The Exhibition's Millionth Visitor

While working on our oral history project about the 1938 Empire Exhibition I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Gardner. Although she could not personally remember the exhibition (she hadn’t been born yet!) Margaret very kindly brought in some items that she thought could be of interest to us. And indeed they were! From a large brown envelope Margaret produced an original copy of the Sunday Post, dated May 15th 1938, barely two weeks after the exhibition had opened, a selection of black and white professional photographs, and a souvenir publication titled Memories of Bellahouston.

Margaret then explained that her aunt, Isabel Duke, had been the millionth visitor to the exhibition. Twenty eight years old at the time, Isabel worked as a hairdresser in Pettigrew & Stephens, a well-known department store on Sauchiehall Street. One of her clients was the wife of the exhibition manager, Captain Sydney Graham, and asked Isabel if she would be the millionth visitor to the exhibition. Margaret said this was a huge honour for her aunt as the exhibition was a massive promotion of Glasgow and a significant event for the city. There was clearly a great deal of excitement surrounding her visit, in the photographs Isabel is surrounded by a large crowd of other visitors and reporters. As Isabel was single at the time, her brother-in-law James A Baker acted as her escort and accompanied her to the event!

Isabel’s experience is mentioned in Memories of Bellahouston:

“I never had dreams as grand,” said Miss Isobel Duke, 35 Caird Avenue, Glasgow, the first “girl in a million.” As she sits with Captain Graham on the autobus her expression bears out her words. Miss Duke was a season ticket holder and her lucky visit was on one of the wettest Saturdays the Ex. experienced. But she was feted in Royal style. “Only one thing spoiled it a little for me,” said Miss Duke. “I had a huge ladder in my stocking.”

Margaret’s mother had a season ticket for the exhibition, along with other members of her family. She married in 1940 and Margaret was born in 1941. Margaret remembers Isabel playing a huge role in her upbringing and said she often talked about her experience at the exhibition. Margaret came across this collection of memorabilia from the exhibition when her parents died and luckily decided to bring it in for us to see.

With no memories of her own, Margaret mentions her husband, who five at the time remembers the laughing sailor that he thought hilarious.

Thank you to Margaret Gardner for showing us her wonderful collection.