The Festival of Britain was a nationwide event in 1951 that tried to showcase the best of British arts, technology and innovation and provide a boost both to morale and the economy after the ravages of the Second World War. The main exhibition was based in London, however it was felt that there should be some way of bringing at least a flavour of this to those living in other parts of the country. The idea the government hit upon was to convert the World War Two escort carrier HMS Campania into a mobile exhibition centre, the ship’s flight decks and hangars being large and open and ideally suited to this task. The ship toured the country and tonight we have a set of three photographs from her time at Birkenhead. Firstly we have a snapshot taken from the Quay of the ship moored up:The Festival Office’s resident designer, James Holland, considered that the vessel would “not convert easily into a showboat”, but with the massive demand for shipping to help rebuild Europe after the war, he and his colleagues felt lucky to have any ship at all.
Repainted white, the ship was decorated with skeleton masts and bunting. Officially named the Sea Travelling Exhibition, the exhibits were intended to reflect the main London Exhibition. Like the Festival’s Land Travelling Exhibition, they were divided into three sections, the “Land of Britain”, “Discovery” and “The People at Home”. Between 4 May 1951 and 6 October, the ship visited Southampton, Dundee, Newcastle, Hull, Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Belfast, Birkenhead and Glasgow, staying at each port for 10–14 days. The ship was in Birkenhead from 4th to 13th September 1951.
The ship’s white hull and the aforementioned masts can be clearly seen in this view from the water:Pat Kennedy toured the ship in Birkenhead:
Campania was berthed in Bidston Dock, Birkenhead during the Festival of Britain and was open to the public.
At the time, my parents had a boarding house, and we had three of the engine room staff from Campania billeted with us. Mr Owen 2nd engineer, who came from Morfa Nefyn in N Wales, Cyril Ferrier, Chief electrician who I think was a geordie, and a third bloke who I can’t remember. all pleasant chaps, who took me and my brother on a tour of the ship.
The final view is taken from the flight deck and shows the awning set up for visitors along with the park benches for them to sit down and rest:The visiting of this ship to a port was clearly a major local event and the Eagle comic printed this helpful cutaway diagram of the exhibition ship for its readers:Once the festival was over Campania was converted back into a naval role and helped support the early atom bomb testing at Bikini Atoll before finally being scrapped in 1955.