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Architects and Designers: Arcon ◦ Theme Direction: George Williams

It might have been enough if this small island had bred only the pioneers of modern transport by sea; but, in fact, it produced also the pioneers of railways, of aeronautics and, to a large extent, of road vehicles and bridging as well. It is these four methods of travel and transport – rail, road, sea and air – that provide the substance of the four main sections of this Pavilion.

Running like a spinal column through all four floors of the building is the story of communications. Communications are the lifeline of modern transport. For this reason the exhibits showing British contributions to telegraphy, telephony, and all forms of radio are show close to the displays of the transport which they serve.

Rail transport

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Theme Convener: Harold Wyatt

Railways began in Britain. They were our engineers’ answer to one of the challenges of the industrial revolution – the need to transport heavy loads by land.

But, almost at the same time, Britain gave railways to the world. Before the famous “Rocket”, for example, had completed her trials, the “Stourbridge Lion” locomotive was exported to America and put in steam in 1829. British engineers, contractors and navvies built the first railway systems of a number of countries abroad.

As well as creating and holding the lead in building railways and locomotives for export, British engineers founded the locomotive industries of a number of nations. “Buddicom” and “Crampton”, for instance, are names still famous in the French locomotive industry. In Belgium the firm of John Cockerill, one of the greatest engineering undertakings in Europe, can claim British origin. Similarly, the names of Hall, Haswell and Urquhart are well-known in Europe and Russia.

Much of the success of British locomotives abroad has depended on our particular mastery of steam. But our industry is by no means bound by this. One of the firms founded by Robert Stephenson, for example, has just completed a 660 h.p. diesel-electric locomotive for the Tasmanian Government; and this is exhibited in the Pavilion for the summer before it is shipped overseas.

Little seen by the general public, but of great industrial importance, are the small traction units built here for specialised purposes – for instance, flame-proof diesel locomotives for use underground in mines, small works locomotives of many sizes and gauges, and powered inspection trolleys for technical use on the permanent way.

At home, we have abundant evidence that railways are no longer bound to steam. As examples of electrification, the London Underground system and the Southern Region’s extensive suburban services are demonstrated here. An essential part of the achievement of the first of these was British skill in tunnelling, demonstrated in one of the display arches in Hungerford Bridge, behind the “Transport” Pavilion.

Much that was learned in the building of London’s Underground has been put into practice in the unique automatic railway used by the Post Office in London. One of the trains is operating in this section.

Hand in hand with progress in the building of locomotives has gone progress in rolling stock and the permanent way. There is plenty of evidence of this in the Pavilion, notably a new all aluminium-alloy coach, which weighs no more than 23 tons. This has been the result of a great deal of original research and shows a new aspect of uses for such alloys.

The inventor of the railway ticket was an Englishman named Edmondson. His methods for printing and dating it were the beginnings of the system which has culminated in the coin operated, ticket-printing, issuing and change-giving machine of the present day.

But there would be little value in the engineer ing skill in locomotives, rolling stock or the permanent way, without equally advanced signalling systems and train control. Displays of these can be seen on the mezzanine floor.

Road transport

Theme Convener: George Williams

In our country, where a very comprehensive railway system developed before the general application of the internal combustion engine, road transport is, even now, largely complementary to rail. How it dovetails into the railway system is illustrated by the first display in this section – a haulage vehicle at the loading bay of a railway platform. Quick turn-round of rolling stock is an essential to efficient operation, and this largely depends on the success of mechanical handling as between truck and road vehicles. The new pallet system is demonstrated here.

A characteristic of modern British production in commercial vehicles is design for a very great variety of needs. This is illustrated by full-sized and model vehicles displayed on the terraces of this Pavilion. Here, too, are road vehicles propelled by electricity and by the so-called diesel compression-ignition engine, which has grown out of the work of the British engineer Herbert Akroyd Stuart.

Britain claims the largest production of bicycles and motorcycles in the world. These grew from the early cycle, powered versions of which preceded the motor car. Samples of the best of modern production are exhibited near a display of the early history of mechanically propelled vehicles in Britain

In addition to what has been shown of contemporary production of haulage and public transport vehicles, the main contribution of the modern British motor industry has been in the small and economic private car, with ample accommodation, and a small but highly efficient engine. The industry is equally famous for a few luxury private vehicles, but these compete in a different field.

Among these small, economic cars there is a very wide variety of types. For this reason the exhibits in this Pavilion will change frequently to give fair display to all of them. At any one time, however, the visitor will be able to see a light-medium saloon, a medium-large saloon, a convertible, and a typical British sports car.

British roads developed their trends and personalities long before the arrival of the motor car. It is no wonder, then, that this newcomer soon began to cry out for far-reaching changes in them. As an example of what is being done on a wide scale lo meet these modern needs, the new scheme for linking the industrial centres of South Wales with the Midlands is presented in model form. Part of the scheme is a new bridge over the River Severn. The designing of this has been the subject of intensive research at the National Physical Laboratory, a summary of which is here displayed. Around the model of the bridge is acknowledgment of the importance of the work of modern bridge designers and engineers.

Science is playing an increasing part also in road design, construction and traffic control. This will be shown both on the terrace and within the Pavilion. Here, too, are displays of road safety measures.

A car well designed and well produced has a very satisfactory and effortless appearance. But within it is a vast amount of research and engineering skill which has to be seen to be believed. This is made plain on the upper floor of the Road section in this Pavilion, which the visitor can reach by following up the ramp where the modern cars are displayed. The most topical of these is the first private vehicle to be propelled by gas-turbine power.

Here, too, for the enthusiast (and there are many) is a special display of British achievement in motor racing and record breaking.

Air transport

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Theme Convener: Peter Waring

The part played by our engineers and designers in the realisation of transport by air has, at all stages, been a vital one. So far as the immediate present is concerned, our best example is the invention and development of the gas-turbine engine – an immensely important turning point in the history of powered flight. The narrative of the Air Transport section, therefore, begins with the progressive improvements that have been made in prime movers for aircraft. This series of displays culminates in an exhibit which future generations will regard as a great historical treasure – the final version of the first Whittle gas turbine.

Part of the gas-turbine story, which includes the latest turbo-jet and turbo-prop engines, is the essential contribution made by British metallurgists. It was they who evolved the new alloys capable of retaining their strength at the very high temperatures produced in these new engines. More than this, they have played an essential part in the construction of whole aircraft, for it is they who have devised the new light alloys with just those properties that meet the designers ever more exacting requirements.

Most of us, though, come closest to aircraft when we are passengers, and whether we are satisfied with them or not depends largely on the efficiency of the ground organisation which operates them as a transport service. All good organisation appears effortless, but there are a myriad complexities contained and controlled within a large modern airport. Our example is the new London Airport, still under construction 15 miles west of London. The Terminal Buildings here will be grouped on a 50-acre area in the centre of nine main runways. They house the staff and facilities that enable the airport to handle 4,000 passengers and large quantities of freight every hour of the day or night.

An essential part of the ground organisation, and of all aircraft operating, is radio and radar – the research and development of which are largely British. How essential they are to modern air transport will bc appreciated from the displays and demonstrations near the London Airport model.

It has long ceased to be a source of wonder that man can fly in machines heavier than air. The remarkable thing about modern aircraft is their combination of reliability with high performance. This is ensured by extensive research and testing of all vital parts before and during production. For many components, real working conditions are reproduced in wind and smoke tunnels so that their performance can be studied practically as well as theoretically. Our principal aeronautical laboratory is the Royal Aircraft Establishment, which has provided a demonstration to show how an aircraft wing, for example, is tested to destruction.

The greater part of the world knows that in 1940-1 we were fighting alone for our very existence. What it probably does not know is that, even in those never-to-be-forgotten days, our Government calmly set up a committee to advise what types of aircraft this country would need after the war. The result of this is the new range of British aircraft fast coming into commission now. Their character varies with the peculiar requirements of the routes over which they are designed to fly. The aim of all of them is to ensure that reliability, economy and passenger comfort shall be of the highest standard. A large number of models illustrate how this has been achieved.

Aircraft are the most modern vehicles of travel, and their development has been very fast. But, young though they are, they have a history. The principles on which all aircraft fly to-day were first elucidated in Yorkshire, by Cayley, in 1809. The first model aeroplane ever to make a powered flight did so in a lace factory in Somerset, and was built by John Stringfellow in 1848. It was two young Englishmen in 1919 who cut the apron strings that tied aircraft close to land by the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. These are only examples: the story is one of collective and individual achievement, culminating in the great invention with which this narrative began – Whittle’s gas-turbine engine and its progeny.

Sea transport

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Theme Convener: C. Hamilton Ellis

The great story of British shipbuilding is the subject of the “Sea and Ships” Pavilion; British discovery at sea occupies a whole section of the Dome. But there is yet another aspect of our maritime heritage which must be added if the development of our theme is to be a true one – the operating of ships.

Without the enterprise of our ship owners and their associates in the vast business of operating shipping lines, the growth of the British Commonwealth would have followed very different trends. Without a mercantile marine such as we have now, we people of Britain and our industries would starve.

This section of the “Transport” Pavilion exists for the display of the things we produce to make safe and sure the operation of ships. It is just, however, that they should be shown against a background which epitomises the rise and preeminence of our mercantile marine. Most of its great strides forward have been made well within the last hundred years.

Of all the recent developments in the business of ship operating, the coming of wireless was probably the most revolutionary. Nowadays, after his charts and compasses, the captain looks to his wireless as his prime source of necessary intelligence. News, weather, orders, distress, arrangements at the port of destination – all these go through the wireless officer.

But still the brain of the ship at sea is her bridge. Here are her compasses and the gyropilot, to steer her automatically on a selected course when she is clear of navigational hazards. Here the helmsman is at the wheel. Revolution and rudder indicators tell the bridge of the ships performance, and order telegraphs carry instructions from there to the engine-room. Examples of all such vital equipment are gathered in the bridge area of this Sea Transport section.

Below the bridge area, and hung out from the side of the Pavilion, is a modern ship’s lifeboat, built of all-welded steel and capable of carrying eighty people. Around it are grouped appliances designed to maintain safety at sea and to preserve lives. Britain has taken a leading part in framing the rules that ensure safety in the ships of all nations.

But safety at sea depends most on the charting and marking of the navigable waterways. For us this is, in short, the achievement of our hydrographers, and of Trinity House, which maintains the lighthouses, lightships and buoys, and licenses the pilots of our home waters. Essential, too, are the dredgers that keep the channels clear, and the pilot boats and the tugs that see the great ships safely to their berths.

One of our islands great natural advantages is a coastline with many natural harbours. But our industry would long since have outgrown them if the skill of our engineers had not kept pace with the growth of the ships and the enterprise of those who operate them. Lowestoft is one example of a small port where engineering works have kept the vagaries of the coastline at bay and improved our heritage.

“Sea Transport” and “Sea and Ships” together show how we live on the sea and by it. Sea routes are the lifelines of this nation, and we have no more vital spots than the docks and harbours where they terminate. Here our essential foodstuffs and raw materials are brought ashore, here the products of our commerce and industry are poured out to the world. Here, too, are the gateways of Britain for the travellers by sea. The most recent of our docks and harbours to be completed is Southampton. This we display to illustrate the complexities and the achievements of a modern meeting place of land and sea.


Theme Convener: Geoffrey W. Hart

Yet another means of communication is the spoken and written word. Books and printing are given due attention as a separate exhibition in South Kensington. Here, in the fifth section of the “Transport” Pavilion, we are concerned with the transmission of thought and information by postal and electric means. They fit intimately into the narrative of the whole Pavilion, because telephone, telegraph, radio and radar together form an essential service for all modern transport. Closely related with these services in technique are sound and television broadcasting. These, too, are displayed here.


In the establishment of modern postal systems we were the pioneers and, since then, we have developed them to their present state in which all forms of transport are employed. The Post Office Underground Railway, demonstrated in the Railway section, stands as an example of lessons learned from passenger transport being applied to the carriage of mails.

Adhesive postage stamps were invented in England by Rowland Hill in 1840. One example here of modem stamp designing and printing is provided by the special series produced to commemorate the Festival of Britain.


The British discoveries which led to the electric telegraph are shown in the Dome. Here, the displays begin with their early applications through the inventions of such men as Cooke and Wheatstone in 1837, and culminate in working examples of the most advanced teleprinting machines now being used. Pictures are also sent by telegraphy. Here you can see some of them being received over Cable and Wireless circuits from the other side of the world.

Telegraphy and telephony depend just as much on the wires that carry the current as on the terminal equipment. The most difficult problems arose when it came to laying them under water. Perhaps the greatest landmark in past development was the completion of the first successful Atlantic cable in 1866. Of recent advances the most remarkable is the production of the submarine repeater – an amplifier which runs for years without attention on the bed of the sea.

The present-day British cable system is a net around the world, physically linking the countries of the Commonwealth, and many others besides.

Early developments in the telephone were chiefly due to Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotsman who lived and worked in America. Admittedly, the British were slow in following them up, but our modern telephone service has a number of achievements to its credit. One of these is the unattended automatic telephone exchange used in the more remote country districts.

Radio Communication

20160315 71In discovering the principles of radio and in their application this country has played an outstanding part. The basic discoveries are shown in the Dome, in this section we are more concerned with the development of radio to the indispensable position it now holds, as a service for all manner of activities. It is still a peculiarly live subject, in which important advances occur almost yearly. The display in this section shows some of the newest techniques used. They vary from the passing of large numbers of messages on point-to-point services, to police work, where radio is now established as a primary aid.

Radio, as the principal means by which ships and aircraft now maintain contact with their bases, is displayed on the first floor of this section together with other radio aids to navigation. It is, of course, the chief method used nowadays for operating ships and aircraft, for passing weather and distress information, and for telling them their exact position at sea or in the air.

Radio Aids to Navigation

Drake’s Spanish adversaries believed that he had a magic mirror in which he could see the dispositions of their fleet. It has taken us nearly four hundred years since then to make such a device, but now we have it. It is radar – a method of seeing by means of radio waves.

British scientists developed radar in the first instance to meet a military need, but now it is being freely applied for civil purposes. This section shows how it is used for supervising aircraft from the ground, or vessels from the shore, and how it aids the navigation of aircraft and ships whether in daylight, darkness or fog.

To illustrate the use of harbour radar, a modern equipment is working in the Pavilion. It covers the Thames in the neighbourhood of the Exhibition, showing the visitor the passage of craft which he cannot see directly with his eyes.

Sound Broadcasting and Recording

The importance of sound broadcasting as a world-wide medium of communication is illustrated in the “Land” section of the Dome of Discovery. Here, on the top floor of the “Transport” Pavilion, the displays relate more particularly to modern receiving equipment, both for specialist purposes and for general listening. It is shown, too, what is being done in this country to overcome the great problem of modern broadcasting – the difficulty of fitting the large number of programmes demanded into the relatively narrow band of frequencies that is available.

The demonstrations here also illustrate the high quality of sound reproduction of which modern equipment is now capable.


The science of sending moving pictures by radio is largely an international one, but, like many other electrical developments of the last fifty years, it stems from the original discoveries of Sir J. J. Thomson.

Britain was the first country to institute a public high-definition television service. It started in 1936, and the standards laid down at that time are still in successful use to-day. The British system is still the best compromise between cost and performance for black and white television. Nevertheless, British manufacturers are making television equipment suitable for any of the systems used by other countries.

Television as a medium of entertainment is displayed in its own Pavilion on the other side of Hungerford Bridge. Here, in the “Transport” Pavilion, the displays are concerned more with modern technical developments and problems of a young and rapidly growing means of communication for which many new applications are already apparent. Here are examples of really up-to-date technical and scientific endeavour in a subject of which we all have some personal experience.