The Fabulous Fifties

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
The Fifties began in austerity. King George VI was on the throne, Clement Attlee was Prime Minister, Harry Truman was in the White House, the world was scared of the atom bomb.
The decade ended with Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace, General Eisenhower as American President, the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan telling people they’d never had it so good.
To many people who grew up in the Britain of half a century ago, the Fifties are a clearly and dearly remembered age.
'We walked to school, had open fires and no central heating,' recalled a woman of that generation.
'We played in the street with our friends and were safe; we climbed trees, skinned our knees and ripped our clothes, got into fights and nobody sued anybody. Sweets were a treat, not part of lunch.
'We got a clip round the ear when we had been naughty, and Mum gave us a teaspoon of malt and cod liver oil before school.

'We played cards and board games and talked to each other. We were allowed to answer the phone on our birthdays as a special treat. It was an innocent time, gone for ever.'

Sweet Rationing
The Fifties were 'the best of times' according to writer Ian Jack, as he recalled full employment, steady material progress and a widely shared sense of certainty about life.
Over the entire era there still hung the spectre of World War II, which had been over for a decade  - although a lot of people, looking around them at the state of the country 'were buggered if they knew who had won it'.
Meat, butter, cheese, sugar and sweets were still rationed in 1953, and blitzed inner cities remained, even if many of their inhabitants had been shipped out to suburbs and new towns.

Reach for the Sky - Kenneth Moore - 1956
War films were the staple diet of the cinema -'The Dam Busters', 'The Cruel Sea', 'Reach For The Sky' and many more.
War was central in children's lives and imaginations.
Many boys recall that all the games they played were war games.
Boys Playing in the Street - 1950s

'I fired sticks and mimicked the high stutter of machine guns in the woods, and dive-bombed my friends with ear-damaging howls and flung my body into the arc of heroic death.'
Most of the boys on most streets had wooden Tommy guns or sometimes the real thing  -  a relic from the war with the firing pin removed.
Airfix Spitfire

Airfix Spitfires, sold by Woolworths for 2s, proved to be the toy firm's most popular model, while boys' comics were full of stories of 'Braddock, Ace Pilot', 'Sergeant Allen of the Fighting 15th' and 'The Eyes that Never Closed' (about hunting German U-boats).
Wartime values were still very strong.
Respectability, conformity, restraint and trust were what underpinned the Fifties.
There had been a degree of democratisation in the war as soldiers and civilians of all classes shared its dangers and privations.
But, in the aftermath, deference still ran deep in British society - whether towards traditional institutions, senior people in hierarchical organisations, prominent local figures (the teacher, the bank manager, the GP), older people generally or the better educated.
In the ultra-hierarchical City of London, it was still 'Mr this' and 'Mr that' in most offices.

Prince Charlse
When a Sunday newspaper asked readers in 1954 what sort of school the five-year-old Prince Charles should go to, a quarter declared it was none of their business or the paper's.
'Trust the Queen and Prince Philip,' implored one reader from Glebe Gardens, New Malden.
It was hard for anyone in this era to avoid - or evade - the culture of respectability and conformity.
In his study at public school, the records of choice of John Ravenscroft (later Peel, the Radio 1 DJ) were Handel's 'Zadok The Priest' from the Coronation of George VI, and a recording of the King's Christmas broadcast in which he quoted from the poem 'At The Gate Of The Year'.

Kingsley Amis
The normally truculent Kingsley Amis was happy to take his editor's advice and tone down explicit references to sex in his 1955 novel 'That Uncertain Feeling', a sequel to 'Lucky Jim', for fear that libraries might ban it.

The BBC - highly bureaucratic and with no appetite for taking risks or giving offence  -  was the embodiment of respectability.
'I want you to see yourself as an officer in a rather good regiment,' was how Robin Day was welcomed to the Radio Talks department in 1954.
News bulletins remained pillars of grammatical rectitude.
People living during the fifties remember not only the front door of homes being left unlocked, but bikes generally being left untouched or unchained at the bus stop or the railway station.
It was not until about 1957 that British motorcycles were even fitted with locks or keys.
'I never had a chain and padlock, and never knew anyone who had. The bike was never stolen, and I was never worried it might be.'
That these were more law-abiding times than now is not a nostalgic fantasy.
The fundamental fact was that, following a sharp upward spike in the post-war years, crime declined markedly during the first half of the Fifties.
The numbers started to move up from 1955, but were still strikingly low.
Notifiable offences recorded by the police were a little over half a million in 1957.
Forty years later, they were almost 4.5 million.
Violent crimes against the person numbered under 11,000 in 1957, and 250,000 in 1997.
It was, in short, a different world - whose trusting best was evoked by a premium-collecting Prudential insurance agent in Lincolnshire during the Fifties.
There were homes he went to in his bright yellow Austin Seven where the occupants were out at work and the key was under a brick or on a nail in the shed.
'I would let myself in and find the books and the payment which had been left out for me.
'Many times I would find also a hastily scribbled note: "Please take an extra sixpence and post these letters" and "Tell the doctor Johnnie is not so well."'
And so it went on - 'a land of lost content' .............    
Some have depicted the Fifties as a decade of social and sexual repression, cultural sterility and political stagnation.
A grey, pinched time of rationing, shortages and the inevitable stiff upper lip.
Others, and particularly those viewing the decade from the American perspective, have seen it as a 'golden age'.

Andrew Marr, (see right) a contemporary chronicler of modern British history, has succinctly described England at that time as the 'Land of Lost Content', taking the beautifully elegiac turn of phrase from a poem by Alfred Edward Housman (see left).

Alfred Edward Housman (26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936), usually known as A. E. Housman, was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems 'A Shropshire Lad.' Lyrical and almost epigrammatic in form, the poems' wistful evocation of doomed youth in the English countryside, in spare language and distinctive imagery, appealed strongly to late Victorian and Edwardian taste, and to many early 20th century English composers both before and after the First World War. Through its song-setting the poetry became closely associated with that era, and with Shropshire itself.

Strangely enough Housman was one of J M Barrie's favourite poets, (later Housman was one of 'our Peter's' favourite poets also), and the line in question came from one of Barrie's favourite poems from the collection 'A Shropshire Lad', published in 1896, - 

'That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, the happy highways where I went, - and cannot come again.'

Another line by A E Housman, 'the lads that will never be old', has an eerie ring to it, because it not only elucidates much of Barrie's enigmatic character, and the mystery of Peter Pan, but also looks forward to the fates of George and Michael Llewellyn-Davies, who both knew the line, and the poem well.

Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM (9 May 1860 – 19 June 1937) was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of 'Peter Pan'. The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland. He moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired him in writing about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in 'The Little White Bird'), then to write 'Peter Pan', or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a "fairy play" about this ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland. This play quickly overshadowed his previous work and although he continued to write successfully, it became his best-known work, credited with popularising the name Wendy, which was very uncommon previously. Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents. Peter Pan is a key character in 'So Long Ago So Clear' - the biography of Peter Crawford.

But back to the fifties.

Undoubtedly, in many ways it was a 'golden age', coming as it did after the carnage, misery social disruption and restrictions of the war, and before the social disintegration of the late sixties and seventies, and the complete denial of society which occurred in the eighties and nineties.
For many, in retrospect, it was an oasis of calm, of security and of tranquillity.
While it was not such a secure era that everyone could leave their door permanently unlocked and open, in the assurance that everyone was basically good at heart, it was a time when people could 'pop out', leaving the door on the latch, and visit their neighbour, or the local shop.
It was also a time when the 'school run' was unknown, and all children either walked or cycled, un-escorted by their parents, but accompanied by their friends, to the local school in complete confidence.

In the early fifties, there was still some rationing of food, paper and other items (see left), it was also a time when every child was entitled to a free school meal, and all children were given fee school milk during the morning break (see right).
In many areas of the country crime was practically unknown, and many people who lived through that period cannot remember hearing about anyone's house being burgled, or anyone being mugged or attacked in the street, or on the buses or trains.
The streets, it seemed, rarely resounded to the sound of drunkenness, despite the fact that public houses were well attended, and were the social hubs of many communities.
Children went about the streets after dark without their parents being anxious, and apparently those children were completely unmolested.
Peter, himself walked to the local library in the evenings, and to choir practice after dark in perfect safety.
Children went to visit their friends, or went to the park, walking alone and unaccompanied, and young boys even walked or cycled to the local swimming pool in the hot summer months, wearing just plimsolls and swimming-trunks, which makes one wonder what all the paedophiles, who apparently now stalk our streets in droves, were doing in the nineteen fifties.

An interesting article, recovered from an old copy of the 'Eagle' boy's comic, clearly demonstrates this attitude.
The article was entitled 'Enjoy the open air - cool off', and gives advice about the possibility of enjoying a swim 'when out for a hike or a cycle ride' - unaccompanied of course.
The two lads first talk to a middle-aged man on a bridge, apparently making inquiries about where they can swim in safety.
Then the youngsters are shown swimming in the brief style of trunks then commonly worn by young boys.
It would be difficult to imagine such an article appearing in a young person's magazine (there are no longer any 'boy's comics' as this would be 'sexist'), today..
In this way the Fifties were a very different, and possibly a better decade than the decades that have followed and, although we are only looking back fifty or sixty years, some aspects of the fifties are sometimes difficult to imagine.
Wages, of course, were low by modern standards, but then so were prices, and undoubtedly people didn't have the modern amenities that they have now.
Cars were relatively rare, and the streets were quiet, and made excellent 'playgrounds' for local children.
Not everything was good, however, with many homes not having a bathroom or running hot water or central heating - almost everybody at this time had coal fires.
Some houses didn't even have electricity, and retained the old gas lighting.
In the early fifties refrigerators, washing machines and vacuum cleaners were few and far between, and so a 'woman's work was never done'.

The idea of mobile 'phones, of course, had not even been conceived, and even Dan Dare, (that great hero of the Eagle comic), living in the twenty-first century managed to get by without one.
Even private telephones were practically unknown for working-class people, although there were plenty of public call boxes, which it seemed were never vandalized, and almost always worked (see left).
As a result, people were not constantly at the beck and call of family, friends, neighbours and employers, and people could settle down in the evening and be confident that they would not be disturbed by the unpleasant ring of the 'phone, or the bizarre 'ring-tone' of a mobile.

Everybody, however, seemed to have a wireless (radio) - (see right), and it was the wireless that for many was the only real entertainment, apart from books and comics.

Only a few people had a gramophone (record player), and most of these still played twelve inch records, which ran at seventy eight revolutions per minute, and were made of easily breakable shellac (see left).

Instead of tiny mp3 players, many people had a huge 'electric' radiogram (see right), on which they would listen to artists such as Mario Lanza singing songs from Sigmund Romberg's 'the Student Prince' (see left). 

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War the BBC had launched a television service, which was limited to London (see right).

With the outbreak of war, however, this service had been suspended, and was only restarted when hostilities ceased in 1945.
It was only around the time of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, however, that reasonable numbers of people started to buy a television (see left).

Because relatively few people owned a television there was only one channel, which broadcast for only a very limited period each day (from mid afternoon - Children's Television (see left) - until ten or eleven at night, with a break between five and six for 'tea' and kiddie's bedtime).

The decade of the Fifties was one when nearly everyone went to the 'films'  or the 'flicks'.
As an example, there were at least five cinemas in Hounslow - the Dominion (see left and interior below), (opened in 1931 and was designed by F. E. Bromige in the Art Deco 'Moderne' style), and situated near the bus station.

The 'Empire' was in the middle of 
Hounlow High Street.
The 'Regal', part of the ABC group and the 'Granada' were at the far end of the High Street, and the 'Odeon' (see right), probably the most modern cinema in the area, situated at Hounslow West, near the underground Station.
In the year two thousand none of these cinemas still exists.

In the early fifties the Labour party inaugurated the National Health Service (see right).
Unlike today, if someone went to the doctor they didn't need to make an appointment a week - or more - ahead, but simply arrived, waited their turn, and were usually seen in about fifteen or twenty minutes, and it was a relatively simple matter to get the doctor to come to the house.

Milk of course was delivered in bottles to the door-step by horse drawn cart (see left).
'Coin in the slot' meters (see left) were read by people from the gas and electricity boards, so there were no monthly bills, and the insurance man came round once a month from the Pearl to ensure that you had a decent funeral.


The post-war recovery was well under way in the middle 50s under the management of the Conservative Party led first of all by Winston Churchill, and after 1955 by Anthony Eden.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, DL, FRS, Hon. RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician, best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, he served as Prime Minister twice (1940–45 and 1951–55). A noted statesman and orator, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer, and an artist. He is the only British prime minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first person to be made an Honorary Citizen of the United States.

Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC (12 June 1897 – 14 January 1977) was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957. He was also Foreign Secretary for three periods between 1935 and 1955, including during World War II. He is best known for his outspoken opposition to appeasement in the 1930s, his diplomatic leadership in the 1940s and 1950s, and the failure of his Middle East policy in 1956 that ended his premiership.

Now for those who were not alive in the 1950s it might be pertinent to point out what life was like in that era.
We can begin by starting on the morning of an average day.
In the Winter, getting up in the morning was really difficult.
Often the condensation on the window would have frozen, so there would actually be ice inside the bedroom.
In Peter's case he would go downstairs to have wash and have his breakfast.
In the winter it would be too early to have a coal fire lit, so the only heating would be from a 'bowl' eclectic fire (see left).
Of course there would be no television in the morning, so the radio would be playing.
Cornflakes, Porridge or Wheatabix would be the main food at breakfast time, and there was always the chance that a new packet would be opened, and a new free toy would be found

Outside there would be the clip-clop of the horse which was drawing the cart (see right)  from which the milk was delivered to the door.
Also the post would be delivered early, along with the papers.
And of course, in the Winter, it would often be foggy outside, and sometimes there would be smog, reducing visibility to less than a meter, which was a combination of fog and the polluting smoke from millions of coal fires.
Peter, like most children at the time, went to school on his own, walking, as there was no 'school run', mainly because very few people had cars.

Many schools (see left) had no central heating, and the classrooms were heated by coal burning stoves.
Some new schools, however, were centrally heated, which at the time was the very height of modernity.

School ended at half past three, and when children returned from school in most cases their mothers would be waiting for him.

After 1953 there would be 'Children's Television' (see right), but many children would  go to the park (unsupervised) to play after school.
The evening meal would have to wait until father came home from work.
Of course there was no refrigerator, so food had to be bought each day, particularly in the Summer.
Food would be bought either from a local 'corner shop', or in the High Street, or later in the 50s from a Supermarket.
Equally there was no microwave, so food could not be prepared quickly, and when the meal was over there was no dish washer.
After the meal, there was television until ten thirty or eleven o'clock, and there was only one channel: BBC.


© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
Life was seeming very simple, and had changed little from pre-war days – or so it seemed.

But America had played a large and significant part in the war, and thousands of American troops had been posted to the British isles before being transported to Europe on D-day, and large numbers of American airmen took off every night in their Boeing Fortresses and Super Fortresses (see left) to fly daylight bombing raids over the crumbling Reich.
Families had been affected in a very personal way by this influx of US servicemen.

Custer's Last Stand - Riders of the Range -Frank Humphris
While the Rev. Marcus Morris had wanted to stem the tide of inappropriate comics, imported from America, with his 'upstanding', morally pure and British comic, 'the Eagle', it was significant that one of the most popular cartoon strips in the comic was entitled 'Riders of the Range' (see right), which was set in the American 'Wild West'.

Frank Humphris (b. 31 March 1911; d. March 1993) studied at Gloucester College of Art, and worked as a painter and illustrator until the Second World War, when he served as a cartographer in the War Office. He amassed a collection of vintage western gear and antique guns, and became a specialist in western comics. In 1952, living in Teddington, Middlesex, he took over the Eagle's "Riders of the Range" (see above), which he drew until 1962. He later drew "The Devil's Henchmen" for the Eagle, and produced illustrations for other magazines. He created "Gun Lore" in Boy's World, then returned to Eagle to draw "Blackbow the Cheyenne". He left comics in the 1970s to concentrate on painting and writing.

Most children in the 50s (the boys, of course), followed these stories assiduously.
Comics, however, were not the only influence on children at this time.

Roy Rogers
The Lone Ranger
Two other media were beginning to hold children's attention – films and the television.

Two characters in particular were very popular – 'The Lone Ranger' (see left) – and his trusty side-kick, Tonto, the Indian, and Roy Rogers (see right) – and his trusty side-kick, Trigger, the horse, and surprisingly for the times, his girlfriend Dale Evans.

The Lone Ranger is a fictional character, a masked ex-Texas Ranger who, with his Native American companion Tonto, fights injustice in the American Old West.

The character has become an enduring icon of American culture.
He first appeared in 1933 in a radio show conceived by Fran Striker, the show's writer. The show proved to be a huge hit, and spawned an equally popular television show that ran from 1949 to 1957 (see above left), as well as comic books and movies. To television viewers, Clayton Moore was the Lone Ranger. Tonto was played by Jay Silverheels.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Roy Rogers, known as the 'singing cowboy', started in films and moved into television in 1951.
The Lone Ranger, in similar fashion, began as a film series, often shown on children's Saturday morning cinema, and was subsequently a feature of television throughout the fifties.

Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998), was an American singer and cowboy actor, one of the most heavily marketed and merchandised stars of his era. He and his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino, Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog, Bullet, were featured in more than 100 movies and 'The Roy Rogers Show'. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often either Pat Brady (who drove a Jeep called "Nellybelle"), Andy Devine, or the crotchety George "Gabby" Hayes. Rogers's nickname was "King of the Cowboys". Evans's nickname was Queen of the West.

These were not the only American imports, however.
In 1955 Walt Disney released the film, Davy Crockett, (see left) and Crockett mania' swept the country – so it seemed that every boy had a 'Davy Crockett' fur cap.
Another American import was 'Rin Tin Tin (see right), the story of an American boy and his German Shepherd dog.
Originally a film series first to see the light of day in the 1920s, and often shown on children's Saturday morning film shows, the story was transferred to the small-screen, and was first shown by ABC television is a weekly series in 1954.

As for feature films these included' High Noon', starring Gary Cooper, 'Broken Arrow', starring James Stewart, Apache Country, starring Gene Autry, numerous Roy Rogers films, 'The Charge at Feather River' in 3D (yes, 3D is not a new phenomena – people were sitting in cinemas, wearing funny spectacles even in the fifties, as 3D was considered to be a possible answer to the increasing popularity of television).
Other American films also included 'Gunsmoke' starring Audie Murphy, 'The Man from Laramie', featuring the famous song and also starring James Stewart, and 'The Battle of Powder River' (see right) to name just a few.


There were two particularly important events in the 1950s in England.

One of these events was not particularly connected to the 1950s as such - it was steeped in past traditions and rituals.
It was, of course, the Queen's Coronation, in 1953.

click below for
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

The other event was quintessentially of the 1950s - the Festival of Britain, in 1951.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition held throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of 1951.
It was organised by the government to give Britons a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of war and to promote the British contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts.
The Festival's centrepiece was in London on the South Bank of the Thames.
There were events in Poplar (Architecture), Battersea (The Festival Pleasure Gardens), and South Kensington (Science).

1851 Great Exhibition
The first idea for an exhibition in 1951 came from the Royal Society of Arts in 1943, which considered that an international exhibition should be held to commemorate the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition.
In 1945, the government appointed a committee under Lord Ramsden to consider how exhibitions and fairs could promote exports.
When the committee reported a year later, it was decided not to continue with the idea of an international exhibition because of its cost at a time when reconstruction was a high priority.
The government decided instead to hold a series of displays about the arts, architecture, science, technology and industrial design, under the title "Festival of Britain 1951".

The Festival of Britain 
At that time, shortly after the end of World War II, much of London was still in ruins and redevelopment was badly needed.
The Festival was an attempt to give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress and to promote better-quality design in the rebuilding of British towns and cities.
The Festival of Britain described itself as "one united act of national reassessment, and one corporate reaffirmation of faith in the nation's future."
Gerald Barry, the Festival Director, described it as "a tonic to the nation".
A 'Festival Council', to advise the government, was set up under General Lord Ismay. 
Responsibility for organisation devolved upon the Lord President of the Council, Herbert Morrison, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, who appointed a 'Great Exhibition Centenary Committee', consisting of civil servants, who were to define the framework of the Festival, and to liaise between government departments and the festival organisation.

In March 1948, a Festival Headquarters was set up, which was to be the nucleus of the Festival of Britain Office, a government department with its own budget.
Associated with the Festival of Britain Office were the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Council of Industrial Design, the British Film Institute and the National Book League.
In addition, a Council for Architecture and a Council for Science and Technology were specially created to advise the Festival Organisation.
Government grants were made to the Arts Council, the Council of Industrial Design, and the British Film Institute for work undertaken as part of the Festival.
The arts were displayed in a series of  musical and dramatic performances.
Achievements in architecture were to presented in a new neighbourhood, the Lansbury Estate, planned, built and occupied in the Poplar district of London.
The Festival's centrepiece was the South Bank Exhibition, in the Waterloo area of London, which demonstrated the contribution made by British advances in science, technology and industrial design, displayed, in their practical and applied form, against a background representing the living, working world of the day.

Dome of Discovery
Festival of Britain - Poster
There were other displays elsewhere, each intended to be complete in itself, yet each part of the one single conception.
Festival Pleasure Gardens were set up in Battersea, about three miles up river from the South Bank.
Certain aspects of science, which did not fall within the terms of reference of the South Bank Exhibition, were displayed in South Kensington.

Dome of Discovery - Plan
Construction of the South Bank site opened up a new public space, including a riverside walkway, where previously there had been warehouses and working-class housing.
The layout of the South Bank site was intended to showcase the principles of urban design that would feature in the post-war rebuilding of London and the creation of the new towns.
These included multiple levels of buildings, elevated walkways and avoidance of a street grid. 
The Festival Style, (also called "Contemporary") combining modernism with whimsy and Englishness, influenced architecture, interior design, product design and typography in the 1950s.
Festival Style was described as "Braced legs, indoor plants, lily-of-the valley sprays of lightbulbs, aluminium lattices, Costswold-type walling with picture windows, flying staircases, blond wood, the thorn, the spike, and the molecule."

The Skylon
An unusual cigar-shaped aluminium-clad steel tower supported by cables, the Skylon was the “Vertical Feature” that was an abiding symbol of the Festival of Britain.
The base was nearly 15 metres (50 feet) from the ground, with the top nearly 90 metres (300 feet) high.
The frame was clad in aluminium louvres lit from within at night.
It was designed by Hidalgo Moya, Philip Powell and Felix Samuely, and fabricated by Painter Brothers of Hereford, England, between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge.
It had a steel latticework frame, pointed at both ends and supported on cables slung between three steel beams.
The partially constructed Skylon was rigged vertically, then grew taller in situ.

Royal Festival Hall
Royal Festival Hall was designed by Leslie Martin, Peter Moro and Robert Matthew from the LCC's Architects' Department and built by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts for London County Council.
The foundation stone was laid by Clement Attlee, then Prime Minister, in 1949 on the site of the former Lion Brewery, built in 1837.

Royal Festival Hall
Martin was 39 when he was appointed to lead the design team in late 1948.
He designed the structure as an 'egg in a box', a term he used to describe the separation of the curved auditorium space from the surrounding building and the noise and vibration of the adjacent railway viaduct.

 Sir Malcolm Sargent
The building was officially opened on 3 May 1951. The inaugural concerts were conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Adrian Boult.
In April 1988 it was designated a Grade I listed building, the first post-war building to become so protected.

Sir Harold Malcolm Watts Sargent (29 April 1895 – 3 October 1967) was an English conductor, organist and composer widely regarded as Britain's leading conductor of choral works. The musical ensembles with which he was associated included the Ballets Russes, the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Royal Choral Society, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and the London Philharmonic, Hallé, Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. He was co-founder of the London Philharmonic, was the first conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic as a full-time ensemble.

The Festival Pleasure Gardens were created as the lighter side of the Festival of Britain.
They were put up in Battersea Park, a few miles from the South Bank Exhibition.
They included:
an amusement park which would eventually outlast all the other entertainments and later become 'Battersea Fun Fair', only closing in the mid 1970s.
a miniature railway designed by Rowland Emett which ran for 500 yards along the south of the gardens with a station near the south east entrance and another (with snack bar at the western end of the line;
a 'West End' Restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river and facing Cheyne Walk;

The Fountains
'Foaming Fountains' (which have recently been restored);
a wine garden surrounded by miniature pavilions;
a wet weather pavilion with a stage facing two ways so that performances could be done in the open air, with murals by the film set designer Ferdinand Bellan;
an amphitheatre seating 1,250 people, featuring the music hall star Lupino Lane and his company on its opening, and later used as a circus;
Most of the buildings and pavilions on the site were designed by John Piper.
There was also a "Guinness Festival Clock".
The Pleasure Gardens received as many visitors as the South Bank Festival.
They were managed by a specially-formed private company financed by loans from the Festival Office and the London County Council.

click below for Peter's trip to


Great English Design - 1950s

The 1950s were the age of the consumer.
The post-war boom brought massive changes in the home; it was out with the old and in with the new.
Open-plan living was introduced, and the fitted kitchen with its brand new appliances was the housewife's domain.
Houses were smaller than pre-war ones, so furniture had to stack, or be light enough to move about; trolleys, sofa beds and ironing boards are all 1950s inventions.
There are several looks to choose from: the American diner look with bubblegum colours, neon and kitsch, or the designer look with furniture and textiles, which have both become design classics.
The 1950s were the greatest decade for the creation of 'contemporary' furniture design - which was inspired by the imaginative and inovative designs that featured in the Festival of Britain (see above).


Rosewood and Mahogany 'Helix' Sideboard

Rosewood and Mahogany 'Helix' sideboard designed by David Booth in 1950 for the Festival of Britain show of 1951, design No. R407, enclosed by a pair of Bombay rosewood doors with interwoven lines revealing birch ply, brass ring handles, with a fitted interior on short tapering legs
Labelled on the back 'Gordon Russell of Broadway', purchased in 1951 at The Festival of Britain.

Mahogany  4-Drawer  Chest - E. Gomme - G-Plan

G-Plan was a pioneering range of furniture in the United Kingdom, produced by E Gomme Ltd of High Wycombe. In 1943, during World War II, furniture was part of rationing in the United Kingdom; the Board of Trade set up the Utility scheme which limited costs and the types of furniture on sale. A small number of simple designs were available in oak or mahogany. This scheme ended in December 1952. This, combined with the Festival of Britain led to a pent-up demand for more modern furniture. In 1953, Donald Gomme, the designer at E Gomme, decided to produce a range of modern furniture for the entire house which could be bought piece by piece according to budgets. Advertising was part of the plan from the beginning. The name was coined by Doris Gundry of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, and the furniture was advertised in magazines and in cinemas direct to the public. Designs were available for several years so people could collect them slowly. All furniture was marked with the distinctive brand mark. The success of G-Plan led to E Gomme becoming one of the UK's largest furniture manufacturers, with profits increasing sixfold between 1952 and 1958 when it was floated. Donald Gomme left the company in 1958, perhaps the peak of the company's success. The distinguishing feature of the classic G-Plan style is the fine mohogany case, and the black ebonised chassis, and ebonised legs terminating in brass furrels.

Mahogany  4-Drawer  Chest - E. Gomme - G-Plan

Mahogany  Sideboard - E. Gomme - G-Plan

G Plan - Tallboy - detail

3-Drawer  Chest - E. Gomme - G-Plan

Sofa - E. Gomme - G-Plan

Mahogany  Coffee  Table - E. Gomme - G-Plan

Tola Bedside Table -  E. Gomme - G-Plan

.Long Coffee Table -  E. Gomme - G-Plan

.Dining Chair -  E. Gomme - G-Plan

Knoll International Style desk c. 1950 


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