I have had a fascination with the Festival of Britain since I came across one of its guidebooks several years ago and wrote an article about it for Eye magazine’s blog. In my day job I have also had the pleasure of hearing Abram Games’ daughter, Naomi Games, talk to students about her father’s work, (for the uninitiated, it was Abram Games that designed the FoB logo). Further to this, I have a keen interest in modernist design principles, and in particular the work of the Design Research Unit who played a key role in the planning and organisation of the 1951 Festival. It is therefore not surprising that when driving through the Lincolnshire village of Barnetby Le Wold while on holiday with my wife recently, that my eye caught sight of the familiar logo. However, the fact it was set into the concrete of a bench by a very busy roundabout was the last place I expected to see it.
After pulling up the car and taking some photographs, we drove on, only to come across another bench exactly the same less than half a mile further down the road. More photos were taken, naturally.
There may have been other examples of the bench in this village; we did pass another similar in style but the side we could see from the road was of newer concrete and devoid of embellishment. Whether the other side had the logo on it, and the side we saw was a repair, we don’t know as there was no obvious place to pull over an have a closer look.
Claire and I have since searched online for information about these benches and can find next to nothing. There is a report and photographs of another Festival of Britain bench in Louth, also Lincolnshire, on the brilliantly titled website The Benches of Louth, but that’s it. On this site there is no detail about how the bench came to be placed there, only a fascination by the author that it is there at all and detailed descriptions of how to find it. (2018 update—Benches of Louth is no longer live, but is available as a book from here.)
The first bench we saw by the roundabout in Barnetby Le Wold would clearly have been in a much less busy area in 1951, if in fact it is contemporary to the Festival, (I have no reason to doubt it wouldn’t be). I suspect the bench hasn’t been moved when the roundabout/bypass was built, and it is good to see from the worn grass in front of the seat that it is well used.
I’ve looked through Paul Rennie’s ACC published book on the Festival of Britain and found nothing about commemorative benches. I’ve also looked through the two About Britain guidebooks I have, published as a contribution to the Festival in 1951 by The Brewer’s Society, and there is no mention of them in either of the editions I have. Claire bought a copy of the 1952 edition of The Penrose Annual: A Review of Graphic Arts, which covers the graphics of the Festival of Britain. Unfortunately there is nothing in there either, (a long shot that it was, but the adaptability of a 2D image into a solid 3D physical structure like a concrete bench could have caused a comment given the intricacy of the logo).
We did come across another, similar bench, but this time commemorating the Queen’s coronation in 1953, in a different part of Lincolnshire. We initially thought we’d discovered another Festival of Britain bench on diving past it, but on parking up and walking back to get a photo, it wasn’t to be. (Unfortunately the location of this bench escapes us).
These finds raise several questions in my mind: were they locally commissioned and made in Lincolnshire, or are there examples of similar benches elsewhere in Britain? Or were these made by some central organisation given the contract to make commemorative items to celebrate the Festival of Britain that were then shipped out across the country? And, is it possible to list a bench, if they haven’t been listed already?
Any answers to these questions, or further information, would be gratefully received. Please leave comments below.