Tag Archives: Festival of Britain

The Exhibition Of Architecture – The Final Chapter

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 54

The Chrisp Street market also features in the film:

Lansbury Estate 55

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

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 34

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

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

Lansbury Estate 33

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

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

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 56

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

Lansbury Estate 57

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

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

Lansbury Estate 58

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

Lansbury Estate 59

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

Lansbury Estate 60

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

Lansbury Estate 61

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

Lansbury Estate 62

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 38

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

Lansbury Estate 41

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

Lansbury Estate 40

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

Lansbury Estate 39

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

Lansbury Estate 37

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

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

Lansbury Estate 36

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

Tarslag was eventually purchased by Tarmac.

Lansbury Estate 47

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

The Lansbury Exhibition Of Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EAW035320

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

Lansbury Estate 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 1

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

Lansbury Estate 49

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

Lansbury Estate 2

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 42

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

Lansbury Estate 3

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

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

Lansbury Estate 50

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

The playground as it is today:

Lansbury Estate 5

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

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

Lansbury Estate 4

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

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

Lansbury Estate 6

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

Lansbury Estate 7

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

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

Lansbury Estate 31

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

Lansbury Estate 32

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

Lansbury Estate 8

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

Lansbury Estate 9

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

Lansbury Estate 43

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

Lansbury Estate 51

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

Lansbury Estate 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 44

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

Lansbury Estate 11

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

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

Lansbury Estate 12

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

Lansbury Estate 13

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

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 48

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

Lansbury Estate 14

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

Lansbury Estate 15

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

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

Lansbury Estate 16

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

Lansbury Estate 17

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 18

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

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

Lansbury Estate 19

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

Lansbury Estate 20

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

Lansbury Estate 21

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

Lansbury Estate 22

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

Lansbury Estate 23

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 24

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

Lansbury Estate 25

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

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

Lansbury Estate 26

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

Lansbury Estate 27

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

Lansbury Estate 28

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

Lansbury Estate 45

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

Lansbury Estate 29

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 52

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

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

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

Lansbury Estate 30

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

Lansbury Estate 53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

The Festival Of Britain Pleasure Gardens – Battersea Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 17

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

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

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

The main areas of the Festival Gardens were:

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 38

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

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

The main information plaque in Battersea Park recalling the festival:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 25

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

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

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

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

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

The Dance Pavilion:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 14

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 27

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

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

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

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

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

View of Fountain Lake:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 7

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 13

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 12

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 28

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 29

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 30

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 31

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 32

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 1

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 2

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 3

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 4

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

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

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

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

Looking down the Parade in 1951:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 6

The Parade today:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 21

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 18

Festival Pleasure Gardens 20

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 19

Which could be found along the Parade:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 5

Other sponsors included:

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 24

Plaque commemorating the Pleasure Gardens:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 26.

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 8

Festival Pleasure Gardens 11

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 33

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 39

Festival Pleasure Gardens 40

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 41

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 34

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 22

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Pleasure Gardens 15

Festival Pleasure Gardens 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Britain Guide 1

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

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

About Britain Guide 3

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

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

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

About Britain Guide 2

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

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

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

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

Festival Map 2

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

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

Festival Map 4

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

Festival Map 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlton Athletic 1

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

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

Charlton Athletic 2

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

Exhibition of Science 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of Science 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of Science 2

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

Exhibition of Science 3

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

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

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

Exhibition of Science 4

Leland Instruments Ltd – cannot find anything about this company.

Exhibition of Science 5

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

Exhibition of Science 6

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

Exhibition of Science 7

Abram Games

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

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

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

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

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

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2832)

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

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

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

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

Maximum Meaning

Minimum Means

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

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

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

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

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2891)

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2909)

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

IWM (Art.IWM PST 2911)

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

A Walk Round The Festival Of Britain – The Downstream Circuit

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

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

Festival of Britain 68

The Festival At Night

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 27

This photo is looking at the Transport Pavilion.

Festival of Britain 28

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

Festival of Britain 29

The Royal Festival Hall and the Shot Tower.

Festival of Britain 30

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

Festival of Britain 19

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

Festival of Britain 31

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

A Walk Round The Downstream Circuit – The People

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

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

Festival of Britain 1

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

Festival of Britain 3

Here again is the map of the South Bank Exhibition.

Festival of Britain Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 14

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

Festival of Britain 67

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

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

The following plan shows the pavilion and the main sections.

Pavilion - Lion and the Unicorn 1

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

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 35

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

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

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

The lion and the unicorn

Were fighting for the crown;

The lion beat the unicorn

All round the town.

Some gave them white bread

And some gave them brown;

Some gave them plum cake

And sent them out of town.

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

Festival of Britain 40

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

Festival of Britain 24

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

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

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

The rooms chosen for display were:

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 42

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

Festival of Britain 13

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

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 16

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 32

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

Festival of Britain 71

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

Festival of Britain 23

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

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

Festival of Britain 15

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

Festival of Britain 69

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

Festival of Britain 70

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

Festival of Britain 74

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 22

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

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

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 72

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 73

The Festival Site Today

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

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

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

Festival of Britain 75

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

The Festival Closes

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

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.

Festival of Britain 4

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.

Festival of Britain 9

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.

Festival of Britain 36

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.

 

Festival of Britain 8

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.

Festival of Britain 50

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.

Festival of Britain 25

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.

Festival of Britain 41

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.

Festival of Britain 39

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.

Festival of Britain 37

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.

Festival of Britain 65

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.

Festival of Britain 7

The same view today.

Festival of Britain 49

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.

Festival of Britain 18

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”.

Festival of Britain 26

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:

Festival of Britain 48

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.

Festival of Britain 17

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.

Festival of Britain 60

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.

Festival of Britain 11

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.

Festival of Britain 21

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.

Festival of Britain 20

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

Festival of Britain 12

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.

Festival of Britain 2

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:

Festival of Britain 10

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

Festival of Britain 6

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

Festival of Britain 66

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

Festival of Britain 5

View today from roughly the same location:

Festival of Britain 51

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:

Festival of Britain 53

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

Festival of Britain 54

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”

Festival of Britain 43

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.

Festival of Britain 44

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”.

Festival of Britain 45

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.

Festival of Britain 61

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

Festival of Britain 46

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.

Festival of Britain 47

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:

Festival of Britain 62

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.

Festival of Britain 34

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

Festival of Britain 38

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:

Festival of Britain 63

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

London Maps

To help research London’s history, I have a collection of London maps, built up from when my father purchased his first map of London in 1941, along with collecting maps issued to mark special events in the city over the years.

Maps provide not only street plans, they also show how the city has developed, what is important at the time and how the approach to map-making has changed over the centuries.

As well as being functional, many London maps are also a work of art, with some fantastic design being used to also make the map a pleasure to look at and use.

I also find it fascinating to take some of these old maps out when walking London, to try and follow the streets on these maps, to understand the changes and the London we see today.

For this week’s post, I present a sample of the maps I use which I hope you will find of interest.

If you click on any of the following maps on the blog, a much larger version of the map should open.

My first map is a reproduction of the 16th century map of London by Ralph Agas, included in the 1904 book “London In The Time Of The Tudors” by Sir Walter Besant.

Map 1

The Agas map is the most comprehensive map of London in Tudor times, drawn probably between 1553 and 1559 when the population of London was not more than 100,000. The map is rich in detail and shows a city still bounded by the city walls with mainly fields beyond. There is a single bridge over the Thames leading to the south of the river which was a place of entertainment.

To the west of the city the Fleet River extends a considerable way in land with the Fleet Bridge at the bottom of Ludgate and further upstream a Holburne Bridge over the Fleet.

Although named the Ralph Agas map, there is no certainty that he was the artist who drew the map. Agas was a map-maker, originally from Suffolk where he was also a land-surveyor. Born in the mid 16th century he died in 1621. The period of his birth also being around or slightly before the assumed period when the map was drawn would also argue against Agas being responsible.

Despite the uncertainty of who created the map, it is a superbly detailed view of London from a time when London had yet to expand in any degree beyond the original city walls.

The next map is the Ogilby and Morgan map from 1676. My copy is again from Sir William Besant, but this time from “London In The Time Of The Stuarts”.

Map 2

This map shows in considerable detail the city rebuilt after the Great Fire which had occurred 10 years earlier. The section shown above is centred on Spittlefields with the Old Artillery Garden to the left below which is Petticoat Lane. The wide street running from bottom to top starts off as Bishops Gate Street Without, then becomes Northern Folgate (note the difference in name from Norton Folgate as it is now), and then becomes Shore Ditch.

John Ogilby was born in 1600, originally from Scotland he moved to London and had an unusual career, first as a dancer, then running a dance school, a theatre and a publisher in Whitefriars which was lost during the Great Fire. It was at the age of 69 that his short career as a map-maker started, although he died in 1676, just before the map was published.

Ogilby worked with William Morgan who drew each house and garden on the map. It is this level of detail which makes the map so interesting.

In the late 17th Century Richard Blome produced a series of maps of the City Wards. These were published with the 1720 edition of John Stows Survey of London. My example below is Tower Street Ward.

Thames Street Map

Originally published in black and white, many examples were later hand coloured. They provide a detailed view of each individual ward as it appeared at the end of the 17th century.

In the map above, the Customs House is lower right with Billingsgate Dock to the lower left. The church of St. Dunstan’s is to the centre left and Allhallows Barking to the centre right with the Navy Office to the top right.

It is fascinating to walk around the London Wards with these maps, trace the outlines of the wards and see how much remains from the time they were drawn.

A series of Ward maps were also drawn for William Maitland’s History of London published in 1756. My following example is the map of Cordwainer Ward.

Cordwainer Ward Map

Drawn by Benjamin Cole who was an engraver working near Snow Hill. As well as providing a detailed street map, Cole’s maps are also illustrated with pictures of important buildings within the wards (mainly churches) along with the Coat of Arms of prominent inhabitants.

We now move forward to a series of maps published between 1744 and 1746 by John Rocque which covered a very wide area of London, including much that was still mainly agricultural.

Two examples from John Rocque’s map. The first shows London north of London Wall, the street running left to right along the lower part of the following map.

Map 3

Above London Wall are the Lower and Upper Walks of Moore Fields, with to the left of the Upper Fields is the New Artillery Garden which contains ranks of Artillery Men and Tents.

John Roque was of Huguenot ancestry. He lived in Soho where he practised his career as a surveyor. For the time, his map of London was a massive undertaking. It was not just drawing the streets and ground plans of the buildings, but measuring these as accurately as possible.

The streets were measured with chains or with a surveyor’s wheel, an instrument which can still be seen in use today and consists of a wheel of known circumference on the end of a handle. The distance walked is simply the number of turns of the wheel multiplied by the circumference.

Roque also used a theodolite to measure the angles of street corners (again an instrument still in use today).

The map took nine years to complete and was partly funded by Hogarth.

The following extract shows St. Paul’s Cathedral with to the left the Fleet still running up past Ludgate at the Fleet Bridge, although the name in Roque’s map has now been relegated to Fleet Ditch rather than river. A sign of the decreasing importance of this waterway and that it was probably considered a nuisance rather than an asset to the city.

Map 5

My next map is from the 19th century and is Cruchley’s New Plan Of London Improved to 1835 and shows the advance of London to the east. The extract shows the Isle of Dogs.

Map 4

This was at a time when much of East London, north east of Limehouse was unbuilt. The two West India Docks had been built and below these are shown the proposed Collier Docks which was probably a mistake for Cruchley to include as these did not get built, the South Dock and Millwall Dock being constructed instead.

The Lea River is to the top right with Westham Abbey Marsh alongside (note also the “marsh land” just above the East India Dock) which gives an indication of the condition of the land in this area at the time.

The next map comes from the atlas which, although not that old, is my personal favourite. This is Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London, this edition published in 1940. It is my favourite as this is the one my father purchased during the war from Foyles in Charing Cross Road. He was about 13 when he got hold of this copy and he had to get a neighbour who was in the Home Guard to purchase the atlas as only those in uniform could purchase maps.

Map 11

I use the Bartholomew’s Atlas as a reference to compare London as it was just before the last war with the redevelopment after. Significant bomb damage, along with future reconstruction resulted in the loss of many streets. In the above extract, the area between St. Paul’s and Newgate Street (consisting of the area around Paternoster Row and Square) was obliterated by bombing, mainly the fires created by incendiary bombs on the 29th December 1940. These streets were not rebuilt and a whole historic area was lost.

Along with street maps, there are also many maps for special events that have taken place across London. The following map is of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. A work of art as well as a map, created by Kennedy North in 1923.

Map 10

As well as providing a plan of the exhibition, the map also shows Motor Bus and Rail routes to the Exhibition, with a ring of stations centred (stations and lines which would form the Circle Line) around Nelson’s Column, described as “The Heart Of The Empire”

The next map shows the locations across London for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Map 7

As well as the main site on the South Bank, the map also includes;

– the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea

– the Exhibitions of Science and Books at Kensington

– the Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar

A functional map, but also with some artistic design with the flags showing the location of the festival sites, the colours, and the border extending around the plan of the South Bank site.

Maps were also produced for many of the major ceremonial events during the first half of the 20th century. The following map was produced jointly by the London Transport Executive and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis for the Coronation of Elizabeth II on Tuesday 2nd June 1953.

Map 6

The map shows the route of the royal procession, bus and coach routes, entry to viewing points, which stations are open all day and which will be closed until after the procession, or closed all day etc.

The colour coded Processional Route  has individual boxes at the bottom of the map to show the best way to get to that part of the procession.

The other side of the map contains detailed written instructions and advise for travelling in London, a map of the London Underground and details of interchange stations.

The map was issued free and shows the degree of planning that went into the event.

I always pick up new editions of the London Underground maps, but in the past there have been maps showing other forms of transport across the city. The following is the Trolleybus and Tram Map of London issued in 1940 by London Transport.

Map 8

A detailed map showing Trolleybus and Tram routes across central London and also out into the suburbs, also showing Underground and Mainline Rail Stations.

The reverse of the map has a timetable including details of all night trams and trolleybuses.

This is one of my father’s maps and when going through his map collection the following ticket fell out:

Map 9

His ticket from the Last Tram Week in July 1952. (See the photos he took of the event here).

London is constantly changing and maps provide a snapshot of the city at a point in time. They show how London has expanded out from the original walled city, they show the significant development of the London Docks, they show how transport has been provided across the city and they show how London has marked significant events.

It will be interesting to see how long paper maps continue to be published with the growth in on-line mapping and the easy availability of a map on a smart phone. Whilst they are, I will continue to collect them to keep a record of a changing city.

alondoninheritance.com

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.

alondoninheritance.com