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.


Architect: Wells Coates, o.b.e.Programme and Presentation: J. D. Ralph and R J Spottiswoode


The Telecinema is the first cinema in the world to be specially designed and built for the showing of both films and television.

The introduction of television into the cinema, and other technical innovations — such as three-dimensional sound pictures — present new problems to the cinema architect. This building, which seats 400 people, illustrates how these problems can be overcome. The film and television projection equipment and the special stereophonic sound apparatus is of the latest British design. Taken together with the kind of programmes that are being shown, these innovations point the way in which the cinema of the future may develop.

One thing which may particularly strike the spectator is the attempt to introduce a heightened sense of realism. This is done by special technical effects which involve the audiences more closely in the proceedings. Among these devices are the “borderless screen” and the use of films with multiple sound tracks, whose sound is reproduced through a series of loudspeakers behind the screen and in the auditorium itself. This makes it possible to “attach” the sound directly to the characters on the screen and move it with them — even above and behind the audience — whenever this would make the action in the film more realistic. This new use of the sound track is called Stereophonic Sound.

In the past, television has been designed primarily for home viewing. Now, for the first time, it has been included as a regular entertainment feature in a cinema programme. While special events televised by the BBC can be received by aerial and relayed by cable to the cinema, the greater part of the programmes, which are based on things happening on the South Bank Exhibition site, come to the cinema direct by cable from the television camera on the spot.

Included in the programme, also, are a number of documentary films specially produced for the Festival of 1951. Britain has led the world in the development of the documentary; and the films that are being shown throw further light on this country’s achievements in industry and the arts.

The projection booth of the cinema has been specially designed so that all the film and television operating equipment can be viewed by the public through a glass screen in the foyer of the building.