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A brief history of The Festival of Britain and Memorabilia created for the Festival

The Festival of Britain was a national event that took place in 1951. This event was meant to celebrate the end of World War II and commemorate the reconstruction of Britain. The festival was designed by architect Hugh Casson and artist Herbert Read, and it included exhibits, performances, and food from all over the world. We look at the Festival and some of the memorabilia created for the event.

The Festival of Britain was a national event that took place in 1951

It was intended to celebrate the country’s achievements and to promote a sense of hope and unity after the difficult years of World War II. The festival included a wide range of events and attractions, including art exhibitions, concerts, sports competitions, and trade fairs. More than 8 million people attended the festival, which was widely considered to be a success. In subsequent years, the festival became an important part of British culture, helping to shape the country’s identity in the post-war era.

festival of britain souvenir programme
Festival Of Britain Souvenir Programme

The festival was designed by architect Hugh Casson and artist Herbert Read

The Festival of Britain was timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was the brainchild of Labour politician Herbert Morrison, the event was seen as a way to boost morale and a ‘tonic for the nation’ in the aftermath of World War Two and to showcase the best of British art and culture.

Hugh Casson, an architect and designer, was appointed as Director of Architecture for the festival. He oversaw the construction of several iconic buildings, including the Royal Festival Hall and the Skylon. Artist Herbert Read was also heavily involved in the festival, curating an exhibition of modern art that included works by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Together, Casson and Read helped to make The Festival of Britain a resounding success, cementing their place in history as two of the most influential figures involved in the event.

A bomb site on London’s South Bank was transformed into a number of Pavillions, and buildings including the Royal Festival Hall, a miniature railway designed by Rowland Emmett and even a giant funfair.

Norman Makinson for Wedgwood A Festival of Britain Mug 1951
Norman Makinson for Wedgwood A Festival of Britain Mug 1951. Estimate £350-£450

The festival celebrated the end of World War II and commemorated the reconstruction of Britain

The Festival of Britain was a national event that took place in 1951, celebrating the end of World War II and commemorating the reconstruction of Britain. The festival was open to the public and featured a wide range of attractions, including an exhibition on the history of British science and technology, a Central Zone with a variety of shops and restaurants, and a South Bank site with an auditorium, gardens, and a funfair. Over 8 million people visited the festival, making it one of the most successful events in British history. The festival helped to lift the nation’s spirits after the war and served as a symbol of hope for the future. It is remembered as a major turning point in British culture, paving the way for the “Swinging Sixties” and beyond.

Festival of Britain 1951 a Poole Pottery Contemporary hors doeuvres dish by Ruth Pavely
Festival of Britain 1951 a Poole Pottery Contemporary hors doeuvres dish by Ruth Pavely. Sold for £150 at Woolley and Wallis, March 2022.

The festival included exhibits, performances, and food from all over the world

One of the most iconic features of the festival was the different pavilions that were built to showcase different aspects of British life. The Transport Pavilion showcased the latest in British engineering, while the Technology Pavilion showed off the latest advances in science and technology. There was also an Arts Pavilion, which featured exhibitions from British artists, and a Housing Pavilion, which showcased the latest in British architecture. Each pavilion was designed to be a unique and exciting experience, and visitors to the festival loved exploring all the different areas. The most popular pavilion was the Dome of Discovery, which featured an exhibition on the history of science and technology.  Other popular attractions included the Royal Albert Hall, where concerts and operas were held, and the Festival Gardens, which featured food from all over the world.

Importantly, it also acted as a catalyst for a new design aesthetic, launching the career of noted British designers working in the fields of textiles, furniture and graphic design.

Festival of Britain memorabilia

The famous symbol of The Festival of Britain was Britannia which featured bunting, union jack colours, and a compass shape. It combined national pride and the idea of a seafaring superpower with the homely feel of a village fete. It was designed by Abram Games who won a competition in 1948 to create a logo for the event. Abram Games had previously been noted as an Official War Poster Artist.

Rare 1951 Festival of Britain Skylon souvenir Biro desk pen
Rare 1951 Festival of Britain Skylon souvenir Biro desk pen, housed within a printed cellophone cone, housed in original box.

The ‘Britannia’ emblem of Abram Games was common, versatile, and memorable, appearing on advertising posters and promotional materials. It was also used on a whole range of memorabilia and souvenirs created for the event ranging from pottery to glass, books, jigsaw puzzles, clocks, cufflinks, even a Dunhill Aquarium Lighter, and many other items. Other items were also created which featured re-workings of the original logo and other designers such as Ruth Pavely and Norman Makinson.

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