The Festival of Britain closes – but the memories linger on

It was Sunday 30th September 1951 and big crowds had gathered for the final moments of the Festival of Britain which was officially ending – where it began – at the South Bank in London. The massed bands of the Brigade of Guards played as the Union flag and the Festival flag were taken down for the last time.

Earlier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, had addressed a service of thanksgiving held in the Festival Hall.  He had said that the aim of the exhibition was to raise the nation’s spirits after the war years and to celebrate the best of British art, design and industry.  King George VI, who had opened the Festival on that special day in May, was to have taken part in the final ceremonies but had to pull out because he was still convalescing from an operation on his lungs.

The Archbishop said that the main focus of the exhibition had been the bomb-damaged site on the South Bank of the Thames near Waterloo station. He said that some 8.5 million people had paid to visit the exhibition – and exhibition that included the Royal Festival Hall, the 200 ft (61m) Skylon – a vertical feature in steel and aluminium with no visible means of support – and the Dome of Discovery, an aluminium display centre containing a planetarium and other features.

Its purpose, he said, was to display British goods through all aspects of life from the home, to school, transport, industry and the countryside.  Elsewhere in the country communities have been encouraged to celebrate the Festival and many projects for restoring old buildings had begun, trees had been planted and new commemorative signs erected.

Exhibitions of various sorts had been held – from a Regency Exhibition staged at the  Brighton Pavilion to a display of printed books in the Kent village of Tenterden, the birthplace of William Caxton.

In a nationwide broadcast in the evening, Dr Fisher said the Festival had been a “real family party” in which everyone had played a part and from which there would be many lasting benefits. He added that: “The Festival has set the standard by which we shall face the future. The Festival, like the Dome of Discovery itself, was marked by imagination and ingenuity…and a pride for what Britain has achieved in all things.”



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