Since 1863 Alexandra Park has offered a welcome escape for the population of London living in a rapidly expanding and overcrowded industrial city. On 24th May 1873 the opening was a roaring success but only sixteen days later the Palace was destroyed by fire. A redesigned Palace was built on the same site within two years and opened on 1 May 1875. Boasting a Concert Hall, Theatre, Circus, Racetrack, Boating Lake, extensive dining and catering options – the Park and Palace hosted the latest entertainments on a grand scale. In the contemporary spirit of Victorian social conscience, the Park and Palace also laid on educational shows alongside recreation.
Throughout this period the Park and Palace was subject to the winds of fortune, attracting huge crowds on bank holidays interspersed with prolonged periods of closure. In 1900 the site was placed in public ownership by an Act of Parliament, to remain ‘a place of public resort and recreation’, and has remained so except in wartime.
In 1914 the site was requisitioned by the Government. The Palace was used first to shelter refugees fleeing Belgium and the Netherlands. Later it became an internment camp for German, Austrian and Hungarian ‘enemy aliens’. During the Second World War the building once again played host to refugees and in 1940 became a staging area for troops returning from Dunkirk. Throughout the Cold War a Royal Observer Corps bunker remained in use in the Park, only being deactivated in 1990.
From 1925 the North London Exhibition became a regular fixture bringing the latest products, technologies and fashions to the Palace. The venue continues to play host to exhibitions, sports, such as the annual PDC World Darts Championship, and community events, even after being devastated by fire for a second time in 1980. Onsite facilities have constantly evolved and the current programme of restoration is gradually bringing formerly derelict spaces back into public use.
Alexandra Palace is known as an iconic gig venue – from military bands, to Gracie Fields who popularised the name “Ally Pally”. The Rolling Stones played here in 1964 and Pink Floyd were a headlining act in the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, the seminal ‘happening’ of London’s Summer of Love. Since then the halls have reverberated to the sounds of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Stone Roses, Blur and more recently Jay-Z, Bjork, and Florence and the Machine. The 1990s saw the Brit Awards, MTV EMAs and MOBO Awards broadcast from the Palace, following the legacy started by the BBC in 1936.
On 2nd November 1936 the BBC launched the world’s first full television service at Alexandra Palace. Former dining rooms were transformed into two state of the art studios for a competition between rivals the Baird Company and, eventual winners, Marconi-EMI. Experiments developed the medium with new programming formats, for children and political broadcasts, and technical experiments developed outside broadcasting and colour TV. From 1954 until 1969 the studios became the dedicated home of television news, breaking stories from around the world.
Hornsey College of Art moved in 1964-1980 and from 1971, the television studios became home to the pioneering Open University. The current AP Creative Learning programme is now carrying that educational torch, working with organisations to engage communities and broaden access.
Today Alexandra Palace operates in that legacy of driving innovation, putting on the most spectacular entertainments, offering the widest variety of public programme and providing leisure and well-being activities to communities on its doorstep and beyond.