Tag Archives: South Bank

The Festival Of Britain South Bank Exhibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background to the Festival of Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within London there were a number of main events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lion and the Unicorn

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

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

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

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

The attributes that the pavilion presented were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designing the Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit to the Festival on the South Bank

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

The map below shows the Festival site:

Festival of Britain Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building The Royal Festival Hall

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 5

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

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 7

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weight of Roof Steelwork: 260 tons

Volume of mass of concrete: 8,800 cubic yards

Volume of Reinforced Concrete: 23,000 cubic yards”

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 9

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

Building the Royal Festival Hall 11

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

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

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

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A Brief History Of The South Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brief History of the South Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Southbank Map 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another view of the Distillery in Cuper’s Gardens.

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

History of the Southbank Map 6

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

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

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

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

History of the Southbank Map 3

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

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

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

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

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

The original Hungerford Suspension Bridge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Southbank 31

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

History of the Southbank 32

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

History of the Southbank 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Southbank Map 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Southbank Map 7

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

History of the Southbank Map 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 1943 View Of A Redeveloped London

In 1943, although the end of the last war was still two years away,  the thoughts of the London County Council were focussed on the post war reconstruction of the city.

London had yet to suffer the barrage of V1 and V2 weapons, but in 1943 the London County Council published the County of London Plan, a far reaching set of proposals for the post-war development of the city.

I find the many plans for London that have been published fascinating to read. They show the challenges of trying to forecast the needs of a city such as London for decades to come. They provide a snapshot of the city at the time, and they demonstrate that time after time, development of London has reverted to ad-hoc rather than grandiose, city wide schemes.

In the forward to the plan, Lord Latham the Leader of the London County Council wrote:

“This is a plan for London. A plan for one of the greatest cities the world has ever known; for the capital of an Empire; for the meeting place of a Commonwealth of Nations. Those who study the Plan may be critical, but they cannot be indifferent.

Our London has much that is lovely and gracious. I do not know that any city can rival its parks and gardens, its squares and terraces. but year by year as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries grew more and more absorbed in first gaining and then holding material prosperity, these spaces were over-laid, and a tide of mean, ugly, unplanned building rose in every London borough and flooded outward over the fields of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, Kent.

Athens was the glory of Greece, Rome the great capital of a great Empire, a magnet to all travellers. Paris holds the hearts of civilised people all over the world. Russia is passionately proud of Moscow and Leningrad; but the name we have for London is the Great Wen.

It need not be so. Had our seventeenth century forefathers had the faith to follow Wren, not just the history of London, but perhaps the history of the world might have been different.

Faith, however was wanting. It must not be wanting again – no more in our civic, than in our national life. We can have the London we want; the London that people will come from the four corners of the world to see; if only we determine that we will have it; and that no weakness or indifference shall prevent it.”

The 1943 plan provides plenty of detailed analysis of London at the time, with some graphical presentation using techniques I have not seen in any earlier London planning documents.

The following diagram from the report provides a Social and Functional Analysis of London. This divides London into individual communities, identifies the main functions of the central areas, shows town halls, man shopping centres and open spaces.

The City is surrounded by an area of “Mixed General Business and Industry”. Press (Fleet Street) and Law (the Royal Courts of Justice) provide the main interface between the City and the West End, which also contains the University and Government areas of the city.

The darker brown communities are those with a higher proportion of obsolescent properties. (click on any of the following maps to enlarge)

Social and Functional Map 1

The plan placed considerable importance on community structure within London:

“The social group structure of London is of the utmost importance in the life of the capital. Community grouping helps in no small measure towards the inculcation of local pride, it facilitates control and organisation, and is the means of resolving what would otherwise be interminable aggregations of housing. London is too big to be regarded as a single unit. If approached in this way its problems appear overwhelming and almost insoluble.

The proposal is to emphasise the identity of the existing communities, to increase their degree of segregation, and where necessary to reorganise them as separate and definite entities. The aim would be to provide each community with its own schools, public buildings, shops, open spaces etc. At the same time care would be taken to ensure segregation of the communities was not taken far enough to endanger the sense of interdependence on the adjoining communities or on London as a whole.”

The following map shows a more traditional view of the Communities and Open Spaces within the Greater London area.

Communities and Open Space 1

The plan identifies a number of issues that divide communities, chief among them the way that railways, mainly on the south of the river have divided local communities with railway viaducts acting as a wall between parts of the same community.

The plan used the following photo of the railway viaducts on the approach to Cannon Street Station and down to Waterloo to illustrate the impact. The report, as with a number of other proposals for the post war development of London, placed considerable importance on moving the over ground railways into tunnels to remove viaducts, bring communities together and to remove rail bridges, such as the one shown leading into Cannon Street Station, from across the Thames.

The Southbank 2

The first sentence in the section on Roads is remarkable, remember this was written in 1943, not 2015:

“The need for improved traffic facilities in and around London has become so acute, that unless drastic measures are taken to relieve a large number of the thoroughfares, crossings and junctions of their present congestion, there will be a grave danger that the whole traffic system, will, before long, be slowed to an intolerable degree.”

The plan also emphasises the dangers resulting from traffic on London roads with in 1937 a total of 57,718 accidents in the Greater London area that involved personal injury.

At the time of planning, the ratio of cars to population was one to twenty two. The plan expects a considerable increase in car usage after the war, stating that the war has “made a vast number of people for the first time mechanically minded, and has given a great impetus to the production of motor vehicles.”

Parking this number of cars was also expected to be a problem. The plan includes the provision of underground car parks and that legislation should be passed that enforces the provision of car parking facilities for all buildings of a certain size.

A new ring road was planned for fast moving traffic.  This is shown as the B Ring Road in the following map. Circling the central area of London and with a tunnel under the Thames running from the Isle of Dogs to Deptford. Roads radiating out from the B Ring Road would allow traffic circulating around London to quickly leave to, or arrive from the rest of the country.

Road Plan 1

The plan also identifies the “cumulative effect of street furniture on the appearance of London and on the convenience of pedestrians and vehicular traffic is very considerable” and recommends the formation of a Panel to provide a degree of control over street furniture, with a preference for embellishing streets with tree-planting and green-swards. With the level of street furniture on the streets today, perhaps a Panel to control this would have been a good outcome.

The provision of more open space was seen as a key component of the future development of London with the standardised provision of space for Londoners.

At the time the plan was written there was a considerable variation in the amount of open space available to Londoners in different boroughs, for example the inhabitants of Woolwich benefited from the availability of 6 acres per 1,000 inhabitants, whilst for those of Shoreditch the amount of open space available was 0.1 acres per 1,000 inhabitants.

The provision of 4 acres of open space for every 1,000 inhabitants across London was adopted as a key strategy for future development.

Examples of how open space could be made available to the public included the use of Holland Park, the grounds of the Hurlingham Club and the Bishops Palace Grounds in Fulham.

Indeed at Hurlingham, after the war, the London County Council made a compulsory purchase of the polo grounds to build the Hurlingham Park recreation grounds, along with the Sullivan Court flats and a school, leaving the Hurlingham Club with the 42 acres retained today.

The plan also states that “The difficulty of finding alternative housing accommodation for people displaced when open spaces are provided in built up areas, has been partly removed through the destruction of many houses by bombing.” I am not sure what the view of those who had lost their homes through bombing would have been, that there was a plan to replace their homes with open space.

The following Open Space Plan shows the proposed new public open space in dark green:

Open Space Plan 1

The 1943 plan presents a fascinating view of the industrialisation of London.

The East End of London and the London Docks were well known industrial areas, however every London borough had a significant amount of factories and industrial employment. The report includes a summary of industry for every London borough. I have shown a sample below to indicate the range of factory numbers, employment levels and types of industry across some of the London boroughs.

Borough Principal industries according to numbers employed Size of Factories Factory numbers in 1938 Factory employees in 1938
Bermondsey Food, engineering, and chemicals, including tanneries Each of the principal industries has a large number of factories 711 31,058
Bethnal Green Furniture and clothing Furniture factories very small, clothing small with a few large premises 1,746 15,945
Finsbury Clothing, printing and engineering, though appreciable numbers are employed in all other industries Mostly medium to small, though each industry has a number of large factories and the average size if bigger than in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch or Stepney 2,523 66,556
Islington Engineering, clothing, furniture and miscellaneous (principally builders’ yards, cardboard boxes and laundries) Mostly small, though engineering, furniture and miscellaneous each has a number of medium sized factories 1,998 35,649
Stepney Clothing, food (including breweries and tobacco) and engineering Mostly small (especially clothing) but each industry has a number of large factories 3,270 58,073
Westminster Clothing, printing and engineering, though appreciable numbers are employed in all other industries Mostly small (especially clothing), but each industry has several large factories 4,414 46,528

The plan identifies a trend of decentralisation which had already being happening for a number of decades with the gradual migration of industry from central to outer London and also identifies the improvement in transport facilities as enabling industry to move away from the main residential areas.

Even in 1943 the report identifies the importance of the new industrial estates at Slough, Park Royal, along the Great West Road etc. as the future home for more of London’s industry.

What the plan does not identify is how the Docks would change over the coming decades. The expectation was that the London Docks would continue to provide a key role in both London and the Nation’s global trade.

The following map shows the proposed approach for how industry would be located across the Greater London area. Note the concentration of industrial areas around the Docks and along the Thames.

Industrial Proposals 1

In addition to planning at the Greater London level, the 1943 report also focussed on a number of specific areas that had suffered extensive bomb damage and were therefore important redevelopment locations.

An example is the redevelopment of Bermondsey. The following plan shows the proposed post-war reconstruction of Bermondsey:

Bermondsey 1

The plan for Bermondsey illustrates how the 1943 plan proposed:

  • replacing the long runs of railway viaducts with underground rail tunnels thereby avoiding the way the viaducts divided communities
  • a considerable increase in the amount of public open space
  • wide through roads to carry traffic efficiently across London
  • reduced housing density

How far these plans were actually implemented after the war can be judged by comparison with the following 2015 map of Bermondsey. The railway viaducts still remain, cutting across the borough, and the street layout remains largely unchanged. Southward Park provides a large amount of open space, however there is not the amount proposed in 1943 and the large park planned to run adjacent to the Old Kent Road was not constructed.

New Bermondsey Map 1

Another focus for significant redevelopment was the South Bank. Starting from Westminster Bridge and County Hall at the right of the following picture, the plans consisted of:

  • a Youth centre to the left of County Hall
  • a new road bridge across the Thames leading to Charing Cross to replace the rail bridge after the railways had been diverted underground
  • a Theatre between Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridges (which did get built in the form of the Royal Festival Hall)
  • Government offices running to…..
  • a new bridge – Temple Bridge – across the Thames from the South Bank to Temple Station, in exactly the same place as the proposed Garden Bridge
  • offices then running to Blackfriars Bridge
  • followed by office and flats leading up to a landscaped area around Southwark Cathedral
  • with public gardens running the length of the Thames embankment

The South Bank 1

When reading the plan I was really surprised to find that in 1943 there were proposals for a bridge across the river at Temple. Although this would have been more functional than the proposed Garden Bridge, it would still have blocked some of the view from Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank across to St. Paul’s and the City.

The following picture is an artist impression from the 1943 report of the proposed new Charing Cross road bridge:

Charing Cross Bridge 1

The 1943 report places considerable importance on the need for housing after the war, claiming that “Of the many aspects of London’s future in so far as replanning is concerned, that of housing must claim first attention.” and that “The provision of new housing accommodation will be a most urgent task to be tackled immediately after the war.” Some things do not change, although in 1943 the plans for housing in central London were very much the provision of affordable housing for Londoners rather than the endless development of luxury apartments we see today.

The 1943 plan proposes a comprehensive housing plan to address the need to improve the housing conditions for Londoners as well as providing the number needed.

The following photo from the 1943 plan shows some of the building commenced prior to the war. This is the White City Housing Estate, Hammersmith. Construction started in 1936 and was suspended in 1939. The plan states that when work recommences, the estate will cover an area of 52 acres and comprise 49, 5 storey blocks with accommodation for 11,000 people.

The White City Stadium can be seen on the left of the photo. Completed in 1908 for the Summer Olympics of the same year, the stadium was demolished in 1985 following which the BBC occupied the site. The BBC are now gradually vacating the site so it will be interesting to see what happens with this significant site in the future. (There is plaque on one of the BBC White City buildings at the point of the finishing line of the 1908 track)

White City 1

The 1943 plan recommends the development of housing estates and uses the Roehampton Cottage Estate in Wandsworth as an example of the type of estate that should be built, including the preservation of trees which “adds greatly to the attractive lay-out”

Roehampton 1The 1943 plan also makes recommendations for greater architectural control and uses the following view of Oxford Street as an example of “the chaos of individual and uncoordinated street development” 

Architectural Control 1

The plan recommends “that Panels of architects and planners might be set up to assist the planning authority in the application of a control for street design, similar to those already in operation in other countries, notably in America and Scandinavia. Cornice and first floor levels, as well as the facing materials used, should be more strictly controlled so as to give a sense of continuity and orderliness to the street”. 

The 1943 plan is a fascinating read, not only covering London at the time, but also how London could be today if these plans had of been adopted in full. I have only been able to scratch the surface of the report in this week’s post.

Reading the plan it is clear that some issues do not change, for example housing and traffic congestion.

The plan also highlights the difficulty in planning for the future. There is only a very limited reference to “Aerodromes”, beginning with “All the portents indicate that, after the war, there will be a very considerable expansion in air transport for passengers and, perhaps, for freight. Any plan for the future of London must have close regard for these eventualities.”

The plan does seem to rule out the construction of a large airport within the central London area as this would be “inimical to the interests and comfort of large sections of the population to embark on a scheme of this kind” The post war development of Heathrow was not considered in 1943.

In many ways I am pleased that many of the plans for the large scale redevelopment proposed in the 1943 plan did not take place. As with Wren’s plans for the City after the Great Fire, London tends to avoid large scale planning and seems to evolve in a haphazard manner which contributes much to the attraction of the city, although I feel that this is now under threat with the rows of identical towers that seem to be London’s future.

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A Walk Round The Shell Centre Viewing Gallery

Shell Centre is an office complex on the Southbank, located between Hungerford Bridge and the old London County Council building. The most obvious part of the complex is the 26 storey tower.

Designed by Sir Howard Robertson and built between 1957 and 1962 for the Royal Dutch Shell group of oil companies, the office complex set new standards for staff facilities and building automation. Originally two main blocks, one either side of Hungerford Bridge, the “downstream” building to the east of Hungerford Bridge was sold during the 1990’s and converted to apartments.

Although large buildings above ground, there is a significant part of the complex below ground with a large swimming pool, theatre and bar being among the facilities for the original 5,000 staff to enjoy. Two underground tunnels connected the upstream and downstream buildings, running underneath the rail arches leading to Hungerford Bridge and being just above the underground train tunnels running north from Waterloo.

The building also had a tunnel out to the Thames so that river water could be used for cooling.

The “upstream” building to the west of Hungerford Bridge has a “U” shape set of 10 storey offices with the 26 storey, 351 foot tower block being the most obvious feature of the complex.

Shell has temporarily moved out of the complex and there is a proposed redevelopment of the site that will significantly change this part of the Southbank, more on this at the end of this post.

Long before the Shard and the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street, one of the innovations for the time was that the tower had a public viewing gallery. This was when there were very few tall buildings across London and certainly nothing built or planned in this part of the city. The viewing gallery provided almost continuous all round views of London.

The viewing gallery closed not that long after opening. I was told this was because that sadly there had been a suicide (although I have no verification of this). I was able to visit the viewing gallery in 1980 and took the following photos which show a very different London skyline to that of today. It always surprises me that it was not that long ago that there were very few tall buildings across London.

We will start with the view across to the Houses of Parliament and walk round the viewing gallery.

This was long before the construction of the London Eye which would now be the main feature of this view:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 3

Moving further to the right we can look straight across the river. The large building to the right are the offices of the Ministry of Defence. Buckingham Palace is to the left of centre:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 15

And further to the right, this is the original Charing Cross Station at the end of Hungerford Railway Bridge. In the years after this photo was taken, in common with many other main London stations, office buildings were constructed on top of the station. This was also before the Golden Jubilee foot bridges were added to either side of Hungerford Railway Bridge. At the time the photo was taken there was a single, relatively narrow foot bridge on the east side of the bridge.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 4

Looking directly onto Charing Cross Station with the Post Office Tower in the background and Centre Point to the right:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 2

Further to the right, the building left of centre is Shell-Mex House. This was occupied by the UK operating company of Shell. To the right is Waterloo Bridge.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 14

And further to the right with the full width of Waterloo Bridge:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 13

We are now starting to look over towards the City of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the upper right of centre and the three towers of the Barbican to the left.

The L shaped building in the lower foreground is the downstream building of the Shell Centre complex, and just above this building is the tower that was for London Weekend Television. The base of this tower still consists of TV studios, one of the few buildings that have had the same function over the last 35 years.

To the right of this is Kings Reach Tower, occupied at the time by IPC Magazines, publishers of magazines ranging from Loaded to Country Life. IPC Magazines vacated this tower block some years ago and it is now in the process of being converted into, yes you have probably guessed, more apartments. The height of the building is being raised with additional floors being constructed in top.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 7

And slightly further to the right, the tower in the distance was at the time the tallest office block in the City of London, the recently completed NatWest Tower, built for the NatWest Bank, now renamed as Tower 42.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 1

This photo is looking down onto the roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge. The large space in the centre of the roundabout is now occupied by an IMAX Cinema. The church to the right is St. John’s, Waterloo. The church was built between 1822 and 1824 and due to the marshy land had to be built on piles.  I was told at the time that one of the reasons for so much space below ground level at Shell Centre was also due to the marshy ground and the need to keep the overall weight on the site equal. Excavating below ground level to remove sufficient weight of earth equal to the weight of building on top. No idea if this is true, but it does seem plausible.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 5

This photo is looking straight across to the City and Southwark. There is nothing of any height in the far distance. The buildings of Canary Wharf would now be very visible in the distance.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 9

Continuing to move to the right, this is looking over south-east London with the roof of Waterloo Station occupying the bottom right corner of the photo.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 8

And round to the right again looking over south London with the extensive network of tracks leading into Waterloo Station. The lower section of tracks at the bottom part of the photo would soon be converted to the London terminus of Eurostar prior to the completion of the HS1 rail route which transferred Eurostar trains into St. Pancras.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 11

Detail from the above photo showing British Rail rolling stock prior to privatisation of the rail network:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 18And a final view over to south west London. This was as far as the viewing gallery would allow, the gallery did not run along the western side of the tower:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 12

I cannot remember why I was using Black and White film when I took these photos from the viewing gallery. Shortly after taking the above, I took the following photo in colour showing Shell Centre from the north bank of the Thames. The north facing part of the viewing gallery can be clearly seen at the very top.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 17

The building is one of the few immediate post war developments that works well. If the proposed redevelopment of the site gets approval, it will be very different. The plans propose the demolition of the “U” shaped 10 storey office block at the base of the tower, and a whole new cluster of towers built around the original tower.

To see the proposed development, look here.

It was quite a surprise to see how much this area will change, and in my view, the close proximity of towers of very different materials and design to the original tower just does not look right.

It was fascinating to look back on these photos of the London skyline from 1980. It looks very different now, and the almost continuous development of tower blocks look set to continue transforming the skyline for many years to come, although unlike the original Shell Centre complex, with almost identical glass and steel towers that are removing so much of the local character of London.

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The Royal Festival Hall – Dramatic Effects Of Space And Vista

I recently scanned some of my father’s photos which included the last photos he took in the early 1950s of the Royal Festival Hall. These photos show the area soon after the closure of the Festival of Britain when much of the infrastructure for the Festival was still in place.

At the end of this post I have put together a time sequence of photos of the site from 1947 through to 2015 showing the original site, during construction and photos taken in the early 1980s and 2015.

But first, the recently scanned photos, the first is of the Royal Festival Hall taken soon after closure of the Festival of Britain exhibition, from the footbridge alongside the Hungerford Railway Bridge.

Festival H4

And from the same location in April 2015:

Festival H6

The overall shape of the Royal Festival Hall is exactly as it was when first built, however there have been a number of cosmetic changes to the front with the middle tier window line now stretching across the full front of the hall and changes to the top tier with a balcony now between the glass and the front of the hall.

I planned to take the 2015 photo before the trees had come into leaf as when the leaves are fully grown the trees considerably obstruct the view of the hall. I was not early enough!

Please do not get me wrong, we do not plant enough trees, within the city and across the country, however there are some places where trees are in the wrong position. The Royal Festival Hall is, in my view, one of the very few buildings constructed soon after the last war that works well architecturally and is in the right location. The Royal Festival Hall was always designed to be seen from and across the River Thames and to provide views along to the City.

The trees in front of the building considerably obscure the building from the walkway across Hungerford Bridge and from the north bank of the Thames.

As the original Festival Guide stated:

“The Royal Festival Hall can claim to be a work of art in itself. The superb dramatic effects of space and vista, within the building and beyond it to the river and the city, are things which the visitor will discover for himself.”

Note also how in the original photo the Royal Festival Hall did not have any buildings in the background to detract from the view of the hall. A very different situation in 2015. To the right of the hall is the building that was the downstream building of Shell Centre, but has now been converted from offices to apartments. To the left is the Kent House Tower above the London TV Studios and behind that with the crane on the top is the South Bank Tower, again another building being converted from offices to apartments.

Walking a short distance further along the Hungerford footbridge, we can take a look down at the walkway in front of the Royal Festival Hall:

Festival H3

The poles are part of the decoration from the Festival of Britain. The photo also shows the observation platforms which I have heard of, but not seen photos of until scanning these negatives. There were six of these raised platforms extending just over the river wall and must have been a fantastic place to sit and view the surroundings.

At the far right of the photo is the Shot Tower, to the left can just be seen the walkway to the river pier, and in the distance is an excellent view over towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The view is very different in 2015:

Festival H7

The observation platforms are unfortunately long gone, and later replicas of the poles that can be seen in the original photo are just visible, however the view is considerably obstructed by the trees. Again, an example of why I would argue that this area of the Southbank is the wrong place for trees and their removal would open up both the view of the Royal Festival Hall and the views along the river and to the city.

The guide-book for the Festival of Britain shows the area in front of the Royal Festival Hall including the six observation platforms:

Festival H9

Walking almost to the end of the footbridge, we can look down and watch those out for a walk along the Southbank:

Festival H2

And the same location in 2015:

Festival H8

And a final view across to the Royal Festival Hall, with the Shot Tower on the left:

Festival H1

During the Festival, the Shot Tower had a Radio Telescope aerial mounted on the top. I had always assumed this was for decoration only, however the Festival Guide explains that it was a fully working system that would bounce radio signals off the moon, allowing visitors to see the time delay between the transmitted and reflected signal. The aerial system was mounted on a redundant gun mounting which could be moved to allow the aerial to track the moon.

From the Festival Guide Book:

“The Tower has been one of the landmarks of London since it was built-in 1826. It remains the only old building on the site, to serve as a beacon for the Festival. It is a beacon in two senses: it is a modern lighthouse with a double flashing beam welcoming visitors as far as 45 miles away when the weather is clear; it is a radio beacon directing radio signals to the moon and beyond into space.

The lighthouse mounted at the top will flash from sunset to Exhibition closing time. It has a power of 3 million candles. It is of the most modern all-electric design and so takes up far less space than the older types which needed weighty lenses to intensify the beam. The light itself comes from a lamp of three thousand watts; an automatic device ensures that a second lamp can swing into position should it fail. This lighthouse optic is the work of Chance Brothers Ltd., who made all the glass for the original Crystal Palace a hundred years ago.

The radio beam is above the lighthouse optic. The most obvious part of it is a large reflector which beams the signal from the aerial within it on to the moon. This is part of the radio telescope and is connected with the display in the Dome of Discovery by underground cable. In the Dome visitors can transmit signals to the moon and actually see them reflected back to the earth after about two and a half seconds.”

This was 64 years ago and I wonder if our public demonstration of science has progressed much since.

The following is from the Festival Guide and shows the detail of the top of the Shot Tower. As with the observation platforms, it would have been good if the Shot Tower could have been preserved as part of the Southbank’s history.

Festival H10

Also on the negatives were some photos of the following structure:

Festival H5

This was at the far eastern end of the Festival Hall site (Waterloo Bridge can just be seen at the lower right). The numbers on the central arch are the years 1851 and 1951.

1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition held in the “Crystal Palace” in Hyde Park. This structure looks to be a very rough approximation of the original Crystal Palace building. Both exhibitions had a very similar theme to demonstrate the country’s strength in industry and science.

I have featured this area of the Southbank in a number of posts to highlight different periods in the development of the site. I have brought the photos taken by my father and myself together in the following sequence to show how the site has changed from 1947 to 2015.

Starting in 1947, and the site still retains the original buildings with the Shot Tower on the left and Lion Brewery building to the right:

Festival 4

Construction starts. This is a panorama of several of my father’s photos to show the whole of the building site that would become the Royal Festival Hall:

Panorama

Construction is now well underway with cranes and scaffolding surrounding the building (compare this with the 1947 photo):

Festival 1

And repeating the photo from this week’s post, the completed Royal Festival Hall just after the Exhibition:

Festival H4

Now fast forward 30 years to the early 1980s and this is one of my photos of the Royal Festival Hall. Still no trees and the hall is an impressive site from the north bank of the Thames:

Festival H11

Summer 2014 and even from the height of the walkway along the side of Hungerford Bridge, the hall is hiding behind the trees:

trees

The guidebook to the Festival in the section on the Royal Festival Hall explains that it is a work of art in itself  and “the superb dramatic effects of space and vista, within the building and beyond it to the river and the city“. With the way that London is growing, the opportunity to appreciate space and vista at ground level is diminishing. It would be good if the area in front of the Royal Festival Hall could be opened up again to meet the original intentions of the architects.

You may also be interested in my other articles on this area:

The South Bank – Before the Festival of Britain and the Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall – Before, During And After Construction

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A Wartime Temporary Bridge And County Hall

My father took the following photo in early 1947 from the Embankment, just by the base of the Hungerford railway bridge looking over towards the County Hall, the offices of the London County Council. The photo is from the end of a strip of negatives that has suffered some damage. I will process and repair, but for this blog my intention is to present my father’s photos as I first see them after scanning. The photo is interesting for two features, the temporary bridge over the Thames that can be seen running across the river in front of County Hall,  and the large heap of rubble to the left of County Hall. The very start of demolition of the site that would a few years later be the location of the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain. County Hall 1 The location where my father took the photo was easy to find. As well as County Hall being the main feature in the photo, the balustrade in the foreground is still there. Just beyond County Hall to the right are the original buildings of St. Thomas’ Hospital.

Unfortunately the weather was not as sunny as when my father took the photo 68 years earlier, however my 2015 photo from the same location: County Hall 3 The ship in the foreground was not there in 1947. She is the Hispaniola, launched in 1953 as the Maid of Ashton and entered service in Scotland. She was converted into a restaurant ship and renamed the Hispaniola in 1973, finally reaching her current place on the Thames in 1974.

The temporary bridge over the Thames was one of a number constructed during the war. The aim was to provide an alternative route over the river if the main bridges were bombed. This bridge would have provided an alternative route if the nearby Westminster Bridge was hit. The temporary bridges were removed between 1947 and 1948 so my father’s photo was taken a couple of months before it was dismantled. The route of the temporary bridge was from the north bank to the south, to land adjacent to the County Hall. The following photo is from the landing point on the north bank looking along the line of the bridge to the south bank. These bridges were temporary and there is no evidence of the bridge to be found today, just the London Eye which now dominates this area of the south bank. County Hall 4 There was a second photo on the same strip of negatives, in better condition, and taken looking slightly to the left of the first photo so we get a full view of the location that would host the Festival of Britain and which is now the Jubilee Gardens. As with so much of the land along the banks of the river, the stretch between Hungerford and Westminster bridges was a continuous stretch of warehousing and industrial activity with many wharfs and inlets to the river. County Hall 2 Looking across to the same area now: County Hall 5 To give some idea of the activities which took place along this stretch of the river, the plans for County Hall detail the occupiers of the site prior to the start of the construction. Adjacent to Westminster Bridge was the Westminster Flour Mills, then came the Lambeth Borough Council Works department with Acre Wharf and Vestry Wharf on either side followed by the Cross and Blackwell factory at Soho Wharf, then extending past the County Hall site was the London County Council Works Department. The whole stretch providing a very irregular frontage onto the Thames, as shown in the 1947 photos.

The following map is from Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London from 1940. Whilst not showing the wharfs, it does show the area adjacent to County Hall, covered by my father’s original photos, part occupied by the Government India Stores and that a road, Jenkins Street, now long since disappeared extended down to the river’s edge from Belvedere Road.

County Hall Map 1

Construction of County Hall commenced in 1909 with a “coffer dam” being built between January and September 1909 to separate the construction area from the Thames so this could be emptied of water. Work was then started on the embankment wall in September 1909 to build the substantial wall that we see today.

Once the area was separated from the Thames, construction of the foundations and the raft on which the building would sit started. It was during this work that evidence of London’s Roman history was found with the discovery of a Roman boat deep in the sub soil, 19 feet below the river’s high water level. 38 feet in length and 18 feet wide the boat was considered to be a “round-bottomed ocean-going” boat. After seeing the light of day and a very different Thames than the boat must have last sailed down, it was stored by the London County Council before being transferred to the Museum of London.

Work continued on County Hall during the First World War, initial impact of the war was on the slowing of supplies of Cornish granite due to the military demand for rail transport. Reduction of supplies resulted in manpower being moved onto other activities with work slowing considerably after 1915. After the war, work picked up again, with 349 men working on the site in July 1919 rising to over one thousand in 1921. County Hall was finally finished and officially opened in July 1922.

Aerofilms took the following photo when much of the construction up to roof level was nearing completion. The area beyond County Hall is still industrial and warehousing typical of this whole stretch up to Westminster Bridge prior to the construction of County Hall. EPW005603It is fascinating to read how the authority for London was viewed in the first half of the last century. From the 1951 edition of The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn:

“The London County Council is generally admitted to be the largest and most efficiently managed municipal governing authority in the world. It superseded the old Metropolitan Board of Works created in 1855 to watch over the requirements of London, and its 118 councillors were first elected on Thursday, 17 January 1889. On 21 March 1949 it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. It had often been said that if Parliament ceased to talk for twelve months the country would suffer no inconvenience, and many people would probably be glad. On the other hand, if the London County Council ceased work for a few days indescribable chaos would result, and the health of Londoners would be seriously jeopardized. its housing estates house 500,000 people who pay £5,000,000 a year in rents. In its 1,400 schools 300,000 children are educated by 14,000 teachers.” 

The following postcard with a view taken from the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament shows the area of my father’s photo following clearance and before construction of the Festival of Britain. This must have been around 1949. the temporary bridge has been removed along with all the buildings and rubble from the south bank site, with the land flattened all the way down to the river. It must have been a sight at high tide with the river probably able to extend a fair distance inland at this point. County Hall 6 The view from the Victoria Tower also shows how few tall buildings there were across London. An aspect of the city that would change very dramatically over the following 60 years.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn published in 1951
  • County Hall, Survey of London Monograph 17, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published in 1940

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The Waterloo Air Terminal

Following the closure of the Festival of Britain, the Southbank site was swiftly cleared apart from the Royal Festival Hall which was always planned as a permanent facility unlike the rest of the Festival buildings.

One part of the Festival site did remain for a few more years and provided support to the rapidly growing Heathrow Airport to the west. In the early days of Heathrow, transport options to the airport were very limited. The Bath Road ran alongside which provided a route for cars / taxis and there were some limited bus services to the airport, however the extension of Underground and Rail services were still many years in the future. The airlines operating out of Heathrow needed to provide passengers for this new and rapidly growing form of transport with easy access to the airport from the centre of London.

One of the main entrances to the Festival of Britain was on York Road facing the main entrance of Waterloo Station. This entrance also had a dedicated entry / exit to the Underground system at Waterloo with the escalators diving underneath York Road to reach the tunnels to the Northern and Bakerloo lines.

The Festival of Britain was held during the summer of 1951, and two years after closure, on the 27th March 1953 the York Road entrance to the site re-opened as the BEA Waterloo Air Terminal serving passengers on BEA flights and other airlines operating out of Heathrow for which BEA acted as a handler. (BEA or British European Airways was formed in 1946 and merged with BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1974 to become British Airways)

The following photo of the Waterloo Air Terminal was taken in York Road from the end of the access road to the main entrance of Waterloo Station.

Waterloo terminal 1

A British European Airways truck is parked outside the building, a poster advertising events at the Royal festival Hall is on the right. County Hall, the home of what was the London County Council can be seen to the left.

My 2015 photo taken on a damp January morning from roughly the same position is shown in the photo below:

Waterloo terminal 4

In the original photo, the London Underground sign can be seen on one of the columns of the building to the left. In the 2015 photo the underground station is just under the footbridge as it enters the office block. The station entrance and the escalator tunnels down to the main underground stations have not changed in the intervening years which provides a perfect reference point in the old and new photos.

Walk further along York Road towards County Hall and we can look back and get another view of the Air Terminal and the Underground Station entrance can be seen just behind the bus.

Waterloo terminal 3

The Waterloo Air Terminal was in use between 1953 and 1957 and provided check-in facilities, luggage drop-off (which would be collected and taken separately to Heathrow) and a regular coach / bus service provided passenger transport to the airport.

For a short period starting on the 25th July 1955 and ending on the 31st May 1956, a trial helicopter service was run between the Waterloo Air Terminal and Heathrow using the space remaining from the Festival of Britain and a Westland-Sikorsky S55 helicopter, however the high cost of the tickets and the limited capacity of the helicopter did not justify running the service and the coach / bus services remained as the primary means of transport. The helicopter service carried 3,822 revenue paying customers during operation.

Walk to the traffic lights where Chicheley Street meets York Road, walk down Chicheley Street and cross over to the Jubilee Gardens where we can look back towards York Road. This was the rear of the Waterloo Air Terminal:

Waterloo terminal 2

The main terminal is underneath the arches. The building on the left is the BEA Cargo Depot. The coach park is on the right. To the left can be seen the railway viaduct which runs from Hungerford Bridge into Waterloo East. Roughly the same scene in 2015:

Waterloo terminal 5A much larger Air Terminal was constructed by BEA in Cromwell Road in 1957 and the services provided by the Waterloo Air terminal were relocated to Cromwell Road allowing the closure of the site and the redevelopment of the area.

The building that is now located on the site of the Waterloo Air Terminal is Shell Centre, built as the UK Head Offices of the Royal Dutch / Shell group of companies and was constructed on the site shortly after the closure of the air terminal from 1957 to 1962.

Aerofilms took a superb photo of the site after closure of the Festival of Britain and removal of many of the buildings including the central Dome of Discovery, the outline of which can be seen in the centre left of the photo below. It was the large area occupied by the Dome of Discovery that was used for the helicopter service.
EAW048068

The Waterloo Air Terminal can be seen in the lower centre of the photo with York Road running left to right. The curved roof of Waterloo Station can just be seen at the bottom of the photo. The Royal Festival Hall is clearly seen and to the right is the Shot Tower which would soon be demolished.

The Waterloo Air Terminal was only open for 4 years, but during those years it played a small, but significant role in supporting the development of Heathrow. A clear sign in the immediate post-war years of how Heathrow would become such a key part of London’s transport infrastructure.

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