The Shot Tower


Architecture and Design Treatment: Hugh Casson and James Gardner, o.b.e.

This Tower has been one of the landmarks of London since it was built in 1826. It remains, the only old building on the site, to serve as a beacon for the Festival. It is a beacon in two senses: it is a modern lighthouse with a double flashing beam welcoming visitors as far as 45 miles away when the weather is clear; it is a radio beacon directing radio signals to the moon and beyond it into outer space.

Originally the tower was built for making shot from lead. The molten metal dropping from the melting chamber at the top, formed perfect spheres as it cooled in its fall down the 120 feet within the tower. Those days are over now, but the tower still has a warm place in the heart of Londoners.

The lighthouse mounted at the top will flash from sunset to Exhibition closing time. It has a power of 3 million candles. It is of the most modern all-electric design and so takes up far less space than the older types which needed weighty lenses to intensify the beam. The light itself comes from a lamp of three thousand watts; an automatic device ensures that a second lamp can swing immediately into position should it fail. This lighthouse optic is the work of Chance Brothers, Ltd., who made all the glass for the original Crystal Palace a hundred years ago.


The radio beacon is above the lighthouse optic. The most obvious part of it is a large reflector which beams the signal from the aerial within it on to the moon. This is part of the radio telescope and is connected with the display in the Dome of Discovery by underground cable. In the Dome visitors can transmit signals to the moon and actually see them reflected back to the earth after about two and a half seconds.

The aerial of the equipment is placed on the top of the Shot Tower so that static interference from other electrical equipment nearby shall be at a minimum. The transmitter itself is unique in that it can operate whenever the moon is above the horizon. Earlier models can only be used at moonrise and moonset.

Visitors are able to see inside the Shot Tower. The entrance brings them onto a circular gallery. Above them, the original spiral staircase winds upwards to the top of the tower. Below, a kaleidoscope shows the varied character of the London scene in a changing pattern of pictures.

A short bridge leads from the Shot Tower to the brightly lit Tank Chamber where there is a small exhibit showing the development of the South Bank site.

Design Review

Display Designers: Neville Conder and Patience Clifford

Design Review presents to the British people and to their overseas visitors an illustrated record of contemporary achievement in British industry. It shows the high standard of design and craftsmanship that has been reached in a wide range of British products of to-day.

The actual examples displayed in the various Festival Exhibitions have had to be limited for reasons of space, and because not all of Britain’s products could fit into the particular stories that are told there. So, Design Review provides an opportunity for showing a wider and more up-to-date range of British industrial products than would otherwise be possible. It also contains an information service to answer queries on the products listed as well as exhibits shown in the Exhibitions, and a comprehensive display of trade and technical periodicals.

Design Review had its origin in the “Stock List” opened by the Council of Industrial Design in April 1948, as a pictorial index of contemporary British design, from which exhibits could be selected for display in the Festival Exhibitions. Manufacturers were asked to submit photographs, leaflets, or flat samples of their best products, and those reaching the required standard were accepted for the Stock List. The standard is not merely one of appearance or finish, but also of workmanship, technical efficiency, fitness for purpose and economy of production.

This Stock List has now become a reference work of value. It is always being revised and, as items will be added to it during the period of the Festival itself, Design Review displays will be the most up-to-date record in existence of British achievement in industrial design.

On the South Bank, Design Review is located in seven arches under the Waterloo Bridge approach. Each arch deals with a related group of industries.

The Royal Festival Hall


Architects: Robert Matthew and Dr. J.L. MartinChief Engineer: Joseph Rawlinson

It has always been intended that the permanent redevelopment plan for the South Bank should include the building of a concert hall to which London and Europe should look as an example of modern English architecture at its best, and as a well-tuned instrument for orchestras and conductors of international repute. When the South Bank site was chosen for the main Exhibition of the Festival of Britain, the Government invited the London County Council to press forward this part of its plans, so that the Hall might be ready for use during the summer of 1951.

The Royal Festival Hall, so named at the wish of His Majesty the King, is the only permanent building on the site of the Exhibition. The London County Council has borne full responsibility for its construction, and controls its maintenance and administration.

For the period 4th-9th of May 1951 the Council has arranged a series of inaugural concerts here, which Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Harry Blech will conduct. From 10th May to the end of June there will be daily concerts by the celebrated symphony orchestras of the country. These are part of the London Season of the Arts. There will then be important symphony, choral and orchestral concerts, and other events until the end of September. Two concerts of light music will be given every afternoon from 1st July onwards.

The simplicity of the external design of the Hall may give little hint of the care and skill which have gone into every detail of its construction. This has resulted not only in good acoustics, but also in the greatest comfort for audience and players. Innovations include the double-skinned wall, designed to exclude noise, and the tuning of the concert hall auditorium after the building work had been completed. The concert hall holds an audience of 3,300. There is also provision for an orchestra of over 100 and a choir of 250.

In addition, the Royal Festival Hall can claim to be a work of art in itself. The superb dramatic effects of space and vista, within the building and beyond it to the river and the city, are things which the visitor will discover for himself.

The Buildings Themselves

The first object of all exhibitions is to stimulate interest and excite the eye. For this reason they have always been the nurseries of new ideas in architecture. The layout and design of the South Bank Exhibition follows this tradition of experiment and adventure in building, and in two ways at least can be claimed to be unique.

It is the first exhibition of such a size ever to be designed in narrative form. This has meant that the Pavilions have had to be laid out in a particular order, so that their contents, taken consecutively, may tell a particular story. This has had to be done while maintaining at the same time a pleasing and coherent pattern to the eye.

Secondly, each Pavilion is itself designed in such a way that the first sight of it gives the visitor a foretaste of the part of the story that it tells. So the story of the Origins of the Land (“The Land of Britain”) is unfolded within a dim and haunted cave-like structure, covered on its outside with rocks and turf. The story of the Minerals of the Island is told at the bottom of a towering shaft; the narrative of Sea and Ships is developed amid an assembly of steel ribs, canvas and spars, with the wind and the weather looking in, as it were, at intervals. The great story of British Discovery is related in the huge aluminium saucer of the Dome of Discovery, a structure which is as adventurous, fantastic and technically triumphant as the history of British Discovery itself.

The decision to relate the appearance of each building to its contents obviously makes for excitement to the eye, but it increases the risk of disorder or lack of over-all harmony. But although some twenty separate architects were engaged, under Festival Office direction, upon the designing of these buildings, they have worked together as a team and pursued the same kind of approach to the problem in every case. Thus each individual structure, however enterprising or original in itself, has been co-ordinated into the one coherent narrative plan.

Harmony and variety of interest, both by day and night, have been achieved by means of careful grouping, imaginative contrast of colours, textures and silhouette, and above all by the background of trees, gardens, fountains and flowers against which all the buildings are set.

The superintending civil and structural engineers are Freeman, Fox and Partners, in association with R. T. James and Partners.

The Festival Church

St. John, Waterloo Road

Vicar: The Rev. E. V. Rhys ◦ Musical Director: Dr. W. N. McKie

The “Parish Church of the Festival” is the Church of St. John, Waterloo Road. It stands on the traffic roundabout, facing the Exhibition car park, so that visitors can easily find their way there as they leave the Exhibition through the York Road or Waterloo Bridge exits.

It is, then, so near the Exhibition as to be almost part of it, and yet, being outside the actual Exhibition grounds, it will be a real “place apart”. Nearly all the different denominations are arranging special services at one time or another.

The church was built originally by the government of the day as a thanksgiving for victory at Waterloo; it was badly damaged in 1940 by enemy bombs, and has now been rebuilt.

An attempt has been made to refurnish St. John’s in a manner which may set an example of art in the service of the Church. This theme will be expressed in fuller detail in an Exhibition at Lambeth Palace during June and July.

The services themselves will vary according to the accepted form of worship used by the different denominations which together make up our religious life in Britain. Similarly, addresses will be given every day by outstanding preachers of all denominations, and also by some well-known laymen.

Choirs from over 150 towns and villages throughout the country are coming to sing in the Festival Church and, over the five months of the summer, there will be an excellent opportunity for the visitor to hear the best and the most characteristic of our English church music.

In the evenings, the services are being supplemented by concerts, and religious drama. Particulars of these, and of the services, are available at the information kiosks and bookstalls in the Exhibition.

The chief times of weekday services arc: 8 a.m., 9.15 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4.30 p.m., and 8 p.m. daily. The Sunday services are at 8 a.m., 9.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m., and 7 p.m.