Wednesday 17 August 2011

Festival of Britain (3): Museum of 51

For most Londoners, the 1951 Festival of Britain is intimately associated with the South Bank complex, so it's appropriate that a temporary museum of the event is inside the Royal Festival Hall. However, one of the most striking things a visit demonstrates is that the Festival extended far beyond this one site.

There were Festival Gardens in Battersea, exhibitions in the Science Museum and V&A, and a 'Living Architecture' walk around East London - with a new housing estate finished just in time. Outside London, associated exhibitions were held in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast and travelling displays toured by lorry and ship.

All that potential travel apparently posed a social dilemma. Among the more bizarre displays in the Museum is a reproduction of What do they talk about?, a map of suggested conversation topics around the UK produced by the Geographical Magazine and Esso. It advises talking about 'the mill' in Yorkshire, 'the pit' in South Wales and 'hoppers and pickers' in Kent.

The displays take us through some of the Festival events, a model of the South Bank's Festival complex complete with Skylon, and recreations of 1950s rooms. I particularly enjoyed the cases of souvenirs of all shapes and kinds. A short visit to the museum will suffice for most people, but it does offer a real insight into what was so exciting about this concreted bit of London in 1951.

Practical info: Museum of 51, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank is open until 4 September. Admission free.


Ruby said...

I visited the Museum of 51 a couple of months ago and was also struck by the fact that the Festival of Britain was very much a national celebration with book fairs, concerts and local festivals all around the country. There's a great collection of leaflets and photos from these local events in the museum. I also liked the 'Patchwork of the Century' with 100 squares depicting an event for each of the years up to 1950.

CarolineLD said...

Yes, the patchwork is amazing, especially as most of the fabrics in it were old ones re-used.