Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Franco-British Exhibition, London 1908

A view of the Franco-British Exhibition Buildings, London 1908

The Franco-British Exhibition opened in an area near Shepherds Bush in West London in 1908. Primarily designed to celebrate the "Entente Cordiale" signed with France in 1904, it opened on the 14th May 1908 and closed on the 31st October 1908, having attracted a very credible 8.2 million visitors at one shilling apiece. This was the first International Exhibition co-organised and sponsored by two countries and proved to be a phenomenal success.

The location of the Franco-British Exhibition in London,
clearly marked in pink to left of centre

The Exhibition covered an area of some 140 acres, including an artificial lake surrounded by 120 exhibition buildings and 20 pavilions. Most were designed in an Oriental style, with domes and arabesque arches but also quite strikingly, all were painted white over plaster. This area of London is in fact still known as "White City".

A Grafton & Sons China cup & saucer set carrying the attractive
1908 Franco-British Exhibition crest with the British and French
national flags

The exhibition, primarily being a trade fair, was a showcase for all that France and Great Britain produced. But it was not without typical Exhibition amusements such as funfair rides including a "spiral railway" and the famous "Flip Flap" ride which had carriages at the end of two 150ft-long arms. Each carriage could carry up to 40 people above the exhibition site. Restaurants and cafés could also be found in abundance. Additionally, from the time it opened at 11am till it closed at 11pm regimental bands would play in bandstands around the Exhibition site.

The location of the Franco-British Exhibition marked in pink at far left
as shown on a 1908 railway map of London.

The halls included French and British Palaces of Industry, a French Artisan’s Palace, the prominently-placed Palace of Women’s Work (celebrating famous figures from Elizabeth I to Florence Nightingale), a Fine Art Palace (with paintings by Hogarth, Gainsborough, Corot, Courbet etc) and huge Machinery Halls.

A miniature vase carrying the attractive 1908 Franco-British
Exhibition crest with the British and French national flags.

Colonial Pavilions represented India, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. An "Irish Village" inhabited by 150 Irish girls and particularly a native French "Senegalese Village" (among other colonial villages) displayed day to day life which showcased the "success and achievements" of Imperialism. The Exhibition naturally attracted many overseas and colonial visitors, including members of my own family from New Zealand.

The site of the Franco-British Exhibition detailed in pink at far left,
as shown on a street and railway map of central London, 1908.

Two underground stations were built to serve the Exhibition, being the Wood Lane [Exhibition] Station which opened in 1908 and Shepherd's Bush Station, both served by the Central London Railway (CLR). Numerous trains were organised from other centres, including trains ferrying visitors from France.

The exhibition site itself is now occupied by the BBC Television Centre and the Westfield Shopping Centre. The last remaining buildings of the 1908 exhibition were demolished to make way for the Westfield development which opened as recently as 2008. Frithville Gardens, once part of the Japanese Garden, is the only part of the 1908 exhibition site still visible.

For a wonderful collection of period postcard images of the Exhibition I recommend this site :

Bibliography :
- Internet resources.
- Walkers Pocket Atlas & Guide to London, 1908 (from my own collection).
- All images and artefacts are from my own collections. These images may not be used for commercial purposes without my express permission.

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