A festival remembered

Today we are off to the Southbank Centre to see the exhibition celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Deliberately held in 1951, the centenary year of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations of 1851, the Festival was an important event in the life of a Britain still struggling to emerge from the traumas and deprivations of the Second World War. It caused great excitement and a feeling of optimism that things were about to change for the better.

Haze veils the view from Waterloo Bridge
Haze veils the view from Waterloo Bridge

It is a warm and sunny day but the conditions are very hazy, as you can see from these pictures from Waterloo Bridge.

Looking upriver toward Hungerford Bridge, the London Eye and a hazy Westminster beyond
Looking upriver toward Hungerford Bridge, the London Eye and a hazy Westminster beyond

So much history is visible from here and every building along the banks of the Thames seems to have a story to tell.

The Shell Mex building
The Shell Mex building

This is one of my favourites, the building with the big clock, one of the biggest in London. It is called Shell Mex House or the Shell Building and was built, as its Deco styling suggests, in the 1930s. If it isn’t the most beautiful building you have ever seen, it at least exudes an air of benign and dependable solidity. Once the lair of the oil companies after whom it is named, it today provides office accommodation for rent. (More information here.)

The Goodyear "blimp" The Goodyear "blimp"
The Goodyear “blimp” flies over

While we were enjoying the view from the bridge, the Goodyear “blimp” flew over. It is performing advertising forays over London at the moment though I believe it is possible in some circumstances to be taken on a flight. There used to be regular airship tours of London and the German Zeppelin company have been talking about starting one up, but for now tyre advertisements are the best anyone can manage.

Urban Fox (by Mike de Butts and Alex Geldenhuys)
Urban Fox (by Mike de Butts and Alex Geldenhuys)

The art community’s activities were well in evidence and included a lot of rubbish accompanied by descriptions inflated with hyperbole which rather than enhancing their meaning, reveal their essential shallowness.

I did, however, like the Urban Fox (by Mike de Butts and Alex Geldenhuys), a large representation of said animal built from straw bales. We had seen this several times from the bus but now had the opportunity to observe it close up and take photos.

Urban Fox, closeup
Urban Fox, closeup

It too has a rather silly description about seeing things differently (a bit of tosh that has become something of a cliché with artists these days) but it is rather fun and will make an enjoyable addition to the environment until the British weather gets at it.

How to build a dry stone wall
How to build a dry stone wall

What would you least expect to see at the Southbank Centre. OK, quite a lot of things, but one of them is a dry stone wall. Which is what these chaps are building. They are making a very good job of it too. They are using freshly quarried stone, hence the sharp new look to the stones.

Here's one we made earlier
Here’s one we made earlier

This was said to be an existing wall that they had brought here in bits and rebuilt. That seems plausible if you compare its worn stones with the crisp new ones beside the gate.

Stalls selling the usual things
Stalls selling the usual things

There were stalls selling the usual things that are sold on stalls at these events but as we had not had breakfast we were more interested in finding somewhere for brunch. We went to the nearby branch of Canteen which, though a little more expensive than our usual, serves good food.

There were period films to watch
There were period films to watch

Then we went to look at what is called the “Museum of 1951”. Photography is allowed! In the exhibition there were original films from the period about the Festival and its construction…

Wall displays
Wall displays

wall displays to look at…

Fifties room interior
Fifties room interior

fifties room interiors to admire…

Memorabilia
Memorabilia

memorabilia to ogle (remember PC 49?)…

Balloons
Balloons

balloons (though not to take away)… and lots of other interesting exhibits.

Anyone who remembers the Festival of Britain will, I’m sure, get a pang of nostalgia and anyone to whom this is new, a sense of wonder. At least, I hope so, because the Festival was something quite unique and deserves its place in our social history and perhaps our political history as well.

Crowded terrace
Crowded terrace

From the crowded terrace of the Southbank Centre, we walked along the Thames.

Rides for the boys
Rides for the boys

There were rides for the boys…

Crowds...
Crowds…

and crowds of people…

Rides for the girls
Rides for the girls

rides for the girls (OK, and some boys)…

More crowds
More crowds

more crowds…

Living statue
Living statue

living statues…

Still more crowds
Still more crowds

and still more crowds.

Her Majesty takes a fag break
Her Majesty takes a fag break

We met the Queen taking a fag break beside her begging pot (the cost of upkeep of Buckingham Palace is unbelievable)…

Readying the DUKW
Readying the DUKW

and saw a Duck Tours DUKW getting ready for a splashy tour.

Then there were the crowds
Then there were the crowds

And did I mention the crowds? They were everywhere. I am not keen on crowds; crowds do nothing for me; in fact, I intensely dislike crowds and whenever possible avoid them. So I was not enjoying this bain de peuple.

August Harris and his fountain
August Harris and his fountain

I was glad when we finally left the multitudinous environs of the Southbank and made our way, through Covent Garden and past the Drury Lane Theatre, where the impresario Augustus Harris still surveys his old stamping ground from the fountain erected in his honour, back to the Angel and the peace of home.

But, when all’s said and done, a day out is a day out, and despite the crowds we enjoyed this one. London is the ever-changing city and whenever you explore it, you find something changed and something new. And, after all, you have first to leave home in order to enjoy coming back to it.

Lion headed spout, Augustus Harris's drinking fountain
Lion headed spout, Augustus Harris’s drinking fountain

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to A festival remembered

  1. WOL says:

    Loved the Queen having a smoke break. I’m told that one may take courses in how to construct a drystone wall — on offer from the National Trust, as are other courses in skills of a bygone era. The stone wall reminds me of the Robert Frost poem, http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html

    • SilverTiger says:

      I’m sure you can learn the rudiments of dry stone wall building but that to do it as well as these two chaps takes years of practice and experience. As with hedge-laying, the skill is passed down the generations by doing it under expert guidance.

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