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Festival Of Britain (1951)

On 3 May 1951, King George VI opened the Festival Of Britain in London, an artistic and cultural festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and to provide a “tonic for the nation” after years of post-war austerity.

The King made a speech from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and then completed a royal tour of the main attractions based at London’s South Bank. The weather was atrocious but the tour went ahead, taking in the Dome of Discovery, the Skylon and the Transport Pavilion.

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Once the royal visitors had departed, the attractions were opened to paying customers and, despite the weather, thousands of people poured in.

The event had its critics too, with many people believing that the £12 million of government money could have been better spent on rebuilding the country. Ultimately, though, the festival proved remarkably popular with 8.5 million visits by the time it closed on 30 September.

Although the festival was a national event, the main exhibitions were based in London on the South Bank of the Thames where a derelict 27-acre site had been transformed.

The Dome of Discovery, the Skylon (a unique tower held by high-tension cables and shaped like a sharp cigar), the Transport Pavilion, the Festival Hall and a purpose-built 400-seat state-of-the-art cinema – the Telekinema – were all built in this area.

Only the Festival Hall survives as a reminder of the modernist style of architecture promoted at the time. Winston Churchill had most of the structures removed in 1952 (it was suggested that he saw them as a symbol of the previous Labour government).

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