My first flat was high up in the converted attic of a five storeys Edwardian terrace. Hot in summer, freezing in winter (snow would blow through the sash windows); it didn’t have much to commend it, apart from the view from the kitchen window.
Perched high up, towering above all other buildings was Alexandra Palace. Majestic and dilapidated, a shadow of the ’Peoples Palace` it once was named.
The BBC hardly using their historic facilities and the exhibition halls reduced to hosting antique fairs, it was opened in July 1873 and named after Prince Edward’s new wife Alexandra, over 100,000 people attended the ceremony. It didn’t get off to an auspicious start, just 16 days later fire destroyed most of the building. The Victorians with typical enthusiasm rebuilt ‘The Palace of the People’ in only two years. Comprising a concert hall, art galleries, museum, library, lecture hall, theatre and banqueting room. In the grounds were a horse racing course, swimming pool, boating lake, a 9-hole golf course and a Japanese village.
The start of Alley Pally’s decline began in 1900 as the owner tried to sell the site for redevelopment, and since that time it has never regained its Victorian opulence. In 1944 a German doodlebug blew up exposing the great organ – said to be the finest concert organ in Europe – to the elements.
So the years have passed, another fire destroyed parts of the organ still in situ which was undergoing restoration at the time and coupled to that, Haringey Council had overspent on restoring the fabric of the building creating a £30 million deficit which it tried to claim from the charity set up to run Alexandra Palace.
Apart from ice- and roller-skating rinks being installed the slumbering giant has seen little use for its huge Victorian edifice. Now The Alexandra Park Charitable Trust (‘APPCT’) has launched a fund raising appeal for £1 million to bring the Victorian theatre back to life after receiving large grants from both the local authority and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is also hoped that by 2018 to restore the glazed East Court turning it into the Grand Hall incorporated in the original design.
The Victorian Theatre, which, apart from the occasional one off event, has been closed to audiences for 80 years, 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 promoted as ‘wonder and spectacle’ for the people. It even hosted early cinema screenings. 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, as important as Wilton’s Music Hall, and is architecturally, historically and archaeologically of rare interest.
Featured image: Alexandra Palace by Oliver Spalt (CC BY-SA 3.0)