British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium, 23 April 1924

British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium, 23 April 1924
pacific fair cinemas
Image by Archives New Zealand
The 1924 British Empire Exhibition was opened to visitors by King George V on St George’s day, 23 April 1924.

At the time, the British Empire was made up of 58 countries, with all but Gibraltar and Gambia taking part in the exhibition. The exhibition cost £12million and was the largest exhibition ever staged anywhere in the world – it attracted 27 million visitors. Set in the north London suburb of Wembley and spread over 220 acres, this massive undertaking included commercial, technological and artistic displays, national pavilions, an amusement park, restaurants, cinemas and an artificial lake. Essentially an enormous trade fair, it was intended by the organisers to rekindle interest in the declining Empire and to encourage support for government initiatives that promoted closer imperial ties.

The New Zealand pavilion pitched New Zealand as a ‘Great Britain of the Pacific’, claiming to have escaped the worst difficulties that beset the mother country and some of the older Dominions. Almost 8million people visited the New Zealand pavilion, which included stags’ heads and stuffed fish, bush scenes with a waterfall, a model of the Waitomo Caves with imitation glow-worms, and a miniature Rotorua with Geysers and boiling pools. A cinema showed films about New Zealand.

These photographs show the New Zealand pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London, 1924. They form part of the Department of Industries and Commerce record group.

Archives New Zealand reference: AEFN 19106 IC10 1/1

The Maori carved house (Mataatua) in the photo is an ancestral wharenui (meeting house) originally built in Whakatane and has a very interesting history. In 1879, It was shipped overseas by the Crown to exhibitions in both Sydney and Melbourne, then later shipped on to London in 1881. It was later brought back by the NZ government in 1926 and stored in Otago Museum. Ngati Awa, has since had the house given back and it is now restored and standing again in its original home in Whakatane.

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