The 1951 Festival of Britain

In 1951, just six years after WW2, Britain’s towns and cities still showed the scars of war that remained a constant reminder of the turmoil of the previous years. With the aim of promoting the feeling of recovery, the Festival of Britain opened to the public on the 4th May 1951, celebrating British industry, arts and science and inspiring the thought of a better Britain.

The site in 1951 showing the Dome of Discovery.

The main site of the Festival was constructed on a 27 acre area on the South Bank, London, which had been left untouched since being bombed in the war.

The main site featured the largest dome in the world at the time, standing 93 feet tall with a diameter of 365 feet. This held exhibitions on the theme of discovery such as the New World, the Polar regions, the Sea, the Sky and Outer Space. It also included a 12-ton steam engine on show. Adjacent to the Dome was the Skylon, a breathtaking, iconic and futuristic-looking structure. The Skylon was an unusual, vertical cigar shaped tower supported by cables that gave the impression that it was floating above the ground.  Other buildings at the Festival site on South Bank include the Royal Festival Hall, a 2,900 seat concert hall that hosted concerts and still remains today.

The Skylon.

Even before the Festival opened, it was condemned as a waste of money, with many people believing it would have been better spent on housing after the destruction of many houses during WW2. Once opened, the critics turned to the artistic taste; the Riverside Restaurant was seen as too futuristic, the Royal Festival Hall seen as too innovative and even certain furnishings in the Café met criticism for being too gaudy. It was also criticized for being too expensive, with entrance to the Dome of Discovery at five shillings. Even with the above complaints the main Festival site on the South Bank managed to attract more than 8 million paying visitors.

Always planned as a temporary exhibition, the Festival ran for 5 months before closing in September 1951.

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