Alexandra Palace first
opened in 1873 as "The People's Palace" to provide the
Victorians with a great environment and recreation
centre. Situated in 196 acres of parkland, with
spectacular views over the Capital, the Palace, joined by
a branch line of the Great Northern Railway to Highgate,
attracted thousands of people who came by train, carriage
or on foot.
Sixteen days after it opened, when 124,000 people had
visited the Palace, it burned down as the result of a
fire in the dome which could not be extinguished.
On 1st May 1875, less than 2 years after the
destruction of the original building, a new Palace
opened. Covering 7 acres, it was centred on the Great
Hall, which seated 12,000 people in addition to the 2,000
in the orchestra stalls, beneath the mighty Willis Organ
which was driven by two steam engines and vast
In other parts of the Palace, there were displays of
painting and sculpture, exhibitions, a museum, lecture
hall and library, banqueting rooms, a 3,500 seater
concert room which was subsequently turned into a roller
skating rink and a theatre capable of seating 3,000.
The cost of the Palace including materials, building
and grounds amounted to £417,128. The Park had a
popular race track, a trotting ring, cricket ground,
ornamental lakes, and a permanent funfair.
Its popularity continued unabated until the end of the
century. After certain financial difficulties, an Act of
Parliament in 1901 created the Alexandra Palace and Park
Trust, which was administrated by the local authorities
in the area. The Act required the Trustees to maintain
the Palace and Park and make them, subject to several
provisions, "available for the free use and recreation of
the public forever". From this point, the Palace
continued to develop its organ concerts, shows,
exhibitions and other events.
In 1935, the BBC leased the eastern part of the
building from which the first public television
transmissions were made in 1936. Alexandra Palace was the
main transmitting centre for the BBC but after 1956 was
used exclusively for the news broadcasts.
On 10th July 1980 the Palace caught fire for the
second time and an area comprising the Great Hall,
Banqueting Suite, and former roller rink together with
the theatre dressing rooms was completely destroyed. This
represented just under half the total building (143,00 ft
sq. of a total 329,00 ft sq.). The area occupied by the
BBC was not damaged nor was Palm Court.
It was immediately decided to proceed with rebuilding,
with funding partly from the GLC dowry and partly from
the anticipated insurance settlement.
There was much public interest in the proposed
development and the planning application for the revised
scheme was called in by the Secretary of State and a
Public Inquiry was held at the Palace in February - May
1982. There was then considerable delay in receiving the
outcome of the Inquiry which was not released until
August 1983. Development and restoration work began soon
after phase one of the Palace was re-opened on 17th March
1988. It currently operates as a Charitable Trust
administered by the London Borough of Haringey.