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60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain

Can it really be 60 years ago that I visited the Festival of Britain held on the South Bank of the Thames, London, in May, 1951?

The Festival of Britain came 100 years after the Great Exhibition in 1851, which had been a celebration of Victorian industry. The 1951 event, six years after the end of the Second World War, was intended to boost public morale after the hardships of the war and display the vigour and creativeness again being shown by British industries. It showcased British technology, arts and architecture.

The symbol of the exhibition was the Skylon and other features included an exhibition building known as The Dome of Discovery, the Royal Festival Hall, and using a Shot Tower, that had been built on the site in 1826, to carry a radio beacon on its roof. Shot towers were used to drop lead a sufficient distance to form  round shot for weapons.

There was a pleasure garden at Battersea Park adjacent to the exhibition grounds. I recall a tiny railway that operated there called the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway. It was based on Fred Emmett’s whimsical cartoons found in Punch magazine.

I also recall an exhibit showing Sherlock Holmes waiting room at 221B Baker Street. The room even had the bullet pock-marked VR on the wall created by Holmes. Interestingly enough, I again viewed this display, many decades later, in the Sherlock Holmes public house in London. I do not now remember what street the pub is on, but it is quite close to Charing Cross railway station.

The British Post Office issued two commemorative postage stamps to commemorate this national exhibition – a 2½d scarlet designed by Edmund Dulac, and a 4d ultramarine designed by Abram Games. The lower value represents Commerce and Prosperity and shows the heads of Britannia and King George VI facing each other across a centrepiece of a cornucopia and a caduceus. The 4d value depicts the Festival symbol. The stamps are quite common and found in many stamp collections. (See photo below)

In later years, I have visited other exhibitions including the New York World’s and the Montreal Expo of 1967. All were memorable but I particularly enjoyed visiting the Festival of Britain during my teenage years.

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