LONDON EXHIBITION SITES

by

Arthur P Smith

This is some extracts from a letter sent by Arthur to Stanley Hunter, which Stanley thought may be of interest to members.

Regarding your excellent article for the Study Group, may I give you additional material regarding South Kensington Exhibition, and correct something regarding Earls Court.

As you may know, I worked in the South Kensington Exhibition area and at our last meeting (5th Convention at Crystal Palace in 1991), I displayed some material on the Imperial Institute, not as it says on page 3 (News letter No 23) Commonwealth Institute, that is a different story. I spoke because it was built to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee and it followed on the previous speaker's display on the same subject.

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The International Exhibition of 1862

Now re South Kensington, on some of the ground purchased with the profits from the 1851 Exhibition, they built the International Exhibition of 1862. The front of the building was on Cromwell Road where the Natural History Museum stands today, see illustration. I have a number of these stereoscopic cards showing other exhibits at the Exhibition, The V & A also did a booklet on the subject. The V & A at this time was a temporary

structure known as the South Kensington Museums, see notice on right, View No 185. The Natural History Museum was built from 1873 until 1880.

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Entrance to the 1862 Exhibition and showing site of the V & A Museum

On the Gardens laid out behind the Natural History Museum leading up to the Royal Albert Hall, the following exhibitions took place.

1881 Medical & Sanitary

1881/2 Smoke abatement

1883 Fisheries

1884 Health

1885 International Inventions

1886 British Colonial & Indian

You saw my guide to the 1885 Exhibition with the plan of the site. After 1887 Imperial Institute Road and Prince Consort Road were driven across the site from Exhibition Road to Queen's Gate. This involved moving the 1851 Memorial from the middle of the garden, up on to the steps leading to the Albert Hall from Prince Consort Road (see illustration). One item still in its original place and in use today is the subway under Exhibition Road leading direct to South Kensington tube station (see bottom right of plan).

The Imperial Institute opened in 1893 and in 1896 held the first ever Motor Car Show. Only in those days the title was the International Horseless Carriage Exhibition.

Now to Earl's Court.

Just as your flat overlooks the Kelvingrove Park site, so from my top window I can see the roof of the main Earl's Court building. The reason I

am living at this address is because my Grandfather moved here in 1909, to be nearer his work as General Foreman of the Works Dept of Earl's Court Exhibitions. One of the Fulham entrances used to be at the end of this road. He had been working there then for over 20 years. My father joined him in 1900 and my uncle a few years later. Just as your main Exhibition interest is Glasgow, it follows from my address and family connections, that my main Exhibition interest is Earl's Court, and I have amassed

since my father's death in 1961, over 450 cards plus other souvenirs of his and his father. So having done a lot of research into the subject may I correct that which is originally wrong at the beginning of page 17 in Part 1 of Fletcher & Brooks work British Exhibitions and their Post Cards. The Earl's Court originator was John R Whitley, not Whittey as stated. My grandfather worked for him, and I have a photograph of his early staff.

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The Gardens at the 1885 Inventors Exhibition showing the 1851 Memorial and

The Albert Hall in the background

The Fletcher & Brooks book also states that the "Empress Theatre" was built for Buffalo Bill Cody in 1887, this is not so. The Empress Theatre was not built until 1895 for the Empire of India Exhibition, and was at the end of my road at Fulham. It was called the Empress Theatre because Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. My grandfather and his men helped to build it. My father was taken along to see the building site when he was nine years old. It later became the Empress Hall, an ice-skating rink, and was demolished to make way for the highest building in Fulham, called the Empress State Building. Unfortunately it is out of bounds to the public as it is a Government (MOD Admiralty) building.

Now what Buffalo Bill used was not a theatre but an amphitheatre, because his was an open-air show. This was situated near Earl's Court Station in the Borough of Kensington & Chelsea where the main Earl's Court building stands today. (The picture of Buffalo Bills Open air show of 1887 will not unfortunately photo copy, but I have been able to show his picture of the Coliseum, and a page from the guide to the 1888 Italian Exhibition which ties up the date and venue of Buffalo Bill's show. Editor).

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The Coliseum at the 1888 Italian Exhibition

THE ITALIAN EXHIBITION (1888) page 181

and most remarkable of all, a reproduction of the Coliseum with its Roman sports, gladiatorial combats, wrestling bouts, chariot and foot races, triumphal processions, and all the other stirring spectacles that went to make up a Roman holiday. In the proceeding year the huge space at Earl's Court, now transformed into the Flavian Amphitheatre, had formed the scene of "Buffalo Bill's" performance; but the revolver, the scalping-knife, the lasso, and the Winchester repeating-rifle of "Wild West" warfare were now exchanged for the gladiatorial short sword, the net, and the trident of the Roman arena; and it was hard to say which species of personal combats exercised the greatest spell on the spectators.

As a mere show this reproduction of "Rome under the Caesars" was admitted to be one of the finest and most interesting things of the kind that had ever been essayed in England, and a perfect triumph of scenic art. By continuing the semicircle of seats right round, the "Wild West" Arena had been converted into a wonderful resemblance of the Flavian Amphitheatre, its dimensions, for one thing, being exactly the same as those of the Coliseum.

An extract from the 1888 Italian Exhibition guide book

Plan of the 1885 International Exhibition

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Plan of the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition

Those members who came to our last convention will remember seeing on display a magnificent blue vase that was one of the items exhibited at the 1924 Wembley Exhibition on the Moorcroft stand. Recently Moorcrofts published an article on Wembley and Don Knight was asked if he could supply them with some information, which he was happy to do.

Index

© Exhibition Study Group 1992