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Festival of Britain: Sites celebrated for 70th anniversary

image sourceHistoric England/Aerofilms Collection
image captionMore than eight million people visited London’s South Bank for the 1951 exhibition

Sites linked to the Festival of Britain have been given further protection to celebrate the event’s 70th anniversary.

The exhibition, which ran from May to September 1951, was centred on London’s South Bank while activities were also held across the UK.

The festival helped to popularise modernist styles of architecture and design, such as multiple levels of buildings, elevated walkways and open interiors, which spread across post-war Britain.

However, a dedication to materials like concrete meant the designs have not always been to everyone’s taste.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionThe Dome of Discovery, which was the largest dome of its kind in the world, and the Skylon were among the structures created

The festival was a national exhibition and fair that promoted British design, science, technology, architecture, industry, and the arts.

The event was predominately based beside the Thames where buildings likes the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon explored British ingenuity and creativity at a time when the country was struggling after World War Two.

There were also celebrations and events held at more than 2,000 other sites across the country.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionThe Festival Pleasure Gardens – based on fun fairs like the Tivoli in Copenhagen – were created in Battersea Park

The area of Lansbury, in Poplar, east London, was badly in need of regeneration after the war so was chosen as a site for a “live architectural exhibition” with new developments replacing bomb-damaged buildings.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s chief executive, explained that the fair was “such an important event in our national calendar” and “raised the spirits of the British people”, while showcasing “Britain’s innovation to the rest of the world”.

“It had a major influence on design and architecture and its legacy can still be seen today in our buildings and public artworks,” he said.

image sourceHistoric England Archive
image captionA shipbuilding display, the Power and Production Pavilion and the Natural Resources Pavilion were among the attractions on offer

To mark 70 years since the event, Historic England has upgraded protection for two churches, the designs of which are integrally linked to the festival.

It has also relisted another seven sites, updating their list entries to recognise their connections to the period.

These are the places which have been marked:

The Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church, Tower Hamlets

image sourceHistoric England Archive

The church, which has had its listed status upgraded to Grade II*, was built in the 1950s as part of the festival’s “live architecture” exhibition.

It was created in the “festival style” with its three buildings created from brick, concrete and copper cladding.

Christ Church, Coventry

image sourceHistoric England Archive

Another church which has been upgraded to Grade II*, its design was directly inspired by the festival.

Built between 1956 and 1958, it has a lavish interior with features including hanging birdcage light fittings, which are thought to have been influenced by the fair’s Lion and Unicorn Pavilion.

The Royal Festival Hall, South Bank

image sourceHistoric England Archive

The Grade I-listed arts centre was completed on 3 May 1951, just before the festival opened.

Its style is described as being “in the spirit of the Festival of Britain” as shown by the use of concrete and its curved profile. Its interior has hardly changed since the 1950s.

Contrapuntal Forms, Harlow

image sourceHistoric England Archive

Renowned artist Barbara Hepworth was commissioned to create this Grade II-listed sculpture to symbolise “the spirit of discovery”.

The piece, made from Irish blue limestone, originally stood outside the Dome of Discovery but was moved to Harlow, in Essex, in 1953.

Newbury Park Bus Station canopy, Redbridge

image sourceConway Library/The Courtauld

This unusually designed bus shelter has a copper vaulted roof and concrete arches.

It was designed in 1937 but not built until after the war and it later won a Festival of Britain Award.

The Church of St John, Waterloo

image sourceHistoric England Archive

Built in 1822 following the Napoleonic Wars, the church was damaged by a bomb dropped during World War Two.

In 1950 Thomas Ford was contracted to remodel the interior in a neo-Georgian style for the festival and during the event it provided services and hosted concerts and choirs.

The Citizens of Battersea War Memorial, Battersea

image sourceHistoric England Archive

This memorial was built as a dedication to the people of Battersea who lost their lives during World War Two.

The Grade II*-listed structure was one of the borough’s contributions to the Festival of Britain.

The Susan Lawrence and Elizabeth Lansbury Schools, Tower Hamlets

image sourceHistoric England Archive

Originally called the Ricardo Street Schools, the first buildings opened between 1913 and 1914 but were destroyed by bombing during World War Two.

The buildings were replaced as part of the festival’s “live architecture” exhibit and have a distinctive Festival of Britain style.

The Church of St Mary and St Joseph, Tower Hamlets

image sourceHistoric England Archive

This Grade II-listed church was another structure that was rebuilt after World War Two as part of the festival’s Lansbury Estate live architectural project.

It has a distinctive style with a short concrete spire and copper roof.

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