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By Selina Hurley on

Celebrating Britain

The 3rd May marks the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. The Festival celebrated the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace as well as advances in British science, technology, manufacturing and art.

You won’t be surprised to hear that some of our objects were displayed there.

Rubber mat depicting the Crystal Palace, 1951 ( © Science Museum / Science & Society )

On first look, these fabric samples appear to be simple circular designs.

Festival Pattern Group, Manchester, England, 1950-1951 ( Science Museum, London)

To the trained eye however, the pattern is based on the structure of haemoglobin produced by x-ray crystallography. Art, science and manufacturing collaborated on the design – it’s not just a fashionable fabric.

X-ray crystallography was an important tool for scientific discovery – the structures of DNA, penicillin and insulin were discovered in this way.

From one x-ray method to another. This piece of kit is known as a cine-radiography set specifically for the chest and lungs. Instead of taking still images, x-rays are taken in the form of moving film.

Cine-radiography set, England, 1950-1951 ( Science Museum, London)

Although billed as a ‘technical progress of the British x-ray industry’ only two of these machines were ever made. This machine was developed in collaboration with Dr Russell J Reynolds (1880-1964).

Fans of the Science Museum will remember that the Centenary icon was the Russell Reynolds x-ray machine – his first one made at the tender age of just 15.

It’s not just show pieces that we have in the Science Museum’s collections. We also have memorabilia that could be bought by festival-goers.

Souvenir tumblers from Festival of Britain, 1951 ( © Science Museum / Science & Society )

Maybe you have your own piece of the Festival of Britain at home? Souvenirs were available to buy – much like in museums and galleries today.

One comment on “Celebrating Britain

  1. The Wellcome Collection held an excellent exhibition on X-ray crystallography and the work of the Festival Pattern Group a couple of years ago. The web material is well worth checking out.

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