Saturday, 5 November 2011

Festival of Britain memories

Perhaps the most important event during my school days took place in 1951; the Festival of Britain exhibition held on the South Bank of the Thames in London.  It is ironic to note that the centrepiece of the exhibition was the Dome of Discovery, almost a small replica of the Millennium Dome which caused such a furore nearly 50 years later.  The dome has been the most spectacular structural form developed over centuries. The first domes appeared in Roman times, the most perfectly preserved being the Pantheon in Rome.

The Festival of Britain site included a number of exhibition halls and a vertical feature called the Skylon, supported by thin tensioned cables which gave the impression that it was suspended in space.  The only building which remains is the Royal Festival Hall which is now surrounded by other buildings including the National Theatre.

The Festival of Britain was significant to me as it was my first opportunity to see examples of modern architectural design. Until then architecture had not aroused in me any particular interest as a career, although my father had a great interest in medieval church architecture, of which there is an abundance in the East Midlands.

My father also developed a passion for photography, which I shared, including developing and printing. I remember we started off using the bathroom, which didn't go down too well with Mother, before taking over the back store room of Betty's shop: by that time she had opened her own business in Dogsthorpe, Peterborough.

By 1951 it was necessary for me to look towards the future. Even though the war had been over for six years, there was still tension in Europe with the Cold War between the new Soviet Union and the Western Alliance countries. The communist world was rapidly becoming the new enemy and open conflict had already broken out in Korea between North (backed by the Soviet Union) and South (backed by the West and the United States). With all this unrest, conscription into the armed forces was a reality for all young men aged 18 unless they were able to be deferred because of further education.

Postscript 6/11/11 - I learned last night from my mum that her mother, Winifred Brennan, performed at the Royal Festival Hall in 1951. She was part of a ladies choir in Newcastle and they travelled to London to be part of the event. How lovely that my dad should be so enraptured with the Festival of Britain, unaware that his future mother-in-law was also a part of it.

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