North Cascade and Tower, Empire Exhibition 1938
Tower of Empire

I suppose that everyone in the UK anyway has heard of The Great Exhibition of 1851 which took place in the Crystal Palace in London. Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert had a lot to do with it, in fact just about everything which I’ve ever seen which was bought as a memento of that Exhibition has been made in Germany so I think that it was a cunning wheeze on his part to boost manufacturing back in his own country, he was a manipulative chap. I wonder what the English people of the day thought of that? I think that Exhibitions/Festivals/World’s Fairs were held to help boost the economies of the places they took place, I’m not sure if they were ever successful in that though. They certainly seem to have fallen out of favour now as the last such event in Britain was of course the Festival of Britain in 1951 and that was held partly to celebrate 100 years since The Great Exhibition.

In between those two events we had Empire Exhibitions, one in 1924, the Wembley Empire Exhibition and one in 1938 which was the Glasgow Empire Exhibition. It was that one which kicked off Jack’s interest in such things because the focal point of it was the Tower of Empire, a wonderful Art Deco structure postcards of which you can see above and to the right. Sadly it didn’t have much of a lifetime because the following year at the beginning of World War 2 it was taken down. An urban myth said it was thought it would be too much of an easy aim and signpost for enemy bombers but in reality, in wartime no one had time or money for its upkeep.

The great thing about the Empire Exhibitions was they were a chance for all the countries of the Empire to showcase their wares and culture. All of the countries had their own Pavilions so you could go and get a flavour of places on the other side of the world without having to do the travelling.

I’ve become a bit of an inadvertent expert on Exhibitions due to Jack’s interest in them and I must admit that I love the old postcards, especially if they have actually been used and posted. It’s great to get a glimpse into people’s lives and what they were doing all those years ago, apart from being at the Exhibition. The post card below is of the Scottish Avenue at the 1938 Empire Exhibition. There were two Scottish Pavilions! As you can see.

Scottish Avenue, Empire Exhibition 1938

It was a big marketing opportunity and all sorts of tourist tat was made but over the years they take on an aura of nostalgia and become collectables like the tin below which presumably had toffees in it.

Tin Sovenir of Empire Exhibition 1938

I plan to show more old postcards and memorabilia from this and other Exhibitions in the near future in my Blast from the Past category. The Great Exhibition, Empire Exhibition 1924 (and 1925!) the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition, 1939-40, and the Festival of Britain plus more such as the North East Coast Exhibition, held in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1929 and other Glasgow and Edinburgh Exhibitions. Oh, and the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908, the Chicago World’s Fair (A Century of Progress) 1933, The New York World’s Fair 1939 and 40, The Great Lakes Exposition, The Texas Centennial Exposition and so on.

I hope you’re going to be interested!

In the meantime here’s a very Art Deco bowl made by Carlton Ware and sold only at Treron’s Department store in Glasgow in 1938.

Carlton Ware Dish, Empire Exhibition 1938

9 thoughts on “Exhibitions

  1. Shame the tower was taken down. It’s rather beautiful. I’m a bit of an Art Deco fan myself! Then there were the Garden Festivals, one of which was located in Glasgow.

    My great great great grandfather had an exhibit in the Crystal Palace in 1851. He was a forerunner of Louis Braille and invented a method of reading and writing for the blind but which could also be read by sighted people. This was on display there.

    • Evee,
      That sounds like such a good idea, a form of writing which we could all understand, it’s a shame it wasn’t taken up. You come from such a talented family! Yes we went to the Glasgow Garden Festival which was definitely more festival than garden!

  2. I am SO happy to have stumbled upon this post! The Great Exhibition, the Empire Exhibition and the Festival of Britain are great interests of mine. I have a brass Lipton tea caddy from the Empire Exhibition (never used by me, because it’s undented, making it too rare to risk) and a caddy spoon from the Festival, which is used when I have time and leisure for a proper tea.

    The Festival fascinates me because it happened during the early ’50s, a time of great change for Britain. The war was over, some of the staggering war debt was being repaid, some real progress was being made on rebuilding and rationing was (slowly) being loosened bit by bit. Unlike the infamous ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition of 1946 (‘Britain Can’t Have It,’ said the wags, in reference to the emphasis on exports necessary to Britain’s financial recovery from the war), the Festival abounded in consumer goods people could buy – and British-designed and -made, too. While the South Bank site in London was the main Festival attraction, there were other Festival sites all over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, plus a travelling exhibit aboard the HMS Campania.

    The Festival was a huge success, which ensured the demise of its buildings. Since Clement Atlee and Labour had brought the Festival into being, Winston Churchill set about demolishing as much of it as possible when he succeeded Atlee as PM, bringing the Conservatives back into power. Royal Festival Hall is the sole remaining building from the Festival.

    There was some talk a few years back about rebuilding the Festival’s Skylon, but nothing has yet come of it, I understand. The Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition of 1851 is to be rebuilt, so they say, but the initial news stories heralding the project have been followed by stories of delays.

    If anyone who posts here has personal memories of the Festival (at any of its sites, but especially the South Bank one), I wish you would share them with us all.

  3. OOPS! Wrong Empire Exhibition! My Lipton’s caddy is from the 1924-25 Exhibition at Wembley, not the 1938 one in Glasgow. Looking around online, there were also brass caddies at the 1938 Exhibition, but they look far sturdier than the ones handed out by Lipton’s in ’24. The Lipton caddies are almost brass foil, they’re so thin.

    • Sandy,
      Yes, Jack has a couple of those 1924 caddies in different sizes and they are very thin. He doesn’t have a brass 1938 one though, he must have just about everything else! Nothing seems to have come of that plan to rebuild the Skylon and we don’t even have a model of it as they’re rare, just postcards, brooches/badges and such. I’ll blog more about this soon, Jack has a brochure about the Campania somewhere. Unfortunately everyone I knew who would have visited these exhibitions are now long dead. I wish people would comment with their reminiscences.

  4. Katrina, you might be interested to know that those Lipton’s caddies turn up quite frequently here in America, for some reason. Most antique malls or fairs will have at least one, if not several. It took me quite a while to find an undented one, and now that I have it, I dare not use it, for fear of putting a ding in it. Fortunately, I have a wooden caddy for those times when I have a proper tea with guests, which is not as often as I’d like. Hard to round up people for tea here! Still, I enjoy doing it, particularly doing little cakes, muffins, sandwiches (smoked salmon) and the like. Mmmm!

    • Sandy,
      That is interesting, I wonder if people took them with them when they moved to the US or maybe they were sent out as gifts to them. I love everything to do with tea – except the actual tea! Although quite recently I’ve taken to drinking lemon and ginger tea and the like. I have old tea cosies, wooden caddies, teapots, caddy spoons, jam dishes and spoons, pastry forks and so on. It’s just such an elegant occasion – afternoon tea is my favourite meal, even if I have coffee!

      • Katrina, Interesting that you ‘love everything to do with tea – except the actual tea.’ I like tea very much, but as an American, I came to it later in life and my relationship with it is not nearly so close as most Britons’ would be. In the morning, I honour my Yank heritage with five or six cups of coffee. The afternoon brings builder’s tea. A real tea is for leisure. And since I was born in the American South, I am very fond of iced tea, which is extremely refreshing in hot, humid weather. If you’ve never tried it, wait until your weather is beastly hot, brew some tea, sweeten it, then chill it in the fridge. Pour into a glass over ice and feel much cooler!

        • Sandy,
          I laughed at ‘beastly hot’ it could be quite a long wait here! I’ll get some posh tea in just in case. My mother was a builder’s tea devotee – enough to coat your teeth with tannin, that was what put me off I’m sure.

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