The Big Wheel at the Glasgow Exhibition in 1938


            A few months back I got involved in some correspondence with Ann Stevens who started the ball rolling by asking if I knew anything about a big wheel at the Empire Exhibition at Glasgow in 1938. I rather put my foot in it by saying I didn’t think there was a big wheel at Bellahouston. I was sure that if there had of been a big wheel it would have shown up on a post card towering up into the sky line like Tait’s Tower does. Ann delved deeper than I did, and managed to find a couple of pictures of the wheel, which she sent me. Ann also had ‘insider’ knowledge as she tells me her Mum remembers riding on the Big Wheel. I replied as follows,


Dear Ann,

            Thanks for all your photo-copies on the Great Wheel at the 1938 Empire Exhibition Glasgow. I see I was wrong to say there was no great wheel there. I did cling to a hope that the wheel was at a fair either before or after the exhibition, but I’m denied even that small bit of consolation.

            I have checked through all my ephemera on the 1938 Glasgow and found just three words ‘the big wheel’ on page 198 of the Official Guide. I’m surprised that in a 304 page publication they could only spare one and a half pages on the Amusement Park. On neither the aerial photograph or in the plan of the exhibition is a big wheel shown or even mentioned. Neither can I call to mind a single view of the big wheel on a post card. Even the large folded map by McCorquodale does not show or mention a big wheel. It does mention no less than 22 other attractions in the amusement park, but nothing about a big wheel.

            It would seem according to Bob Crampsey in his ‘The Empire Exhibition 1938 The Last Durbar’ that there was a lot of conflict between Butlin and the Exhibition Authorities. He states on page 84 that ‘the orthodox exhibitors felt that the side shows and round-abouts detracted from the primary purpose of an International Trade Fair’ and goes on to claim ‘The Glasgow Herald was massively unsympathetic to the plaints of the showmen’. Perhaps the amusement part of the exhibition was played down, and who knows perhaps Valentine’s were aware of this and decided to ignore the ‘down market’ side of the exhibition. We shall never know now.




Two pictures of the Big Wheel.

            I have been having a grand sort out of my odds and ends and came across two related items, the scan of the certificate was sent to me by Jean Osborne with the question did I know anything about it? At the time I did not, and then I found a photo-copy of a sheet of text titled ‘The Gold Humbug Book’ which explains what the certificate is all about. Unfortunately I can’t remember who sent me the sheet, perhaps it was Jean. The sheet came from a book and is numbered page 297

            Apparently the 1908 scam is still working and improving with age, as I am sure Jean paid a lot more than a shilling for her copy of the certificate with the gilt seal. I believe that is called inflation. By an amazing flash of insight as I sat at my computer typing this out, wondering where the original article came from, I thought to my self there are not a lot of books about the White City running to over 297 pages. I got up and reached for my copy of The Franco-British Exhibition Illustrated Review by F. G. Dumas, and there on page 297 was the story of the Gold Humbug Book. So I’ve found the origin of the article, but I still can’t remember who sent it in. Thanks anyhow. The picture of the certificate is slightly reduced in size.



          © Exhibition Study Group 2007