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Fun and Fantasy, Escape and Edification: The Battersea Pleasure Grounds

Conekin, Becky (2001) Fun and Fantasy, Escape and Edification: The Battersea Pleasure Grounds. Twentieth Century Architecture: the Journal of the Twentieth Century Society, 5. pp. 127-138. ISSN 1353 1964

Type of Research: Article
Creators: Conekin, Becky

This chapter appears in a journal published by the Twentieth Century Society to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The chapter contributes, not only to modern British history and cultural studies, but also to gender, design and material culture studies, historical geography and architectural history. Utilising official Festival documents and ephemera from the PRO, along with Labour Party documents, and contemporary literature on ‘Americanisation’ and appropriate leisure, this was the first scholarly study of the 1951 Battersea Pleasure Gardens.

Drawing on insights from historical geography, this piece argues that in the official London festivities for the 1951 Festival of Britain, consumption and fun needed to be spatially and geographically separated from the more serious and educational South Bank site. Corporate sponsorship and shopping were not encouraged on the South Bank, but at the Battersea Pleasure Gardens there were numerous named and funded attractions and a highly-gendered shopping Parade. Even so, the escapist nature of the Battersea site was still designed and intended to be edifying.

I argue that the planners’ debates about ‘appropriate’ fun for this 1951 site very much paralleled not only post-war Labour Party arguments but also those from a century earlier, which argued for ‘rational recreation’ opportunities, particularly targeted at the working classes. A mixture of the planners’ perceptions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture was on offer, attempting to portray the illusion of a classless British society.

In contrast to the South Bank, which I argue was overwhelmingly forward-looking, yet very English in focus, the Battersea site offered a hybrid space in terms of its nostalgia for the past and its international representations of the place of fun and fantasy. These included: a Mississippi Showboat, a Chinese-style dragon, a Piazza, and a bronze mermaid sculpture inspired by its creator’s time in Bali.

Official Website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41861916
Additional Information (Publicly available):

Becky Conekin is a modern historian and all of her work shares questions of identity and its cultural formations in the 20th Century.

She co-edited and contributed to Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945-1951 while still a PhD student. That volume combined social and political history, thinking through what modernity meant for post-war Britain. In The Autobiography of a Nation: The 1951 Festival of Britain, she used the 1951 events across the UK as a prism through which to analyse a society and a government recasting national identity after WWII. Then, initially under the auspices of the AHRB-funded, 'Fashion and Modernity' project, she worked on Lee Miller. Miller participated in key circles of modern art in New York, Paris and London, as a photographer, artist, model, gourmet and surrealist hostess. Miller was employed by Vogue, first as model and then as photographer and war correspondent, for the majority of her 25-year career.

Becky co-edited the special 10th anniversary Fashion Theory (March/June, 2006), dedicated to Vogue magazine and wrote on Miller there. Uncharacteristically, for an academic journal, that issue was mentioned in 'In Vogue' and received positive reviews in two UK weekend broadsheets. She has spoken on Miller in Berkeley, Paris, Florence, Philadelphia, Toronto, Cambridge and London and her work on Miller has been quoted in Numero. She is currently embarking on her second monograph, 'Model Girls' in 1950s London & Paris: Gendered Identities and Employment, for which she has received a British Academy Fellowship and she holds a Leverhulme Trust Grant for this project. She has held fellowships at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, CRASSH at the University of Cambridge, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Research Centres No Longer Active > Fashion, The Body And Material Cultures Research Centre (FBMC)
Date: 1 January 2001
Digital Object Identifier: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41861916
Related Websites: http://www.fashion.arts.ac.uk/becky-conekin.htm
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Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2009 23:23
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 11:19
Item ID: 1511
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/1511

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