Alexandra Palace is an entertainment venue in Alexandra Park, London. It is located between Hornsey, Muswell Hill and Wood Green. The venue 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 as "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. Alexandra Palace television station was located on the site and its 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 used for exhibiting original historical television equipment. The original Victorian theatre with its stage machinery also survives. The theatre and stage structure is on English Heritage's 'Buildings at Risk' register. Alexandra 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.
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 by the High Court in 2007. The Great Hall and West Hall are typically used for exhibitions, music concerts and conferences, operated by the trading arm of the charitable trust that owns the building and park on behalf of the public. There is also a pub (called the Bar & Kitchen), an ice-skating rink and a palm court.
The Great Northern Palace Company had been established by 1860 but was initially unable to raise financing. The building stock[clarification needed] was acquired from the 1862 International Exhibition held the previous year in South Kensington. 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 Edward, four months earlier. However, the building retained "Palace of the People" or "The People's Palace" as an alternative name. In September 1865, construction of the palace commenced, but to a design by John Johnson and Alfred Meeson rather than the glass structure initially proposed by Owen Jones.
The palace covers some 7.5 acres (30,000 m2). 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 in South Kensington at around the same time. Sims Reeves sang on the opening day before an audience of 102,000. Only 16 days later, fire destroyed Alexandra Palace, killing three members of staff. Only the outer walls survived; a loan exhibition of a collection of English pottery and porcelain, comprising some 4,700 items of historic and intrinsic value, was also destroyed.
With typical Victorian vigour, the palace was quickly rebuilt and it reopened on 1 May 1875. The new Alexandra Palace contained a concert hall, art galleries, a museum, lecture hall, library, banqueting room, and large theatre. The stage of the theatre incorporated machinery which enabled special effects for the pantomimes and melodramas then popular - artists could disappear, reappear and be propelled into the air. The theatre was also used for political meetings. An open-air swimming pool was constructed at the base of the hill in the surrounding park; it is long since closed and little trace remains except some reeds. The grounds included a racecourse with grandstand (named Alexandra Park Racecourse, 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 clubs have also played within the grounds (in the middle of the old racecourse) since 1888. A Willis organ installed in 1875, vandalised in 1918 and restored and reopened in 1929, survives. In its 1929 restored form, Father Willis's masterpiece was declared by Marcel Dupré to be the finest concert-organ in Europe.
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.
In 1900 the owners of Alexandra 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 created; 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 building 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. Col. R. S. F. 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 world's first public broadcasts of (then) "high-definition" television were made from Alexandra Palace in 1936, an event which is alluded to by the rays in the modern coat of arms of the London Borough of Haringey. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and John Logie 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 transmitting centre for London until 1956, interrupted only by the Second World War 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 E. T. Spashett 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 BBC News broadcasts until 1969, and for the Open University until the early 1980s. The antenna mast still stands and is used for local terrestrial television transmission, local commercial radio and DAB broadcasts. The main London television transmitter is now 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 heavily criticised for the 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 £30 million, charged compound interest on what it termed a "debt" (which eventually rose to a claim of some £60 million), and to recoup it tried to offer the whole palace for sale — a policy their successors are still trying to carry out despite being rejected by the High Court in October 2007. As of June 2008, it is still unclear whether the council in either of its guises has agreed to write off its 1980s overspend.
An ice rink was installed at Alexandra Palace in 1990. Primarily intended for public skating, it has also housed ice hockey teams including the Haringey Racers, the Haringey Greyhounds and briefly the London Racers, as well as a figure skating club, the Alexandra Palace Amateur Ice Skating Club. During the 1960s the palace also 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 5,000 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 70 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 3,000, 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 3,000 (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 1,000 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, 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.
In November every year, a large, free fireworks display is usually held as part of London's Bonfire Night celebrations.
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). John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles both attended, and Yoko Ono (who was soon to become Lennon's new romantic partner) presented her performance work "Cut Piece"
British rock band Led Zeppelin played at the Palace in December 1972. In 1973 the Divine Light Mission held a "Festival of Love". On 22 December 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.
CAMRA held the Great British Beer Festival here for several years in the late 1970s.
The 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.
On 18 November 1989 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.
Blur organised a major concert at the venue in October 1994 to promote their album Parklife. The concert was later released on VHS under the title Showtime, and used as the basis for the music video for the band's "End of a Century". The Showtime film was not issued on DVD until 2012, as apart of the band's Blur 21 box set.
From 1993 to 1995, the Brit Awards were hosted at the venue.
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!.
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 Thursday April 26, 2007, it hosted Week 13 of the 2007 Premier League Darts.
On 16–17 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 released on their second live DVD.
On 20–21 November 2008, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós 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.
Since December 2007, Alexandra Palace has hosted the PDC World Darts Championship, following 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 relaunch 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".
On 8 June 2012, The Maccabees headlined Alexandra Palace, making this their biggest show yet.
On 10 November 2012, it was the venue for the Vans Warped Tour.
On 13 March 2013, Josh Groban produced his music video for the song "I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever).
On 3 September 2013, Björk performed one of the final concerts of her Biophilia Tour. The show was the last concert to be held in the "in the round" format which characterized the tour, and the first to be performed in this way at the Palace.
The nearest London Underground station is Wood Green (Piccadilly line) and the closest mainline railway station is Alexandra Palace with services from Moorgate and King's Cross in central London towards Hertfordshire.
Notes and references
- O'Connor, John J. (1986-11-17). "TV Reviews; Film Celebrates BBC's 50th Birthday". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- The 405-line television system used by the Marconi-EMI system was considered 'high-definition' at the time, when compared with the 240-line Baird system.
- English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (1268256)". National Heritage List for England.
- "Hornsey Historical Society". Hornseyhistorical.org.uk. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- Banerjee, Jacqueline. "Alexandra Palace". Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- "Charles Thomas Lucas at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxforddnb.com. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- Pearce, Charles E. (1924). Sims Reeves: Fifty Years of Music in England. London: Stanley Paul. p. 307.
- Arthur Hayden, Spode and His Successors (Cassell, London 1925), pp. 12, 90.
- Felix Aprahamian, The Alexandra Palace Organ, Sleevenote to HMV HQM 1199 (Hayes 1970).
- Melville-James, Anna (10 August 1999). "Racing: Frying pan off the back burner". The Independent. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
- "saveallypally.com". saveallypally.com. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- Ham & High
- "WWI Internees at Alexandra Palace, London, England". Family History Circle. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- "Alexandra Palace as a concentration camp". British association for Local History. 2005. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- The London Gazette: . 11 September 1917. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- Burns, R.W. (1998). Television: An International History of the Formative Years. London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers. p. ix. ISBN 0-85296-914-7.
- "Coat of arms". London Borough of Haringey. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- Aprahamian 1970, loc. cit.
- Information from the archives of E.T. Spashett (to be donated to RIBA archives in 2009 after cataloguing)
- Project Management International plc, Alexandra Palace: Report for the London Borough of Haringey (1990)
- Harris, Martin C. (2005). Homes of British Ice Hockey. History Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0752425818.
- Gillespie, Ruth (2005-02-08). "Complicite scraps plans for Alexandra Palace rebirth". The Stage News (The Stage). Retrieved 2008-06-25. "The company had announced plans for a £500,000 refurbishment of the 19th century building last year, more than 65 years after the venue went dark, and planned to occupy the space for 12-weeks in the spring. However, Complicite has been forced to abandon its proposals after the cost of essential safety work on the 2,500-seat auditorium shot up from £160,000 to £310,000."
- "Court rejects £55m Palace plans". BBC News (bbc.co.uk). 2007-10-05. Retrieved 2008-06-25. "Firoz Kassam, the former chairman of Oxford United Football Club, wants to refurbish the building's exhibition halls, add a 150-bedroom hotel, casino, bars and restaurants, and provide public leisure facilities on the site. But on Friday the judge quashed a Charity Commission order which permitted palace trustees to enter into a 125-year lease with Mr Kassam's development company, Firoka Group. Mr Justice Sullivan said lease details were not given in time for public consultation, so the whole consultation process must be reopened."
- William M. Adams, Against Extinction:The Story of Conservation (Earthscan 2004), p. 61. Example of display, 
- John J. Olivar, "Syd Barett and The Beatles"
- Price, Maeve (1979): "The Divine Light Mission as a social organization". Sociological Review, 27, Page 279–96.
- Fierce rivalry in 'Olympics' for brainboxes, CNN, Paul Sussman, 23 August 2000,  retrieved 18 July 2012
- "jungleravers.com". jungleravers.com. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- "World Darts moves to London". BBC News. 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- Nelson Fairs Ltd. "antiques fair". Alexandrapalaceantiquesfair.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- "Review of Jay-Z at the Alexandra Palace in London". The Sun. 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
- "I'll Be Your Mirror London curated by Portishead & ATP – All Tomorrow's Parties". Atpfestival.com. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- "Songs of Praise 50th Birthday Celebration".
- "Eric Prydz".
- "The Masters Snooker Relocates to Alexandra Palace for 2012". Alexandra Palace. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
- "London, UK The Black Keys". theblackkeys.com. Retrieved 12-09-2011.
- "Official Website | News | Gigs | Music | Blogs - News". Florence And The Machine. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
- "to host Olympic Holland Heineken House". Alexandra Palace. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- Murray, Robin. "Bjork Announces London Show". Clash. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- "Björk announces oneBjörk announces one-off London gig on September 3 - ticket details". NME. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alexandra Palace.|
- 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
- Heritage at Risk: Alexandra
- Detailed history of early BBC TV broadcasts, with archive photos 2003-09-14
- Alexandra Palace Television Society
- Unofficial History of BBC Television at Alexandra Palace
- Pictures and Information About Alexandra Palace History
- Hornsey Historical Society
- Friends of Alexandra Park - website promoting and protecting Alexandra Park in North London
- Friends of Alexandra Palace Theatre