The Way to Go Round

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The Exhibition, which tells a continuous story, will make most sense if the Pavilions are visited in the order shown; but each can be visited separately if so desired.

Upstream Circuit – “The Land”

  1. The Land of Britain ◦ How the natural wealth of the British Isles came into being.
  2. The Natural Scene ◦ The rich and varied wild life that inhabits these islands.
  3. The Country ◦ A highly mechanised and most efficiently farmed countryside results from long experience, aided by science and engineering.
  4. Minerals of the Island ◦ How the British have drawn on their natural resources to produce raw materials for industry.
  5. Power and Production ◦ Highlights in the growth of present-day industry – the lifeline of Britain.
  6. Sea and Ships ◦ Shipbuilding, propelling machinery and the fisheries.
  7. Transport ◦ British pioneering, and contemporary achievement in design, for Communications and transport by Road, Rail, Air and Sea.

The Dome of Discovery

British initiative in exploration and discovery is as strong to-day as ever it was.

  1. The Land ◦ Exploration leads to development of overseas territories. Science and technology provide the tools and methods.
  2. The Earth ◦ Science is revealing the age and structure of the earth. Technology develops its underground resources.
  3. Polar ◦ A great tradition now applied particularly to scientific discovery and aided by mechanisation. Demonstrations in the Polar theatre.
  4. Sea ◦ The great heritage of Drake and Cook has passed to the marine scientists who are yearly adding to our knowledge of the sea.
  5. Sky ◦ Weather forecasting and research. Exploration into the ionosphere, which improves long-distance radio communication.
  6. Outer Space ◦ What we have learned from the old astronomy of Newton, and from the new astronomy which uses radio methods.
  7. The Physical World ◦ Explorations into the nature and behaviour of matter have made possible many of the material achievements of the present age.
  8. The Living World ◦ Discoveries of the secrets of life. Darwin’s great influence in the world of thought. Contemporary biological research.

Downstream Circuit – “The People”

  1. The People of Britain ◦ We are a people of mixed ancestry and now a blend of many different qualities.
  2. The Lion and the Unicorn ◦ Clues to British character and tradition. The Lion symbolises action the unicorn imagination.
  3. Homes & Gardens ◦ Many people on a small island create an urgent problem of space. Here are new solutions for six such problems in the home.
  4. The New Schools ◦ Equipment and classrooms from the new schools in Britain.
  5. Health ◦ British pioneering and modern achievement in public health, medicine, surgery and nursing.
  6. Sport ◦ Most sports originated in Britain and we have carried them around the world. Craftsmen at work.
  7. Seaside ◦ Our maritime character as expressed at home – the port, the seaside resort, the wild coastline between them.

Other Downstream Displays

  1. Television ◦ Its development: how television shows are put on.
  2. Telecinema ◦ First showings of new British documentary films in one-hourly programmes: large-screen television.
  3. 1851 Centenary Pavilion ◦ Recalls, in model form, the original Crystal Palace and its Royal opening in 1851.
  4. Shot Tower ◦ Aerial and reflector of the radio telescope; lighthouse optic and lantern; at base, a small display about the South Bank.
  5. Design Review ◦ A novel display, with information service, of 25,000 photographs illustrating the wide range of British manufactures.

The Festival’s Centrepiece

The South Bank Exhibition is the centrepiece of something far larger – the Festival of Britain.

The Festival is nation-wide. All through the summer, and all through the land, its spirit will be finding expression in a variety of British sights and a great range of British sounds. Taken together, these will add up to one united act of national reassessment, and one corporate reaffirmation of faith in the nations future.

It was in 1947 that His Majesty’s Government decided that there should be displays to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851, in the Arts, Architecture, Science, Technology and Industrial Design: so that this country and the world could pause to review British contributions to world civilisation in the arts of peace.

To advise how this decision should most fittingly be carried out, the Government set up the Festival Council, a voluntarily serving body of thirty-two men and women, all of them distinguished in some province of the national life. The Chairman of this Council is General Lord Ismay.

To plan and implement the Festival projects, a new official organisation was formed – the Festival of Britain Office, whose Director-General is Mr. Gerald Barry. Associated with this Office in certain branches of its work are the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Council of Industrial Design, the British Film Institute and the National Book League. In addition to these bodies, a Council for Architecture and a Council for Science and Technology were specially created to advise the Festival Organisation.

It soon became evident that the Arts would be best displayed in a series of country-wide musical and dramatic performances and special exhibitions. In order that religion should play its full part in the Festival, an Advisory Committee of Christian Churches was set up. Achievements in architecture could also be presented in dynamic form by the display of a new Neighbourhood, which was planned to be built and occupied in the Poplar district of London.

To demonstrate the contributions to civilisation made by British advances in Science, Technology and Industrial Design, it was clearly necessary that they should be exhibited, in their practical and applied forms, against a background representing the living, working world of to-day. It was to provide such a setting for the presentation of this theme that the South Bank Exhibition was conceived.

This Exhibition is supplemented by other Festival displays and activities elsewhere – each complete in itself, yet each a part of the one single conception. For example, the present site can yield no space for an amusement park, so this has been provided in the Festival Pleasure Gardens, about three miles up the river.

Heavy Engineering is the subject of an Exhibition of Industrial Power in Glasgow. Certain important aspects of science which do not properly fall within the terms of reference of the South Bank Exhibition are displayed in a new exhibition in South Kensington. Linen technology and science in agriculture find a place in the “Farm and Factory” Exhibition in Belfast. Reclaiming of agricultural land is seen in practical form in the Dolhendre Hillside Farm Scheme in Wales. There are also Book Exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Further, a smaller edition of the South Bank story can be seen in the Festival Ship Campania, which will come to the public along the coasts of Britain during the summer, while, on land, a travelling exhibition, containing the industrial design chapters of the story, will visit Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham, in turn.

The South Bank Site

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One of the principal aims of the Festival is to bring to the British way of life some enrichment that will endure for long after the Festival year is over. lt is fitting, therefore, that the main national Exhibition should be the first occupant of a site which has been so long abandoned by human enterprise and so newly won from the river.

The South Bank site is in the heart of London, yet, until recently, the marshy texture of its ground has repelled the City’s most important buildings to positions on the North Bank of the river. Nobody could bring themselves even to pioneer the development of this neglected and decayed area until after the First World War, when the London County Council placed the County Hall here. Waterloo was then rebuilt as one of the finest railway stations in the country, and, more recently, the new Waterloo Bridge has added the third point of the triangle of new development.

Within this area, which, for the present, is occupied by the Exhibition, the Government and the London County Council have plans for a number of great buildings, which will form part of a co-ordinated design. The first of these, the Royal Festival Hall, is the largest structure among the many Exhibition Pavilions – and the only permanent one.

One part of this major plan that has been specially hastened-on for the Festival is the new river wall. This project, completed in record time, has reclaimed four and a half acres of land from the river. It has quite transformed the familiar patchwork of rubble and half-derelict buildings which had for so long monopolised the prospect from the North Bank.

The Story the Exhibition Tells

20160315 42What the visitor will see on the South Bank is an attempt at something new in exhibitions – a series of sequences of things to look at, arranged in a particular order so as to tell one continuous, interwoven story. The order is important. For the South Bank Exhibition is neither a museum of British culture nor a trade show of British wares, it tells the story of British contributions to world civilisation in the arts of peace. That story has a beginning, a middle, and an end – even if that end consists of nothing more final than fingerposts into the future.

The Pavilions of the Exhibition are placed in a certain deliberate sequence on the ground as chapters are placed in a certain deliberate sequence in a book. And, within each Pavilion, the displays are arranged in a certain order, as paragraphs are arranged in a certain order within each chapter of a book. This is a free country, and any visitors who, from habit or inclination, feel impelled to start with the last chapter of the whole narrative and then zig-zag their way backwards to the first chapter, will be as welcome as anyone else. But such visitors may find that some of the chapters will appear mystifying and inconsequent.

The story – as any visitor whose feet follow the intended circulation will observe -begins with the past, continues with the present, and ends with a preview of the continuing future. The belief that Britain will continue to have contributions to make in the future, is founded on two factors from which, in combination, British achievements, past and present, have arisen. Those two factors are the People of Britain and the Land of Britain. And those two factors continue.

This, then, is the theme of the interwoven serial story which is embodied in the South Bank Exhibition: the Land and the People. The land, endowed with scenery, climate and resources more various than any other country of comparable size, has nurtured and challenged and stimulated the people. The people, endowed with not one single characteristic that is peculiar to themselves, nevertheless, when taken together, could not be mistaken for any other nation in the world.

So, throughout the length of the Exhibition, there will be unfolded the tale of the continuous impact that this particular land has made on this particular people, and of the achievements that this people has continued to derive from its relationship with this land. The South Bank, then, contains a new sort of narrative about Britain: an Exhibition designed to tell a story mainly through the medium, not of words, but of tangible things.

The South Bank site is divided by the Hungerford Railway Bridge, which has been used in the layout of the Exhibition as the inner binding that separates the narrative into its two main volumes. The circuit of Pavilions that lie, in a rough semi-circle, upstream from Hungerford Bridge, tells the story of the Land of Britain and of the things that the British have derived from their land; the circuit of Pavilions that lie, in a rough semi-circle, downstream from Hungerford Bridge, relates the story of the People of Britain in the context of their more domestic life and leisure.

But even the whole two volumes of the Land and the People, taken together, must give an incomplete idea of the distinctive British contribution, unless a third volume is added: a memorandum on the pre-eminent achievements of British men and women in mapping and charting the globe, in exploring the heavens, and in investigating the structure and nature of the universe. These discoveries, together with some of the practical developments, are reviewed in the Dome of Discovery, which lies within the body of the Upstream, or Land Circuit.

Both the first chapter of the Land story and the first chapter of the People story open on the Fairway. It is from either of these starting points that visitors are invited to begin their tour of the Exhibition.

The architecture and the display, which embody the theme, were planned under the responsible direction of the Festival Office’s Exhibition Presentation Panel, which has the following membership:

Gerald Barry, Director General, Chairman
Cecil Cooke, Director, Exhibitions, Deputy Chairman
Misha Black, O.B.E. ◦ A. D. Hippisley Coxe, Council of Industrial Design
G. A. Campbell, Director, Finance and EstablishmentsJames Gardner, O.B.E.
Hugh Casson, Director, ArchitectureJames Holland
Ian Cox, Director, Science and TechnologyM. Hartland Thomas, Council of Industrial Design
Peter Kneebone, Secretary

The theme of the Exhibition was devised by Ian Cox

The Editor of the captions that accompany the displays was Lionel Birch.

The list of eminent men and women who have contributed to the Exhibition, either by advice or active planning of individual displays, is too long to be contained within this Guide. Their help has made the Exhibition a truly national undertaking. Acknowledgements are made by name in the Exhibition Catalogue which is published separately.

¶ A narrative Exhibition, such as this, develops its theme by means of things you can see and believe. Each of them is clearly captioned, so a written description of the displays exhibit by exhibit is unnecessary. What may help the visitor, however, is a summary of this theme as it is revealed, section by section, in the Exhibition. This is the purpose of the pages that follow.

The Land of Britain

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Architect: H.T. Cadbury Brown ◦ Theme Convener: Kenneth Chapman
Display Designer: V. Rotter

The land is the beginning of the story, and it is the land that gives the story its continuity.

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Britain was a ready-made island when our forebears stepped ashore. They were practical men with their feet on the ground, but they were also pioneers, men with feet sensitive to the nature of the ground – feet that soon grew so familiar with it that they came to act as roots, exploring it downward and bringing up from it the nourishment and profit that lies beneath. They were pioneers; but they were also craftsmen, and a craftsman’s mind follows his hands and feet. So the stones thrown up by the pioneers from their deep workings have been cracked open and studied like pages torn from a buried book, until now we know the birth pains and the growth of this motherland of ours, and how much wealth lies latent in her still.

Millions of years in the making

This growth has been a gradual and continuous process, in which our present is only an instant. There is continuity in the formation and destruction of land, no less than in the evolution of the life that lives upon it. This is the kind of reality that can best be translated into images by a painter; Graham Sutherland’s mural, then, sets the mood for this Pavilion.

All climates beneath our feet

Britain is not a country of extreme climates, yet buried in the island are evidences of all extremes. Twenty thousand years ago, it was an arctic land, glaciers ground their way down the valleys of the Lake District. Fifty million years ago, the region of the Scottish Islands was burned by volcanoes, which poured lava and scattered ash over the surrounding land and sea. Before that, the region where Birmingham now stands was an inferno of blown desert sand. Earlier still, tropical jungle made Britain look like a South Sea island.

The land in labour

Here in this island is a greater variety and wealth of rocks than can be found in any other area so small. This, too, is the result of a slow, imperceptible continuity of change, of deep troughs formed in past ocean beds being filled to colossal depths by wastage from the land which have then been spewed up as new mountain ranges, piled high above the surface of the earth. These, in their turn, have been eroded away, leaving only their tortured stumps.

Had some magic cine-camera, using time-lapse photography, recorded events during, say, the last five hundred million years, it would seem to repeat itself several times. One such cycle, therefore, can illustrate the labour pains in the building of the British Isles; and a special film has, in fact, been made to illustrate them.

The rocks that were used thus by the vast forces in the earth are now the very wealth of the land.

The rocks are our riches

Our story starts a thousand million years ago when the rocks of north-west Scotland and the Outer Isles were formed. Four hundred and fifty million years ago, west Britain was a seabed blanketed with river mud. From those ancient muds our fine Welsh slates are split.

Later, warm seas stretched out across the northern latitudes, swarming with living things. These, through the ages, crusted the sea floor with their limestone skeletons and now the cliffs of the Avon Gorge, for example, reveal this useful stone.

Two hundred and twenty million years ago, Britain was coated with jungle-swamps, whose giant plants for generations drank in the light, died, decomposed and were covered by mud and sands. They were raised again above the sea – dead forests entombed by rocks. From their rich black coals we unlock to-day the power of the primeval sun.

Later still, there were stagnant seas over north-east England, the salt of which was thickened by hot suns. To-day, these salts are mined from deep down under Middlesbrough and used for table, factory and to fertilise the fields. One hundred and thirty million years ago, the iron ore of Northamptonshire was laid down in a shallow sea.

During the last seventy million years the geography of Britain has changed continually. The land has been dipped like a cloth in the ocean, soaked, rinsed and folded up to dry. For most of the time it was part of Europe. Then, about five hundred thousand years ago, glaciers and ice shrouded the land. To this freezing world came early man. When the ice caps had melted Britain emerged an island.

This is the story of the origins of the land, seen through the eyes of British geologists who introduced a new science to the world. For the British people this land still offers materials ready to hand to challenge their skill; still offers a coastline for seamen, a climate for farmers and a landscape of extraordinary variety.

Trees and Flowers

However exciting large exhibitions may be, they are exhausting. Sooner or later the visitor needs somewhere to relax. On the South Bank the main restaurants and cafes each have their own small garden but, for reasons of space, the Exhibition’s chief place of relaxation and refreshment is the Festival Gardens in Battersea Park. A shuttle service of river boats makes it easy to get there.

These Gardens are the countryside, as it were, for the miniature city on the South Bank, where the planting of flowers and trees has been governed by the same needs that obtain in a town. So, every tree and plant has been placed to give refreshment to the eye, their colour and texture contrasting with the outlines of modern buildings and the hard surface of the roadways.

Less than a year ago there was only one tree on the South Bank site — and that was hidden. Now there are more than sixty, the newcomers having been brought in from the counties nearby. There are water elms, maples, limes and poplars, whitebeams, birches, a Catalpa, a Turkey Oak and many others that are quite new to this area that only recently was a swamp.

The shrubs and flowers are planted, as in a city, in boxes and tubs, bringing the colours of spring and summer to the streets and courtyards of the Exhibition. Maintaining the freshness of the grounds are fountains, and standing water reflects the iridescent colours of ornamental ducks.

The consultant landscape architect is H. F. Clark.

The Natural Scene

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Architect: Brian O’Rorke ◦ Theme Convener: Kenneth Chapman
Display Designer: F. H. K. Henrion

What is the reason for this extraordinary variety in the British landscape? Why is it impossible to find a photograph or a view that makes you say, “That sums up the whole of the British countryside!” while there are many that could have obviously been taken nowhere else? Part of the answer has been given in “The Land of Britain” Pavilion; for the rest we must look into the private lives of the animals and plants which together clothe the surface of this land.

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Most of our wild animals and plants have colonised the island much as man did – from across the Channel and the North Sea. They have moved at different rates, have chosen different places in which to live and multiply, and different sets of neighbours. Always there has been at peculiar sympathy between us and this untamed living world around us, which nowadays shows itself as a desire to know its secrets. In this Pavilion some of them are displayed.

Life in fresh water

The Lake District, the New Forest and the estuary of the River Stour are three areas that have come in for particular study recently. In all these districts, water as well as land provides the environment; so aquaria are being used for watching the behaviour of the plants and animals more closely.

Through having recreated the real conditions in this way, we now know, for instance, how the fish of the Luke District are dependent for their food on the microscopic plant life of the water, and how this life, in turn, exists at different depths, depending on the penetrating power of the different elements in the sun’s light rays.

The wild lands of Britain

Nothing, however, can so well illustrate the great variety of our natural scene as a rapid journey between some of the most distinctive areas. Nine more scenes, all widely different, are shown in this Pavilion.

We begin in the extreme west, on the island of St. Kilda, which is cut from volcanic rock, way out in the Atlantic, far remote from the Scottish coast. For centuries man has struggled for a foothold here and failed. The island remains the breeding place of seals and myriads of birds.

The Scottish Cairngorm mountains, high and cold, are another remote area, but one that is on the mainland. Here is a fastness of rare animals, and the small plants are those that can tolerate acid, peaty soils.

But height and cold are only two of the factors that may limit the abundance of plant and animal life. In parts of the Pennine Hills the country rock is limestone. This is a rock whose structure encourages the water to tunnel underground rather than flow in normal fashion on the surface. On these dry heights plants do not grow large and thick. They are short tufted and give little cover to protect insect life from the upland winds. This means less food for birds, which by consequence are rarer here than on moors, where heather and the like provide shelter for this smaller life.

The downlands

In the North Downs is the scenery so often spoken of as “typically” British. The word implies that here, at least, is permanence; in fact, the animals and plants are on the move, actively re-colonising the land. Much of the downland was once cultivated or grazed by sheep: but for over a century now the slopes have been abandoned by the farmers for the richer soils of the lower-lying land. Now these chalk downs are in the process of acquiring a new natural vegetation cover.

A new natural scene

Except in the most wild regions, then, man is the most important single factor in determining the natural scene, and giving the signal for its change. His presence alone may not be intolerable to wild animals and plants; but his works will upset their earlier agreed associations and bring about communities that are new. The natural history of contemporary London shows this clearly.

Birds, trees and grasses

There is, however, in these islands another wealth of great variety – the large numbers of different species of animals and plants that are not peculiar to one area, but are spread throughout the country. Such a plant is grass, yet to many of us it is nothing more. But examples of nearly forty different forms of grass are not difficult to find, and this by no means exhausts the British list. Think, too, of the number of different shapes of leaves that make up the verdure of the country scene, of the repertoire of bird-songs that provide accompaniment, and of the butterflies that, for a season, lend moving colour to its décor.

The twelve examples shown in this Pavilion of widely different landscapes derive from the natural scene on which our forebears got to work when they started to herd stock and till the land.

How they have farmed this primeval land with conscious intention is related in the next chapter of this story of the British isles.