3rd May 1938

The Empire Exhibition opens in Glasgow

Glasgow hosted the second Empire Exhibition, 14 years after a similar one was held at Wembley. Focused on 175 acres of pavilions at Bellahouston Park, it ran from May until the end of the year, and was opened by King George VI and Queen Mary at the city’s Ibrox Stadium. It welcomed visitors six days a week, remaining closed on Sundays, and had been visited by almost 13m by the time it closed its gates for the final time.

“A great moment in Scotland’s history”

The Shields Daily News of 3 May covered the opening of the £10m exhibition on its front and back pages. “Cheers resounded among the fanfare of trumpets, salute of 21 guns and roar of RAF planes after the King’s seven minute speech. It was a great moment in Scotland’s history and for the King and his Scottish Queen.” The royal couple spent four hours touring the exhibition which was, he said, “the surest insurance against return of depression to Scotland, and would help it by its bringing together of many nationalities, towards a better understanding among the people of the world.”

Whatever the King might have hoped for, the world was plunged into war the following year, of which there had been ominous portents on the neighbouring front page. The Shields Daily News’ lead was shared with a second story headlined “Hitler Arrives in Italy. Mission From King Greets Him”. Hitler went on to meet with Mussolini “which it is declared will demonstrate to the world the force of the Rome-Berlin axis”.

A third headline sat between the two stories: “War minister wants 53,000 recruits this year”.

Focus on Edinburgh

For the time being, though, the nation’s focus was on events in Glasgow where, in the words of the Aberdeen Press and Journal on opening day, “the streets are full of people. Some have come from distant parts of the Commonwealth. They are of many colours and creeds.”

The following day, the Kirkintilloch Herald described to readers how the opening was so spectacular that “the only parallel in this country in recent years was the Coronation scene in London almost exactly a year ago”.

The various pavilions represented different nations in the British Commonwealth, and were looked down upon by the 300ft tall Empire Tower (also known as the Tait Tower after Thomas Tait, the exhibition’s designer). Three platforms at the top of the tower allowed visitors to take tea while enjoying views as far as the Highlands. This beautiful Art Deco structure was demolished the following summer, as turning it into a permanent structure would have required significant rebuilding.



Other events that occured in May

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.