My little trek out this week, took me to a place that I had actually visited a couple of times before, but many years ago, back in my youth. Since then it has gone through a number of considerable transformations, and is today one of London’s lesser known, but still remarkable landmark.
The interesting aspect about this location is not just its distinctive architectural prominence throughout the surrounding area, but also its vast and diverse history – and the fact that it is still around today, despite the many technological and social changes.
The subject matter for my London Shoes website this week is the iconic…..’Alexandra Palace’ – London N22 (commonly referred to as ‘Ally Pally’).
The 1st Palace
In 1862 the Alexandra Park Co. Ltd, bought up 250 acres of farmland for the purpose of constructing a ‘People’s Palace’ within a park environment – the design being heavily influenced by the popular ‘Crystal Palace’.
This ‘Peoples Palace’ was to be named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), earlier that year.
A Tudor style banqueting hall, was added to the site in 1864 and this was soon followed by the construction of the ‘Alexandra Park Racecourse’ horse racing track, which was opened in 1868, and nicknamed the ‘Frying Pan’ or the ‘Pan Handle’ because of its layout. This race-track was in fact London’s only racecourse from 1868 until its closure in 1970
The Palace itself finally opened fully to the public in 1873.
However, tragedy struck just 16 days after opening, when the Palace was completely destroyed by a massive fire.
The 2nd palace
Within two years a completely new building was constructed, occupying seven and a half acres, and featuring a ‘Great Hall’ with seating for 14,000 – a huge Willis Organ – a Palm Court, – a theatre seating 3,000 – a concert room seating 3,500 (which later became the roller skating rink), plus various mini-museums and a variety of banqueting suites and refreshment facilities.
The park was designed to include a trotting ring and a cycle racing track within the existing horse racing track – a cricket pitch – ornamental lake – a Japanese village – tennis courts, a permanent fun fair and an open air swimming pool.
However, as seems to be the case throughout the Palace’s history, there have always been problems in financing the continual operating costs of such a high site – and back in 1889, Alexandra Palace had to be closed down for a couple of years – at which time, some of the estate was sold off for general housing.
There was a fear that more of the land would be sold off, and so there was a massive local campaign to keep the parkland untouched and available to the general public. This campaign escalated to a high level and in 1900 the ‘Alexandra Palace & Park Act’ was passed – which passed the management of the estate over to respected Trustees – as a result, the Park was re-opened to the public again in 1901.
*Huge firework displays started to be held at the Palace & Park from the late 1800’s – and remain to this day.
*The Victorians and Edwardians enjoyed watching hot-air balloon activities and parachute jumps that were regularly held at the Palace & Park.
*Throughout the First World War the Palace and its Park were closed and used as a prisoner of war camp to house German, Austrian and other internees.
*Large Boy Scout rallies involving thousands of young people were held at the Palace & Park in 1913, 1922 and 1930.
In the early 1930’s the Palace yet again, ran into serious financial difficulties.
In 1935, to help ease these financial problems, the east wing of the Palace was leased out to the BBC for use as the production and transmission centre for their new BBC Television service, and the very first TV transmission was made on 2 Nov 1936 from the massive aerial, designed by the Marconi Company, and erected on the south-east tower. This historic event is acknowledged in the London Borough of Haringey’s coat-of-arms, which depicts transmission ‘rays’ within its design. The original studios ‘A’ and ‘B’ still survive in the south-east wing with their producers’ galleries – and are today used for exhibiting original historical television equipment.
Sadly, during WW2, both Palace and Park suffered bad bomb damage, but a restoration programme allowed the Palace to re-open again in 1957.
In 1966 ownership of the Palace and Park passed over to the Greater London Council.
Many of the top bands throughout the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s all played concerts at Ally Pally.
In 1974 a high-level GLC survey confirmed that a large majority of the London Borough of Haringey residents wanted to see the Palace and Park retained ‘for the public’ – but with improvements to its amenities.
In 1980 the Haringey Council took over trusteeship from the GLC.
Fire and rebuilding:
However, in July 1980, the Palace was again seriously damaged by fire, with the Great Hall, the banqueting suite and roller skating rink completely gutted and most of the west wing severely damaged.
Haringey Council undertook the responsibility for rebuilding of the Palace using the £42m insurance money.
In 1988 the yet again rebuilt Palace, was formally re-opened with a new Great Hall – a new West Hall – a Palm Court – a new Phoenix Bar – a massive new car park – improved lighting – new trees and shrubs for the park land – an ice-skating rink in place of the old roller rink.
Throughout recent decades the Park has put on events such as rock/pop concerts – beer festivals – cultural festivals, as well as sporting events such as cricket – football – tennis – golf – the annual Red Bull Soap Box Derby, and of course, the highly popular ‘Masters World Snooker Tournament’ and ‘World Darts Tournaments’.
With all its history, it is no surprise that Alexandra Palace is now a Grade II listed building – and long may it continue to be so.
The only disappointment of my visit to Ally Pally was that I couldn’t get access inside the Palace itself to take any photos, as there was a Tattoo Convention being held on the day – and obviously I wasn’t on the ‘guest list’. Being the owner of a ‘tat’ myself, I did try to blag my way inside, but security soon got wind of me, and kindly escorted me off the premises.
Also – it was a very cloudy day whilst I was there, and as a result my photos of the place were not as good as I would have wanted them to be, especially the wonderful scenic views of the ‘smoke’.
However, before trotting off back home, I popped into the ‘Starting Gate’ pub, directly opposite Alexandra Park Station – for the customary couple of ‘cheeky’ beers.
The ‘Starting Gate’ pub was built in 1875, and its name is true to the pub’s origins, as it is situated at what was the starting point of the former Alexandra Park Racecourse – and inside the pub are many references to the locations previous history.
All in all a visit to the Ally Pally and its surrounding park land, is a good old day out.