Festival of Britain Quilt from 1951

The Museum of 51 is a free exhibition in the basement of the Royal Festival Hall that showcases lots of memorabilia from the  Festival of Britain, including this completely awe-inspiring patchwork quilt. The quilt looks back to the Great Exhibition of 1851, with one square for every year between then and 1951. 

As promised, here are some photos I took of it when I went to Vintage at Southbank. I could stare at this quilt for hours. There’s something incredibly touching about imagining all of the hours of work that went into it. I would love to know more about the people who stitched it.

Here’s the first square, which shows the original Crystal Palace which was built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition.

Crystal Palace quilt square, from the Museum of 51 exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall

You can see on the right what happened in 1852, which was of course…

First successful sewing machine - quilt square from the Museum of 51 exhibition at the RFH

The first successful sewing machine! Look how happy it’s made this Victorian lady, sewing up a storm, and making what looks to be a giant pink cocoon of some kind.

This is not a good photo, but I particularly liked this lady, who I think is a female Air Raid Warden from the first world war?

Female air raid warden - quilt square from the Museum of 51

I also liked this ‘Ta-ra-ra- Boom-de-ay’ dancer from 1892, who looks a bit like she might tip over at any minute under the weight of her huge skirt. Maybe it’s Lottie Collins, whom Wikipedia helpfully informs us:

‘delivered the suggestive verses with deceptive demureness, before launching into the lusty refrain and her celebrated “kick dance”, a kind of cancan in which, according to one reviewer, “she turns, twists, contorts, revolutionizes, and disports her lithe and muscular figure into a hundred different poses, all bizarre”.’

Quilt from the Museum of 51 exhibition

I’m not quite sure what’s going on with the swastika/umbrella/bowler hat combination above, but I assume it’s something to do with the war. The dentures and specs on the bottom are from a square celebrating the founding of the NHS in 1949. You can also spot W.G. Grace up in the top left corner.

And here’s some more squares – you can see the construction of Wembley in 1923 (the old Wembley), Edith Cavell, the BBC building on Regent Street (which is still there), and some stylishly attired jazz dancers representing 1925.

Squares from the quilt at the Museum of 51 exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall

You can see this quilt at the RFH until the 4th September, and you really should go if you’re in London. It’s free! And afterwards you can go and look at the all the beach huts they’ve put up by the Thames and pretend to be at the seaside.

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