Alexandra Palace

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Alexandra Palace was built on a hill in the Muswell Hill district of North London in 1873 as a public entertainment centre and North London counterpart of The Crystal Palace. It is now a conference centre operated by a charitable trust.[1] It was nicknamed 'The People's Palace' or more commonly 'Ally Pally', and in 1936 became the headquarters of world's first regular public 'high definition' television service, operated by the BBC. The Alexandra Palace Transmitter is located on the site and still broadcasts television and radio signals.


In December 1858 the architect Owen Jones exhibited drawings for a proposed 'Palace of the People' to be constructed in Muswell Hill. The Great Northern Palace company was established, but was unable to raise the finance for the project. However, the idea lived on and on 23 July 1863, Alexandra Park was opened to the public. It was named after Alexandra of Denmark who had married Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, four months earlier. In September 1865 construction of the palace commenced, but to a design different from Jones'. In 1871 work started on a railway line to connect the site to Highgate Station. Work on both the railway and the palace was completed in 1873 and, on 24 May, Alexandra Palace and Park was opened by Queen Victoria. Only sixteen days later the palace was destoyed by fire, killing three members of staff.

The palace was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1875. It contained a concert hall, art galleries, a museum, a lecture hall, a library, a banqueting room and a theatre. An open-air swimming pool was constructed in the surrounding park; the pool is now long closed and no trace remains. The Willis organ installed in 1875 is still working, but its restoration is continuing.

In 1935 the palace was partly occupied by the BBC, which used it as the production and transmission centre for their new BBC Television Service. The antenna was designed by Charles Samuel Franklin of the Marconi company. The world's first public broadcasts of high-definition television were made from this site in 1936. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and Baird's 240-line system, were installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and were transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system was chosen in 1937. The palace continued as the BBC's main TV transmitting centre for London until 1956, interrupted only by the Second World War when the transmitter found an alternative use jamming German bombers' navigation systems (it is said that only 25% of London raids were effective because of these transmissions). After that it continued to be used for news broadcasts until the early 1970s, and for the Open University until the early 1980s. The antenna mast still stands, and is still used for local analogue television transmission, local commercial radio and DAB broadcasts. The main London television transmitter is at Crystal Palace in South London.

A second disastrous fire destroyed half the building in 1980. Some of the damage was repaired immediately but the project got into severe financial problems and the future of parts of the site is still unknown.

In June 2004 the first performances for about seventy years took place in the theatre, first in its foyer then on 2 July in the theatre itself. Although conditions are far from ideal the audience was able to see the potential of this very large space — originally seating 3000, it cannot currently be licensed for more than a couple of hundred. It is intended that the theatre will one day reopen but much costly restoration will be required first. The theatre will not have the same capacity (not least because one balcony was removed in the early part of the twentieth century as a fire precaution, when films started to be shown there) but it does seem likely that a capacity of more than 1000 may day be achieved. A major season of the theatre company Complicite was planned for 2005 but cancelled due to higher-than-anticipated repair costs.

Famous events

Led Zeppelin performed two Christmas shows at the Palace on 22 and 23 December 1972. Alexandra Palace plays an important part in the Doctor Who episode 'The Idiot's Lantern'. The exterior of the palace was also used as Victory Square in Michael Radford's 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel 1984. The third annual European Social Forum (ESF) took place on 15–17 October 2004 in London, the main venue being Alexandra Palace. In October 2005 Kiss 100 FM celebrated its 20th anniversary with a club night featuring many famous past and present Kiss DJs performing. The very first Give It a Name music festival was held at Alexandra Palace on 2 May 2005.