Olympia 1886 - 2000

Part 2.


R. O. Tough MBE

Royal Naval and Military Tournament

1906 saw the first performance of the ‘Royal Naval and Military Tournament’ at Olympia. It had started out as the ‘Grand Military Tournament and Assault of Arms’ and opened on the 22nd

1911 Royal Tournament poster type card

June 1880 at the Agricultural Hall, Islington in North London. It was not until 1884 that Queen Victoria became Patron and gave permission for the Royal prefix to be added to the title. The Royal Navy first took part in 1897 and in 1905 it became the ‘Royal Naval and Military Tournament’. In 1919 the newly formed Royal Air Force joined in and for one year it was called ‘The Royal Naval, Military & Air Force Tournament’. This long title was dropped next year when it adopted its last change of title and became ‘The Royal Tournament’.

1912 Royal Tournament Queen Elizabeth reviewing her troops at Tilbury. It was here she made her stirring speech which included "I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a King, and a King of England, too."

1921 Royal Tournament, Neptune rules the waves.

One of the competitions held during the first Tournament in 1880 was ‘Cleaving the Turks Head’ where mounted officers had to cleave an imitation head mounted on a pole at full gallop. This was later abandoned in favour of ‘Cutting the Lemon’ in deference to our Turkish allies. An early example of political correctness ?

The Tournament has always enjoyed Royal Patronage and a feature on many of the hundreds of post cards issued for the event was the Royal Box which was constructed to a different design each year. Gale and Polden who published the tournament cards for many years, always made sure they had a photographer there on the Royal visit days.

Apart from the war years 1915-1918 and 1940-1946 it was held every year at Olympia until 1950 when the demand for seats exceeded the capacity of Olympia and it moved to Earl’s Court. The first Tournament was held over five days, but by the 1930’s this had extended to 18 days which became the norm. In 1993 it was cut to 12 days because of manpower reductions in the Services.

The object of the Tournament apart from providing a competition among the Armed Forces was charitable and all profits from the Tournament were donated to Service charities. The B.B.C. televised the event for 40 years until it was taken over by L.W.T.

In the earlier tournaments a different theme was chosen for each year. In 1906 it was ‘Tilting in Olden Times’, 1907 ‘The Tournament in Olden Days’, 1908 featured the ‘West African Regiment’ 1909 ‘Transportation of Troops to a Theatre of War’, 1910 it was ‘Britannia’s Muster’, 1911 ‘Heroes of British History’ 1912 ‘The Call to Arms 1588’, 1913 ‘The Restoration 1660’, and 1914 ‘The Romans in Britain’. After a break for the first World War the themes were continued.

International Horse Show

1907 saw the start of another long running series of shows at Olympia, the International Horse Show. Like other shows at Olympia it was marked by some wonderfully attractive poster type post cards. Apart from the war periods the International Horse Show was held every year at Olympia, but when it commenced again in 1947 after not being held from 1940 - 1946 it moved to Shepherds Bush.

The International Horse Show 1909.

Many firms connected with Horses and the many allied trades had stands at the 1908 Horse Show and many advertised on International Horse Show post cards among them Thos. Carroll, corn merchant, Thomas Pettifer & Co., had on display their world renowned Horse, Sheep and Cattle Medicines, Llewellen & Co., Ltd., of the Walsall Saddlery Works, who advertised they had manufactured specially for the Exhibition one of the most magnificent and complete collections of harness, saddlery and appointments. Johnson, Walker & Tolhurst Ltd who at stand No. 6 exhibited jewellery and plate of interesting design, Dennis Bros., at stand No. 53 joining the Royal Box, Mills & Sons importers of American carriages, and one of Orpwood’s specialities was Mr F. V. Gooch’s patent Firm Seat Polo Saddles used by H.R.H. Duke of Connaught.

Even firms like Harrods used these cards to advertise their ‘Ladies Tailor Made Coats in Blanket Fleece at 42/- or in Harris tweed at 63/-.’ Their ‘Last word in Parisian Model frocks & suits’ were slightly dearer at 10 gns.

The International Horse Show 1911. Manfield & Sons advertised their Gentlemen’s High Class Footwear on Horse Show post cards, and on another card their choice designs in Ladies Coloured Footwear.

The International Horse Show 1908.

Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition

The years 1905, (The Motor Show) 1906 (The Royal Tournament) and 1907 (The International Horse Show) saw the start of shows that were to each run for nearly a century and in 1908 another was to bring the number of long runners up to four. The Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, probably the most popular of them all.

It was founded by Wareham Smith, Advertising Manager and head of the Special Publicity Department of the Daily Mail as a means of increasing the advertising revenue of the Daily Mail. Smith had worked his way up from a clerk to become a Director of Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail. He saw exhibitions as the way to raise advertising revenue and the Mail’s first attempt was an exhibition of British and Irish Lace, this was so successful that the results encouraged the next step which was the Ideal Home Exhibition.

The central theme of the 1910 Ideal Home Exhibition was the Tudor Village, and this was featured on several series of post cards.

1910 Ideal Home Exhibition, pen and ink drawing of the Tudor Village.

Over the years two features became favourites, one was a different theme for each year, we had the Tudor Village, the Dutch village, the Russian Village, the Royal Gardens and Kitchens throughout the World, to name a few. The Tudor village was staffed by people in Tudor dress and the shops were occupied by firms that had been in business for at least a hundred years.

The other feature was to have show piece houses built every year in Olympia itself. Architects were encouraged to enter a competition and in the first year nearly 450 did so. Medals were awarded for plans divided into three price bands, and judged by Sir Edwin Lutyens. In 1908 there was a Tudor type bungalow and in 1910 a two story house designed by Mr Rupert Davison. The house had a living room, parlour, four bedrooms, a bath room and kitchen. In those days it would have cost about 600 to build.

Pen and ink drawing of the 1910 Ideal Home at the Exhibition. This house was actually constructed inside Olympia in six days ready for decorating by Holloway Brothers (London) Ltd.

Photograph of the 1910 Ideal Home at the Exhibition.

In 1912 the centrepiece was an 11 roomed half timbered detached house chosen from 700 entries. It was designed by Mr Reginald Fry and built by H. & G. Taylor, Builders. After the exhibition closed the house was dismantled and rebuilt at Park Langley where it was put up for sale at 1,100 including fittings. It is still standing and would be valued well into seven figures today.

It has been recorded that Lord Northcliffe was not in favour of the exhibition and refused to visit the first two events, but was persuaded by his wife to visit the third one in 1912 . The Ideal Home Exhibition continued at Olympia until 1978, but then like the Royal Tournament lack of space for the expanding exhibition forced it to move to Earl’s Court for 1979.

1932 Ideal Home Exhibition

1933 Ideal Home Exhibition

Many hundreds of post cards were published for the Ideal Home Exhibition over the years but the designs were no where like the beautiful poster type cards, or the many advertising and trade cards published for the other early Olympia exhibitions. For the first few years there were cards of interest, but by the early 1920’s they started published long series of views of gardens set out by various nurseries and landscape gardeners. This was carried out every year, up into the late 30’s when post cards produced for the exhibition virtually ceased apart from a few odd sets of six that persisted into the 50’s.

End of part 2.

© Exhibition Study Group 2002