1938 EMPIRE EXHIBITION REVISITED

by

Stanley Hunter.

 

            An evening devoted to the 1938 Empire Exhibition Revisited was held on February 20, 1997 on its original site. It was organised by a local group ‘Polloshields Heritage’ and was staged in Bellahouston Park. The 1938 exhibition was held in 175 acres of the park, which lies in the South Side of Glasgow.

            The evening programme was organised in the House for an Art Lover. This remarkable building was designed by Charles RennieMackintosh (CRM) simply for a magazine competition in 1900. It was not realised until 90 years later, as a feature of Glasgow’s reign as European City of Culture in 1990. It was completed in 1996 with funds from the European Community. CRM had

submitted plans for the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition held in Kelvingrove Park in the city’s West End. Two frames of these (unaccepted) plans had been on show at the blockbuster CRM Exhibition staged last year in the McLellan Galleries during May to December 1996. Queues wrapped themselves round the block to pay £4 to see the exhibition. It moved to the Met. in New York to critical acclaim before moving to the Art Institute of Chicago in March 1997 and then Los Angeles County Museum until October 1997. CRM had to be content with designing a few important stands at the 1901 exhibition. Water colours of his were displayed in 1938 in the Palace of Art, the only remaining exhibition building in Bellahouston Park. One of these paintings was on show at the McLellan in 1996 and went on the USA tour. The main feature in 1997 was a talk given by broadcaster and journalist Bob Crampsey (a past Brain of Britain and former local headmaster). Bob had been to the exhibition as a young schoolboy and wrote ‘The Empire Exhibition 1938 - The Last Durbar’ which is a popular account of the exhibition, (ISBN 1 85158 122 at £12.95). His talk was illustrated by a video of a colour home movie of a trip to the exhibition, now held in the Scottish Film Archives, Glasgow.

 

            To support him I was asked to mount a display of memorabilia and postcards and this proved popular. A number of treasured souvenirs were brought along by the audience of around 150. these varied from a beautiful doll, a hand made celtic silver crafted sporran and a little ‘Carlton Ware’
china toast rack to a Ministry of Labour Job Card for a joiner who worked at the exhibition and still lives locally. I must find out if he took part in the joiners strike at the exhibition.

 

            I also had a supply of the new ‘Mayfair Cards of London’ postcard of ‘Glasgow 1938 Transport’ (BB789). This is based oon the cover of Glasgow Corporation’s Tram and Bus Guide for 1938. It shows a Coronation No. 3 ‘Exhibition’ Tram and a bus with Thomas S. Tait’s Tower of Empire in the background. It has already been reproduced on a smaller ‘Dalkeith’ card. A similar tram was reproduced in the British Transport set of Europa stamps issued in 1988. It was also en route to the exhibition and the actual tram shown is preserved in the Glasgow Museum of Transport at the Kelvin Hall, Kelvingrove.

 

            Also shown in the House for an Art Lover was an extensive selection of models of Tait’s Tower, the centre piece of the exhibition. It stood over 300ft high on the drumlin which was already 170 ft above sea level. The 3,000 tons of concrete foundation still remains in the hillside, not far from the House for an Art Lover. Admission in 1997 cost £2.50 and the ticket was a facsimile of an 1938 annual season ticket, which cost 25 shillings (£1.25).

© Exhibition Study Group 1997

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