THE DEVELOPEMENT OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION.

By

Alan Sabey

The idea of holding an Exhibition to show the assets of the British Empire was first put forward in 1913 by Lord Strathcona and it was intended to hold it in 1915, probably at the White City site.

After the first world war, in fact in June 1919, a provisional committee was appointed to draw up definite plans. By August 1919 approval had been granted by the Board of Trade and King George V had agreed to be its Patron. On June 7th 1920 a meeting was held at the Mansion House, London at the request of the Prince of Wales. Leading figures in this country formed the Executive Council, and a resolution was taken at that meeting as follows, "That this meeting at the Mansion House, under the Presidency of the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of London, cordially endorses the proposal to hold in London a Great Exhibition for the purpose of promoting trade within the Empire, and pledges it-self to give the project its whole-hearted support"

On December 23rd 1920 a special Act of Parliament was passed authorising the Government to contribute to the Guarantee Fund, and the Dominions were officially invited by the Colonial Office to participate in the Exhibition.

The site at Wembley Park was chosen because it was deemed to be accessible from all parts of the country. Wembley is six miles by road from Marble Arch, and trains from Baker Street would take no more than ten minutes to reach the Exhibition. Even from Clapham Junction it would only take just over twenty minutes. So once the visitor had arrived at London from which ever direction, his journey to the Exhibition would only be a short one.

From a London Transport poster of the time (fig 1) dated 23-9-20 it was intended to open the Exhibition in 1923 (construction work having started on January 10th 1922).

But by the time of the Cup Final on April 28th 1923 only the Stadium was fully usable, and some of the Colonial Pavilions were not ready, so the opening of the Exhibition it-self was delayed until 1924.

Looking now at the proposed site plans one can see in fig 2 that the Stadium was to be at the southern end of a main avenue leading from Wembley Park station and at that end the original lake from the Park was retained. This was subsequently drained, filled in and became the North Entrance Gardens. The South African Pavilion was proposed for that end, (Figs 2 & 3) but the site became the Lucillus Restaurant. What can be noticed from fig 2 is that the eastern boundary of the site was the India Pavilion, and many of the buildings were crowded together in circles or blocks. A further plan of the site (fig 3) shows the acquisition of land to the east and the original boundary behind 'India' has become a loop line with a special Exhibition station in the grounds. To the east of the railway loop it was at one stage proposed to have an experimental farm, but this land was used to spread out the Pavilions and eventually housed the Pavilions for Ceylon, Hong Kong, the West Indies, Fiji, Newfoundland, and His Majesties Government Building. The site which covers 214 acres in all, extends as far as the southern direction of the Wealdstone Brook.

© Exhibition Study Group 1993

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