Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace
Ally Pally
Location London, N22
United Kingdom
Public transit National Rail Alexandra Palace
London Underground Wood Green
Owner Haringey London Borough Council
Operator Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust
Opened 24 May 1873 (1873-05-24) (original structure)
1 May 1875 (1875-05-01) (current structure)
Audio description of Alexandra Palace by former local MP, Lynne Featherstone

Alexandra Palace is a historic entertainment venue in Alexandra Park, London. It is located between Muswell Hill and Wood Green, in the north of the city. It was originally opened in 1873 but was rebuilt in 1875 following a destructive fire. It was designed to serve as a public centre of recreation, education and entertainment and as north London's counterpart to The Crystal Palace in south London.

Intended as "The People's Palace" and later nicknamed "Ally Pally" (supposedly by Gracie Fields),[1] in 1936 it became the home of the world's first regular public "high-definition"[2] television service, operated by the BBC. Although other facilities soon superseded it after the war, Alexandra Palace continued to be used by the BBC for many years and its radio and television mast is still in use.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 listed building in 1996,[3] at the instigation of the Hornsey Historical Society.

A planned commercial development of the building into a mixed leisure complex including a hotel, replacement ice-skating rink, cinema, ten-pin 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, ice rink and palm court.


Nineteenth century

The original Alexandra Palace on fire in 1873

The Great Northern Palace Company had been established by 1860 but was initially unable to raise financing for the construction of "The Palace of the People", as the project was initially called. The building stock was eventually acquired from the 1862 International Exhibition held in South Kensington. Alexandra Park was opened to the public on 23 July 1863. The planned building was originally named "The Palace of the People"; it and its park were renamed to commemorate the popular new Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark, who had married Prince Edward on 10 March 1863. However, The Palace of the People, or The People's Palace, remained as alternative names. In September 1865 construction commenced but to a design by John Johnson and Alfred Meeson rather than a glass structure initially proposed by Owen Jones.[4]

The rebuilt Palace in 1875

The structure covers some 7.5 acres (3.0 ha). 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.[5] Sims Reeves sang on the opening day before an audience of 102,000.[6] Only 16 days later, Alexandra Palace was destroyed by a fire which also killed 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.[7]

The former Alexandra Palace station, dwarfed by the building itself. It is now a community centre.

With typical Victorian vigour, it was quickly rebuilt and 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 horseracing course with grandstand (named Alexandra Park Racecourse and nicknamed "The Frying Pan" because of its layout), which was London's only racecourse from 1868 until its closure 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 Henry Willis organ installed in 1875, vandalised in 1918 and restored and reopened in 1929, survives. In its 1929 restored form, Willis's masterpiece was declared by Marcel Dupré to be the finest concert-organ in Europe.[8]

Twentieth century

In 1900 the owners of Alexandra Palace and Park were threatening to sell them for redevelopment, but a consortium of public-spirited men in the district, headed by Mr. Henry Burt, J.P. a member of the Middlesex County Council and the Hornsey District Council, at once embraced the opportunity of securing the Palace and the beautiful grounds for the people of London. A committee was formed by Mr Henry Burt, J.P. and the consortium 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 building and park "available for the free use and recreation of the public forever". In 1921 a Plaque was erected at the entrance of the south terrace in honour of Henry Burt J.P. who was the originator of the proposal to purchase the Palace and Park for the people. His subsequent services and splendid financial help should here be recorded and his name held in remembrance by all who appreciate this great public possession. It is this duty that the present trustee, the London Borough of Haringey, is currently trying to overturn, protesters fear,[9] by selling the building to a commercial developer.[10] 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 first used as refugee camp for displaced Belgians,[11] and then later from 1915-19 as an internment camp[12] for German and Austrian civilians.[13][14] The camp commandant was Lt. Col. R. S. F. Walker until his death in May 1917.[15]

A blue plaque commemorating Alexandra Palace as the birthplace of generally receivable "high-definition" television

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,[16] an event which is alluded to by the rays in the modern coat of arms of the London Borough of Haringey.[17] 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.[16] 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. 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.[18]

The Rose Window on the south-east front

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.

Alexandra Palace in 1982, after a fire in 1980 destroyed much of the building

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, during Capital Radio's Jazz Festival, a 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 television studios and aerial mast, were saved. Parts of the famous organ were destroyed, though 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.[19]

In 1991, the attorney-general stated 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.

Alexandra Palace, as viewed from the south in 2007

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,[20] 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.

Twenty-first century

In June 2004 the first performances for about 70 years took place in the theatre, first in its foyer then in 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.[21]

Panorama of London from Alexandra Palace in 2007

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.[22]

A Masterplan for the future of the site was drawn up in 2012, comprising six 'big ideas' to restore and redevelop the Palace.[23] The first of these to be implemented aims to transform the derelict eastern end of the Palace, making accessible the Victorian Theatre and historic BBC Studios. In 2013 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a Round 1 pass to develop the proposals, creating a new entrance in the restored East Court, re-establishing the Theatre as a flexible performance space and re-opening the BBC Studios as a visitor attraction. There is currently controversy regarding plans to demolish the brick infills in the colonnade on the south-east face of the building, which the BBC constructed after 1936 to form their television studios within.[24] Following a public consultation and advice from English Heritage, Planning and Listed Building Consent was given for the proposals and in March 2015 HLF awarded Round 2 major grant funding securing a positive future for the historic areas.[25]

A panorama of London from Alexandra Palace in 2012

Notable events

Alexandra Palace has hosted a number of significant events over the course of its history. Recurring events held there include the Great British Beer Festival (1977–1980), the Brit Awards (1993–1995), the PDC World Darts Championship (2008–present) and the Masters snooker tournament (2012–present).

In November every year, a large fireworks display is scheduled there as part of London's Bonfire Night celebrations.


The Observer's Wildlife Exhibition held here in 1963 was an important early event in highlighting awareness of worldwide endangered species, and it gained a large attendance (46,000).[26]

In April 1967 a benefit event took place there. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, organised by the International Times, demonstrated the importance of the quickly developing Underground scene. Although venues such as the UFO Club were hosting counter-cultural bands, this was certainly the largest indoor event at the time. Performers included headlining act Pink Floyd as well as 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 attended, and Yoko Ono (who was soon to become Lennon's new romantic partner) presented her performance work "Cut Piece".[27]


In 1970, Italian director Lucio Fulci filmed an important segment of his giallo film A Lizard in a Woman's Skin here. Alexandra Palace posed as a disused church.[28]

The rock band Led Zeppelin played at Alexandra Palace in December 1972.

In 1973 the Divine Light Mission held a "Festival of Love" there.[29] Also in 1973, British rock band Wishbone Ash played a Christmas concert at the Palace, billed as "Christmas at the Palace".

The American band Grateful Dead played a series of shows there in September 1974 and a recording of one of the shows was released as part of the Dick's Picks series in March 1997.

The Campaign for Real Ale held the Great British Beer Festival there from 1977 to 1980 (the 1980 edition taking place in tents outside the fire-damaged Alexandra Palace).


The exterior of Alexandra Palace was used as Victory Square in Michael Radford's 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Sinclair C5 battery electric vehicle was launched at the Palace in January 1985, one week after the closure of the 405-line television system that was inaugurated there 49 years earlier.

In November 1989 The Stone Roses played their first major gig in the south of England at Alexandra Palace, notable particularly as the band sold the venue out before being featured significantly in the music press or making any national television appearances.


Hugh Cornwell played his last gig with The Stranglers at Alexandra Palace in August 1990.

Blur organised a major concert at the venue in October 1994 to promote their album Parklife. The recording of the concert was released on video in February 1995 with the title Showtime and used as the basis for the music-video for the band's song "End of a Century".

From 1993 to 1995, the Brit Awards were hosted at Alexandra Palace. In November 1996 it was the venue for the annual MTV Europe Music Awards.


The Darkness performing at Alexandra Palace in 2006

The fourth Mind Sports Olympiad was held at Alexandra Palace in August 2000, with more than 4,000 competitors from around the world taking part in mind sports.[30]

The 52nd edition of the Miss World pageant was held there in December 2002. The pageant was initially slated for Abuja but was relocated to London due to conflict within Nigeria.

The Strokes recorded a live performance at Alexandra Palace in December 2003; this performance was to be released in the form of a live album but the idea was later scrapped. Travis also played there in December 2003, the footage of which was used for their live DVD titled Travis – At The Palace.

The third annual European Social Forum took place in October 2004 in London, the main venue being Alexandra Palace.

The first Give it a Name rock music festival was held there in May 2005. In October 2005 Kiss 100, the radio station, marked its 20th anniversary with a club night at the venue. In December 2005 Paul Weller played one night at the Palace and released the live recording on a CD titled Catch-Flame!.

Alexandra Palace plays a 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 CCTV 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.

In June 2007, a Hackday event was hosted at Alexandra Palace by the BBC and Yahoo! During the event, the building was struck by lightning, causing the fire vents to open (and then get stuck open), and it rained inside the building.[31]

Since December 2007, Alexandra Palace has hosted the PDC World Darts Championship,[32] following 14 years from December 1993 to January 2007 of the tournament being held at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex. The Palace was previously home to the News of the World Darts Championship between 1963 and 1977.

April 2008 saw the re-launch of the regular Antiques Fairs,[33] now held four times a year, organised by Nelson Events Ltd.


The band Portishead hosted one of two All Tomorrow's Parties festivals titled I'll Be Your Mirror in July 2011 at Alexandra Palace.[34] The 50th anniversary programme of Songs of Praise was recorded there in September 2011 and broadcast the following month.[35]

The Masters snooker tournament is staged at Alexandra Palace each year from 2012 to 2015 inclusive

Since 2012 and until 2015, it is the venue for the Masters snooker tournament, held every January.[36]

During the 2012 Summer Olympics it served as the official hospitality venue for the Dutch Olympic team.[37]

In November 2012, it was the venue for the annual Warped Tour, a music and extreme sports festival.

The band Suede appeared at Alexandra Palace in March 2013, playing one of the first dates in support of Bloodsports, their first new album in more than a decade. In September 2013, Björk performed one of the final concerts of her Biophilia Tour there. The show was the last concert to be held "in the round", a format which characterised the tour, and the first to be performed in this way at Alexandra Palace.[38][39] in October 2013 it played host to Above and Beyond's group therapy live broadcast (ABGT #50) which hosted a live event in the DJ groups home city, playing to around 10,000 people

In January 2016 the heavy metal band Slipknot played at Alexandra Palace.

In March 2016 the Drum & Bass DJ Andy C brought "Andy C All Night" to Alexandra Palace.

In July 2016 The Last Shadow Puppets played 2 nights at Alexandra Palace.

The bootcamp for Season 13 of The X Factor was aired at the Alexandra Palace from 6 to 8 July 2016.[40]

In November of 2016, Twenty One Pilots are due to play two shows on the 11th and the 13th (the second date added due to popular demand) and it sold out in under 30 seconds.[41]

In November of 2016, Panic! at the Disco played two shows on the 19th and 20th, with the second date being added due to popular demand, which were both sold out.[42]

Transport links

Alexandra Palace Railway Station

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.

Alexandra Palace is also served by London Buses route W3.

Notes and references

  1. O'Connor, John J. (17 November 1986). "TV Reviews; Film Celebrates BBC's 50th Birthday". New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  2. 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.
  3. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1268256)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  4. Banerjee, Jacqueline. "Alexandra Palace". Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  5. "Charles Thomas Lucas at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  6. Pearce, Charles E. (1924). Sims Reeves: Fifty Years of Music in England. London: Stanley Paul. p. 307.
  7. Arthur Hayden, Spode and His Successors (Cassell, London 1925), pp. 12, 90.
  8. Felix Aprahamian, The Alexandra Palace Organ, Sleevenote to HMV HQM 1199 (Hayes 1970).
  9. "". 1 June 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  10. Ham & High
  11. Palace, Alexandra. "Alexandra Palace launches exhibition commemorating WW1 heritage | Alexandra Palace". Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  12. "Alexandra Palace's war time efforts to be showcased in new app and video | Middlesex University London". Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  13. "WWI Internees at Alexandra Palace, London, England". Family History Circle. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  14. "Alexandra Palace as a concentration camp". British association for Local History. 2005. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  15. The London Gazette: no. 30278. p. 9396. 11 September 1917. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  16. 1 2 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.
  17. "Coat of arms". London Borough of Haringey. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  18. Aprahamian 1970, loc. cit.
  19. Project Management International plc, Alexandra Palace: Report for the London Borough of Haringey (1990)
  20. Harris, Martin C. (2005). Homes of British Ice Hockey. History Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0752425818.
  21. Gillespie, Ruth (8 February 2005). "Complicite scraps plans for Alexandra Palace rebirth". The Stage News. The Stage. Retrieved 25 June 2008. 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.
  22. "Court rejects £55m Palace plans". BBC News. 5 October 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2008. 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.
  23. Palace, Alexandra. "East Wing Restoration - Alexandra Palace".
  25. "Alexandra Palace secures £18.8m funding for theatre revamp". BBC News.
  26. William M. Adams, Against Extinction:The Story of Conservation (Earthscan 2004), p. 61. Example of display,
  27. "Nothing Found For Npf Mag 311 Syd Barrett And The Beatles 1966 1969 By John J Olivar 404".
  28. "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin". 20 March 1973 via IMDb.
  29. Price, Maeve (1979): "The Divine Light Mission as a social organization". Sociological Review, 27, Page 279–96.
  30. Fierce rivalry in 'Olympics' for brainboxes, CNN, Paul Sussman, 23 August 2000, retrieved 18 July 2012
  31. "When hacks attack". The Guardian. London. 25 June 2007. Retrieved 24 Sep 2014.
  32. "World Darts moves to London". BBC News. 2 April 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  33. Nelson Fairs Ltd. "antiques fair". Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  34. "I'll Be Your Mirror London curated by Portishead & ATP – All Tomorrow's Parties". Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  35. "Songs of Praise 50th Birthday Celebration".
  36. "The Masters Snooker Relocates to Alexandra Palace for 2012". Alexandra Palace. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  37. "to host Olympic Holland Heineken House". Alexandra Palace. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  38. Murray, Robin. "Bjork Announces London Show". Clash. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  39. "Björk announces oneBjörk announces one-off London gig on September 3 – ticket details". NME. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  40. "The X Factor 2016: Country house Boot Camp axed and new location revealed". Andrew Bullock. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  41. "Twenty One Pilots Shows". External link in |website= (help)
  42. "Panic! at the Disco Shows".!AtTheDisco/past_events. External link in |website= (help)

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Coordinates: 51°35′38″N 0°07′48″W / 51.59389°N 0.13000°W / 51.59389; -0.13000

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