Arts Society members recall fond memories of the Festival of Britain

The Arts Society Salisbury March lecture was given by Marc Allum.

The subject of Marc’s talk was the 1951 Festival of Britain and he quickly found himself amazed to find that no fewer than 21 members of the society had visited the festival.

One recalled that it seemed like a different world; another had recently qualified as a teacher and accompanied her first class; another recalled the special stamp issued by the Royal Mail.

The year was chosen to celebrate the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition but also to give post-war Britain a morale-boost. It was ‘a tonic to the nation’, showing its abilities in design, architecture, construction, etc, but was also a showcase to the world.

The centrepieces were The Dome of Discovery (a futuristic building, echoes of which may be found in the O2 Millennium Dome) and Skylon.

Both were destroyed at the end of the festival with Skylon being toppled into the Thames. The original model may be seen at the Museum of London.
The festival took place nationwide. Displays were installed on HMS Campania, which travelled around the coast of Britain, stopping at different locations. There were local pageant parades and street parties.

The Pleasure Gardens were a huge leisure attraction to Londoners, being free and open daily until 11 pm, receiving 8.5 million visitors.

In addition to Royal Mail commemorative stamps, visitors to the festival could buy souvenirs, such as a Wedgewood mug, jigsaw puzzles, a site model and Skylon Biros.

Marc commented that the festival achieved its aim in pushing Britain forward. It was a beacon for change after the food shortages and bomb sites, and helped to revitalise the nation while remaining apolitical.

Its legacy may be seen in fabrics, furniture, art and architecture.

The Royal Festival Hall is the only surviving building that was built specifically for the festival, but if you find yourself walking along Oxford Street in London and reach number 219, look up and you will see a number of friezes.

The building was designed by Ronald Ward and the friezes depict the festival logo, the Festival Hall and the alien-looking Skylon among other lost architectural heritage.

The Arts Society Salisbury’s next talk will be given by Christopher Bradley on Tutankhamen and the Splendours of Ancient Egypt at 1.55 pm on April 11 at St Francis Church, Beatrice Road.

The opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon and the discovery of 5,000 precious objects uncovered some of the world’s most iconic art.

If you would like further information, visit The Arts Society Salisbury is also on Facebook.

Guests are welcome to attend a meeting, £7.

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