Battersea, the Festival of Britain and the Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan at the Festival of Britain 1951

The Ku Klux Klan at the Festival of Britain 1951

During some research I was doing about an upcoming post about the sad and neglected Battersea Power Station I came across these two strange pictures from 1951. The photographs are from the Life magazine collection.

The notes accompanying the photographs state only that they portray the Ku Klux Klan in a torch-lit procession at the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea, and that they were ‘celebrating’ the Festival of Britain. Both the photos are dated 8th October 1951.

Does anyone know about this event? I’m sure Britain was a relatively innocent place as far as racial matters were concerned back in 1951, but the Ku Klux Klan! In Battersea park! How did this come about? I’d love to know more information.

The torch-lit procession, 8th October 1951

The torch-lit procession, 8th October 1951

The photographs can be found here

Steel Pulse – Ku Klux Klan


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12 Responses to “Battersea, the Festival of Britain and the Ku Klux Klan”

  1. bec says:

    this looks so creepy, i never knew of any of this kind of activity in britain.

  2. ally says:

    bloody hell. bloody fucking hell. i’m staggered. well i never did.
    and there was me thinking finding a festival of britain plaque on a bus shelter in newbury park was impressive.


  3. poohugh says:

    Let’s not be too surprised: see this article

    You may also like to find the crappest reason for them being there in this link There were no KKK chapters in the UK in 1951/ever (other than local nuts in Wales

  4. number8 says:

    Just heard about your site on Robert Elms on bbc london.

    Wow. im shocked. I know there was obvious racism around in the UK up until the 80′s but never knew about the KKK being here !
    Would love to know more …

    poohugh: The film Days of Glory deals with a similar issue too. So much for taking heed of the lessons of WWII and defeating the ‘real’ racists huh.

  5. This is currently (Wednesday 12.30) being discussed on BBC London’s excellent Robert Elms show. Interesting listening! btw…that’s how I’ve discovered this excellent blog.

  6. Peter Watts says:

    Hi there

    We featured this picture in Time Out a few years ago and requested information. Some correspondents claimed the white robes were for a Spanish religious order, but apparently it was actually a fancy dress parade.

    George Simner, of the Festival of Britain Society, sent me a clipping from the Mirror dated October 6, 1951. It is a photo with a caption that reports: ‘It was masquarade night at the Festival Pleasure Gardens – the first of five carnival evenings. Following the band came weird procession of giants, dwarves, clowns, stilt-walkers and Ku Klux Klanners. Children took full advantage of the opportunity to get into the Gardens free by wearing fancy dress.’

    The Mirror’s picture also showed a group of people ‘blacked up’ like the black and white minstrels.

    According to Lee Jackson at Victorian London free admission to the Friday night fireworks display was offered to anybody in fancy dress.

  7. Preston says:

    Yikes! I had no idea the KKK was in Britain too. I thought it was an American group. But then hatred knows no boundaries, eh?

  8. Thisainthip says:

    These guys look more like spanish “nazarenos”, members of catholic fraternities who parade during the Holy Week processions (or people disguised as them). They usually carry candles, not burning crosses. Nothing to do with racial issues. I don’t see any KKK emblems around, anyway. Probably the Klansmen were inspired by the looks of these guys. More at:
    By the way, I really enjoyed this blog. Congratulations.

  9. Alexander says:

    I agree with the last message, I think they are dressed as the catholic holy week “nazarenos” and it has been misinterpreted as the KKK.

  10. Bill Luther says:

    While on my honeymoon in Malta a few years ago I saw a photo of similarly attired Maltese in the 1930′s or 1940′s which leads me to suspect they are aligned with a Spanish style Catholic procession/feast as mentioned in other comments. The headgear are way more conical, which as an American I’m way too familar with. Also absent from their garb are the Klan’s cross which is always worn above the heart.

  11. james says:

    It’s fancy dress of Nazarenos, if you look closely you can see that the hats are made of paper or card. You can also see that the eye holes have ripped on the first one.The robes are just white sheets, because you can see their sleeves. Quite effective though, very Blue Peter.

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