Getting Back into the 1951 Spirit

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The Dome of Discovery and the Skylon, 1952

As this summer’s Southbank Festival of the World in London demonstrated, the area that once encompassed 1951’s Festival of Britain is continuing its traditional role as a world exhibition site.

The Festival of Britain aimed to raise the nation’s spirits and promote the rebuilding of areas still left in ruin after the devastation of World War II. It was held on the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition under the reign of Queen Victoria, and like this pioneer of world’s fairs the 1951 event promoted the very best of British design, industry, and art to a world audience. As someone borderline obsessed with the history of the Great Exhibition, I love seeing photos and reading the history of festivals and events that continue its legacy.

The Southbank Exhibition and the Battersea Pleasure Gardens were the Festival of Britain’s main showpieces, and both officially opened on May 3rd, 1951. As with many great world’s fairs and exhibitions however, many of the original buildings from the Festival of Britain were demolished after it ended; today only Royal Festival Hall remains.

Festival Pleasure Gardens, Battersea Park, 1951.
King George VI and his family visiting the Southbank Exhibition, 1951.

Historypin contributor Ben Brooksbank was there in 1951 and took photos of the construction of the festival buildings, as well as the crowds enjoying the grounds after they had opened. His carefully-labeled photographs not only provide a great historical resource, but also a wonderful personal record of this 1951 world’s fair. Here are some below:

Power and Production Pavilion and County Hall, 1951.
Constructing Battersea Park Festival Pleasure Gardens, April 1951.
Royal Festival Hall and the Shot Tower from Waterloo Bridge, February 1951.
Interior of the Unicorn Restaurant in the 'Lion and Unicorn' Pavilion, Southbank Festival, 1951.

Check out more Festival of Britain photos from Ben and other contributors here on Historypin map, as well as a short Tour of the Festival that we have created.

One of the high-flying attractions on the Southbank as the Festival spirit continued this summer

Do you or your family have any photo memories from the Festival of Britain or the current Festival of the World? Tweet or Facebook us what you’ve pinned to the map!