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   School Visit to the British Empire Exhibition 1924


From 11-14 August 1924 52 pupils and five teachers from Tickhill National School went on a residential visit to London, as mentioned in Occasional Paper 6. In all probability it was the youngsters’ first visit to London. The reason for this special trip was to see, in particular, the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, the largest  exhibition arranged since the 1851 Great Exhibition. The exhibition ran from April to October 1924 and was repeated the following year. Apart from showing the diverse resources and activities of the people of the British Empire, it provided a means of recreation, rather like an enormous theme park. For example, the Empire Stadium, later to become the famous Wembley Football Stadium, housed a range of pageants during July and August 1924 and there was a boating lake and amusement park as well as the huge reinforced concrete-built pavilions with exhibitions about this country, especially its industry, engineering and arts, and about countries within the Empire. (See the map of the exhibition below.) The following account in the September 1924 issue of the Parish Magazine captures all the excitement and ultimate exhaustion of the visit. 

           …A special saloon was attached to the train at Doncaster, and after final farewells from anxious mothers who had followed as far as they could, the 26 boys and 26 girls and the 5 in charge were soon speeding south at 70 miles an hour.  The journey of three hours was spent chiefly in studying the geography of East England and in eating lunch – but chiefly eating lunch.  At King’s Cross the parties gathered round their leaders and threaded their way to the Underground Station, where they were swallowed up in darkness and whirled along beneath the roaring streets of the Metropolis to emerge at length into daylight and Willesdon Junction.  A tram-car journey of ten minutes and a walk of five and Park Royal Hostel – our home for three days – was reached.  We found spacious dormitories and a vast dining table seating 3,000.  Our party soon found a Tuck Shop!  The boys and girls entered        

Initial plans for this Exhibition began in 1913 and were then revived after the War. The site chosen for the Exhibition was over 200 acres of Wembley Park. Trees were repositioned, a model coal mine 35 feet deep was excavated and a lake at the northern edge of the site was infilled. The foundations of the former Wembley (Watkin’s) Tower, begun in 1880 as the first stage of a structure to rival the Eiffel Tower but never completed, was the site of the Stadium. This was the first building to be completed and the Cup Final took place there in 1923. Over the next year the many other buildings were completed, many thousands of flowers planted and 15 miles of road laid. Rudyard Kipling was given the honour of naming the roads. For the first time, King George V’s voice was heard on the ‘wireless’ when he opened the Exhibition on 23 April 1924. By the end of the Exhibition in 1925, it had attracted some 27 million visitors.  

The Exhibition was open from 10am to 11pm and admission cost 1/6, with children charged half price at 9d. Additional charges were made for access to the Stadium, according to the position of seats, and entry to the Palace of Arts cost 6d with a further 6d to see the Queen’s Dolls House. Some other charges were made for sideshows in the Amusement Park, but the vast majority of sights and entertainments incurred no additional costs.   

The visit by the Tickhill pupils and teachers would have started in the south-west corner where they saw the Sarawak, Malaya and Australia exhibitions; over the next two days they saw a considerable part of the site. Mention is made of watching a re-enactment, in miniature, of the Battle of Zeebrugge. This was one of the spectacles held in a theatre with a huge tank on the stage in the British Government Pavilion. Little wonder that the children needed the diversions of the Amusement Park to recover from ‘severe mental indigestion’!  


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