The Festival of Empire Exhibition and Pageant of London

Crystal Palace 1911


Fred Peskett


The Children’s Day


On the 30th June 1911. The King and Queen visited the Festival of Empire Exhibition as part of their Coronation celebrations. 100,000 children, selected from all the London Boroughs were invited to the Crystal Palace to see the Royal visitors. The Railway companies provided 96 trains to take the children to the Palace. The London, Dover and Chatham Railway terminated at the Crystal Palace High Level Station which represented quite a logistical problem, since each train once vacated had to have the locomotive turned, re-connected and taken to sidings to be parked ready for the return journey, never-the-less, the turn round time was accomplished within an average of six minutes. The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway being a through station was somewhat easier.

Of the 100,000 children, only 25,000 were selected to line up on the roads to view the Royal procession, the rest watched from wherever possible, or most likely went off to ride on the Joy Wheel, The Flying Machine, The Water Chute or the many other attractions the Palace grounds had to offer, including Scenes from the Pageant of London. Each of the 100,000 children were given a special commemorative china beaker made by Royal Doulton, and a packed lunch in a special paper bag with a commemorative paper napkin provided by the catering contractor at that time J. Lyons & Company. The commemorative beaker turns up quite frequently but the bag and napkin are very rare!

After the festivities the assembly of the children for the return journey to board the right train was achieved by a colour coded panel on each train which matched the same colours worn by each child. The boys wore a combination of a coloured cap together with a different colour patch on their jackets, some also had a letter stenciled on the patch. The girls had different colour bonnets with contrasting bands of ribbon around the brim, they also wore colour patches on their dresses. As far as it is known there were no instances of children being stranded at the Palace.

The ferrying of children to and from the Crystal Palace must have been well rehearsed, since a snippet from a magazine for the performers at the Pageant, “Festival Notes” number 2, April 1911 reads:-

“The King's Little Guests”


            “The statement that those children who go to the rehearsals of the Pageant of London will not be invited to the King's Coronation Party at the Festival of Empire at the Crystal Palace is not correct. It has been arranged to take 400,000 school children of London and surrounding districts to sixteen full dress rehearsals of the Pageant which will be held from May 8th to June 2nd. These parties have nothing whatever to do with the selection of 100,000 children who will be His Majesty's guests on June 30th. The Pageant parties will be made up by the various schools while the Coronation party will be chosen by a committee appointed by His Majesty, and there is no reason whatever why some children should not take part in both functions”.




Post card publishers Bemrose and Campbell Gray recorded “The Children's Day” for posterity. Bemrose issued four cards from photographs by Bender & Lewis of Croydon, serial numbered 1 to 4. and two cards in their long “Official” Festival of Empire Series numbers 44 and 45.

Campbell Gray published at least two cards, numbers 327C and 327F but there could be another four or more if they are identified by 327A et seq.

            The Daily Mirror for 30th June 1911 outlines the plan for the day to meet the new King & Queen at the Crystal Palace.

1.         The 100,000 children invited were aged twelve and upwards.

2.         The General Public were not permitted to enter the Crystal Palace or Grounds on the 30th

June even those holding season tickets.

3.         There were no trains to the Crystal Palace for the General Public on that day and 20 suburban

stations were closed. The first train for the children arrived at the Palace at 10.30am and the last train was to leave at 8.15pm.

4.         The 100,000 children were formed into nine divisions each of 11,111. The number of

teachers, nurses and supervisors for the children was 6,000.

5.         60,000 children were invited to see the Masque of Empire.

6.         There were 130 van loads of refreshments delivered to include 100,000 each of bottles of

lemonade, buns, cakes, fruit and chocolate.

7.         The King & Queen arrived at the Crystal Palace at 3pm and departed at 4.15pm.

8.         A special viewing platform was erected for the Royal Party on Empire Avenue and a special

carpet was made measuring 24ft x 14ft. The carpet had been ordered for special occasions before the Coronation and was made by Ameer Sheer Ali from Afganistan, it took four years to weave.

9.         The special Coronation beakers made for the event by Royal Doulton used twenty-two tons

of a special clay and were cast in ivory porcelain with copper-plate transfers of the King & Queen. The beakers were not presented on the day, but delivered to the various schools the following week for presentation to those children who attended the event.

10.       The Daily Mirror readers subscribed £17-13-6d to a fund set up by the newspaper to provide

boots and clothing for 45 poor children who had neither shoes or decent clothes, only the poorest and most deserving children were selected.

11.       From 4.30pm all the amusements at the Crystal Palace were free to the children for the rest

of the day until 8pm.

For many of the children perhaps a ride on the “All Red Route” Railway would have been one of the highlights of the day at the Crystal Palace. This was a train journey through the Dominions, so named after the colour red being used on maps and globes of the world to show the extent of the British Empire.

The railway was a circular track through the Empire Exhibition of some one and a half miles with a service running every two minutes by ten observation cars. On each train there were guides to explain details and objects of interest en route. The tour visited Newfoundland, Canada, Jamaica, Malay States, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The round trip took twenty minutes, however, each Dominion had a station where one could alight and view the pavilions and scenery at leisure.



                 The Red Train at India Station                            Australian Woodman’s cabin




                                   Canada                                                     New Zealand




                               Maori Village                                                 Newfoundland


Many of the buildings and most of the scenery on the All Red Route were constructed from fibrous plaster on a strong form of canvas known as “skrim”. Some 1,500 men were employed during the construction which cost around £60,000. The material used was obviously very durable since some of the buildings were finally demolished during 1956! The trains were powered by electricity which also was used for the night illumination of the pavilions and set pieces. A new Power-House with generators was erected at a cost of £30,000 and 15 miles of electric cables installed for the railway and buildings, 75,000 lamps each of 16 candle power and 200 arc lamps were added to the myriad of gas and electric lamps already in use in the Crystal Palace grounds.

            The Guide Book gives the visitor a preview of what there was to see. Tickets are taken at the Pageant entrance station. Here the visitors board a magnificently equipped Observation Car. The train runs along smoothly up and down inclines, and pulls up at the first stopping place-Newfoundland Station. Through a covered way, the exhibition building of our oldest Colony is entered, where a wonderful collection of exhibits, working models, sporting trophies etc. is on view. A complete paper making plant is also the object of interest in this section. Leaving the building, the train is rejoined and passes through picturesque Newfoundland scenery, with the town and harbour of St. John's in the distance. Then, rounding a rugged range of mountains-through a deep cutting-Canada is reached.

Canada. The first view obtained of this great Dominion is a vast stretch of forest land, with giant trees, and groups of men busily engaged in felling and clearing timber, and preparing the soil for the plough. Next, the eye rests on a great orchard farm, with men and women picking and packing the produce ready for export. Wide expanses of wheatlands are discerned, stretching as far as the vision can penetrate, with reaping and threshing machines in full operation. The visitor is next introduced to a large ranch, with cattle grazing down to the railway track. At this point the train enters a deep cutting, trestle bridges are crossed with rivers rushing below, and the train pulls up at the Canadian Station, adjoining the magnificent Ottawa Parliament Building-some 350 feet in length by 190 feet in width. In the interior of this noble building some idea of the wonderful development and resources of Canada may be obtained.

Jamaica. The harbour of Quebec slowly recedes in the distance and Jamaica is next entered. The passengers are borne through palm bearing lands into the very heart of a sugar plantation.

Malay Village. The next sight is a Malay Village and immediately the train passes on to India.

India. The first object of interest is a delightful view of Delhi. In the near distance are historical temples and a dense jungle in which a variety of animals are running wild. Then the most famous Himalaya mountains are shown, and again the interested visitor alights, and strolls through a typical Indian bazaar, in all its native colours and activity. An Indian Palace with wonderful inlaid gold and jewel work is next entered and inspected. Reluctantly leaving this beautiful building, the waiting train is entered once more, and passes through endless varieties of Indian scenery to the coast.

Australia. The fine harbour of Sydney, New South Wales, is next discerned, with the town illuminated, and reflected in the water, forming a picture charming in the extreme. The train enters the region of the famous Blue Mountains and passes through majestic panoramas, depicting the Commonwealth's scenery. The story of Australia's marvellous development is depicted en route. Pioneers are seen building their log cabins and clearing the surrounding bush. Then the result of their labour is shown, comfortable bungalows and prosperous farms. An extensive sheep farm is next visited, with shearing and dipping in active progress. Through vast plains the train proceeds, and fruit farms and vineyards are the next objectives, with men and women picking and preparing the fruit for shipment. Alighting at the Australian station, the visitor passes into the huge Parliament Building, where exhibits of the Commonwealth’s resources are displayed.

New Zealand. From Australia the passengers cross to New Zealand. At Nelson Docks a huge liner may be watched, taking on board a cargo of grain, wool and mutton. Opposite, a large building is shown in which the process of packing mutton ready for shipment to the Mother Country can be observed. A run through glorious mountain scenery is then made, among the sights being hot-water geysers, creating marvellous atmospheric effects, and a quaint Maori Village. A halt is made at the city of Wellington, to visit the replica of the Parliament Buildings, in which are displayed the productive and industrial resources of New Zealand.

South Africa. The passengers are now on the last stage of their wonderful trip. The train proceeds through the veldt, gold mines in full operation being passed. A view of a native kraal, with the process of leather dressing, is exhibited. Kimberley diamond mines in full work are visited, and then an ostrich farm. On arrival at the African station, the voyager enters the Parliament Building, where a varied display of the resources of the South African Dominion is exhibited.

A steep incline is negotiated, and the train at last deposits the visitor at the Pageant Station, after a 20 minute run through the Dominions Beyond the Seas".

            The above description of the All Red Route is typical in its flowery presentation of the day. The space allocated for the Malay States and Jamaica leaves one to wonder if the author did not actually visit these areas or if he did, was not very impressed about them.

            Bemrose, Campbell Gray, Millar & Lang, Rotary and Valentine all published post cards featuring scenes on the "All Red Route".



          © Exhibition Study Group 2007