Festival of Empire, 1911

12 May 1911
End date: 
01 Oct 1911
Event location: 

Crystal Palace


Taking place at Crystal Palace, sixty years after the Great Exhibition, the Festival of Empire opened with a ‘Grand Opening Concert’ on 12 May 1911. This consisted of an ‘Imperial choir’ of 4500 voices, with music provided by the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Festival of Empire Military Band. The concert included Elgar’s arrangement of ‘God Save the King’ and his ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, as well as a ‘Patriotic Chorus: For Empire and for King’ by Percy E. Fletcher.

A huge 'historical' pageant which consisted of four parts, staged over three days by 15,000 volunteers, ran for four months, and was organized by Frank Lascelles, who was known at the time as ‘the man who staged the Empire’ as he was also responsible for the Coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1911.  The pageant was designed to represent, as the souvenir book claimed, ‘the gradual growth and development of the English nation, as seen in the history of this, the Empire City.’ It was one of the numerous events held to celebrate the coronation of King and Emperor George V. To represent the Indian aspect of empire, the pageant included a re-enactment of the 1877 Delhi Durbar where Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress.

The Festival, by all accounts, was pure imperialist propaganda. The souvenir brochure used a domestic rhetoric to signal the event’s aims: it was ‘a Social Gathering of the British Family’ to encourage the ‘firmer welding of those invisible bonds which hold together the greatest empire the world has ever known’. Members of the India Society, including E. B. Havell and Walter Crane, were involved with the Indian Court of the Festival which was divided into four sections: 1. The History of India and of its inhabitants at different periods; 2. The daily life of the people; 3. The Art of India; 4. Progress in recent times.

Ananda Coomaraswamy contributed an article to the Indian Court guidebook on the new ‘Indian School’ painting, describing works by artists such as Abanindranath Tagore which were on display at the Festival. Walter Crane also designed publicity for the event.

People involved: 

T. W. Arnold, Syed Ameer Ali, Abbas Ali Baig, W. Coldstream, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Walter Crane, Krishna G. Gupta, E. B. Havell, Colonel T. H. Hendley, Christiana Herringham, Frank Lascelles, Earl of Plymouth, Vincent A. Smith, Abanindranath Tagore, Sir Richard Temple

India Society

Published works: 

Festival of Empire: The Pageant of London, May to October, 1911 (London: Bemrose, 1911)

Indian Court. Festival of Empire, 1911: Guide Book and Catalogue (London: Bemrose & Sons Ltd, 1911)

Souvenir of Royal Visit to the Festival of Empire Imperial Exhibition and Pageant of London (London, 1911)


Reports in The Times throughout 1911

Journal of Indian Art and Industry XV.117, Festival of Empire and Imperial Exhibition, 1911, Indian Section. General Editor: Colonel Hendley (London: W. Griggs and Sons, 1913)

Secondary works: 

Hoffenberger, Peter H., An Empire on Display: English, Indian, and Australian Exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

Ryan Deborah S., 'Staging the Imperial City: the Pageant of London, 1911', in F. Driver and D. Gilbert (eds.) Imperial Cities: Landscape, Display and Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), pp. 117-136.

Smith, Vincent A., Indian Painting at the Festival of Empire (Bombay: British India Press, 1911)

Archive source: 

Minute book, Festival of Empire Minute Book, Coll Misc, 459, London School of Economics Archives, London

‘Scrapbook concerning the Pageant of London, 1911 belonging to M.P. Noel’ [Pageant performer], MSL/1971/4510, Special Collection, National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum