The Festival of Britain in 1951 transformed the way people saw their war-ravaged nation. Giving Britons an intimate experience of contemporary design and modern building, it helped them accept a landscape under reconstruction, and brought hope of a better world to come. Drawing on previously unseen sketches and plans, photographs and interviews, The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People travels beyond the Festival's spectacular centrepiece at London's South Bank, to show how the Festival made the whole country an exhibition ground with events to which hundreds of the country's greatest architects, artists and designers contributed. It explores exhibitions in Poplar, Battersea and South Kensington in London; Belfast, Glasgow and Wales; a touring show carried on four lorries and another aboard an ex-aircraft carrier. It reveals how all these exhibitions and also plays, poetry, art and films commissioned for the Festival had a single focus: to unite 'the land and people of Britain'.
Harriet Atkinson was educated at the University of York, the Courtauld Institute and the Royal College of Art. She was co-editor of The Banham Lectures, and contributor to Findling & Pelle’s Encyclopedia of World’s Fairs and Expositions. She has written for various journals of art and design, as well as for the Guardian and The Independent. She is Research Fellow at the University of Brighton and lives in London with her husband and two children.
'...a fascinating history of post-war Britain picking itself up... The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People is a detailed survey of a country rebuilding itself and provides a vital chapter in the history of British design.'
'This book does a wonderful job of describing what went on behind the scenes and why the exhibitions were such a great success. What a shame it was not written before the Millennium disaster as it really is a perfect primer on how to create an inspirational festival.'
‘Harriet Atkinson provides an excellent account of a key event in twentieth-century British cultural history. Her book is marked by attention to the complex senses of place shaping the events of 1951, and detailed scrutiny of the exhibition spaces conveying the Festival’s spatial stories. Richly illustrated from original sources, The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People is an insightful study of the geographies of British identity.’
David Matless, author of Landscape and Englishness
'Most studies of the Festival of Britain have concentrated on 'the Festival style' (atoms and whimsy), or on the ways in which the buildings of the South Bank exhibition introduced visitors to modern architecture for the first time. Harriet Atkinson's book is about something deeper: the relationship between the 1951 exhibitions across the country and 'love of land and history', a modern urban version of the Picturesque which aimed to reconcile tradition and modernism and in the process reconstruct British identity after the disfigurements of war. The book is original, well-researched, judiciously illustrated and very revealing. The Festival of Britain will never seem quite the same again.'
‘Atkinson’s book – ten years in the making – is meticulously researched, well written and powerfully illustrated. It covers the planning stages, political background and festival itself in fascinating and entertaining detail.’
Nick Trench, Geographical
'Superb... a feat of research'
'Replete with previously unpublished plans, sketches and photos, this is a superb account of a positive tipping point in British History.'
The Good Book Guide
Best of British
'...impressive, incisive, and insightful... the most impressive book yet published on the Festival of Britain.'
Iain Wilton, Twentieth Century British History
‘This book offers a rich account of the impact of the Festival throughout post-war Britain in 1951, drawing on substantial archival research into the Festival and its historical context... an extremely readable book which should have wide appeal to readers interested in this period of British history.’
'Splendidly illustrated... a meticulous and well-sourced account.'
Contemporary British History
View a gallery of drawings, artefacts, maps and photographs from the festival on our blog.
Read an extract from the book here.
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co LtdPaperback
Publication Date: 30 Apr 2012
Number of Pages: 288