THIS WEEK marks the 82nd anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later, the Queen Mother) performed the opening ceremony on May 3, 1938 and all of Glasgow turned out to see it. People lined the streets on the way – Anne Smith, from Cardonald, recalls the moment she saw the Royal couple.

“It was fantastic,” she told us, at a recent Thanks for the Memories drop-in session.

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“I remember them passing the end of our street in the procession, and all the crowds that had come out to watch. It was quite a day.”

Amongst the crowds in the park was Agnes Toward, the Garnethill shorthand typist whose home has been preserved in fascinating detail at the Tenement House on Buccleuch Street, now run by the National Trust for Scotland.

Agnes, it is safe to say, was a fan – she had a three-month season ticket, and collected many souvenirs from her visits, including leaflets, a white silk handkerchief printed in the colours of yellow, blue, black and red with an illustration of the New Zealand Pavillion, a glass tumbler with a stamped illustration of the Scottish pavilion.

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Despite a wet summer, almost 13 million people attended the exhibition, which was designed to showcase and boost the economy of Scotland, while celebrating Empire trade and developments, recovering from the depression of the 1930s.

It also marked fifty years since Glasgow’s first great exhibition, the International Exhibition (1888), held at Kelvingrove Park.

The Glasgow Times’ sister title, the Herald, reports in its archives: “It was a wonder city. The one hundred buildings caught the breath by their bold design and distinctive colouring, their broad facades and severe lines offset by cheerful tones and decorative murals, multi-coloured fountain displays, flower beds bright with blooms, and the summit of the site crowned by a 300-feet steel tower that epitomises the enterprising spirit of the Exhibition”.

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The royal couple toured the palaces and the pavilions, impressed by the ingenious innovations and displays they saw. At one point, in the Women of Empire Pavilion, the King murmured to his wife: “I have never seen so much brilliance”. There was an endless stream of exciting and intriguing activity – our photographers captured an image of a man using an improvised megaphone (main image) to address a group of visitors who were hard of hearing; and children flocked to the Amusement Park to whizz around in a merry-go-round made of single-propeller planes.

Miss Isobel Duke, from Partick, enjoyed her day out for free at when she became the one millionth visitor to attend the show.

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Exhibition manager Captain Graham showed her the main sights as the show took advantage of the opportunity to celebrate its own success.

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The exhibition closed at midnight on Saturday, October 29. The last-day attendance was 364,092, a new day-record. Rain – the exhibition’s greatest enemy all summer – fell incessantly in the last three hours. Between 8pm and 9pm, despite the downpour, it was impossible to walk with freedom in any part of the park.

“No disorder of any kind marked the closing stages,” The Herald observed. “The inevitable hilarity and exuberance were kept within bounds, and damage done in the park was comparatively slight.”

There was a real sense of loss in the city when the Empire Exhibition closed. One London newspaper said the exhibition had been a success despite being staged “in a remote ... corner of the Empire”.

Were you at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition? Do you have any souvenirs from your visit? Share your stories and photographs by emailing Please do not post precious pictures or items at the moment, as we do not have access to the office due to current COVID-19 restrictions.