At a luncheon given in the Savoy Hotel in January 1911, the Mayors of the Metropolitan Boroughs were approached by the Lord Mayor for assistance in the spectacle to be presented at the Crystal Palace during the summer. The Festival was to consist of two parts, an Exhibition and a series of pageants. This Festival of Empire, had originally been planned to take place in 1910, but the death of King Edward VII forced its postponement. Over £250,000 had already been raised to turn the 250 acre Crystal Palace site into a splendour of Empire magic and it was estimated that the expenditure on the main organisation topped the half million mark. Majesties the King and Queen and finally closed on October 28th.

The Great Pageant of London and the Empire

One of the principal features of the Festival was the presentation on the Pageant Ground of a series of magnificent scenes, picturing the Empire's glorious development from the "Dawn of British History" to a Grand Imperial Finale, in which visitors from the Dominions joined with the English performers to provide a wonderful  " living picture" illustrating the vastness of the British Empire. Upwards of 15,000 performers, drawn from the different Metropolitan Boroughs, had volunteered their services. The Master of the Pageants was Frank Lascelles, famous all over the world for the magnificent pageants he had produced, amongst which were those at Quebec, Oxford and Bath. The scenes were divided into four parts and were performed on alternative afternoons and evenings, and twice on Wednesday and Friday. The music accompanying the scenes was performed by a band of fifty and a chorus of five hundred. The following description of the various scenes in Part gives an indication of the nature of the pageant. 

          Se. 1    The Dawn of British History.
          Se. 2    Roman London .
          Se. 3    King Alfred and London.
          Se. 4    Danish Invasion .
          Se. 5    The Norman Conquest.
          Se. 6    Return of Richard I.
          Se. 7    Edward I .
          Se. 8    Days of Chivalry.  

The Pageant Committee, with H. R. H. Princess Louise in the Chair, brought the season to a close on September 16th with a Grand Finale which included some of the more popular scenes.

The All-British Exhibition 

The whole of the inside of the Crystal 12.0pt;layout-grid-mode: line'> Palace and a large portion of the grounds were devoted to an All-British Exhibition of Arts and Industries.The following sections were amongst some of those that were represented :­ 

          Applied Chemistry, Pianos, Mining, Engineering, Shipping, Transportation and Motive Power, Decoration and Furnishing, Arts Crafts and
          Home Industries, Photography, British and Colonial Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Sports and Imperial Industries.

The Fine Art Galleries contained a magnificent collection of Oil paintings, watercolours and sculpture of the leading modern British Artists.

The British Empire was constructed in miniature in the Palace grounds, complete with three-quarter size replicas of the Parliament buildings of all the Commonwealth countries. These replicas, their exteriors architecturally complete to the smallest detail, were built of timber and plaster. Exhibitions of the products of the appropriate country were on view inside. Viewed from the upper end of Empire Avenue, immediately on the left was the Parliament Building of the Union of South Africa, and on the right, the Government Building of Newfoundland at St. Johns . Lower down beyond the Central Bandstand on the left, was the Parliament Building of New Zealand at Wellington , and on the right the Federal Government Building of Australia at Melbourne . On the extreme right, towards the Low Level Station, was the building of the Government of Canada. This had cost over £70,000 and was the finest of all the replicas.   

One of the attractions was undoubtedly the "All-Red" tour on the miniature railway. The trains ran daily from 10 am to 11 pm almost every minute and the fare was 2.5p for adults. The Starting Station for the tour was near to the South African Parliament Building, although visitors could join the train at any of the stations on the line. It was possible to stop off and see, a South African diamond mine, an Indian tea plantation, and a Canadian logging camp. Another interesting part of the exhibition was the smallholding and Country Life Section. A model village, a small holders colony, and an agricultural community covered an area of 8 acres in the heart of the Empire. Two acres were laid out with live farm stock, poultry, bees, etc. Bureaux of Information were staffed by representatives of the agricultural societies and they gave valuable information to farmers.

In addition to the Empire Concerts, held in the Central Transport, there were other numerous Orchestral and Choral Concerts. Over a dozen military bands were engaged for various periods during the Festival and they played in the Central Bandstand on Empire Avenue. The resident Crystal Palace Band was found in the North Tower Gardens . The Fair of Fashions, organised by the Daily Mail was a huge dress display which occupied practically the whole of the South Transport of the Crystal Palace . Close to this exhibition was a section devoted to the welfare of children with its day nurseries and Baby incubators. The Sports Ground was the venue for a series of National and Inter-Empire sports. Lord Desborough, an important figure in the 1908 Olympics, was responsible for the organisation of these events.

Close to the low level entrance were found most of the amusements and these were, of course, similar, if not the same, to many earlier exhibitions. The Hiram Maxim Flying Machine must have been familiar to patrons of the Earls Court exhibitions and the Irish Village was certainly reminiscent of the White City . The TopsyTurvy, Joy Wheels, River Caves and the Coaster must have provided the visitors with exhilerating rides throughout the season. A spectacle called " London in the Year 2000", apparently provided a hearty laugh. This occupied a space some 400 ft. by 200 ft. between the North Tower and the Tudor Village . (The two water towers were to keep the various water displays in the gardens supplied. They were 284 ft. high and it needed a supply of 120,000 gallons per minute to keep the 12,000 jets operating).The Crystal Palace Company was already in severe financial trouble at the time of the Festival. A Receiver had been appointed in 1909 and after the Exhibition the Court of Chancery ordered the sale of the property, which was then valued at £230,000.



© Exhibition Study Group 2004