NATIONWIDE events like the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee are dotted throughout history. One such occasion occurred in 1951 with the Festival of Britain.

The Festival was timed to celebrate the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and, in the spirit of post-war renewal, aimed to promote a positive image of Britain as a nation emerging from the hardships of war into a period of hope and opportunity. Artistic, cultural and sporting spectacles were held across the UK, and Glasgow played a prominent role.

Glasgow Times: Hall of the Future, 1951 Pic: Glasgow City Archives

The city organised a huge programme of events, including concerts at St Andrew’s Hall, a carnival at Glasgow Green, screenings of the winning entries from the International Amateur Film Festival, which took place in Britain for the first time, athletic meets and dance competitions. The most prominent sporting event was the St Mungo Cup football tournament, which was won by Celtic.

At the heart of Glasgow’s offering was the intriguingly named Exhibition of Industrial Power, held at the Kelvin Hall. It aimed to showcase Britain’s past achievements in industrial engineering and explore future opportunities. “This is a show for everyone”, proclaimed the official guide with an optimistic flourish, “bringing the drama of the steelworks, the engineering shop and the shipyard under one roof.”

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It aimed to present Britain’s industrial accomplishments as a “spectacular” story, with 11 themed halls, including the Hall of Power with its floor-to-ceiling mural of a coal cliff – the biggest piece of public sculpture in Scotland at the time ; the Hall of Coal - which offered “the thrill of going down a coal mine in a pit cage”, and the Hall of the Future, which looked at new developments in atomic energy that would determine “whether we are entering an age of undreamed-of plenty and comfort, or whether we are working out our complete extinction.” We still haven’t answered this conundrum...

The Exhibition only attracted half of the expected 500,000 patrons despite a reduction in entry price during its run. Organisers attributed the disappointing attendance to its focus on instruction rather than entertainment and, almost unbelievably, Glasgow’s good summer weather which kept people outdoors.

Despite this, Glasgow’s efforts received the royal seal of approval. Princess Elizabeth visited the city in May and later sent a letter to the Lord Provost, thanking him for the “beautiful jewel” presented to her on behalf of the people of Glasgow, “which will remind her of a memorable day spent in the city.” The following year the Princess ascended to the throne. As she prepares to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, she might reflect on one of her last public engagements before becoming Queen.