Celebrating the Empire: A visit to the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908

Photograph album of an unidentified London family, entitled ‘Sunny Memories’, recording its visits in England, the Chanel Islands and Brittany during 1907-8, including 16 photographs of a visit to the Franco-British Exhibition.


The Franco-British Exhibition of 1908 was mounted jointly by the British and the French governments to celebrate the Entente Cordiale of 1904. It consisted of impressive buildings and ‘villages’ spread over 140 acres in an area near Shepherd’s Bush which was later names the White City after the exhibition’s white-painted constructions. The Senegalese and Irish ‘villages’ were intended by the British to demonstrate the benefits of empire. The exhibition attracted 8 million visitors.


Professional photographers took many photographs of the exhibition, many made into post-cards. The present photographs are rare images of one family’s relationship to some of the Ceylonese, Assuans and Senegalese who were persuaded to participate.

“An Assuan native”


Their titles, content and tone suggest something less than respect for the inhabitants of empire. The family’s visit to the exhibition was little more than a stop-over and possible source of photogenic images which would match such exotica already in the album as a laughing sailor (‘Jack Tar’), ‘the remains of a cowshed’, two elderly men holding four puppies (‘Borzoi Pups’), groups  of ‘American and Chinese Salvationists’ on the streets of London, and six men on a public bench entitles ‘some of the unemployed’.

“The remains of the cow shed.”
“Borzoi pups.”
“A Jolly Tar”
“Some of the unemployed.”
“American & Chinese Salvationists”


The site of the exhibition was used for four more exhibitions before 1914. It was then abandoned until 1937 when it was covered by a new housing estate.

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