Mark Evison is Ally Pally’s Park Manager. Here he talks about some of his favourite things about the Park…
I’ve been working here for 12 years and there’s been lots of changes to the park in that time. It’s always been loved, but now more and more people are discovering it. The biggest change in this time is the activation of the Park. This includes the Parkrun (celebrating their 8th anniversary on 7 December), the outdoor cinemas, Soap Box Race, brass bands (organised by the Friends of the Park), Go Ape and the Great Fete.
My role means working with all the teams who help to keep the park open and in good condition. A typical day could mean responding to enquiries, working on tree management (that’s planting or strategically felling trees), speaking to tenants or working on the major events that happen in the park.
Spring is probably my favourite time of year. Everything is coming back to life and waking up after winter. The trees, shrubs and plants green up and animal species like bats come out of hibernation. Hopefully our population of hedgehogs will bounce back, too.
Some stats about trees for you! The park has 7,500 trees. The tree canopy currently covers around 45 per cent of the site, it was less than 10 per cent when the area was a dairy farm in the mid-19th Century. 80 per cent of the trees have been established since 1965.
Given Ally Pally’s history interesting things are always coming up. Only recently we discovered some old documents that told us that the Leo the Lion statue by the boating lake was created by Sir Charles Wheeler. He worked on many public buildings, including the Bank of England and the fountain in Trafalgar Square. The statue was intended to mark the entrance to a children’s zoo that was never built!
My favourite wildlife in the park is the Nuthatch (it’s a bird!) which you can see sometimes in The Grove. They look a bit like a highway man with the sash of black across its eye. Long tailed tits are cool too, they travel in a flock and move like a peloton taking turns moving to the front. They always look like they’re having great fun.
Redwings are a beautiful bird that travels pretty far to be here. They migrate from as far as Russia and Scandinavia. We’ve had a peregrine here from time to time, which is pretty rare. They eat pigeons, although not the legs or wings. The peregrine falcon first arrived in 2013 and was the offspring of the nesting pair at the Tate Modern. He was named Bradley (after Bradley Wiggins).
Apart from Ally Pally, my favourite park is probably my local one. It’s the most important to me. It’s where I took my children to play. I run there and play rounders with friends there. I walk through it to get to the station on my way to work, it’s great to see egrets, herons and even a kingfisher first thing in the morning.
We get a lot of help from volunteers, numbers have grown in the last few years especially as the Friends of the Park have adopted the butterfly meadow and carry out work parties every month to protect the grassland habitat and rare yellow meadow ants. The Friends of Alexandra Park are great as they organise walks and talks covering everything from bats and birds to fungi and mini beasts.
There is such a variety of things you can do in the park here at Ally Pally: you can relax, walk, run, enjoy the views, go to the garden centre, feed the ducks, have a coffee, go on a pedalo, Go Ape, play cricket…I’m going on!
If I could go back in time to any day in the history of the park I’d go to…the opening day, 23rd July 1863 which included archery, guards bands, a horticultural fete and “special arrangements for refreshments”! (Source: Carrington)
James Atkinson, Alexandra Palace development director, looks back at the year and forwards to what’s next at Ally Pally:
This week we have been celebrating one year since the reopening of the Alexandra Palace Theatre. The East Wing Restoration Project was of course made possible through a very large grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, one of the largest given for the restoration of an historic building. We also owe enormous thanks to Haringey Council, the residents of Haringey, and to all our supporters. We couldn’t have done it without you.
We have exceeded our audience target for the first year of operation, and the Theatre has so quickly become part of what Alexandra Palace has to offer that it is strange to think that this wonderful space was lying dormant for so long. We’ve packed so much into the last year and it just goes to show what can be done when we can reopen sections of the Palace to the public.
The project has also won a number of prestigious awards – most recently, ‘Best Heritage Project’ at the Architects’ Journal awards, which is a testament to the passion, creativity and professional excellence of all those involved.
What next for Alexandra Palace? Of course, the work never stops. About one quarter of the Palace remains derelict, including the BBC Studios and basements, and repairing and maintaining the building is a constant effort.
Alongside this, we want to make improvements to the park, and fund more activities and events for the whole community – such as the Alexandra Palace Children’s Book Awards or our regular social activities for people with dementia.
Our aim is for Alexandra Palace to offer the widest possible public benefit and ensure we pass it on in good shape for future generations to enjoy.
As a charity, every £1 we make from our events – from fireworks to concerts and everything in between – is reinvested back into Alexandra Palace. Everyone who buys a ticket for an event here is making a difference, and we are now welcoming people in record numbers, but even this is not enough to keep pace with the work required.
Making a donation to Alexandra Palace – either as a one-off gift or on a regular basis – is a great way to support the continued revitalisation of this much-loved destination.
If you were one of the thousands of people who supported the restoration project: thank you again for helping to bring Alexandra Palace Theatre back to life. Together, we achieved something amazing.
If not, there is still time to add your name, or help us make new improvements to this much-loved building. Help us make Ally Pally even better.
On the first anniversary of the reopening of the Theatre, Lou Glover, Alexandra Palace Theatre Manager, talks us through her last 12 months
I started three months before we reopened and it was still very much a building site, with hard hats and hi vis everywhere. To even see the transformation in those final weeks to a fully functioning – and amazing – theatre was pretty spectacular. And a bit nerve-wracking too.
The opening weekend was something anyone involved with the Theatre will never forget. Seeing such a mix of people using and enjoying the space was fantastic. Events were then booked pretty much every day that December. 40,000 people toured the theatre in the first month alone. It’s barely slowed down since.
We had to learn how the building operated alongside running those shows. We’re still exploring different formats and ways of presenting shows in the space, which is pretty exciting. We’re operating a modern theatre with Victorian infrastructure. If you look at the stage, you wouldn’t think that below it is two stories deep. The stage traps there are the originals from when the theatre was last used over 80 years, as just one example. Other venues rip out these layers of history but as we were closed for 80 years ours remain and we find creative solutions to working with this history.
We love the challenge of working with such a variety of performers and programmes. We’ve covered everything from theatre to fashion, from jazz to opera, and from stand-up comedy to cinema. It’s been great to integrate the Theatre into our large scale public events too, like our Fireworks Festival and the Great Fete. The Theatre has added an extra dimension to what people know and love about Ally Pally.
There’s been so many highlights. Earlier in the year we had FKA Twigs, our first standing concert, immediately followed by the Liam Gallagher film premiere and performance, immediately followed by Graham Norton interviewing Madonna. We balance these high profile events alongside our Creative Learning programme, which gives local people the chance to contribute to and experience this amazing space. It’s this variety that gives the Theatre such a great identity.
We think we’ve got a ghost. There’s a light on the stage that swings on its own. And our radios will go off and on without us touching them when we’re in the Theatre. Definitely a ghost.
It takes a little longer to get people seated for a performance as so many of them, when they first walk in, spend a minute or two taking in the spectacular look and feel of the venue.
Our volunteers are simply amazing. They do so much to bring the venue and all its history and stories to life. The Theatre is here for everyone to enjoy culture in all its forms, so it’s great that we can open it up to so many people, and our volunteers are fundamental to this.
We couldn’t have achieved what we have done so far without so much support. Our theatre team, from all departments, really pull together every night to make the theatre work like a dream and we are really well supported by the rest of the organisation. We owe a big thanks to our volunteers, the Friends of the Theatre, the local community and our funders, to name just a few. There was such a will and passion to get the Theatre open. This feeling of such widespread support has only gathered pace over the last year.
I’d recommend Peter Pan Goes Wrong for a Christmas theatre experience, it’s such a great production. We’ve got some surprises coming up in the next 12 months too, but my lips are sealed at the moment. But there’ll definitely be something for everyone to enjoy.
Abdel Belabbes describes his experience volunteering at Ally Pally….
It’s difficult to quantify exactly what my feelings were when I was first asked to film Alexandra Palace’s Great Fête festival, but I would liken it to being invited to a family dinner on a seasonal holiday. Immediately the mind races and questions abound. “What do I bring? What do I wear? Is it a black tie event or something more casual?”
As a youth I had spent many a summer basking in the sun on the Palace’s slopes and my parents had signed many school trip letters that granted me the joy of skating in the Palace’s Ice Rink. Combine the feelings of childhood nostalgia with the promise of hundreds of guests and performers, all of whom I was responsible for representing through my limited experience in videography, I couldn’t help be feel more than a little daunted by a task that seemed as monumental as the Palace itself.
It is to the credit of the Volunteering Producer and the rest of the Creative Learning team that I was encouraged to mine these feelings and channel it into my craft. I was introduced to Natalie Kynigopoulou, a local artist and videographer, who was my mentor throughout the project. Natalie was able to help me assess my strengths and weaknesses and break the project down into simple, measurable objectives that would further my understanding of the craft. I had met Natalie before through Collage Works, a local organisation dedicated to the creative education of young Londoners, and was able to build upon that relationship through project based learning. I was taught to accept and work within my limitations, favouring intuition and not be afraid of interacting with the subjects I was filming.
Through this exploration I managed develop a visual palette that reflected the nostalgia I felt for Alexandra Palace, all the while paying tribute to the familial energy that I witnessed on the day of the celebration. I took on the project hoping to have a portfolio piece for my showreel, I left with a new found confidence in my abilities as a filmmaker and a better understanding of what I have to offer as both an artist and a member of my community.
Click here to view Abdel’s video
Researching and archiving – an overview from volunteer Keith Sagar
I knew of Alexandra Palace since I first came to London; the silhouette on the hill when the train was nearly at Kings Cross. Then, while I lived in grotty North London flats, a place for views over London, and the occasional rock concert (yes, back in the 1960’s). Then, becoming Muswell Hill residents, a family venue for fireworks, circus, boat shows, organ concerts, and a memorable school concert in the cold, damp abandoned, Old Theatre. I became an architect, and as understanding and re-using old buildings, rather than demolishing them, came into favour, I worked on some historic building projects, but I never managed to work on the Palace.
When I retired, I trained to get a tourist guide diploma, and also looked for local voluntary work. Visiting the Palace’s ‘War on the Home Front’ exhibition in 2014, I found there were opportunities at the Palace and Park, and I have been a volunteer at the Palace since 2015, mainly doing guided tours on our many routes. As my fellow volunteer guides have already written about this – or perhaps you have done one of our tours – I will instead say something about another volunteer activity – research and archiving.
There is a huge amount of information – facts, personal stories, collections of photographs documents, – about the Palace which constantly needs to be researched, recorded, put in order, and made available for many purposes – exhibitions, publications, website, displays.
Our tours are one example; we need accurate facts, stories, and memorable ‘take away points’ – something amazing, amusing, or previously unknown – to keep them fresh and interesting. These come from research and from the archives. On recent tours you could have been told about elephants, parachutists, alleged alien activities, the nuclear bunker, and much more; stories discovered, researched and recorded by our volunteer tour guides.
My own volunteer researching and archiving illustrates some of what can be done. I have followed the Palace’s suggestions, first from Curatorial and Interpretation Manager Kirsten, and more recently Archivist Melanie, about subjects for investigation.
I started by looking at the Palace’s digital records – thousands of documents, images, drawings. They had a roller skating craze, outdoor events with person-carrying kites, and parachutists jumping from balloons, while the Great Hall had a cycle racing track for week-long events, massed choirs, and performances of the 1812 overture with full firework and cannon-fire effects (at least until the local residents objected ).
Then the Google Arts and Culture Project loaned the Palace a sophisticated digital scanner to record historical documents, many recently discovered in a locked cupboard, for the development of the Palace’s online archive. Over 8000 documents were scanned, and as volunteers we assisted with handling these. I particularly liked the unique documents about early television dating from 1936, when the BBC were literally inventing television broadcasting in the Alexandra Palace Studios in the 1930s; designers drawings and photographs of the studio sets, and scripts – typewritten carbon copies – many with the producer’s handwritten amendments in red crayon.
When contractors discovered some glass medical phials dated 1915, still containing liquid embedded in the theatre walls, I researched their background at the Wellcome Institute medical library. They were an early tetanus vaccine, which was produced for use by the Army in the First World War trenches. Presumably these vaccines were used in the makeshift hospital of the Palace internment camp for enemy aliens while it was requisitioned by the War Office from 1915-1919.
I also investigated the poet and painter Rudolf Sauter, born and educated in England but interned at the Palace during the wartime, presumably because of his German nationality. The Imperial War Museum Archive holds some of Sauter’s work, where I found poems, drawings, letters and a painting all depicting the Palace while it was an internment camp.
Striking and unusual – for the 1980s – artwork and wall paintings were a feature in some of the rooms rebuilt after the 1980 fire. There is a classical architectural theme, with enormous Greek-style gods, and ‘trompe l’oeil’ effects in which entire walls were painted with gardens, lakes and people to create the illusion of an outdoor space. The Royal Institute of British Architects library holds articles and information on the designers and artists involved, which I researched and recorded for use by the Palace. I am currently helping to investigate some of the documents – thousands of large architectural drawings stored in hundreds of rolls – from the 1980s rebuilding works. Among many frankly boring contractual documents are some high quality, sometimes unusual architectural design drawings (‘..based upon the Roman Parthenon…’ – that classical theme again!). Some drawings indicate still unrealised proposals such as a drama school, TV museum, hotel, while another – the observatory on top of one of the towers – has already gone, blown away by a gale.
It all reminds me how architecture used to be in the pre-digital age; this room full of documents could now be stored on one small hard drive and will very soon become part of our new digital database. The final satisfying result of all our investigative work and sorting through dusty boxes and files, will be to make the interesting drawings and information accessible to the wider public.
In our previous blog we looked at the BBC’s history at Ally Pally. This time around, our archivist Melanie Bailey-Melouney explains the development of ballet here at the Palace…
The 1930s saw a period of radical change in entertainment in Britain. Experiments in TV were underway, leading to the first high-definition broadcast by the BBC from Alexandra Palace on 2nd November 1936. Another art form was developing alongside it, that of the British ballet company. The important integration of dance in early broadcasts helped the emerging dancers reach new audiences. It was a golden age of dance – the names of Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Frederick Ashton, and Ninette de Valois have survived the test of time and were all involved in ballets recorded for television here at Alexandra Palace.
D.H. Munro produced many such broadcasts, which were not without their challenges. It was considered that TV was not sufficiently advanced to warrant the creation of new pieces specifically for the medium and so choreography intended for the stage had to be adapted for the small screen. A number of dance critics found the result unsatisfying, claiming that a lot of the aesthetics were lost because the cameras were unable to capture the entire performance – close-ups just didn’t cut it for them. Writing in The Radio Times in 1937, Stephen Thomas rejected these views, claiming that complete faith should be held in the technicians who met every challenge they faced with great creativity and innovation.
Ballet continued to feature heavily in programming, appearing in the first broadcast after the reopening ceremony in 1946. With time, larger productions were filmed, ballets were created specifically for television, and, on 23rd May 1947, history was made with the first live telecast of a performance from a theatre, London’s Royal Opera House, produced by D.H. Munro. Although the cameras were tolerated, they were not catered to and the production team were forced to adapt to the theatre.
The history of the development of television and dance at Alexandra Palace highlights how involved the Palace has been with cultural and technological advances. The symbiotic relationship between the two encouraged innovation from both sides and helped in establishing some of the greats from the period.
The Alexandra Palace Television Society archive contains production files from early broadcasts, detailing running orders, camera routines, and show how short rehearsal times were, giving an insight into the practical considerations of putting together programmes. The scrapbooks of Cecil Madden contain photographs of various performances in the BBC studios. To explore the collection further, visit the history pages of our website.
Hugh Macpherson, Secretary to the Alexandra Palace Organ Appeal, explains the history behind one the venue’s gems
The great arts and entertainment complex that is the Alexandra Palace contains a musical treasure that is unknown to most of the public.
When the original Palace was built in 1873 Henry Willis, the greatest organ builder of the Victorian age, was commissioned to build a mighty instrument for the Great Hall. Having finished his monumental organ in the Albert Hall two years earlier Willis was the man for the job. However, just two weeks after the Palace was opened disaster struck and fire destroyed the building including the organ. The ashes were barely cold when Willis was commissioned to build a new organ for the second incarnation of the Palace which was completed in 1875.
This organ soon gained a reputation as the finest concert organ of the age. It’s bellows were steam driven so a day’s notice had to be given before the organ could be played. Then came the First World War. The Palace was closed and the Great Hall was used for housing internees and refugees. They were issued with oil stoves and blankets so that at the end of the war the organ was choked with fluff and had been covered with a deposit from the oil stoves leaving the instrument unusable but basically sound. Then the hall was used by the army for “the liquidation of munitions”. The organ was broken into and soldiers scattered the pipes far and wide. Some were found on the rail track running down to King’s Cross. The vandals who had done this were wearing the King’s uniform. There was a court martial but compensation was little and late. During the 1920’s various fundraising efforts were made but nothing really materialised until the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925 when, with the blessing of King George V it was decided to restore the organ as the people of North London’s tribute to Queen Alexandra.
Henry Willis III, grandson of the original builder, was called in and work proceeded apace. The restored organ was opened by the Lord Mayor of London in 1929 with considerable ceremony. This marked the start of the golden years of the organ. Organists from all over the world came to play and many recordings were made. This was when the famous French organist Marcel Dupre called it “the finest concert organ in Europe”.
At the start of the second world war the hall was closed, the organ being used only for private practice. In 1944 a VI flying bomb struck just behind the North side of the hall blowing out the great rose window behind the organ which was exposed to the elements, at one point it was covered with snow! The pipework was taken out and stored on the hall floor where it was again the subject of vandalism. At this point the Palace was owned by the Greater London Council who put the organ up for sale. There was outrage in the country with questions in Parliament. Eventually Henry Willis IV bought the surviving pipework “on behalf of the nation” and stored it at his factory. The very large façade pipes were too large to move and remained in situ.
Then in 1980 came the catastrophic fire which destroyed much of the Palace including the Great Hall. A charity was established called The Alexandra Palace Organ Appeal to raise funds to restore the organ. In 1982 the first part of the restored organ was installed by Henry Willis IV and the Great Hall once more resounded to its music. The Organ Appeal has now installed 49 stops out of an eventual 98. A stop is the individual rank of pipes controlled by a stop knob on the console, in fact that is the origin of the term “pull out all the stops”. This means that we have half of the ranks of pipes (or stops) installed.
The Appeal in conjunction with the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust regularly stages fundraising concerts using the organ. The charity is always on the lookout for volunteers to help with organisation and fundraising.
For further details visit www.allypallyorgan.org.uk
I’ve been a musician for 20 years and for the last ten of those it’s been full time as Elton.
I do around 100 shows a year, which is probably about the same as Elton himself. I live in the north east so it’s a lot of travelling and I’ve gone overseas with the show too. I’ve played the Middle East and across Europe. Playing Ally Pally a few years ago was definitely a recent standout.
My day might start with dropping the kids off at school, then travelling to the venue. We’ll sound check as a band and do some rehearsals. About an hour before the show starts I’ll start applying make-up, glasses, wig and getting into one of the costumes. I typically do three or four costume changes during a show. He’s got amazing wardrobe options, with the fashions spanning very specific eras in his career, so it’s great to show them off.
It’s only really when I’m in costume that I fully feel ready to perform and the Elton mannerisms start kicking in. Before then, and after then, I’m me. I can’t do Elton properly without the get-up, even in soundchecks. And if friends pop over to my house and ask me to play a few songs, I can’t do it.
We usually do 15 songs in a set. There’s so much to choose from and everyone has a favourite. We just have to get the balance right between the ballads and the rockers. I typically start the show with something punchy, like Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting or I’m Still Standing. He’s got so many great songs though, so no one goes home disappointed.
I’m a massive Elton fan, but fell into the tribute work by accident. I was looking for a job back home having worked on cruise ships as a musician. It’s only when a friend found out that I could play the piano that the idea came up. It’s snow-balled from there.
There’s definitely a spike in bookings when Elton is in the news. The film, which I thought was great fun, has really had an impact, for example.
After the show it’s not all rock ‘n’ roll and certainly nothing like Elton during the 70s! It’s usually a cup of tea or travelling home or to the next show. The real joy is the performance itself. As a musician it’s just great to be on stage, entertaining people and seeing them singing along and enjoying themselves.
Joel will appearing at Alexandra Palace’s Fireworks Festival on Saturday 2 November 2019. For tickets visit https://www.fireworks.london/ and for more information about his act visit https://www.tribute2elton.com/
Here at Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust (APPCT) we are delighted to have announced that The Matchroom Sport Charitable Foundation have pledged £150,000 to fund our new Young People’s Park Programme. The activity will be delivered our Creative Learning team for the next three years.
The funding will help develop Alexandra Park as a place of learning through an outdoor activity programme and additional infrastructure like bird feeders, shelters and wayfinding to encourage children and young people to discover what the great outdoors has to offer. In addition to ecology and conservation, the programme will also include creative outputs utilising the park for performance, sculpture and more.
The programme is set to have a transformative effect on the lives of thousands of young people in Haringey, with more and more research confirming that time spent outdoors is critical for physical and mental wellbeing, and can help young people adopt healthy lifestyle habits for life.
We have an extraordinary partnership with Matchroom Sport which sees the venue host a number of the organisation’s world-class events including the World Darts Championship, World Championship of Ping Pong, the Mosconi Cup and snooker’s Masters.
Louise Stewart, Chief Executive of APPCT, said: “Our relationship with Matchroom now extends well beyond events. Through their support of our Creative Learning Programme, we will be able to deliver more benefit that will be felt throughout our local community. Alexandra Park is an invaluable asset and this funding underscores the importance of green spaces in helping us lead healthy lives.”
Matchroom Sport Charitable Foundation trustee Edward Lowy said: “Alexandra Palace has become a home for events staged across our Matchroom portfolio, so to be able to help fund the Young People’s Park Programme is an exciting way for us to expand our relationship. We look forward to seeing the development of the Young People’s Park Programme in the coming years.”
Since 2012, our Creative Learning team has grown its young people’s provision from the ground up – from zero to over 5,000 participants last year. You can find out more about the work here
Ahead of their upcoming gig, lead singer James Veck-Gilodi talks about his thoughts on the band playing Ally Pally Theatre:
As a north Londoner, how does it feel to headline your own show at Alexandra Palace? It feels great to be honest, I have lived in North London for many years now and genuinely consider it my home. Also Ally Pally has become a regular gig venue for me to go to as a punter yet I have never actually been on the other side of that and played it as a musician before, so this will be a special night for me.
What made you decide to play Alexandra Palace Theatre? Well I heard about the venue right after if got refurbished then my manager and I went to see the premiere of the Liam Gallagher documentary and I was stunned by how beautiful it was and also how different it was to the main room! I thought it would be a great place to host our next London show and I’ve always preferred places that are characteristically different and have individuality.
What were your first impressions of the Theatre? I pretty much answered this in the previous question but I was blown away really, mainly because I wasn’t aware of it for so many years that I was going to shows in the main room. I just think it’s a very striking venue and doesn’t really look like anywhere else in London. The unfinished walls are my favourite part I think, very classy.
For people that haven’t ever been to Alexandra Palace Theatre can you describe to them why it’s so special? I would say it has the general layout of an old English theatre but the plaster work and texture of the walls are pretty unlike anything else, also it’s in North London which obviously makes it better than any other venue in London haha
What are your memories of Alexandra Palace? If I’m totally honest, my main memories consist of getting particularly intoxicated in the guest bar downstairs with friends haha all good times though!