The Festival of Britain 1951: remarkable survivals

Historic England

In the spring of 1951 a nation celebrated. After years of war and austerity, the Festival of Britain opened to showcase achievements in science, technology, industry, architecture and the arts at venues in London and across the country. Much of what was built for the Festival was dismantled at its conclusion but some remarkable examples have survived. Here we celebrate surviving works from the Festival illustrated with photographs from the Historic England Archive. 

Remarkable Survivals
Many of the buildings, structures, sculptures and works of art created for the Festival of Britain in 1951 were designed as temporary objects. The end of the Festival brought deconstruction, demolition, dispersal and inevitable damage and loss. However, some incredible pieces have survived in private and public ownership. These photographs from the Historic England Archive show some of them in their past and present settings.
'Contrapuntal Forms' (1950-51) by Barbara Hepworth
Hepworth's pair of semi-abstract figures in blue limestone was created for the Festival of Britain's centrepiece exhibition at London's South Bank.Sited outside the Dome of Discovery, 'Contrapuntal Forms' was described as a 'monumental group of abstract sculpture symbolising the spirit of discovery'.

'Contrapuntal Forms' can now be seen in the town of Harlow. It was acquired by the Harlow Arts Trust and installed on Glebelands, a residential street in the New Town, in 1953.

'London Pride' (1950-51, c1987) by Frank Dobson
Commissioned by the Festival Design Group, the sculptor Frank Dobson created a work on the theme of leisure. He developed full-scale clay models at the Royal College of Art, London assisted by his students.The budget did not run to bronze, so the models were cast in plaster and finished in gun-metal.The finished work was originally erected at one of the entrances to the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank site.

At the end of the Festival 'London Pride' remained in storage until 1986 when, at the behest of Dobson’s widow, the Arts Council arranged for them to be re-cast in bronze for a permanent public siting.

The sculptures were unveiled again on the South Bank in September 1987 on a new slate platform on Queen's Walk, adjacent to the National Theatre.

'Youth' (1951) by Daphne Hardy-Henrion
'Youth' was created for display at the Festival of Britain's South Bank Exhibition. It was sited outside the '51 Bar, designed by the architect Leonard Manasseh.The female figure with upstretched arm is made from a thin layer of concrete applied to a steel armature.

At the end of the Festival, 'Youth' was supposed to have been taken by the Ministry of Education. However it was rejected on grounds that it was damaged.

Leonard Manasseh and Hardy-Henrion eventually acquired it and in 1959 it was installed in the garden of the architect's own home in Camden, London.

'Scraffito' (c1951) by Augustus Lunn
Lunn's mural was displayed at the Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition's 'Seaside' exhibit.In late 1951 the London County Council (LCC) was offered a number of works salvaged from the Exhibition. 'Scraffito' was installed at the LCC's new Woodberry Down Primary School.

'Scraffito' (c1951) by Augustus Lunn

The mural includes scenes of children at work and depictions of a bee, a microscope and violin.

Festival of Britain Bus Shelter (1951) by Gerald J Green
The Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the National Association of Parish Councils (NAPC) suggested that the building of bus stops would be an appropriate way for small parishes to celebrate the Festival of Britain.The NAPC competition stipulated that designs should be based 'on the use of local materials, so that the structures will fit harmoniously into the surrounding landscape'.Green's design for a bus shelter at Farmington in Gloucestershire won him a prize of £100.

Festival of Britain Bus Shelter (1951) by Gerald J Green

Green's design for a bus shelter at Farmington in Gloucestershire won him a prize of £100. This was the first building designed by Green.

The artist Peter Laszlo Peri was commissioned to create the sculpture 'The Sunbathers' for the Festival of Britain's South Bank Exhibition site. It was located on the wall at the Station Gate, welcoming visitors to the Festival as they arrived from Waterloo station.

Thought lost, the sculpture was rediscovered at a London hotel. The hotel's owners had bought it at an auction in the 1950s and its significance as a rare survival from the Festival of Britain was forgotten.

Historic England has launched a campaign to restore 'The Sunbathers' and get it back on public display.

Credits: Story

You can search for buildings, places and sculpture related to the Festival of Britain in the National Heritage List for England. Search the List.

Lost Festival of Britain Sculpture Found.

Discover the Historic England Archive.

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