On this day in history : 3rd May 1951 – King George VI opens the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank and inaugurates the Festival of Britain – promoting the best of British in art, design and industry….
Timed to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 the festival was intended to raise public spirits after the austerity of the years following World War II…. There were those that said it was a waste of money – but the festival attracted 8.5 million visitors in 5 months…. It demonstrated Britain’s achievements in the arts, science, technology and industrial design….
The day was one of celebration, tradition and prayer…. A large crowd cheered the royal procession on the route from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral – where the King, Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, along with other members of the royal family, attended a special service….
On route to St. Paul’s the procession stopped at Temple Bar where in a traditional ceremony King George received the Pearl Sword of the City…. The Lord Mayor of London has precedence over all other subjects within the boundaries of the City of London…. He surrenders the sword to the Sovereign as a symbol of recognition to the Sovereign’s supremacy…. King George then handed the sword back and the Lord Mayor led the procession on to St. Paul’s….
After the service at St. Paul’s King George, in a broadcast from the steps of the Cathedral, declared the festival open…. Later in the afternoon the royal family attended another service at the Royal Festival Hall….a service of dedication led by the Archbishop of Canterbury….
A 41-gun salute was fired from Hyde Park and the Tower of London…. Celebrations took place across the country, with art and design exhibitions….and in the evening 2,000 bonfires were lit across Britain….
The Royal Festival Hall was designed by Sir Robert Matthew, Leslie Martin and Sir Hubert Bennet along with a team of architects and designers…. Battersea Park was transformed into Festival Pleasure Gardens with fountains, a grotto and tree walk…. Several other buildings, such as the Skylon and Dome of Discovery were also built on what had been a bomb site near to Waterloo Station…. Now only the Royal Festival Hall remains, although it is surrounded by the National Film Theatre (1952), the Royal National Theatre (1963) and the Hayward Modern Art Gallery (1968)….