The UK Garden Festival 1988 will no I doubt be a spectacular success. It is not, however. unique in the city which has seen four previous major exhibitions. all ofwhich drew attention on an international scale and were hailed in the world‘s press. The Garden Festival expects more than 4 million visitors. the last major Glasgow Exhibition. in 1938. drew over 12.5 million.
In 1888 the Second City of Empire, blessed with a buoyant economy and an unprecedented cultural and commercial boom. was reﬂected in a celebration which took the whole of Kelvingrove Park in the West End of the city and turned it into an exotic and fantastic marvel for the six months ofthat glorious summer. The competition for the design of the Exhibition was won by Glasgow architect James Sellars. who produced a fabulous Oriental spectacle in a main pavilion covering 11 acres.
Within the magnificent main building, ten galleries displayed 2700 works ofart. The main function of the building. however. was to show industry and commercial ingenuity. particularly that of the City of Glasgow and Scotland. Of the 2000 exhibits. around two-thirds were of Scottish origin.
In the Exhibition‘s grounds, the old Kelvingrove Mansion contained a popular display of Queen Victoria's Jubilee gifts. The Kelvin. specially deepened for the occasion. was used for boating galas and swimming events. Dubbed the ‘Groveries’ by the Exhibition organisers, the locals coined the alternative ‘Seweries‘ to indicate that, despite the temporary ban on efﬂuent, the river was still less than fragrant. On the north side of the River stood the Bishop‘s Palace, a conjectural reconstruction of the castle which once stood near Glasgow Cathedral.
By night the Exhibition was illuminated in many colours and the changing hues of light which played through the spectacular jets of the Fairy Fountain made this a star attraction.
The profits from 1888 enabled the building of The Kelvingrove art museum to house the City‘s unparalleled collection. This was felt to be sufficient cause to stage another grand exhibition. For the 1901 show, another architectural competition was held, one of the unsuccessful competitors being the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
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The winner, James Miller, was to go
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RIBA conference in Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery offers the public an associated exhibition covering ‘Glasgow’s Great Exhibitions’. Neil Baxter looks back at the highlights of those exhibitions.
on to become One of the most successful commercial arthitects in Scotland.
For the second time the Exhibitior was set in Kelvingrove. This time its displays were spread between the new Art Galleries and separate Industrial. Machinery. and Concert Halls.
The focal point ofthe Exhibition was the Industrial Hall, and Miller lavished all his attention on the Dome. which for this occasion stood at 180 feet. higher and much more ornate than its predecessor. It was golden and topped by an angel representing Light.
The Machinery Hall, a spectacular steel structure. displayed locomotives. manufacturing equipment and heavy artillery. In the new Art Gallery the displays started in the Central Hall with its sculptural display including work by Rodin set among potted palms.
On this occasion the grounds contained many more separate pavilions. The star display from the Continent was that from Russia with an avenue of spectacular wooden structures. The most impressive building in the grounds was the Grand Concert Hall which sat more than 3000 people. Among other attractions which would not be approved today, were groups of real natives from various nations. More praiseworthy were the ‘Sunlight’ cottages based on the accommodation erected by Lever Brothers for their employees at Port
Sunlight. These cottages still stand in Kelvingrove Park.
As in 1888, much public praise and enthusiasm was reserved for the amusements. particularly the return ofthe Switchback and the new Canadian Water Chute. The effect Ofthe Exhibition by night was again that ofa renewed spectacle. brilliant and dramatic.
The third and last exhibition to be set in Kelvingrove Park was quite different in purpose. theme and intent from the international exhibitions of 1888 and 1901. This exhibition was intended to fund the new chair of Scottish History and Literature at Glasgow University. The theme, ‘The History of Scotland’, was reﬂected in full scale reproductions ofFalkland palace. an Auld Toon. and a Highland Village with real Gaels in situ. spinning and singing the while.
A new bridge over the River Kelvin led from the Palace of Art to the Auld Toon. a more romantic vision ofScottish history with 21 Keep, Town Hall. and reconstructions of historic Glasgow buildings.
Ofthe Exhibition‘s individual structures, the largest was the Palace of Industry with its pastiche central tower, a profusion of Scots motifs. This building contained the now familiar assortment of local industry. but in some confusion with food and machinery competing for space. As in the previous exhibitions. Glasgow
was blessed with a glorious summer.
I other palaces and pavilions which
attendances were high and profits healthy.
Glasgow's fourth major exhibition on the Golden Anniversary ofits first. outdid all the previous shows for sheer scale and grandeur. Around 200 palaces and pavilions. the largest of which covered five acres. were situated in the park beneath Bellahouston Hill (Kelvingrove Park was just too small! ). By the late Thirties the city. and Scotland as a whole. was experiencing an economic upturn after years of depression. The decision to hold the exhibition reflected this economic revival and was an expression of hope for the future. In 1938 Glasgow was still the Second City of Empire. the premier port in Scotland. and accessible to over half the Scottish population.
The task ofcreating an exhibition of immense scale required a designer ol‘extraordinary ability. Time was short. so rather than mount the traditional design competition, the organisers selected Thomas S. Tait. the Paisley-born partner in the London firm of Burnet. Tait and Lorne to oversee the work of numerous young Scottish architects in creating the bulk of the exhibition. The Empire nations selected their own architects. as did the many independent organisations and companies which built pavilions.
At the outset. Tait determined that the Exhibition should be given unity and coherence through the employment of a limited range of colours and a structural system. Each building consisted ofa frame in either wood or steel. clad in panels whose dimensions conformed throughout the exhibition.
On top ofthe lelft high hill. a tower affectionately named after the exhibition’s Architect-in-(‘hief 'Tait‘s Tower’ provided views of sixty miles on a clear day. Among
attracted popular attention were the Palace of Arts with its relatively modest displays of historical and contemporary work. the twin Scottish Pavilions by Basil Spence, the bombastic UK Pavilion. and the huge Palaces of Industry (there were two) and Engineering.
The 1938 Exhibition. by far the largest ever produced in the city. drew greater numbers than ever before to an event which thrilled all. including the Royal Family. on a scale rivalled by few world exhibitions, before or since.
The List 13 — 26 May 1988 59