The Festival of Britain

It’s time for another Blast from the Past and this one is a quick wee keek at The Festival of Britain, which was obviously way back in 1951, so before my time. The festival was thought up by the Atlee government, partly because it was 100 years after The Great Exhibition, but also as a way of boosting industry and arts.

Britain was still suffering from rationing and everything had been very austere and colourless after the war, so the festival must have come as a fantastic burst of joyful colour to a population deprived of anything but the strictly utilitarian. You can read more about the FOB here.

I suppose that everyone who visited the festival wanted to take a souvenir back from it and spoons were popular and cheap mementoes. They come in an amazing number of different designs which is perfect for people who like collecting commemorative stuff. The middle thing is a propelling pencil.

Festival of Britain spoons and pencil

The photo below is of one of the many designs of badges which were made for sale at the festival. It’s a good one of the festival logo which obviously incorporated Britannia’s head in profile.

Festival of Britain badge

Below is a photo of what must be the blingiest badge which was designed, it’s quite difficult to find one which has all its bits of glass intact as this one has.

Festival of Britain Badge

Below is a booklet about the Festival Ship Campania, a converted aircraft carrier. You can see lots of images of the ship here.
Campania booklet

The ship toured around Britain’s coast to bring a flavour of the festival to people who couldn’t make it down to London to visit the main exhibition.

The festival must have come as a godsend for young designers such as Terence Conran and Robin and Lucienne Day, you can see some of their designs here.
You can see images of fabric which was designed for the festival here.

For collectors of FOB souvenirs there’s masses of stuff to buy. Some people concentrate on tins or teapots, but you can buy face powder compacts, cake stands, pressed glass, knives, purses, jigsaw puzzles and probably even knickers but I doubt that many of those will have survived. There’s a seemingly endless array of stuff to be corralled by those people who feel the need to complete collections, which is just what some folks live for!

2 thoughts on “The Festival of Britain

  1. Katrina,
    I agree wholeheartedly about the marvels of the Festival. Sadly, of all the wonderful architecture that was built for the main South Bank site, only Royal Festival Hall remains, and it is much altered, with the tile-work gone and other changes. The reason was politics – the Festival had been brought into being by Clement Atlee and Labour. When Winston Churchill and the Conservatives were elected later in ’51, it was decided to sweep away the Festival site as a reminder of Labour’s accomplishments in the years after the war. Very sad! There are a few Festival reminders still in existence elsewhere – the Festival fountains at the Pleasure Gardens in Battersea Park were recently restored, for instance. There is a wonderful book about the Festival I can recommend highly. It is ‘Festival of Britain: Design 1951,’ by Paul Rennie, and it’s published in the U.K. by the Antique Collectors Club. carry it.

    • Sandy,
      It’s the same story where most other exhibitions were concerned, although usually it was part of the plan to keep just a few of the buildings for future use, such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which is one of the 1901 exhibition buildings, but it was built with the profits from the 1888 exhibition. Thanks, for the info, we don’t have that book.

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