5.3 UK events 1811-1850

© Bob Denton 2018
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As we saw the 1849 Paris exposition appears to have particularly stirred the UK into action, it began planning its own international exhibition. But it would be wrong to suggest that it had not been engaged in exhibitions earlier, there were in fact a large series of events held in the UK. The British also initiated events in Ireland and one in Calcutta.

Venues began appearing in the late-1820s. The Society for the Illustration and Encouragement of Practical Science opened its Adelaide Gallery in The Strand London in 1830 to promote popular interest in science and engineering; both Thomas Telford and Charles Wheatstone worked here. The Society’s 1835 catalogue made clear that its demonstrations blended instruction with amusement.

5.3.1  1828, London, National Repository Exchange

Attempts were made to establish a permanent ‘National Repository for the Exhibition of New and Improved production of the Artisans and Manufacturers of the United Kingdom’. It was held in the Kings Mews at Charing Cross, today’s Trafalgar Square. This initiative obtained Royal patronage, but it appears to have been met by Press apathy and perhaps some hostility. The venture went unreported for twenty years and by then all enthusiasm for it had been lost.

Kings Mews London

5.3.2  1844, 1847, 1848, 1849, London, Society of Arts industrial exhibition

See also 1847 London Society of Arts data sheet

The Society of Arts was founded to ‘embolden enterprise, enlarge science…’. It organised events in Covent Garden Theatre, London with a prize fund used to present awards and medals for British manufactures and decorative art.

Covent Garden Theatre 1850

Its December 1844 event attracted just a handful of exhibitors and just 150 visitors. So it did not achieve the girth of the shows held in Paris and Berlin that same year, with 3,960 and 3,040 exhibitors respectively. But it helped to revive the idea of periodic exhibitions of industrial products in England.

Its March 1847 event included selected specimens of British manufactures and decorative art and this attracted 300 exhibitors and 20,000 visitors. By 1848, now organised as the Royal Society of Arts, there were so many participants that they outgrew their facilities for example the 1849 event’s visitor count was 73,000.

The award winners in 1849 proved insufficient so the Society’s Henry Cole and Scott Russell spent days travelling London by cab to call on manufacturers and shopkeepers to gather exhibits.

5.3.3  1849, London, Hanover Square exhibition

Given the lack of local exhibition progress the French saw their opportunity and organised an event in London. It was held in November at George Street/Hanover Square to showcase exhibits and artefacts from the French national exhibition. Organised as the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie Francaise by M. Charles Sallandrouze de Lamornaix, Ancien Depute, Membre de Conseil general des Manufactures. This helped to chivvy up British resolve for an international event of their own.

Hanover Square

5.3.4  Exhibitions of the Mechanics’ Institutes

Britain’s Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the wealth-creating enterprises in northern and midland cities enabled local initiatives that did not involve London. Groups of affluent manufacturers and scientists came together in many cities to create Mechanics’ Institutes that provided facilities for adult education of working men, to explain the principles of science through part-time study.

Exhibitions were soon realised to be an important source of revenue. Manchester led the way in 1837, in 1838 there were four – Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Potteries and Sunderland. By 1839 there were nine – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Macclesfield, the Potteries, Preston, Salford, Sheffield and Sowerby Bridge. There were nineteen in 1940 – Beccles, Birmingham, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Norwich, Nottingham, Oldham, Preston, Ripon, Salford, Sheffield, Stockport, Stroud and Wigan.

The coming of the railways assisted the attendance by having special excursion trains linked with reduced entrance charges. In 1840 there had been just 1,331 miles of rail, and a decade later there were 6,635 miles.

5.3.4.1             1837, 1838, 1842-3, 1844-5 – Manchester Mechanics’ Institute

See also 1837_Manchester Mechanics’ data sheet

Manchester, through its focus on cotton, had boomed to become Britain’s second city. The Lancashire and Cheshire Manchester Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1824 and had opened its own building by 1825. It ran four shows from 1837 to 1845 attracting a total of 300,000 visitors.

Promoted by the Manchester Guardian, the Mar-1837 event was described as a ‘POPULAR’ EXHIBITION of Models of Machinery, Philosophical Instruments, Works in Fine and Useful Arts, Objects in Natural History, and Specimens of British Manufacturers, &c. &c.’. The goal was to ‘afford the working classes a convenient opportunity of inspecting the present state of our arts and manufactures and to present them with a source of rational and agreeable relaxation…’ (Manchester Guardian, 9Dec1837)

Manchester Nechanics’ Institute 1825

Some of the exhibits might better be described as curiosities, but on show was Charles Macintosh’s waterproof raincoat, or ‘Mac’.

Charles Macintosh’s Mac

The event also demonstrated thirty-one working steam engines, model locomotives and seventy-nine models of ‘useful machines and ingenious mechanical contrivances’, twelve models of public buildings, 90 philosophical (meaning scientific) instruments, 140 India ink and coloured designs and drawings, 28 specimens of painted and stained glass, and 10,000 insects (Tylecote, 1957, p.306). There were various looms and sewing machines, brickmaking machinery and agricultural equipment.

In 1840 The Royal Victoria Gallery was opened in the Exchange Dining Room, emulating the Adelaide Gallery in London. One key attraction was a weighing machine that allowed ‘ladies and gentlemen’ the opportunity for a one penny charge to receive a ‘proper certificate’ detailing their weight. Other notable exhibits were electromagnets, new ball-and-socket joints and electromagnetic telegraphs from Wheatstone and Cooke.

Its 1842/3 exhibition, the fourth Institution event, was notable for its demonstration of the electric telegraph machine and an electromagnet capable of lifting 1260 kgs.

Manchester Nechanics’ Institute building 1855

The 1844/5 event proved to be the last in this series of exhibitions attracted 45,000 visitors between 18Dec 1844 and 11Jan 1845. Subsequently the Institution invited ‘The British Association for the Advancement of Science’ to run an exhibition provided Institution members had free entry.

It was Manchester’s success that prompted other cities to follow suit.

5.3.4.2 1839, 1840, Mechanics’ Institutes of Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Todmorden, Sowerby Bridge, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham…

Leeds and Bradford Mechanics’ Institutes each ran exhibitions in 1839. The Bradford event raised around £800 and funded a new Institute building. A Leeds exhibition in 1840 attracted 200,000 visitors. The Sheffield 1839 event was reported as a ‘fashionable lounge […] where the leisure hours of the mechanic are spent in the company of his wife and family’ (Sheffield Iris, 2Apr1839).

The 1840 Birmingham exhibition was reported as a ‘great boom on the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood’, and to have become a ‘favourite place of resort and recreation’ (Midland Counties Herald, 13Feb1840). Halifax too had an event but theirs was jointly organised by the Literary and Philosophical Society, the local Infirmary and its Mechanics’ Institute, this attracted 100,000 visitors.

In 1842 the Leeds Institute raised £1630 from its exhibition which cleared past debts and allowed it to purchase a building for its activities. Yorkshire, Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge institutes also ran events, the latter running for seven weeks attracting 29,000 visitors and making £142.

Derby Mechanics’ Institute ran its own event at its premises, later named as the Albert Hall. It had run lectures, displays and concerts before but this was its first exhibition. Its goal was to help pay for a recent rather grand lecture hall facility that had been added to its premises. Some 1,000 exhibits were displayed at the Athenaeum Rooms, it attracted 96,000 paying visitors (6d each) and achieved its aim. Giving the town ‘more the appearance of a fair or a holiday time than its accustomed quiet’ (Derby Mercury, 3Jul1839). Its success led to the city establishing a museum and library, the Derby Museum and Art Gallery still holds a number of the exhibits from the 1839 event.

The Lecture Hall of Derby Mechanics’ Institute

The Thomas Cook temperance excursion to Loughborough in 1841 is much referenced as an early use of railways and the origin of the travel company. But a year earlier the Midland Counties Railway carried visitors to 1840 Institute exhibitions at Leicester and Nottingham.

5.3.4.3 1849, Birmingham, Exhibition of Local Manufactures and Natural History

See 1849_Birmingham exhibition data sheet

Illustration of the Birmingham event

The Birmingham Mechanics’ Institute ran an exhibition of manufactured goods in the grounds of Bingley House on Broad Street in central Birmingham. It was organised as a cooperation between The British Association for the Advancement of Science and its Mechanics’ Institute.

Temporary exhibition venue

Temporary wooden buildings were erected for the event, offering some 10,000 sq ft of exhibition space. The goal had been to attract foreign exhibitors too, but this was not achieved.

The show had some famous visitors including Prince Albert and Charles Darwin. The prince, catching a train in London, was reported as reaching Birmingham in only two hours, then was taken by carriage to the exhibition.  He was escorted by William Westley Richards, chairman of the exhibition and the possessor of a Royal Warrant as gun-maker to the Prince.  The press marvelled that Prince Albert showed so much knowledge of manufacturing, and it was noted that he spent a long time at the stall of the Westley Richards firm. It is suggested by some that the prince did gain some of his ideas for the Great Exhibition from this visit.

The next year (1850) the first custom-built exhibition hall was built here. This facility burnt down during the Midland Caravan, Camping and Leisure Exhibition in January 1984. Its purpose had by then been replaced by the NEC, National Exhibition Centre (opened February 1976) and so it was not reconstructed. Today it is the site of the ICC, International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall.

5.3.5  1826, 1829, Dublin, Industrial Exhibition

Ireland (ruled by Britain) ran a series of triennial shows that ran until 1850 for which there is little information. This was in part because the Public Records Office in Dublin was destroyed by fire in 1922, during the Irish Civil War that followed Ireland achieving Independence.

5.3.6  1833, Calcutta (Kolkata) International Exhibition

Little could be discovered for this first exhibition in India run during ‘The Raj’, but there is a great deal more information about the 1883-4 event in this city (see later).

© Bob Denton 2018
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