London Metropolitan Archives - Item Details

EARLS COURT AND OLYMPIA

Date of Creation:

188- - 2016

Reference Code:

LMA/4684

Scope and Content:
  • OVERVIEW:

    This collection consists of records of the shows and events which took place at Earls Court and Olympia exhibition halls and of the companies which ran the sites including memorandum and articles of association, minutes, annual reports and accounts, finance, administration, show files, event show catalogues, agreements and photographs, building plans, publicity, posters and artwork, history research, two films and videos.

    This collection charts the development of the exhibitions industry in the United Kingdom through the records of two of London's largest exhibition centres. Both sites can trace their history back to the nineteenth century, and the events and exhibitions they have hosted chart changing attitudes, interests and culture right up to the present day.

    SHOWS:

    The main records documenting shows, music concerts and other events are: show fixture lists giving calendars on when events took place, show catalogues produced in advance for each show, posters (mainly from 1970s onward), photographs, press material and exhibition manuals giving information to exhibitors.

    These extraordinary series provide wide-ranging sources on almost every activity, interest or industry taking place during the 20th century in the United Kingdom and beyond. They chart the development of long-running shows such as Ideal Home Show, Crufts, The Royal Tournament and the Boat Show. These records are largely produced by third-parties such as the companies and associations which ran the exhibitions, exhibitors and the press. They are therefore subject to third-party copyright.

    The show series can be found at the beginning of the catalogue and are arranged by site: Earls Court (LMA/4684/01) and Olympia (LMA/4684/02). Fixture lists relating to both sites and records of the Corporate Archive which managed and added to these series can be found under LMA/4684/03.

    Please see further details given at each series.

    BUILDINGS:

    The buildings are also well documented through building plans and photographs. There is also artwork created for architectural purposes as well as for specific shows. These are arranged in series by site: Earls Court (LMA/4684/01) and Olympia (LMA/4684/02).

    COMPANIES:

    The exhibition centres functioned under the ownership of many different companies and eventually came together under one business in 1973, becoming Earls Court and Olympia Limited (ECO). The changing company names and proprietorship are reflected in the structure of the catalogue, with administrative records being ordered by company. There were also subsidiaries owned by the main companies, some of which are represented in the archive.
    Records other than those in the main show series are divided by company, and then by record type, into Corporate, Shares, Administrative, Accounting and Financial, Legal, Marketing and Communications, Operations (known as Events Management for some companies), Staff and Employment, Premises and Property, and Histories.

    The nature of material within these categories includes minute books, agreements, photographs, director’s papers, show organisation files, certificates, licences, newsletters, accounts, building administration files, and marketing material.

    For Earls Court, the company listings include: Earls Court Limited - (LMA/4684/EH01 - EH03), E.C. (Holdings) Limited - (LMA/4684/EH01 - EH03) and Earls Court Limited (1955), a subsidiary of E.C. Holdings Limited until November 1962 when it became a private company - (LMA/4684/EL01 - EL05).

    For Olympia, the company listings include: the National Agricultural Hall Company - (LMA/4684/NA01 - NA02), Olympia Limited - LMA/4684/OB01 - OB02), Olympia (1912) Limited - (LMA/4684/OC01 - OC04), Olympia Limited (1929) and Olympia Exhibitions Limited (formerly Douthwaite Properties Limited) - (LMA/4684/DO01 - DO03, LMA/4684/OD01 - OD05 and and Olympia Limited (1999) - LMA/4684/OF02 - OF05).

    Post-merger, the company listings include: Earls Court and Olympia Limited (ECO), run as a subsidiary of Sterling Guarantee Trust (SGT), until SGT merged with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) in 1985 - (LMA/4684/EO01 - EO06) and Earls Court and Olympia Group Limited (EC&O) - (LMA/4684/EOG01 - EOG03 (just Olympia Group Limited from 2014).

    There are also some administrative records for subsidiary or related companies of those listed above, many of which are now dissolved. These series vary significantly in size and some contain very few files:

    Barrett Brothers (London) Limited (LMA/4684/BB01)
    Blenheim Group PLC (LMA/4684/BL01)
    Clarion Events Limited (LMA/4684/CE01 - CE04)
    Earls Court Caterers Limited (LMA/4684/EC01)
    Earls Court and Olympia Catering Company Limited (LMA/4684/EOC01 - EOC03)
    ECANDO Systems Limited (LMA/4684/ES01 - ES02)
    Exhibitions Limited (LMA/4684/EX01 - EX02)
    Femston Limited (LMA/4684/FL01)
    General and Industrial Contractors (LMA/4684/GI01)
    Kensington Property Company Limited (LMA/4684/KP01 - KP03)
    Olympia Conferences Limited (LMA/4684/OCL01)
    Olympia (Catering) Limited (LMA/4684/OLC01)
    Opex Exhibition Services Limited (LMA/4684/OP01 - OP02)
    P & O Developments Limited (LMA/4684/PD01)
    Showprops Limited - (LMA/4684/SP01 - SP03)
    Sterling Security Services Limited (LMA/4684/SS01 - SS02)
    Sterling Guarantee Trust (LMA/4684/ST01)

    For further information on each of these companies, please see their administrative histories on the catalogue.

    STAFF

    There are no comprehensive series which document staff who worked for Earls Court and Olympia. Therefore individual staff members cannot be easily traced. However, there are photographs mainly of senior members of staff including managing directors and chairmen, administrative files on staff matters, some records on individual staff pensions, employee handbooks and newsletters.

    WARTIME AND OTHER HALL CLOSURES

    Earls Court was closed for exhibitions between 1919 and 1937, when it was taken over by the London General Omnibus Company (see (ACC/1297/LGOC) after the First World War. A new exhibition centre was built and opened in 1937. Therefore, there are few records relating to Earls Court during this period. Both exhibition centres were also requisitioned during the First and Second World Wars and as a result, no shows were held for the duration of both conflicts. Consequently, there are no show related records in the collection between 1915 - 1919 and 1940 - 1946. However, some material does exist relating to both exhibition centres and their functions during the war including circulars, reports and meeting minutes under the following reference codes: LMA/4684/02/01/003, LMA/4684/02/13/015, LMA/4684/02/13/016, LMA/4684/EH03/01/009, LMA/4684/EH03/01/011, LMA/4684/EOG02/11/02/002, LMA/4684/EOG02/11/01/007, LMA/4684/OD01/02/013 and LMA/4684/OD02/01/001.

    ACCESS

    Some files contain personal information which is subject to restriction under Data Protection legislation. Administrative files under 30 years are subject to access by permission only of the depositors. To seek permission please contact LMA for further details.

    CATALOGUING PROJECT

    The archive was catalogued as a project jointly funded by Capital and Counties Properties PLC and Olympia Management Services Limited between 2015-2019.

    DEPOSITOR DISCLAIMER:
    Where the copyright owner to the records is not known to the depositor, the depositor in unable to make any certifications in relation to such rights.
Extent: 216 linear metres
Classification: BUSINESSES
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:
    Collection

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Administrative History:
  • Olympia:

    The National Agricultural Hall Company was formed in May 1884 and built the National Agricultural Hall in Kensington which was named 'Olympia'. The foundation stone was laid 21 July 1885 by the company's president the Earl of Zetland and the building first opened on 27 December 1886. The Hall was known fully as Olympia in March 1893, following its purchase by Olympia Limited. By 1900 had changed hands seven times, as dramatic and expensive shows and exhibitions, such as Imre Kiralfy’s ‘Venice in London’, and its follow ups ‘Constantinople’ and ‘The Orient’, easily tipped management companies into liquidation.

    Following this there was a move from large spectacles to more regular income by introducing more flexible seating to encourage trade and motor shows, wrestling featuring Hackenschmidt one of its biggest stars, boxing (first held in 1911; at the time boxing was controversial and its arrival at the venue nearly costed Olympia their licence in the process), equestrian events, and the Ideal Home Exhibition (first held in 1908).

    In 1911/1912 Charles Cochran’s ‘The Miracle’, a large scale production with 1,000 performers and 500 choristers, lost nearly £20,000 and caused the company to fold. Olympia (1912) Limited was formed to take over the running of Olympia.

    During the First World War Olympia was initially requisitioned as a temporary civil prison camp for German nationals and other potentially hostile aliens. From 1915 it became an Army clothing store. It was de-requisitioned in spring 1919. The halls changed hands again in 1929 to become Olympia Limited, and the Empire Hall opened in 1930.
    Between 1940 and 1946 Olympia was requisitioned for war service. Olympia came under government control on 10 January 1940 as Civilian Internment Camp No. 14. During the Dunkirk evacuation it was General Charles de Gaulle’s assembly point for what became the Free French Army. The Royal Army Service Corps then took the halls over as a transport depot until October 1944 when they became military clothing stores, and finally a demobilisation centre. Olympia was derequisitioned in June 1946.

    Earls Court:

    Earls Court held its first exhibition The American Exhibition in 1887- which included Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and proved hugely popular.
    Exhibitions which followed included spectacles by Imre Kiralfy such as the the 1896 ‘Indian Spectacle’, ‘The Victorian Era Exhibition’ in 1897, ‘The Military Exhibition’ in 1901, and the ‘International Fire Exhibition’ in 1903
    After Kiralfy left Earls Court in 1906 to build White City, the showground fell into decline and was sold to Earls Court Limited in 1910.
    During the First World War, Earls Court was requisitioned as a reception and processing centre, primarily for Belgian Refugees. The site was closed in 1919 and taken over by the London General Omnibus Company.
    In 1935, Earls Court Limited formed to regenerate Earls Court in order to house the British Industries Fair and dominate Olympia. A new exhibition centre was built and opened in 1937. The company went into receivership in 1939.
    Earls Court was requisitioned during the Second World War for the manufacture and repair of blimps. The Empress Hall was taken over by Ministry for Aircraft Production. The site was derequisitioned in 1946.
    A new company called Earls Court Limited took control of the site in 1955, originally as a subsidiary of E.C. (Holdings) Limited until 1 November 1962 when it became a Public Company.

    Post-Merger

    Property tycoon Jeffrey Sterling bought Earls Court in 1971 and Olympia in 1973, and merged them to create Earls Court and Olympia Limited. This company was run as a subsidiary of Sterling Guarantee Trust (SGT), until SGT merged with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) in 1985.
    In 1999 the company was sold to Candover (60%) and The Morris Family (25%). A new company called Earls Court & Olympia Group Limited was formed led by Chief Executive Andrew Morris.

    In 2004 the majority stake in Earls Court and Olympia Group Limited was purchased by St. James Capital Limited. In 2007 50% of the shares were sold to Liberty International PLC and 50% to Matterhorn Capital Limited. Liberty International PLC acquired the remaining 50% of shares in 2010 through subsidiary Capital and Counties Properties PLC, which became the sole owner following its demerger from Liberty International PLC later that year.
    Earls Court and Olympia Group Limited was renamed Olympia Management Services Limited following the closure and demolition of Earls Court in 2014. Olympia, run by Olympia Limited was sold by Capital and Counties Properties PLC in 2017 to a partnership of German investment companies.

    Specific histories for individual companies are given in this catalogue.

    For further information on the history of Earls Court and Olympia, please see 'Earls Court and Olympia: from Buffalo Bill to the 'Brits'' by Glanfield, John, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2003, copies of which can be found in LMA Library (43.5 (EAR)) and at Guildhall Library (L 67:1) and LMA/4684/EOG02/11/03/001. With background research in the archive under series reference LMA/4684/EOG02/11.

    Shows:

    Royal Naval and Military Tournament (1906 - 1999)

    The first Royal Tournament began on 22 June 1880 at the Agricultural Hall in Islington. Its original title was ‘The Grand Military Tournament and Assault-at-Arms.’ The event was supported by Prince George, Duke of Cambridge who was Commander-in-Chief of the Regular Army at the time. It involved several hand-to-hand competitions between two individuals with swords, lances or bayonets, as well as gymnastics, tent-pegging and the ‘Musical Ride’ by the Life Guards.

    By 1884, a full-time secretary had been appointed and permanent offices established at Queen Anne’s Gate in Westminster. The Duke of Cambridge became President of the Tournament in the same year and Queen Victoria also became Patron. Consequently, the show’s title was amended to ‘The Royal Military Tournament’.

    By 1906, it had become too large for the Agricultural Hall and it moved to Olympia, being renamed ‘The Royal Naval and Military Tournament’. Its first show here was held on 17 May 1906. Naval groups began to feature frequently at the show from 1907 and the Inter-Port Field Gun Competitions first took place in the same year, becoming the centrepiece of the Tournament in later years.

    The 1919 Tournament featured the new Machine Gun Corps and Tank Corps as well as seeing the introduction of the Royal Air Force. The Tournament closed on 3 June 1939 in the lead up to the Second World War and the fifty-seventh Royal Tournament did not start again until 12 June 1947.

    By 1950, the Tournament had again outgrown itself and it moved to Earls Court on 7 June for its sixtieth performance. Regular features included the Royal Navy’s Inter-Port Field Gun Competition, drills and parades by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery and massed band displays.

    The show saw a rapid decline in attendance in the 1970s as well as increasing running costs. An agreement was made with Earls Court and Olympia Limited to become business partners and work on a percentage of the proceeds as opposed to taking a rental figure. In addition, the Tournament accepted sponsorship from commercial companies, producing much needed benefits in publicity. Major Michael Parker MBE was appointed as producer to oversee the overall production of the show. By 1975, these changes had begun to result in success and the figures of both attendance and profits rose again.

    The event came to an end in 1999, having suffered financial losses in addition to a lack of available military personnel to run it. The shows length had already been cut from three to two weeks in 1992 following a shortage of staff. This led to falls in profit and this, combined with a general cut in military spending following the government’s Strategic Defence Review, the Tournament had its final night on 2 August 1999.

    Motor Show (1905 - 1976), Motorfair (1977 - 2000)

    In 1902 it was decided by the newly established Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) that a large-scale, industry-supported motor show was needed to bring together Britain’s growing car trade. The first of its kind was held at Crystal Palace in January 1903.

    However, in the meantime, Olympia’s managing director Frederick Payne had been making a decisive effort to make the site suitable for the growing trade exhibition industry, ripping out the arena seating and installing a large new concrete floor. This, alongside the increasing popularity of Olympia with other trade exhibitions, persuaded the SMMT to move their show here. The Motor Show had its first event at Olympia in 1905. By 1907 the SMMT were experimenting with boats and aeroplanes at their exhibition.

    Aside from 1914 - 1919, the Motor Show remained at annual fixture at Olympia until 1936. By this time the show had expanded, and Olympia lost out to the newly built Earls Court. The first Earls Court Motor Show opened on 14 October 1937 and included private motor cars, marine engines, caravans, garage equipment, accessories and tyres. The show was a great success for the following years although exhibitions between 1939 and 1947 were cancelled whilst Earls Court was requisitioned by the War Office.

    The next Motor Show came in 1948, ten years since its last appearance. The 1960s saw ongoing success despite plummeting British car exports to the USA, and attendance figures increased throughout the decade. The show was also forced to raise its admission price in the same year due to record-breaking numbers of people attending.

    The 1970s was a difficult decade for the Motor Show and it saw frequent strikes within the industry and unstable imports. Earls Court also had strong competition from the new National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, which was closer to the industrial heartlands of the Midlands and much cheaper than London exhibition venues. In addition, a fuel crisis had occurred due to the West’s support of Israel during its conflict with Egypt and Syria in 1973 and strikes in the same year lead to a power cut during the annual show press day. Petrol prices rocketed, and the exhibitions future seemed increasingly negative. The 1976 show would be the last at Earls Court and the SMMT moved the show to the National Exhibition Centre in 1978.

    Motorfair

    However, the Daily Express, who had been involved with the show since its beginnings, decided a London motor show must continue in some form and developed the new Motorfair to start in October 1977. The show was different and more spectacular, with a giant racing car track, contestants in vibrant costumes and a 460ft, 6-ton road winding its way upwards to the roof of a replica of Monaco’s Hotel de Paris and Casino. Motorfair did not return until 1981, and then again bi-annually from 1983, generally considered to be a smaller substitute for the NEC show. It continued successfully in to the 1990s, moving to Earls Court 2 in 1991 and being renamed the London Motor Show in 1993.

    The show ended abruptly in 2001 when event organisers Clarion cancelled just weeks before it was due to open. Economic difficulties and defections from Ford, MG Rover and Volkswagen were given as reasons for this unexpected decision. The 2000 event was the last car show at Earls Court.

    International Horse Show (1907 - 1939; 1972 - present)
    (1947 - 1972 held at White City; from 1972 known as ‘Olympia - The London International Horse Show’)

    Horses first came to Olympia for the Great London Horse Show of May 1887, being one of the first ever events since the opening of the site in late 1886. This show began a long association between Olympia and Horse Shows. It was organised by Mr Dames, formerly organiser of the Bath Horse Show and was the first great horse show of the English Horse Society.

    Following this was the Great Horse Show of the English Horse Society in May 1889, under the same organisation. The event was the first of what was intended to be an annual event and exhibitors included some of the best-known breeders and owners of the time such as the Duke of Marlborough, Earl of Londesborough and Mr. Burdett-Coutts.
    The first official International Horse Show was held at Olympia in June 1907, following the popularity of similar events previously. The idea came from Reginald Gardiner Heaton, a horse breeder from Cambridgeshire who was inspired by such shows in New York, Paris and Brussels. He formed the International Horse Show Limited Company and acted as director (with the Earl of Lonsdale, President of the National Sporting Club of Britain as President), as well as being Managing Director of Olympia Limited at the time. In the arena, horses, coaches and the expertise of their drivers were judged by a panel of judges and riders and horses tackled the ‘jumping course’ consisting of rails, sleepers, picket fences, walls, gates and even a large turf bank.

    The show ran annually until the First World War and Heaton remained Director for over 25 years. It suffered from economic instability following the First World War as horses became more widely replaced by the combustion engine.

    In 1947 the show was resurrected following an 8-year cancellation due to the Second World War, but it was held at White City until 1972. It finally returned to Olympia as ‘Olympia - The London International Horse Show’ in 1973, under the direction of Heaton and Raymond Brooks-Ward.

    Since 1973, the show has been an annual feature in Olympia’s event calendar and continues to draw in large crowds today. Features over the years have included the dressage grand prix, freestyle to music and show jumping. The event’s title remains the same as it did in 1973 and recent events have seen 400 horses perform over a period of seven days.

    Ideal Home (1908 - present)

    The Ideal Home Show came about in a time of developments in mass production and improving living standards for many. Despite just 10% of people owning their own homes in the UK at the time, there was a growing group of more affluent people and it was for this market that the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition launched in 1908. It was opened by the Lord Mayor of London on 9 October and divided in to four areas: home equipment, the garden, “baby land” and arts and crafts.

    Ideal Home was suspended during the war years but returned in 1920. Its first post-war show focused on the critical need for decent housing and homes, something that the conflict had brought to the forefront of social reform.
    Over the years the show saw the birth of many new and exciting products, including the vacuum cleaner, the refrigerator and the washing machine. This trend for displaying new, innovative and labour-saving devices continued in to the 1920s and 1930s.

    The Second World War meant that the Ideal Home Exhibition was suspended again between 1940 and 1946. The show returned in 1947 which a strong focus on Rebuilding post-war Britain following the devasting air-raids of the war years. The exhibition continued to grow in popularity into the 1950s, with the decade seeing the highest attendance yet since its opening in 1908.

    The Ideal Home Show moved to Earls Court Exhibition Centre in 1979. It continued its widescale success in to the 1990s and 2000s when further new technologies were accompanied by a new shopping experience which was developed with the idea of having everything needed for the home in one place. The show presented extravagant displays, making the most of the Earls Court pool in 1996 to feature the world’s biggest bathroom with a sink the height of the exhibition centre itself and a bath housing full sized canal barges.

    Over the years, Ideal Home has been visited by many famous people, including the Royal family and politicians. HRH Queen Elizabeth II and her sister HRH Princess Margaret attended the exhibition many times, as well as the Queen Mother. Margaret Thatcher visited the show in the 1980s as did John Major during the 1990s.

    Ideal Home celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008 and continues to be an incredibly successful event to this day. It returned to Olympia after the closing of Earls Court in 2014, and its last show in 2018 saw an attendance of over 220,000 people across 17 days.

    Bertram Mills Circus (1920 - 1967)

    The Bertram Mills Circus had its first season at Olympia in the Christmas period of 1920/21.

    Bertram Wagstaff Mills had first worked for his father’s coaching business, a trade that led him to exhibiting coaches at major horse shows across Europe during the late 1800s. The popularity of the motor car was leading to a decline in the coaching industry and he began to look for other business opportunities. On attending the Great Royal Victory Circus and Fun Fair, Mills was inspired and it is said that following a £100 wager from Sir Gilbert Greenall he agreed to put on his own circus at Olympia the following year.

    In 1920, he signed an agreement with Olympia (1912) Limited for a Christmas circus between 17 December 1920 and 24 January 1921. The show went ahead as planned and included performing horses, lions, sea lions, elephants and dogs as well as Japanese jugglers and clowns.

    The circus continued along the same lines for the next 40 years, being a popular Christmas activity for many. During this period the show saw bears, trapeze artists, chimpanzees riding bicycles, tigers, acrobats, skaters, the famous Coco the clown and his troupe and many other spectacular displays.

    Bertram Mills died in 1938 and his sons Cyril and Bernard continued their fathers work. The show was still successful in to the early 1960s, but in its 1962/63 and 1963/64 seasons it suffered pre-tax losses and in 1964/65, just a small profit was made. In December 1965, the circus was temporarily saved by Maxwell Joseph, a London financier, who for a cost of £145, 000 controlled 69.2% of its issued capital.

    This proved not enough to save the show long term and it had become impossible to meet the payments for the lease, which at the time was £500 a day. Eventually its spot was replaced by an exhibition for Hotels and Catering and in 1966/67 Olympia saw the fortieth and final Bertram Mills Circus, running from 23 Dec 1966 - 21 Jan 1967.

    The show maintained its extravagance to the end, and the final show saw clowns with flaming swords and explosives incorporated in their acts, dramatic high wire displays and performances by chimpanzees, horses and elephants. In its almost 50-year run, the Bertram Mills Circus hosted around 20 million people and many travelled from across the world to see it.

    The Smithfield Show (1949 - 2004)

    The Smithfield Show first began in December 1799 and had its original home at Wooton’s Livery Stables in Dolphin Yard, close to the Smithfield Meat Market. The Royal Smithfield Club had been formed in 1798, (first known as the Smithfield Cattle and Sheep Society) after a meeting at Smithfield Market, with Francis, the fifth Duke of Bedford as President. It wanted to focus on the importance of the early maturity of animals for the meat trade and to improve the quality of animals. The prize money in 1799 totalled £52, with pigs being added to the show in 1800 and carcasses in 1895.

    It moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington in 1862, which had been purpose built for the event. The show faced a series of financial difficulties and depressions, particularly in the 1880s and 1930s. Attendance at these times fell as low as 17, 000, contrasting with previous years when the total had hit up to 134, 000. Despite this, The Royal Smithfield Show remained at the Agricultural Hall until 1938 when events ceased until after the Second World War.

    When it returned in 1949, the Smithfield moved to Earls Court. To improve its fortunes, it had been decided to merge with the Agricultural Engineers’ Association and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, bringing in a new focus on farming machinery and manufacture. This alliance meant that the event became the premier exhibition of both the animal and machinery sectors of the industry.

    In the years following the war, the show became so popular that exhibitors were restricted to just one entry each per class. Many demonstrations were given on methods of production, veterinary discoveries and other practical subjects.

    However, in 1993 a decision was made by the Agricultural Engineers Association to only take part in the Smithfield Show in alternate years, a result of the organisation of other shows across Europe. Wanting to remain within the annual tradition of exhibits that the show had upheld since its formation, the Smithfield Club co-operated with Earls Court and Olympia Limited in 1995 to hold Smithfield FarmTech at their newly built extension, Earls Court 2.

    Other joint shows followed in alternating years but ongoing depressions in the livestock industry proved difficult. Following the 2004 event it was announced that the Smithfield Show had been cancelled, with costs for exhibiting in London being far too high for companies to manage and these increasing show charges conflicting with a huge decline in purchases. The last Smithfield Show was held between the 2 - 5 December 2004.

    The Boat Show (1955 - 2003)

    The Boat Show first began at Olympia in 1955 and was held between 30 December 1955 and 8 January 1956. It was sponsored by the Daily Express and organised by the Ship and Boat Builder’s National Federation. It was the first show London had seen in over 30 years to be dedicated specifically to boats and nautical equipment and the first ever of its kind to be held on such a large scale.

    The first show featured over sixty boats, from small canoes to ocean cruisers. This included the last of the old Royal Barges which had been built by William III and lent to the show by the Royal Maritime Museum. Other features included yachts, sailing dinghies and motorboats.

    The event continued at Olympia for the next four years, during which further innovations such as the ‘floating caravan’, mobile houseboats, the world’s fastest catamaran and a Boating Advice Bureau were presented. By its fourth show, there were over 300 different types of craft being displayed by nearly 250 exhibitors. Shortly after this, The Boat Show outgrew Olympia and moved to Earls Court where the boats could float on the huge 1, 800 sq. metre pool inside the hall. The first show at its new location in 1960 featured the creation of a West Country fishing village as its centrepiece.

    The show continued to grow and by 2000, it was beginning to become too large for its home at Earls Court. Exhibitors desired more space to display their products and many were unable to get a place at the show at all. In 2003 it was decided that it would move to the larger ExCel centre the following year, coinciding with its 50th anniversary.

    The first show at ExCel ran between 8 and 18 January 2004, and incorporated a variety of new aspects including windsurfing, kayaking and paddle boarding.
Copyright: Depositor
Source of Acquisition:
  • B14/167
  • B14/185
  • B15/147
  • These deposits were formerly held at Earls Court Exhibition Hall including the company's Archive store. They were deposited by Olympia Management Services Limited in 2014-2015. As of 2016 the collection is owned by the former parent company Capital and Counties Properties PLC.
  • The records were transferred to LMA in 2014 following the closure of Earls Court where the archives had previously been held.
    A further item LMA/4684/01/02/1973/019 was donated by a private individual in 2018:
  • B18/005
  • In 2018 additional records were transferred from Olympia which are deposited by owner Olympia Management Services Limited, and are not owned by Capital and Counties Properties PLC:
  • B18/051
  • B18/127
  • Further records were donated in 2019:
  • B19/017
  • B19/041
Access Restrictions: These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 2018
Arrangement: The records of the Earls Court and Olympia Collection reflect the organisation of all of the companies and subsidiaries of the two venues. Records are divided by company, and then by record type, into Corporate, Shares, Administrative, Accounting and Financial, Legal, Marketing and Communications, Operations (known as Events Management for some companies), Staff and Employment, Premises and Property, and Histories.
There are also subfonds for each site dedicated to the shows they have put on. These subfonds contain the show catalogues and photographs of the shows chronologically arranged by year.
Related Material: LMA: ACC/3527 J Lyons and Company Limited, caterers; ACC/1297/ECGL Earls Court Grounds Limited 1914-1934 minutes; LCC/AR/TH/02; LCC received plans of Earls Court Exhibition for licensing events 1892-1924; LCC/MIN/10840-42 London Exhibition Buildings presented papers 1888-1909; MA/C/L/1886/059 America Exhibition, Earls Court; SC/PHL/CL/02 George W F Ellis Collection.
Berkshire Record Office: D/EG1 Lord Glyn, Chair of Earls Court financial, correspondence 1935-1947
Kensington and Chelsea: programmes etc (Local Studies Earl's Court folios) (http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/vmhistory/general/vm_hs_p13.asp)
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture at Middlesex University holds further archive material relating to the Ideal Home Show. Another major exhibition centre in London was the Royal Agricultural Hall, which saw the first Smithfield Show. The records of the Royal Agricultural Hall Company Limited (1861-1999) are held by Islington Local History Centre (collection reference: S/RAH). The site in Islington later became the Business Design Centre Museum of London holds a wooden model of the Great Wheel which was installed for the 1895 Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court. Wheel remained a visitor attraction until it was taken down in 1906.
Appraisal: These records have been appraised and duplicates were not retained. Event Management and Building Departments' show files were appraised file by file. For further details please see specific series descriptions.
Publication Notes:

'Earls Court Motor Show: An Illustrated History' by Russell Hayes, Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2016 [available in the LMA Library]

'Happy 100th Birthday Ideal Home Show' Souvenir Centenary Guide, published by dmg world media, Middlesex, 2008. [consigned to LMA library, July 2018]. Also a copy under LMA/4684/01/02/2008/008.