70 years on: When Norfolk celebrated the Festival of Britain
- Credit: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes
It was the dawn of a new decade. The war had been over for six years. The country was looking forward not back… and it was time to celebrate.
The Festival of Britain was taking place in May and June of 1951 and Norwich was one of the cities chosen to hold its own festival beginning on June 18 when it was opened by Princess Elizabeth from the balcony at City Hall.
A huge crowd gathered and listened as she said: “I am very glad to be here today in this ancient and lovely city of Norwich. I have a great deal of affection for Norfolk, born out of many days amidst the peace of its countryside, and it gives me great pleasure to come now to its capital.
“When Norwich was chosen as one of the main centres of the Festival of the Arts the city was paid a well-deserved compliment, for its place in the story of the arts of our country is in many ways unique.”
The Princess spoke of Crome and Cotman, the Norwich School, and the generosity of Russell Colman gifting his collection of works to the city.
“Although the fine arts are rightly given prominent place in your festival there is much else besides – for there is sport and entertainment to suit all tastes.
“I am especially glad to learn that among the great variety of events the International Pavillon d’Or cruise, of which my husband is patron this year, will be sailing up the River Yare to visit the city,” said the Princess.
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“It is its first visit to our shores and I cannot imagine a better place to see England for the yachtsmen will see beauty, life and colour. If there is one spirit among others which they will find enthroned in Norwich it is possibly the gay spirit of Elizabethan England.”
She added: “I hope they will, for it is a very fine spirit, and it is in the hope that it will flourish here and bring happiness to all that I have much pleasure in declaring open your Norwich Festival.”
We described at the time how the scene in the market had seen no parallel since the King and Queen attended the opening of City Hall in 1938.
Princess Elizabeth had arrived in Norwich by train and during her six-hour stay in the city opened the new Colman Art Galleries at the Castle Museum, lunched with the Lord Mayor, Eric Hinde, at the Assembly House, toured the Cathedral and saw something of the city’s silk and shoe industries.
It was The Assembly House which became The Festival House - home to many events.
That was the start of the celebrations, large and small, in the city and across the towns and villages of Norfolk. It really was party-time involving people of all ages and from all walks of life.
They all came together to celebrate the Festival of Britain… and a prosperous and peaceful future.
We will be taking a look at just some of the happenings over the next few weeks and if you have any memories or photographs of events we would love to hear from you. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org