Alexandra Palace and Park

Alexandra Palace opened to the public in May 1873 but was destroyed by fire just 14 days later. It was rebuilt in the following two years. In this picture we see the building and surrounding park as it was in the late 19th century and before the addition of its famous television mast.

After the local government borders of London were re-drawn in 1963 responsibility for Alexandra Palace was given to the newly-formed Greater London Council. By then the race track no longer met modern standards and was closed. A GLC feasibility study proposed the demolition of the Palace and its replacement with a sports complex. However, a further consultation in 1974 confirmed that the majority of Haringey residents wished for it to remain, with improved management and amenities. The entire park then lay within the Borough of Haringey and the borough council negotiated to take over responsibility, which took place from 1980, with a grant of £8 million from the GLC. The main building was by then showing its age and became increasingly expensive to maintain but the council put in place plans to expand the commercial activities.

Yet after just a few months another major fire began, gutting the Great Hall, banqueting suite and roller-skating rink. Most of the west wing was severely damaged. Haringey decided to rebuild and restore, with £42 million pounds paid by insurance. Various parts came back into use between 1988 and 1990, with a formal reopening in March 1988. However, available finance fell far short of the funds required to make all the necessary renovations, leading to more than a decade of inertia. A plan for a hotel in the south-west frontage never materialized. Nevertheless, the Great Hall was rebuilt, a new West Hall replaced the Italian Gardens, and the Palm Court was restored with the Phoenix Bar. A skating rink replaced the previous roller rink.

Haringey Council failed to have the building listed in 1978 but were successful in obtaining a Grade II listing by English Heritage in 1997. The building and park are these days managed by the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust. Its trustee board is appointed by Haringey Council, the sole Corporate Trustee.

In 2012 forty percent of the Palace building still remained derelict and a decision was taken to restore the East Wing, including the East Court and theatre. This was largely achieved due to a grant of nearly £19 million from the National Lottery Fund and nearly £7 million from Haringey Council. Eighty years after its last performance, in 2018 the theatre reopened, having been restored. In its first year, more than 50 performances were staged, including drama, music and comedy, with 50,000 attendees. It was hoped that the original BBC studios could be restored at the same time but that has yet to be undertaken.

Sources include: Ken Gay ‘Palace on the Hill’; Alexandra Palace ‘Reclaiming the People’s Palace’; John Richardson ‘Annals of London’; Jerry White ‘London in the 19th Century’; ‘Queen’s London’; Edward Walford ‘Old & New London’.

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