life that was here before them and each wave of settlers became islanders. As I discussed in the post on the background to the festival, the story of immigration and settlement in Britain from the perspective of the festival ended with the Normans and later immigration or migration from the Commonwealth was not included in the story of the British people.

Leaving The People of Britain pavilion, we head to pavilion 17 – The Lion and the Unicorn.

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The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion was on the space now occupied by the Whitehouse apartments. I could not get to the exact position as the above photo as the Whitehouse buildings now occupy the site, however in the photo below, the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion occupies the space to the right.

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As discussed in my post on the background to the festival, the Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion attempted to show and explain the British character to the visitor with the Lion and the Unicorn symbolising two of the main qualities of the national character: “on the one hand realism and strength; on the other fantasy, independence and imagination“.

The following plan shows the pavilion and the main sections.

Pavilion - Lion and the Unicorn 1

The main characteristics of the British people covered in the pavilion were, Language and Literature, Eccentricities and Humours, Skill of Hand and Eye and the Instinct of Liberty.

On entering the pavilion, the visitor would see high on a side wall, very large straw figures of the Lion and Unicorn set in front of the legend “We are the Lion and the Unicorn, twin symbols of the Briton’s character. As a Lion I give him solidarity and strength. With the Unicorn he lets himself go“.

The large straw figures were created by Fred Mizen who lived in Great Bardfield in Essex who was an agricultural worker and specialist in thatching and straw work. To illustrate the character of the Unicorn, he was holding a rope which led up to a giant birdcage hanging from the roof of the pavilion.  The rope had opened the door of the birdcage allowing a flight of plaster doves to escape and were shown suspended in flight along the length of the pavilion roof.

The pavilion included exhibits such as the Oxford Lectern Bible displayed on a fifteenth century church lectern, scale models of sets for Shakespeare’s plays, portraits of British authors, recordings of local speech from across the country showing how there was much diversity in the spoken word.

There were a number of murals used in the pavilion. The photo below shows part of the interior of the Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion and to the lower left is a large mural along the wall. The mural was painted by Kenneth Rowntree and titled “The Freedoms”. The mural used a number of scenes from history to highlight the British concept and struggle for freedom including the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Emmeline Pankhurst and the fight for woman’s suffrage.

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If you look to the left of the mural, you can see part of an aeroplane wing marked G-APXL which was a divider between the British scenes and a couple of panels on the “British colonies”, which may have been added as an afterthought, with the message that Britain had freed the countries of the Commonwealth by giving them better living conditions. Again, one of the very few references to the Commonwealth with a message that does not fit well with the current view of Empire and Commonwealth.

The guide-book acknowledges the challenge of explaining the British Character. The closing paragraphs for the pavilion read:

If, on leaving this Pavilion, the visitor from overseas concludes that he is still not much the wiser about the British national character, it might console him to know that British people are themselves still very much in the dark about it. For them, the British character is as easy to identify, and as difficult to define, as a British nonsense rhyme.

The lion and the unicorn

Were fighting for the crown;

The lion beat the unicorn

All round the town.

Some gave them white bread

And some gave them brown;

Some gave them plum cake

And sent them out of town.

We can now leave the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion and walk across to the Homes and Gardens Pavilion. As you walk across, the view down towards the Royal Festival Hall is shown in the following photo:

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Just before entering the Pavilion (the entrance doors can be seen to the right) we have this view:

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The guide-book introduction to the Homes and Gardens Pavilion states:

“Fifty million people live on a slice of land which covers an area of less than a hundred thousand square miles – smaller than New Zealand where less than two million people live. Eighty per cent of those people have their homes in towns where the demand for space is clamorous. The great task lies, then, in planning the towns and the houses as a whole. This subject is covered in the Festival Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar. Here on the South Bank, our concern is with some of the units within the house itself; and in the Pavilion a picture is presented of contemporary living created by and for the British family of to-day”.

The aim of the pavilion was to show how British design had addressed the needs of the British family of 1951. Six rooms were chosen and a team of designers selected for each of the rooms. The route through the pavilion took the visitor to each room in turn where they could see how each team of designers addressed the function of each room and the types of products that the consumer could expect to purchase in the future to use within and decorate each room.

The rooms chosen for display were:

  • The child in the home
  • The bed-sitting room
  • The kitchen
  • Hobbies and the home
  • Home entertainment
  • The parlour

The description of the parlour shows how change was taking place in the home in 1951:

“The parlour has long-lost its original meaning as a place where people could sit and converse. Today the very word has a frowsty sound. Yet, quite often, when architects have provided a family with a larger living-room instead of a parlour, one corner has been turned nostalgically into a token parlour-substitute. It is evident, then, that many people still feel the need for a room apart, where photographs and souvenirs can contribute memories, and where the fireplace can be treated as an altar to house-hold gods. So the designers have shown how such a need can be met, in twentieth-century style and without any trace of frowstiness”.

Leaving the Homes and Gardens Pavilion, if we run up to Waterloo Bridge and look over the area we would get the following view. There is another of the festival cafes at lower right, here the Garden Cafe. Again see the use of colour across the site.

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The next pavilion, number 19 is the New Schools Pavilion and is shown in the following photo:

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Significant changes were taking place in education after the war. The 1944 Education Act empowered local education authorities to provide education for every child in the country between the ages of five and fifteen. The act brought in a three stream system of schools with grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern school, along with the comprehensive school system which would combine the three separate streams.

The 1944 Education Act also required local education authorities to provide school meals and milk.

The New Schools Pavilion provided the visitor with a view of what the future school would look like and how it would be equipped. Class room settings, school furniture, laboratories were all on show within the pavilion along with presentations on how the education system would work and the type of teaching children would experience.

The New Schools Pavilion was an example of where the Conservative Party saw the festival as a display of Labour party policies. Despite there being no references to politics throughout the festival there was a concern that the visitor may associate the positive view of future schools with the government of the time.

The following photo shows the edge of the New Schools Pavilion and the full height of the Shot Tower with the radio antennae mounted on the top.

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The mount for the antenna was an old anti-aircraft gun with the antenna dish mounted along the line of the gun barrel.

Installing the anti-aircraft gun at the top of the tower was not without problems and it was only at the second attempt that the gun was successfully installed. At the first attempt, the gun crashed to the ground injuring one of the gunners trying to install the gun.

From the New Schools Pavilion we can also get a good view of the boating pool at the base of the Shot Tower as shown in the following photo:

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My father also took a photo at the base of the Shot Tower:

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Behind the Shot Tower at position 21 on the map is the Sports Arena which was used to demonstrate a wide variety of sports during the festival. One of the aims of the Sports Arena was to encourage visitors to the festival to take part in sports, indeed the view at the festival was that it is more important for wide participation in sport across the population, than British sportsmen leading the world.

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Look to the right of the Sports Arena and just in front of the Shot Tower and you will see a model of the 1851 Great Exhibition on stilts. I will come to this later in this post.

Another view of the Sports Arena showing the location in relation to Waterloo Bridge.

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Photo today showing the area occupied by the Sports Arena and the Shot Tower:

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The Festival Pier is where the Rodney Pier was located during the festival:

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In the background of the Sports Arena photo, there was a model of the 1851 Great Exhibition. My father took a photo of the pavilion after the festival had closed.

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Although the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition was one of the original justifications for the 1951 Festival of Britain, it was almost forgotten in the planning of the pavilions and exhibits. The raised pavilion was almost an afterthought to ensure there was a reference to the exhibition of 100 years earlier.

At each end of the interior of the pavilion were rotating screens with coloured views of different aspects of the 1851 exhibition. In the centre, a model of the exhibition along with a model of the opening ceremony along with a spoken description of the scene and music performed at the 1851 opening ceremony.

It is understandable that there was very little reference to the 1851 exhibition in 1951, the centenary being almost accidental. The 1851 exhibition was an international exhibition with manufactured goods from across the world whereas the 1951 exhibition was focused on British industry. The 1951 exhibition was also a celebration of Great Britain – the land and people compared to the 1851 exhibition’s international outlook.

From the area of the Sports Arena and Shot Tower we can now head towards Hungerford Bridge and the next display – the Seaside. This was not in a pavilion but ran along the embankment in front of the Royal Festival Hall as can be seen in the following photo:

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The seaside was where “the British feel the need to relax – either after a hard week in their industrial cities or a hard year on their land”.

The Seaside was characterised at the festival as “All this bright and breezy business with magic rock and funny hats and period peepshows, is conducted here against the background of a characteristically British seafront; a medley of Victorian boarding-houses, elegant bow-fronted Regency facades, ice-cream parlours, pubs, and the full and friendly gaudiness of the amusement park”.

The Seaside also touched on the equipment needed by those who work on the shores of the country and the display included the latest design of lifeboat.

The view of the coast within this section also included a display of five samples of stretches of coastline to show the visitor the beauty and variation to be found along the British coast.

The Seaside also included viewing platforms raised over the edge of the Thames. These can just be seen to the right of the above photo, however one of the photos my father took immediately after the Festival closed shows these viewing platforms running along the length of the embankment:

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That completes the walk through the Downstream Circuit of the exhibition. In addition to the core areas and pavilions we have walked through, there were two other minor displays. One covering Television which told the story of the development of television and how the service by the BBC (reintroduced 5 years earlier) will provide a platform for entertainment and information.

There was also a Telecinema, which was the first cinema in the world to be specially designed and built to show both films and television. The Telecinema showed live broadcasts from across the festival site along with a series of documentaries specially produced for the festival.

And as a final view of the site as we leave across Hungerford Bridge here is a photo my father took shortly after showing the Royal Festival Hall, the viewing platforms over the river and to the lower right of the Royal Festival Hall, one of the many outdoor works of art that were installed as part of the festival. Also on the right of the Royal Festival Hall is the flagpole that is now on the opposite side of Hungerford Bridge – see my photo of the flagpole in my post on the Upstream Circuit.

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The Festival Site Today

The majority of the old festival site is still dedicated to arts and entertainment with the Royal Festival Hall at the core along with buildings created since the festival such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, built on the site of the Shot Tower. Both the old Upstream and Downstream Circuits were split into two with the Shell Centre upstream and downstream buildings occupying the space. The area between Belvedere Road and the river in the upstream area is now the Jubilee Gardens with the London Eye occupying the space where the 51 Bar and the Nelson Pier were located during the festival.

The site continues to undergo major change with the low rise office buildings around the Shell Centre Tower currently being demolished in preparation for a large cluster of new, mainly luxury apartments to be built.

The following panorama taken from under the now closed footbridge from Waterloo Station to the opposite side of York Road (along the same alignment as the original festival Station Gate) shows the large building site that this area has now become – the original area occupied by the first pavilions of the upstream circuit.

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But throughout all these years of such significant change, Belvedere Road still runs through the site, maintaining a link with the original Narrow Wall when the Thames swept up to the marsh that covered much of Lambeth.

The Festival Closes

Following closure, the new Conservative government quickly ordered the demolition and sale of the festival pavilions, exhibits and artwork so by the end of 1952 not much was left.

One can only imagine the frustration of the designers, architects and all those all had put so much work into creating a festival that although there were major gaps in the story the festival told of the British and it could also be a rather narrow view, the festival did provide a very optimistic view of the future and what the benefits of design, architecture, science and art could bring to the “man in the street”.

I hope you have found these last three posts on the Festival of Britain – South Bank Exhibition of interest. In the coming weeks I will cover the wider aspects of the Festival along with visits to the Festival Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar and the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea.

I included a list of books I have used to research the Festival in my first post. There are also a number of excellent films that show the thinking behind the Festival and the Festival site, including:

And looking at the area today, a film produced for the Waterloo Sights and Sounds project which can be found here.

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A Walk Round The Festival Of Britain – The Upstream Circuit

After the large amount of text in yesterday’s post, it is time for a photographic walk around the Festival of Britain on the South Bank.

My father took only a small number of photos of the Festival of Britain – I do not know why when he took so many of the site before it was cleared. Perhaps what is about to be lost is more interesting than what is here now – the mundane everyday. I am always conscious of this with my own photography that what is ordinary today will be lost at some point in the future and will then be the interesting past.

To understand the site, I have therefore been collecting any postcards I could find over the last few years and it is these I will use to take a guided walk around the South Bank Festival of Britain.

The South Bank site was divided into a number of pavilions, exhibitions, restaurants and cafes with two large buildings, the Dome of Discovery and the Festival Hall. Sculpture and artwork was also distributed across the site along with the Skylon, probably the most famous landmark at the festival.

The site was set-up with a recommended walk that would take the visitor through a structured story of the British family, British achievements and how these achievements would provide a better future.

The Hungerford Railway Bridge almost divided the South Bank area in half and split the festival into an Upstream Circuit – The Land and a Downstream Circuit – The People.

In today’s post we will walk round the Upstream Circuit – The Land and in my next post cover the Downstream Circuit.

The following photo shows the overall South Bank site looking downstream. County Hall is at the bottom of the photo with Waterloo Bridge forming the boundary to the site at the top. The photo shows the size of the Dome of Discovery. To the left of the Dome is the Skylon and above both is Hungerford Rail Bridge. The upstream circuit is the area bounded by County Hall and Hungerford Bridge. To the right of the Dome, Belvedere Road can be seen dividing the upstream circuit. In the middle right is the bridge across York Road leading to the Station Gate and it is through here that we will be entering the Festival.

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Firstly, a couple of views from across the river which give a good impression of the height of the Skylon. Just to the centre right of the photo is one of the large works of sculpture created for the Festival. This was “The Islanders” by the Austrian-British sculptor Siegfried Charoux. It was displayed by the Sea and Ships pavilion and was of two adults and a child and symbolised the relationship between the British people and the sea.

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Another photo from the north bank of the river looking towards the Royal Festival Hall and the Shot Tower which again gives a good view of the Skylon.

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Now it is time for a walk around the upstream circuit of the Festival.

The map below is from the guide-book for the South Bank exhibition. The same landmarks from my last three posts still provide the boundaries – Waterloo Bridge to the right, Hungerford Bridge in the middle and County Hall on the left. The outline of Belvedere Road can also be found in the festival site.

The red dotted line shows the recommended walk around the festival and it is this route we will follow after entering through the Station Gate in York Road.

Festival of Britain Map 1

As you walk through the entrance buildings at the Station Gate and through to the open space where there is an unobstructed view across the festival site to the river, the Dome of Discovery to the left and the Skylon dominating view – see the photo below.

The design for the Skylon was the result of a competition for a “vertical feature” for the festival site. Of 157 entries, the design by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya along with the engineer Felix Samuely was chosen.

The main body of the Skylon was 250 feet in height, add in the suspension off the ground and the total height was 300 feet. Three sets of cables held the Skylon in a cradle at the lowest point, and half way up at the thickest point a set of guy wires held the Skylon in a vertical position.

Aluminium louvered panels were installed on the outer edge of the Skylon and lights were installed inside, so during the day, the Skylon would sparkle in sunshine and at night it would be lit from the inside.

The name for the Skylon was also chosen in a competition. The winning entry was from a Mrs Sheppard Fidler and the name was a combination of Sky and the end of Nylon (the latest modern invention), which when combined gave the futuristic sounding name of Skylon.

The rumour and joke at the time of the Festival was that the Skylon was like the British economy in that it had no visible means of support.

 

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The above view was taken from where Shell Centre now stands, I took the following from the edge of Belvedere Road, roughly to the left of where the hut is shown in the above photo, looking towards the position of the Skylon.

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Rather than walk down to the Skylon we will follow the route round the Festival as shown in the map, but before entering the first pavilion, turn left and head towards building B on the map, the Fairway Cafe. The following photo is looking towards County Hall with the Fairway Cafe on the lower left on the photo. The screen on the left was to screen the Festival site from York Road.

Colour was key to the design of all aspects of the Festival and as well as the use of colour on the large screen the cafe was also brightly coloured including the use of different coloured parasols. After the long years of war, rationing and austerity, the Festival was a new use of colour in a grey world.

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Also from this location, we can look to the right and see the Royal Festival Hall and Shot Tower on the other side of Hungerford Bridge with the large Transport Pavilion to the left of center.

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To return to the route around the Festival, enter the first pavilion, number 1 on the map “The Land of Britain”. This pavilion explained that the “land is the beginning of the story and it is the land that gives the story its continuity” and explained that the land of Great Britain has been millions of years in the making and has created riches available for the use of the people. Ancient muds have formed Welsh Slate, swamps have produced rich coal seams and the salts from stagnant seas have produced fertilisers.

The next pavilion is number 2, “The Natural Scene” and tells the story of the British landscape showing examples from across the country, the fresh waters of the Lake District, the chalk hills of the North Downs which are so “typically British”, birds, trees and grasses of the country.

Next along is pavilion 3, “The Country”. This pavilion acknowledges the separation of the British people as either countrymen and townsmen and states that if these two groups are to march in step, it is essential that each should understand the conditions in which the other lives and works (I suspect this separation has grown wider in the years since the Festival rather than marching in step).

The Country pavilion tells the story of farming a varied landscape, how science has been applied to modern agriculture, livestock and breeding, milk – one of the most valuable of all our raw materials, planning the use of the land and the farmer of today.

The section of the guide covering this pavilion ends with “It is, then, finally, the farmer and his family that we owe the prosperity and permanence of our countryside”.

An internal view of The Country pavilion showing the latest agricultural machinery.

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Now walk through pavilion 4, the Minerals of the Land which shows how Coal and Coal by products have been used, the use of iron and the history of steel making along with the abundance of other minerals in the land of Great Britain.

Walk out of pavilion 4 and look back towards Hungerford Bridge and this is the view. The pavilions we have just walked through are on the right. The walkway on the right is Belvedere Road and if you follow this walkway in the distance you can see the bridge through Hungerford Bridge that is still there today and I featured during the post on the walk along Belvedere Road.

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The following photo is roughly from the same position today, I should have been slightly forward and to the left, however the coaches then obscured the view of the bridge under Hungerford Bridge which you can see as the blue bridge at the end of Belvedere Road.

On the right is Shell Centre, during the Festival of Britain it was The Country pavilion and before the Festival, the site had the row of buildings which included the County Cafe as in the photo in my walk along Belvedere Road. Three phases in the history of this site.

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Now lets walk into Pavilion 5, Power and Production. This large pavilion tells the story of how power has been harnessed in the services of industry and how raw materials are used to generate electricity. The pavilion emphasises that everything that is manufactured must first be designed and focuses on six British industries: woodworking, rubber and plastics, textiles, pottery and the story of paper-making and printing.

The following photo shows the Power and Production Pavilion looking from the embankment.

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The same view today.

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And a view of the interior of the Power and Production Pavilion. The pavilion was not just about the story of how Power and Production has supported British industry, the story also emphasised that craftsmen cannot be replaced by machines and within the pavilion (the people in white coats) there were demonstrations of British craftsmen making silverware, fine instruments, boots and shoes, blowing and cutting glass, hand painting pottery and making paper.

The Festival highlighted that these were British craftsmen and throughout the Festival it was only British goods and products that were on show.

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Having left the Power and Production Pavilion, time for a quick drink before continuing, so head to the box marked E on the map which is the “51 Bar”.

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Although the photo is black and white, the cafe used coloured parasols and the chairs were the Antelope chairs designed by Earnest Race and used throughout the Festival. The 51 was described as “a luxury bar, with good snacks” and was catered by Messrs Charles Hagenbach & Sons of Wakefield, Yorkshire. As well as the pavilions, each of the cafes had their own architect and designer. For the 51 Bar it was Leonard Manasseh.

The site of the 51 Bar today:

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The use of different external contractors for each of the Festival cafes resulted in variable quality, service and food, which in some of the cafes was very basic.

We now head into Pavilion 6, Sea and Ships.

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Sea and Ships stated that “Our ancestors came by sea and found here natural havens for their craft. We still live on the sea and by it, using this same coastline as the childbed of our inheritance – the building of ships for the world and for ourselves”.

This was at a time when the country still had a major ship building industry and shipping was important for our exports as well as imports.

The pavilion examined the history of ship building and then moved to modern ship building including propulsion, propellers, how a ship is built and tested.

The pavilion also looked at the other major British industry associated with the sea, the fishing industry and explained that British fishing grounds now stretch from the coast to the farthest grounds of Iceland and the Arctic Circle, There were also hints at the impact of over fishing as the pavilion looked at the growing area of unprofitable water, but also demonstrated how organised scientific research was being applied to the management and distribution of fishing.

After leaving the Sea and Ships Pavilion, we are at the Skylon and can stand directly underneath. This is one of the few photos my father took at the Festival and was taken from the base of the Skylon.

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The Skylon was a remarkable structure and its destruction after the festival, with no preservation or storage must, in my view, be one of the most major acts of vandalism on a significant symbol of the combination of art, design and engineering.

Walk past the Skylon and we can look back at the Sea and Ships Pavilion with the base of the Skylon and the Fairway Fountains in the foreground.

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Turning round from the above location, we can look across to the Transport Pavilion. This was a large pavilion that ran along the side of Hungerford Railway Bridge between the embankment and Belvedere Road.

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Another view of the Transport Pavilion, the bridge that takes Belvedere Road under Hungerford Bridge is immediately to the right of the large glass building.

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Looking down from the embankment towards the Station Entrance. Waterloo Station can be seen in the background.

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The train in front of the Transport Pavilion was a 2-8-2 locomotive built-in England for the Indian Government Railways. In the photo above you can see boys climbing over the end of the train.

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Although it was named the Transport Pavilion, the aim of the Pavilion was to show Communications in general. The plan of the pavilion below shows the recommended walking route.

Pavilion - Transport Pavilion 1

The Transport Pavilion used examples of British design, engineering and industry to tell the story of how transport had developed and was used in the country.

In Railways, it was stated that Britain gave railways to the world and there were examples of the development of railways in Britain, and within the pavilion was a 600 h.p. diesel-electric locomotive built for the Tasmanian Government and the pavilion also highlighted the transition away from steam. Throughout the Pavilion, it was British innovation that was key, including small details such as “the inventor of the railway ticket was an Englishman named Edmonson. His methods for printing and dating it were the beginnings of the system which has culminated in the coin-operated, ticket-printing, issuing and change giving machine of the present day”.

In the Road Transport section, the breadth and depth of British manufacturing was shown along with facts such as “Britain claims the largest production of bicycles and motorcycles in the world”.

The Air Transport section included a reference to the future Heathrow “the new London Airport still under construction 15 miles west of London. The Terminal Buildings here will be grouped on a 50-acre area in the centre of nine main runways. They house the staff and facilities that enable the airport to handle 4,000 passengers and large quantities of freight every hour of the day or night”.

In Sea Transport the pavilion demonstrated the latest developments in navigation, equipment to support safety at sea along with how the major docks operated including the latest to be completed in Southampton.

The Transport Pavilion also included sections on the latest forms of communications including Radio, Radio Aids to Navigation, Sound Broadcasting and Recording and Television. Again highlighting the latest developments of British science, innovation, design and production.

Another view of the outside of the Transport Pavilion looking towards the river:

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And another wider view of the Transport Pavilion looking towards Hungerford Bridge:

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The following photo is looking across to the location of the large glass building of the Transport Pavilion.

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Now, after the Transport Pavilion, we will head to the Dome of Discovery:

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View today from roughly the same location:

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The theme of the Dome was discovery of the wider world. In the words of the guidebook “In shaping Britain and nurturing her, nature has been particularly moderate. We have no extremes of climate; our driest places are not deserts, our waterways are modest and our mountains would be lost in the shadows of the Andes. Yet, by some persistent anomaly, the British have always been lured to discovery and exploration by those very regions of the world where nature has been most extravagant or most severe – Livingstone by the jungles and lakes of Africa, Scott by the icy Ant-arctic, Sturt by Australia’s barren heart, Mallory by the supreme isolation of Everest”.

The Dome of Discovery told a sweeping story from the land and physical world through to outer space.

Pavilion - Dome 1

Topics covered ranged from Maps and Map Makers, Pest Control, Polar Science, Research at Sea, Weather Forecasting, Charles Darwin, Nuclear Power, Stars and Planets.

The Dome of Discovery was the only location at the Festival to show any displays covering the Commonwealth. Within the section on the land, there were subsections on Commonwealth Links and Commonwealth Agriculture. The emphasis though was still on the future Commonwealth rather than the past, although the description starts with “the great witness of British exploration by land is the Commonwealth of Nations” – I am not sure that the formation of the Commonwealth was by exploration alone, other reasons such as commercial, competition for land with other European nations, exploitation of resources etc. were not topics covered at the Festival of Britain.

Rather, the festival looked at how the Commonwealth is now bound by common ideas and ideals and using British enterprise in the development of sea lanes, air routes, railways, cables and radio – “a radio system which itself is part of our contribution to the welfare of mankind”.

As well as static displays there were practical demonstrations. The antennae on top of the Shot Tower was used to beam a radio signal to the moon and receive the signal after it had reflected from the surface. A cathode ray tube display was set-up in the Outer Space section of the Dome of Discovery and visitors could see the pulses transmitted and returned with a delay of two and a half seconds for the radio signal to reach the moon and return.

In the Sky section there was an operational weather forecasting unit and visitors could pick up forecasts for the day ahead. The forecast issued at the Dome of Discovery for Wednesday 23rd May 1951:

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Mainly cloudy, occasional rain with sunny intervals – sums up British weather.

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The Dome of Discovery was the final point on the upsteam circuit. The next point in the walk round is Pavilion 16 – The People of Britain which is part of the downstream circuit which I will cover in my next post.

There is hardly anything left to see today of the upstream circuit of the Festival of Britain – although perhaps the Embankment which was built and extended into the river using much of the rubble from the demolished south bank buildings is the only tangible reminder of the festival.

There are a couple of plaques that mark the festival. The first is at the point where the Skylon was located and reads “I saw a blade which rises in the sky held by hardly nothing at all”

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There is another plaque on the ground just in front of the Skylon plaque, nothing to do with the Festival of Britain, but still a fascinating story. This plaque is to Lieutenant John Dimmer who was born in Gloster Street, Lambeth and awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Klein Zillebeke, Belgium on the 12 November 1914.

The London Gazette published that “This officer served his Machine Gun during the attack on the 12th November 1914 at Klein Zillebeke until he had been shot five times, three times by shrapnel and twice by bullets, and continued at his post until his gun was destroyed”. 

Lieutenant John Dimmer would later be killed in action on the 21st March 1918 whilst commanding and leading the 2nd / 4th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment at Marteville, near St Quentin.

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Close by the above plaques is a large flagpole which is from the Festival of Britain. The plaque reads:

“The flagpole provided by the Forest Industry of British Columbia for the 1951 Festival of Britain was re-erected by the Provincial Government of British Columbia in 1977 to mark the silver jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”.

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The flag pole was 108 feet long and weighed five and a half tons. It was delivered by ship from Canada to the Surrey Docks from where it was floated up river to the Festival site, towed behind a tug.

The flagpole on the right of the photo. The Skylon was just to the left of the flagpole.

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There is another plaque which must qualify as one of the hardest to read in London.

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The plaque reads:

The construction of the new portion of the river wall was begun by the Right Hon Herbert Morrison on the 17th January 1949

Chairman of the London County Council Walter R. Owen

Chairman of the South Bank sub-committee J. Hayward

Chairman of the Central Purpose Committee Edwin Bayliss 

Clerk of the Council J.R. Howard Roberts

Chief Engineer J. Rawlinson

Contractors Richard Costain Limited

Granite Supplier Cooper Wettern & Co Limited

Photo showing the location of the plaque close to the London Eye.

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There was another plaque marking the Dome of Discovery, although this plaque seems to have disappeared. There is a photo on the excellent London Remembers site.

There are information boards in the Jubilee Gardens which have some information on the area, however I have not found any other references to the Festival of Britain across this part of the site – if there are, please let me know.

In my next post we will walk through to the Downstream Circuit – The People.

alondoninheritance.com

 

The Festival Of Britain South Bank Exhibition

The Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition occupied the site on the South Bank that I have been exploring in the last few posts. The South Bank Exhibition was the largest part of what was a national exhibition with events across London and the whole country. The Festival of Britain was very much a product of its time and attempted to provide visitors with a multi-layered view of Great Britain – the land and people, history, achievements in science, industry, art, design and architecture and a view of what the future held for a unified and confident people.

Whilst both London and the rest of Great Britain is now a very different place to 1951, researching the Festival of Britain in parallel to the EU Referendum brought home a number of common themes:

  • what is Great Britain and who are the British
  • Great Britain’s place in the world, and a focus on Europe or Empire
  • the politics of the country and the influence of the press

In this post I will try to provide an overview of the Festival of Britain and in the next two posts take a walk around the South Bank site. This is a personal view and only very lightly scratches the surface of the politics and British society at the time, and the complex organisation of highly talented people who put together the Festival of Britain in a very short period of time and whilst the country was still recovering from the war.

The view of Britain portrayed at the Festival may today seem very dated, however it is still possible to recognise many of the views of Britain from the Festival and 1951 in the Britain of today. It is also possible to see how the vision of the future portrayed at the Festival has turned out very differently.

Again, I can only scratch the surface. There are a number of excellent books on the Festival of Britain and I have listed these at the end of the post.

Background to the Festival of Britain

The possibility of some sort of festival had been raised a number of times from the middle of the last war, however it was when Gerald Barry, the editor of the News Chronicle wrote an open letter in the paper to Stafford Cripps, the President of the Board of Trade that the idea started to gain support.

The initial idea was along the lines of pre-war International Exhibitions and similar to the 1851 Exhibition, however the cost of such an exhibition would have been considerable and given the country’s financial state in the immediate post war period, a much reduced festival was agreed by the government. The festival was to be a “Festival of Britain”. Commemorating the centenary of the 1851 festival, and also providing a much-needed boost to the population after years of war and the continuing rationing and austerity of the post war years. The Britain in the name of the title also demonstrated that the festival was to focus on the country of Great Britain rather than the Empire, which had been the subject of previous exhibitions and festivals.

The Labour MP Herbert Morrison was placed in charge of the planned festival. (His grandson, Peter Mandelson would later be responsible for the Millennium Dome).

Although Morrison intended the festival to be non-political, it was given the go-ahead by a Labour Government and many of the themes of the festival were aligned with the thinking and policies of the Labour Government at the time. The festival was not supported by many members of the Conservative Party, or by much of the right-wing press, mainly the newspapers owned by Lord Beaverbrook such as the Daily Express and the London Evening Standard.

Newspaper headlines were openly critical of the festival, for example complaining about the waste of resources when the country needed more housing and factories. Beaverbrook was also an Empire loyalist and would later oppose Britain’s application to join the European Economic Community the predecessor of the European Union.

The focus of the festival was Great Britain and its core theme was the idea of an ordinary people with deep historic roots that were closely tied to the land. An innovative people who had made use of the opportunities provided by a rich landscape and land to make significant contributions to civilisation through art, design, architecture, science and industry. The theme also put forward “two of the main qualities of the national character: on the one hand, realism and strength, on the other, fantasy, independence and imagination”.

Unlike previous exhibitions, the Festival of Britain would be a journey, taking the visitor on a journey from the earliest geology of the country, to the first human arrivals and the later waves of immigration that would build the British population. It did though show a very limited view of this journey. As well as there being hardly any mention of the Empire, the story of immigration to the country ended with the Norman invasion and did not cover later arrivals such as the Huguenots, or immigration from the rest of the Empire.

As well as the historic story of the land and the British people, the Festival of Britain would also be forward-looking. The festival would show how innovation and design, science and industry would build a far better future for the country and would show visitors how new ideas, products, design and scientific exploration would benefit them in the future after years of war and austerity.

The Festival of Britain was not just intended for the British public, it was also expected that the festival would help bring in tourists from across the world along with their much-needed foreign currency.

The South Bank Festival of Britain was the main location and continues to be the site most associated with the festival, however it was planned to be a festival across the whole of Great Britain, with the intention that every town and village would get involved and do something in the name of the festival. This may be a carnival, it could be to tidy up part of a town after the lack of maintenance and manpower during the war, it could also be planting trees – anything that would help celebrate the festival and involve the community.

Within London there were a number of main events:

  • the main Festival exhibition on the South Bank
  • a Festival of Science at the Science Museum in Kensington
  • a Festival of Architecture at the new Lansbury Estate in Poplar, East London
  • the Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens at Battersea Park

The Pleasure Gardens at Battersea were considered an essential balance to the educational and informative tone of the rest of the festival, although the prevailing view at the time was that there was a genuine public thirst for knowledge. The popularity of educational broadcasts during the war, army educational initiatives and the number of people attending night schools all supported this view which also aligned with Labour policy of the time.

Outside of London there were major festival events that would focus on the strengths of the individual countries of Great Britain and would also ensure that the festival was available to the majority of the population of Great Britain. These included the:

  • Belfast – Farm and Factory exhibition
  • Glasgow – Industrial Power: Coal and Water exhibition

There was also a travelling exhibition on board a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the Campania which traveled the coast of Great Britain, visiting key coastal towns and cities.

There was also a land based travelling exhibition which went to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham.

The arts were represented by events across the country, for example:

  • Stratford – Shakespeare and his Histories
  • Bournemouth – The Arts at Bournemouth
  • Norwich – The Arts in a Country City
  • Liverpool – The Port, the City and the Arts
  • Llangollen – The National Eisteddfod
  • Aberdeen – The Festival in Aberdeen

The Festival of Britain was fully intended to cover the whole country and involve as much of the population as possible.

The Lion and the Unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn pavilion on the South Bank shows how the Festival of Britain wanted to portray the British people both within Great Britain and to visitors from abroad.

The South Bank Festival guidebook offers this introduction to the pavilion:

“The British people are something more than the sum of: men with ancestors, children in schools, families in homes and gardens, and patients in hospitals. They are, in addition, compositions of various particular habits, attitudes, instincts, qualities and characteristic moods. But these attributes, not being tangible, are hard to display, “in the round”, in an exhibition of tangible things.

Nevertheless, we should not like visitors – particularly those from overseas – to leave the South Bank without having seen, at least, some token and visible reminders of the British people’s native genius. So, this Pavilion offers one or two clues to their character”.

The attributes that the pavilion presented were:

Language and Literature: showing how the English language has grown from being used by a “huddle of British Islanders” to being used by 250 million people. How the English Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot, Defoe, Swift, Sterne, Carlyle, Dickens and Lewis Carole have used the English language to create works that have helped grow the usage of the language and embody the British character in their works.

This is another example of where the Festival avoided references to the Empire which probably did far more to spread the use of English than many of the literary works of the countries authors.

Eccentricities and Humours: a characteristic of the British people being their love of eccentric fantasy.

Skill of Hand and Eye: the long tradition of British craftsmanship demonstrated by old furniture, sporting guns, fishing tackle and tailoring and how British artists such as Gainsborough and Constable have expressed the British landscape, along with the applied arts such as textiles, china and wallpaper.

The Instinct of Liberty: where the British have a continuing impulse to develop and enlarge the opportunities for freedom of worship, freedom of government and personal freedom. Examples given being the Magna Charta, the freedom of the press, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the suffragettes.

The Indefinable Character: Here the guidebook sums up the challenge of understanding what it means to be British. It suggests that after leaving the pavilion the visitor from overseas may “conclude that he is still not much the wiser about the British national character, it may console him to know that British people are themselves still very much in the dark about it”. 

The name of the pavilion which attempted to define the British people is also the title of an essay written in 1941 by George Orwell which also seems to be putting forward many of the same views of Britain and the British people as the Festival.

The essay was written when, as the first sentence describes “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

The Festival of Britain described the British as a family, Orwell refers to the English and that they are different to the rest of the world and also the historical continuity (which was also a theme of the festival) which binds the English people:

“When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person”.

But Orwell brings out the contradictory nature of the English people – the opposite of the Festival of Britain which after the experience of the war presented the view of the British as a family.

“And yet the gentleness of English civilization is mixed up with barbarities and anachronisms. Our criminal law is as out-of-date as the muskets in the Tower. Over against the Nazi Storm Trooper you have got to set that typically English figure, the hanging judge, some gouty old bully with his mind rooted in the nineteenth century, handing out savage sentences. In England people are still hanged by the neck and flogged with the cat o’ nine tails. Both of these punishments are obscene as well as cruel, but there has never been any genuinely popular outcry against them. People accept them (and Dartmoor, and Borstal) almost as they accept the weather. They are part of ‘the law’, which is assumed to be unalterable”.

and:

“England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory”.

and as part of the final section of the essay titled “The English Revolution”, Orwell states:

“An English Socialist government will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilization, the peculiar civilization which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons. It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the trade unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as ‘a Christian country”.

Although some of Orwell’s statements, such as the abolition of the House of Lords has not happened, much of the above paragraphs does describe the post war Labour Government and the key people involved in the development of the Festival of Britain.

Whilst Orwell identifies the English as a family, but with the wrong members in control, a central aim of the Festival of Britain was also to show the British as a family – a family with differences, but with a core set of attributes as shown in the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion, and a family with a long, shared history and common roots from the pre-1066 Norman conquest.

The festival also stated that “Britain is a Christian Community” with the official book of the festival claiming that the Christian faith is inseparably a part of our history, and that it has strengthened all those endeavours which the festival has been built to display. There was no exhibit on the South Bank site to cover this element of the national character, however the church of St. John’s on Waterloo Road was designated as the Festival Church with daily services and events for the duration of the festival.

The festival film, Family Portrait by Humphrey Jennings for the Central Office of Information provides an insight into the story that the Festival of Britain aimed to portray about the British. It is well worth a watch to understand the thinking behind the festival.

The film can be found here. (Humphrey Jennings was an English documentary film maker who worked for the Ministry of Information during the war. He was also one of the founders of Mass Observation. The film Family Portrait was completed in 1950 ready for the festival of the following year, however Jennings died in 1950 after a cliff fall).

Designing the Festival

Orwell stated that “Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age” and this was very true of the Festival of Britain.

Gerald Barry, the Festival’s director was a journalist and editor of the News Chronicle.

Gordon Russell who was the director of the Council of Industrial Design was responsible for how industrial design was represented in the festival. Huw Wheldon represented the Arts Council and the festival’s director of science and technology was Ian Cox from the Ministry of Information.

The festival team was made up of designers and architects who qualified during the 1930s and worked on wartime design projects (e.g. specialist camouflage techniques), temporary and travelling exhibitions such as the Army exhibition on the site of the bombed John Lewis store in Oxford Street, and members of groups such as the Modern Architecture Research Group.

Designers and architects such as Misha Black, Ralph Tubbs, Hugh Casson , james Holland and Abram Games who was responsible for the design of the Britannia and Compass symbol for the festival which was used across all festival locations and activities, not just at the South bank.

Abram Games symbol for the festival on the cover page of the guide-book to the South Bank:

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Each of the main themes at the festival had a core team who were responsible for the architecture, the theme and the display design, for example, for the first part of the story “The Land”, the team responsible for the direction were Misha Black for Architecture, Ian Cox for the Theme and James Holland for the Display Design.  Individual pavilions and sections then also had an architect, theme convener and display designer. This approach ensured that a common, consistent theme could be applied to the main parts of the story that the festival would tell, whilst individual sections would have their own specialist team.

Other people involved with the creative design of the Festival of Britain included Laurie Lee, the author of Cider with Rosie, who wrote much of the text to go with the exhibition. The textile and furniture designer Ernest Race designed the innovative Antelope chair which was used across the Festival of Britain site.

The architecture of the festival was mainly Modernist in style and meant to reflect the social democratic and egalitarian approach to how design would build a new Britain. This would be seen in the schools, hospitals and public buildings that would be built across the country.

There were many pieces of sculpture across the South Bank, including works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, along with major painted murals across the site, for example Seaside Family by Carl Giles at the Seaside display and Country Life by Edward Bawden in the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion. The intention of the festival was also to make sculpture and art in general more accessible to the general population.

A number of the buildings across the site needed specialist technical expertise to design, engineer and build buildings that were the first of their type. For example Ralph Tubbs was the architect of the Dome of Discovery, Freeman, Fox were the consulting engineers who helped to work out how to construct the building which at the time was the largest span (365 feet) in the world. The construction company Horseley Ironworks were responsible for the build of the Dome which again as a first for a building of this size and shape used aluminium.

In showing British contributions to civilisation, British architecture, design, art and engineering was core to the festival.

A Visit to the Festival on the South Bank

As described above, the festival would show that the British are a family with a deep-rooted history, the character of the British, and British contributions to science, architecture, design, engineering and art and this would all be covered on the South Bank.

The map below shows the Festival site:

Festival of Britain Map 1

Covering the area enclosed by the river, Waterloo Bridge, County Hall and York Road with Hungerford Bridge cutting the site in two. the same area of land I covered in my last three posts on the South Bank.

Although the buildings appeared to be randomly placed, there was a structure to the site and a route around the festival that would tell a story to the visitor. The apparent random placement of buildings and pavilions helped to give the impression that the site was larger than it was. The area was relatively small for such a complex exhibition and the random placing of buildings meant the route around the exhibition was not obvious and also gave the opportunity for the visitor to discover hidden little parts of the exhibition and different views.

The official opening of the Festival of Britain was on the 3rd May 1951. A special service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral and in the afternoon King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended a ceremony of dedication at the Royal Festival Hall.

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Postcards above and below showing the King and Queen at the festival site.

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I do not know why, but my father did not take many photos of the festival, however a couple of his photos show the flags around St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Festival of Britain:

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By the time the festival closed on the 30th September 1951, almost 8.5 million people had visited the South Bank site. The public enthusiasm and the support of the King and Queen for the festival resulted in the papers which had been so hostile before the opening of the festival, now being supportive.

The General Election on the 25th October 1951, soon after the festival closed, resulted in a Conservative Government led by Winston Churchill who had always been critical of the Festival of Britain. The decision was made that the festival site should be demolished as quickly as possible, including the major landmarks of the site, the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon – only the Royal Festival Hall would remain.

In my next two posts I will take a walk around the South Bank site following the suggested route from the guidebook to see the pavilions and what the site looks like today.

There are a number of excellent books on the subject of the Festival of Britain. Books I have read and recommend include:

  • The Festival of Britain, A Land and its People by Harriet Atkinson
  • The Autobiography of a Nation by Becky E. Conlin
  • Festival of Britain – Twentieth Century Architecture 5. The Journal of the Twentieth Century Society
  • A Tonic to the Nation by Bevis Hillier and Mary Banham
  • The Lion and the Unicorn by Henrietta Goodden
  • Festival of Britain Design by Paul Rennie published by the Antique Collectors’ Club
  • Abram Games Design by Naomi Games and Brian Webb published by the Antique Collectors’ Club

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Building The Royal Festival Hall

Now for the final post in my trilogy on the history of the South Bank. In my last post, we had walked the length of Belvedere Road which ends on the approach road to Westminster Bridge. In this post, it is a quick walk along the north bank of the river to get some views of the South Bank, then back across Hungerford Bridge to look at the building of the Royal Festival Hall.

A short distance after leaving Belvedere Road and just before crossing Westminster Bridge is the lion that was at the top of the Lion Brewery building on the river facing side.

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The lion is now on a large plinth which a plaque on the south facing side of the plinth with a brief history of the lion and how it came to be at the current location. We will meet the lion again as we cross Hungerford Bridge.

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At the end of Westminster Bridge, turn along the north bank of the river, almost to Hungerford Bridge and look across the river to the South Bank. My father took the photo below when demolition of the buildings between County Hall and Hungerford Bridge had commenced. The shell of the building in the background is the India Store Depot. Along the edge of the river is a huge pile of rubble from the demolition work that had already taken place across the area. This was used to help build the extended embankment along the Thames where the embankment that has been built in front of County Hall would be extended all the way to Waterloo Bridge creating additional land that would be used for the Festival of Britain and would finally close and fill in all the various wharfs and inlets across this stretch of the river.

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The following photo is from roughly the same position today. Not easy to get a clear photo due to the ships that are now moored along this side of the river.

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Now walk up to the footbridge on the side of Hungerford Railway Bridge that faces Waterloo Bridge. My father took the following photo from along here before the main demolition started. The Lion Brewery is on the right, still with the stone lion on the top of the brewery, the same lion that we walked past on the southern end of Westminster Bridge. The Shot Tower is on the left.

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The original footbridge alongside the Hungerford Railway Bridge was a narrow walkway right up against the railway bridge, only on the side of the bridge facing Waterloo Bridge. This was replaced in 2002 by the much larger Golden Jubilee Footbridges which stand off from the railway bridge and are also on both sides of the railway bridge.

As these footbridges stand off from Hungerford Railway Bridge, it is not possible to get the same perspective, however the following photo is roughly from the same location. Waterloo Bridge is on the extreme left of both photos. The Royal Festival Hall is on the site of the Lion Brewery and the Hayward Gallery on the site of the Shot Tower,

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This photo was taken when my father took a boat trip down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich. There is an inlet along the river edge to the left of the Shot Tower. Referring back to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map in my previous posts, this can be identified as Canterbury Dock. On the left of the Dock is a travelling crane.

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My father then took the following photo from the same position as the earlier photo, now showing the Royal Festival Hall under construction. All the original buildings on the site have been cleared with the exception of the Shot Tower, although the very top of the Shot Tower has been removed ready for the installation of the anti-aircraft gun that would provide the mount for the antennae that would be used during the Festival of Britain to bounce radio signals off the moon enabling visitors to see the echo of the radio signal – part of the Festival’s demonstration of British scientific achievements.

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Walk further along the bridge and this is a closer view. The new embankment is also being built.

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There are now a series of photos from the end of the footbridge, taken earlier than the above couple of photos, that show the digging of the foundations of the Royal Festival Hall. These start from the river edge and move round to the edge of the excavations. They show the amount of excavation needed as preparation for the rest of the build.

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In this photo, the buildings of Howley Place can still be seen in the background behind Cubitts site office.

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And in this photo, the buildings that ran along the edge of York Road are still there. These, and the building along Howley Place would soon be removed ready for the construction of the rest of the Festival of Britain site.

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I stitched the above photos together to get a panorama of the building site.

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Construction of the Royal Festival Hall was documented in a book published for the Festival of Britain by the Association of Consulting Engineers. The book celebrates the role of Britain’s Engineers in a wide selection of global construction projects ranging from the Royal Festival Hall to Power Stations in South Africa and a Hydro-Electric scheme in Ceylon.

The section on the Royal Festival Hall details construction and some of the challenges with the build, for example with the proximity to the river and high ground water level. The land on which the Royal Festival Hall would be built is described as miscellaneous fill and silt down to about 10ft and London Clay at about 20ft. The ground water level also rises and falls with tide from a level of 2ft below and 3ft above ordnance datum (see picture below).

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Work on the foundations started in May 1949 with bulk excavation of the whole area – as clearly seen in the photos above that my father took of the area. Bulk excavation was used as the easiest way to clear the area needed for the foundations. The centuries of previous construction on the site included the remains of the old water works along with the brewery which was built on a 6 foot thick mass concrete raft. There was a large amount of work to prepare, which included sinking well points and then pumping out water which started on the 17th June 1949, when, withing four days the ground water level was reduced to 13ft below the ordnance datum. A huge volume of water was extracted, with at the start of pumping 150,000 gallons of water per hour were being pumped out, and even after the site had been “de-watered”, pumping was still needed of 80,000 gallons per hour to keep the area of the foundations dry.

A total of 63,000 cubic yards of materials were removed for the foundations.

To assist with construction, a 10-ton derrick and and 50ft gabbard was erected adjacent to Belvedere Road. This is shown in the photo below and is the tripod like structure with the crane on the top platform – typical of the large cranes of the day, unlike the singe tower cranes that would be used today. Belvedere Road is running from left to right, the black cars show the location of the road and the Cubitts site office is the same as in the photos my father took along Belvedere Road and featured in the previous post.

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The book by the Association of Consulting Engineers describes the key structural features of the Royal Festival Hall:

“The structure under and around the auditorium consists of floors carried on columns and without infilling walls. The external faces of the building being largely glazed. These fundamentals of the architectural design resulted in the rather unusual condition  of the heavy mass of the auditorium weighing about 25,000 tons being supported at a high level on slender columns without lateral support. It was consequently decided to use the staircases at the four corners of the building as buttresses, and with this end in view they were designed as far as possible with reinforced concrete walls. It was found as the design developed that these walls had to be pierced by a large number of openings for ventilation and other services which has made them somewhat intricate. This result was not foreseeable at the time when the decision to use reinforced concrete walls was taken, since very little was known about the ventilation and other requirements. Had such information been available the design of the stair blocks would have been somewhat modified, although their function as buttresses would have had to be retained. This experience emphasises the importance of the ventilation scheme being developed at an early stage of the design of buildings.

The magnitude of the Festival Hall can be gauged from the particulars given below:

Contract price (including small hall)  £1,628,260

Tonnage of Steel reinforcement (excluding small hall): 2,340 tons

Weight of Roof Steelwork: 260 tons

Volume of mass of concrete: 8,800 cubic yards

Volume of Reinforced Concrete: 23,000 cubic yards”

The comment about the need to pierce the buttresses and install ventilation again shows the speed with which the Royal Festival Hall was being built with plans still being completed as the building was being constructed. New plans would be brought across from the Cubitts site office to specify the next part of the build and any problems would need to be resolved where the new plans required a change to what had already been built.

A criticism at the time that the Festival of Britain was planned and being built was that the manpower and resources being used were a distraction from the real need to build homes and factories after the devastation of the war, as well as the need to export production to bring in much needed foreign currency. The figures above illustrate the volume of materials needed for this single building.

The book then goes on to describe the challenges with the roof of the building:

“The acoustic consultants originally laid down that the roof of the auditorium should consist of two leaves, the inner one 8 inches thick and the outer 6 inches thick. These leaves were to be supported by an air space of 12 inches minimum thickness, and where the outer leaf rested on supports from the inner leaf, it was to be isolated by some insulating material which was subsequently decided to be 2 inches of glass silk. In addition to the 8 inch and 6 inch roof slabs, the roof girders are also required to carry a 2 inch solid suspended ceiling, ventilation ducts and other miscellaneous items. It will be realised that this constitutes a roof of unusual weight. The structural engineers recommended that the acoustic consultants should reconsider the rook thickness, and it was finally arranged that an inner leaf 6 inches thick and an outer 4 inches thick would suffice, a saving of 4 inches of concrete or approximately 50 lb. per square foot on the original proposal”.

The following drawing shows a cross section of the Royal Festival Hall showing the raised auditorium:

Building the Royal Festival Hall 2

The design was dictated by the limited area of the site which resulted in the raised auditorium allowing two levels of main floors below the auditorium consisting mainly of open space for the main reception, restaurants and bars and exhibition areas. Walking in from the South Bank takes you directly into these open areas from where the fact that the main auditorium is built above is not immediately obvious – a very clever design.

The Royal Festival Hall went from design to completion in a very short time. A sketch design had been prepared by October 1948. Work on the engineering design started the following month in November 1948. Work on foundations started in May 1949 with the concrete super-structure starting to rise above ground level in October of the same year. The reinforced concrete roof was completed by the end of September 1950.

The short time for construction required work to continue throughout the cold winter of 1949/50. To ensure concreting work could continue during low temperatures, two stages were implemented. For stage one, precautions included heating of the mixing water, shielding and warming aggregate heaps to prevent them becoming frozen and covering over concrete with special mattresses. For even colder temperatures, stage two was needed during the early months of 1950 and included the use of a battery of steam boilers with steam heat being applied to newly concreted areas.

This was a significant achievement given that the Royal Festival Hall was only one part of a major construction site on the South Bank. There were also many other construction priorities across the country, there was a shortage of money and foreign currency, rationing was still in place and the country was still recovering after over 5 years of an intense war.

The following photo from the Association of Consulting Engineers book was taken from the top of the Shot Tower and shows the construction of the Royal Festival Hall in the foreground with the Dome of Discovery between the hall and County Hall, both surrounded by the construction site that will be the location of the Festival of Britain.

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Still standing at the end of the footbridge, this is what the area looked like prior to the construction of the Royal Festival Hall.

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The Survey of London volume on the South Bank and Vauxhall included a drawing of the shop on Belvedere Road which can be seen at the far end of the road running alongside the railway arches.

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And months later, the same area with clearance well underway.The entrance arch to the Lion Brewery from Belvedere Road is still there.

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I mentioned in my first post on the South Bank that I first realised that my father had a large store of negatives of London when I started working here and he showed me some of the photos he had taken of the area. Back in 1980 I had also started taking photos of London which included photos around the South Bank and I have recently found and scanned some of these negatives.

The following photo is the same scene as the above two, but taken in 1980. It is closer to the first of the above two photos, the part of the bridge on the right is still much the same and there is still a road on the lower right providing access to the arches underneath the railway.

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And below is my photo from June 2016 showing the same area, 36 years after I took the above photo and between 69 and 66 years after my father took the photos showing the various stages of the development of the site. It is much different now. New buildings have been constructed along the space of the original road.

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I have mentioned the footbridge alongside Hungerford Bridge a number of times and it was at the end of this bridge that my father took the above photos. He also took the following photo looking back from the southern end showing the bridge as it was when he was taking these photos between 1947 and 1951.

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The old footbridge is long gone and has been replaced by the Golden Jubilee footbridges that run on either side of Hungerford Bridge, unlike the original which only ran on the side facing Waterloo Bridge. I think you will agree, a major improvement to walking across the river.

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To finish off this exploration of the South Bank as it was before the Festival of Britain, walk straight on past the side of the Royal Festival Hall and walk down the steps to reach Belvedere Road and we have come full circle.

In my next post I will start to explore the Festival of Britain commencing with the South Bank Exhibition which occupied the area I have covered in my last three posts, and was the reason for the end to end clearance of the site and the construction of the Royal Festival Hall.

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A Walk Along Belvedere Road – 1947 and 2016

Having explored the history of the South Bank in yesterday’s post, today it is time to take a walk along Belvedere Road to see the remains of buildings dating back to the start of the 19th century, the clearance ready for construction of the Festival of Britain and the foundations of the Royal Festival Hall. We will start from where Waterloo Bridge crosses Belvedere Road, drop down to Belvedere Road and then walk along Belvedere Road to County Hall.

My father visited this area a number of times between 1947 and 1951, first to photo the buildings as they were, then the area as it was cleared and finally as the construction of the Royal Festival Hall was underway. This post brings together photos distributed among a number of different posts over the last couple of years along with some new photos I have recently scanned.

The map below is the same extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map covering the area between Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges as in yesterday’s post. I have marked in numbered red dots the locations from where the photos in today’s post were taken.

Belevedere Walk Map 1

The first three photos are at point one. I am not sure whether they were taken from Waterloo Bridge, or from one of the buildings alongside the bridge, however this first photo is looking along Belvedere Road towards the bridge under the rail tracks leading up to Hungerford Bridge.

Demolition is already underway. The remains of the entrance to the Lion Brewery can be seen on the right, in front of the railway, and clearance of the houses on the left is well underway.

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This is roughly the same view today. I should have been a bit further to the right, however the buildings of the Hayward Gallery obscure the view. Belvedere Road curves to the left towards where the road passes under the rail tracks – the bridge is obscured by the trees.

Belvedere Road Walk 1

This next photo is from the same spot, but is looking towards the right, towards the Thames. The large building is the Lion Brewery. Note that on the opposite side of the river, construction of the new Ministry Defense Building is well underway. The buildings in the foreground are along Grellier’s Stone Wharf on the 1895 map.

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Again, I should have been a bit further towards the right, however the following view from 2016 shows that the entire site of the above photo is now occupied by the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room.

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And the following photo is the last from the bridge and is looking to the left, towards Waterloo Station. Two streets can be seen, on the left is Howley Place and the street in the middle is Tenison Street. The terrace buildings that lined these streets have been demolished, however those along the boundary of the site remain. On the right are the houses along Sutton Street and the houses in front of Waterloo Station are along York Road. To the right of centre, there is a solitary figure standing on the rubble left by demolition.

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And the same view today. The entire site is now occupied by what was the Downstream Building of the Shell Centre office complex, but is now the Whitehouse Apartments. When I checked on their website, two apartments were for sale, one from just over £1 Million and the second for £2,750,000. A chat box from a representative in Hong Kong popped up whilst looking at the page asking if I needed help which tells you all you need to know about central London”s property market.

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Now walk towards the large roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge and take an immediate right hand turn down the slip road that takes you down to Belvedere Road. This road does not appear to have a name, but runs along the route what was Howley Place. At the end of the slip road, on reaching Belvedere Road, turn round to look back up the slip road (position 2 on the map).

This was the original view:

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The buildings on the left are the rear of buildings facing onto the approach road to Waterloo Bridge which has since been widened. The large roundabout with the glass IMAX cinema in the centre, which can be seen at the end of the current slip road had not been built at the time of these photos, so the houses seen at the end of Howley Place are roughly where the edge of the IMAX is currently located.

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We can now start walking along Belvedere Road, but only a short distance to point 3 on the map where we can look back at the original bridge which takes the approach road to Waterloo Bridge over Belvedere Road. The entrance to Howley Place is on the right with part of the street name sign visible.

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The same scene today. The approach road to Waterloo bridge has been replaced and is wider than in the original photo.

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Now walk a short distance along to point 4. This is the entrance to Tenison Street, looking towards Waterloo Station.

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And this is roughly from the same position today. Waterloo Station is behind the buildings of the Whitehouse Apartments.

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Now walk along to point 5 which is roughly half way along the rear of the Royal Festival Hall, and look towards the building. This was the scene at the start of construction of the Royal Festival Hall with the buildings on the north bank of the river clearly visible. There were some fascinating challenges with the construction of the building which I will cover in detail in my next post.

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The same scene today, although not much to see with the trees in the foreground and then the rear of the Royal Festival Hall.

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Now walk along to point 6 which is at the end of the original alignment of Sutton Walk which has now been cut short by Concert Hall Approach. The following photo shows where the original Sutton Walk met Belvedere Road. Looking over the wall surrounding the Whitehouse Apartments it is possible to see the remaining length of Sutton walk where it passes under the railway tracks. Sutton Walk originally continued straight on, to end at the point where this photo was taken.

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From this point we can walk slightly further along then turn back and look across where Sutton Walk joined Belevdere Road. This is the entrance to the buildings of the Lion Brewery on the south side of Belvedere Road with one of the three lions that were used above brewery entrances and the main brewery building. These buildings were used for stables and also as a warehouse. Look in front of the entrance arch and there are bollards on either side.

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And they are still here in this later photo following demolition of all the buildings. The buildings running along the left are those along the approach to Waterloo Bridge and Howley Place, with the buildings along York Road on the right. All the buildings in the background are still there, with the Royal Hospital for Children and Women being the second building from the left.

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This is the same scene today.

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The following photo was taken from Sutton Walk, looking down towards the entrance to the Lion Brewery from Belvedere Road. There was a lion on top of this arch but this had already been removed.

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Not easy to replicate this photo as this section of Sutton Walk does not exist, but the following photo is looking towards the area where the entrance to the brewery was located.

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The next photo was also taken from the original Sutton Walk and is looking towards the right with the Shot Tower in the background.

The house in front of the Shot Tower is number 55 Belvedere Road, one of the substantial houses that went up along Belvedere Road in the first decades of the 19th century.

In 1821 a tin plate worker named John Fowler extended his lease on the land and built No. 55 for his own use. The Survey of London describes the building:

“No. 55 was a house of substantial character. Though detached, it was of terrace type without openings in the flank walls. It was in yellow stock brick and its front elevation was three windows wide to each of the ground, first and second floors. The windows had gauged flat arches and all had glazing bars to their double hung sashes. The ground storey was raised above a semi-basement and the entrance, which was reached by a short flight of steps, had an architrave surround with consoles each side designed to support a flat hood. The hood had been removed some time prior to demolition. There was a moulded band at first floor level and a bold parapet cornice above the second floor. Behind the parapet dormer windows were set in a slated mansard roof”.

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John Fowler annoyed his neighbours when in 1839 he converted a factory between the rear of his house and the river into a lead works. Concern about the works was such that Golding, the owner of the Lion Brewery complained to his landlord, however a report from a Professor of Chemistry into the conditions of the lead works stated that their construction and use was such as to prevent waste, injury to the workmen and annoyance to the neighbourhood.

Along with the Lion Brewery, No. 55 was used by the London Waste Paper Company in the 1930s and would be demolished in 1949.

Again, not easy to replicate the original view as this part of Sutton Walk does not now exist, however the following photo is as close as I could get. Not much to see due to the trees, but the Royal Festival Hall is in the background.

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The following photo was taken just before construction of the Royal Festival Hall commenced. It was taken from where Belvedere Road passes under the rail tracks leading up to Hungerford Bridge and is looking back down Belvedere Road towards Waterloo Bridge which can just be seen behind the Cubitts sign at the centre left. Sutton Walk is just behind the lamppost running to the right. The Shot Tower is on the left. Note the “stink pipe” behind the lamppost (not sure if that is the correct name, but that is what we always called them).

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This is the view some weeks later, taken from the opposite side of the road. The “stink pipe” in the centre of the photo is the same as in the above photo. The Cubitts site office is on the former location of the Lion Brewery Stable and Warehouse. On the left is one of the three legs of the derrick supporting the crane that was used to build the Royal Festival Hall.

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Cubitts were the main building contractors for the Royal Festival Hall, and the use of an onsite site office seems to have been unique for the time as it helped with the rapid construction of the building with drawings been passed from the office to the builders as the drawings were being completed – such was the pace with which the Royal Festival Hall was built.

This is the same view today as the above photo taken at point 8 on the map.

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Now it is time to walk through to the other half of the area which is split in two by the rail tracks running up to Hungerford Bridge. This brick-built viaduct is the only remaining construction from the pre-war period and provides a perfect reference point to locate the key places on the 19th century Ordnance Survey maps. The viaduct has retained the original position of Belvedere Road and by retaining the short length of Sutton Walk that runs from York Road to the new Concert Hall Approach, allows the alignment to be confirmed to Belvedere Road and therefore the position of the entrances to the Lion Brewery.

This is where Belvedere Road passes underneath the rail tracks. The white plaque on the blue bridge reads “W. Richards & Son – 1900 – Leicester”.

1900 is not old by London standards, but it is the oldest construction in this part of London.

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The following map shows the area we are now in, having passed under the rail tracks at the top and continuing along Belvedere Road.

Belevedere Walk Map 2

A short distance along Belvedere Road, we can look towards the river and this is the approximate position of College Street leading down to Kings Arms Stairs. There is an entrance to the car park here – would be interesting to believe that this is a remaining part of College Street.

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The next photo shows the India Stores Depot as it was prior to demolition. The photo was taken from point 9 in the above map, a short distance in Belvedere Crescent, the kerb of which can be seen in the lower left corner. The road running left to right in front of the gates is Belvedere Road. The India Stores Depot suffered badly from bombing during the war with the majority being left as a shell of a building.

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I could not get to the same position as the original Belvedere Crescent is under the Shell Centre complex. The following photo was taken from in front of Shell Centre looking across Belvedere Road to where the India Stores Depot were located, on the current Jubilee Gardens.

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The Jubilee Gardens have been through a number of changes. I took the following photo in the mid 1980s of a much quieter Jubilee Gardens than today. The central area was later used as a construction site for the Jubilee Line extension with a large access shaft in the middle of the grassed area. The grass would be packed during summer lunchtimes with office workers from the Great London Council and Shell Centre.

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The buildings in the following photo were along Belvedere Road, roughly at point A, which today is the location of the Shell Centre tower building.

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Another view with the buildings in the above photo now on the right of the photo below. The cafe in the photos above and below was called “The County Cafe” – I assume a reference to County Hall, just a bit further along Belvedere Road. It is small buildings such as these where the signs of the business still remain that bring home that this was once a busy area full of industry, cafes, shops and residents. The bridge carrying the rail tracks over Belvedere Road can be seen at the far end of the road and the entrance to the India Stores Deport is on the left.

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This is same scene today with the main tower building of the Shell Centre complex on the immediate right, occupying the space where the County Cafe once stood. The blue bridge at the end of Belvedere Road is in the same position as the photo above.

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Many of the streets in this area were named after Archbishops of Canterbury. Sutton Walk was named after Charles Manners-Sutton (Archbishop between 1805 and 1828).

Tenison Street was named after Thomas Tenison (Archbishop from 1694 to 1715) and Chicheley Street. was named after Henry Chichele (Archbishop from 1414 to 1443).

The naming of streets after Archbishops extended beyond the area between York Road and Belvedere Road. The street in front of Waterloo Station, Mepham Street was named after Simon Mepeham, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1329 to 1333).

From outside Shell Centre, we can turn towards County Hall and walk to the junction of Belvedere Road and Chicheley Street. Instead of turning up Chicheley Street we can still walk up towards Westminster Bridge through the County Hall complex. Today this is marked on maps as Belvedere Road, but on the 1895 Ordnance Survey maps, Belvedere Road ended at the Chicheley Street junction and this stretch of road up to Westminster Bridge was still called Narrow Wall, the last remaining use of this original name and reference to the earthen bank that separated the Thames from the rest of Lambeth marshes.

The following photo shows the Belvedere Road / Narrow Wall passing through the County Hall buildings, I will continue on from the end of this road in my next post.

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We have now walked the length of Belvedere Road and traced the pre-1951 streets and buildings where much of the original street plan still remained.

Although Belvedere Road has been straightened and widened over the years, we have walked the route of the original earthen wall.

In my next post we will walk along the north bank of the river before returning alongside Hungerford Bridge to look at the building of the Royal Festival Hall.

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A Brief History Of The South Bank

I have long been interested in the history of the South Bank, which for the purposes of this post I will define as the area between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge. I worked there for 10 years from 1979 and it was the location where I first realised that my father had a collection of photos as he brought out some of the photos he had printed to show me what the area where I was now working had looked like some 30 years earlier.

The South Bank has been through two major transformations since the war. The first with the construction of the Festival of Britain exhibition which required the demolition of the whole area between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge (with the exception of Hungerford Railway Bridge which provides a useful reference point).

Following closure, the Festival of Britain site was in turn swiftly demolished with only the Royal Festival Hall remaining, with the rest of the site being gradually built up to the position we see today.

The South Bank was an inspired location for the main Festival of Britain site, a decision which has resulted in the South Bank continuing to be an arts and entertainment centre to this day.

The Festival of Britain was in many ways, a break point between the immediate post war period and the decades to follow. The Festival attempted to define the place of Great Britain within a new world order and looked at how British industry, science, design and architecture could shape that future for the better.

Starting today, and for the next few weeks, I will be exploring the history of the South Bank and the Festival of Britain in detail, starting with three posts covering the South Bank prior to the Festival of Britain.

Then next week, exploring the Festival of Britain at the South Bank, the week after moving to the Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens at Battersea, then moving onto the Festival’s Architectural Exhibition at Poplar and finally, rounding off with the wider impact of the Festival of Britain.

These are locations and a time in recent history that I find fascinating – I hope you will also enjoy the journey.

A Brief History of the South Bank

I have published a number of photos my father took of the South Bank over the last couple of years and in the next couple of posts I will take a walk along Belvedere Road and then look at the construction of the Royal Festival Hall using these photos, including a number that I have not published before, but first, some history of the South Bank.

Originally, the river frontage along this stretch of the Thames was mainly marsh land and at times of high tide, water would sweep inland. At some point, an earthen bank was constructed to prevent the Thames coming too far inland and by the Tudor period, a road had been constructed on the alignment of this original earthen bank, although according to Thomas Pennant, in 1560 there was not a single house standing between Lambeth Palace and Southwark. This road was shown on maps as Narrow Wall and today, Belvedere Road is roughly along the line of the old Narrow Wall and therefore also the original wall that formed the barrier to the Thames.

Land between Narrow Wall and the river was gradually drained and a number of small industries grew up along this stretch of the river, with the land behind the Narrow Wall staying as marsh and pasture with drainage ditches taking water into the river.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the land between the current location of Waterloo and Westminster Bridges, from Narrow Wall to the river was called Church Osiers (Osier being a name for a type of Willow) after the osier bed which occupied this marshy land at the side of the river that would frequently flood. At some point prior to 1690 the land was named Pedlar’s Acre. 1690 is the first time that the name appears in a lease document. The legend behind the name Pedlar’s Acre is that a Pedlar from Swaffham in Suffolk had traveled to London with his dog in the hope of finding his fortune. Different versions of the legend either has the Pedlar’s dog digging up a pot of money either on the South Bank, or after returning home to Swaffham. The Pedlar then gave the strip of land along the river to the parish of Lambeth on condition that his portrait, along with his dog be preserved in painted glass in the parish church.

What ever the truth of this story, there was a picture of the pedlar and his dog in one of the windows of Lambeth Church until 1884.

From the 17th century onwards, the land between Narrow Wall and the river was gradually developed. John Rocque’s map shows the area in the middle of the 18th century.

Westminster Bridge is at the bottom of the map and the future location of Waterloo Bridge is at the top of the map, to the left of the bowling green.

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Narrow Wall, the original earthen wall, can be seen running parallel to the river, dividing the development along the river from the pasture land that covered much of Lambeth. Starting at the top right of the map, Cuper’s Garden runs in land from the river following almost exactly the route today of the approach road up to Waterloo Bridge.

Cuper’s Garden, one of the many pleasure gardens that ran along the south bank of the river was well known for displays of fireworks and it was also described as “not however the resort of respectable company, but of the abandoned of either sex”. The name came from one Boydell Cuper who had been the gardener to Lord Arundel at his property on the north bank of the river and who rented the land and created the gardens including using some of the old statues from Arundel House.

The land from Cuper’s Gardens along the river went under a number of changes of ownership and names including Bishop’s Acre, Four Acres and Float Mead.

Follow the river south through the wharfs and timber yards that now occupy the space between the river and the Narrow Wall, until College Street.

College Street is on the edge of the current location of the Jubilee Gardens with the open space bounded by College Street, Cabbage Lane and Narrow Wall, called College Gardens part of which is also now the Jubilee Gardens. At the end of College Gardens is Kings Arms Stairs, one of the many stairs down to the river. The curve inland of Narrow Wall at this point was later straightened out, with the inland curve being retained and originally named Ragged Row and then Belvedere Crescent.

The name College Street and College Gardens may refer to the ownership of this parcel of land by Jesus College.

The land after the next Timber Yard and onwards to Westminster Bridge was the future location of County Hall.

There are a number of prints of Cuper’s Gardens which give the impression of a very pleasant place. The following is from the mid 18th century and is looking across the curve of the river to the north bank, but shows the water entrance to Cuper’s Garden on the right side of the print.

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The following print is from 1798 and shows when part of the gardens were occupied by Beaufoy’s Distillery with a large amount of barrels outside. The print gives a good impression of the number of trees across the gardens as it was always described as a wooded area.

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Another view of the Distillery in Cuper’s Gardens.

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The next map is part of the “New and Correct Plan of London, Westminster and Southwark” from 1770. This shows the area to be roughly the same with Cuper’s Gardens at the top right of the map and Narrow Wall running down towards Westminster Bridge. This map is interesting as it shows the difficulty with relying on one specific map for accuracy. In the Rocque map, College Street is shown running into Vine Street. In the following map, College Street is now College Walk and Vine Street has changed into Wine Street. These are the only references I have found to these names so I assume that they are errors in 18th century map making.

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The above map shows the location of Kings Arms Stairs. The following print from 1791 is titled “A View of Westminster Bridge, the Abbey &c. from Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth Marsh”. The stairs can be seen on the left, the tide is low and there is much activity on the waters edge. Westminster Bridge can be seen across the river with Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall just to the left of the Abbey.

The rest of the scene cannot be a usual scene on this part of the south bank. In the centre of the print is a very ornate boat facing into the river with the flag of the City of London on the stern of the boat. The two small boats in the river to the right have people in ornate dress and large baskets of flowers. It would be interesting to know what was happening. On the left, the building just past the stairs has a sign reading “Artificial Stone Manufactory”, referring to Coade’s Stone Factory which i will cover later in the post.

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Between the above map of 1770 and the next map, the Ordnance Survey map of 1895, the whole area underwent considerable development.

This edition of Ordnance Survey map splits coverage of the area between two maps, so the following map shows the area between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Railway Bridge.

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The approach road to Waterloo Bridge still has the name of Cuper’s Garden, retaining a link from when this now heavily built area was mainly pasture land. The Waterloo Bridge approach was developed between 1813 and 1816.

The area inland from Belvedere Road has been developed with rows of terrace houses.

The area between the old Narrow Wall, now named Belvedere Road, and the River Thames is still industrial with two major landmarks, the Iron Works and Shot Tower close to Waterloo Bridge and the Lion Brewery adjacent to Hungerford Bridge. Narrow Wall was widened and straightened between 1824 and 1829 to become Belvedere Road. The source of the name is from Belvidere, a house and grounds on the land south of the Iron Works in the above map. As with many of the other pleasure grounds along the river, Belvidere was opened to the public from 1718 and sold wine and food, including fish taken from the river.

The start of the Hungerford Railway Bridge is shown in the lower left of the above map. Construction of the bridge and the associated railway almost cut the area in two with Belvedere Road now being the main route through the area. If you look back at the Rocque map, Hungerford Bridge was built over the Timber Yard and land just north of College Street.

Designed by Brunel, construction of the original Hungerford Bridge was completed by 1845 when the bridge was opened. It was not originally a railway bridge, the aim of the bridge was to bring more custom to the Hungerford Market on the north side of the river. The original bridge did not last long and in 1859 the construction of a new railway bridge was authorised by the Charing Cross Railway Act. The old bridge was demolished and the new railway bridge was opened in 1864. The chains and ironwork from the old Hungerford Bridge were sold to be used in the construction of the new Clifton Suspension Bridge, also to a design by Brunel.

The original Hungerford Suspension Bridge:

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The other major change was the construction of Waterloo Bridge, with the approach road across the former Cuper’s Gardens. Construction of the original Waterloo Bridge commenced in 1811 with the bridge being opened by the Prince Regent on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1817, after which the bridge was named following an act of parliament in 1816 to approve the proposed name.

The following map is interesting as it appears to bring together some of the later development around Waterloo Bridge with the area in 1746. Published in 1825, eight years after the bridge was opened, it is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.

The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge Road is now covering the end of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street.

The map also shows how the name Belvedere Road came into use. The first straightening of the Narrow Wall is shown close to the approach to Waterloo Bridge and the name for this short section is New Belvidere Road. It is the first reference to the new street name, and also retains the original spelling from the house and gardens. As the name was taken on by the rest of the Narrow Wall, the name changed to the present spelling.

806218001You will need to click on the map to expand a larger version to see the next reference point to the area today. In the gardens in the wooded area just at the bottom right corner of the pond is a building marked D. Checking the key at top left, D is given as the “Royal Universal Infirmary for Children”. This is on an alignment of Waterloo Bridge down to St. John’s Church and although it has now closed as a hospital, a later version of this building, the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women is still there, on the junction with Stamford Street. This allows us to place the location of Cuper’s Garden precisely and as you walk up towards Waterloo Bridge from St. John’s Church, you are walking through the middle of Cuper’s Gardens.

The following photo shows the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women on the corner of the approach to Waterloo Bridge and Stamford Street.

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The church of St. John, although badly damaged by bombing during the last war, it was rebuilt to the original plan and is still exactly the same as the drawing on the 1825 map. During the Festival of Britain, the church was designated as the Festival Church with a programme of events during the period of the festival. The church is at the end of the original location of Cuper’s Gardens, the entrance to the gardens was on the left.

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Looking up towards Waterloo Bridge from where the end of Cuper’s Gardens would have been. The hospital and Stamford Street are on the right. The IMAX cinema is on the left in the centre of the roundabout. A very different place to the 18th century gardens.

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In 1923, Waterloo Bridge suffered from settlement to the central arch along with subsidence to the carriageway and parapet, leading to the bridge being closed to traffic in 1924. A temporary bridge was constructed alongside Waterloo Bridge and options were reviewed as to whether the original bridge should be repaired, rebuilt or a completely new design of bridge built.

The decision was for a new design of bridge and the Waterloo Bridge that we see today was fully opened in December 1945. The following postcard with a photograph taken from the top of the Shot Tower shows the original Waterloo Bridge with the damage to the central pier, along with the temporary bridge built alongside.

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Also in the above map, adjacent to Hungerford Bridge is the Lion Brewery. This area was originally the location of Belvidere House and Grounds, and in 1785, Water Works were built on the southern end of the gardens, drawing water from the river to supply the local residents. Not surprisingly, there were issues with the purity of the water being taken from the river and as part of the general improvements to London’s water supply, the water works were moved to outer London locations such as Surbiton. After the closure of the water works, the lease on the land was assigned to James Golding and the Lion Brewery was completed in 1837. On the opposite side of Belvedere Road to the brewery, Golding purchased a lease on an additional parcel of land and built stables and warehouses to support the brewery.

The Lion Brewery was taken over by the brewers Hoare and Company of Wapping in 1924 and in 1931 the building was badly damaged by fire. It was then temporarily used for paper storage before being demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall.

During the demolition of the brewery buildings, a total of five wells were found which had been used to provide water for the brewery as water could not be taken from the Thames.

There are a number of prints which show the industry along the South Bank between Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges. The following shows the Lion Brewery. Note the tower of the church of St. John’s in the background.

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Another print shows both the Lion Brewery and the Shot Tower with the original Waterloo Bridge on the left.

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And a view from Waterloo Bridge along the river to Westminster Bridge before the construction of Hungerford Bridge. The Shot Tower and the Lion Brewery are on the left.

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The Shot Tower was built in 1826. The gallery at the top of the tower is 163 feet high, and was used to drop molten lead for large shot. A gallery half way up the tower was used to make small lead shot.

The Shot Tower and the associated lead works were owned from 1839 by Walkers, Parker and Company who ran the business until 1949.

The area between Hungerford and Westminster Bridges is shown in the following map (the map cuts off before Westminster Bridge but if included it would be just at the bottom of the map to the left).

The map shows the straightened Belvedere Road, with the original curve in the road still in existence but is now named Belvedere Crescent. Follow Belevedere Road towards the bottom of the map and at the junction with Chicheley Street, it reverts back to Narrow Wall.

Below the Chicheley Street junction, the whole area between York Road and the river would later be occupied by County Hall. Following the Festival of Britain, the area bounded by York Road, Belevedere Road, the rail tracks and Chicheley Street would be occupied by the Shell Centre building. On the opposite site of Belvedere Road, up to the river, during the Festival of Britain, the Dome of Discovery would be built on the area occupied by the India Store Depot and today the Jubilee Gardens are on this spot.

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At the top left of the map is a set of buildings, over which is written “site of Sparagus Garden”. This was also an early pleasure gardens, but unlike Culper’s Gardens, is not very well documented. This was also the site of Coade’s Artifical Stone Works.

The initial stone works on the site were opened in around 1770 by Daniel Pincot who published that he had opened a factory “by King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth”. At some point soon after 1770, the factory appears to have been taken over by Eleanor Coade who would go on to run the factory for 25 years until her death in 1796 when her daughter, also called Eleanor, took over the factory. The younger Eleanor also ran the business well and opened a gallery for the factory’s products at the corner of Narrow Wall and Bridge Street – the street leading up to Westminster Bridge – along with a number of houses which took the name Coade’s Row.

The entrance to the Coade Stone showroom on Westminster Bridge Street:

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Products from the Coade factory were used across London and wider afield, but the most long lasting and well known is the lion that was on top of the Lion Brewery. Removed and stored at the time that the brewery building was demolished, it was installed on a plinth at the southern end of Westminster Bridge in 1966.

The younger Eleanor Coade was unmarried and had no children by the time of her death in 1821, however she had already taken on a cousin, William Croggon to take control of the business, who was succeeded by his son Thomas in 1836, however his ownership of the business did not last long and the Coade Stone Factory appears to have closed a year later in 1837 and the production of this unique, man-made stone was consigned to history.

Just to the south of College Street, is labelled the India Stores Depot. This was built in 1862 on land leased by the Secretary of State for India. These stores were gradually extended until the start of the 2nd World War, during which they suffered considerable damage and were demolished to make way for the Festival of Britain.

As a final bit of confusion regarding continuity of street names, the following map extract is from the Bartholomew Greater London Street Atlas from 1940. It shows Belvedere Road running between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges, with Howley Place shown at Howley Terrace, Tension Street and Sutton Walk with the same names as previous maps, but further along, where College Street and Vine Street were shown in the 1895 Ordnance Surcey map, the street is now called Jenkins Street. This map is the only place I have seen this name for the street, so it was either an error, or there was a name change between 1895 and 1940.

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And finally we come to today and the following map shows the layout of the area as it is now – although this will also change soon as the buildings surrounding the Shell Centre tower have been demolished to make way for a new development of multiple apartment towers.

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The map shows roughly the same area, between Waterloo Bridge at the top of the map and Westminster Bridge at the bottom.

The only streets that remain from previous years are Belvedere Road and Chicheley Street. Belvedere Road has been widened and straightened over the years, but follows roughly the same route as the Narrow Wall and the original earthern embankment.

There is more land between Belvedere Road and the river as during the construction of County Hall and the Festival of Britain, the embankment was pushed further into the river.

The approach road to Waterloo Bridge now covers the area occupied by Cuper’s Gardens. The Royal Festival Hall occupies the site of Timber Yards and then the Lion Brewery.

The Coade Stone Factory was on the site now occupied by the car park above the Jubilee Gardens.

The rows of terrace houses between Belevedere Road and York Road have gone with the space being occupied by the Shell Centre Upsteam and Downstream buildings – off which all but the tower building have either been converted into apartments or have been demolished to make way for more apartment blocks.

In my next post we will have a walk along Belvedere Road looking at the buildings and views from between 1947 and 1950 as the site is prepared for the Festival of Britain and comparing with the same scenes today.

All the prints in the above post are ©Trustees of the British Museum

The extracts from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map are reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

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London Road Works

A brief post this week – short of time and researching some longer posts for the next few weeks.

A fact of London life is not just the continual building work that appears to be taking place across the whole of London, but also the never-ending road works. These have ranged from major works over the past year such as at the Elephant and Castle, and the Cycle Superhighway along the Embankment, through to a couple of hours needed to fill a hole in the road.

Road works also have a supporting cast of high-vis jackets, traffic cones, temporary traffic lights and lots of machinery with no doubt lots of planning and health and safety assessments.

My father worked for St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department and then for the London Electricity Board, which is one of the reasons that he knew London so well, having worked across so many streets planning the installation of streetlights, cabling and electricity distribution equipment.

He took a number of photos of work taking place and I have a sample for today’s post. They show a very different working environment to that you would find today.

Firstly, two photos showing the same street scene which must have been taken only a few minutes apart. No idea where this is, there looks to be a street name on the building to the left however despite enlarging and trying different scan methods, the grain of the film does not allow the name to be read.

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Not a high visibility jacket or traffic cone in sight, although if you enlarge the photo, at the end of the trench there is a sign that states Caution Roadworks.

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Sadly, I always look down a trench or hole in the road to see if there is anything interesting below the surface. The following photo was in the same sequence as the two above. An arch of some form has been cut through, but is clearly seen in the side of the trench.

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The above photos are from the late 1940s, the photos below are from the early 1950s and show the method of sealing a joint between multiple cables.

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Again, I do not know the location and there is nothing I recognise in the background.

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Above and below; heating up a joint with a paraffin blow torch.

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Lastly, pouting molten metal over the joint to form a seal, probably some alloy of lead was used. Very basic protection – you would not want to get that on your skin.

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The final set is back to the late 1940s and are a couple of photos I published back in July 2014 and show road works at the top of Tottenham Court Road at the junction with Euston Road and Hampstead Road. The area looks very different now  – you can read the post here.

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Again, very basic compared to today. A shovel, wheel barrow and a pole across the road.

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Road works have always been a feature of London roads and I suspect will always be so. Next time your journey is delayed by some, rather than complain, have a look down, they are often an interesting, but ignored, feature of everyday street life.

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London Books

Books have probably been written about London for as long as books have been published. London books cover specific areas and topics, general guides, histories, picture and photo books etc. I suspect that a book has been written about any London topic you could think off.

My own collection of London books, starting with the books my father bought from the 1940s onwards, probably numbers around 450 and ranges from a 1756 edition of William Maitland’s History and Survey of London through to recently published books such as Up In Smoke – The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station by Peter Watts.

Second hand bookshops are always a good hunting ground, although today there are not that many to be found, however last Saturday on a trip out to Canterbury I found a good one and bought an excellent history of Chelsea by Thea Holme from 1972 for £6.50.

Since starting this blog, I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of people who have a knowledge of London that far exceeds mine, one of these is Hawk Norton, a collector of London books whose collection is larger than mine by several orders of magnitude.

I first found out about Hawk through an article on Londonist and have since made a number of visits to his collection in Brentford and have probably purchased far too many books than my limited shelf space will support.

Hawk has been collecting London books for several decades however for the last year has been selling much of his collection. If you are interested in London, or books (or ideally a combination of the two), I recommend getting in touch with Hawk via his e-mail ( hawk@btinternet.com ) to request the latest copy of his list of books or to arrange a visit, although be careful with a visit as if like me, you will leave with more books than you had planned on arrival.

A small part of Hawk’s collection of London Books:

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And an equally impressive collection of maps:

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My own collection of London books is much smaller, however here is a selection that provide a snapshot of the wide range of books that have been published about London over the years.

One of the first comprehensive and published history or survey of London is that of John Stow which was first published in 1598. A second edition was published in 1603. Unfortunately I do not have either of these original versions, but I do have a 1908 reprint of the 1603 publication. This version has two volumes and the books are a detailed survey of London at the end of the 16th Century, almost a street by street walk through of London with a description of the City Wards, main streets, churches, houses, historical characters etc. Stow has been the original reference for much later writing.

The next major survey is that of William Maitland who published his “History and Survey of London From Its Foundation to the Present Time” in 1739. I do not have the first edition, but I do have a copy of the 1756 edition, published in two large volumes as a detailed history and survey of London,

William Maitland was a Scottish merchant who lived in London for a time, returning to Scotland in 1740.

The title page from Maitland’s History and Survey of London:

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Maitland’s book has a large number of prints of major buildings across London and also many City Ward maps. Over the years, the prints and maps from early books are often removed and sold separately for a higher amount than if they were contained within the book, however when they do survive, along with the text they provide a fantastic view of London from the mid 18th Century.

Map of Walbrook and Dowgate Wards from Maitland’s History and Survey of London, including drawings of the churches of St. Stephen Walbrook and St. Michael, Royal College Hill.

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Soon after Maitland’s book, Henry Chamberlain published his History and Survey of London in 1770. The title page of Chamberlain’s book contains a wonderful dedication to the city:

Hail chief of Cities, whose immortal Name

Stands foremost in the glorious List of Fame;

Whose Trade and Splendor roll on Thames’s Tide,

Unrivall’d still by all the World beside.

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Chamberlain’s book also contains prints of various buildings, streets and events within the city as well as a “A New and Correct Plan of London, Westminster and Southwark with the New Buildings to the Year 1770”

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Click on the map is open a larger version. It is fascinating to see the state of London in 1770. To the north is the New River Head at Sadlers Wells, to the east is the cluster of buildings at Bethnall Green, still separate from the city and surrounded by fields. South of the river, the city is expanding out from the southern end of London Bridge and in 1770 there were only three bridges over the Thames, Westminster Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.

The southern end of Westminster Bridge opens out mainly into fields. There are also interesting little details, follow the Lambeth Road and there is a building named Dog and Duck, this was described as a “notorious pleasure garden and haunt of prostitutes in the 18th century.”  The site of the Dog and Duck is now the Imperial War Museum. Along the river, the map also shows how many stairs there were down to the river, each individually named enabling the traveler to find the right stairs to meet a boatman.

Moving into the 19th century and my next major survey of London is the six volume set, “Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People, And Its Places”.

The first two volumes were by Walter Thornbury and published in 1873 with an extended six volume edition published in 1878 with the last four volumes by Edward Walford.

These six volumes provide a detailed history of London, and illustrate how London had grown since the 18th century books. Old and New London covers central London, but now also includes “the suburbs”, a new 19th century word to cover the ever-expanding city.

As well as a detailed written account of the city and suburbs, Old and New London has a large amount of drawings of all aspects of the city, the following being a typical example and is titled “Ancient View of Cheapside (From La Serre’s ‘Entree de la Reyne Mere du Roy’ showing the Procession of Mary de Medicis”.

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In the time before photography and the mass printing of photographs in books, drawings such as this were the only way of conveying the visual sense of a place or event to the reader and Old and New London is probably one of the last major history and surveys of London before photography takes over.

As well as major books detailing the history of the whole of London, there are also many covering specific areas. One of these, which I bought from a bookshop in Launceston, Cornwall is the “History of the United Parishes of St. Giles In The Fields and St. George Bloomsbury” by Rowland Dobie and published in 1829. This is a fascinating book, not just because of the history of these parishes, but also the context in which the book was written. The preface to the book tells the story of a corrupt Vestry and the efforts of the parishioners to regain control which culminated in a court case when “the decision of a British Jury has established the long lost rights of the parishioners of St. Giles, by the overthrow of a pretended Select Vestry, whose authority had been exercised uncontrolled and with some deductions during more than two hundred years. This glorious triumph was achieved on the 23rd of July 1829, a day ever to be recorded in the annals of these parishes.”

I doubt that many people today walking the streets of these parishes to the east of Tottenham Court Road and south to Lincolns Inn Fields will be aware of the glorious triumph, but it is a fascinating insight into the way in which parishes were run and administered in the centuries leading up to more formal governance in the 19th century.

To conclude the preface to his book, written on the 15th December 1829, Dobie wrote:

“Finally, no exertion has been spared to render the Work both instructive and entertaining; and above all, to make it a faithful record of parochial government, where abuses and malversations are notorious, and thereby guarding the parishioners in future from similar evils. If I have succeeded in these objects, even in a remote degree, my end is answered – they are more invaluable in my estimation than the hope of profit, or the gratification of vanity.

As well as a detailed written account of the parishes, Dobie’s book included an excellent, fold out map of the area as shown below:

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Again, clicking on this should open a larger copy of this detailed map. In the bottom left hand corner is the area just east of the Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road junction where the major Crossrail and associated developments are currently taking place. The map includes Denmark Street which so far, is the southern boundary of the current developments, but is a street undergoing major change.

Books were often published to commemorate the opening of a new building. One such book was published in 1932 by the British Broadcasting Corporation to commemorate the opening of Broadcasting House at the corner of Portland Place and Langham Street. I found this in a second-hand bookshop in Leigh on Sea on the 15th February 1975 – according to the inscription on the inside of the book, my parents bought it for me for “a reasonable report”, I think the word “reasonable” probably tells you all you need to know about my latest school report, but luckily they still bought me the book.

The book provides a detailed account about the new building, specially built for the BBC. It contains plans of the building and photos of all the major rooms, studios and facilities, including lots of technical details. Who knew that Studio 8A used for Orchestral and Band Music had a reverberation time of 1.1 seconds.

The building design was heavily influenced by the Art Deco style of architecture and this extended to the plans in the book. The following shows a cut away side view of Broadcasting House with all the key rooms and studios labelled.

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Broadcasting House is still there, with a recent, very large extension and is the main London location for the BBC following the closure of Television Centre and the gradual move out of White City.

Continuing with maps, and the publication of the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps provides a detailed, street by street view of the damage caused by bombing across London. These are fascinating for research and show both the concentration of damage and also how random bombing could be.

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My latest find was “Chelsea” by Thea Holme and published in 1972. I found this last weekend in the excellent second-hand bookshop, The Chaucer Bookshop in the wonderfully named Beer Cart Lane in Canterbury. Continuing on the style of books from the 18th and 19th centuries, this book also has a large fold out map covering Chelsea detailing “Vanished Places” and “Places still in existence”. One of the Vanished Places is the Chelsea Bun House in Pimlico Road, a celebrated Bun House in Chelsea and home of the original Chelsea Bun. It was demolished in 1839.

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Other interesting books include the various County of London Development Plans. These provide both a snapshot of London at the time of publication along with plans for the future, some of which were built, others were not. These books frequently included highly detailed maps covering various aspects of the city, some of which I have featured in previous posts. In the 1951 Administrative Plan, there is a page summarising post war development in London, what had already been built by 1951.

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From the top left and reading left to right:

  • Sayes Court, Greenwich, a new open space
  • Flats at Lansbury Neighbourhood, Poplar
  • Flats at Tulse Hill Estate
  • Houses at Somerfield Estate, hackney
  • Model of Lansbury Neighbourhood
  • Bessemer Grange Primary School, Camberwell
  • Flats at Clapham Common
  • Parliament Square Improvement
  • Flats at Charlton Village
  • Chaucer Restaurant, Deptford
  • Flats at Somerford Estate, hackney
  • Flats at Brett Mannor, Hackney
  • River Wall at South Bank
  • Flats at Elder Street, Lambeth
  • Sayes Court, Greenwich
  • Old People’s Home, Plumstead
  • Flats at Bishops Bridge Road, Paddington
  • Royal Festival Hall
  • Flats at Pimlico. Westminster
  • Blackwall Point Power Station
  • House at Fitzroy Park, Highgate
  • Flats at St. Pancras Way
  • Surrey Lock Bridge
  • Sculpture in Battersea Park
  • Offices in Kensington
  • Trinity Congregational Church, Lansbury Neighbourhood
  • Flats at Tulse Hill Estate
  • Susan Lawrence Primary School, Lansbury

Reading these Development Plans, the aim of building for Londoners is very apparent. Not a single luxury apartment for sale as an investment.

My final book in this review of London Books, is Liber Albus: The White Book of the City of London.

London Books 8

The copy I have is the edition published in 1861 and translated from the original Latin and Anglo-Norman.

The introduction to Liber Albus states that “It is a fact, not the less true because not universally known that there is no city in existence in possession of a collection of archives so ancient and so complete as that belonging to the City of London.”

“From these archives, as they existed in the year of Our Lord 1419, combined probably with other sources of information now lost or unknown, the Liber Albus, or White Book, is a compilation prepared in the last Mayoralty of Richard Whittington, for the instruction and guidance of those to whom, before they should have gained the experience of old age, the governance of the City, or the management of its affairs and interests, might under circumstances of emergency be entrusted.”

Liber Albus provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of the medieval city and the rules that applied to the inhabitants of the City, two examples:

Of Strangers

And that no freeman of the City shall hold partnership with a strange man, or avow the merchandise of a strange man, whereby the King or his bailiffs of the City may lose custom upon the same; and this, under pain of losing the freedom.

Of Rebellious Persons

And that there be no one who shall make resistance in deed or in word unto the serjeants of the bailiffs of the City; and be it ordered, that no one shall molest them in making execution upon judgments, attachments, distresses, or other things which unto such bailiffs pertain to do, under pain of imprisonment. But if any one shall consider that the bailiff has done him wrong, let him make his suit thereon before his superiors, and have his recovery before those unto whom it pertains to make amends.

The above represent a very tiny sample of the vast number of London books published over the centuries, half a book shelf in a large library. Many are now online, but holding a physical book and turning the pages provides a more physical connection with the author and the time the book was published, rather than scrolling on a screen. Books about London continue to be published, some of the new books I have purchased over the last year include:

  • Dirty Old London by Lee Jackson
  • London Night and Day by Matt Brown
  • The Isle of Dogs During World War II by Mick Lemmerman
  • Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station by Peter Watts
  • East End by John Claridge

And I am sure that more will be published in the years to come – my only problem is finding enough shelf space.

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