Festival of Britain remembered

A view of the Shot tower and The royal Festival Hal taken in 1951.

A view of the Shot tower and The royal Festival Hal taken in 1951.

Such a waste

AFTER breaking my hip at 92,1 returned from hospital recently to find your ever-welcome magazine awaiting me (May). What a wonderful picture of the Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. It brought back every memory of that delightful extravanganza.

I was working for a small printing firm in Great Dover Street, having returned from six-and-a-half years’ service to find my old firm the only business to survive a landmine assault, as it was the only concrete building around.

Our firm had been awarded the paper ration for Richard Costain Limited, the big civil engineers and, despite our sad circumstances, we survived and held our own.

The original owner had died post-war and as I liked the new manager and, as I knew the ropes, agreed to return ‘for a while’. (Folly! Pre-war, Costain’s had been my personal charge and now, as Jack-of-all-trades, continued to be so.)

I knew many of their staff and when they became one of the two contractors for the Festival of Britain, I was in demand from the start and on-site almost from day one.

The South Bank was originally an awful slum area which was acquired and demolished. Huge sheets of corrugated metal were driven into the Thames about 40 feet out, the landside drained and large excavators pushed the resulting rubble into the shuttered area. The first of the imaginative buildings was erected, and this went on for months – The Dome of Discovery, the Skylon, the Festival Hall – as the two contractors worked diligently.

I felt that by facilitating Costain’s efforts in my own small way, I was part of this wonderful enterprise, and horrified when I realised it had so limited an existence. To think that all that expense, technology and imagination was used for so short a time, the mind boggles.

The President of Streatham Camera Club, to which I belonged, was the first professional to be allowed to photograph the interior of the Festival Hall and I saw several concerts there, including a rendering of the Sinfonio Antarctica with a personal appearance from Vaughan Williams. The audience would not let him go until he peeped around the curtain for a quick smile and a wave.

But not only the Festival of Britain… on the Window on the Past pages I found a photograph of Kennard’s in Croydon where my poor, widowed mother worked in the toy department for many years.

I waited every Saturday at 8pm for the sound of Kennard’s final piped record, Goodnight, my Love and the appearance of my tired mum ready to shop for leftovers in Surrey Street market, and meat from the corner butcher where the man stood waiting for a penny to tap the window and point to a joint wanted by a customer. And we’d find a tram to take us back to South Croydon.

That photograph brought back memories of steam and early electric (overhead for a while) trains outside the bedroom window, all-day travel for 1/- on trams; skidding off my bike outside Brixton Prison in the dreadful winter of 1947. One last thought – I still have a photograph 1 took of the Emmett train at the wonderful Battersea Funfair. Happy days!

Ken Jackson, Kidderminster, Worcestershire.