The Franco-British Exhibition of Science, Arts, and Industries was a large public fair held in London between 14 May and 31 October 1908. The Exhibition attracted 8 million visitors and celebrated the Entente Cordiale signed in 1904 by the United Kingdom and France. The above image shows the cover of a promotional booklet for the Exhibition and states, “season tickets may now be obtained at all the principal agencies and libraries, or at the general offices, 36 Victoria Street”.
The Exhibition occupied 140 acres near Shepherd’s Bush, London, in an area now called White City. White City took its name from the Exhibition buildings which were all painted white. The Exhibition was also combined with the Olympic Games and the Olympic Stadium, which was capable of holding 150,000 people, was located within the Exhibition grounds as can be seen from the plan and illustration below.
The London 1908 Olympics were the 4th since the revival of the Olympics in 1896 in Athens, and followed Olympics held in Paris (1900), and St Louis (1904).
Origins of the Exhibition
How the Exhibition came about is described in the booklet and makes an interesting read, in the context of Brexit and Anglo-French relations today! The booklet text on the subject is as follows;
“No International movement in recent times has given more profound satisfaction to the people concerned than the growth of friendship with our Continental neighbours and the efforts made to extend our commercial relations with all of them, but especially those whose industries are complementary of, rather than competitive with, our own. Foremost amongst those nations whose commerce with the United Kingdom is of this satisfactory description is France, and the idea of increasing the commercial intercourse between the two countries and of materialising their friendly relations by means of a joint exhibition, which was proposed by the French Chamber of Commerce in London towards the end of 1905, was eagerly taken up on both sides of the Channel. The proposal was brought before the French Government through M. Cambon, French Ambassador in London, and met with warm support of the French Minister of Commerce, M. Doumergue, who invited the opinion of the Comité Français des Expositions à l’Étranger, which acts as the official representative of the French Government and French Exhibitors at all foreign exhibitions in which they take part. This body also received the proposal with the greatest enthusiasm.”
The exhibits were housed in 20 “palaces”, each of which was designed for its architectural beauty, and which were made of fireproof material. Amongst these palaces there were 7 Exhibition Halls which were devoted to; Liberal Arts; Science; Social Economy; Hygiene; Chemical Industries; and Alimentation sections (food and other ‘necessities’). The foremost Exhibition Hall was the Machinery Hall, which contained around 300,000 square feet of floor space, at that time the largest ever constructed in the United Kingdom. Other palaces were devoted to; Education, Fine Arts; Decorative Art; Applied Arts; Music; and ‘Women’s Work’. Illustrations taken from the booklet, showing the Fine Art Palace, Palace of Machinery, Garden Club, and the Grand Restaurant are shown below.
Getting to the Exhibition
The booklet contains a lovely map of the 1908 London transport infrastructure (shown below), and much of that infrastructure will be familiar to Londoners today, although with slightly different names. The booklet tells visitors that “the principal entrance is immediately adjoining the station of the Central London Railway (popularly known as The Tube), and within four miles of Charing Cross”.
The Central London Railway (CLR), also known as the Twopenny Tube, was a deep-level, underground railway, that opened in London in 1900. The CLR’s tunnels and stations form the central section of what is known today as the London Underground Central Line.
After the Exhibition, White City went on to become a cultural and artistic hub with the arrival of the BBC’s Television Centre in 1960, a centre of modernist social housing (White City Estate), the home of Queen’s Park Rangers football club (using the Olympic Stadium), and today it is the home of Imperial College London’s White City Campus.
The promotional booklet for the Franco-British Exhibition, has an archive reference NAEST 45/556, and has been digitised. It can be consulted in the IET Archives by appointment, or can be sent to enquirers by e-mail. Enquiries should be sent to email@example.com.