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The Franco-British Exhibition

  • Newsnight
  • 13 May 08, 01:10 PM

Don R Knight, expert on The Great White City

knight203.jpgMy passion for the Franco-British Exhibition started back in 1972, when I was given some picture postcards.

One of them had a view of the Court of Honour showing the ornate buildings and shimmering water - it had been posted at the exhibition and had the special postmark. This set me on the search to find out about the exhibition, which attracted eight million two hundred thousand visitors in six months.

Nearly everyone who visited posted a card and took some home for their postcard album, as postcard collecting was at its height in 1908.

In the early 1970s postcard fairs started and I started building up a collection of postcards in colour, black and white and real photos.

white_city_honour203.jpgI then found an official guild to the exhibition and a piece of souvenir China but when I went to Hammersmith library to read up on the exhibition I was told that no book had been written to record the history of the Franco-British Exhibition.

So I set myself the task of recording it in my book in 1978 for the 70th Anniversary. Now 30 years later I am still here and have updated it, put in colour pictures and reprinted it for the 100th Anniversary.

In 1900 the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII, went to the Paris Exhibition and when he became king suggested to his government that we hold an exhibition with France which would help to promote Entente Cordiale between the two countries.

In 1906 plans got under way, a site was found on farmland in Shepherds Bush. Work started in early 1907. Some 100 buildings were erected. At the height of construction 4,000 men by day and 2,000 men by night worked to get the exhibition ready for the 14 May 1908.



In 1906 Italy was due to host the Olympics but had to cancel after Mount Vesuvius erupted and caused widespread damage around Naples.

Britain was then asked to stage the Games and a stadium was built into the exhibition site. The cost of building the stadium was £75,000 and it stood until 1985. These Games were a great success and Britain won 56 gold medals and the US 23 gold medals.

During the exhibition members of the British Empire came and showed their countries produce and machinery. Visitors could visit Pavilions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, Ceylon with France, Algeria and its other colonies. Britain and France had a pavilion showing Arts and Women's work. There was a complete Irish village, which had all Irish Colleens working in it and visitors could kiss the Blarney Stone.

Flip Flap

One of the main attractions was the Flip Flap. It had two arms 150ft long with a carriage at the end which could carry up to 40 people at a time. It took three minutes and 20 seconds for the journey from one side to the other and cost six pence.

Three songs were composed about the Flip Flap and could be heard in the London Music Halls. There was a Scenic Mountain Railway, Canadian Toboggan Run and Spiral Ride and many other attractions.

The Exhibition was open from 11am until 11pm, Monday to Saturday from 14 May until 31 October 1908. In the bandstands around the exhibition regimental bands played throughout the day. Visitors paid one shilling (5p) to see the exhibition and when it closed more than 8.2 million people had seen the exhibition.

Other exhibitions were held on the site in 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, and 1914. The stadium was used for greyhound racing from 1927 until 1984. Today the BBC has offices and studios on what was once the Court of Honour and the stadium.

The Newsnight film on the Great White City will be broadcast on Wednesday night. If We would love to here from anyone who has family recollections of the exhibition on either side of the Channel. Please get in touch.

Prospects Tuesday, 13 May

  • Newsnight
  • 13 May 08, 10:50 AM

Today's programme producer is Dan Kelly - here's his morning e-mail to the production team...

Good Morning everybody.

Some strong stories today. Tomorrow the government unveils a draft Queen's speech, what will this amount to, and is this the beginning of Brown's fight back?
There could also be a compensation package on 10p announced this afternoon - what will the PLP and voters make of it? If the economy is the single biggest reason for the government's current problems - more bad news on that front today.
CPI Inflation has jumped to 3% from 2.5% in March - Paul Mason is on the case. Which interviews would you like to see on politics and the economy?

Talking of prices, we have a film and discussion planned on cheap clothes and tough labour conditions in the developing world, off the back of BBC 3's "Blood, Sweat and Tears" programme, in which six young British shoppers were sent to work in some Indian textile factories. We have two of the volunteers in the studio but what other guests could we have - especially British retail figures?

The death toll in China continues to rise - how can we move the story on in a distinctive way?

We also have an exclusive peek into the MOD's UFO files, and speak to some crop circle hoaxers.


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