7 Remarkable Survivals from the Festival of Britain

The 1951 Festival of Britain showcased achievements in science, technology, industry, architecture and the arts in venues across the country. Much of what was built for the Festival was dismantled at the end – but there are some remarkable remnants.

As well as personal memories and mementos passed through families, the Festival survives in a number of intriguing and unexpected places.

Reg & Joan
Reg and Joy Bond, who had come to the festival from New Malden, Surrey. Image kindly supplied by their granddaughter, Becky.

Here we take a look at 8 examples:

1. Susan Lawrence and Elizabeth Lansbury Schools, London Grade II listed

DP059472 Lansbury and Lawrence Schools, Tower Hamlets, JOD, nd
(This and feature image) Decorative tiles in the school hall at Lansbury Lawrence School,Poplar, London. © Historic England Archive DP059472 | DP059474

Part of the Festival of Britain was a ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition in the Stepney / Poplar area of London. Nearly a quarter of buildings in the area had been destroyed or damaged in the war, so the Lansbury Estate was selected as the perfect site for regeneration.

The Susan Lawrence School was the first building to be reconstructed, as a living example of post-war planning and architecture.
The Architectural Review admired the tilework as a way of providing a colourful, hard-wearing finish, and saw the school as an unusual architectural example of the new interest in child-size, practical spaces.

DP059458 Lansbury and Lawrence Schools, Tower Hamlets, JOD, nd
Exterior view showing classrooms in the infant school at Lansbury Lawrence School, Poplar, London © Historic England Archive DP059458

2. Lewis’s Department Store, Liverpool, Grade II listed

DP162297 f Lewis dep store, Liverpool, JOD, 11 Sep 2013
Detail of tiles in the former cafeteria on the fifth floor of the former Lewis’s Department Store, Ranelagh and Renshaw Streets, Liverpool. © Historic England

Founded in 1856, Liverpool’s Lewis’s became the flagship to a chain of nine influential department stores, and at one point owned London’s Selfridges.

As one of the first city-centre businesses to start rebuilding after the war, the new Lewis’s featured interior designs influenced by the Festival of Britain.

Deborah Mulhearn explains in Lewis’s Fifth Floor: A Department Story:

‘The 1950s were a difficult but also hopeful time for people emerging from the restrictions and rationing of wartime, and living and working surrounded by bombsites, as many people were in Liverpool. The designs of the 1950s were an attempt to banish the drab and down-at-heal.

Designers looked to science and technology for inspiration and the designs for furniture, furnishings and fittings were based on magnified atoms and molecules and the crystalline structures of minerals and metals.’

DP162295 f Lewis dep store, Liverpool, JOD, 11 Sep 2013

3. Festival of Britain Bus Shelter, Cotswolds, Grade II listed

DP161847 FoB bus shelter, Farmington, Glos, JOD, 13 Jun 2013
Exterior view of the Festival of Britain Bus Shelter, Farmington, Gloucester © Historic England DP161847

The Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the National Association of Parish Councils (NAPC) suggested that the building of bus stops would be an appropriate way for small parishes to celebrate the Festival of Britain. A design competition was set up, and stipulated that local materials be used ‘so that the structures will fit harmoniously into the surrounding landscape’.

Gerald J Green’s design for a bus shelter at Farmington in Gloucester won him a prize of £100. This was the first building he had ever designed.

4. 219 Oxford Street, London Grade II listed

DP158163 219 Oxford St, stone plaques, JOD, 13 Sep 2012
Number 219 Oxford Street, showing its precast stone reliefs © Historic England Archive DP158163

The stylish, evocative reliefs that feature on the side of what is now a branch of clothing retailer Zara, depict subjects relating to the Festival of Britain.

The building is one of the first to be constructed in the capital after the Second World War, and displays a traditional style between the 1930’s and 1950’s. The Festival of Britain Logo, designed by Abram Games, is represented on the third floor, with the Festival Hall above and Dome of Discovery, Skylon, and musical instruments below.

5. Youth Sculpture, Highgate, London Grade II listed

*temp*
Youth Sculpture by Daphne Henrion, Highgate, London © Historic England

‘Youth’ was created by Daphne Hardy-Henrion, an established figurative sculptor. It is unique achievement in getting concrete so thin without cracking.

The lithe sculpture was part of the South Bank Exhibition at the Festival of Britain, sited outside the ’51 Bar, which was designed by architect Leonard Manasseh. At the end of the Festival, Manasseh and Hardy secured ownership of the sculpture, saving it from removal to the Arts Council’s depot. In 1959 it was installed in the garden of Manasseh’s home in Camden, London.

6. Contrapuntal Forms, Harlow, Essex Grade II listed

DP159912 Contrapuntal Forms, Harlow, JOD, 1 May 2013
Contrapuntal Forms, by Barbara Hepworth, Glebelands, Essex © Historic England

Barbara Hepworth’s pair of semi-abstract figures in blue limestone was created for the Festival of Britain’s centrepiece exhibition at London’s South Bank. Sited outside the Dome of Discovery, ‘Contrapuntal Forms’ was described as a ‘monumental group of abstract sculpture symbolising the spirit of discovery’.

After the Festival, it was acquired by the Harlow Arts Trust and installed on Glebelands, a residential street in the New Town, in 1953.

7. Parliament Square, London, Grade II listed

27538_022 Parliament Square, DG, 29 Sep 2012
Aerial view of Parliament Square, taken Sept 2012 © Historic England

Parliament Square was remodelled post-war by architect GG Wornum, as an open and elegant space to enhance the setting and views of major historic buildings. Now within the Westminster World Heritage Site and Conservation Area, the square was also intended to control the flow of traffic and pedestrians in light of increased volume of visitors to the Festival of Britain.

And of course, one of the most remarkable survivals of them all… The Sunbathers

aa51_06841.tif
The Sunbathers, Waterloo Station, 1951 © Historic England

The Sunbathers, by artist Peter Laszlo Peri originally greeted Festival goers at Waterloo station. Amazingly – 66 years later it was discovered in the garden of a hotel in Blackheath, London.
Our crowdfunder to restore the sculpture and put it back on public display has had an overwhelmingly positive response – thank you to everyone who has got involved. If this is the first you’re hearing about it, there’s still time to find out more and donate. Together we can Save the Sunbathers.

Do you know about another Festival of Britain survival? Tell us about it in the comments!

Further Reading

8 responses to 7 Remarkable Survivals from the Festival of Britain

  1. Sarah Jarvis says:

    A remarkable (related) survival is not far from the Festival of Britain site at 99 Southwark Street SE1 – Kirkaldy’s Testing & Experimenting Works, where chains supporting the Festival of Britain’s Skylon (1951) were tested. Both the building and the huge Universal Testing Machine are listed Grade II*. You can visit Kirkaldy Testing Museum as part of London History Day on 31 May 6-8pm, bit.ly/LHDKirkaldy To survive even longer the museum needs friends and volunteers – come along and get involved – and keep the family’s motto (carved over the door) alive, “Facts not Opinions”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wshcheritage says:

    Here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre we are starting a project to locate, investigate and map public art in Wiltshire as at present very little is known about the whereabouts and extent of public art in the county. Would you like to hear more from us as the project progresses? More information can be found at https://creativewiltshire.com/get-involved/

    Like

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