Black and white photograph showing a pointy pylon at the Farm and Factory Exhibition in Northern Ireland, 1951.

Detail. Farm And Factory Exhibition, Northern Ireland. Festival Of Britain, 1951.
Co-ordinating Designer: WM de Majo. MBE, MSIA; Associate Designer: L Bramberg;
Senior Assistant Designer: WH Farrow; Architect for Open Air Agricultural Exhibits: H Lynch-Robinson ARIBA, MRIA; Architects for Factory Building: R Ferguson and S McIlveen.
Catalogue number: DCA-30-1-FOB-FF-3.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Designed to nurture the country’s recovery after the Second World War, the Festival’s South Bank exhibition in London was the main attraction. On a 27 acre site, it ran from May to September 1951 and celebrated British art and industry. Complementing it were exhibitions and events that were staged across the country in that summer. The university’s two archives, Screen Archive South East and the University of Brighton Design Archives, have unique materials which document this significant history. Their combination of resources makes these particularly rich collections for researchers to investigate. Through this co-ordinated approach, we hope to enhance audience engagement in an anniversary year still impacted by Covid-19, and to reveal more of our treasures to those studying the Festival from a distance.

The University of Brighton Design Archives has always taken a lively interest in the Festival’s important anniversaries, because the Design Council (formerly Council of Industrial Design) was one of the most important partners in the success of the Festival of Britain, and we have held its Archive since 1996.  What may be more surprising is the extent to which the Festival features across our group of 22 archives. James Gardner, Barbara Jones, Willy de Majo, Dorrit Dekk, FHK Henrion, Natasha Kroll and Hans Arnold Rothholz all played their part in the national celebration, and strikingly, the last five of these contributors were comparatively recent émigrés, having fled persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe in the late 1930s.

Black and white photograph showing a general view of the basket making display at the Country Pavilion at the Festival of Britain, 1951.

Basket making display, Country Pavilion, including scenes from the annual cycle of country life. South Bank Exhibition, Festival of Britain 1951. Catalogue number: DCA-30-1-FOB-CO-25.

Building on the resources we released in 2011, the Design Archives have made available a series of additions to their online 1951 Festival materials, beginning with (via our Document Library)

  • ‘The Fairy Tale of Battersea Park’ by James Gardner, International Lighting Review Vol. 1950/51 No.6.
  • Two Festival articles from Design combined number 29/30, May/June 1951.
  • Press release, 1951 Festival Travelling Exhibition.

SASE’s Festival of Britain collection of over 20 films features work made by professional and amateur film-makers of the London exhibition and activities throughout Kent and Sussex. Gilbert Tome’s colour film is dedicated to the South Bank and features the pavilions, amenities and fountains, a sculpture by Henry Moore and the Skylon – the festival’s futuristic symbol of a new age of steel and speed. John Bell’s film features Princess Elizabeth, and Rowland Emett’s Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway at the Battersea Pleasure Gardens. Many others are available to view online.