All the fun of the Fes­ti­val changed Bri­tain for the bet­ter

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Robin and Pa­tri­cia Sil­ver

SIXTY years ago, you may well have been plan­ning your visit to the Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain. If you fan­cied mak­ing the jour­ney to Lon­don, you would have joined the 8.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the South Bank of the River Thames who en­coun­tered thirty pavil­ions show­cas­ing var­i­ous as­pects of Bri­tain’s life that had been con­structed around the new Fes­ti­val Hall.

The Fes­ti­val was a cel­e­bra­tion of Bri­tain’s dom­i­nant po­si­tion in the arts, science, tech­nol­ogy and in­dus­try and pro­vided vis­i­tors with the op­por­tu­nity to be ed­u­cated, bask in Bri­tain’s cul­ture and his­tory and see the very best in mod­ern in­dus­trial and dec­o­ra­tive de­sign. The gov­ern­ment had al­lo­cated £14m as a bud­get and the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, Her­bert Mor­ri­son, had ap­pointed Ger­ald Barry to spear­head the pro­ject. He turned to Hugh Cas­son to over­see the river­side prom­e­nade where vis­i­tors could stroll, en­joy the thir­teen restau­rants and leisurely me­an­der into Bat­tersea Park where amuse­ments and at­trac­tions were plen­ti­ful. This was ar­guably the world’s first theme park, opened a full five years ahead of Dis­ney­land.

Bri­tain’s most tal­ented young artists con­trib­uted work to this event of na­tional ex­u­ber­ance and those like Henry Moore, Ter­ence Con­ran, Vic­tor Pas­more, Robin and Lu­ci­enne Day, Bar­bara Hepworth, Ben Ni­chol­son and John Piper went on to build in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tions. Some York­shire folk, like the group of 1,197 vis­i­tors from Brad­ford, didn’t like the sign­post­ing or graph­ics and com­plained that the un­com­fort­able-look­ing mod­ern fur­ni­ture was uni­ver­sally dis­liked.

The in­tro­duc­tion of soft toi­let tis­sue in the pub­lic con­ve­niences, how­ever, be­gan a trend that has be­come an ac­cepted fact of life. It didn’t mat­ter if you couldn’t get to Lon­don as there was a Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion that ar­rived in Leeds on June 23 1951. Around the same time, the Fes­ti­val ship Cam­pa­nia sailed into Bri­tish ports car­ry­ing her float­ing ex­hi­bi­tion. In Hull, 88,000 vis­i­tors went aboard in ten days.

All over the coun­try, towns and vil­lages or­gan­ised their own lo­cal events. In Knot­tin­g­ley, a sports day, mounted po­lice dis­play, Punch and Judy and hor­ti­cul­tural show co­in­cided with a trade ex­hi­bi­tion of lo­cal in­dus­try. An im­pres­sive five thou­sand peo­ple from a town pop­u­la­tion of eight thou­sand turned up for a great day of fun. And fun was what this coun­try needed. Af­ter all, the Sec­ond World War hadn’t long ended and there was a chronic short­age of hous­ing. There were wi­d­ows galore, many with young chil­dren, and the sup­port for wounded and dis­abled vet­er­ans was rudi­men­tary at best. Bomb sites were com­mon, ra­tioning was still around and a third of all homes did not have their own toi­let. Four mil­lion peo­ple a week used pub­lic baths be­cause of the in­ad­e­qua­cies in their homes. In fact, the 1951 cen­sus in­cluded five new ques­tions to as­cer­tain how many houses had piped wa­ter, a kitchen stove and oven, a kitchen sink and drain, an in­door toi­let and a plumbed bath. Barely two-thirds met these stan­dards and in poorer, ur­ban ar­eas the per­cent­age was much higher.

The Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain was pro­moted as a “tonic for the nation” and de­clared not to be a party po­lit­i­cal pro­ject but a na­tional en­ter­prise. Im­me­di­ately af­ter it closed, how­ever, a gen­eral elec­tion pro­duced a change in gov­ern­ment with Win­ston Churchill re­turned again as Prime Min­is­ter. He recog­nised that what was needed was a ma­jor re­build­ing pro­gramme, a na­tional con­va­les­cence pe­riod and the re­moval of such se­vere so­cial de­pri­va­tion. Not so much a short-term tonic as a pro­longed course of pow­er­ful medicine and treat­ment. For­tu­nately for him, the ground roots had been laid by ar­chi­tects, artists and in­dus­trial de­sign­ers. Their early vi­sion and many of their works live on in their build­ings, in­te­rior and fur­ni­ture de­signs, paint­ings and sculp­ture.

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