The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

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!

Exhibitions

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