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1951: 'The exhibits were out of this world'

The Festival of Britain was opened by King George VI on 3 May 1951, six years after the end of World War II.

The festival was designed to celebrate the best of British art, design and industry and raise the nation's spirits after the austerity of the war years.

It was built on 27 acres of bomb-damaged London near Waterloo station and included the Dome of Discovery building and Skylon tower.

More than eight million people visited the South Bank exhibition in the five months it was open.

Your memories of the festival

The festival occurred a year before I went up to Imperial to study engineering. I enjoyed seeing the ingenious design of many components of the buildings and exhibits.

An uncle of mine, who worked in some function at the festival (Uncle Geoffrey was a master of the vague) commented that he saw queues develop even behind people who'd stopped in the open for a bit to enjoy the perspective from a specific vantage point - queuing had become second nature!
Peter, ex-UK now USA

I remember the Festival of Britain very well. It was just what the Londoners needed after the war.

I was taken by my parents and can remember vividly the Dome of Discovery, the Guiness clock and many other items of interest.

I also remember at the same time the Battersea funfair - my two cousins and I were taken by our grandfather. It was certainly a different time, sweets were still on ration, imagine that, and a packet of crisps were only a rare treat, as was lemonade.
Alan Whiskar, UK

I was an RAF routeliner outside St Clement Danes church in The Strand on that day.

While standing, awaiting the arrival of the Royal Coach someone planted a doughnut on my bayonet!

I was not allowed to move but a nearby policeman removed it for me. Panic over.
Peter R Elias, UK

I was taken there in 1951 by my parents as a young lad. I believe my grandmother came too - she lived in Bayswater, London.

At that time we lived in Lewisham as my father had only recently been demobbed from the RAF and we were awaiting a place to live back in Kent.

We travelled up to the South Bank by train - what an impressive sight it was after all the bomb sites that were still very visible.

The exhibits were out of this world. I clearly remember being taken into the 'Ice' area with the Husky dogs from the Scott Polar Research group and being told of the planned crossing of Antarctica to take place in the early 50's.

What a show for poor post-war Britain at the beginning of the Cold War and numerous skirmishes to come. A Show I can still remember a lot of 50-plus years on.
Peter Davies, UK

We were taken to see the Festival of Britain with my school. I was from north-west London. I remember some of it now - it was a fascinating day out for us school children. After the austerity of the war it was really good for us, and to have a day out away from the classroom.
Rita Burton, England

I was a cocktail waitress at the 51 Bar during the Festival.

There was an open-air patio overlooking the Thames and the cocktail bar was visited on many occasions by John (later Sir John) Gielgud among other well known luminaries. Amazingly there were very few rainy days to spoil the party atmosphere.
Edna Kelly, Canada I was nine when I visted the exhibition with my younger brother and our parents.

We went by train and it was a very exciting day.We gazed in awe at the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon. I think there was also an old shot tower either on the site or nearby.
David Lee, England

I remember being taken to Battersea Park by my grandmother, and going on a thing called the Rotor, which worked by centrifugal force.

It was like being inside a washing machine with the spinner on. I loved it and stayed inside for several spins. What decided me to get out was the sight of a boy stuck on the wall opposite me, who felt ill and vomited all over his clothes - I was scared it would spin round to me!

I also remember going into a kiosk which announced outside "This is High Fidelity".

I had no idea what this could be and went inside expecting to see something special, but it was just a white room and nothing happened - I suppose it was turned off!!
Carole Tyzack, Italy


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