Friday 22 April 2011

The Skylon and the Festival of Britain in Hereford

We decided to include a Festival of Britain programme at Borderlines this year for several reasons:
  • The Festival of Britain took place in 1951 so this is the 60th anniversary
  • Connotations with austerity, a time for defining what British values represent, a Festival FOR the people
  • Film connections
  • the Skylon, the most memorable symbol of the Festival, soaring into the sky with gravity-defying modernity, was actually manufactured in Hereford, a city associated with traditional, rural values
Bill Tanner of the Hereford Times has written several articles over the years about the Skylon and the people connected with it, including Joseph Hanks, a welding specialist who built a miniature Skylon for his daughters Judith and Pat to enter in the 1951 Hereford Carnival.

Via In Our Age I met Rosemary Lillico whose grandfather, father and aunt (who carried on with her knitting during the slack periods of crane driving) all worked for Painter Brothers. The following material is written by her:

Rosemary Lillico
After the lean war years of 1939-1945 it was decided to hold an exhibition in the summer of 1951 to promote British Industry.

One of the many exhibitors was Painter Brothers Steelworks of Mortimer Road, Hereford. Their contribution was a huge silver 'apparition' likened to a spacecraft that towered above everything else at the exhibition and known as Skylon.

Although I was just 13 years old at that time I took a great interest in the manufacture of the Skylon as my Granddad, Joe Cotterell, and my Dad, John 'Taffy' Harris both worked at Painter Brothers in the Galvanizing Dept. or the 'Dipping Shop' as it was known to the workers and helped in the manufacture of Skylon.

At the same time my Aunt, Rose Cotterell, was a crane driver there. Taking components along an overhead rail to be lowered into the huge galvanizing tanks to be 'dipped' or 'galvanized'.

When Skylon was completed it brought Hereford traffic to a standstill as it was slowly taken by road on two huge articulated transporters. People lined the streets to watch.

When the exhibition opened my Dad decided to take us to London for a weekend to see it and visit my sister who lived there.

Well, the day came when we set off in our little Austin 7. It seemed like the middle of the night to me when we left our little cottage over the fields and made for London. Dad had pages and pages of directions but that didn't prevent us getting lost many times and when our little car often "broke down" out would come Dad's toolbox and overalls put on, when he usually managed to find the problem and fix it.
Me and our Austin 7 outside our cottage at Preston Wynne in 1951
The journey seemed to take ages as it probably did. There were few if any motorways or good roads. I can remember going up the narrow Birdlip, over Northleach Common, Oxford, Wantage, Whitney and along the Great North Road towards London from Preston Wynne, Hereford.

How we arrived at our destination I will never know, but we did and stayed at my sister's home in Highbury. Where Dad scrapped up the money for petrol I will never know either.

Next day, Sunday, my sister and her husband who was a Londoner took us to the Festival Site.

Long before we reached there the Skylon was visible and stood above everything else, I remember looking up at it in wonder, so proud to think it had been made at Hereford and my Grand Dad and Dad had helped to make it. I believe it was billed as the main attraction.
Also on display were several fountains, the Royal Festival Hall, the Dome of Discovery, which promoted lots of scientific 'models' for the future. My Dad bought me a gyroscope from there which I had for many years and never ceased to wonder how it balanced and what it was used for.

After we had seen everything at the Festival my sister and brother-in-law took us to see some of the sights of London. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey took my breath away. All seen from the top of a bus. It must have cost my brother-in-law a fortune. He paid for everything as Dad and Mam had very little money.

We were also taken on the Underground and when I saw I had to step on this moving staircase or escalator  I was absolutely petrified to step on and step off at the other end. My Mam must have felt the same too.

Monday morning saw us make the long journey back to Hereford. Getting lost and breaking down several times along the way but our little Austin 7 got us home eventually.

Mam, Dad, Leslie and I at the fountains in the Festival of Britain
I often look back and think of theat wonderful weekend when my Dad, my Mam, Brother Leslie and I, real "Country Bumpkins", went all the way to London to see the Festival of Britain  and Skylon.

After the exhibition closed Skylon was dismantled and sold off as scrap, I wonder if anyone has a part of Skylon as a memento.
 Black and white photographs courtesy of Rosemary Lillico


Unknown said...

I'd totally forgotten that Painters made the Skylon - many thanks for bringing that fact back into the braincells !

OAP John (who also went to the Festival of Britain but by bus, on a school trip from Kington :)

BLURT said...

John, is this you from the Museum of London's Festival of Britain memories pages?

I have some more Festival of Britain info from In Our Age that I will post.