The finishing touches are applied to the Scotland Pavilion for the Empire Exhibition

92 – Empire Exhibition

May to December, 1938

THE very best of the British Empire was on show at the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow.

The show was an awe-inspiring display of the engineering and architectural abilities of Britain at the time and attracted a staggering 12.5 million visitors during its six-month run.

Hosted at Bellahouston Park, more than 200 pavilions representing countries from all over the Empire were built across the 150-acre site.

A similar British Empire Exhibition had been held at Wembley between 1924 and 1925, showcasing goods and produce. But the Glasgow event was arguably more ambitious.

Opened by King George VI at Ibrox Stadium, it cost £10 million to put together but this sum, a jaw-dropping amount at the time – £608 million in today’s money – was considered a sum well-spent by the city fathers.

 King George VI  and Queen Elizabeth  watching a woman demonstrating the traditional art of spinning wool on a spinning wheel during a tour of the Empire Exhibition
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth watching a woman demonstrating the traditional art of spinning wool on a spinning wheel during a tour of the Empire Exhibition – Getty Images

It highlighted Glasgow as a powerhouse – truly the second city of the Empire.

The project was led by Paisley-born architect Thomas Tait, whose 300-foot Empire Tower served as the centrepiece.

The Palace of Engineering was later dismantled and rebuilt near the runway at Prestwick Airport, while the Palace of Art, the only building still standing, is now used as a sports training facility.

The exhibition even had its own post office with a thatched straw roof, where visitors were encouraged to send postcards to family and friends bearing the exhibition’s own frank.

Glasgow, and by extension Scotland, showed off and revelled in its position of importance and power at the forefront of the Empire upon which the sun never set.