The Royal Agricultural Hall, Upper Street, Islington
Including The Islington Palace - Later The Gaumont Cinema
See also in this area - The Angel Picture Theatre - The Philharmonic Hall / Empire Theatre / Grand Theatre - The Marlborough Theatre - The Pleasance Theatre - Collins' Music Hall - The Parkhurst Theatre
Above - The New Agricultural Hall, Islington - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, December 5th 1862.
The Royal Agricultural Hall, today known as the Islington Business Design Centre, is situated on Upper Street, Islington, and was originally built in 1862. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on its opening in their December 5th 1862 edition saying:- 'This building is now completed, and will be opened on Monday next by the Smithfield Club. It has been erected by a company (limited), and leased for the use of the Smithfield Club, for the purpose of holding their December meeting and cattle show; at other periods the company intend to let the building for public uses.
Right - 'Up for the Cattle Show: Thronging to The Agricultural Hall' - From the Penny Illustrated Paper December 14th 1872.
In order to secure a suitable design for their building, the directors invited architects of established reputation to a competition. They limited the cost of the building to £25,000. From the designs sent in, the directors selected one by Frederick Peck, Esq., of Maidstone, which appeared in every respect admirably adapted for the purposes of the company. Six eminent contractors were invited to send in tenders for the execution of Mr. Peck's designs. The directors selected the lowest tender, that of Messrs. Hill, Keddel and Co., of Whitechapel, who agreed to execute the work for £24,980; the highest was £26,000.
The great hall or Cattle Show is 384 ft. long and 217 ft. wide, and the whole area is covered with a central segmental roof of 145 ft. span, and two other side roofs of 36 ft. span; under the latter roofs, which are re-turned at the ends, are placed the galleries for the display of implements and light machinery.
The inner hall adjoins the Cattle Show, and is arranged for the show of pigs, measuring 100 ft. by 100 ft.; it is covered with roofing similar to that over the side galleries.
The offices of the company, and the Smithfield Club, together with a residence, form a block of buildings near Burford-street, near which block refreshment rooms, lavatories, ladies' rooms, and other conveniences, are placed. The front, next Liverpool road, presents two features, in the shape of turrets, used for the purpose of ventilation, and a central entrance, near which are offices and rooms for the use of salesmen, police, telegraph, post-office, &c.
The front, next Upper-street, is formed with a central archway, and a shop on each side; it is intended to continue the shops up to the great Hall, and cover over the avenue with a light iron and glass roof.
The whole of the fittings for the use of the Cattle Show can be easily removed, the parts being secured into iron sockets, let into the asphalte flooring. The building has given general satisfaction, and it is confidently expected that the scheme will realize the expectations of the shareholders. It is stated, by competent judges, that the building is admirably adapted for concerts, &c., the proportions being conducive to the transmission of sound.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, December 5th 1862.
The Royal Agricultural Hall opened on Monday the 8th of December 1862. The following year the Main Hall was temporarily converted into a Hippodrome space for equestrian performances and circus performers with seating arranged either side and a circular ring in the centre, and accomodation for 17,000 people.
By 1869 a new building had been constructed as part of the Agricultural Hall Complex, with its main entrance next to the main building, and called St Mary's Hall, which was licensed to hold 3000 people. This would be regularly used by the Mohawk Minstrel Troupe from 1876 to 1900. A poster for this troup performing at the Elephant & Castle Theatre in 1885 can be seen here.
In 1900 St Mary's Hall became a Variety Hall with all manner of performances staged, along with the occasional early film presentations, but film took over completely in 1908 when it was converted into a full time Cinema called the Islington Palace. The Palace was renamed the Blue Hall in 1918 and remained as such until July 1951 when it was renamed the Gaumont. As with many Cinemas of the period it was eventually converted for Bingo use in 1963 and this ran until 1975 when it was closed down. The Hall then remained empty and unused until it was finally demolished in 1985.
The Theatres Trust says of the Islington Palace:- 'As last seen, it was a rectangular hall with very restrained plaster ornament. Single balconies originally extended round three sides but later at rear only, the removal of the side balconies leaving the proscenium stage looking rather small and lonely. It was particularly interesting, even in its altered condition, as the last of the big London minstrel halls and possibly the last of its kind in Britain.' The Theatres Trust.
The rest of the Royal Agricultural Hall, which is today Grade II Listed, has been altered many times over the years, but is still just discernible in its current incarnation as the Islington Business Design Centre, see image below.
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Business Design Centre, formerly the Agricultural Hall, Islington - Click to Interact
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: