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Special Collection (re-do): Sheffield & The Festival of Britain

Banner image for the Festival of Britain and Sheffield page. Photograph of the Festival Stone.

On May 4th, 1951 the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank of the Thames opened to the public.  Around the country, many other towns, villages, and cities prepared to join in with their own events and celebrations.  Some would be part of the official touring programme whether that be a visit from the Festival Ship Campagnia or as host to one of the main art or music festivals but others like Sheffield, who weren't a part of the official celebration circuit would put on their own events.

As a way of promoting the city beyond its industrial reputation to a wider audience, a handbook edited by the city librarian J. P. Lamb was commissioned.  10 000 copies were printed and sent all over the world offering readers a view of Sheffield beyond its factories and furnaces, you can view a copy in the special collection Festival of Britain memorabilia collection.  Other cultural events included an exhibition at the Graves Gallery on British Modern Art and a Film Festival in the Central Library. 

Sporting events under the FoB banner also took place around the country.  On May 16th as part of a national Festival of Football organised by the FA, 13 900 spectators saw Sheffield Wednesday take on Danish side FREM in an exhibition match at Hillsborough that ended in a 0-0 draw.   

Two days later on the 18th of May, the first of a number of civic events took place.  The Lord Mayor Alderman Keeble Wilson opened the Festival of Britain Conservatory and Gardens in Weston Park and also the Festival of Britain Woodland at Forge Dam Park.  Later in the year on the 27th of July the new Lord Mayor  Alderman T.W. Bridgland, J.P opened the Rivelin Valley Park Playground and Paddling Pools.

Seventy years on the marks those civic projects made on the city can still be seen and some projects can still be enjoyed. 

Two plaques on the entrance to Forge Dam Park at the junction of Whiteley Lane and Quiet Lane mark the opening of the Festival Woodland. The woodland over the years has matured and become overgrown but to mark the 70th anniversary of its opening the Friends of the Porter Valley Conservation Volunteers are currently undertaking a project to tidy up the woodland and return it to its former glory.

Photo of plaque

Plaque at the entrance to the Festival of Britain Woodland, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of park entrance

Entrance to Forge Dam Park, Quiet Lane, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of date plaque

Plaque at the entrance to the Festival of Britain Woodland, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

The Conservatory in Weston Park, unfortunately, fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 2004.  However, there are two plaques marking the opening ceremony that can be found on a covered seating area close to the Godfrey Sykes memorial.

Photo of plaque

Plaque for the Festival of Britain Conservatory and Garden, Weston Park, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of seating, Weston Park.

Seating area Weston Park Festival of Britain plaques on the wall behind. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of opening day plaque

Plaque for the Festival of Britain Conservatory and Garden, Weston Park, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

The playground and the Rivelin Valley Paddling pools are still there.  After a public consultation, the pools were revamped in 2013.

Photo of waterpark

Rivelin Valley paddling pools, May 2021. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of water park entrance

Entrance gate to the paddling pools, May 2021. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of water park

View of the paddling pools, May 2021. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

There is another local Festival project that you can still visit, originally it was within the West Riding of Yorkshire as a part of Wortley Rural District Council, but subsequent boundary changes mean that it now sits within the Sheffield City area. 

Where Jawbone Hill meets Oughtibridge Lane (aka Cote d'Oughtibridge) between Oughtibridge and Grenoside there's a viewing area where you can find the Birley Stone (a boundary stone dating from 1161) and next to that sits the Festival Stone. The Festival stone is a toposcope indicating notable features and landmarks as you look out across the Don Valley.   

Photo of the Birley stone and Festival stone

The Festival Stone and the Birley Stone. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Photo of toposcope

Toposcope looking out across the Don Valley, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Close up of toposcope

Festival logo, Sheffield. (Image credit: Simon Quinn)

Screenshot of the Festival of Britain page in SHIMMER

The Festival of Britain Collection 

Festival of Britain Collection

You can view more images of the Festival of Britain and a selection of items from our collection on SHIMMER.

In the 1970s we acquired a box of Festival items. These included press releases, letters, and some official guides. Building on this, the library began to acquire a wider range of Festival literature and commemorative ephemera - such as posters, postcards, teapots, toys, glassware, and medals. The collection now comprises about 2000 items covering not only the main South Bank exhibition but also numerous regional events as well.


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Sheffield Hallam University
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Sheffield S1 1WB