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The Alexandra Palace and Theatre, Alexandra Palace Way, Muswell Hill and Wood Green, London

Introduction and first building of 1868 - Official Opening in 1873 - The First Building's Theatre - Destruction of the First building by Fire in 1873 - The Second and Present Building of 1875 - The Alexandra Palace's Surviving but Long Hidden Victorian Theatre

A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace - Click to Interact

The Alexandra Palace, and its vast park, situated high up and looking over a great swathe of London, was first proposed in the 1860s and the original idea by Owen Jones was to use parts of the building created for the Great Exhibition of 1862, in South Kensington, in its construction, much like the recreation of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. Work on the Alexandra Palace by the Great Northern Palace Company was soon begun, but was then abandoned for a considerable time, until it was finally completed in 1868. Soon afterwards announcements were made that the building would soon be opened, and its acoustic properties were even tested, but the building didn't open, and only a few races were held in its adjoining park. According to the ERA of the time, when the races were over 'the gates were closed again, the doors were shut, and all became silent deserted and forlorn, both within and without the building'.

A sketch of the proposed Alexandra Palace in 1872

Above - A sketch of the proposed Alexandra Palace in 1872

A Programme for the 'Grand Opening Festival' of the Alexandra Palace on Saturday the 24th of May 1873 - Click to see the whole Programme.However, eventually the building was reawakened and the Alexandra Palace was finally opened for the first time on Saturday the 24th of May 1873, although it was not to last long as it burned down just 16 days later. Only the outer walls of the building survived the fire and three members of its staff were killed. There's more on this here, and the rebuilding and reopening of the Alexandra Palace in 1875 below but first some more information on the first building.

The original Alexandra Palace was constructed by Kelk and Lucas to the designs of the architects Alfred Meeson and John Johnson, and opened for the first time on Saturday the 24th of May 1873. The building itself was of an Italian design, with 'arabesque decorations in blue, grey, and gold, on a ground of chocolate brown'.

Right - A Programme for the 'Grand Opening Festival' of the Alexandra Palace on Saturday the 24th of May 1873 - Click to see the whole Programme.

At the East end of the Alexandra Palace of 1873 there was a large Theatre, the ERA reported on this in their may the 4th 1873 edition saying:- 'Entering the building at the north-east transept the visitor will find himself in a Theatre, whose extraordinary proportions may be guessed when we state that it is designed to accommodate 10,000 spectators. The stage is fitted with all the modern improvements, including a lock-iron for preventing accidents with the traps. The proscenium opening of the stage is 36 feet wide by 37 feet high. The extreme width is 85 feet. The inaugural piece will be a ballet spectacle, invented by Mr Milano; Mr Weist Hill will supply the music, and Messrs Grieve and Son the scenery. We must not forget to add that between the proscenium and the archway over it there is to be a large fresco, painted by Mr J. Absolon.' - The ERA May 4th 1873. The Builder also reported on the Alexandra Palace's Theatre, in more detail, which can be read below.

The Illustrated London News reported on the opening of the Alexandra Palace in their 31st of May 1873 edition saying:- 'The opening, last Saturday, of the Alexandra Palace and Park, at Muswell-hill, beyond Hornsey, on the north side of London, was a pleasant festival to many thousands of visitors. This new place of public entertainment, as most of our readers know, is the property of a limited liability Company; the chairman and directors are Mr. H. Gruning, and Messrs. J. Goodson, C. and T. Lucas, C. Magnay, and M. J. Power.

The opening of the Alexandra Palace - From the Illustrated London News, 31st of May 1873.The grounds are situated in the most agreeable part of Middlesex, exactly six miles from Charing-cross, but amidst rural scenery of delightful freshness, variety, and beauty. They have an extent of 220 acres, laid out in park and garden, on the summit of a range of green hills, adorned with flourishing oaks and elms, which commands on every side, north and south, east and west, views that cannot be surpassed in the neighbourhood of town. Hornsey, Wood Green, Eeast Barnet, Totteridge, Finchley, and Highgate turn their best aspects towards the Alexandra Park and there are several openings for a more distant view reaching far into Essex and Kent; but one scarcely wishes to look beyond the verdant slopes and well-wooded rising grounds of this vicinity. The entire estate here belonging to the Company is 600 acres, the greater part of which is reserved for building mansions or villas.

Left - The opening of the Alexandra Palace - From the Illustrated London News, 31st of May 1873.

The Alexandra Palace has been constructed by Messrs. Kelk and Lucas, from the designs of Messrs. Meeson and Johnson, architects. It is an edifice stately and dignified, as well as elegant, in the characteristic forms it presents, both outside and inside. The plan is that of a nave with three transepts, the centre being surmounted by a dome, 170 ft. in diameter and 220 ft. in height; the length of the nave is 900 ft., or half that of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham; the central transept is 430 ft. long; the other two transepts are each 320 ft. long; the breadth of the nave and of each of the three transepts is 85 ft.

The architectural style is Italian, with arabesque decorations in blue, grey, and gold, on a ground of chocolate brown. The lighting is not from the roof overhead, but from ample side ranges of lofty windows, and from two gorgeously coloured large round windows of painted glass, at opposite ends of the nave. Stone coffers and vases of ornamental design, containing a variety of flowering shrubs and plants, alternate with statues, or groups of sculpture on pedestals, along the nave.

The whole interior, nave and transepts, is surrounded by a series of galleries. The grand organ, above the orchestra in the central transept, is an instrument of great size and musical power, constructed by Mr. H. Willis, under the superintendence of Sir Michael Costa. In the north transept there is, at its west end, a spacious and commodious concert-hall, with another organ; at its east end a theatre nearly as big as that of Drury Lane.

These arrangements show the nature of some of the indoor recreations to be provided for visitors, in addition to flower shows and fruit shows, bird shows, cat shows, the picture galleries, and different collections of works of art, of antiquities, or of natural curiosities, to be varied from time to time. A marine aquarium is to be formed; horse shows, dog shows, pigeon-races, athletic sports, archery-matches, cricket-matches, and displays of fireworks are to take place on the grounds; and the Alexandra Park races, in July and September, will be run over a course of one mile and a furlong, with a very handsome grand stand for spectators.

We shall probably have frequent occasion to notice or record these proceedings, and other fashionable or popular gatherings at the Alexandra Park, beginning with the series of six opera concerts, the first of which was given on Thursday last. The entertainments of Saturday consisted first of a flower show in the nave, which was a very pretty sight, whether on close inspection or viewed from the gallery at either end, and a grand concert afterwards in the central transept, which is mentioned in our report of musical performances. It must be confessed that a large portion of the assembled company were unable to hear the music, but we trust they all enjoyed themselves in one way or another.

The new line of railway from King's-cross to the Alexandra Palace is most convenient, giving access to it by a station platform directly beneath the main entrance, with an ascent by few steps to the central transept, as at the High Level Station of the Crystal Palace.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Illustrated London News, 31st of May 1873.

The Alexandra Palace's Theatre of 1873

The Builder reported on the Alexandra Palace's Theatre in their May 17th 1873 edition saying:- 'The stage for dramatic and operatic performances, which is situated in the north-east transept, is of very large proportions. It is 60 ft. in depth, while its extreme width is 85 ft. The proscenium-opening is 36 ft. in width by 37 ft. in height.

Above the stage are the flies, consisting of two tiers, and above them again is the gridiron floor, from which are worked the various cloths, borders, gas-battens, &c., used in the different representations. The height from the stage-level to the gridiron-floor above is 77 ft., and the extreme height to roof 90 ft.

A spiral iron staircase, 5 ft. in diameter, communicates from scene-dock to upper flies, affording the quickest possible access to all the working machinery of stage and barrel-loft, as also for the development of large transformation and other scenic effects.

Beneath the stage is a large cellar, capable of receiving the heaviest set scenes that may be required. The depth is 22 ft., and, in connexion with the machinery for the requisite working of the stage, it may be noticed that for its safe working, and in order to prevent accidents by persons falling through the stage when the traps are opening, what is termed a "lock-iron," the invention of Mr. Walford Grieve, has for the first time been introduced. For this invention, and for some other contrivances in connexion with the same, Mr. Walford Grieve has obtained a patent.

Great care has been taken that the stage of this theatre should be unexceptionable. In order to arrive at this result, the machinery and appliances of theatres, not only in England, but on the Continent, have been studied and examined. The consequence is that there are many features in this part of the building which have not been seen before in this country, and the whole economy of the scenic art will here be carried out, it may be hoped, without that confusion, noise, and delay which so disfigure the drama, even in many of our principal theatres.

The dressing-rooms, wardrobe, lavatories, and other conveniences, are situated at the rear of the stage, from which they are divided by a partition wall and corridor extending across the entire width. They consist of basement, ground floor, and story above, approached by spacious staircases, the number and size of the apartments on each floor being uniform.

The front of the stage on each side of the proscenium has been handsomely decorated. Ornamental pilasters and mouldings, with carved capitals, from which spring an archway extending over the proscenium, and which is filled by a large painting executed by Mr. J. Absolon, of the Society of Painters in Water Colours. The designs for the modelled ornamentations and coloured decoration have been supplied by the architects of the Palace themselves.

The auditorium space in connexion with the theatre will be that portion of the main avenue immediately in front, with the south-east transept opposite, thus forming one huge parterre for spectators, with reserved stalls situated directly behind the orchestra, which is slightly sunk below the ground floor of the theatre, doing away with the usual obstructions to the view of the audience. The galleries immediately adjoining will also be thrown into the theatre. While the theatrical performances are taking place, the theatre will be screened off from the rest of the Palace, and during the afternoon performances it will be darkened by an ingenious contrivance, thus allowing the various scenes to have their full effect.

The whole of the drawings for the construction of the stage have been supplied by Messrs. Thomas Grieve & Son, and the works have been carried out under the personal superintendence of Mr. Walford Grieve. The theatre has been stocked with scenery quite sufficient for all general purposes, and which has been painted by Messrs. Grieve & Son. The opening of the Palace is fixed for the 24th inst.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Builder, 17th May 1873.

The Alexandra Palace was indeed opened for the first time on Saturday the 24th of May 1873, although it was not to last long as it burned down just 16 days later. Only the outer walls of the building survived the fire and three members of its staff were killed. There's more on this here, and the subsequent rebuilding and reopening of the Alexandra Palace in 1875 here. Details of the Theatre in the 1875 Building, which still survives today, and is currently being restored in 2017, can be found here.

The Alexandra Palace Fire of 1873

The Builder reported on the destruction of the Alexandra Palace by fire in their 14th of June 1873 edition saying:- 'Wherever plumbers are employed on roofs of important edifices, a watch ought to he set over them: there are such reckless men among them, that wherever they are so employed, there is the utmost danger to the edifice. At twelve o'clock, when dropping work and dinner are the sole ideas in the head of the work-man, down he throws his hot iron, as if it were burning him, and off he goes from his brazier, leaving everything to chance. So must it have been in the present instance; and from twelve o'clock at noon on Monday last we must date the origin of the fire at the Alexandra Palace, which, in one short hour - the workmen's dinner hour - destroyed half a million of money's worth, and many pleasant hopes in the North of London.

The dome roof - the very centre and key of the whole building - was the spot where the plumbers were at work, and there it was, accordingly, where the fire originated. It is said to have been first observed about half-past twelve, but this we cannot understand; for the writer of this, about half-past twelve, saw great volumes of smoke already pouring up high into the sky from the direction of the Palace, while hew was in Holloway, four or five miles away; and by half-past one nearly all had disappeared from his view, and the Alexandra Palace was an unroofed ruin. There was a want of water; and the height of the dome (some 150 ft. or so above the floor) was too great for the ascent of what water there was.

The valuable tapestry and lent pictures were all saved, but the collection of rare and valuable pottery and porcelain, it is said, and Messrs. Defries's costly crystal chandelier, &c., perished with the multitude of other valuables. The exhibitors have suffered sadly.

The fire was still burning when Messrs. Kelk & Lucas, and two or three other directors, together with Mr. Griining, held a meeting in the afternoon, and decided to carry out their programme of the season as far as the out-door fetes go, and to rebuild the Palace as quickly as practicable; and next day a meeting of the company was held, when their architect (Mr. Johnson, of Meesom & Johnson) was instructed to provide a new design for the re-building, which, we hear, the directors are resolved to have completed within a year.

Only one death is as yet known to have occurred, but two or three persons are missing, and several have been injured. The deepest sympathy is felt generally for the directors and the company, while the inhabitants of the northern district consider the destruction of the Palace a national disaster. The Palace, we learn, was insured to the extent of 120,000L. only on Thursday or Friday in last Week.

Within the main walls of the gables or pediments are 9-inch brick walls. Several of these have lately fallen, causing much dismay, and those which remain up are expected to come down also, possibly through the behaviour of the iron rods, which, if we mistake not, tie them to the outer walls.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Builder, 14th June 1873.

The 1875 and Present Alexandra Palace

A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace - Click to Interact

The Alexandra Palace first opened on Saturday the 24th of May 1873, but it burned down just 16 days later. The fire was so intense that only the outer walls of the building survived, and three members of its staff were killed. Undeterred however, reconstruction of the building was soon started and on Saturday the 1st of May 1875 the Alexandra Palace was reopened to an eager public.

The Building News and Engineering Journal carried a plan and report on the soon to be reopened Alexandra Palace in their February 6th 1874 edition saying:- 'The ground-plan which we give is a copy of that from which the Alexandra Palace is now being built, the works being in rapid progress. The scheme of the present plan is totally different from that of the former palace. A "great hall," 336ft. long and 189ft. wide, with a grand orchestra and organ at the west end, occupies the central position, to the left and right of which are large open courts, each 209ft. by 142ft., with fountains and ornamental gardens, beyond which, and extending to the north and south entrances, are conservatories.

A Ground Plan of the Alexandra Palace - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, February 6th 1874.

Above - A Ground Plan of the Alexandra Palace - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, February 6th 1874. Top Left can be seen the Concert Hall, and Top Right the Theatre.

The theatre, 156ft. by 83ft., with all rooms appertaining thereto, is situated at the north-west corner of the building, while the concert-room is similarly planned on the south west corner. Exhibition galleries flank both the theatre and concert-room, and are connected with the open courts.

The refreshment department is on two floors right and left of the great hall, and extending beyond it the whole east front of the palace. The material employed in the construction is chiefly iron, and the style of architecture that generally chosen for such buildings, depending more on the massing than detail for effect. The architect is Mr. John Johnson, of 14, Buckingham-street, Strand. The builders are Messrs. Kelk and Lucas.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, February 6th 1874.

The Western Mail also reported on the rebuilt Alexandra Palace in their 30th of May 1875 edition saying:- 'On Saturday next will be opened the new Alexandra Palace, near London. It is not yet two years since the magnificent edifice which formerly occupied that site was reduced to ashes. Those who now visit Muswell Hill, and who last did so towards the middle or end of 1873, must be forcibly reminded of the fabled Phoenix, for on the site of what was then ruin and desolation has arisen an edifice of fair, we cannot say of grander, proportions.

The absence of the dome produces a tameness in the general effect, but the roof of the present palace is agreeably relieved by corner towers and a transverse portion running across the centre of the roof. The grounds are beautifully laid out, the tout ensemble forming one of the prettiest pieces of landscape gardening we have seen.

The large central hall in the building will seat 12,000 persons, and there is accommodation in the orchestra for 2,000 performers. So far as they have been tested, the acoustics have proved satisfactory. At the northwest end of the building is a concert room capable of containing 3,500 of an audience, and opposite a theatre seated for 3,000.

In the concert room is an organ constructed by Mr. Henry Willis, the builder of the celebrated organ in St. George's Hall, at Liverpool, and of those in the Royal Albert Hall and St Paul's Cathedral. It possesses five claviers. The compass of the four manual claviers extends from CC to C in altissimo (five complete octaves, or sixty-one notes), and that of the pedal from CCC to G (two octaves and a fifth, or 32 notes). The pedal organ consists of 16 stops; the first manual clavier, or choir organ, comprises 17 stops; the second clavier, or great organ, commands 21 stops; the third clavier, or swell organ, contains 21 stops; and the fourth clavier, or solo organ, includes 14 stops; and besides these, there are 15 accessories connecting the different parts of the instrument. To enable the performer to command these stops and accessories them are eight patent pneumatic combination pistons to each manual clavier. The main bellows is placed in a chamber in the basement. The feeders which supply the air are worked by two steam-engines, one of 8-horse and the other of 12 horse power, nominal. These feeders are of the most ample size, and constructed to receive their wind from the hall above, and not from the locality in which they are placed. To carry out this arrangement (of the highest importance), passages are provided for the wind shafts to and from the organ to the chamber in which the main reservoirs are placed. The main reservoirs deliver their wind to numerous other reservoirs in immediate connection with the pipes, for the purpose of acquiring the various pressures of air required for the different classes of stops.

With an organ such as has been described, and the daily performances by the band of the Palace Company, the concert-room ought to prove a favourite resort. Numerous and varied additional attractions are promised. These, however, will be dealt with in detail after they have been seen.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Western Mail, 30th of May 1875.

The Alexandra Palace - From the 'Premier Photographic View Album of London' 1907

Above - The Alexandra Palace - From the 'Premier Photographic View Album of London' 1907

The ERA reported on the opening of the Alexandra Palace in their 25th of May 1875 edition saying:- 'The Queen's birthday brought with it Queen's weather - by which term we have agreed to mean a brilliant sun whose heat is tempered by balmy breezes. In such weather the Alexandra Park and Palace were yesterday thrown open to the public, attracting not fewer than 20,000 visitors, every one or whom wished, we have little doubt, that at length success may be in store for an undertaking which promises to place within reach of Londoners another charming retreat from the cares of business; where the eye may be delighted with Nature dressed in her most picturesque garb; where the ear may be enchanted with the concord of sweet sounds; and where the mind may be elevated by the contemplation of the choicest works of art which time, trouble, and liberal expenditure may be able to bring together.

It would be somewhat late in the day to inform our readers that the Alexandra Palace is situated in one of the most charming spots of which our Home Counties can boast, and that the hills on which it stands, well named the "Northern Heights of London," command a view which equals in beauty, if indeed it does not excel, that to be obtained from the rival establishment at Sydenham. With the origin of the Palace and with its hitherto unfortunate career everybody, we imagine, is by this time acquainted. Brighter days seem at length to have come; the right men have bean discovered, and now fill the right places; all concerned in the undertaking have put their shoulders to the wheel with a will, and the result, judging by yesterday's proceedings, will be as satisfactory as can be desired.

We have recently placed on record in these columns a sketch of the attractive programme the directors have arranged for the season, now so auspiciously commenced. To this at present we shall not make further allusion, but shall give, for the benefit of those who unfortunately were not present, an outline of the inaugural events.

At ten o'clock the park was thrown open, and its broad slopes were soon dotted with gaily-dressed pleasure-seekers, who found plenty to occupy their attention in the magnificent views of country which met their gaze wherever they turned, or in inspecting the admirably arranged racecourse and its commodius grand stand, which forms so conspicuous an object in the lower portion of the park. At twelve o'clock the Palace itself was opened, and that without ceremony, if we may except the firing of a salvo of bombs, whose roar we interpreted to be in honour of her Majesty's birthday as much as an announcement of the great event of the day.

The two great attractions of the festival were an International Flower Show and a Grand Concert. Of the first we may say that a more brilliant display has never yet been witnessed, the whole length of the nave presenting a tout ensemble which will not readily be forgotten by those who saw it. The extent of the show may be guessed when we state that it comprised not fewer than seventy classes for flowers and twenty for fruit. Here were azaleas one mass of blossom; exotic orchids which sent us home envious of their owners; roses which shed their fragrance far and near; pelargoniums, tree ferns, stove and green-house plants; to say nothing - and we could say much, did space permit - of a choice array of cut flowers, of pansies, and of wedding and opera bouquets.

Among the professionals who secured the principal prizes - which, by the way, were valued at £1,200 - we noticed such eminent names as Williams, of Upper Holloway; Rollisson and Sons, Tooting; Jackson and Son, Kingston; J. T. Peacock, Hammersmith; C. Turner, Slough; Veitch and Co., Chelsea; and Paul and Son, Cheshunt; while among amateurs the competition was keen, and the marvellous beauty of the specimens exhibited must have taxed the discriminative powers of the judges to no small degree.

But then the fruit! Our very mouth waters as we think of it. It was cruel to place such deliciously juicy jewels in our way and to forbid us to taste. What grapes were there! what cherries! what pineapples! what peaches! what strawberries! what - but why pursue the tantalising subject any further? We looked and we longed, and what we confess of ourselves was true of everybody else. There was one dish in front of which lay a placard bearing the statement "This fruit may be cut." It had been cut with a vengeance. It was all gone, and everybody who came near passed on with the exclamation "How provoking." The most successful competitors in this part of the show were the gardeners to Lord Carington, the Earl of Fortescue, and the Duke of Hamilton.

Come we now to the concert. This took place at three o'clock in the centre transept, where were assembled a splendid band and chorus, numbering about 1,000 performers, under the direction of Sir Michael Costa, whose appearance was the signal for a storm of cheers. The principal artistes were Mdlles Titiens, Carola, Macvitz, Madame Trebelli-Bettini; Signor Campanini, Signor Borella, and Signor Agnesi. The programme, which was a long and admirably-selected one, of course opened with the National Anthem, and the gems of the concert may be chronicled as follows, viz., the aria "Miei rampolli" (Cenerentola), given by Signor Borella with all that quaint humour which has made him so prominent a favourite with the music-loving public; "I will extol thee," from the conductor's oratorio Eli, so brilliantly sung by Mdlle Carola as to elicit an encore which was not to be resisted; the "Inflammatus" (Stabat Mater), magnificently rendered by Mdlle Titiens and the full choir; the well known "M'appari" (Marta), which secured for Signor Campanini, who was in excellent voice, the honour of a recall; and the duo "Se fiato in corpo avete" (Matrimonio Segreto), amusingly interpreted by Signor Agnesi and Signor Borella. The company's choir, we should add, was on this occasion strengthened by members of the Sacred Harmonic Society, Her Majesty's Opera, &c., the band also being considerably augmented. The day's arrangements also included performances by Mr F. Archer on the grand organ, which has been erected under the superintendence of Sir Michael Costa by Mr Henry Willis.

The Concert Hall, which has been built in the north-west transept, and which is to be capable of seating 8,000 persons, is not yet completed, and was not open yesterday. Nor did any performance take place on the stage of the great Theatre, concerning which we have already given some particulars. The curtain, however, was up, and we had an opportunity of admiring a charming piece of landscape scenery, the work, we imagine, of Meessrs Grieve and Son. The Theatre next week will, to use an expressive phrase, be "in full swing," for here on Monday we are promised a grand spectacle in three tableaux entitled Azurine; or, the Spirit of the Waters. When we say that Mdlle Sangalli, of whose ability we have already had an opportunity of judging, has been engaged as premiere danseuse, and that the whole of the spectacle will be under the able direction of Mr J. Milano, we have said enough to assure everybody that the entertainment will be of a most attractive character.

The picture galleries yesterday were literally thronged, and, indeed, at this there was little cause for wonder. It is to the spirit of a gentleman whose name we are not permitted to mention that this really delightful collection has been brought together here for the delectation of the public. The most noticeable feature in connection with it is its thoroughly representative character, some of the best works of such modern masters as Leslie, Gilbert, Cox, Frith, Elmore, Millais, Maclise, Turner &c., finding places on the walls. Here are the means of gratification worth twenty times the sum charged for admission to the Palace, and we have little doubt that the picture gallery will prove one of the most popular of its numerous attractions.

A peep at the tapestry room will send the curious in such matters away as astonished as delighted. To the liberality of Mr G. Attenborough we owe this choice exhibition of work which, it is estimated, is about 400 years old, and the brilliant beauty of whose colours and designs time has not been able to efface. The subjects are chiefly taken from the career of Scipio, and both in execution and conception we may fairly say that better specimens of tapestry work have never come before our notice.

The sculpture within the building will be found to well repay inspection. It has been entirely arranged under the guidance of M. Brucianni, and embraces some of the finest existing specimens from the Louvre, the Vatican, the British Museum, &c. Within the limits at our disposal we are not able to do justice to this and many other departments which deserve, and in due course will receive, proper consideration.

To say that the interior arrangements of the Palace are complete would be to state that which is not. The rapidity, however, with which order has been brought out of chaos, reflects not a little credit on Mr Redgrave, the Manager, and upon his little army of assistants. The refreshment department, as already announced, is in the very competent hands or Messrs Bertram and Roberts. These gentlemen were tried for a number of years at the Crystal Palace, and were never found wanting. Here they are sure to add to their laurels, and we may hint the fact, which will be very acceptable to the public, that their prices are as moderate as it is possible to make them, and that the presence within the Palace of a thirsty soul is not made the excuse for charging him double what he would have to pay outside. The faith which the public have in these caterers was shown in the eagerness with which their "bars" were beseiged, and by the host of hungry ones who betook themselves to the grand banqueting all in the grounds, and there regaled themselves with all the delicacies of the season which their purses could afford.

For the benefit of those who are not partial to climbing hills we may mention that the new station, which brings the visitor to the very doors of the centre transept, is now open, and that yesterday the traffic over the new line, which runs through a remarkably pretty country was conducted without the slightest hitch or accident. We cannot conclude this rapid sketch of the inaugural festival without a word of thanks in acknowledgment of the courtesy experienced by the representatives of the Press at the hands of the Messrs Trendell.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 25th of May 1875.

A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace showing the BBCs Radio and Television Mast - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Palace showing the BBCs Radio and Television Mast - Click to Interact

The rebuilt Alexandra Palace opened on Saturday the 1st of May 1875 and went on to have a long and distinguished career. Over the years it has been put to many different uses but it is probably best remembered today as being the home of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) who began broadcasting their 'high definition television service' from the Palace in 1936. Although the BBC soon had other buildings to work from they continued to use the Alexandra Palace for years afterwards, and their radio and television mast which dominates the building is still in use today (see image above). The BBC's original television studios A and B are still inside the building along with their galleries.

The Alexandra Palace Theatre of 1875

The Alexandra Palace Theatre - Courtesy APPCT Alexandra Palace

Above - The Alexandra Palace Theatre - Courtesy APPCT Alexandra Palace

The Alexandra Palace's huge Victorian Theatre, designed by John Johnson, originally opened in 1875. The ERA reported on the occasion in their May the 9th 1875 edition saying:- 'The visitors to the new Alexandra Palace were much too busy with other matters on the opening day to attend to the Theatre, which, in fact, was not even ready for a theatrical representation, but on Monday a light, attractive, and thoroughly suitable entertainment was provided in the shape of an operetta and a grand spectacular ballet. One great merit in the programme selected for the first performance in the Theatre was that it was not too long. Now that bright sunshine, full-foliaged trees, and lovely flowers tempt the Londoner to visit Muswell-hill, the charming grounds will naturally become an attractive feature, and, without disparagement to the Theatre, it may safely be concluded that a pretty operetta lasting about an hour, with a brilliant ballet occupying a similar period of time, will be quite sufficient to make the necessary variety in the programme.

The entertainments on Monday, though, owing to a first performance, naturally occupying more time than they will ultimately do, were extremely successful, and the appearance of the Theatre indicated that the greatest care had been taken in this department. It is large and lofty, and to those accustomed to the Metropolitan houses will appear remarkably wide. This is a good feature, because, owing to the numbers to be accommodated on highdays and holidays, the great width will enable a much huger number to hear and see well. In these important qualifications we must pronounce the Alexandra Palace Theatre a complete success, for taking our places in various parts of the house, we found there was little perceptible difference in its acoustic properties, and even at the extreme end of the building the singers in the operetta could be heard with the greatest distinctness, although of course there was some diminution of effect in the dialogue.

So far visitors to the Alexandra Palace who delight in theatrical performances may be decidedly congratulated. We are glad to perceive that the Theatre has not been divided and subdivided so as to spoil its noble proportions, while ample accommodation is provided. Fronting the stage there are two balconies of graceful curve, which, unlike similar erections in London Theatres, do not reach so far as the proscenium. The area is simply vast, and the gradual rise from the stage to the back of the house is such as to afford every individual spectator a good view of what is going on upon the stage.

A Ground Plan showing the Alexandra Palace Theatre - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, February 6th 1874.

Above - A Ground Plan showing the Alexandra Palace Theatre - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, February 6th 1874.

The lighting is arranged by circular gaseliers suspended from the ceiling, a great improvement upon the objectionable "sun-lights'' now so much in fashion, but which to our thinking utterly destroy the charming effects of colour and the agreeable diffusion of light and shade which used in old times to be a graceful characteristic of the auditorium. The side windows, which light the Theatre when no performance is going on, are during representation blocked up with dark screens.

The stage is wide, and this proscenium almost square, having on each side a statue in a recess. The act-drop is a classical pile of antique buildings. The decorations of the Theatre are of a more subdued character than in other portions of the Palace, and wisely so, in order that the greatest brilliancy may be seen upon the stage.

With regard to the important subject of ventilation we are disposed to think that here some improvement may yet be made. The Theatre was certainly rather hot at times during the performance, which commenced at three o'clock with Offerbach's bright and tuneful operetta Breaking the Spell.

The three characters of the operetta were sustained as follows:- Jenny Wood, Miss Gertrude Ashton, who won considerable fame by her operatic performances at the Alexandra Theatre, Camden Town; Peter Bloom, the lover, Mr Wilford Morgan, one of the most competent English tenors; and the old Chelsea pensioner Matthew, Mr Richard Temple. Breaking the Spell, if far from being a novelty, was well adapted for the occasion, and went uncommonly well. The duet "To the war I go," for Miss Ashton and Mr Wilferd Morgan, was cleverly rendered and so also was the military duet between Jenny and the old pensioner, Mr Temple delineating the character with due effect, and singing with great spirit, especially in the air where he breaks the violin.

The orchestra, was conducted by Mr. Weist Hill, and a more competent or experienced artiste it would have been difficult to find. Besides being a most, accomplished violinist Mr Weist Hill has had years of training, in opera and classical works, and nothing in the way of orchestral music can well come amiss to him.

The second item of the programme was the grand spectacular ballet Minerva, the Tutetary Goddess of the Arts and Sciences, invented and arranged by the talented ballet master M. Espinosa, with scenery on a magnificent scale by Messrs Grieve and Sons, and music by Mr J. Hamilton Clarke, whose name will not, perhaps, be very familiar to our readers, but who is known in musical circles as a composer desirous of producing something far more ambitious than ballet music. But since Beethoven himself did not disdain to associate his grand genius with nimble steps and graceful poses, Mr Hamilton Clarke may also comfort himself with the hope that some day "the whirligig of time will bring its revenges," and his symphonies and overtures may be as welcome as his Alexandra Palace ballet music.

Brilliant, dresses, designed by M. Faustin, add to the attractions of the spectacle, which is quite of an allegorical complexion, and is presented in three scenes, the first of which takes us into the realms of the gods, and is called the Repose of Olympus. The Hours are personified by twelve fair representatives, who "pass their time" by striking the hours as they revolve. Above them is suspended a gigantic pendulum, swinging to and fro, and balancing a couple of young ladies. This somewhat novel idea took the fancy of the audience greatly, and was much applauded. The next scene is the Apparition of the Goddess Minerva, who comes in the person of Mdlle. Virginia Milani, an artiste competent to hold her own against any ballet dancer of the present day. Her style is graceful and refined in the extreme, and she will unquestionably become a great favourite at Muswell hill.

We may remark en passant how droll it seems to describe a ballet on the spot where Moore wrote his "Lalla Rookh." But again let us commend Mdlle. Milani, who was the chief attraction of the ballet. Groups emblematic of Art and Science pass before us, and gods and goddesses are mixed up with Shakespeare, Homer, Raphael, sir Isaac Newton, and other celebrities; and in this portion of the spectacle Madame Espinosa dances admirably.

From Art we go to Nature, and groups of reapers, vine-dressers, &c., are represented - some gracefully, some comically, as, for instance, where the operations of the wine-press are displayed. The third scene depicts the Temple of Jupiter, in which a mythological procession is added to the host already indicated. Here M. and Madame Espinosa dance a novel dance "Mala, Rassiskala." The characters personated are a male and female peasant, who are as fantastic and grotesque in look and manner as could well be imagined. The dance was an immense hit. Another clever impersonation was that of Raphael, by Miss Charlton. The great painter's chef d'urre the Madonna is shown as representative of this branch of art; while a block of marble becomes not the work of Phidias, the famous sculptor, but is transformed into the Alexandra Palace and a bust of the Princess of Wales. Great cheering greeted this device. A group of Cyclops perform a very original grotesque dance, each elevating on his shoulders a "pet of the ballet;'' and Mdlles. Richard and St. Leger dance gracefully in this scene.

These are some of the principal features in an entertainment of a novel and pleasing character, quite different from the ordinary ballet, and eminently adapted for the purpose. Its success was complete, and it will undoubtedly attract the bulk of the visitors to the Theatre during its, representation.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, May the 9th 1875.

The Alexandra Palace Theatre had originally opened in May 1875, as the above report details, however, until recently, the Theatre, along with its original stage equipment and machinery, had long been left empty and abandoned. It hadn't been used at all for nearly 40 years, and it had not been used as a live Theatre for even longer, in fact for over 80 years, until that is, its eventual reopening, after major restoration and refurbishment costing some £10m, on the 1st of December 2018. A Review of the reopened Theatre, from the BBC, along with many images, can be read here.

In 1996 the Alexandra Palace had been granted a Grade II Listed Building status, and various projects for its refurbishment had come and gone over the years, but in 2015 the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust (APPCT) was awarded £18.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards restoring the Theatre and the old BBC Television Studios at the eastern end of the building.

The refurbishment was proposed to be finished by 2018, and the Theatre, which would be able to accommodate some 1,300 people when it was reopened, was proposed to be used for plays, films, comedy, and musical productions. In the refurbished Television Studios people would be able to learn about the history of British Television.

The total cost of the project was projected to be around £26.7 million, and would be funded by £18.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £6.8 million from Haringey Council, and a final £1 million from the APPCT Trust and its fund-raising, which had several ways in which people could donate, from inclusion on a donors' board to sponsoring Theatre seats.

The APPCT Trust's Press Release said at the time:- 'The theatre is an incredible piece of theatrical history, the existence of which is not widely known. It remains frozen in time, with much of the original décor and rare stage machinery still in place. It was created to showcase opera, musicals, plays and all kinds of entertainment – ‘wonder and spectacle’ for the people. It even hosted early cinema screenings... Working in conjunction with award-winning architects Studios and leading theatre designers Charcoalblue, the restoration plans will create an adaptable performance space for an audience of up to 1,300, while retaining the original character and feel of the theatre.' - The APPCT Trust.

The Alexandra Palace Theatre - Courtesy APPCT Alexandra Palace

Above - The Alexandra Palace Theatre - Courtesy APPCT Alexandra Palace

The Theatres Trust said that:- 'Alexandra Palace bears witness to the vitality and exploration of the overlapping specialities of architecture, civil engineering, building and decorative arts in Victorian London. The Theatre is one of the most architecturally significant and historic parts of the entertainment complex and the auditorium remains remarkably intact, making it one of the oldest now surviving in London and is architecturally, historically and archaeologically of rare interest. The Trust is pleased to support the refurbishment of this important historic theatre to bring it back in to public use.' - The Theatres Trust.

Having been restored, albeit in a way that kept the look of the Theatre's faded glory whilst making it safe and usable by modern audieneces, the Theatre reopened on the 1st of December 2018. A Review of the reopened Theatre, from the BBC, along with many images, can be read here.

You may like to visit the Alexandra Palace's own website here, and full details of the restoration of the Theatre and Television Studios can be found here.

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