Festival of Britain Commemorative Handkerchief

14th November 2013

I thought you might like to see this original vintage handkerchief that I bought recently from an antiques fair.  It is from the Festival of Britain, which was a government-sponsored exhibition that occurred nationwide in the summer of 1951.  Its aim was to promote post-war recovery and promote the British contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts.  It captured a mood of optimism for the future at a time when the economy and society was being rebuilt and the people could finally enjoy Peace after so many years of war and post-war austerity. 
There were perhaps two main currents within the design trends.  On one hand, it was generally believed that, in the future, modern Science, Technology and Industrial Design would provide the answers to Life’s problems.  Within both two- and three-dimenstional design work there was a strong theme of Modernity.  Designs which represented close-ups of atomic structures were a popular trend as were designs that resembled molecular diagrams.  On the other hand, another important trend within the Festival could be traced directly back to William Morris and  arose from a desire to reform society and to “infiltrate beauty into everyday life”, to bring Art and good design to the people.
Underpinning all this was the rockbed of British History.  King George VI was still on the throne in 1951, but it was known that his health was failing.  George VI had stayed in London and tirelessly visited British towns throughout the War and had been a source of inspiration and comfort and a very popular King, but it was known that, before long, Princess Elizabeth would become Queen.  Commentators were beginning to talk about “the new Elizabethan age”.  I remember my father talking about how he participated in the Festival of Britain as a young man; how its ideals and approach influenced him and what an exciting time it was.
The handkerchief design contains the central Festival of Britain logo with several heraldic motifs and focusses upon pivotal moments within British history: signing the Magna Carta, the Battle of Trafalgar, Queen Boadicea and The nighting of Sir Francis Drake.