The Franco British Exhibition

Uxbridge Road Entrance Arch to the Franco British Exhibition

I recently purchased a newly published book entitled ‘Shepherd’s Bush behind the Scenes’ by Hermione Cameron. It’s full of fascinating old photos of Shepherds Bush and has a section on the Franco British Exhibition. One image caught my eye which is similar to the following postcard I have in my own collection. 

The arch in 1908

The arch in 1908

Looking at the photo reminded me of the last years of the arch before it was demolished.

In 1999 we heard the news that the development of a massive White City shopping centre was going to go ahead. The developers Chelsfield produced an artist’s impression of the shopping centre and the arch was to be part of the main entrance from Shepherds Bush Green.

As the final plans for Westfield were released the arch was no longer to be seen.  Because the highly ornate decorations had long since gone it was not actually a listed building. And although it had stood for almost 100 years the argument was that it was only ever intended to be a temporary structure. So despite strong opposition the arch was demolished.

Arch Before Demolition

The arch prior to demolition

The arch was in fact the entrance to a series of seven exhibition halls that stretched north west to the main exhibition site that occupied the area of the White City Estate and surrounds.

You can see in the following photo that halls were actually raised 30 foot (just over 9 metres) off the ground and were supported by ‘H’ shaped iron stanchions.

Exterior of the first exhibition hall after entrance arch

Exterior of the first exhibition hall after entrance arch

Long after the last exhibition was held five of the halls remained and during the Second World War were used by the War Department.  Later they were taken over by the City Display Organisation who produced TV and film scenery. Later some of the halls were turned into offices.

One hall accessed in Sterne Street became an indoor tennis club called the Vanderbilt Racquet Club. It became famous when Princess Diana became a member. In 1988 she actually played against professional tennis star Steffi Graf at the club.

Before the construction of Westfield buses terminated just off of Shepherds Bush Green in Caxton Road. One day when I was getting off a 207 bus Princess Diana stopped her car to let me cross the road, before she turned into Sterne Street on her way to play tennis.

Vanderbilt Racquet Club entrance

Vanderbilt Racquet Club entrance between the white pillars

Because of the security surrounding the Vanderbilt Raquet Club I was never able to see inside. However, I did approach the manager of the Paint-balling company who were occupying the first hall and the old office area behind the arch.

Luckily the manager was very interested in the history of the site and was willing to give me a complete tour.  I was able to photograph the very dilapidated upper gallery of the hall. You can see the original columns and glass roof. You can also see macabre mock gravestones that had been created for the paint-balling arena.

Interior of the first exhibition hall

Interior of the first exhibition hall

I was also able to go up a modern spiral staircase to the area behind the arch. You can see in the photo that the area had an eclectic mix of furniture, including a plastic garden chair, cafeteria tables and chairs, upholstered seating and a domestic wooden dining table

Upper floor of the arch

Upper floor of the arch

Unlike the halls the arch actually had a basement. It was a very dark cavernous area with rusting pipes, old hanging electric cables and bricked up doorways. With the aid of a little lighting and the flash on my camera I was able to take the following photo.

Basement area

Basement area

Finally, before completing my tour he showed me a staircase that led nowhere. My guess is that it originally went up into the next hall, but maybe it was blocked off when the Vanderbilt Raquet Club was built.

Blocked off stairway

Blocked off stairway

by Peter Trott 

Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies & Archives Volunteer.
Also ex-employee of Fulham Palace

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3 Responses to The Franco British Exhibition

  1. Francis Serjeant says:

    Thank you Peter for the tour of the sheds.

  2. Many thanks for all the help I received! Hopefully the book is a celebration of life in Shepherd’s Bush a hundred years ago. I really enjoyed your feature! It is fascinating to see what happened after the Exhibiton.

  3. stanmorden says:

    Really great article. My grandparents lived in Shepherds Bush, and I was aware of the Franco British Exhibition, and the history of the White City area, but I had no idea that the entrance way and exhibition halls had lasted all the way until the end of the 20th century. I must have walked past that arch 100s of times with my family without any idea that that’s what it originally was. A strange feeling to have been so close to history without ever realizing it.

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