Franco-British Exhibition, 1908

26 May 1908
End date: 
31 Oct 1908
Event location: 

White City, Shepherds Bush, London.


From the Official Catalogue: ‘The suggestion for a Franco-British Exhibition to celebrate the entente cordiale between the two nations was the idea of Mr. Imre Kiralfy, and was first suggested in April, 1904.’ Following the success of the India Exhibition of 1895, Kiralfy expanded his scope immensely, resulting in a public fair at a 140-acre site in West London, which was visited by about nine million people. The Central Line was specially extended for the exhibition, and a new station created on the Hammersmith line. £300,000 was pledged by guarantors, and negotiations opened with the committee arranging the Olympic Games of 1908, which were to take place on the same site. Twenty palaces and seven exhibition halls were constructed of ‘fire-proof materials.’ The Indian Pavilion was built ‘in the severe style of Mohammedan architecture by the Government of India’ (Official Guide, 46). The ‘Indian Arena’ offered ‘the spectacle of “Our Indian Empire.”’ A replica Ceylonese village was built. Refreshments were provided by, amongst others, the Indian and Ceylon Tea-houses of Lipton and Co.

The Chairman of the Indian Group Committee was Sir William Lee-Warner, who had been political and judicial secretary to the Bombay government in the 1880s, and then, in the 1890s, had represented Bombay in the central legislative council. The Honorary President of the Indian Group was the Earl of Minto, Viceroy and Governor-General of India. Despite the hundreds of people apparently involved in the exhibition as a whole, only two Asian names are listed as members of the Indian Committee (Catalogue, p. xl). They are Saiyid Husain Bilgrami, an Indian politician and member of the All India Muslim League, and Krishna Gobinda Gupta, the seventh Indian member of the Indian Civil Service. A report on the Indian Section gives more details, particularly of ‘Indian Princes, officials, and others who assisted in the organisation of the Indian section’: H. H. the Maharaja of Bikanir; H. H. the Maharaja of Jaipur; H. H. the Maharaja Sindhia of Gwalior; H. H. the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir; and H. H. the Mir of Khairpur.

Some of the South Asians listed as exhibiting are listed as living in London. For a summary list of companies and organizations involved, one can consult the index to the Official Catalogue (pp. 317-8). Entries include: Assam Frontier Tea Company, Calcutta; Central Jail, Vellore; Government of India; H. H. the Maharaja of Mysore; H. H. the Mire of Khairpur; Madras School of Art; and the P. B. Press, Bombay.

A map of the exhibition area shows the Australian Pavilion to have been the largest, in the south-west corner of the site, flanked by the Canadian Pavilion and French Supplied Arts section. Moving north-east to the centre of the site, were the Elite Gardens, surrounded by the Royal Pavilion, the restaurant, and the Imperial Pavilion with the India Palace north of that. To the south-east of the site was the Court of Honour and the Palace Français. To the very north-east of the site, alongside Wood Lane, was the Olympic Stadium. The Official Catalogue notes: ‘Generations will pass away before these games can again be held in Great Britain, and every effort has been made to make this the greatest athletic concourse that has every been assembled’ (p. l). The site is now home to the BBC Television Centre and the large shopping centre, Westfield, for the development of which the last standing Exhibition buildings were demolished.

People involved: 

H. H. the Maharaja of Bikanir (assisted with organization of Indian section), Saiyid Husain Bilgrami (member, Indian Committee), George Nathaniel Curzon (member, British General Committee), Krishna Gobinda Gupta (member, Indian Committee), H. H. the Maharaja Sindhia of Gwalior (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Maharaja of Jaipur (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Mir of Khairpur (assisted with organization of Indian section), Imre Kiralfy (designer of Court of Honour, assisted by his sons - Charles, Albert and Gerald), John Morley (Honorary President, Indian Committee), Gilbert John Elliot Murray Kynynmound, fourth Earl of Minto (Honorary President, Indian Section).

Published works: 

Daily Mail, special edition printed at the Exhibition.

Franco-British Exhibition, London, Shepherds Bush, 1908, Official Catalogue (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited)

Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Official Guide and Description Sommaire de l’Exposition (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited)

Report on the Indian Section of the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908, by the Executive Committee of the Indian Section (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1909)

[Birdseye view of] The Imre Kiralfy new International Exhibition Grounds, Hammersmith, London, W. Drawn by A. Poudoire, Architect, 1904. Held at the British Library, Maps 3560.(34.)


See contemporary newspapers, including Sir Walter Armstrong, ‘Art at the Exhibition’, Guardian, 3 June 1908

Secondary works: 

Brown, F. H. ‘Warner, Sir William Lee (1846–1914)’, rev. Katherine Prior, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004) []

Greenhalgh, Paul, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fair, 1851-1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988)

Greenhalgh, Paul, ‘Art, Politics and Society at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908,’ Art History 8.4 (December 1985), pp. 434-52.

Mackenzie, John M., Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984)

Mackenzie, John M. (ed.), Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1986).

Pes, Javier, ‘Kiralfy , Imre (1845–1919)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004) []


Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Official Guide and Description Sommaire de l’Exposition (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited), pp. 47-8.


On the replica Ceylon village


It is composed of a cluster of gaily coloured houses and huts in the style familiar to tourists who visit Colombo, the Gate of the Far East. The Bazaars are full of life, with their many brown artisans chatting, laughing and quarrelling, but intent all the while upon their handiwork. In the background a huge Pagoda towers over the village, and dark passages lead to the temple in the rocks, accessible only to the priests. Cingalee dancers, musicians, jugglers, and beautiful nautch-girls will entertain the visitors, and many of the mysterious tricks which have hitherto baffled explanation will be performed before the eyes of the astounded onlooker. After dusk a clever scheme of illumination will transform the Ceylon village into a perfect fairyland.

Archive source: 

All original sources are available at the British Library, St Pancras

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