The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley

A Diary of Royal Visits and other Notable Events in 1924.

Part 1.

by

Alan Sabey

Wednesday 23rd April.

King George V and Queen Mary driven to Wembley via Datchet, Colnbrook, Longford, Bath Road, Great West Road to Heston Village, Norwood Green (South Side) past the Church to Windmill Lane Hanwell, The Broadway Ealing, Hanger Lane, Alperton and via Eagle Road, Swinderby Road, Ranelagh Road, Harrow Road, Wembley Green and Wembley Hill Road to the South West Entrance of the Wembley Exhibition. From Eagle Road Wembley the procession consisted of four carriages.

The opening ceremony on St. Georges Day Wednesday 23 April from 10.30 to 12.15 was broadcast, this was the first time the king had broadcast. The King also sent a telegram "I have this moment opened the British Empire Exhibition George R. I." This was transmitted via Penzance, Tayal, Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, Banifield, Fanning, Suva, Aukland, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Cocos, Rodriguez, Durban, Cape Town, St. Helena, Ascension, St. Vincent, Madeira and back to London. The message took 1 minute 20 seconds to go round the world and the telegram was handed to the King at the Stadium by messenger boy Henry Ernest Annals. Another telegram was sent from Sydney via Singapore, Madras, Bombay, Aden, Suez, Alexandria, Malta and Gibraltar.

100,000 people were in the Stadium to hear the King’s opening speach. The buildings were lit up by 3,000,000 light bulbs and flood lighting.

Opening Day programme of Events.

9.00 Exhibition opens.

10.30 Ticket holders in their seats. Musical programme by massed bands of the Brigade of Guards and Pipers. Sir Edward Elgar’s choir of 10,000 voices.

11.15 Prince of Wales arrives.

11.30 Arrival of the King and Queen who drive round the Stadium.

11.35 Prince of Wales reads the address of welcome.

11.45 King declares the exhibition open.

12.00 Fanfare of mounted trumpeters of the Household Cavalry.

12.15 Bouquet presented to Queen Mary.

The Prince of Wales speech contained the words "You see before you a complete and vivid representation of all your Empire". The king was presented with a goldcasket, the world resting on the backs of four lions, the work of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company.

The King said later "The impressive setting of the stadium, the appearance of the Guards of Honour, the musical programme rendered by the bands of the Brigade of Guards, and the splendid singing of the massed choirs will be long remembered by those who were there at the opening ceremony".

Saturday 26 April.

Cup Final at Wembley, Aston Villa 0- Newcastle United 2, goals scored by Harris and Seymour.

Friday 2 May.

On the warm spring day there was a surprise all day visit to Wembley of King George and Queen Mary along with the Duke and Duchess of York and Prince Axel of Denmark. The party was conducted round by Sir Travers Clarke and Sir Lawrence Weaver. The party walked to the Palaces of Industry and then to the Palace of Engineering where they spent one and a half hours. The King taking an interest in four or five great locomotives (He had recently been to Swindon). The Royal ladies showed an interest in the electrical exhibits, the Queen discussing the cooking apparatus with the Duchess of York. The party visited the stands of Walkers Shipyard and Vickers Ltd. where they saw a 16 inch naval gun the largest in the world, and some anti-aircraft pieces.

On Chadburns Ship Telegraph Co. stand the King and Duke of York examined a shell scarred telegraph, a relic from the destroyer Odessy, the Queen expressed curiosity at a battered deck place on the ground nearby and was informed that it came from H.M.S. Chester and was the precise spot where Jack Cornwell stood and died thus winning the V.C. The Queen was deeply moved. In a tank at the Siebe Gorman & Co. stand the King was saluted through the glass by a diver. At the W. & T. Avery (Scale Makers) stand the King was weighed on an automatic scales at 10 st 13 lbs, the Prince of Denmark weighing 14 st which caused much amusement among the royal party.

In the Palace of Industry they toured the Ulster Section before lunch and admired the Ulster Fabrics. They were fascinated by the bread, biscuit and chocolate making machines. After lunch at Lucillus Restaurant the tour was resumed and visited the Gas exhibit, the tableau "Seven Ages of Women" where the King and Queen chatted to the models and congratulated the lady who had the courage to play "Middle Age". The Duke of York was interested in cutting metal by gas jets and production of aluminium ware.

In the Palace of Arts the Queen saw the Dolls House bearing her name.

Monday 5 May.

There was a fire in a kiosk in the Amusement Park near the Entrance to the Never Stop Railway Cafe. The fire caused by a fuse box fault was dealt with by the Exhibition Fire Brigade, the kiosk was burnt out.

Tuesday 6 May.

Silver Jubilee celebration dinner of the Junior Philatelic Society at the Criterion Restaurant where among other things, the merits of the Wembley stamps were discussed by Mr Seymour Bennett who said that the lion was a mastiff.

Thursday 8 May.

Ramsey McDonald opened the Press Club at Wembley, a spacious building for the use of journalists.

Friday 9 May.

Sir John Bowen Jones (84 years old) who was in attendance to Queen Victoria at the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851 visited Wembley and described it as an "Empire City" and said the word "Exhibition" was not adequate.

Wednesday 14 May.

In the morning there was a visit by the King George and Queen Mary and the King and Queen of Roumania to the Burma Pavilion and in the Indian Pavilion were presented with Garlands. They went for a ride in a Railodok Car. In the evening Pains Fireworks displays started.

Saturday 17 May.

Free places for 100,000 people at the full dress rehearsal for the Empire Day performance.

Monday 19 May.

Sultan of Perak and his attendants visited the Malay Pavilion.

Tuesday 20 May.

The King, Queen and the Prince of Wales made an unofficial visit to the exhibition in the afternoon arriving just before 2.30 p.m. They went to the Palace of Industry and were not noticed by many at first. The Prince of Wales chatted to stallholders, Queen Mary showed an interest in pottery. They next went to the Palace of Arts where the Queen purchased a green vase, and on to the newly opened Period Rooms, she remarked that the furniture in the 1815 room was suitable for a palace but not an ordinary home. Then to the Australian Pavilion where the Queen was presented with a bottle of Boronia scent by the wife of the Agent General for Western Australia. They saw the Southern Cross pearl worth 10,000 (in 1924 values) The Prince of Wales showed an interest in the Australian exhibits. A Samoan Princess, Mrs Reid, presented the Queen with a mat that had taken five years to make.

In the Malay Section three Malayans in picturesque costume came forward with trays containing costly fabric and a silver gong as gifts for the Royal Visitors. They left about 5.30 p.m.

Saturday 24 May.

The show for Empire Day started at 3.15 p.m. with Trooping the Colours and March Past. The salute was taken by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. There was a band of 1,000 men in the Stadium, a choir of 2,000 voices including 1,000 scouts. Every unit of the British Army was represented.

Saturday was also the start of Empire Week at Wembley with concerts by Military Massed Bands in the Stadium from 3.00 p.m. to 8.30 p.m.

Sunday 25 May.

Empire Thanksgiving Service attended by King George and Queen Mary. Massed Choir of 3,000 voices conducted by Sir Walford Davies in the rain. Seats at 2/-, 3/- and 5/- with proceeds devoted to the cost of the Service.

Monday 26 May.

The Daily Graphic reported "A pageant of peoples such as the world may never see again" Fifteen miles of flower lined streets.

Wednesday 28 May.

King George and Queen Mary and the King and Queen of Italy visited the exhibition and spent four hours there. The King now on his fifth visit acted as guide and was excited at finding anything new. Went to British Government Pavilion before lunch. Schedule of visit abandoned, and did a complete tour of Canada and two annexes. Butter statue of the Prince of Wales viewed from all angles, Queen Mary found it amusing. The public were excluded while the Royal Party was there.

Visited Bermuda and West African Walled Town and were conducted round several sections and spoke to natives. They were also conducted round the eight courts of East Africa and saw the largest pair of tusks in the world and a mounted head of an African elephant. In the Malta Pavilion the two queens were presented with bouquets of roses and in the Palestine Pavilion they were presented with lace d’oyleys. In the South African Pavilion they saw diamond washing and collections of animals.

The Royal visitors took lunch in the British Government Pavilion and later saw the Post Office Exhibit and telegraph equipment. The Staff sent a message of greeting across the room and the souvenir telegram was taken home by the King and Queen. Concluded with a visit to the British Army Exhibit and the Zeebrugge spectacle in the Marine theatre. They were cheered by the crowds in the Amusement Park as they drove away.

Thursday 29 May.

Newspapers invited people to spend Whitsun at Wembley, admission 1/6, children 9d open 10.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. 50 acres of Amusement Park, with Bristol Pageant including Queen Elizabeth in the Stadium.

Friday 30 May.

The Queen and Prince George visited the exhibition and spent all day there. An ostrich feather was presented to the Queen. They rode with other passengers on the Scenic Railway and the Queen said "it was one of the most exciting rides I have ever had in my life". It was said the Queen spent between 300 and 400 in the various pavilions on jewels, tea sets, furniture and other souvenirs. Visited Tutankamens tomb, and Palace of Neptune which contained unusual fish. Rode on the Railodok car, and at one point a man rushed forward and offered the Queen a white carnation from his buttonhole and shook her by the hand exclaiming "God bless your Majesty".

Saturday 31 May.

169,000 visitors at the exhibition, and the 100,000th visitor to the coal mine recorded in the afternoon..

Monday 2 June.

Start of Bristol Week in the Civic Hall which lasted for ten days.

Tuesday 10 June.

Duke and Duchess of York visited Wembley, they first went to the Stadium for the Bristol Pageant then saw a demonstration of tweed making in Scottish Highlands given in No. 1 Conference Hall. The Duchess of York also inspected jumpers in the Highland Home Industries section.

Saturday 14 - Saturday 28 June.

First International Rodeo held in the Stadium when the proceeds of the first days contests were donated to British Hospitals. On the opening day a regrettable incidence occurred, a black steer broke its foreleg and had to be shot. There was much booing and shouting from the audience. Mr Charles B. Cochran issued a statement that although most of the audience had enjoyed steer roping, some had showed their displeasure. In future that part of the contest would be conducted without an audience. The R.S.P.C.A. tried to have it banned completely. 80 cowboys had travelled 5,000 miles to take part in the rodeo. There were two shows a day at 2.30 and 8.00. During the same period the Civic Hall was used by Derby, for their Civic Weeks Exhibit.

Monday 16 June.

The League of Nations Union met at 12.00 and 3.00 in Hall 4 and gave a cinema show at 3.00 in Hall 2. The National Council of Women met in Hall 3 at 2.30. These two bodies used the Conference Halls for the rest of the week up to Friday. While all this was going on "The Air Defence of London" could be seen at the Admiralty Theatre in the British Government Pavilion.

Tuesday 17 June.

The opening of Derby Civic Weeks by the Duke of Devonshire took place in the Civic Hall. The Rodeo was in the news again when a cowboy broke his right arm when he was thrown while bare back bronco riding and an Epsom stable lad was severely bruised in the amateur section.

Five summonses were granted by Wealdstone Magistrates against C. B. Cochran (promoter) Tex Austin (manager) and the cowboy who roped the steer who broke its leg on the opening day of the rodeo. The R.S.P.C.A. claimed that much suffering had been caused to the steer. The Hearing was set for 24 June but was adjourned to the 30 June at Hendon after much discussion about how the rodeo was conducted and the state of the arena.

In answer to a question in the House Arthur Henderson the Home Secretary stated he had no power to stop steer roping. After a conference between Cochran, Austin and their legal advisers they agreed to suspend steer roping until after the hearing. This step was taken further by the exhibition authorities on 20 June when they banned steer roping.

On 7 July the summonses were dismissed after the bench retired for half an hour voting 6-5. On hearing the verdict the cowboys in the corridor threw their wide brimmed hats in a circle on the floor and danced round them, until the police cleared them from the Court building.

Wednesday 18 June.

Bad news at the rodeo again. At a steer roping contest held in private a steer fell on its head and broke its neck. It died instantly. Several riders were injured in the 2.30 performance, Jim Piggott from Wantage kicked in the temple, Harry Braithwaite London was bruised, Bill Clarke Washington thrown and strained right ankle, Ralph Smith Montana mouth torn in bare back riding and Roland Hayes Alberta kicked in the head.

An interim injunction was issued against Mrs Gertrude Baillie Weaver of Wimbledon from publishing information , said to be defamatory about the rodeo.

In Hall No. 3 at 3.00 was a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society.

Thursday 19 June.

Another steer killed. It fell after being roped and broke its neck. A cowboy clown riding a steer in the evening performance fell and injured his left leg. On Friday there was also an unofficial visit by Princess Beatrice, she arrived at 11.30 and toured Indian section. Questions were asked in parliament regarding the sale of British Empire Exhibition stamps. The Metropolitan Process Conference took place at 2.30 in Hall No. 3.

Friday 20 June.

There was a cinema performance in Hall No. 3 at 8.30 organised by the Alliance of Honour.

The British Guiana film was shown again at 7.30 in Hall No. 3, while in the morning at 10.30 there was a meeting of the British Missionary Society.

Saturday 21 June.

Excursion of 5,500 employees of Boots Ltd of Nottingham to the exhibition by rail. The trains were decorated with ‘BOOTS’ in capital letters on the front of the engines.

Monday 23 June.

To celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Wales (President) the Fellowship of the British Empire arranged for the entertainment of 100 war wounded soldiers at Wembley. They attended the Rodeo and toured the grounds and lake. They finished with an afternoon tea at which gifts of fruit, chocolate and cigarettes were given out. At 10.30 and 3.00 in No. 3 Conference Hall meetings of the Institute of Automobile Engineers were held.

Tuesday 24 June.

The King and Queen of Denmark who were in London on a private visit made an unofficial visit to the exhibition arriving at the S.W. Entrance at 11.30. They saw the Palace of Industry, Queen’s Dolls House, New Zealand and Malaya. They later entered the Civic Hall and were conducted round by the Mayor of Derby before going onto Australia.

In the afternoon they visited the British Government Pavilion and saw a performance of the Attack on Zeebrugge in the Admiralty Theatre.

There was a fire in a stall in the Palace of Engineering which was soon put out with little damage.

Wednesday 25 June.

Charity Organisation Society met at 10.30 and 2.30 in No. 2 Conference Hall. In No. 4 Hall the British Confederation of Arts met at 2.30 and 7.30.

Thursday 26 June.

Charity Organisation Society held their second series of meetings at 10.30 and 2.30 in No. 2 Conference Hall. At three o’clock in No. 3 Hall the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had a meeting.

Friday 27 June.

The King and Queen of Denmark made a second visit to the exhibition and made an extensive tour. They returned to Denmark on the next day.

British Drama League had three meetings in No. 2 Hall at 10.30, 2.30 and 7.30. While in No. 3 Hall there was two showings of a film about British Guiana at 3.00 and 8.00.

Saturday 28 June.

Handel Day at 6.00 Dr Harris’s Imperial Choir sang. In the concert Hall was held the Festival of Movement and Music. In Hall No. 2 at 10.30 in the morning there was a meeting of the Institute of Municipal and County Engineers, followed at 2.30 with a meeting of the National Children’s Adoption Society. The British Missionary Society met at 10.30 in Hall No. 3 and in Hall No. 4 the International Association of Supervising Engineers met at 10.30 and 2.30.

It was reported in the Daily Telegraph that the Prince of Wales, who had taken so much interest in the exhibition, had given a sum of money to each of his household staff so they could make a visit to Wembley.

The Prince wrote from St. James Palace "I commend to you the great Pageant of Empire which is being held, this summer of 1924, in the Stadium at Wembley. In the exhibition itself we have a splendid picture of the present life and wealth of the Empire and of its immense possibilities for the future. In the Pageant we commemorate our history and the high inspiration of those who made the Empire for us. I earnestly hope that it may help to kindle an equally noble inspiration in the breasts of those who are to make the Empire of the Future."

Sir Edward Elgar composed ‘The Empire March, 1924’ specially for the pageant, also eight songs. To stage the Pageant cost 33,000.

Monday 30 June.

Surprise visit by the Queen who arrived at 10.30. In the Palace of Industry she saw the processes of cotton manufacturing, inspecting some woven brocade and attending the mannequin parade. She then went to the Palace of Engineering where she sae the motoring exhibit which had previously interested the Queen of Roumania. The Queen spent a long time examining the applications of wireless and made a further visit to the Ulster Pavilion and saw the model of Belfast Harbour. After Lunch went to Malta, South Africa and St Helena where she was presented with a tea cloth made by girls from St. Helana, The Queen requested it should remain on display until the exhibition closed.

The Queen saw a sheep with its lamb which was born at Wembley this was brought from its pen for the Queen to admire.

In the Palace of Industry she visited Lever Bros. stand where she asked a young girl dressed as ‘Little Bo-Peep’ what she was doing. "Giving away samples" was the reply, "You must give me one" said the Queen and smiled as she accepted a sample, much to the little girls delight. After tea the Queen went through the grounds in the Royal Railodok car.

The Prince of Wales attended the first World Power Conference in the conference Hall. He had also visited the post office where just before 3.00 he purchased the 5,000,000 Wembley stamp sold.

In the evening the Prince of Wales and Duchess of York spent a lively time in the Amusement Park where at first they were not recognised, when they were there were loud cheers from the crowds. Went for two rides on the switchback and rides on other amusements as well.

Wednesday 2 - Wednesday 16 July.

It was the turn of Hull to have their Civic week exhibition and at the opening luncheon the Prince of Wales (on his sixth visit to Wembley) gave a suggestion for the exhibition re-opening in 1925.

Friday 4 July.

Princess Beatrice and her daughter the Queen of Spain with her two children visited the exhibition arriving at 11.00 at the S.W. Entrance in Raglan Gardens. Saw the Conference Hall where the World Power Conference was in session. They walked through the Palace of Industry and on to Ceylon where the Queen of Spain examined priceless precious stones. Then to Burma and saw display of rubies and fed the elephants. Onto India they watched the Tibetan Dancers in the Indian Theatre. In the afternoon the party attended the rodeo.

Thursday 10 July.

Visit by Ras Teferi Makonnen, Regent of Ethiopia who toured part of the grounds and the Palace of Engineering where he was greatly interested in the King of Egypt’s Train. Saw Indian potters and Hindu workers in gold in the Indian Pavilion. From India they walked to East Africa and saw the displays of big game and natives weaving, from there to the Zeebrugge display in the Admiralty Theatre. In the Canadian Pavilion he was amused by the model of the Prince of Wales in butter. but later on leaving the Canadian National Railways Pavilion declared he was overcome by the heat (it was 76). and left in a Railodok car.

Friday 11 July.

Princess Beatrice and her daughter the Queen of Spain with her two children paid a second visit to the exhibition arriving just before 11 o’clock. They went straight to the Indian Pavilion where they examined ornamental work and carvings. The Queen bought an ivory figure of the Goddess of Wealth and inspected the Madras Lace exhibit. She sat while Indian fabrics were laid before her and later was presented with an ivory paper knife and necklace and with necklaces for her two daughters. Royal Canadian Mounted Police escorted them into the Canadian Pavilion where they spent some time. In the Canadian National Railways Pavilion they signed the visitors book and then went for lunch at the Lucullus Restaurant

Saturday 12 July.

Mendelssohn Day. A concert was given of his works including ‘Elijah’ in the Stadium.

Monday 14 July.

Prince of Wales opened the International Advertising Convention in the Conference Hall in the Palace of Industries. On the same day ‘Poster Street’ was opened to the public, this was the avenue between the Palaces of Art and Industries and had been converted into a display of street advertising and railway posters. After he had opened the Convention the Prince spent a total of seven hours visiting Hull displays, India and the East, also attending a party in the grounds of the West Indies Section.

Saturday 19 July.

Lady Stevenson, wife of the Chairman of the British Empire Exhibition entertained the Princess Helena Victoria, Princess Marie Louise and a number of ladies to luncheon at the Lucullus Restaurant. A prelude to Women’s Week.. The British Empire Exhibition had now been open three months and the attendance figure stood at 7,585,345. Individual attractions had the following figures Queen’s Dolls House (772,621), Palace of Arts (989,634), Zeebrugge (132,121 adults, 62,000 children) and the Coal Mine(422,728)

Monday 21 July.

Princess Helena Victoria was present at the opening of Women’s week, where each day ladies of different Dominions will read a message from the Queen.

Cardiff Week opens in Civic Hall, and it was announced the Pageant of Empire was to be postponed until Friday 25 July.

Thursday 24 July.

Lady Patricia Ramsay, patroness of Canada Day, was present at a reception in the Canadian Pavilion.

Friday 25 July.

‘India’ Day in Women’s Week, Princess Helena Victoria read that days message from the Queen.

Prince Arthur of Connaught was present in the Royal Box in the Stadium at the opening of the Pageant of Empire. 15,000 performers and hundreds of animals. The Pageant was divided into three parts performed separately, Westward Ho ! Eastward Ho ! and Southward Ho !

The person portraying Queen Elizabeth did not have a ticket and was refused admission. Mr William Lunn M.P. chairman of the Pageant Council was also refused for the same reason, this led to 15 minutes argument until a high official arrived and let them both through.

Visit by the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet and families who split into five parties and toured different sections meeting up at the Government Pavilion.

© Exhibition Study Group 2001

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