London 1908, Machinery Hall

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By Mariya Levin

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Essay on Machinery Hall at the 1908 Franco-British Exposition in London, England 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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  • Franco-British Exhibition (1908 : London, England)
  • Machinery Halls. Franco-British Exhibition (1908 : London, England)
  • Exhibition buildings -- Design and construction
  • Essay
  • 1901-2000
  • Europe
  • United Kingdom
  • England
  • London
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This image represents the entrance to Machinery Hall of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London. The original is one in a series of 3.5 x 5.5-inch postcards, printed by Valentine & Sons Ltd. The Machinery Hall covered 125,000 square yards. In this image it looks very elaborate, garish, and reminiscent of Gothic architecture. The flags seen on the top of the building are French and British. There are decorations looking like lanterns around the perimeter of the building. Within the context of the fair, the pavilion was vast yet not imposing.

The London 1908 Exposition was located on an area of agricultural land in Shepherd's Bush, West London, which provided 140 acres of land, close to excellent transportation facilities. Two stations were built on the Underground to serve the exhibition. The Machinery Halls were located in the White City, that was laid out in a cross shape comprising distinct areas for the arts, inventions, entertainment, sports, the Court of Honour, and the central gardens. The nickname related to the light, alabaster shade of the pavilions. In addition the visitors thought the buildings looked like wedding cakes.

In the Machinery Halls, heavy industry was represented by displays on mining, iron and steelwork, armaments manufacture, shipbuilding, pumping and motive power machinery, electricity generation, as well as textile and printing machinery. Many displayed objects were "instruments of war" such as a gun carried on the backs of three dummy men. Warship firms displayed models of their scouts, destroyers, armed cruisers and torpedo boats. War relics included an astrolabe of 1578, the barge of the great Napoleon, the flat-bottomed boats which the French used when they captured Algiers, and some of the small cannons used on the gunwales of eighteenth century warships.

Numerous modern inventions were also featured. The steel and iron industry displayed flywheels, and suction producers, while railway companies made a model of a Scenic Railway outside. The place of honor in the French hall was taken by the great "Pont-??-Mousson" blast furnace. The London Electricity Companies demonstrated modern cooking with electric range and kettles, and showed sewing machines.

One of the great luxuries in the building was a free rest room, in the middle of which was a pleasant fountain. The Franco-British Exhibition: illustrated review commented on this idea: "Remembering the general comfortless-ness of the grounds, it was a stroke of real genius to put that oasis of rest in the centre of the grim and dour Machinery Halls."

The exhibition lasted from May 14 to October 31, 1908. The Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs and Expositions, states that "attendance came to 8.4 million, with receipts of over 420,000 Pounds ensuring its financial success." The exposition was considered a success by promoting Anglo-French cooperation. The Franco-British exhibition was likely the most popular of the Edwardian era. The buildings served for the International Imperial Exhibition of 1909 and the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910. The Machine Halls were eventually demolished, but the site was reused until WWI, and the main stadium was used until as late as 1984. Currently, the television broadcasting company BBC occupies the site. Both of the Underground stations were originally meant to be open only for the duration of the exhibition, but over the years they have been operated to serve other exhibitions, shows and the athletics track nearby.

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.
Findling, John E., editor, Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs and Expositions, 1851-1988. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. p. 203-205.
Greenhalgh, Paul. "Art, politics and society at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908." Art History. 1985 Dec., v.8, no.4, p.434-452.