White City Exhibitions
Imre Kiralfy was a central figure in the craze for public exhibitions in the early 20th century. In 1907, Kiralfy developed his own exhibition grounds. On 140 acres of farmland at Shepherds Bush, he built the Great White City & Stadium. The stadium was a last-minute addition when London took over hosting the 1908 Olympics. The White City was named for the white, marble-effect building exteriors. It included 120 exhibition buildings and 20 pavilions designed in an Oriental style, with domes and arabesque arches. They were linked by a network of roads, bridges, and waterways. There were also a number of cafs and funfair rides, including the Flip-Flap machine that carried riders 200 feet (60 metres) up into the air.
The first exhibition at White City was the Franco-British exhibition of 1908. It was a celebration of British and French industry, culture, and empire. It included French and British Palaces of Industry and a French Artisan's Palace. Also a Palace of Women's Work, celebrating famous figures from Elizabeth I to Florence Nightingale. A number of model villages were reconstructed to celebrate imperial achievements. This included Ballymaclinton, a 'genuine' Irish village. At the French Senegalese village, complete with imported 'natives', visitors could watch traditional dance performances. And at the Indian Arena, a 3,000 capacity open-air theatre, Bollywood-style spectaculars were performed. Nearly 8.5 million people attended the exhibition.
The second exhibition at White City, the Imperial International of 1909, retained many of the original exhibits. It exhibited the imperial achievements of the triple-entente powers: France, Russia, and Britain. Model colonial villages included the Dahomey village (a French colony in West Africa) and a camp of the Kalmuk, central Asian nomads under Russian rule. They emphasised the civilising impact of colonisation.
The Japan-British Exhibition in 1910 again focused on imperial power. It was also intended to emphasise the suitability of Japan - an Asian nation - as a worthy ally of Britain. There were tableaux of Japanese history, art displays, and exhibits of the Japanese colonies in Korea, Manchuria and Formosa.
The Coronation Exhibition celebrated the 1911 coronation of George V. Exhibits were recycled from earlier exhibitions to display the empire, the monarchy and Britain's commercial and industrial power. The Flip-Flap machine, the helter-skelter, the dodgems, cafs and art exhibitions also remained.
The final two exhibitions held at the White City were the Latin-British of 1912 and the Anglo-American of 1914. Again, these exhibitions showed arts, culture, science and industry from the featured nations. The exhibitions were widely regarded as being educational, but were heavily biased in favour of western, 'advanced' nations. Indigenous people were presented as beneficiaries of the civilising effects of colonisation.
During the First World War, the site became a drilling ground for army recruits. From 1921 to 1929, the British Industries fair exhibited at the grounds for two or three weeks every year. The site was used as a venue for textile fairs until 1937. During the Second World War, the exhibition halls were converted to parachute manufacture. Then in 1949, the BBC bought part of the site and began to develop Television Centre.
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