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The Festival of Britain and Hall's Croft

The reconstruction of Hall's Croft was completed in just 9 months in order to be ready for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The Festival of Britain was a national event held in the summer of 1951. After years of war and austerity the collective spirits of the population needed lifting. Since much of the country lay in ruins, redevelopment of and quality designs for British towns and cities were required.  

In 1947, Labour cabinet member Herbert Morrison sought to commemorate the centenary of the celebrated 1851 Great Exhibition, which exhibited the splendours of the world in the age of Empire and industry. This time, however, the Festival of Britain focused solely on British achievements.

A canopy with orange and yellow vertical stripes is backing for the words Festival of Britain 1951. Beneath it, against a black background, is the festival logo: a four-pointed star with the top point replaced by a  stylised helmeted head of Britannia.
Leaflet for the Festival of Britain

Funded chiefly by the Labour government, with a budget of £12 million, responsibility for the organisation of the Festival fell to Morrison. He appointed a Great Exhibition Centenary Committee to organise the Festival and liaise between government departments. In March 1948, a Festival Headquarters was set up in the Festival of Britain Office. Associated with this office were the Arts Council, the Council of Industrial Design, the British Film Institute, and the National Book League. Moreover, a Council for Architecture, a Committee of Christian Churches, and a Council for Science and Technology were all created to advise the Festival Committee.  

The Festival's centrepiece was the South Bank Exhibition in London; but there were other events and exhibitions across the country, including in Stratford-upon-Avon. The south side of Hall’s Croft was turned into the official offices for the Festival Club, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s grand opening of Hall’s Croft in the spring of 1951 marked the start of the festival in the town.

Later that year, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre staged a cycle of William Shakespeare’s history plays. Programmes for the Festival reveal that many famous faces performed, including Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton, Hugh Griffiths, Peter Williams, Anthony Quayle, and Jack Gwillim.

Michael Redgrave as Richard II. Facing us but leaning to his left, the drawn figure has a striped doublet with a very narrow waist, a gown with  very wide, flowing, scalloped sleeves, and a crown. He wears a sword, holds a sceptre, and an orb.
Michael Redgrave as Richard II

The Festival of Britain was hugely popular throughout the country. It is estimated that, of the national population of 49 million, about half participated. Nevertheless, the Festival events in Stratford were not as profitable as expected, and some considered it a financial failure. Contemporary newspaper reports from the town indicate a growing sense of disappointment with the Festival proper and with the underwhelming crowds making their way to Stratford. Notwithstanding this, Hall’s Croft received 33, 000 visitors over its first year, and is – to this day – a particular favourite amongst Stratford residents. By 1953 the Festival of Britain Office was abolished, but the Festival Club remained at Hall’s Croft until the 1980s.

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