Alexandra Palace in London
Alexandra Palace is a building in North London, England. It stands in Alexandra Park, in an area between Hornsey, Muswell Hill and Wood Green. It was built in 1873 as a public centre of recreation, education and entertainment and as North London's counterpart to the Crystal Palace in South London.
Designed to be "The People’s Palace" and later nicknamed "Ally Pally" (allegedly by Gracie Fields), in 1936 it became the headquarters of the world's first regular public "high-definition" television service, operated by the BBC. The Alexandra Palace television station was located on the site and its iconic radio tower is still in use. The original Studios A and B still survive in the south-east wing with their producers' galleries and are currently used for exhibiting original historical television equipment. Occasional demonstrations on the original 405-line VHF standard may also be transmitted from the tower in future. The original Victorian theatre with its stage machinery also survives. The theatre and stage structure is on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk register. The palace became a Grade II listed building in 1996, at the instigation of Hornsey Historical Society (against the opposition of trustee Haringey London Borough Council); an application was made in 2007 by the Society and the BBC to upgrade its listing from its current Grade II.
A planned commercial development of the building into a mixed leisure complex including hotel, replacement ice rink, cinema, bowling alley and exhibition centre encountered opposition from public groups and was blocked in the High Court in October 2007. As of 2010, the Great Hall and West Hall are mostly used as an exhibition centre, music venue and conference centre operated by the trading arm of the charitable trust that owns the building and park on behalf of the public. There is also an ice-skating rink and Palm Court open to the public.
The Great Northern Palace Company had been established by 1860 but was initially unable to raise financing. Alexandra Park was opened to the public on 23 July 1863. Originally the new building was to be named "The Palace of the People"; it was then decided the park and Palace should commemorate the new Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark, who had married Prince Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales, four months earlier. However the building retained "Palace of the People" or "People's Palace" as an alternative name. In September 1865 construction of the palace commenced, but to a design different from the glass structure initially proposed by architect Owen Jones.
The palace covers some 7.5 acre. In 1871 work started on a railway line to connect the site to Highgate Station. Work on both the railway and the palace was completed in 1873 and, on 24 May of that year Alexandra Palace and Park was opened. The palace was built by Lucas Brothers, who also built the Royal Albert Hall at around the same time. Sims Reeves sang on the opening day before an audience of 102,000. However, only sixteen days later a fire destroyed the palace, killing three members of staff. Only the outer walls survived. In this fire a loan Exhibition of a Collection of English Pottery and Porcelain, comprising some 4,700 items of historic and intrinsic value, was destroyed.
With typical Victorian vigour, the palace was quickly rebuilt and it reopened on 1 May 1875. The new palace contained a concert hall, art galleries, a museum, a lecture hall, a library, a banqueting room and a theatre. An open-air swimming pool was constructed at the base of the hill in the surrounding park; the pool is now long closed and little trace remains except some reeds. The grounds included a racecourse with grandstand (Alexandra Park, which closed in 1970), a Japanese village, a switchback ride, a boating lake and a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. Alexandra Park Cricket and Football Club have also played within the grounds (in the middle of the old racecourse) since 1888. The Willis organ (installed in 1875, vandalised in 1918, restored and reopened in 1929) is still working, but its restoration is ongoing. In its 1929 restored form, Father Willis's masterpiece was declared by Marcel Dupré to be the finest concert-organ in Europe.
In 1900 the owners of the Palace and Park were threatening to sell them for redevelopment, but a consortium of local authorities led by Hornsey Urban District Council managed to raise enough money to purchase them just in time. By the Alexandra Park and Palace (Public Purposes) Act 1900, a charitable trust was set up; representatives of the purchasing local authorities became the trustees with the duty to keep both palace and park "available for the free use and recreation of the public forever". It is this duty that the present trustee, Haringey Council, is currently trying to overturn, protesters fear, by selling the whole palace to a commercial developer. The palace passed into the hands of the Greater London Council in 1967, with the proviso that it should be used entirely for charitable purposes, and their trusteeship was transferred to Haringey Council in 1980.
During the First World War the park was closed and the palace and grounds were used as an internment camp for German and Austrian civilians. The camp commandant was Lt. Colonel Robert Sandilands Frowd Walker until his death in May 1917.
In 1935 the trustees leased part of the palace to the BBC for use as the production and transmission centre for their new BBC Television Service. The antenna was designed by Charles Samuel Franklin of the Marconi company. The UK's first public broadcasts of high-definition television were made from this site in 1936. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and Baird's 240-line system, were installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and were transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system was chosen in 1937. The palace continued as the BBC's main TV transmitting centre for London until 1956, interrupted only by World War II, when the transmitter found an alternative use jamming German bombers' navigation systems (it is said that only 25% of London raids were effective because of these transmissions). In 1944 a German doodlebug exploded just outside the organ end of the Great Hall and blew in the Rose Window, leaving the organ exposed to the elements. Between 1947 and 1948 the Ministry of Works employed a team which included architect to facilitate repairs to the building, including replacing the rose window.
In the early 1960s an outside broadcast was made from the very top of the tower, in which the first passage of a satellite across the London sky was watched and described. It continued to be used for news broadcasts until 1969, and for the Open University until the early 1980s. The antenna mast still stands, and is still used for local analogue television transmission, local commercial radio and DAB broadcasts. The main London television transmitter is at Crystal Palace in South London.
Early in 1980 Haringey Council took over the trusteeship of Alexandra Palace from the GLC and decided to refurbish the building. But just six months later, on 10 July during Capital Radio's Jazz Festival, a second disastrous fire started under the organ and quickly spread. It destroyed half the building. Again the outer walls survived and the eastern parts, including the theatre and the BBC TV studios and aerial mast, were saved. In this fire parts of the famous organ were destroyed, though fortunately it had been dismantled for repairs so some parts (including nearly all the pipework) were away from the building in store. Some of the damage to the palace was repaired immediately but Haringey Council overspent on the restoration, creating a £30 million deficit. It was then reopened to the public in 1988 under a new management team headed by Louis Bizat. Later the Council was severely criticised for this overspend in a report by Project Management International. This was followed by the decision of the Attorney General in 1991 that the overspending by the Council as trustee was unlawful and so could not be charged to the charity. The Council for some years did not accept this politically embarrassing finding, and instead maintained that the charity "owed" the Council £30m, charged compound interest on what it termed a "debt" (which eventually rose to a claim of some £60m), and to recoup it tried to offer the whole palace for sale - a policy their successors are still trying to carry out despite being stalled in the High Court in 2007. As of June 2008, it is still unclear whether the Council in either of its guises has agreed to write off its overspend.
An ice rink was installed in 1990. Primarily intended for public skating, it has also housed ice hockey teams including Haringey Racers, Haringey Greyhounds and briefly London Racers. During the 1960s the palace housed a public roller-skating rink.
The theatre was greatly altered in the early 1920s, with the General Manager, W. J. MacQueen-Pope, spending the war reparation money on refurbishing the auditorium. He abandoned the understage machinery that produced the effects necessary in Victorian melodrama; some of the machinery is preserved, and there is a project to restore some of it to working order. After these changes, the theatre was leased by Archie Pitt, then husband of Gracie Fields, who appeared in the theatre. Fields also drew an audience of five thousand people to the Hall for a charity event. However after the BBC leased the eastern part of the palace the theatre was only used for props storage space.
In June 2004 the first performances for about seventy years took place in the theatre, first in its foyer then on 2 July in the theatre itself. Although conditions were far from ideal, the audience was able to see the potential of this very large space – originally seating 3000, it cannot currently be licensed for more than a couple of hundred. It is intended that the theatre will one day reopen, but much costly restoration will be required first. It will never again reach a seating capacity of 3000 (not least because one balcony was removed in the early part of the 20th century as a fire precaution, when films started to be shown there), but it does seem likely that a capacity of more than 1000 may one day be achieved. A major season of the theatre company Complicite was planned for 2005 but the project, which would have included some repair and access work, was cancelled due to higher-than-anticipated costs.
Plans by the current trustees, Haringey Council, to replace all the charitable uses by commercial ones by a commercial lease of the entire building, including a casino, have encountered considerable public and legal opposition, and on 5 October 2007, in the High Court, Mr Justice Sullivan granted an application by Jacob O'Callaghan, a London resident, to quash the Charity Commission's Order authorising a 125-year lease of the entire building to Firoka Ltd.
Horse racing took place in the park from 1868 to 1970 in London's only racecourse which was nicknamed "The Frying Pan" from its distinctive layout. As recently as 1999 plans were being put forward for its re-opening.
In November every year, a large free fireworks display is usually held as part of London's Bonfire Night celebrations, although there was no 2010 or 2011 show as part of budget constraints.
The Observer Wildlife Exhibition held here in 1963 was an important early event in highlighting awareness of worldwide endangered species, and gained a very large attendance (46,000).
On 28 April 1967, a benefit event took place at the palace. "The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream", organised by the "International Times", demonstrated the importance of the quickly developing UK Underground scene. Although "underground" venues such as the UFO Club were hosting counter-cultural bands, this was certainly the biggest indoor event at the time. Performers included headlining act Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things, Savoy Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, The Move and Sam Gopal's Dream (featuring Sam Gopal, Mick Hutchinson and Pete Sears).
In 1971, a chase scene for the Italian/Spanish horror/thriller giallo film A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna), directed by Lucio Fulci, was filmed at Alexandra Palace.
In 1973 the Divine Light Mission held a "Festival of Love".
On December 22, 1973 British rock band Wishbone Ash played a Christmas concert at the Palace, billed as Christmas At The Palace with support from Vinegar Joe, Renaissance & Al Stewart.
The Grateful Dead played a series of shows here, 9 September 1974 – 11 September 1974. The band's recording of the show was released as part of the Dick's Picks series in March, 1997.
The exterior of the palace was used as Victory Square in Michael Radford's 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The Famous Sinclair C5 was launched at the palace on 10 January 1985, just a week after the closure of the 405-line television system that was launched at the Palace 49 years earlier.
The Stone Roses played their first major gig in the south of England, which became famous because the band managed to sell the venue out before being featured significantly in the music press or making any national TV appearances.
Hugh Cornwell played his last gig with the Stranglers on 13 August 1990.
Squeeze and The Kinks performed at Alexandra Palace on 12 August 1990, in a concert that was broadcast on BBC Television.
Blur organised a major concert at the venue in October 1994 to promote their album Parklife. The concert was later released on VHS, and used as the basis for Blur's promo video End of a Century.
From 1993 to 1995, the Brit Awards were hosted at the venue.
The 1996 MTV Europe Music Awards were held here, hosted by Robbie Williams.
The 52nd edition of the Miss World pageant was held in the palace on 7 December 2002. The pageant was initially slated for Abuja, Nigeria but due to conflict in the city of Kaduna arising from a publication of an article in a Lagos- based newspaper, the pageant was relocated to London at the Alexandra Palace. The Strokes recorded a live performance at Alexandra Palace on 5 December 2003, this performance was to be released in the form of a live album, but the idea was scrapped. Travis played Ally Pally on 20 December 2003, the footage of which was used for their live DVD titled 'Travis - At The Palace'.
The third annual European Social Forum (ESF) took place on 15–17 October 2004 in London, the main venue being Alexandra Palace. The very first Give It a Name music festival was held at Alexandra Palace on 2 May 2005. In October 2005 Kiss 100 celebrated its 20th anniversary with a club night featuring many famous past and present Kiss DJs performing. On 5 December 2005 Paul Weller Played one night and released the show on a two disc cd entitled Catch Flame.
In 2005 a dance music rave promoted by Slammin' Vinyl under the name of Tranzmission was held at Ally Pally.
Alexandra Palace plays an important part in the 2006 Doctor Who episode "The Idiot's Lantern", set in 1953.
British television's 70th anniversary occurred on 2 November 2006 and this was marked with a special event called "TV70". A closed-circuit television programme was produced in Studio A using vintage equipment. This comprised some archive materials and an interview with several well-known stars from the early days of British television.
On 16 June 2007 – 17 June 2007 the Palace hosted the first London Hackday which was affected by a lightning strike on the building resulting in rooftop vents opening and the hall being flooded.
In August 2008, the LivingTV series Most Haunted Live used Alexandra Palace as their studio for a three night live programme entitled 'Total Darkness'. The studio was home to Paul Ross, historian Lesley Smith, interactive host Julian Clegg and the studio audience.
On 15 November 2008, the venue hosted Bullet For My Valentine as part of their Scream Aim Fire tour. They were supported by Black Tide, Lacuna Coil, Bleeding Through and Lawnmower Deth. The Show sold out with 9,000 fans attending the venue and is one of the largest metal concerts to be held at the venue to date. The show was recorded and is set to be released on their second live DVD.
On November 20th and 21st 2008, the Icelandic band Sigur Ros played at the venue in support of their album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The performances were compiled into a concert film and album entitled Inni, which was released in 2011.
Death Cab for Cutie were due to play at the venue as part of their European Long Division tour in November 2008, but the concert was downsized to the Brixton Academy due to low ticket sales.
Alexandra Palace is the new venue for the PDC World Darts Championship from December 2007 after 14 years at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex. The Alexandra Palace was previously home to the News of the World Darts Championship between 1963 and 1977.
April 2008 saw the relauch of the regular Antiques Fairs, now held four times a year, organised by Nelson Events Ltd.
On 4 November 2009 Hip-hop musician Jay-Z performed a one off Show at the Palace during his Fall tour. Scenes from the concert and the view across London were intercut in the video "Young Forever"
The band Portishead hosted one of two All Tomorrow's Parties music festivals titled I'll Be Your Mirror on 23-24 July 2011 at the palace.
The fiftieth anniversary programme of Songs of Praise was recorded on 25 September and broadcast on 2 October 2011.
On February 10th, 2012, the venue will host The Black Keys as the last stop of their European Tour.
In March 2012, the Palace will host 2 nights of Florence + The Machine's UK Ceremonials (album) Tour.
In 2012 the Alexandra Palace will host the Masters snooker tournament.
During the 2012 London Olympics it will serve as the official Dutch Olympic team's residence.
- Muswell Hill
- Wood Green
- Crouch End
- Nearest rail station: Alexandra Palace
- Nearest Tube station: Wood Green
- Address: Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, London N22 7AY
Notes and references
- Alexandra Palace (official site)
- Alexandra Palace (Victorian London)
- Save Ally Pally: campaign to maintain the charitable status of the palace and preserve its TV studios, organ and Victorian theatre for the public
- Detailed history of early BBC TV broadcasts, with archive photos 2003-09-14
- Good collection of personal memories of the BBC at Alexandra Palace with galleries
- Alexandra Palace Television Society
- Unofficial History of BBC Television at Alexandra Palace
- "Development threat to the palace, where television was born" (The Independent article on development plans, 30 December 2006)
- "TV studios under threat" (Local MP's blog on Palace's future, 29 October 2006)
- Pictures and Information About Alexandra Palace History
- Hornsey Historical Society
- More information on the 14 hour technicolor dream
- Alexandra Palace Organ Appeal
- Complicite scraps plans for Alexandra Palace rebirth (The Stage Online)
- Harringay online - website for Harringay residents awarded a Special Judges' Commendation at the Catalyst Awards 2008.
- Friends of Alexandra Park - website promoting and protecting Alexandra Park in North London