Thursday 28 December 2017

It’s not cricket! (or, I can’t believe it IS butter!)

Guest post by local historian Philip Grant
Sometimes topical events remind me of stories I have come across in my local history research, and the cricket news from “down under” is what has prompted this article.

The Ashes have been at the centre of one of the great international sporting rivalries since the 1880’s. When the British Empire Exhibition (“BEE”) was held at Wembley in 1924, Australia was involved in another rivalry, with Canada, over which was the top self-governing Dominion in the Empire. Both had seven acre sites for their pavilions, on the south side of the artificial lake which ran across the centre of the BEE site. These were side by side, with Australia to the right of the main route from Wembley Park station to the new Empire Stadium, and Canada to the left.

Both countries set out in their pavilions extensive displays of the mineral wealth, timber and agricultural products that they produced, and were available for export, both to the British market and around the world. One of the recent developments, which made possible their exports of meat and dairy products, was ships with refrigerated holds. The display in Canada’s pavilion for 1924 included a novel way of demonstrating this, with a life-size sculpture in butter of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) in a refrigerated display case.

This exhibit attracted a great deal of attention from visitors to the BEE, and they could even buy a postcard of it. The Prince himself, who was President of the BEE’s organising committee, was impressed by the statue, although he thought that the sculptor had made his legs too fat!

When the BEE re-opened for a second year in 1925, Australia decided that it needed to go one better, with a large scale refrigerated butter sculpture in its own pavilion. Being Australian, they did not follow Canada’s royalist example, but went for a sporting theme instead. The winter of 1924/25 had seen an Ashes tour of Australia by the Marylebone Cricket Club (the official name of the England touring side at that time), which Australia had won by four test matches to one. What better way for the Aussies to celebrate than by presenting visitors to the 1925 BEE with a butter tableau showing the famous England opening batsman, Jack Hobbs, being stumped during one of their victories in Sydney.

Canada had also made a more impressive butter sculpture as part of its refrigerated display for the BEE in 1925. This time it showed the Prince of Wales in his honorary role as Chief Morning Star of the Stony Indian tribe, during one of his visits to their country. You can decide for yourself which of the butter sculptures, Australia or Canada, was the best!

Coming back to the current Ashes series, with Australia again victorious, many England cricket fans will wonder how different the results might have been if Ben Stokes had not been excluded from the side. Even that aspect has a BEE angle to it, as one of the main purposes of the New Zealand pavilion in 1924, as well as to display its produce, was to encourage good working people from Britain to come to their country and help to build its successful economy further. The NZ province which was at the forefront of this effort was Canterbury, whose team Stokes has been playing for, rather than England.

(All of the images used are from the Wembley History Society Collection at Brent Archives)

Philip Grant,
December 2017.

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