British Empire Exhibitions 1924-1925
The British Empire Exhibition opened in 1924 at Wembley in north London. It was a huge spectacle that ran for two summer seasons and attracted millions of visitors. Built from scratch on a greenfield site, the exhibition was a showcase for goods and produce from the Empire countries. Visitor attractions included an amusement park, a stadium for mass entertainments, and the world's first bus station.
The idea of a great exhibition to celebrate Empire trade had been conceived as far back as 1913. In 1922, the government provided the funding for it to go ahead. The site chosen was Wembley Park in northwest London. It was criticised by some for being too far out of town, but it had good rail links: over 100 stations in the London area were within 18 minutes' journey time. A new 'motor-omnibus station' was erected, designed to deal with over 100,000 passengers a day.
Construction began in January 1922 and the first building to be completed was Wembley Stadium. Its first event was the 1923 F.A. Cup. The site also included hundreds of buildings, an amusement park, ornamental lake, reservoir, outfall sewer, railway lines and roads, all built from the new modern material - concrete. The first words transmitted over the radio by a British sovereign were spoken at the opening ceremony on 23 April 1924.
At the exhibition's heart were 16 buildings representing the Empire countries. These ranged in size from the Australian 'palace' to the smaller West Indies / British Guiana pavilion, which sold cocktails and displayed exhibits on sugar. The West African building was a miniature reproduction of the walled city of Zaria in Nigeria; Ceylon was modelled on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy; Burma reproduced in Burmese teak one of the gates of a famous pagoda at Mandalay. Hong Kong was represented by a street of Chinese shops, and East Africa by a white walled Arab building. Inside, the countries themselves had organised displays of their goods and products. The Australian pavilion sold seven million apples. The Canadian pavilion promoted butter with a life-size refrigerated butter sculpture of the Prince of Wales in the costume of a Native American chief.
In the British Government building, various departments explained their work to the public. The Ministry of Health had a model of sewage disposal. The General Post Office exhibited a working model of an automatic telephone exchange. A cinema showed films made by government departments, including such titles as '3 Million Letters a Day' and 'Clean Milk'.
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