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Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace

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Overview

The Western elevation of Alexandra Palace showing the exterior of the Palm Court on 12 August 2007.

The Great Hall and West Hall are used as an exhibition centre and conference centre operated by the trading arm of the charitable trust which owns the building and Park on behalf of the public. There is also an ice skating rink. Since 1995 the Palace has been a Grade II listed building. It was designed to be ‘The people’s Palace’ and later nicknamed (allegedly by Gracie Fields)[1] Ally Pally, and in 1936 became the headquarters of the World's first regular public 'high definition'[2] 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 producer's galleries and are currently used for exhibiting original historical television equipment. The original Victorian Theatre with its stage machinery also survives. The theatre and stage structure is currently on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk register. There is currently an application to upgrade the listing by Hornsey Historical Society[3], which originally got the Palace Grade II listed (against the opposition of trustee Haringey council), and the BBC.

Also, a planned development of the building into a mixed leisure complex including hotel, replacement ice rink, cinema, bowling and exhibition centre has encountered much opposition by some public groups and was blocked in the High Court in October 2007.

[edit] History

Alexandra Palace on fire in 1873.

The Great Northern Palace company was established, but was unable to raise the finance for the project. However, the idea lived on and on 23 July 1863 Alexandra Park was opened to the public. It was named after Alexandra of Denmark who had married Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, four months earlier. In September 1865 construction of the Palace commenced, but to a design different from Jones'.

The rebuilt Palace in 1875.

the Palace 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, Alexandra Palace and Park was opened. Sims Reeves sang on the opening day before an audience of 102,000.[4] Only sixteen days later the Palace was destroyed by fire, 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.[5]

With typical Victorian vigour, the Palace was quickly rebuilt and reopened in May 1875. It 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), Japanese village, switchback ride, boating lake and a nine-hole golf course. The Willis organ installed in 1875 (vandalized in 1918, restored and re-opened in 1929) is still working, but its restoration is continuing. In its 1929 restored form, Father Willis's masterpiece was declared to be the finest concert-organ in Europe by Marcel Dupré.[6]

The rose window on the South-east front.

In 1900 the Palace and Park’s owners were threatening to sell it for development, but a consortium of local authorities led by Hornsey Urban District Council managed to raise enough money to purchase them in the nick of 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 for ever". It is this duty that the present trustee, Haringey council, is currently trying to overturn, protesters fear,[7] by selling the whole Palace to a commercial developer. [8] the Palace passed into the hands of the Greater London Council in 1967 and then was transferred in 1979 to Haringey Council.

the building has a wealth of history, for example, during World War I the park was closed and the Palace and grounds were used as an internment camp for German civilians.

The roof construction of the Alexandra Palace.

In 1935 the trustees leased part of the Palace to the BBC, which used it 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 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).[citation needed] 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 weather.[9]

During the early 1960s, an outside broadcast was given from the very top of the tower, in which the first passage of a satellite across the London sky was watched and described. After that 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.

In 1980 the trustees decided to refurbish the building, but a couple of days after the Great British Beer Festival and 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 it had been dismantled for repairs and 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, managing to create an £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.[10]. 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 their overspend.

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

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.[11] During the 1960s the Palace housed a public roller-skating rink.

The theatre was greatly altered in the early 1920s with the General Manager McQueen-Pope spending the War reparation money on refurbishing the auditorium. He abandoned the understage machinery which produced the effects necessary in Victorian melodrama: some of the machinery is preserved and a current project is for restoring 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 are 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 twentieth 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.[12]

Plans by 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,[3] and on 5 October 2007 in the High Court, Mr Justice Sullivan granted an application by Jacob O'Callaghan to quash the Charity Commission's Order authorising a 125-year lease of the entire building to Firoka Ltd.[13]

A close up panorama of London from Alexandra Palace on 8 October 2007
A close up panorama of London from Alexandra Palace on 8 October 2007

[edit] famous events

A plaque commemorating the birthplace of generally receivable television.

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

[edit] 1960s

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).[14]

On 28 April 1967, a benefit event took place at the Palace. "The 14 Hour Technicolor 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).

[edit] 1970s

In 1973 the Divine Light Mission held a "Festival of Love".[15]

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.

[edit] 1980s

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.

[edit] 1990s

The Stone Roses played their first major gig in the South of England which became famous due to the fact that the band managed to sell the venue out before making major in-roads into the music press or making any national TV appearances.

The 1996 MTV Europe Music Awards was held in the Palace, hosted by Robbie Williams.

Squeeze and The Kinks performed at the Palace on 12 August 1990, in a concert which was broadcast on BBC Television.

Blur organised a major concert at the venue in October 1994 to promote their classic album Parklife. The concert was later released on video and DVD, and used as the basis for Blur's promo video End of a Century.

[edit] Since 2000

The Darkness performing at Alexandra Palace on 7 February 2006.

The 52nd edition of the 2002 Miss World pageant was held in the Palace on 7 December. 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 2006 a dance music rave promoted by Slammin' Vinyl under the Name of Tranzmission was held at Ally Pally [16]

Alexandra Palace plays an important part in the 2006 Doctor Who episode "The Idiot's Lantern", Set in 1953.

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.

Alexandra Palace is the new venue PDC World Darts Championship from December 2007 [17] 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.

the band Kick Asteroid recorded a single entitled "Shadow of the Palace" recounting semi-biographical events centred on the famous London landmark.

[edit] Nearest places

[edit] Access

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ nytimes.com
  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. ^ [1]Hornsey Historical Society
  4. ^ C. E. Pearce, Sims Reeves: Fifty Years of music in England (Stanley Paul, London 1924), 307.
  5. ^ Arthur Hayden, Spode and His Successors (Cassell, London 1925), pp. 12, 90.

Comments ( 9 )
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Webloid
Comment By: Webloid
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Date: Jul 08, 2008 18:37:15
5 stars for you! Keep up the good work :C) Check out a few of my favorite assets:
solshine
Comment By: solshine
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Date: Nov 24, 2007 20:50:54
great asset - great job
Vida Guerra
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Date: Nov 14, 2007 18:08:22
best of luck on weblo
WAREMAN
Comment By: WAREMAN
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Date: Nov 13, 2007 15:24:49
Good info and nice pictures!
Arrffdude
Comment By: Arrffdude
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Date: Nov 13, 2007 13:32:16
Great site great info
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What did you do at Alexandra Palace?
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Ice skating
see Fireworks display
went on the boats
fed the ducks
attended the antique fair