The Midlands Industrial Exhibition goes up in flames as onlookers watch from Trent Bridge.
THE MIDLANDS INDUSTRIAL EXHIBITION
The short-lived but very grand Midlands Industrial Exhibition was the brainchild of two Hungarian-born brothers, Charles and Albert Kiralfy who were well known for staging similar enterprises in America and Europe. They took an initial five-year lease on the site beside Trent Bridge, the aim of the Exhibition being to display products and inventions from all over the world alongside various forms of entertainment for visitors - the promoters declared that they were 'prepared to shock, thrill or soothe the public.' The overall cost of the scheme was £50,000, or about £5 million at early 21st century prices.
Constructed in an eye-catching Mughal (Indian) style, the steel-framed main building had two floors and was named the 'Ivory Palace'. Its construction was swift with two different contractors working from either end, although reputedly there was a problem when they met in the middle as the alignment was discovered to be a few inches awry.
The grounds housed a Japanese tea house, Canadian water chute (nearly 100 feet high and with a 600 foot slope), an American roller coaster, 'Tom Thumb' miniature railway, 'Hampton Court maze', and a 'Fairy River' that took visitors through caverns past walls set with magical scenes and down 'a lane of stalactites a mile long'.
Other entertainments included a photography studio, concert hall, electric theatre and 'The Palace of Distorting Mirrors'.
The Exhibition - described as a 'schoolhouse of all nations' - opened in May 1903 and during its first fortnight the extravaganza attracted 320,000 people with Royalty in the form of Queen Alexandra and the Prince of Wales (later King George V) among the visitors. One of the local newspapers eulogised: 'The new enterprise ... is so American in its novelty, smartness and up-to-date completeness, that one may be pardoned for suggesting, in a phrase very popular over the water, that it is the greatest thing in the way of entertainment that has ever happened in Nottingham'.
Unfortunately, the 'greatest thing' lasted a mere 14 months as on the night of 4 July 1904 an electrical fault in one of the Fairy River caverns caused a fire and while all the visitors were successfully evacuated, the conflagration spread rapidly across the site with flames leaping hundreds of feet into the air and threatening houses in nearby streets. These survived but less fortunate was the pavilion at the adjoining City Ground, home to Nottingham Forest Football Club. This was burnt to the ground with the offices, board room and dressings rooms destroyed.
The disaster brought the venture to an abrupt close. What remained was cleared away and the site was still vacant a decade later.
The above account is derived from the Nottingham Daily Express (28 May 1903), Edwardian Nottingham Volume 2 by Richard Iliffe and Wilfred Baguley, and the Nottingham Post (22 July 2014).