The Festival of Britain

London, 1951

The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition which opened in London and around Britain on the third of May 1951 by King George V.

Being only a short six years since the end of World War II, much of London was still in ruins and in desperate need of redevelopment.

Rationing was still in force and the dreary after effects of the war continued to be felt throughout the country.

The Festival was an attempt to give Britons a feeling of recovery, of progress and to promote better-quality design in the rebuilding of British towns and cities. The Festival was also to be a celebration the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace.

The principal exhibition site on this occasion was to be the South Bank of the Thames, near Waterloo Station.

It was the brainchild of Gerald Barry and the Labour Deputy Leader Herbert Morrison who described it as “a tonic for the nation”

Despite the popularity and profitability of the Festival, Winston Churchill was contemptuous of it and his first act on his return to the job of Prime Minister in October 1951 was to clear the South Bank site.

Profits from the Festival were retained by the London County Council and were used to convert the Royal Festival Hall into a concert hall and to establish The South Bank as an arts and cultural centre.

The 221B Baker Street exhibit of Sherlock Holmes apartments is still displayed in a pub near Charing Cross railway station.

The legacy of the Festival was to be to “. . . leave behind not just a record of what we have thought of ourselves in the year 1951 but, in a fair community founded where once there was a slum, in an avenue of trees or in some work of art, a reminder of what we have done to write this single, adventurous year into our national and local history”

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