1951 The Festival of Britain

A Nation Celebrated, Art, Architecture and Design in Post-War Britain.

In 1951, up and down the country, the nation celebrated. It celebrated with events from the lavish displays on the South Bank of the Thames and at Battersea to the events held on village greens and in village halls across the land.

A nation still recovering from the physical, financial and mental struggles of the recent World War decided to hold a party for the country. The initial excuse was the centenary of the Great Exhibition, an event that still played an important part in the national imagination, however the years’ events quickly forgot the past and looked forward. Forward to the ‘land fit for heroes’ that the War-time coalition government had promised.

The group of young architects that worked with Hugh Casson and Misha Black worked with vigour and fervour towards an exhibition that showcased a new form of architecture, design and town planning that amazed and inspired all those who saw it. The new National Health Service, secondary education for all, the promise of new homes, jobs, advances in science, television, jet powered flight and a brave new world of technological advance were all apparent at the Festival. One of the displays even included the first ever computer game.fullsizeoutput_701

This talk will consider the reasons why the Festival was held, at a time when money was non existent and materials impossible to source, the centenary could so easily have been overlooked, and on many occasions excuses could have been found to cancel the proposed events. The Labour government were not put off by the many problems and an event was held that the nation could be proud of. We will consider some of the characters involved, what motivated them and the resulting events and the wonderful design, art and architecture that flourished during the Festival year and had an impact for many years to come.

fullsizeoutput_887The exhibition on the South Bank of the Thames was the focus for the Festival celebrations, you might remember the Skylon and Dome of Discovery that were the two stand out features of the site. However the Festival was for the nation, not just London, and we will consider the events up and down the country, the pleasure gardens at Battersea, the ship Campania that travelled around the major ports, and a land travelling exhibition that visited a number of major cities.

Fully illustrated, largely with period images from a wide range of sources, this has proved to be a popular talk, especially with those who may still remember visiting the Festival as a young child. For others the increasingly popular 50’s design, which for a time was known as ‘Festival Style’, is a source of inspiration and for those interested in the history of post-war art, design and architecture there are few events to rival those held during the Festival year.


Do you remember the Festival of Britain, spiky wire chairs and concrete planters? This talk is an opportunity to revisit those exciting post-war years when the future was bright and technology was to change to world in so many ways for so many of us.