Category Archives: Events and Ceremonies

Photos and stories from events and ceremonies within London

The London Harness Horse Parade 2017

Back in January I published a post on the London Cart Horse Parade showing some of the photos my father took of the event in Regent’s Park in 1949. A couple of photos from the post are shown below:

London Harness Horse Parade

They show the vehicles that in 1949 were still probably in use across London transporting people and all manner of goods essential for the functioning of the city.

London Harness Horse Parade

The original London Cart Horse Parade was founded in 1885 with the aim of improving the conditions of the thousands of horses that carried both goods and people along the streets of London. It was held on Whit Monday, starting in Battersea Park before moving to Regent’s Park.

The London Van Horse Parade ran from 1904 with the same objectives, but was held on an Easter Monday.

These parades must have had a considerable impact on the surrounding streets as there were hundreds of entries (the largest Van Horse Parade has 1,259 animals in the parade in 1914). After the presentation of prizes at the Cart Horse Parade, the procession would leave Regent’s Park and proceed along Albany Street, Portland Place, Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Euston Road and to King’s Cross.

From 1950 the numbers of entries to the parades started to decline. Rapid growth in the use of cars, vans and lorries meant that the need for horse driven transport was in sharp decline and in 1966 the two parades joined to become the London Harness Horse Parade, continuing to be held on Easter Monday in Regent’s Park.

In 1995 the parade moved to Battersea Park, but in 2006 the costs and health and safety requirements of operating such a parade in central London meant that it was no longer possible to run the parade in Battersea Park and it moved out of London.

The London Harness Horse Parade continues to be held on Easter Monday, but now at the South of England Showground at Ardingly in  West Sussex.

My aim with this blog is to track down the locations of my father’s post war photos. For the photos he took of the parade in Regent’s Park, the nearest I could get was to visit the parade in its current location, so this Easter Monday I traveled out to Ardingly to see if the London Harness Horse Parade resembled the photos taken by my father in 1949.

A showground in West Sussex is very different to Regent’s Park, however the aims of the current parade are still the same as when the parade was first held in 1885. To encourage and demonstrate the welfare of the horses, maintenance of the harness and vehicles and the standards of the driver.

The parade is a window on a way of life that has long since departed from London. Entries now come from the counties surrounding London, but many of the vehicles are originals that would have once worked the city’s streets, carrying all manner of goods and passengers.

The parade lining up to start:

London Harness Horse Parade

This is a five ton open van pulled by two Shire Horses and was used to carry goods to and from the stations of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway across London:

London Harness Horse Parade

The following photo is from the book “The Queen’s London” published in 1896. It shows an identical open van in front of the Bank of England transporting goods for the Midland Railway Company. The historical accuracy of the 2017 vehicle is such that a chain is hanging down underneath the van in both photos (I only realised this after the event when I was comparing photos otherwise I would have asked what the chain was for).

London Harness Horse Parade

The range of entries highlight the specialist vehicles that once transported goods along the streets. This is a 1920 Milk Float:

London Harness Horse Parade

As part of the event, each horse is checked by a vet, continuing the aims set out for the parade in 1885 that the welfare of the horses is to be encouraged. The parade is not competitive, there is no winner, rather all those that achieve the required standard receive a rosette.

London Harness Horse Parade

As well as the condition of the horses, the vehicles are also judged and are immaculately preserved and maintained.

London Harness Horse Parade

A standard design known as a “London Trolley”:

London Harness Horse Parade

Running down to one of the judging areas:London Harness Horse Parade

Many of the vehicles are from the 1920s and 30s highlighting that it was not just in the 19th century that horse-drawn transport was used across London, it was still a means of transport well into the 20th century.

London Harness Horse Parade

Immaculate paint work:

London Harness Horse Parade

All ages participate in the parade:

London Harness Horse Parade

For those who could afford it, this is the type of vehicle that would have carried your luggage to the station:

London Harness Horse Parade

And you would have traveled in the following carriage:

London Harness Horse Parade

A 1920 Ice Cream Cart:

London Harness Horse Parade

Brilliantly restored, including a selection of vintage ice cream scoops:

London Harness Horse Parade

Horse drawn delivery drays transporting barrels of beer would once have been a common sight across London:

London Harness Horse Parade

The Young & Co delivery dray was built-in Chelsea and dates from 1924:London Harness Horse Parade

A Victorian Invalid Carriage from 1890:

London Harness Horse Parade

The London Harness Horse Parade is now much smaller than the parades once held in Regent’s and Battersea Parks. In 1926 there were 864 vehicles entered in the Easter Monday parade, today there were around 100 entries to the 2017 parade.

It is though really good to see that the parade is still running every year and true to its original purpose of improving the conditions and treatment of London’s cart horses. Also, a place to see a historically accurate display of the vehicles that were once essential in nearly all aspects of the life of the city.

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The London Cart Horse Parade

A rather short post this week, work and trying to find the time to get to some East London locations has delayed my planned post for today, however I hope these photos of an annual parade that was once held in London will be of interest.

During the past week, pollution levels in London have been very high. The thousands of cars, taxis, buses, lorries etc. that keep the city supplied and moving but congest the city’s streets, contributing to the smog that hangs across the city when there is no wind to blow it to the east. In previous centuries, it was the horse that was essential to the functioning of the city. Transporting goods and people from one end of the city to the other.

I have seen a range of different figures for how many horses were on the streets of the London, with numbers of around 300,000 in the year 1900.

Treatment of horses was very variable and dependent on the owner. Horses needed to earn their keep and when they could not, through age or illness they were of little use to their owner.

There were a number of initiatives in the 19th Century to try to improve the conditions of the city’s horses, one of which was the Cart Horse Parade, established in 1885 with the aim of encouraging the owners of horses to take pride in their animals and to show to their peers and the public in a formal annual parade.

The first Cart Horse Parades took place on Whit Monday in Battersea Park. A second annual parade, the Van Horse Parade started in 1904 and took place on Easter Monday.

The Cart Horse Parade moved to Regent’s Park in 1888.

The two parades continued to run as separate parades, however with the declining numbers of working horses across the city, the two parades merged into a single Easter Monday parade in 1966.

My father must have known the parade well as he lived a short distance from Regent’s Park and one year took a series of photos of the event. These specific photos were not dated, however from the photos on the same strips of negative I am sure the year was 1949. Judging by the crowds, this was a popular event.

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As a final photo, the following shows one of the problems with film cameras. When I scanned the following photo I thought there were two negatives stuck together, however it is an example of where the film did not wind on correctly between taking two photos leaving them both on the same individual negative. There are a number in the collection where this has happened – very frustrating.

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The combined parades have now moved out of London, but are still held on Easter Monday as the London Harness Horse Parade with the next parade being on the 17th April 2017 at the South of England Centre at Ardingly in West Sussex.

Details of the next parade can be found on the website of the London Harness Horse Parade.

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London Christmas Lights – 1978 and 2016

Before I start this week’s post, which also falls on Christmas Day, can I wish you a very Happy Christmas, and thank you for reading and subscribing to my blog. I am almost at the end of Year 3 and have lots more to write about which I hope you will find of interest.

For a Christmas Day post, a comparison of London Christmas Lights from the rather gloomy late 1970s with those in 2016.

In 1954 Regent Street was the first of the central London shopping streets to have Christmas lights, Oxford Street followed five years later in 1959. There were a number of years in the 1970s when Oxford Street did not have any Christmas lights due to the recession of the middle years of the decade and the general financial climate, however they restarted again in 1978 with the unusual option of having laser lights shining up and down the street. I assume it was thought that these would be a rather novel form of lighting and much cheaper than large light decorations run across the street.

To mark the return of Christmas lights to Oxford Street and to record what was hopefully an impressive display, I took my first decent camera up to Oxford Street (a Canon AE1 recently purchased on HP – Hire Purchase before the days of Credit Cards) and without a tripod I attempted some photos using Kodak Kodacolor 400 film, faster than my normal film in the hope that I would not suffer too much with camera shake.

Arriving at Oxford Street as it got dark, the lasers did not really meet with expectations. A number of laser systems were mounted a various places along Oxford Street with a beam of light from each running the length of the street. There were not enough lights and a thin beam of blue, red or green light did not seem to have any relevance to Christmas. It was all rather strange and I can understand why it has not been repeated since.

Oxford Street in the mid 1970s was generally much darker than it is now. Shops did not have the same level of Christmas displays and window lights that they have today.

The following photos are a sample I took in 1978 and then for comparison I went for walk one evening in December 2016 to look at the lights across the main shopping streets of central London today. The 1978 photos also show some of the retail brands that have since disappeared.

One of the Oxford Street lasers. The Christmas tree is on the construction site for the new Bond Street station and the Jubilee Line. The large sign on the left reads “Work in progress for the Jubilee Line – Reconstruction of Bond Street Station”.

London Christmas Lights

Looking up Oxford Street towards Marble Arch. Selfridges has a row of lights just above street level. A Take 6 store is on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Blue and red lasers. The sign of the 100 Club is on the right – fortunately still there today.

London Christmas Lights

Blue laser running down the street. Debenhams on the right, Dolcis shoe shop on the left.

London Christmas Lights

A rather faint laser shines down a gloomy 1970s Oxford Street. The vertical lights are advertising the now defunct shoe shop Saxone.

London Christmas Lights

Christmas trees along D.H. Evans, with a fan of blue and green lasers from just above the main entrance to the store. The D.H. Evans store disappeared in 2001 when it was re-branded as the House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Woolworth’s on the left, D.H,. Evans on the right. Just beneath the Berlitz sign (language school) is a sign for the Lady at Lord John fashion chain (click on the photo to enlarge) – one of the many high street brands that have disappeared in the last 40 years.

London Christmas Lights

The best place to see the lasers seemed to be from directly underneath when they were at their brightest.

London Christmas Lights

Regent Street kept to their more traditional Christmas lighting with displays running across the street and were more impressive than those at Oxford Street. Looking down Regent Street with a Take 6 store on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Dickens and Jones.

London Christmas Lights

So how does 1970s London compare with the Christmas lights of 2016? In the week before Christmas, I took a walk one evening starting at Monmouth Street, through Seven Dials and up to Oxford Street, then down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus.

Starting in Monmouth Street with lights across the street and in the trees.

London Christmas Lights

Seven Dials looking very festive.

London Christmas Lights

Neal’s Yard just off the northern leg of Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

View down Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

Penguins decorating the front of Arthur Beale, London’s Yacht Chandler on Shaftesbury Avenue.

London Christmas Lights

From Shaftesbury Avenue, it was along St. Giles High Street and into Denmark Street. Not known for Christmas lights, although the music shops look good after dark.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

Regent Sound Studios with their take on Christmas window decorations.

London Christmas Lights

Up now into Oxford Street and the lights of John Lewis.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street’s 2016 Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Looking down New Bond Street from Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street at Christmas. Pavements crowded with people and the street at times seems more like a car park for buses……

London Christmas Lights

…..and taxis.

London Christmas Lights

Back down into Regent Street who in most of the years I can remember since 1978 have more ambitious street lights than Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

The length of Regent Street looking down towards Piccadilly Circus.

London Christmas Lights

Carnaby Street from Regent Street with their own interpretation of Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

Lights continue down the southern end of Regent Street towards Waterloo Place.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

An elevated platform had been built around the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain – or Eros as it is more commonly known. A choir huddled together against the cold and breeze of a December evening but sounding beautiful above the noise of traffic.

London Christmas Lights

View from Piccadilly Circus towards Leicester Square.

London Christmas Lights

My photos from 1978 probably do the lasers a slight injustice due to my lack of photographic experience at the time and the equipment in use, however London after dark at Christmas is now much brighter than it was in the 1970s. The crowds and traffic do seem much the same in the weeks running up to Christmas, but as ever I will take any excuse for a walk around London.

Thanks again for reading, and a very Happy Christmas.

alondoninheritance.com

The Space Shuttle At Stansted Airport

I have recently been scanning some of my old negatives from the early 1980s. The Lord Mayor’s Show post from a couple of weeks ago included some of these photos, and this week’s post covers a rather more unusual event when in 1983 the Space Shuttle Enterprise landed at Stansted Airport – or London Stansted Airport to use the current full name and provide the hopefully not too tenuous link to the theme of the blog.

The first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle took place in April 1981 and in 1983 the Space Shuttle fleet was increasing the number of flights with four taking place that year. There was considerable interest in this new method of reaching space and in 1983 the Space Shuttle Enterprise made a visit to the Paris Airshow, also landing in the UK and Germany.

The Enterprise did not launch to space. It was the first of the Space Shuttles (named after the space ship from the Star Trek TV series), completed in 1977 and used to test the piggy back method of transport on a Boeing 747 and also for drop tests to evaluate how the design would fly and land.

The Enterprise arrived at Stansted Airport on Sunday 5th June 1983. Stansted was then a small airport with relatively few flights. Approval was granted the following year for the first phase of the significant developments that have seen the airport reach the capacity it has today, so back in 1983 it was still quiet and an ideal location to host the Space Shuttle’s visit.

The arrival was a major event with significant numbers of people turning up to try and see this unusual combination of aircraft land. There was major congestion on the majority of roads in the Stansted area. For some reason I cannot remember now, I could not get to Stansted for the Sunday, but did manage to visit on one of the evenings the following week.

I was working in Lambeth at the time so it was a dash up to Stansted after work on a lovely sunny evening which I do remember very well. It seemed a very casual event. Compared to today, hardly any security of any sort.

Drive up to the airfield, park on the grass and take a walk around – I doubt this would happen today.

I cannot remember which day it was, or the time but it must have been late evening judging by the length of the shadows (which is rather depressing to write on a dark December evening).

There is a BBC report on the Space Shuttle visit and the 25th anniversary which can be found here. The report contains some excellent film of the landing of the Shuttle / 747 combination at Stansted.

A sample of my photos from that June evening in 1983:

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I did not get to see the Space Shuttle leave Stansted, but did catch a glimpse of the flight over London, although unfortunately I did not have my camera with me.

After the visit to the UK, France and Germany the Space Shuttle Enterprise returned to the US where it was used for test purposes, then a period in storage and then on display with the Smithsonian Institute.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York along with a British Airways Concorde – another form of flight which seemed technologically very advanced at the time, having started the first supersonic passenger flights just a few years earlier in 1976 and in some respects would go on to have a parallel history to the Space Shuttle.

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The Lord Mayor’s Show In The Early 1980s

The annual Lord Mayor’s Show took to the streets of the City yesterday. I did not visit this year’s event, but have been many times over the years, and I first started taking photos of the Lord Mayor’s Show in 1981.

For this week’s post, I have scanned a sample of photos from the Lord Mayor’s Show between 1981 and 1983. Rather than the main route of the procession, I always went to the streets where the procession assembled in the couple of hours before the start. It was here that you could talk to, and get some more interesting photos of those involved.

As well as the participants in the Lord Mayor’s Show during the early 1980s, these photos also show the area around London Wall as it was before the major rebuilding of the last couple of decades that has resulted in a significant change to the streets.

So, to start with, here are some uniformed Unigate milkmen:lord-mayors-show-1

Only at the Lord Mayor’s Show could you spend your day in (I think) a chicken costume:

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I remember this character from the 1970s and 80s, but cannot recall his name:

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The military have always played a significant role in the Lord Mayor’s Show:

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I had forgotten all about this pub until I scanned this photo. In the background is the Plough pub on St Alphage High Walk. It was demolished in 2006 as part of the reconstruction of the area.  In the foreground is the Debenhams float, which I think is a bike they will all be cycling along the procession.

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Chelsea pensioners from above:

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The British Airways float:

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I took this photo of the man in the centre, however look at the man to his right. he is carrying a cine camera. These photos are only around 35 years old, but this was the technology of the time – there is not a mobile phone in sight.

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Cannot remember who “JLW” were:

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“Why move to the middle of nowhere, when you can move to the middle of London?”

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The brewer Samuel Smith with the Harrods float on the left:

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British Telecom float. Very early computer terminals, but not a mobile phone in sight. How technology would change over the coming 35 years.

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Post Office float – advertising down the side to “Use the postcode – you’re not properly addressed without it”.

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The following few photos were taken from the footbridge that ran across London Wall from the southern to the northern sides of Wood Street. The church tower is that of St. Alban. This area has been completely rebuilt. Whilst the church tower remains, the exit of the southern part of Wood Street into London Wall is now a single lane. The surrounding buildings, the foot bridge and the elevated walkways have all disappeared and the 18 floor office block, 125 London Wall now sits across this junction.

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LBC radio van:

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Vintage army uniforms and equipment:

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The Underground, advertising the capital investment that had recently resulted in the Heathrow extension of the Piccadilly line:

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SAGA – “world-wide holidays for people who matter”:

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This bus appears to be an entry by, or sponsored by Disney:

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“Give me Bournemouth anytime” – the rather exotic entry that must be by the Bournemouth Tourist Board:

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Float entry by the construction company Mansell advertising 75 years of the company’s existence. This would not last for too much longer as Mansell was purchased by Balfour Beatty in 2003 and the name was phased out in 2014.

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British Telecom, when a large handset attached to a landline was the latest in technology:

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Not sure what this float was:

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A better view looking from the north edge of London Wall down Wood Street showing the stairs that ran up to the foot bridge and the pedestrianised walkways:

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Floats from Selfridges and Harrods:

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British Gas:

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The military wait the start of the procession:

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Military equipment:

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The Lord Mayor’s Coach:

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Passing The Plough pub on London Wall:

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British Airways, City & Guilds College and Cubitts the builders:

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In perhaps a reverse of the many other changes in the last 35 years, the Lord Mayor’s Show appeared to be much more commercial than it is today. Companies such as Selfridges, Harrods, British Airways, British Telecom and as shown below, BP, along with many others all had floats in the procession. An interesting change in focus.

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The Lord Mayor’s Coach:

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British Rail and the InterCity 125 train that had been introduced during the previous few years:

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The Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company have long been a feature of the Lord Mayor’s Show. Here marching down the northern part of Wood Street from Fore Street towards London Wall:

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Milk and cheese deliveries to the door. Tesco float in the background:

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Lord Mayor’s coach again:

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The latest gas appliances from Unigas:

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British Aerospace and the Jetstream 31 which first flew in 1980:

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View along London Wall:

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Harrods float:

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London Docklands Development Corporation float. Created in 1981 at around the same time as these photos. The work of the L.D.D.C. would have a significant impact on the area of London east of Tower Bridge and down to the Isle of Dogs:

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Wimpey, from the days when mock Tudor architecture was the aspiration for a new home owner:

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Thames Water:

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The Lord Mayor’s Coach in Wood Street by the tower of the church of St. Alban:

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The Household Cavalry:

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“Doorstep delivery service, British and best”:

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It is a number of years since I last saw the above photos, and looking at them now the things that strike me most are the changes along London Wall, and the large number of private companies that once participated in the Lord Mayor’s Show. The procession seems rather different today.

London Wall at the time was the post war development of a heavily damaged area and consisted of plenty of rather unattractive office tower blocks, but looking at the photos now, including the junction of Wood Street and London Wall I feel strangely nostalgic for this area as it was. London Wall does not feel as much an open space as it did, with the building of 125 London Wall blocking the view along the length of the street.

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The Exhibition Of Architecture – The Final Chapter

My last post on the Exhibition of Architecture was rather long and there were still a number of things I wanted to include on the subject, so here is my very final post on the Festival of Britain.

Firstly, a couple of stills from a children’s film made in 1956. The film is “One Wish Too Many” and many of the external shots were filmed in and around the Lansbury estate. The film tells the story of a boy who finds a magic marble with rather unpredictable results.

The film can be found here. In my last post I mentioned the pole mounted scene of people around a model of the Skylon. This appears in the film and a still showing the pole is below:

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The Chrisp Street market also features in the film:

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One Wish Too Many is a fascinating film to watch for a glimpse of the area as it was 60 years ago, and to see how life in Poplar was portrayed in film.

As well as the Exhibition of Architecture at Lansbury, the Council of Architecture advising the organisers of the Festival of Britain recommended that there be an award for “contributions to civic or landscape design, including any buildings, groups of buildings or improvement to the urban or rural scene“.

The idea of an award was approved and entries were invited. There were challenges with getting a sufficient number of entries as building work had to have been started by the end of the war with completion in time for the award judging and the Festival of Britain. The initial end date for entries of September 1950 was extended to March 1951 to provide additional time.

Winners of the award would receive a plaque with the festival symbol. There are a number of these that can still be seen today, one being at White City Underground Station. The plaque at the station is shown in the photo below. The plaques were made by Poole Pottery and consisted of a matt blue slip covering the base of the plaque with the festival symbol, festival year and lettering around the edge of the plaque raised, and painted white.

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White City station was designed by A.D. McGill and Kenneth J.H. Seymour for Thomas Bilbow of London Transport. This station served the nearby White City Stadium and therefore had to manage large crowds. The station had extended platforms and a separate “rush hall” providing additional space into and out of the station when there was an event on at White City Stadium. Additional space to the right of the main entrance provided accommodation and working space for train crews.

White City Station as it is today. The festival plaque is just to the left of the main entrance.

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There were 19 winners of the festival award. As well as White City, other London winners included:

  • in Pimlico, Chaucer House, Coleridge House, Shelley House and Pepys House with the hot water accumulator fed from Battersea Power Station
  • the Somerfield Estate in Dalston
  • Newbury Park Bus Station
  • Heath Park Estate, Dagenham

Winners outside of London included an Old People’s Home in Glasgow and a School in Stevenage. It would be an interesting exercise to track down the 19 winners and see if the buildings are still there along with their plaques and how their 1951 design has survived over the past 65 years.

Back in Poplar, it is always interesting to walk an area – there is always much to find.

At the junction of Chrisp Street and Susannah Street there is the mosaic from the entrance of a branch of “Burton – the Tailor of Taste” that was originally at this location.

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Almost directly across Chrisp Street from the above mosaic is this giant mural created in 2014 by the street artists Irony and Boe on one of the 1960s buildings between the market and the East India Dock Road. A giant chihuahua welcoming drivers heading into London.

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On the opposite side of the East India Dock Road to Chrisp Street is this statue to Richard Green.

Green owned a shipyard in Blackwall. He support the Poplar Hospital, a Sailors Home, he founded the Merchant Service training ship, HMS Worcester and was active in forming the Royal Naval Reserve. He died in 1863, the year 1866 on the plinth refers to the year in which the statue was erected on this spot.

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What caught my eye with this statue are that on either side of the plinth are some carvings of ships associated with Richard Green. On the western facing side of the plinth is a frigate under construction for the Spanish Government at Green’s yard.

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And on the east facing side of the plinth is the first ship sent from Green’s Blackwell boatyard to China.

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Further along East India Dock Road, on the Lansbury side are two buildings that were on the original Lansbury guidebook map (see my previous post). The first is the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest – marked number 9 on the map. Originally established as the Seamen’s Mission of the Methodist Church in 1843 with buildings in the adjacent Jeremiah Street, the present buildings facing onto the East India Dock Road are the 1950’s extension to the original buildings. Still in operation and providing support and accommodation to ex-seamen, ex-servicemen and others in need of accommodation.

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Next along are the buildings marked as number 11 on the map. At the time they were Board of Trade Offices but are now flats. The cream coloured paint, fine weather and style gives the buildings an appearance of colonial architecture.

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As with the other Festival of Britain guide books, the one for the Exhibition of Architecture has a fascinating selection of adverts related to the subject of the exhibition.

I find these interesting for a number of reasons – the subject of the advert, the company, the advertising style and the use of colour. Here are a selection from the guide.

The first is for the company G.N. Haden, a firm of electrical and mechanical engineers who worked on a couple of the Lansbury sites, however the advert is for the district heating system in Pimlico that used hot water from Batterea Power Station. G.N. Haden went through a number of mergers until eventually becoming part of Balfour Beatty.

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The Manor Fields private estate in Putney, built by Laing. The estate still looks much the same today.

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The Dome of Discovery on the South Bank was the largest aluminium building in the world at the time of the festival. British Aluminium was the country’s largest producer and as the process of producing aluminium consumed large amounts of electricity, plants would make use of new hydro-electric and nuclear products over the coming years, however global over production and higher production costs in the UK caused continual problems and the company was purchased and split over time between a number of global producers and private equity. None of the original production plants remain.

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Sissons – Hull based paint manufacturers. Cannot find too much about them, however I believe they were finally integrated into Akzo-Nobel and all the Hull based manufacturing operations closed.

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Dunlop – probably better known for the company’s tyre production, Dunlop was a major British multi-national, however lack of innovation with tyre products allowed competitors to gain market share with new products. Production and quality issues, debts from failed global partnerships resulted in a common story for British industry during the final decades of the 20th century of company break-up, ongoing selling through a number of owners and closure of plants and parts of the business. How different it must have seemed in 1951.

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Creda and Simplex, both at the time owned by the conglomerate TI (Tube Investments).

TI went through a range of difficulties resulting in the sale of individual businesses and brands. Creda was still operating as a brand, but is now integrated into Hotpoint. The advert features the Creda Comet “the last word in electric cookery”.

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Broadcrete lighting columns made by Tarslag who as the name implies were mainly a road surfacing company. Soon after this advert appeared, Tarslag sold the designs of the Broadcrete lighting columns to Concrete Utilities – an established company already producing concrete lamp posts and the Broadcrete designs soon stopped production so I suspect they are now rather rare. Concrete Utilities, now known as CU Phosco continues as a UK manufacturer of lighting equipment, however now producing metal products rather than concrete. Much of the street lighting across London is manufactured by CU Phosco.

Tarslag was eventually purchased by Tarmac.

Lansbury Estate 47

I am not sure whether the Tarslag Broadcrete lamp-post is a fitting conclusion to my series of posts on the Festival of Britain, but it does highlight how the optimistic view of the future presented during the festival would change dramatically over the coming decades.

I realise I have only been able to scratch the surface of this subject, not just about the Festival, but also how the Festival reflected the country as it was at the start of the 1950s – both London and the country have changed dramatically in the 65 years since.

There are many excellent books on the Festival of Britain – see the end of this previous post for a list.

Thank you for putting up with my interest in the Festival of Britain, starting next week, a completely different series of posts.

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The Lansbury Exhibition Of Architecture

The Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture is the final stop on my exploration of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

My apologies, but this is rather a long post, however the story of the Exhibition of Architecture held at the Lansbury Estate in Poplar is a fascinating subject, and as usual, I feel I am only scratching the surface, although I hope you will find this of interest.

For the majority of this post, I will take a walk around the Lansbury Estate, but first some background.

The London Docks, industry and density of population meant that much of the east end of London was a prime target during the last war with large areas in need of urgent reconstruction by the late 1940s.

On the 29th May 1946, the London County Council applied to the Minister of Town and Country Planning for 1,945 acres of Stepney and Poplar to be declared an area of comprehensive development under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

Of the total request, 1,312 acres were declared to be an area of Comprehensive Development which meant that development of the area could now be planned and implemented as an integrated project with zoning of space and allocation to specific functions such as shops, housing, schools etc.

The plans to redevelop the area were based on the 1943 County of London Plan which attempted to address many of the problems caused by the random and sprawling growth of London such as:

  • Traffic congestion
  • Large areas of depressed housing
  • Inadequate and badly distributed open spaces
  • Intermingling of industry with housing

The plans acknowledged that despite the way the city had grown, strong, local communities had developed and it was important that these were retained during future development.

Eleven new neighbourhoods were planned for the Stepney and Poplar area of comprehensive development, each would be developed as if it were a small town with the appropriate local facilities of schools, shops, churches and public space.

An Exhibition of Architecture was planned for the Festival of Britain and in 1948 the Council for Architecture, Town Planning and Building Research proposed that one of the neighbourhoods to be developed in Stepney and Poplar would be an ideal site to demonstrate the latest approach to town planning, architecture and building.

A neighbourhood in Poplar was chosen. Named “Lansbury” after George Lansbury who had a long association with Poplar, as the Poplar member for the Board of Guardians of the Poor, on the Poplar Borough Council, the first Labour Mayor in 1919 and until his death in 1940 he was the Labour MP for one of the Poplar divisions.

The Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture would show how town planning and scientific building principles would provide a better environment in which to live and work, and how this would be applied to the redevelopment of London and the new towns planned across the country.

The following Aerofilms photo from 1951 shows Poplar looking west towards the City. The East India Dock Road runs from middle left of the photo. Along the lower part of the photo, running from left to right is the old railway that ran from Poplar Station (located where All Saints is now), north through Bow and Old Ford stations. The DLR now occupies this route.

I have outlined in red the borders of the Exhibition of Architecture. Much of the site was still being developed by the time of the Festival of Britain, however the construction of some buildings was brought forward and a special exhibition area was constructed specifically for the festival.

EAW035320

The following map is from the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture Guide. Turn this by 90 degrees to the right to match the layout of the photo above. The red arrows on the map show the recommended route for the visitor to walk around the exhibition and the map shows the type of buildings either constructed, in the process of construction, or planned for the future in order to show Lansbury as a single, integrated neighbourhood.

Lansbury Estate 35

The map gives the impression that at the time of the exhibition this was a fully finished site. Completion of many of the buildings had been rushed through ready for the start of the exhibition, however work on many others was still in progress and the exhibition site would not really reach a state of completion until the closure of the exhibition. A criticism at the time was that the route around the site was hard to follow with lack of clear sign posting and white direction lines on the ground not always being clear.

To explore the Exhibition of Architecture, I took my copy of the guide and via the DLR arrived at All Saints station ready to walk the same route as the Festival route in 1951.

My tour of the site started in the road to the left of the yellow block which included features 1 to 5. This was the Exhibition Enclosure, and was the first point on the tour – built specifically for the festival and hosting pavilions that would highlight the approaches now being used for town planning and building.

The Exhibition Enclosure included a Building Research Pavilion, a Town Planning Pavilion, a weather station (to show the relationship between changing weather conditions and building materials), along with one of the new types of crane that would soon be seen across London as reconstruction continued apace.

The Exhibition also included a “Gremlin Grange” in the Building Research Pavilion that highlighted what goes wrong when scientific building principles are not employed, such as:

  • Structural cracks and leaning walls – due to bad foundation design
  • External plaster coming off – because the mix contained too much cement
  • Damp rising up the walls – because there is no damp course
  • Leaning chimney stacks – often the result of chemical action on mortar joints
  • Fireplaces smoking – owing to bad design of chimney and flue
  • Tank leaking – because it lacks protection against frost
  • Cracks in walls – because poorly designed foundations have subsided
  • Bad artificial lighting – causing discomfort and eyestrain

The intention was to show that through the use of new design principles and building materials, the buildings across Lansbury would not suffer these gremlins.

The following photo is from the corner of Saracen Street and the East India Dock Road looking across to the area that was the Exhibition Enclosure. Buildings in line with the architectural style of the rest of Lansbury were built on the site following the closure of the festival.

Lansbury Estate 1

A model of the area shows the Exhibition Enclosure in the lower left of the following photo:

Lansbury Estate 49

I then walked to the open space marked as point 6 on the map – and centre right in the above photo.

Lansbury Estate 2

Point 6 is an area of open space in front of the new Trinity Congregational Church. Before the redevelopment of Stepney and Poplar there was a combined total of 42 acres of open space which averaged out at 0.4 acres per 1,000 people. The County of London plan proposed an increase to a standard of 3.6 acres per 1,000 people and across the Stepney and Poplar development area, an increase from 42 to 267 acres of open space was planned. We will see as we walk around the Exhbition of Architecture route how open space has been used across the development of Lansbury.

At the far end, we can see the tower of Trinity Congregational Church (point 7 on the map). Built on the site of an earlier church that was destroyed by bombing, the new church was designed by the architects Cecil C. Handisyde and D. Rogers Stark. The main structure of the church is of reinforced concrete with London brick covering the exterior of the tower.

The church today looks almost identical to the original architectural models:

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Rear view of the church from Annabel Close – the only change to the model of the church is from a double to a single row of windows on the building at the rear.

Lansbury Estate 3

The church was originally a Methodist Church, but is now a Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church.

The photo below shows the side view of the church buildings, again almost identical to the original model. The brick facing and large areas of glass are typical of post war designs used for public buildings.

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Back to the recommended route for the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture and after walking round the church, we can cross Annabel Close and walk into the playground marked 34 on the map.

The playground as it is today:

Lansbury Estate 5

Playgrounds were an important part of the open space policy and at the time of the Exhibition of Architecture were planned to include children’s playground rides and sandpits.

In the centre of the old playground are two highly reflective memorials to the Festival of Britain and George Lansbury. The memorial to George Lansbury is shown below and provides an overview of his work in politics, the pacifist movement, efforts to improve the lives of the poor, equal rights and votes for women, along with his long marriage to his wife Elisabeth and their 12 children (one of his grandchildren is the actress Angela Lansbury).

Lansbury Estate 4

Walking out of the old playground area, past the parking area for cars and into Duff Street and it is here that we first encounter the new homes built as part of the redevelopment of the area.

The following photo is looking up Duff Street towards Grundy Street with the two storey, terrace houses marked at point 10 on the map.

Lansbury Estate 6

Although almost the whole area of Lansbury is post-war new build, there are some buildings that remain from the pre-war period. On the map is a building at the end of Duff Street marked as number 12 – Public House (existing). The side of the pub can be seen in the above photo and the full view from Grundy Street is shown in the photo below:

Lansbury Estate 7

The pub was built in 1868 as the African Tavern, but changed name to the African Queen in the 1990s. The faded name board for African Queen can still be seen on the edge of the pub from Duff Street.  The pub closed in 2002.

Standing in Grundy Street we can see at each end two of the main features of Lansbury, to the west the Roman Catholic Church:

Lansbury Estate 31

And to the east, the tower at Chrisp Street Market:

Lansbury Estate 32

Continuing along the route from the exhibition along Grundy Street and these are the three storey terrace houses marked at point 13 opposite Duff Street. Again, the use of a large area of open space that opens out to the street, with the houses constructed on three sides results in a very different environment when compared with the high density housing that originally occupied the area.

Lansbury Estate 8

Walking along Grundy Street and here is the second set of three storey, terrace houses, also marked as point 13 on the map. This is Chilcot Close.

Lansbury Estate 9

The drawings for Chilcot Close were featured in the guide to the Exhibition of Architecture and show the buildings and central open space to be almost the same today. The drawings also show the floor plans of the mix of different types of accommodation in these terrace houses with a maisonette, one room and three room flats.

Lansbury Estate 43

Chilcot Close is an interesting example of where building names have retained the names of lost streets. The map extract below is from the 1940 Bartholomew Greater London Atlas and shows Grundy Street running along the centre of the map. Just above the letter N in Grundy is Chilcott Street. The street was lost in the post war rebuilding with the two sets of three storey houses now occupying this space, however the name of the street (less a T) has been kept as Chilcot Close. The fact that a street extended into this block of land shows the original density of building as houses would have run along Grundy Street and also all round Chilcott Street.

Lansbury Estate 51

Continuing to the end of Grundy Street, we come to the junction with Kerbey Street and it is here, at point 15 on the map that we find the Festival Inn. Thankfully still a working pub, as well as the name, the pub retains a link with the Festival of Britain by the use of the festival’s symbol by Abram Games on one side of the pub sign.

Lansbury Estate 10

The Festival Inn is on the edge of the Shopping Centre and Chrisp Street Market (point 16 on the map) which was core to developing the Lansbury community and to replace the original Chrisp Street market.

The Festival Inn replaced two nearby pubs, the Grundy Arms and the Enterprise. Although the pub sign still uses the festival symbol, there was originally a free standing pub sign consisting of a pole with at the top the model of a group of Londoners dancing around the Skylon – the Festival and London equivalent of a maypole. Unfortunately this has not survived.

Photos of the model of the shopping and market area are shown below. The area consisted of:

  • a large pedestrian area with space for the stalls of street traders along with permanent covered stalls allocated to traders in meat and fish
  • terraces of lock up shops running alongside the market and along a branch heading up to Cordelia Street
  • above the lock up shops were maisonettes, mainly two bedroom, but some three bedroom

The buildings lining the market are of London brick with reinforced concrete beams running along the top of the shops to support the maisonettes above.

At the edge of the market is a clock tower with steps running up the inside of the tower to a viewing gallery at the top. As well as photos of the model, the floor plans of the maisonettes can be seen below.

Lansbury Estate 44

View from within the market showing the pub at the left and the shops with the maisonettes above. This is the part of the market in the lower left corner of the photo above.

Lansbury Estate 11

The photo below shows the branch of the shopping centre / market looking down towards Cordelia Street. Again, still almost identical to the original model shown in the photos above.

This layout, with pedestrianised walkways between rows of shops with accommodation above would be the format for new town shopping centres and town centre redevelopment for decades to come.

Lansbury Estate 12

View looking to the north east corner of the market / shopping centre.

Lansbury Estate 13

The Chrisp Street Market replaced an earlier street market. Pre-war, Chrisp Street Market was the largest across Poplar and Stepney with 285 licensed stalls on the busiest day, the next largest was Middlesex Street Market with 262 licensed stalls. These were figures from 1939.

There were many other street markets across Poplar and Stepney and the following table shows the markets with pre and post war stall numbers. Interesting that for the majority of street markets they were smaller in 1951 than they had been in 1939 – reflecting the loss of housing and therefore population.

Stepney 1939 1951
Solebay Street 26 8
Burdett Road 60 36
Hessel Street 29 29
Burslem Street 16 9
Watney Street 200 150
White Horse Road 150 42
Salmon Lane 18 9
Wentworth Street 68 68
Goulston Street 100 148
Old Castle Street 40 60
Middlesex Street 262 262
New Goulston Street 30 42
Poplar
Chrisp Street 285 189
Devons road 39 12

The following photo shows part of the original Chrisp Street market:

Lansbury Estate 48

At the corner of the market, alongside Chrisp Street is the clock tower built as a key feature of the market. Running up the centre of the tower are two interlocking staircases built of reinforced concrete leading up to the viewing gallery and clock mechanism. The two staircases only met at the top and bottom of the tower so that those walking up would use one staircase and those walking down would use the second – a clever design to avoid congestion on the stairs.

Lansbury Estate 14

At the opposite corner of the market place to the clock tower, along Chrisp Street, is one of the new pubs, shown as point 15 on the map, built as part of the redevelopment.

Lansbury Estate 15

To continue the recommended route from the exhibition, walk back through the market and along Market Place and cut through to Ricardo Street.

Ricardo Street is lined along the south side with four storey maisonettes (point number 17 on the map). A mix of two to four bedroom maisonettes each with a living room, garden and clothes drying area with two storeys per maisonette. The upper level is reached along the balcony on the third floor that runs the length of the terrace.

Lansbury Estate 16

At the end of Ricardo Street, turn south into Bygrove Street and these three storey blocks line the street which comprise two storey maisonettes with a flat above on the top floor (number 20 on the map).

Lansbury Estate 17

The construction of these four and three storey buildings was to the same standard and consisted of foundations of mass concrete with piling where required, external walls of load bearing brick with London brick on the exterior facing. Fire resistant construction between individual flats and maisonettes along with sound insulation – all aimed at improving the safety and living standards of those who would be living in Lansbury.

Roofing was in Welsh Slate and windows were metal in wooden frames.

At the end of Bygrove Street we are back into Grundy Street and in position 22 on the map there is a row of 2 storey terrace houses.

Lansbury Estate 18

At the end of Grundy Street is the large Roman Catholic Church that was under construction at the time of the Festival of Britain. Replacing an earlier church, the new church had seating for 700 people as at the time, Poplar had a large Roman Catholic population and in the years immediately after the opening of the church, attendance would often reach 1,000 people.

The architect of the church was A. Gilbert Scott. The overall shape of the church was based on a Greek cross, and exterior of the building was faced with stone coloured bricks with the roof being covered in Lombardic styles tiles – a very different style to the rest of Lansbury and to the Trinity Church, which along with the central position of the church within the Lansbury estate made the church a key landmark within and from the outside of the estate.

Lansbury Estate 19

Now walk past the church and into Canton Street and in position 27 on the map are more two storey terrace houses. The opposite side of the road has buildings of recent construction which I will return to later.

Lansbury Estate 20

Follow the map and cut through into Pekin Street and there are more two storey houses, but of a different design. Point 30 on the map and described as “linked houses”. Not exactly terrace, rather semi-detached houses linked together by a smaller, two storey build.

Lansbury Estate 21

Now at the junction of Pekin Street and Saracen Street we can look across to the three storey flats marked as 32 on the map.

Lansbury Estate 22

Following the map and walking past these flats, a large, green space with mature trees (almost certainly planted at the time of construction) opens out. As can be seen from the photos, there is a good amount of open space, trees, hedges and grass across the Lansbury estate, with the level of green on the exhibition map showing the planners intention that there should be plenty of open space, gardens and grass across the estate.

Lansbury Estate 23

Having reached the open space we can see the tallest buildings constructed as part of the original development, the six storey flats shown at point 33 in the map.

The architect for these flats was Sidney Howard of the Housing and Valuation Department of the London County Council.

The six storey flats have lifts and each flat was equipped with a solid smokeless fuel fire and back boiler in the living room or bed-sitting room. This combination provided hot water to the bathroom, hand-basin and the kitchen sink.  The flats had a hot water tank in the linen cupboard providing an immediate supply of hot water. Electric power points were installed in each room.

Lansbury Estate 24

The recommended walk then passes through to Canton Street with the main exit and the bus departure point which was located at point 36. This has since been built over with later flats with a slightly different style but following the overall format of the estate.

Lansbury Estate 25

Rather than walk back to the Exhibition Pavilion as suggested by the recommended route, I decided to take a walk along some of the other streets in the Lansbury estate which were not on the exhibition’s recommended route.

This is the northern section of Saracen Street and shows the three storey buildings marked 28 on the map. These builds provided maisonettes and flats.

Lansbury Estate 26

At the end of Saracen Street is the junction with Hind Grove. This is the view looking back down Saracen Street and shows the proximity of this area of Poplar with the towers of the Canary Wharf development.

Lansbury Estate 27

The building on the corner is now the Hind Grove Food and Wine store but was originally a pub marked as number 15 on the map at the junction of Hind Grove and Saracen Street.

Lansbury Estate 28

This is the drawing of the pub from the exhibition guide (the caption references Hind Street, however in the 1940 Bartholomew map and on today’s maps the street is called Hind Grove).

Lansbury Estate 45

Follow Hind Grove along and this is now the view. In the exhibition map, the buildings marked at number 26 were on this site. This was originally the Cardinal Griffen Secondary School. a large school built as part of the overall development of the Lansbury estate.

Lansbury Estate 29

The Cardinal Griffen Secondary School was designed for the Archdiocese of Westminster and the London County Council by David Stokes, to accommodate 450 children aged between eleven and fifteen.

The school consisted of a gym, assembly hall, dining room, staff room, medical room, general class rooms and specialised classrooms for crafts and sciences. The school was constructed of a reinforced concrete frame and brick walls with large areas of glass to provide lots of natural light to the classrooms. Load bearing walls were kept to the outside of the structure thereby giving the freedom for future reconfiguration of the internal space of the school without the need for major building works.

The following extract from the exhibition guide shows the school  with the playing fields running along the edge of Canton Street.

Lansbury Estate 52

The school was renamed as the Blessed John Roche Catholic School in 1991 and closed in 2005 with new housing built on the site of the school and across the playing fields. This included the new building facing onto Canton Street mentioned earlier.

One school that is still here is the original Ricardo Street Primary School – now named the Lansbury Lawrence Primary School. Named after George Lansbury and Susan Lawrence, a Labour MP and member of the local council in Poplar at the time when George Lansbury was challenging central government by refusing to set a rate due to the unfairness of charging the poor.

The entrance to the Lansbury Lawrence Primary School on Cordelia Street is shown in the photo below. Designed by the architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardell, construction of the school consisted of a steel framework faced with concrete slabs along with London bricks. Large areas of glass provided plenty of natural lighting to the school as can be seen in the photo.

Lansbury Estate 30

The original model of the school is shown in the following photo and shows the long row of classrooms with large windows providing plenty of natural light. The entrance to the school shown in my photo above is in the top right corner of the model.

Lansbury Estate 53

That was the end of my walk around the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture site, but what was the outcome of the exhibition?

When the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture was being planned, expected visitor numbers were in the order of 10,000 to 25,000 a day, however by the time the exhibition closed the average daily attendance at the exhibition pavilions was 580. This low attendance should really have been anticipated:

  • there was very limited advertising for the exhibition and it had a low key opening
  • travel out to Lansbury was not that easy with a boat journey followed by buses being provided by the exhibition organisors
  • it was a specialist exhibition, probably only of interest to those in the architectural and building professions and the limited numbers within the population with an interest in architecture and the future of towns and cities
  • the Exhibition of Architecture in Poplar, could not compete with the excitement of the rather more central locations of the main festival site on the South Bank and the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea

The impact of the Lansbury development was also unpopular with many of the existing residents. A large number of people needed to be moved to allow for rebuilding to take place. By November 1950, 533 people had been relocated, however the London County Council policy was that people would be relocated to the next available accommodation. This meant that the original population of the Lansbury site could be scattered across London. This was made worse when the new Lansbury buildings were ready for occupation as priority was not given to original residents, rather Lansbury became part of the overall LCC pool of housing with residents being matched to accommodation based on availability and need.

The general view of the architecture at Lansbury was that it was “worthy but dull”. Whilst the estate consisted of buildings ranging from two storey houses up to six storey flats, the overall design was much the same and the use of the same coloured brick for the external finish to the majority of the buildings resulted in a lack of architectural diversity across Lansbury – this can still be seen walking the estate today, as shown in my photos.

Following closure of the Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury became just another of the many London County Council development sites, with construction of the wider site continuing for the following decades, filling in the area between the Market and the East India Dock Road, building north to the Limehouse Cut and west to Burdett Road.

The area was also hit badly during the 1970s and 80s by the closure of the London Docks. Unemployment and a growing backlog of maintenance work across the estate contributed to an environment where drug dealing and crime took hold across the estate. The Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (Poplar harca) was established in the mid 1990’s and a considerable amount of work has taken place since to repair and refurbish the existing housing stock, build new housing, address unemployment issues etc.

Many of the principles on show at Lansbury, such as the use of mainly low-rise housing and green space was used in the new towns that were being built across the country and walking through the market / shopping centre at Chrisp Street will show similarities with shopping centres at new towns such as Harlow.

As with the majority of London, time does not stand still for Lansbury and today the Chrisp Street market area is threatened with a range of new developments.

A much shorter post in the next couple of days will include some final information about Lansbury.

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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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 17

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).

Festival Pleasure Gardens 38

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:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 25

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:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 14

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 27

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:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 7

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 12

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).

Festival Pleasure Gardens 28

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 29

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 30

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 31

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 3

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 19

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 24

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

The Crescent on the far western edge of the Pleasure Gardens:

The Pleasure Gardens also had a boating lake, just to the right of the Fun Fair and marked as number 30 in the map of the site. From the photo below there looks to have been a model village built around part of the boating lake:

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 39

Festival Pleasure Gardens 40

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:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 41

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 34

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 22

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.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 15

Festival Pleasure Gardens 16

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 display in the Science Museum of the Periodic Table is shown in the following photo. I wish I had a colour copy as I suspect different colours were used to highlight different clusters of elements. The Festival of Britain used some very creative techniques to graphically display complex information.

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.

Exhibition of Science 2

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.

Exhibition of Science 3

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.

Exhibition of Science 4

Leland Instruments Ltd – cannot find anything about this company.

Exhibition of Science 5

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.

Exhibition of Science 6

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.

Exhibition of Science 7

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.

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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.

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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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A colour photo from the time of the festival looking along Belvedere Road. The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion is the building on the left, between the large tent and the railway viaduct.

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.

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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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