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Greater London, Lambeth, South Bank, General

Concert Hall (20th Century), Exhibition Pavilion (20th Century), Exhibition Site (20th Century)

Site Name Greater London, Lambeth, South Bank, General

Classification Concert Hall (20th Century), Exhibition Pavilion (20th Century), Exhibition Site (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Festival Of Britain; Royal Festival Hall

Canmore ID 284789

Site Number TQ38SW 6

NGR TQ 3080 8020

NGR Description Centred on the Royal Festival Hall TQ 3080 8020

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Not Applicable
  • Parish Lambeth
  • Former Region Greater London
  • Former District Lambeth
  • Former County Greater London

Sir Basil Spence

Building Notes

The 1951 Festival of Britain was organised and financed by central government. It was made up of a nationwide programme of 187 events that celebrated the British way of life. The Festival 1951 Office appointed Basil Spence as the architect-in-charge of the Sea and Ships Pavilion and, along with James Holland, as designer of the displays in the Pavilion. Spence was also commissioned as the co-ordinating architect for the Exhibition of Industrial Power, Glasgow.

The Sea and Ships Pavilion formed part of a 27-acre site at the South Bank, London. The Festival ran from May to September 1951 and told the story of Britain’s achievements in Science, Technology and Industrial Design. It was divided into three parts – The Land of Britain, The People of Britain and Discovery. The Sea and Ships Pavilion was in The Land of Britain section.

The Pavilion, which was in a prominent site on the bank of the Thames in front of the Dome of Discovery, was a popular and critical success. It was 350 feet long and made up of 17 lattice steel frames. The interior was divided into six sections, some of which were enclosed and others opened out onto the Thames. Key features included a floating dock, a full size reproduction of a clipper ship and a 4,000-ton merchant ship.

King George VI opened the Festival of Britain on 4 May 1951.

Archive Details

Press cuttings in the Sir Basil Spence Archive illustrate that Spence worked with a number of artists at the South Bank. These included Keith Godwin, Richard Huws, Siegfried Charoux and John Hutton, who later designed the Great West Screen at Coventry Cathedral.

The drawings in the Archive include Spence's colour preliminary sketches of the Sea and Ship Pavilion produced in 1949. These show many of the key features of the pavilion, including The Islanders sculpture, the hydraulic fountain and the vast mobile. The Archive also contains details of the materials used in the pavilion and includes samples of paint colours.

Archive Summary

The Sir Basil Spence Archive holds 84 drawings of the Sea and Ships Pavilion including plans, sections, elevations and details. The Archive also holds three manuscript folders and 80 photographs including a series of construction photographs. The Spence, Glover and Ferguson Collection, also housed at RCAHMS, contains 28 photographs of the Festival. A model of the Pavilion is on permanent display in the Architecture Gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This text was written as one of the outputs of the Sir Basil Spence Archive Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, 2005-08.

Architecture Notes

English Heritage pastscape reference TQ38SW 1814


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