Franco-British Exhibition (1908)
The Franco-British Exhibition (1908) was a large public fair held in London in the early years of the 20th century. The exhibition attracted 8 million visitors and celebrated the Entente Cordiale signed in 1904 by the United Kingdom and France.
The Exhibition was held in an area of west London near Shepherd's Bush which is now called White City: the area acquired its name from the exhibition buildings which were all painted white. The 1908 Summer Olympics fencing events were held in the district alongside the festivities.
The fair was the largest exhibition of its kind in Britain, and the first international exhibition co-organised and sponsored by two countries. It covered an area of some 140 acres (0.57 km2), including an artificial lake, surrounded by an immense network of white buildings in elaborate (often Oriental) styles.
The most popular attractions at the exhibition were the two so-called "colonial villages"—an "Irish village" and a "Senegalese village", which were designed to communicate the success of imperialism. The Irish village ("Ballymaclinton") was inhabited by 150 "colleens" (Irish girls) who demonstrated various forms of domestic industry, as well as displays of manufacturing and even an art gallery. The "Senegalese village" was a so-called "native village" displaying day-to-day life, as well as various artefacts. Press reports commented on the "surprising cleanliness" of the Irish, while readers were reminded that the Senegalese were "cleaner than they looked".
Limericks were used to advertise this event:
- A maiden of coy disposition,
- Met her fate at the Bush Exhibition,
- When his great love he told her,
- Placed her head on his shoulder,
- And enjoyed the happier position.
- In an Anglo-French section one night,
- A Youth met a Maiden, gay and bright,
- But her idea of pleasure,
- Was of such boundless measure,
- He left with heart heavy – purse light.
In 1937, a large portion of the White City site was cleared to make way for a housing estate. During the clearance, the Flip Flap, and a number of other White City structures, were sold for scrap to the steel firm George Cohen, Sons and Co Limited—the same company who had dismantled the Great Wheel of the Earl's Court Exhibition, and went on to dismantle the Skylon, dome, and ten other buildings, at the Festival of Britain site in 1952.
After being used for four more exhibitions up to 1914, the site fell into disrepair and was unused for over twenty years. It was then demolished bit by bit to make way for various developments over the last century. First in the 1930s the housing estate in the North of the site, now centred on Commonwealth Avenue, then the TA took over a corner on South Africa Road in WW2, The BBC took over much of the remaining site from the 1950s onwards with the BBC Television Centre (now itself being developed into the 'Television Centre' flats, studios and retail), BBC Media Village and BBC Worldwide buildings and in the early 2000s the last buildings on the East of Wood Lane were demolished to make way for the Westfield development.
Only the internal structure of the TA building on South Africa Road remains from the numerous halls and ornate buildings of the original exhibition. Hammersmith Park, at the north of Frithville Gardens, was once part of the Japanese Garden, and is the only part of the 1908 exhibition site still visible. A small area of tiling preserved from the Garden could be seen inside the main Television Centre site adjacent to the Studio 1 Audience Entrance. The White City Stadium site, in Wood Lane adjacent to the Westway overpass and once part of the Exhibition, is now occupied by the BBC Media Village.
- Geppert, Alexander C.T., Fleeting Cities. Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-22164-2
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