My books on manufacturing

My books on manufacturing
My books on manufacturing history

Friday, June 14, 2024

Festival of Britain design review

There is, in the archive of the Festival, the hand written draft compilation products selected for the quality of design, alongside the companies which manufactured them, divided into the five categories: home, engineering, scientific, recreation and transport and within these categories into some fifty subdivisions. The list of names and products sing loudly of the vibrancy of manufacturing which had been given great prominence by government desperate for exports and a degree of self-sufficiency.

 The compilation was called the Design Review and was aimed at business visitors from the UK and overseas as a shop window on British manufacturing. Turning the draft pages it is possible to gain a good flavour of what British manufacturing was offering to the waiting world. [In the course of creating the festival the categories changed a little, splitting work into engineering and scientific, producing five categories for display.] The selected companies were included along with photographs and samples in five of seven arches under Waterloo bridge leading to the exhibition on London’s South Bank. The sixth arch was used as the entrance hall and the seventh to display British textiles. Around about half of the products listed were physically displayed in one or other of the exhibition spaces.

I visited the archive where it is kept and read through all the draft pages. In an appendix to Vehicles to Vaccines I have listed the more (to me) memorable products and manufacturers. What shines through is massive duplication; it isn’t really competition since it presents a geographical spread in many products. It is wonderful though, a little bit nostalgic.

Here are a few examples

Section 17, Toys (708), where Airfix offered model tractors, Britains: farm tractors and toy soldiers, Chad Valley: dolls, and Elswick cycles: a tricycle. Other names to jump out were Lines Bros with a Tri-ang lighthouse, a Watney lorry, a crane & grab, a pedal trotting machine, a toy washing machine and try-to-spell bricks. Kiddicraft had interlocking building bricks, Meccano included a train set and Raleigh exhibited bicycles. Mettoy of Northampton had an ‘ocean liner’. Interestingly plastics company British Xylonite exhibited sports balls, dolls and bath toys. Diecasting Machine Tools of London N13 exhibited a cooker set, road-up set and pistols. The Educational Supply Association had the most exhibits second only to Lines Bros. My favourite has to be Wilmot Mansour & Co with a jet propelled model car and a model hydroplane.

Section 39, Furniture (1,659) had Boulton & Paul with garden seats, Christie Tyler with an upholstered easy chair, Dartington Hall with a range of chairs, Dryad with cane furniture which they manufactured into the fifties, E Gomme Ltd with a gate legged table, famous later for G Plan. There is then Heal & Son and there is correspondence on file talking about the loan of a carpet and two stuffed toys. There is Hille & Co which manufactured chairs (at the time of writing on display in London’s Design Museum); there is Hygena, Ideal Upholstery with settee and easy chair and, interestingly, Mann Egerton, which I normally think of in relation to cars, with tables and an art desk. Meredew follows with Parker Knoll and then Roneo with steel office tables. Staples, which I remember for Ladderax, had a steel frame mattress support, Story & Cowith an easy chair (another manufacturer on display in the Design Museum) and Vickers Armstrong with an office table and desk.

Section 49, Powered Domestic Equipment (693): Aga Heat (invented by a Swede who set up in Britain) with a domestic iron, Ascot Gas Water Heaters, Belling & Co, E.K. Cole with an electric heater. EK Cole appears in a number of sections as well as radio which is where I would have expected them. I read it as diversification to use factory capacity. Duplex is there with an electric radiator, EMI is present with electric irons. English Electric had an electric cooker and refrigerator, Ever Ready a gas lighter, General Electric Company a portable Leitrim fire. Heatrae (part of Baxi) had an electric heater, Hotpoint a washing machine and electric boiling ring. Radiation Group had a Regulo controlled cooker, Tricity Cookers were there alongside Vactric with my childhood favourite a cylinder suction cleaner. Morphy-Richards with an electric floor scrubber, vacuum cleaner, iron and toaster.

You can read more in Vehicles to Vaccines

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