Category Archives: Events and Ceremonies

Photos and stories from events and ceremonies within London

A Walk Round The Festival Of Britain – The Upstream Circuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the above photo there is a large sculpture just to the right of centre in front of the Dome. This is The Islanders by Siegfried Charoux. The large stone relief was intended to portray the struggle and resilience of the British people. The following photo shows The Islanders in detail:

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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A colour photo of roughly the same area which was probably taken from the roof of the York Road entrance building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The same view today.

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

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

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

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

The site of the 51 Bar today:

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

We now head into Pavilion 6, Sea and Ships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pavilion - Transport Pavilion 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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View today from roughly the same location:

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

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

Pavilion - Dome 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The plaque reads:

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

Chairman of the London County Council Walter R. Owen

Chairman of the South Bank sub-committee J. Hayward

Chairman of the Central Purpose Committee Edwin Bayliss 

Clerk of the Council J.R. Howard Roberts

Chief Engineer J. Rawlinson

Contractors Richard Costain Limited

Granite Supplier Cooper Wettern & Co Limited

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

 

The Festival Of Britain South Bank Exhibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background to the Festival of Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within London there were a number of main events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lion and the Unicorn

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

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

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

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

The attributes that the pavilion presented were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designing the Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit to the Festival on the South Bank

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

The map below shows the Festival site:

Festival of Britain Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Festival of Britain 64

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

The Massey Shaw Fireboat – On The River Thames, 29th December 2015

The weather in December seemed to be an endless run of overcast days and rain and in the run up to the 29th December 2015, I was checking the weather forecast on a daily basis and much to my surprise the forecast looked to be gradually improving with finally a sunny day forecast along with this December’s unusually very mild temperatures.

When the day arrived, and as the last of the overnight rain cleared, I made my way to the Isle of Dogs on a very quiet Underground and Docklands Light Railway, reaching South Quay just as the first hint of the dawn sun broke the dark of night.

The Massey Shaw fireboat is moored in the South Dock on the edge of the main Canary Wharf office complex. The plan for the day was to leave South Dock after nine and then travel up to central London to carry out some demonstrations of the Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capabilities during the early afternoon as part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the 29th December 1940.

With the original 1935 engines running, and the expert volunteer crew having run through the process of preparing the boat for the day, pulling up the anodes, lifting the fenders and casting off the ropes, the Massey Shaw edged out into the South Dock as the December sun lit up the buildings of Canary Wharf.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 1

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London has the mooring position of the Massey Shaw highlighted with an arrow and shows the entrance to the Thames through the locks at the South Dock entrance which is still the route through to the river.

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The locks are essential to maintain the water level in the docks whilst the height of the river fluctuates with the tides. At the time we left it was low tide so whilst the Massey Shaw waited in the lock, the water level dropped as water drained out into the river.

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With the level of the water within the lock having dropped to that of the river, the lock gates start to open and the River Thames opens up.

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Leaving the lock. It was fascinating to think of all the ships that have passed through this entrance coming from, and departing to, the rest of the world when these docks were in use.

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Moving out into the river. The weak December sunshine was a very welcome sight.

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Passing Greenwich.

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The route into London gave me an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Massey Shaw and how the boat steers and handles on the river and we had soon passed through central London, and reached Lambeth, opposite the old headquarters of the London Fire Service. Turning round, it was now the run back to the City and demonstration of Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capability.

Passing under Lambeth Bridge.

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The London Eye.

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Approaching Hungerford Bridge, it was time to test the Monitor. The Monitor is the steerable, high pressure jet which is a permanent fixture on deck. Additional water jets and hoses can be connected to the outlets running along the edge of deck, dependent on the type of fire.

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Switching one of the engines to power one of the water pumps results in a high pressure jet which can easily be directed towards a fire.

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The pressure of the jet is such that it was used not only to pour water onto a fire, but also to knock down walls where these had been left in a dangerous condition, or to provide a firebreak between buildings to prevent a fire spreading. Coming up to Southwark Bridge.

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The monitor can be positioned at a high angle with the jet then able to reach the upper floors of the warehouses bordering the Thames, or onto ships.

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The Massey Shaw then carried out the first demonstration in front of the location of Dowgate Fire Station, however the light was much better for the second demonstration so I will cover later in the post.

After the first demonstration it was back to moor on a swinging mooring at Bankside with the weather continuing to improve.

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Passing under the Millennium Bridge provided a unique view of this foot bridge.

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A good opportunity to enjoy the river and city in late December sunshine.

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A visit by the RNLI Tower lifeboat.

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The RNLI depart.

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Now heading back to the second demonstration, powering up and testing the water jet whilst passing Queenhithe. The attention to detail during the restoration was such that although a post war wheelhouse has been added, the lifebuoy is in the same position as when the Massey Shaw was operational – see the photos from the 2nd World War in yesterday’s post.

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Standing off the location of Dowgate Fire Station, and adjacent to the railway bridge into Cannon Street station, the Massey Shaw gave the main display using her on deck Monitor.

The Merryweather pumps on the Massey Shaw are each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through the main Monitor and the other deck outlets. This equates to an incredible 11 tons of water an hour.

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The following video shows the Massey Shaw in action.

Although the many warehouses that ran along the Thames have long since disappeared, the river edge continues to be populated with buildings that edge directly onto the river. These buildings, along with the many different types of craft that continue to travel along the river require the ongoing support of a Fire Service that can approach a fire from the river and support their land based colleagues, as well as providing rescue services on the river.

As part of the commemorations on the 29th December 2015, the Fire Dart, one of the fire boats currently in service with the London Fire Brigade arrived to demonstrate current fire fighting capabilities.

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Although of a very different design and using completely different construction materials, the function is basically the same – pump large volumes of water from the river at high pressure onto a fire.

Note also the very different uniforms of the crew compared to the wartime Massey Shaw (see yesterday’s post) where today life saving and protection from water and the elements are essential functions of the clothing worn by the crew. Comparing the uniforms of today with that of the men who fought fires during the war or sailed to Dunkirk in what appears to be have been little more than a thick jacket and trousers and a flat hat only adds to my admiration of these early fire fighters.

The Fire Dart, one of two current London Fire Brigade fire boats based at Lambeth at the river fire station demonstrating the use of their water jet.

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The main monitor on the Fire Dart is more flexible than that on the Massey Shaw in terms of the type of water jet that can be swiftly delivered. The jet can be quickly changed from delivering a single high pressure jet for force and distance, through to a cloud of water spray.

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The Fire Dart in front of London Bridge.

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Watching the Fire Dart run through its demonstration.

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Now both the Massey Shaw and the Fire Dart run up their main deck Monitors.

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The two jets at full pressure. Although the Fire Dart has more flexibility in how the water jet can be configured, the Massey Shaw jet appeared to be capable of slightly higher pressure, reaching higher than the Fire Dart.

Amazing to see two fire boats in actions, although 80 years separate their design, construction and materials, they are still performing the same basic function.

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The Fire Dart having finished demonstrating 2015 fire fighting capabilities, now heading back to Lambeth.

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It was then time to head back to the Isle of Dogs and enjoy the river and views of London on a very mild December afternoon.

Passing HMS Belfast on the river in a relatively low craft gives an appreciation of the size of the Belfast not always appreciated from the shore. It also gives an indication of what it must have been like to approach a large cargo ship in difficulties or on fire in the much smaller Massey Shaw.

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Approaching Tower Bridge.

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Looking down the river towards Rotherhithe.

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And a final view back towards the City.

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Passing Greenwich and approaching Greenwich Power Station.

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Running between the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsula. I could not quite believe that this was late December.

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The flag of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

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All too soon we had returned to the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. Since departing, the tide had risen and there was some discussion as to whether the Massey Shaw would fit under the bridge, even with the mast on the wheel house lowered.

Although the bridge states West India Dock, as can be seen from the 1940 map shown at the start of this post, this is the entrance to the South Dock, with the West India Docks (import and export) being the two more northerly docks, although they are interconnected. Manchester Road is the road passing over this bridge.

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In the end, the safest decision was to raise the bridge to allow the Massey Shaw to enter the lock without any risk.Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 35

It was a remarkable day out and hopefully a fitting tribute to those who worked on the Massey Shaw on the 29th December 1940.

The attention to detail during the restoration means that being on, and seeing the Massey Shaw in action is as close to experiencing the fireboat as it would have been in 1940 as it is possible to get.

It was a fantastic experience on a mild and calm sunny day, but consider what it must have been like for fire fighters on the boat on a cold winters night, soaked by the mist from the water jets, fighting fires as the City continued to be bombed with smoke and burning embers being blown across the river.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for the day, and to the whole volunteer crew who provided a wealth of information on the history of the Massey Shaw and the operation of the boat.

I hope that yesterday and today’s posts have provided some insight into this historic craft.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here for more details of events and how to support this remarkable craft.

alondoninheritance.com

The Massey Shaw Fireboat – A Brief History

Last Tuesday, the 29th December 2015, was the 75th anniversary of one of the heaviest attacks on London during the 2nd World War. I featured this event last year in a post on the 29th December along with one on the St. Paul’s Watch, whose actions contributed to the preservation of the Cathedral when large areas of the rest of the City were destroyed by incendiary bombs.

Along with the St. Paul’s Watch, the Fire Services worked throughout the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940 to prevent the many fires from spreading and to gradually bring them under control. The Fire Services worked at considerable danger from falling bombs, collapsing buildings and the risk of being cut off by rapidly spreading fires.

Through the night of the 29th December 1940 the availability of water was a problem. Bombing destroyed water mains and the many pumps drawing water from the working water mains considerably reduced the water pressure.

Hundreds of land based pumps were used and to help with the provision of supplies of water, the London Fire Service’s Fireboats were used to pump water from the Thames ashore.

To commemorate the events of the 29th December 1940 and the bravery of the Fire Services a number of events were held in the City of London last Tuesday, including displays of Fire Engines from the time, and a procession of Fire Engines through the City at the same time as  the sounding of the original air raid sirens in 1940.

As well as the displays on land, the Massey Shaw, the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War put on a display on the Thames by the bridge into Cannon Street Station and Dowgate Fire Station.

I was very fortunate to be on board the Massey Shaw for the day’s events and for this weekend I have two posts about this remarkable vessel. Today, providing a brief history of the Massey Shaw and tomorrow the voyage out on the 29th December 2015.

The Massey Shaw was one of several fireboats constructed to broadly the same design for the London Fire Brigade, with the Massey Shaw being completed by J. Samuel White & Co at Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 1935. Such was their importance that in 1939, with the war looming, the London County Council placed an order for twenty Fire Boats which all saw action along the length of the Thames, including one being sunk by a bomb at Thames Haven.

Named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the first chief fire officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (from 1861 to 1891), the Massey Shaw was designed with a shallow draught to allow access along the Thames, under bridges and into the creeks feeding into the river at nearly all states of tide.

The following photo shows the Massey Shaw along with two other fireboats in the Thames at Lambeth in front of the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade. Their low design ensures they can pass under bridges in almost all states of the tide.

Massey Shaw History 1

Fireboats were an essential tool in the ability of the Fire Services to fight fires on and along the river. In 1935 the banks of the Thames was still occupied by large numbers of warehouses storing vast amounts of combustible materials and often access from the river was the only means of fighting fires in these warehouses, and the river also provided a readily available source of water.

Large numbers of ships carrying all types of cargo also presented a fire risk both along the Thames and when moored up in the Docks and along the river edge.

The Massey Shaw was equipped with two, 8-cylinder diesel engines which would either drive the boat, or could be switched over to power two Merryweather centrifugal pumps each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through to the deck fire fighting equipment.

On deck was a large 3-inch Monitor (a steerable, high pressure water jet) along with banks of water outlets on either side of the deck which could be used to set up additional high pressure water jets, or to pump water from the river to land.

It was the ability to pump water from the Thames through hoses to land which was of such importance on the night of the 29th December 1940. Not only was there limited water available from water mains, but it was also a low tide so access to water from the banks of the river was difficult. Having a Fireboat which could moor in water and pump to shore was essential in fighting fires on the night and protecting St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The Massey Shaw was one of several boats that pumped water from the Thames to the streets of the City on the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940.

The following photo shows how hoses would be rowed ashore to connect to hoses run along the streets providing additional supplies, or to replace water from the water mains. It is interesting to see in this picture that land based firemen would have the traditional helmet and the firemen on the fireboats would have flat hats which would have provided very little protection.

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The Massey Shaw could also moor along side and deliver water as shown in the following photo taken at Westminster Pier.

Massey Shaw History 2

War service for the Massey Shaw started before the bombing of London as the Massey Shaw was one of the little ships that played such a key role in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The intention was originally for the Massey Shaw to fight fires at Dunkirk, however on arrival she was put to use ferrying troops from the beaches out to waiting ships, her shallow draft enabling the Massey Shaw to approach much closer to the waiting troops in Dunkirk harbour and the beaches.

The Massey Shaw made three round trips from Ramsgate to Dunkirk bringing back 110 troops in addition to those that she had ferried out to the larger shipping.

The book “Fire Service Memories” by Sir Aylmer Firebrace includes an account of the Dunkirk operation:

“Here, in its chronological position is a brief account of ‘excursion to hell’ (to use Mr J.B. Priestley’s graphic phrase) of the fire boat Massey Shaw, in which she played a gallant part in rescuing, from under the noses of dive-bombing Stukas, some of the 300,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force who were patiently and perilously waiting on the Dunkirk beaches.

The Massey Shaw, with a volunteer amateur pilot on board, arrived at Ramsgate on 31st May 1940. She made three trips to Dunkirk, bringing ninety-six men back on board and transferring five hundred others to larger vessels. It is believed that she was the last of the small boats to leave Dunkirk harbour. Whilst troops, British and French, were being taken off the beaches, heavy bombing was proceeding, air battles were being fought overhead, and the whole coast for many miles presented a panorama of raging fire and sullen smoke.

The embarkation bristled with difficulties; always there was the imminent danger of the fire boat going aground, and so becoming a total loss. The Dunkirk task completed, the Massey Shaw was on her way back to London, when, only two hundred yards away from her, the Emile de Champs, a French auxiliary vessel, struck a mine and sank within two minutes. Forty survivors, many of them in need of immediate attention, were picked up and transferred to H.M.S. Albury, a mine sweeper 

Vice-Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsey, K.C.B., Flag Officer commanding Dover wrote in the London Gazette of 17th July 1947:

‘Of the civilian-manned craft one of the best performances was that of the London Fire Brigade fire boat, Massey Shaw. All the volunteer crew were members of the London Fire Brigade or Auxiliary Fire Service, and they succeeded in doing three round trips to the beaches in their well-found craft'”

The Massey Shaw returns from Dunkirk on the 4th June, 1940.

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The Massey Shaw taking a fast ruin along the Thames. Greenwich Power Station is to the left.

Massey Shaw History 3Another photo of the Massey Shaw. The layout of the boat is much the same today, the only significant difference being the open steering position was replaced after the war by an enclosed wheel house.

Massey Shaw History 4The Massey Shaw fighting a warehouse fire using the main Monitor to fire a high pressure water jet. This photo illustrates how a river based craft can be far more effective at fighting fires along the river edge. Fully self contained and floating on an unlimited supply of water, the fire boat was a highly effective machine for fighting this type of fire.

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The Massey Shaw continued in operational service until being decommissioned in 1971. Left to gradually deteriorate in St. Katherine Docks, the Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Trust was formed to rescue and preserve the boat.

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled a full restoration to be carried out in 2012/13 and the Massey Shaw is now back to a fully operational status, with the majority of the boat still being of the original materials and construction.

The current mooring position of the Massey Shaw is in the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. The following photo taken before setting out shows the deck of the Massey Shaw with the main water outlets.

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The permanent main Monitor is in the centre, just in front of the wheel house.

On both sides of the deck are four banks of deck connections with the outlets painted red. These are to provide water supplies for additional Monitors on the boat, or to connect hoses to provide a water supply to the shore.

The deck connections with the outlets painted black are for salvage work as the Massey Shaw also has the ability to suck water out of a stricken vessel.

The windows in the foreground provide light into the engine room directly below and can be opened to provide ventilation.

The following photo shows all the deck outlets in use to provide an additional 8 Monitors along the side of the boat.

Massey Shaw History 6The Massey Shaw continues to be powered by the two original diesel engines. Under normal operation, these both drive the boat at a full speed of up to 12 knots.

When fighting a fire, one engine would be switched to pump water with the remaining engine providing power to hold the boat in position. If the boat could be moored or anchored then both engines would be switched to pumping water enabling all the deck outlets to be used.

The engine room with the engines in magnificent condition after restoration.

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Indicator dials showing the vacuum created by the pumps when suction was needed to pump water from a vessel during salvage, and also the pressure in pounds per inch of the pump when supplying water.

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The heavy pipework and controls needed to transport the water under high pressure from the pumps to the deck.

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Working in the engine room with all engines and pumps working flat out was very noisy. Ear protectors are an essential aid, although nothing like these would have been in use in the 1940s.

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Signalling between the wheel house and the engine room continues to use the original system of bells and dials to indicate to the engineer in the engine room what power and direction is required from the  engines.

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The experience of being on the Massey Shaw along the Thames highlighted the considerable skill required to control the boat.

Whilst the shallow draft is excellent for navigating shallow water, it also reduces the water resistance so any wind has more of an impact. Due to the size of the boat and limited rudder size, there is a delay between turning the wheel and the boat starting to turn, and as the Captain does not have direct control of engine power, there is a further delay between requesting a change in power and the engines responding.

Keeping in position when fighting a large warehouse fire or manoeuvring in the Dunkirk harbour whilst under attack would have required a considerable amount of skill and experience.

The original indicator panel in the engine room showing the status of the navigation lights made by Siemens Brothers of London.

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The crew cabin of the Massey Shaw has a number of commemorative plaques as shown in the photo below.

The large plaque at the top was made just after Dunkirk, and the plaque below this details the names of the crew of the Massey Shaw at the time of Dunkirk.

Surrounding these are plaques presented to the Massey Shaw for the various commemoration visits to Dunkirk. The round plaque to the left commemorates the 2015 visit to Dunkirk on the 75th anniversary.

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As the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War, the Massey Shaw is a very graphic reminder of the engineering used at the time and the bravery of the crews who manned these boats that were so critical to the protection of London.

To have the Massey Shaw in a museum would be good, but to have the boat as a fully working craft able to demonstrate how fire boats operated at the time is remarkable.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for much of the information and photos used in this article (although any errors in recording this information are my responsibility). Other sources of information include the book Fire Service Memories by Sir Aylmer Firebrace published in 1949, which is highly recommended for an in depth account of the fire services up to and including the 2nd World War.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here and provides further information on the history, restoration and current operations of the Massey Shaw.

Join me in tomorrow’s post for a trip down the Thames on the Massey Shaw and a demonstration of fire fighting capabilities from both 1940 and 2015.

alondoninheritance.com

Hole In The Wall Passage And The Cato Street Conspiracy

London always surprises, I thought the search for this location would be simple, but I found a lost passageway and a 19th century plot to murder the government of the country.

This is one of the photos my father took across London just after the last war showing one of the many locations devastated by bombing.

Hole In The Wall PassageFinding this location should have been easy, the photo provides the name and the borough, however I could not find Hole In The Wall Passage on any of my maps from either before or after the last war.

I found one of the few references to the location of Hole In The Wall Passage in “A Topographical Dictionary of London And Its Environs”, by James Elmes published in 1831:

“Hole in the Wall Passage or Alley, Leather Lane, is about 12 houses on the left hand in Baldwin’s Gardens going from Leather Lane.” 

There was also a pub called the Hole In The Wall at 21 Baldwin Gardens during the 18th and 19th centuries. Was the pub named after the passage or the passage named after the pub?

The only reference I can find to Hole In The Wall Passage being shown on a map is from the National Archives where there is a document from the 26th February 1955  covering the following legislation:

Rights of Way: Stopping up of Highways (London) (No. 13) Order, 1955; Statutory Instrument 1955, No. 352; Location: Hole-in-the-Wall Passage, Baldwin’s Place and Verulam Street in the Metropolitan Borough of Holborn in the County of London

which covered the complete closure, or partial stopping up of a number of public spaces in the area. This confirms when Hole In The Wall Passage finally disappeared. Unfortunately, the National Archives record has not been digitised, so it will have to wait for a visit when hopefully I will finally see a map with Hope In The Wall Passage marked.

Despite the fact that Hole In The Wall Passage had almost certainly disappeared, I still wanted to see the location to check if there was any remaining indication that it had been there. I walked down Baldwin’s Gardens from Grays Inn Road only to find the road blocked and rebuilding taking place where Hole In The Wall Passage would have been located.

Hole in the Wall 4

Hole In The Wall Passage would have been roughly where the middle of the new steel work is located.

Looking back at my father’s original photo, I believe the photo was taken on Hole in The Wall Passage looking towards Baldwin’s Gardens. The mounting of the sign looks temporary and it may have been placed across the passageway to mark the original location. The name sign looks as if it has suffered some damage and may have been the original wall mounted sign.

If you look back at the original photo, you can just see some flats in the background. These are still there. I took the following photo through the fencing surrounding a primary school playground from Baldwin’s Gardens:

Hole in the Wall 5

I walked down to Dorrington Street which would have been the other end of Hole In The Wall Passage through Leigh Place. This is also a narrow alley and gives an indication of what Hole In The Wall Passage may have looked like:

Hole in the Wall 6

One of the other references I found for Hole in the Wall Passage was in “London” by George H. Cunningham, published in 1927, which provided a rather sinister reference to the passageway:

“It was here in 1820 that the Cato Street conspiracy was formed to kill Wellington, Canning, Eldon and other Cabinet Ministers. The arms and powder were kept here.”

So what was the Cato Street conspiracy and what part did Hole In The Wall Passage play?

The later part of the 18th century and early part of the 19th century was a time of considerable change in the country. The industrial revolution was now well underway, the Napoleonic wars had finished, people were moving from the countryside to the towns, there was inflation and food shortages.

In the last decade of the 18th century there were riots and destruction of some of the new industrial infrastructure with the government’s response being the Combination Act of 1799 which outlawed the gathering of working men for common purpose. This was followed by the rise of the Luddite movement which started in 1811 and violently put down with show trials and harsh penalties in 1813.

One of the London radicals who protested against the conditions being imposed by  government was Arthur Thislewood, and it was Thislewood who led the Cato Street conspirators, so named after their meeting place prior to their attempt to murder many members of the government.

Thislewood had intelligence that the Cabinet were meeting at Lord Harrowby’s home in Grosvenor Square. The plan was to burst into the meeting, murder the Cabinet members, behead them and then parade their heads on spikes through London.

Among the group of almost thirty conspirators there was a spy who passed on details of Thistlewood’s plan. A contingent of police later supported by soldiers stormed the conspirators meeting place in Cato Street, resulting in the arrest of the majority, including one named Tidd who lived in Hole In the Wall Passage.

From “An Authentic History Of The Cato Street Conspiracy” by George Theodore Wilkinson published soon after the trial of the conspirators in 1820:

“The following account of Richard Tidd was given about the period of his arrest. He was about 50 years of age, and lived with his wife and family in a small and miserable dwelling in Hole-in-the-Wall Passage, leading from Baldwin’s Gardens to Dorrington Street. His family consisted of one daughter and two orphan children, whom he had taken under his care.

He had been esteemed among his neighbours, and those who had employed him in his trade, as an industrious sober man, and an excellent workman. He had earned by his own hands forty shillings a week, and very often a greater sum. During the whole course of his life, he was never known to neglect his work, or become inebriated; but with the last week he had been in a drunken state and his family had been at a lost to account for the extraordinary change in his conduct.

On Wednesday night, three men came to Tidd whilst in such a state of drunkenness as scarcely to be able to keep his legs, and forced him away, notwithstanding the earnest entreaties and remonstrances of his wife and family. Nothing was said by the men who took him away, as to their object either to the wife or any one in the house; and during the whole night, and the greater part of the next day, they were in total ignorance of the circumstances since disclosed, and were at a loss to account for the absence of Tidd. In the morning (Thursday), between seven and eight o’clock, two men came to the house, laden with a box of considerable size, and, putting It down on the floor said “they would call in a few minutes for it.” The men refused to answer the interrogatories put to them as to their object in leaving the box, and only repeated, that they would call in a short time, and take it away. Very soon afterwards, two more men came with a large bundle of sticks, some of them of the thickness of a man’s wrist. these were left in a similar manner, and the men also refused to answer any questions, saying only, that they would call again for them in a few minutes. ten minutes had not elapsed before two police-officers entered the house and seized the box and sticks. When opened , the box was discovered to contain a great number of pike-heads, sharpened ready for use. The sticks were also seized, and carried away by the officers. It would appear, from this statement that Tidd was taken by the three men whom we have described to the stable in Cato Street, where he was subsequently apprehended, and carried to Bow Street, together with several others.”

So that is the connection between the Hole In the Wall Passage and the Cato Street Conspiracy.

The book on the Cato Street Conspiracy is a wonderfully dramatic account of the event, the title page gives an indication of what is to come:

cato book 1

The opening paragraphs sets the scene:

“On the morning of Thursday the 24th of February 1820, the metropolis was thrown into the greatest consternation and alarm, by the intelligence, that, in the course of the preceding evening, a most atrocious plot to overturn the government of the country, had been discovered, but which, by the prompt measures directed by the privy council, who remained sitting the greatest part of night, had been happily destroyed by the arrest and dispersion of the conspirators. Before day-light the following proclamation was placarded in all the leading places in and about London ;-

LONDON GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY

Thursday, February 24, 1820

Whereas Artuhur Thistlewood stands charged with high treason, and also the wilful murder of Richard Smithers, a reward of One Thousand Pounds is hereby offered to any person or persons who shall discover or apprehend, the said Arthur Thistlewood, to be paid by the lords commissioners of his majesty’s treasury; upon his being apprehended and lodged in any of his Majesty’s gaols. And all persons are hereby cautioned upon their allegiance not to receive or harbour the said Arthur Thistlewood, as any person offending herein will be thereby guilty of high treason. “

Later in the book there is an account of the storming of the assembly place of the conspirators in Cato Street:

“The officers, with a resolution and courage which does them honour, considering the desperation and determination of these characters immediately ascended the ladder without securing the persons below. They merely gave directions to those who followed, to keep them secure, and they thought that would be enough, without actually confining them. The first man who went up was a person of the name of Ruthven, he was followed by a man named Ellis: after who came a man named Smithers, who met his death by the hand of Thistlewood.

On Smithers ascending the ladder, either Ings or Davidson hallooed out from below, as a signal for them to be on their guard above, and upon Ruthven ascending the ladder, Thistlewood, who was at a little distance from the landing place, and who was distinctly seen, for there were several lights in the place, receded a few paces, and the police-officers announced who they were, and demanded a surrender. Smithers unfortunately pressed forward in the direction in which Thistlewood had retreated, into one of the small rooms over the coach-house, when Thistlewood drew back his arm, in which there was a sword, and made a thrust at the unfortunate man, Smithers, who received a wound near his heart, and, with only time to exclaim, “Oh God !” he fell a lifeless corpse into the arms of Ellis. Ellis seeing this blow given by Thistlewood, immediately discharged a pistol at him, which missed its aim. Great confusion followed, the lights were struck out; the officers were forced down the ladder, which was so precipitous, being almost perpendicular, that they fell, and many of the party followed them.

Thistlewood, among the rest, came down the ladder; and not satisfied with the blood of one person, he shot at another of the officers as he came down the ladder, and pressed through the stable, cutting at all who attempted to oppose him, and made his escape out into John Street, the military not having yet arrived; and he was seen no more at that time, except with a sword in his hand in the Edgware Road. By the other persons an equally desperate resistance was made.

Conscious of the evil purpose for which they had assembled, they waited not to know on what charge they were about to be apprehended; but instantly made a most desperate resistance. Ings, Davidson and Wilson were particularly desperate, each, I believe, firing at some of the officers or military, who had only come to the ground on hearing the report of the fire-arms and not having been previously directed to the exact spot.

Not withstanding the resistance, however, which they so desperately made, and in which resistance Thistlewood, Tidd, Davidson, Ings and Wilson took a most active part, by attacking the officers and solders, the whole of the conspirators were, at length, fortunately overcome, and eventually eleven of them secured. Not on that night, however, for three out of the eleven for the time escaped, namely Thistlewood, Brunt, and Harrison. The officers, however not only secured on that night the eight men, but various articles of fire-arms, numerous weapons, and certain combustibles.”

The point where the officers storm the meeting place of the conspirators in Cato Street is captured in the following drawing:

Catostconspirators

The building where the conspirators met and these events took place in Cato Street is still there, now with a blue plaque recording the event:

Hole in the Wall 2Cato Street is still a narrow street with entrances at each end through buildings. The entrance to Cato Street from Crawford Place.

Hole in the Wall 3

The penalty for each of the conspirators was very severe, probably to be expected given their intentions, however I was very surprised that this form of execution was still available in 1820. Again, from the account:

“That you, and each of you, be taken from hence to the gaol from whence you came, and from thence that you will be drawn upon a hurdle to a place of execution, and be there hanged by the neck until you be dead; and that afterwards your heads shall be severed from your bodies, and your bodies shall be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of as his majesty sees fit. And may God of his infinite goodness have mercy on your souls !

The prisoners were then removed from the bar; some of them, particularly Thistlewood, Brunt and Davidson, appearing to be wholly unconcerned at the awful sentence which had been passed upon them, and the whole of them evincing great firmness and resignation.

Tidd complained of the immense weight of his irons.”

The executions was carried out shortly after the trial although some of the sentences were changed.

Only Thistlewood, Brunt, Davidson and Tidd were to be executed, the rest of the conspirators had their death sentence commuted to transportation for life.

The death sentence was also changed so that the part which directed that their bodies be quartered was now removed. The book of the conspiracy provides a detailed account of the executions. Given that my search for the Cato Street Conspiracy started with Tidd, who “lived with his wife and family in a small and miserable dwelling in Hole-in-the-Wall Passage” we can follow his last hour:

“Tidd, who had stood in silence, was now summoned to the scaffold. He shook hands with all but Davidson, who had separated himself from the rest.

Ings again seized Tidd’s hand at the moment he was going out, and exclaimed, with a burst of laughter “Give us your hand, Good-bye !”

A tear stood in Tidd’s eye, and his lips involuntarily muttered, “My wife and –!” Ings proceeded – “Come my old cock-o-wax, keep up your spirits it will be over soon.

Tidd immediately squeezed his hand, and ran towards the stars leading to the scaffold. In his hurry, his foot caught the bottom step, and he stumbled. He recovered himself, however, in an instant, and rushed upon the scaffold, where he was immediately received with three cheers from the crowd, in which he made a slight effort to join.

The applause was evidently occasioned by the bold and fearless manner in which the wretched man advanced to his station. He turned to the crowd who were upon Snow Hill, and bowed to them. He then looked down upon the coffins and smiled, and turning round to the people who were collected in the Old Bailey towards Ludgate Hill bowed to them. Several voices were again heard, and some in the crowed expressed their admiration of Tidd’s conduct.

The rope having been put round his neck, he told the executioner that the knot would be better on the right than the left side, and that the pain of dying might be diminished by the change. he then assisted the executioner, and turned round his head several times for the purpose of fitting the rope to his neck. He afterwards familiarly nodded to some one whom he recognised at a window, with an air of cheerfulness. He also desired that the cap might not be put over his eyes, but said nothing more. He likewise had an orange in his hand, which he continued to suck most heartily. He soon became perfectly calm, and remained so till the last moment of his life.”

Mr Richard Tidd of Hole In The Wall Passage. Drawn at the time of his trial:

Tidd 1

I wonder what happened to the family that Tidd left behind? How did they survive and did they still continue living in Hole In The Wall Passage?

I really did not expect to find such a story when I first started researching the location of my father’s original photo. Hole In The Wall Passage has left no trace, but fortunately we can still follow the story of one of the inhabitants.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • London by George Cunningham published in 1927
  • A Topographical Dictionary Of London And Its Environs by James Elmes published in 1831
  • An Authentic History Of The Cato Street Conspiracy by George Theodore Wilkinson

 alondoninheritance.com

Swan Upping

Swan Upping is an event which takes place in the third week of July each year. Dating back many centuries, the event has roots in the Crown’s ownership of all Mute Swans (which dates back to the 12th century), ownership which is shared with two of London’s livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers who were granted rights of ownership in the 15th century.

Swan Upping is the annual search of the Thames for all Mute Swans, originally to ensure their ownership is marked, but today more for conservation purposes (counting the number of swans and cygnets, checking their health, taking measurements etc.), although the year’s new cygnets are still marked.

Six traditional Thames rowing skiffs are used to travel the river. Two for the Queen’s Swan Marker and Royal Swan Uppers and two each for the Vintners and Dyers.

Originally starting in the City of London and running to Henley, Swan Upping now starts in Sunbury and travels the Thames over a 5 day period to finish in Abingdon. The move out of central London was due to the lack of breeding Mute Swans, with the main area for breeding now being further upstream. The Swan Uppers search the river for Mute Swans and their cygnets and on sighting fence the swans in with their boats, then record, mark the cygnets, measure and check their health before moving on.

Swan Upping takes place in the third week of July as by this time cygnets are reasonably well grown but have not yet reached the stage when they can fly.

My father took photos of the event when it still had a City of London start, on Swan Wharf at the end of Swan Lane, near London Bridge. He did not date the photos, but from checking photos on the same strips of negatives, I am reasonably certain that the year was 1953.

This year, in amongst work and other commitments I was able to fit in a visit to Goring in South Oxfordshire to see the Swan Uppers pass through the lock on their way along the Thames.

This is my father’s photo of Mr Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master. He held this position from 1904 to 1960. A remarkable period of time to hold the role and the changes he must have seen along the Thames as Swan Upping was performed each year must have been fascinating.

Swan Upping 4

And today’s Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master at Goring lock.

Swan Upping 20

The cap badge of the Vinters Swan Marker and Barge Master is taken from the armorial bearings of the Vintners Company with the chevron and three wine barrels being used. The swans on either side refer to the ancient rights of the Vinters to own swans on the Thames.

Swan Upping 23

Another photo of Mr Richard Turk:

Swan Upping 5

One of the 1953 Swan Uppers. The flags of the Vinters and Dyers are very similar. The flag on the right is the Dyers flag and on the left is the Vinters.

Swan Upping 6

The first skiff from the Dyers arriving at Goring:

Swan Upping 11

The Dyers flag contains the Dyers armorial bearings which are shown below, and are very similar to that of the Vinters, however barrels are replaced by three bags of madder. (Madder are plants from the genus Rubia and their roots produce a red dye which was used in the dyeing process)

Swan Upping 22

Swan Uppers from the Vinters Company. On the back of this photo my father had written that on the right is Mr E. Lefever and in the centre is Mr G. Cole.

Swan Upping 1Three more boats arriving at Goring lock. The two Vinters boats at the back with one of the Queen’s boats at the front:

Swan Upping 21

Another view taken by my father of one of the Vinters boats. The flags are the same today.

Swan Upping 2

Vinters boat on the left with a Dyers boat on the right. In 1953 Dyers wore caps with the Vinters wearing what looks like some form of woollen conical hats, continuing the same stripes as on the jumpers.

Swan Upping 7

Today, headgear and striped jumpers have been replaced by less colourful attire, however the shirts still bear the badge of the relevant livery company. The Swan Uppers waiting for the lock gates to open on their way further up the Thames.

Swan Upping 17

The Swan Marker and Barge Master of the Dyers Company:

Swan Upping 13

In the following 1953 photo one of the Vinters boats passes one of the barges that lined the banks of the Thames. The reason for Swan Upping now starting in Sunbury was the lack of breeding Mute Swans in central London, however I was surprised that this was only a relatively recent change which implies there were breeding Mute Swans on the river in central London in the post war period. A time when there was far more industry along the banks of the Thames and it was a much dirtier river. I suspect the difference being that the Thames did have many wharfs and gradual foreshore leading up the bank and plenty of inlets whereas the river today through central London now runs through a channel with vertical embankments on either side.

Swan Upping 10

Waiting for the Goring lock gates to open with a cluster of flags:

Swan Upping 16

A Vinters boat with an empty Queen’s boat ready to leave Swan Wharf in 1953:

Swan Upping 9

When swans are caught, the cygnets are marked according to the ownership of their parent birds. Cygnets allocated to the Livery Companies will have rings placed on their legs by the Livery Company swan marker. Swans owned by the Queen are left unmarked. When the parents have different owners, the Cygnets are split between the owners of the parent birds and when there is an odd number, the remaining cygnet will be allocated to the owner of the male bird.

The Queen’s Swan Marker and Barge Master is responsible for establishing ownership of the parent birds.

David Barber, the current Queen’s Swan Marker and Barge Master:

Swan Upping 15

The two Vinters boats having left Goring lock make their way up river:Swan Upping 19

As do the two Dyers boats:

Swan Upping 18

Swans are having a challenging time on the river. On the original route between London and Henley, numbers were low at the start of the last century, but grew steadily till the start of the 2nd World War, when numbers fell, but then rising again to reach more than 1300 birds by the mid 1960s.

Numbers then dropped dramatically, down to only 7 pairs in 1985. The significant reduction attributed to the use of lead weights in fishing, these have now been banned.

Numbers are still low. On the route from Sunbury to Abingdon in 2014 there were 34 broods with 120 cygnets, numbers at the low-end of the past 12 years. This year’s results will be released in the coming week.

It was fascinating to watch this event at Goring. Although Swan Upping has now moved out of central London, the Livery Companies maintain the link with the City and Swan Upping now performs the very important task of monitoring the health and numbers of Mute Swans on the Thames.

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Walking The Streets On The Evening Before The 1981 Royal Wedding

A couple of weeks ago I published the photos my father took of people waiting for the Coronation in 1953. That post can be found here.

Just under 30 years later there was another royal event in central London, and on the evening before people were finding the best position along the route to watch the events of the following day.

This was the wedding of Charles and Diana that took place on the 29th July 1981 and on the evening of the 28th July I took a walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral and along Fleet Street and the Strand to take some photos.

Starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral, this is where the best positions were and large crowds had already found their place ready for an overnight stay.

I must have had a couple of photos left on some Black and White film before moving to colour.

Outside St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Crowds at this perfect position looking across at the steps leading into the Cathedral: Royal Wedding St. Paul'sI must have then switched to a colour film:Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Looking back up Ludgate Hill. Although this was the evening before, the road had been closed and a large number of people were just walking the route, taking in the atmosphere and watching the people who were settling in for the night along the edge of the route. It was a warm evening and I remember there being a real sense of a big event taking place the following day.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

The same view today looking back up Ludgate Hill towards the cathedral. St. Martin Ludgate on the left is still there, along with many of the buildings on the right.

Ludgate Hill

Just to the right in the above photo in 1981:

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

Now in Ludgate Circus. This was when the railway bridge still ran across the start of Ludgate Hill.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

Just to the left of the railway bridge is the Old King Lud pub, decorated for the event. This was a lovely Victorian pub, built-in 1870,

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

After going through some changes in the 1990s, the pub finally closed in 2005 and became yet another of London’s lost Victorian pubs. The site is now occupied by a fast food store with offices above:

Ludgate Circus

Moving up into Fleet Street. This road was still open and the pavements were busy with those walking and those waiting:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

This was when Fleet Street was still occupied by newspaper publishers. The Express offices on the left and those of the Star on the right. I remember walking along Fleet Street and the side roads leading down to the Thames on a late Saturday afternoon / early evening and listening to the sound of the newspapers being printed and the amount of activity to get the next day’s edition distributed. All very exciting when you are young and exploring London.

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Prepared for a night’s wait:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Along the side of the Royal Court’s of Justice:

Royal Wedding Law Courts

The George pub in the Strand which fortunately is still there:

Royal Wedding Strand

Most of the decorations were put up by the owners of the buildings along the route. “Official” street decoration was very limited, mainly these pennants hanging from lamp posts. Union Jacks along with red, white and blue bunting was out in abundance.

Royal Wedding Strand

One of many events that have taken this route to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but a special event for me as this was my first opportunity to get out and photograph the streets and people preparing for the following day.

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2nd June 1953 – Coronation Day In London

The 2nd of June 1953 was Coronation Day in London and a public holiday. As usual for such an event, people started lining the route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey well before the procession to ensure a good position to see the new Queen.

The weather during the previous May had been excellent with lots of warm, sunny weather broken only by the occasional thunderstorm. This weather broke by the end of May, for the last week of May and the rest of June the country was under many low pressure areas moving from the Atlantic bringing cold temperatures for June and rain.

My father took a number of photos of people as they lined the route, along The Mall and round into Trafalgar Square.

These show people wrapped up for the weather and rather more formally dressed than you would find at such an event today.

This photo was taken in The Mall. They look well prepared for the wait. The man is obviously not interested in people watching, he looks engrossed in his book. The group in the background also seem very well prepared judging by the number of boxes they have.

Coronation 1

Sleeping in The Mall:

Coronation 2

Again in The Mall and the crowds are growing. In the top left is the faint outline of one of the arched decorations that spanned The Mall:

Coronation 3

A wider view of a very busy Mall.

Coronation 7

The morning of the 2nd of June was more like an autumn day with rain showers and temperatures reaching only 12 degrees centigrade. Very low for early June.

This is Trafalgar Square. On the left is one of the commentary boxes set-up along the route. This was the first Coronation to be televised.

Coronation 4

Photo of the small group of people on the lion. Not sure how long the man on the far left was going to balance in that precarious position:

Coronation 5

Another view of the same scene:

Coronation 6

These two look cheerful despite the long wait and the weather:

Coronation 8

The newspaper between them was the Daily Mirror from the 29th May. The headline “The Shame Of Piccadilly” and “The rich street forgets” refers to the complete lack of decoration in Piccadilly for the Coronation. There are two photos on the page. The top photo shows Piccadilly without any decoration, the bottom photo shows, what is assumed to be an ordinary working class street decorated with flags and bunting and a Long Live The Queen banner stretched across the road. (I also have a series of photos taken in Hoxton showing the street decorations – a subject for a future post)

Coronation 10

Another group reading and watching the world go by:

Coronation 9

Some of the elaborate decorations that lined the Coronation route:

Coronation 11Coronation 12Coronation 13The expectation at the time was of a new Elizabethan era with comparisons back to Queen Elizabeth 1st as shown by the following tableau along the route of the procession. The text on the left is abbreviated from a speech given by Queen Elizabeth 1st to the Houses of Parliament on April 10th 1593 (1558 was the year that Elizabeth 1st became Queen) and that on the right from Queen Elizabeth 2nd from her first Christmas broadcast in 1952. Coronation 14

For those lining the route of the procession, I suspect that despite the weather, it was an event that was well worth the wait and long remembered.

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VE Day In London – 1945 And 2015

Friday, 8th May was the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, the day in 1945 when the war in Europe officially came to an end. There are plenty of photos and film showing the celebrations in London on the day and throughout the night. The lights are starting to come back on and crowds throng the West End.

Apart from being evacuated for a couple of weeks at the very start of the war, my father lived in London throughout, in flats which still exist, just off Redhill Street in Camden. As well as a large collection of photos, he also left a detailed account of his experiences in London during the war. Written shortly after, these tell of the horror and also the sense of adventure that comes from the perspective of someone growing up in London.

His account finishes with a few paragraphs covering VE Day, written from the perspective of someone who has spent all their teenage years in London during the war, and for that generation, VE Day meant not going back to normal, but rather a future with plenty of uncertainty.

I decided to take a walk on Friday night and follow his footsteps exactly 70 years after his walk through London on VE Day, 1945, but before my account, the following is how my father saw VE Day on the 8th May 1945:

So now the long war was finally over, in Europe at least, which to many seemed the real war. Locally, as throughout the country preparations were quickly made for a celebration. Trestle tables magically appeared, placed end to end in the courtyards beneath the blocks of flats, where they could be fitted in between the surface shelters and the bicycle sheds, for a grand children’s party. Similarly, flags and bunting appeared at windows and were strung between balconies, reminiscent to me of my last children’s party, for the Coronation of 1937. Indeed, it was clear that cardboard cut-outs of their Majesties, together with slogans of “God Bless The King And Queen” had been safely stored since then.

Elsewhere bonfires in the streets were made ready for the evening of the 8th. A huge bonfire was prepared on part of Cumberland Market, the local boys dragging old doors and any timber they could lay their hands on to add to the pile.

As for myself, I had made arrangements with my friend Gus, whom I had known since infants school days, that on that evening, we would make our way to the West End to watch the celebrations.

Outrageous it may sound, but I didn’t feel like celebrating, and it became clear that Gus felt the same. The war had begun when I was eleven and, now being seventeen, the whole of those six years, despite every hardship, had been the only real and normal life that I could recognise, for I was a child before September 1939. therefore peacetime presented a prospect of the Great Unknown, in which the unity of wartime would vanish.

So it was that I felt a complete outsider, observing only the dancing, singing and general merrymaking taking place in the West End. Servicemen would now rightly look forward to a return to civilian life, with the promise of a better life than the one they had left; but with the war in the far east not yet over, Gus and I had to await our call-up to the services and I, as a temporary Civil servant, would be without a job to return to, if and when I did.

Darkness had fallen by the time we had managed to reach the end of Regent Street, where the crowds were vast and well lit by the unaccustomed brilliance from the lights, made even brighter by roving searchlights picking out the revellers for the benefit of the cine cameras.  On one of the balcony’s overlooking Piccadilly Circus, the musical star, Zoe Gail appeared, dressed in top hat and tails to sing “I’m Going To get Lit Up When The Lights Go On In London” which was rapturously received by the crowds.

However as observers, we eventually left the Circus, walking south along Regent Street to Waterloo Place. Here we came across the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, which to me presented the most spectacular illumination of the night. The building, constructed in Ancient Greek style, had been freshly painted a pale yellow colour and subtly lit. The balustrade bordering the Club surmounted by torches. Each had been filled with oil or similar and lit, producing a spectacular dish of flame, adding to the warm light bathing the building.

And so we made our way through central London taking it all in, the lights, the shop windows, the decorations and individual celebrations, until we found ourselves in Chiltern Street, which runs parallel with Baker Street. Celebrations at the London Fire Brigade building were well underway. The station gates were wide open and in the drill yard blazed a large fire. In one corner a piano was playing old favourites, while several elderly ladies performed a nifty “Knees Up Mother Brown”. We didn’t join in the dancing or sing any songs, but the beer and food was welcome, and I felt at home in the fire station.

Now the early hours of the morning, V.E. Day was over. we made our way home both wondering what life held in store for us.

Preliminaries to the 1945 General Election being contested by our great wartime leader, Winston Churchill, for me set the seal on the end of an era. I watched Churchill campaigning at Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, his open car surrounded by a rather hostile crowd. The great man was standing, raised hat in his left hand, cigar in his right. from an onlooker came a cry “Ere, Winston, try one of our fags!” followed by a Woodbine pack hurled at Churchill who turned the other cheek as his car drive on.

The future must have seemed very uncertain at the time. I suspect that he “felt at home in the fire station” was due to his grandfather, my great-grandfather being the Superintendent of East Ham Fire Station.

On Friday night, I set out from the West End to reach Chiltern Street by dusk and find out if the fire station was still there, and then walk back during the late evening to photograph the West End as it is now, very different to the same night 70 years earlier.

Turning off Baker Street and a short walk down to Chiltern Street, it was easy to spot the old Fire Station, the exterior looks much as it must have done when my father and Gus stopped here 70 years earlier, although now the building has a very different purpose. The building is now the Chiltern Firehouse, a bespoke luxury hotel and restaurant.

I took the following photo of the Fire Station as the light was fading on Friday evening. The original function of the building is very clear, the three large doors providing access to where the fire engines would have been waiting for a fast exit to the street.

VE Day 1

Just to the left of the main building is the old drill yard mentioned in my father’s account. This  also forms part of the Chiltern Firehouse and the original entrance still remains.

I stood for a while looking at what is a wonderful building, the architecture a clear statement of the standing in which the Fire Service at the time was held. As I waited, there was an almost constant stream of taxis dropping people off for either the restaurant or hotel and entering via the old drill yard entrance. Very different to the same place, 70 years earlier.

VE Day 2Pleased to have found that the Chiltern Street Fire Station building is still there, I then headed back through Manchester Square, to Oxford Street and then to the top of Regent Street.

In Regent Street looking back up to Oxford Circus:

VE Day 4Regent Street is still lined with shops as it was in 1945, but the shops are now rather different than they were. Walk down the street now and you pass the status shops of global brands:

VE Day 3

Shops with displays, variety and colour that would still have been a distant dream along the Regent Street of 1945:

VE Day 5

Regent Street is well-lit, but on reaching the end of this part of the street, the brighter lights of Piccadilly Circus beckon:

VE Day 6Piccadilly Circus is brilliantly lit at night and was one of the centres of celebration on the 8th May 1945. Late evening in 2015 and it is still busy, but nothing like the crowds my father was in, that were here in the same evening in 1945.

VE Day 7Eros as it is now generally known, or the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain to use the original and full name is the focal point of Piccadilly, but sits almost in the shade of the surrounding buildings:

VE Day 8

Illuminated advertising has always been a central feature of Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 9I followed my father’s route through Piccadilly Circus and down to the lower end of Regent Street to Waterloo Place.

Waterloo Place is at the junction of Pall Mall and Regent Street and leads down to the 1834 column that forms the monument to the Duke of York. Much quieter than Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street.

Steps lead down from Waterloo Place to The Mall and I can imagine that in 1945 this was a far busier celebration route from Buckingham Palace to Piccadilly Circus.

Looking from Waterloo Place, up Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 10

The Athenæum Club still faces onto Waterloo Place and as my father described in 1945 is still “painted a pale yellow colour and subtly lit” although on this 8th May the torches, which can still be seen around the 1st floor balustrade were unfortunately not lit:

VE Day 11The Athenæum Club on the left with the Crimean War memorial in the centre of Waterloo Place, looking up to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 12He did not say where else he walked on VE Day, but having been in Waterloo Place, there is a good chance that he probably walked down to The Mall and to Trafalgar Square, so I took the same route. Looking from the centre of The Mall towards Admiralty Arch:

VE Day 13Flags on Admiralty Arch with the light from the searchlights in Trafalgar Square shining on the clouds. The searchlights had been set-up for the weekend as part of London’s celebrations of the 70th anniversary.

VE Day 14And in Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background, the “V” searchlights pick out the top of Nelsons Column:

VE Day 15After Trafalgar Square I took a quick walk down to the footbridge alongside Hungerford Railway Bridge to see if the “V” searchlights from St. Paul’s Cathedral were visible. The view along the Thames to the City from here is fantastic during the day, but takes on an additional dimension at night. 70 years ago, this view would probably still have been dark, although searchlights that had been used a few years earlier to pick out enemy bombers were being used that night to illuminate the Cathedral.

VE Day 16And a final close-up clearly shows the V searchlights from St. Paul’s Cathedral:

VE Day 17It was fascinating to walk the same route as my father and his friend Gus, exactly 70 years later and consider how London has changed. I was really pleased to find that the Chiltern Street Fire Station is still there.

My father’s account of his life in London during the war was written soon after. The lack of much detail about VE Day itself, rather thoughts and concerns about the future probably reflect how many Londoners of the same age were feeling. After six years of war, the years of bombing, the V1 and V2, the threat to London had at last been removed, however the war in the far east was far from an end and National Service was imminent.

He did not take any photos on the night, as he did not get his first camera until 1946. When he did, one of the first photos was of St. Paul’s Cathedral lit up by searchlights. So, to finish off, this must have been how the Cathedral appeared on VE Day:

VE Day 18

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An Optimistic View Of The Future – Adverts From The 1951 Festival Of Britain

My father took a range of photos of the south bank area of London just after the last war, prior to the construction of the Festival of Britain Exhibition.

Some I have already published here and here.

I have been researching and reading about the Festival of Britain and one very good source is the Guide to the South Bank Exhibition that was published to guide the visitor around the site and to provide a “Guide To The Story It Tells”.

The content about the Festival is fascinating, but I also find the adverts within the guide of equal interest. They provide a snapshot of how advertising reflected the country of the time.

The adverts are highly artistic and the colours used are very vivid, probably reflecting the optimism about the future that was one of the main themes of the Festival after so many years of austerity.

The adverts also tell a story of how British industry has changed over the past 64 years.

So, for a change of theme this week, let me show you some of the advertising from the Guide to the South Bank Exhibition.

Advert 12

The first is from Costain. A construction company founded in 1865 by Richard Costain who moved from the Isle of Man to Liverpool and began trading as a builder. Costain are still an independent company to this day and are actively involved in many major infrastructure projects around London including the London Bridge station redevelopment.

The advert shows the transformation of the Festival site and the Dome of Discovery from initial plans in 1949 through to completion in May 1951.

Advert 20

Horseley Bridge and Thomas Piggot were a major firm of construction engineers specialising in iron and steelwork and were responsible for the steel work on the Dome of Discovery. Much of their work remains in use to this day, including Richmond Railway Bridge.

Advert 11

The Shell and BP advert shows the view  of part of the Festival site, the current location of the Royal Festival Hall, prior to demolition. The view is from Shell-Mex House which is directly opposite the site on the north bank of the Thames and although not now occupied by Shell, the building is unchanged to this day.

The view of the Festival site shows the Shot Tower on the left and the Lion Brewery building to the right.

Shell would continue to have a link with the Festival of Britain site as following closure, Shell Centre, the head office for the international part of Shell’s business was built on the site.

Advert 16

Allied Ironfounders Ltd was formed in 1929 from the consolidation of ten smaller companies and was responsible for a wide range of products including the Aga Cooker through the takeover of Aga Heat in 1935.

Allied Ironfounders lasted as an independent company until 1969 when it was taken over by Glynwed. Within 30 years the company had sold off virtually all of the metal working parts of the business and in 2001 was renamed Aga Foodservice Ltd to concentrate on the remaining part of the business.

Note the text underneath the illustration regarding the gates from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and their transfer to the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens – I did not know that.

Advert 23

Ovaltine was invented by a Swiss chemist in 1904 and was first available in the UK in 1909. Still widely available over one hundred years later and based on the same core ingredient of barley malt. If I have understood chains of ownership correctly, Ovaltine is now owned by Twining’s which in turn is owned by Associated British Foods.

Very idealised view of the Ovaltine Egg Farm, the Ovatine Dairy and the Ovaltine Factory in a Country Garden.

Advert 8

Horlicks is another malted drink which is still in production today, now owned by GlaxoSmithKline (who have their head office in Brentford, West London).

Another idealised view, but this time of a house in the country (very different to the homes of the majority of Londoners at the time)

Advert 13

Barkers of Kensington was a Kensington department store which opened in 1870. Sold to House of Fraser in 1957, it was finally closed in 2006. The Barkers building still remains and is a major landmark on Kensington High Street.

Advert 4

Arthur Lassenby Liberty started trading in Regent Street in 1875. The current store shown in the above advert was built-in 1924. Liberty’s are still trading in the same building to this day with much the same ethos.

Advert 5

The Gas Council’s advert with Mr Therm standing in front of a backdrop of the festival site with the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon. Gas provision at the time was a nationalised industry, privatised in the 1980s as BG Group and Centrica.

Note the comment about gas and coke helping to get rid of fog – still a major issue in 1950s London.

Advert 9

This is an advert you will not see today – cigarettes, in this example Craven ‘A’ trying to project a very sophisticated image for the brand. Still available as a brand today, but as far as I can tell, mainly in Canada.

Advert 15

And perhaps in 1951, to complement your Craven ‘A’ you would also have had a Curtis London Dry Gin, distilled in London since 1769.

Advert 10

Also advertising in the Guide were many of  the country’s industrial companies of the early 1950s.

English Electric were a major industrial concern, manufacturing a very wide range of electrical, engineering and aeronautical products and during the early 1960s were a British manufacturer of mainframe computers.

The aeronautical part of the business became a founding member of the British Aircraft Corporation which in turn became BAE Systems.

The rest of the business was merged with GEC in 1968 which spectacularly failed in the first years of the 21st century after the disastrous decision to try to turn the company into an Internet infrastructure business to the detriment of the core engineering parts of the business.

I wonder what those attending the Festival would have thought if they had known that companies that at the time seemed so innovative and core to the country’s industrial identity would have disappeared within 50 years.

Advert 14

Another manufacturer that would disappear was E.K. Cole or Ekco who started manufacturing radio sets from 1924 and later television sets in Leigh-on-Sea and Southend.

Ekco products must have been in many homes across the country at the time of the Festival and must have appeared to be a very strong company and brand.

Ekco merged with Pye, another British electronics manufacturer in 1960 and the combined company was taken over by Philips in 1967 with the Ekco brand disappearing.

Advert 19

Cossor was another British electronics company that would disappear in a couple of decades. The company started trading in 1859 as a manufacturer of scientific glassware and this expertise helped the company move into the production of electronic valves and cathode ray tubes. This led into leading technologies such as radar both during the 2nd World War where Cossor was one the companies that helped develop the Chain Home radar system along the coast and following the war into radar for air traffic control.

Cossor was purchased by the US manufacturer Raytheon in 1961, just ten years after the Festival of Britain and is another example of the loss of British industrial capability over the last 60 years.

Advert 3

Sperry was a manufacturer of navigation equipment and gyrocompasses. Now owned by the American business Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Advert 7

Siemens Brothers and Company Limited was the 1951 incarnation of the original Siemens company formed in 1843 by Wilhelm Siemens of Germany. The shares of the British business were confiscated at the start of the 1st World War and finally became part of Associated Electrical Industries in 1955 which then merged with GEC in 1967 which as stated above with English Electric failed in the early 2000s.

The original German part of Siemens is now a major global manufacturer and well established in the UK, manufacturing in Germany many of the trains that now service London

Advert 21

One brand that is still very much in business today is Cow and Gate. originally a grocery shop in Guildford owned by the Gates family in 1771, the business expanded into dairy products which led to powered milk and then to milk food for babies.

Smiler, the Cow and Gate “royal baby” was introduced to the branding in 1930.

Although still in business, Cow and Gate is now owned by the French multinational Groupe Danone.

The Festival of Britain and the South Bank Exhibition that formed the core of the Festival was intended to show a strong, confident country, full of innovative industrial and manufacturing companies that could be expected to bring a prosperous future after the long years of war and the austerity that followed. The following decades would bring significant change to, and the demise of many of these companies.

I have shown just under half of the adverts featured in the 1951 Guide to the Festival, the rest have the same standards of artwork and it is interesting that there is only one financial business (Lloyds Bank) featured. Again perhaps how the country (or at least the organisers of the festival) wanted to portray what was important to the country and to the future from the perspective of 1951.

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