100 years since our Great Bazaar was held at the Royal Albert Hall

7 May 2017 09:00

It is the 100th anniversary since our charity, then known as St Dunstan’s, held its Great Bazaar at the Royal Albert Hall.

During the First World War there were many activities held to raise money for the war effort and to help wounded Servicemen and their families. These ranged from village jumble sales to high society functions. The Great Bazaar was probably one of our most ambitious.

Black and white photo of Lady Pearson wife of Blind Veterans UK's Founder Lord Pearson
The event attracted great interest from the public and such was the scale of goods and attractions on display that comments such as “Bond Street at the Royal Albert Hall” and “Like Paris in Miniature” were heard.

At the end of a hectic four days the staggering amount of £20,000 (equivalent to approximately £900,000 today) had been raised to help us assist the increasing number of men blinded in the fierce battles in France, Belgium and other theatres of war.

The Bazaar consisted of 68 stalls, eight of which were presided over by Princesses of the Royal family. These sold items such as toys (this stall was run by Mrs Margaret Lloyd George, wife of the Prime Minister), clothes, sporting items and beauty products. Additionally, there were daily fashion shows, dance recitals, auctions and refreshment sales.

There was also a special stall showcasing over 150 products and articles produced by our blind veterans as part of their rehabilitation and training programmes. Many orders were received, and the workshops at our hostel were kept very busy for weeks after the event.

A leading role in the organisation of the Great Bazaar was played by Lady Ethel Pearson, the wife of our charity’s founder Sir Arthur Pearson. Her skills and personal networks helped to ensure that an extraordinary range of British society figures took part in the event.

H M Queen Alexandra former Patron of Blind Veterans UK
The Bazaar was opened by our then Patron, Queen Alexandra, pictured above in a portrait which she gave to Sir Arthur. It was the first event of this kind that she had attended since the death of her husband King Edward VII in 1910.

At the opening, the National Anthem was sung by the renowned contralto Clara Butt and in the final verse she was accompanied by a choir of 100 of our blind veterans. Clara during her career performed over 100 times at the Royal Albert Hall and was responsible for organising many charity events during the Great War. Later Dame Clara, she was a great supporter of ours and in 1919 she gave a ‘Great Victory’ concert for us, again at the Royal Albert Hall.

Also taking part in our Bazaar were celebrities of the day including Mabel Russell who went from being a Gaiety Girl to become the third woman to be elected as an MP; Irene Vanbrugh, a leading lady of the stage; and actress and singer Lily Elsie who we have previously featured in the Historical Photography Project.

Our thanks go to the Royal Albert Hall for their assistance in researching these images to create this article.

To see more stories from our Historical Photography Project click here or check our Facebook page for our #ThrowbackThursdays.