No London Eye in this bird’s-eye view of 1951 – South London News

In the summer of 1951, millions of visitors flocked to the South Bank for a festival of national celebration, writes Claudia Lee.

The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition to uplift a nation of people torn apart by years of war and crushed by austerity.

Focused almost entirely on Britain and its achievements, the festival was funded by a £12million Government budget and organised by Labour cabinet minister Herbert Morrison, MP for South Hackney and former leader of London County Council.

The festival aimed to give the people of Britain a feeling of success and recovery after the Second World War’s devastation, as well as promote British science, technology, industrial design, architecture, and the arts at a time when the Labour Government was losing support.

Although it was a national event, South London was at its heart as the host of the festival’s centerpiece, the South Bank site.

A young boy and his mother at the Festival of Britain South Bank site Picture: Michael Jefferies Flickr

The South Bank site had a number of festival cafes as well as a Sports Arena with demonstrations of a variety of sports for people to sit and watch.

There was also a New Schools Pavilion, to show the future of schools after the 1944 Education Act, with classroom settings, school furniture, and laboratories all on display.

Running along the Embankment, towards Hungerford Bridge there was London’s own Seaside. The Seaside site was inspired by the beach being Britain’s favourite place to relax.

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

we02 p20 mems Woman at the pleasure gardens battersea SMALLA woman walks through the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea Picture: daves_archive _inactive at current time Flickr

One of the most popular attractions on the 27-acre site in the South Bank was Telekinema, a 400-seat cinema operated by the British Film Institute.

The Telekinema could screen films as well as 3D films and large-screen television as was where many visitors saw their first ever television pictures.

Many of those who visited the South Bank festival site would have taken one of the shuttle boats from the South Bank piers to the pier at Battersea Park.

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

All the other core events were educational and informative whereas the intention of the Pleasure Gardens was to add an element of fun to the festival.

we02 p20 mems 3D model of the southbank site SMALLThe model of the South Bank site that can be seen on display at the South Bank centre
Picture: Wikimedia Commons

The Pleasure Gardens was one of the only sites that allowed commercial sponsorship at the festival.

While the majority of goods displayed at the rest of the festival were British, the Pleasure Gardens sourced a number of the fairground rides from the US, the only place the latest and most exciting rides could be sourced at the time.

The Pleasure Gardens were also more nostalgic than the other sites, offering traditional entertainment like the puppet show Punch and Judy and a Music Hall along with gardens, water features, and the miniature Oyster Creek railway created by Rowland Emett.

Elsewhere in South London, a new wing of the Science Museum in South Kensington held the Exhibition of Science.

we02 p20 mems Looking across the Thames SMALLLooking across the Thames at the festival of Britain South Bank site Picture: Terry Whalebone Flickr

The exhibition was displayed in the biological section of the museum and had three sections: Physical and Chemical Nature of Matter, The Structure of Living Things, and Stop Press.

If you want to see more about the Festival of Britain, the Southbank Centre has a small exhibition, the Story of 51, which displays photography of the Festival of Britain site, a 3D model, and archive film clips.


Picture: A bird’s-eye view of The Festival of Britain South Bank Site Picture: Leonard Bentley Flickr


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