Visit to the World International Exhibition Brussels 1958


Bob Tough

Part 1 the Exhibition.

            In the summer of 1958 we had planned to take a holiday in Belgium aboard my father’s 40 ft Motor cruiser, “Thamesa”. The cruise would be Internationally organised with cruisers from many European countries, although predominantly British. Total normally about 80 boats. The start would be at Ostend and it would finish at Brussels for the International Exhibition. The cruise was called the Pavilion D’Or (The Golden Burgee). organised every two or three years before the last World War and for several years after the war.

            As with motor cruising holidays the weather proved bad on the trip to Ramsgate. Weather prevented the start from Ramsgate on the crossing to Ostend. My father and mother stayed aboard the boat and my cousin and I crossed to Ostend by passenger boat and stayed at the Terminus Hotel there, visiting the Exhibition each day by train. There was a special station outside the main entrance and the train ticket included entrance to the exhibition. Hotels in Brussels were very crowded, we knew Ostend very well, having visited it many times aboard “Thamesa”.

Gay Belgium

            The following morning after arrival, we set out early on the train which was non-stop to the exhibition and carried on to Brussels itself. The entrance through the Belgian Exhibition Hall was very impressive. This led to a Courtyard of fountains and pools. The centre thoroughfare was dominated by the Atomium. This is a model of the structure of the atom. It still remains today after the rest of the exhibition buildings have been demolished. Walking up the central thoroughfare, on the right hand side is what was then called “Gay Belgium”, with reproductions of typical Belgian buildings, cafes, drinking halls etc., built around the market place. There was also a very big funfair, and in the far corner a sports stadium. On the left hand side there was a very large building with displays from the Belgian Congo. Further along there was the United Nations Building and the very beginning of the European Community, the iron and steel corporation building between France and Germany. There was a Luxembourg building, also buildings from Tunisia.

            The thoroughfare ends with a modern ornamental column. An overhead skilift type transporter is provided the length of the thoroughfare. Towards the end it also leads off at right angles on the left hand side to the three largest buildings in the exhibition. There is also an overhead walkway leading to these buildings. They comprise the American Pavilion, which is circular with a very large pool in the centre, showing American achievements, also the relaxed life in America. When we visited the building there was a fashion show taking place. I took a colour  photograph which won a photographic competition that year.

Skilift and French Pavilion.

            In complete contrast and opposite was the Russian Pavilion. This was square and heavily built, dominated by a huge statue of Lenin. Their exhibits included the Sputnik, which had just completed the first circuit of the earth in space. Russia were ahead of America in this field. Opposite was the French Pavilion, this had a very unusual shape and contained typical French exhibits. A long, ornamental shaft projected from the building at 45 degrees over the raised walkway.

The British Pavilion.

            The Walkway itself was decorated with large reproductions of the exhibits symbol at fairly close intervals.This with the Atomium in the background produced an odd scene. A much smaller but no less striking building was that provided by the Vatican, which included a Chapel of very modern design and some religious relics.

The Raised Walkway.

            Beyond these large buildings at the far end of the exhibition ground, were the pavilions of Japan, The Philippines, Dominican Republic and Iran. Also a beautifully built temple reproduced from Cambodia. In the centre of the exhibition ground, at the far end, were the German, Swiss, Turkish, Spanish, Moroccan and Portuguese pavilions.

            In this area Britain also had two halls, one representing tradition, which was made up of three conical buildings and another representing British achievements. At the time Britain was in the lead in radio astronomy and nuclear power provision. The comet was the world’s first jet airliner. Peter Twist held the air world speed record with the Fairy Delta II, John Cobb held the world speed record on land and Donald Campbell the world speed record on water. Displays from the commonwealth countries were also included except for Canada. Their pavilion was next to Russia, amongst the largest buildings, although theirs was much smaller. Near the Canadian building there were also pavilions from Finland, Argentina, San Marion, Tunisia, Holland, Liechtenstein and Israel. The Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Sudan, and United Arab Republic, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia pavilions were all behind the Russian pavilion, between it and the United States Pavilion. All these had typical displays from the respective countries. The whole of the left hand side of the thoroughfare back to the Belgian Entrance Hall was devoted to Belgium exhibition buildings including the Post Office, the civil engineering building, which incorporated a free standing “arrow” of 80 metres at 45 degrees. A display of flags of all the districts of Belgium, fountains and waterfalls and a number of other buildings displaying facets of Belgian life.

            It took three days to walk round the exhibition and even then we had not visited a number of the displays from the various countries. Special stamps were produced by the Belgians covering three different issues, these received a special cancellation if posted in the office on site. A number of countries throughout the world produced special stamps and in some cases these were  on sale in the appropriate pavilion and would be cancelled for transmission with the Belgian post. Many series of post cards were produced, there were also special flight covers and a special opening day cancellation.

            In the “Gay Belgium” area each night there were dances and displays. We did not however attend any of these as we made for our hotel in Ostend. We managed to spend a little time in Brussels itself which is an attractive city. The whole visit was to a very spectacular exhibition, very well presented and meticulously prepared.

            Was it the last World Exhibition of this type?

© Exhibition Study Group 2004