It was the first of four Glasgow expos in a year when competition for the international exhibition market was large. There were fairs in Glasgow, Barcelona, and Melbourne, even smaller ones in Copenhagen, Brussels, and Cincinnati. And although most of the attendance came from western Scotland, it was Glasgow's first blush at competing against the world, albeit mostly a colonial world. It was also Glasgow's first competition against other Scottish and Great British cities, their effort to show the world that they were just as good as their neighbors. Edinburgh had hosted a fair in 1886, Manchester in 1887. And Glasgow was a huge city in 1888 with over 761,000 residents and over 1.5 million in their district. So, they wanted to compete and prove that they were better. Part of that reason was to erase some of the conception that Glasgow had a large amount of the very poor. Not sure that perception, or reality, was overcome.
So how did they attempt to do that? A grand exhibition building was constructed on sixteen of the sixty to seventy acres of the grounds along the Kelvin River in Kelvingrove Park. The park had been one of three designed for Glasgow by Sir Joseph Paxton, the designer of the original world's fair, the Crystal Palace of 1851 London. The main building, the Eastern Palace, was huge, intentionally made larger than Manchester's on purpose at 474,500 square feet. Star of the show after sundown was the illuminated Fairy Fountain across the Kelvin River. Electricity was a central feature and a popular draw since Glasgow itself would not get street lights throughout the city until 1893. The exhibition was powered by twenty-three dynamos.
Above photo. Grand Entrance of the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888. Original source unknown. Courtesy Grace's Guide and Pinterest. Below: Doulton Fountain, 2008. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
For some the contention that the Glasgow fair of 1888 was truly international was problematic. Two thirds of the exhibits came from Scotland with one fifth from England. In the true international section, there were only seventy exhibitors. Of course, that was probably a specious argument. Many world's fairs at the time, including Great Britain after the first, focused on the region and the colonies.
Glasgow's exhibition turned a profit, approximately 41,700 pounds, the press liked it, and its success prompted city leaders to host others in 1901, 1911, and 1938. It was the largest international exhibition in Great Britain since London in 1862, and in a unique, but welcome manner the fair was complete when it opened. That always helps.
Stanley Hunter - "This was the first major exhibition staged in the city, which had learnt from the Edinburgh 1886 International. It was the first time Queen Victoria had visited Glasgow since 1849 (although she visited Scotland every year). It was also the first time her ceremonial bodyguard in Scotland (Royal Company of Archers) had appeared outside the capital city. She paid a State Visit to the exhibition plus a private one, plus other formal ceremonies in Glasgow and surrounding burghs (Imagine a major US city which no President had visited for forty years!) Exhibition closed on Sundays. It was the best attended UK exhibition outside London to date. Good net profit. "
Fred Goldsmith - "The first three Glasgow events, although spectacular to look at, and thoroughly approved of, held little that was original or architecturally innovative. There were many common denominators in terms of exhibits and peripheral events for each of the first three - and, indeed, the fourth. For example Industrial Halls (some companies were there FOUR times), model dairies, illuminated fountains, funfair rides, 'Brigadoon' style representations of 'Bonnie Scotland', populated by imported 'rustics' were features of each event. This was shrewd business sense since the visiting public were comfortable with the 'expected unexpected', that is different from everyday life, but the thing would not have been complete without it. Architecturally, the first three relied heavily on 'expected' exhibition styles of construction - white, elaborate and gilded. The Glasgow events were exercises in Civic One-upmanship. Twice, Glasgow held bigger and better events than Edinburgh within a year or so (1888 and 1901). They demonstrated that 'Glasgow could do it with the best of the rest' and to that end the themes had to reflect in some way what was going on elsewhere (nationally and internationally). With that in mind, organisers wanted to be original, but not too original, spectacular without being intimidating, and exciting without frightening. As a result, each of the Glasgow events was 'different' from life outside the grounds, but contained objects and other stimuli that were quite familiar. The gilded palaces contained working reproductions of steam engines, the latest in bread-making machinery (making real bread) and laundries where you could watch sheets being boiled and ironed. Location made the fascination, not the somewhat mundane industrial process. Add 'oddities' like world record sized lumps of coal, and a mercury fountain and you are in business."
Contributions from the Empire: Jamaica, India, Ceylon, Canada, Australia.
Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as official publications may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, occurred minimally, or miss unofficial participation at all. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.
Old Kelvingrove Mansion Museum displayed the Queen's Jubilee presents, reinforcing imperial flavor to the exhibition. Reproduction of 15th century Bishop's Palace that once stood near Glasgow Cathedral was a prime attraction, constructed of canvas on wood on the University side of the river. Inside the castle were exhibits ranging from prehistoric bones to stained glass.
Music was one of the exhibition's major outlays, including a daily programme in the Grand Hall plus a band contest in October that drew forty bands.
The London Times reported that the opening of the Glasgow International Exhibition was attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales on a day of brilliant sunshine. The fair had the largest guarantee fund yet subscribed, total of L300,000, spending L70,000 on buildings.
Closing day of the exhibition had a record 117,901 visitors.
The Doulton Fountain remains, transported to Glasgow Green, as well as the Glasgow City Museum and Art Gallery, which was built from the profits of the exhibition. The Art Gallery would become the centerpiece of the subsequent 1901 fair. The exhibition office at 50 Gray Street is now a private residence.
Those in Charge
Glaswegian architect James Sellars designed the exhibition.
Sources: London Times; Fair News; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Glasgow's Great Exhibitions; Kelvingrove and the 1888 Exhibition International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, Glasgow 1888, Compiled by Stanley K Hunter, Chairman, Exhibition Study Group.
Photo column top: Map of the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888, Original Source Unknown. Courtesy theglasgowstory.com and Pinterest. Middle: Entrance to the exposition, 1888. Original Source Unknown. Courtesy ChinaRyhming.com and Pinterest.
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