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.