The Court of Honor

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By Katie Chiles

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Edited by: Isabelle Gournay
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Essay on the Court of Honors at the 1908 Franco-British Exposition in London, England was created as a final assignment in World's Fairs: Social and Architectural History, HONR 219F, Spring 2001

Essays on the Material Culture of the World's Fairs
Edited by: Patricia Kosco Cossard and Isabelle Gournay
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Keywords:

  • Kiralfy, Imre
  • Franco-British Exhibition (1908 : London, England)
  • Court of Honor. Franco-British Exhibition (1908 : London, England)
  • Exhibition buildings -- Design and construction
  • Essay
  • 1901-2000
  • Europe
  • United Kingdom
  • England
  • London
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By day it is a vision of dazzling whiteness, with its tiled court and plashing cool waters, its pointed arcades and lattice windows. At night it is equally effective with its thousands of lights and the rainbow colours of the cascade.

-Robert W. Carden, Architectural Review July, 1908

Despite varied opinions about the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition, an event designed to confirm the friendly relations between France and Britain as described in the Entente Cordiale, there was collective praise for the Court of Honor. The full grandeur of the Court can hardly be felt by the image presented here on a three by five inch postcard. As visitors entered from the main gates of Wood Lane, the Court of Honor was their first impression of the fair. The largest in Britain to date, the Exhibition occupied 140 acres of Shepherd's Bush in west London, an area now known as the "White City" due to the white plaster of the fair's structures.

Visible from the postcard printed by Valentine & Sons Ltd., the court surrounds an artificial lake measuring 400 by 100 feet and crossed in the middle by an ornamental bridge. Various small pavilions protrude into the water, each with an octagonal plan and topped with a dome. These wooden framed structures are covered in layers of canvas and plaster. Artists molded the delicate lattice work, sculpture, and detail with additional plaster. The bridge and pavilions of the Court are influenced by Oriental architecture, an oddity for a Franco-British Exhibition. Matching buildings surround the lake on four sides. The large structure toward the upper right-hand corner of the postcard is mirrored by a pendant building on the opposite side of the lake. These were the Palaces of French and British Industries. At the far end of the lake and obstructed from view in the postcard were the entrance gates from Wood Lane. On the fourth side, behind the viewer in this image, was a spectacular cascade in front of Congress Hall. Already impressive during the day, the view was brilliant at night: a cascade of water flowed over a framework of semi-opaque glass with colored lights beneath, producing a brilliant rainbow of light (Carden). Surrounding structures were illuminated by lanterns and other electrical lighting.

Imre Kiralfy, its coordinator, was the driving force behind the fair. He had found previous fame in running extravagant exhibitions, and lived up to expectations by planning the Franco-British Exhibition concurrently with that year's Olympiad, held in a stadium nearby. Kiralfy saw the fair as an opportunity to gain cultural respectability; however, since he was not a trained architect, he received much criticism on his designs. He designed the Court of Honor as well as the steel frames for all of the major buildings, then consulted the architects who devised the plaster facades to create the "White City." Many critics felt that he limited the creativity of the architects by giving them pre-planned structures for their buildings. Placing blame on Kiralfy, they denounced the cosmetic role leading architects were asked to fulfill, pointing out the "vulgar error of putting the wrong end of the stick before the horse." (Greenhalgh). There were also complaints that the buildings did not fit together, despite the overall whiteness of the fair. This was mainly the result of two very different countries contributing architecturally to the fair. The French were much more adventurous with their Art Nouveau mentality, while the British constructed more classically respectable buildings (Carden).

Kiralfy was responsible for this unique physical and political setting. This was the first time that two countries had jointly sponsored an international exhibition. As explained by A. Shadwell, the Entente Cordiale stood for "mutual appreciation and good will, for common aims and interests; it covers sentiment, understanding, and material relations; and in all these senses it has been conspicuously promoted by the exhibition." (Dumas). There were also other agendas for the fair: to help ease the domestic tensions in London involving the women's movement, organized labor, and the Tories, and to assert Britain's imperial stature.

The use of an Oriental style of architecture, especially evident in the Court of Honor, has been criticized for its discrepancy with the purpose of the fair. In the Guardian, a London newspaper, Sir Walter Armstrong wrote that the Court of Honor "is neither French nor English, but Mohamedan-Hindoo, and the other buildings have more in common with the architecture of Spanish-America or the Baroque of a united Germany than with anything in the two countries involved." (Greenhalgh). The motive for using an Oriental style of architecture may have been for Britain to show off its most prized possession, India, thus displaying itself as a powerful empire. It is somewhat ironic that in a fair celebrating friendship with France, the British intentionally used architecture to compete with French imperialism.

While some felt that its architecture failed to exhibit the stated theme, the fair was a great accomplishment and had lasting effects. It is important to note the efforts of both countries to work together to construct and fund the Exhibition. The fair grounds, and Olympic stadium, remained and served as the site for future exhibitions and events. "White City" became a pleasure/amusement park, and the stadium's functions ranged from training Olympic athletes to the site for greyhound dog races. The stadium has since been demolished, and the fair grounds now hold the Daytona Raceway, an amusement "karting track," as well as the administrative buildings for the British Broadcasting Company (Grose).


Works Cited

Carden, Robert W. "The Franco-British Exhibition." Architectural Review. 1908 July, v. 24, p. [32]-37; 1908 Sept., p. [108]-111.
Dumas, F.G.The Franco-British Exhibition: illustrated review. London: Chatto and Windus, 1908.
Greenhalgh, Paul. "Art, politics and society at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908." Art History. 1985 Dec., v.8, no.4, p.434-452
Grose, Tim. "White City Stadium." UK Running Track Directory. 2001. (http://www.runtrackdir.com/uk/london(wc).htm ).