Alexandra Palace, Haringey
North London’s answer to the Crystal Palace crowns the 313-foot summit of Muswell Hill, west of Wood Green
At the end of the 1850s the Great Northern Railway Company opened Wood Green (now Alexandra Palace) station and the Great Northern Palace Company acquired Tottenham Wood Farm. The latter company opened a pleasure garden and then reused materials from the international exhibition held at South Kensington in 1862 to build the first Alexandra Palace. A railway branch line connected the palace with Highgate station on Archway Road.
Nicknamed ‘Ally Pally’, the exhibition hall burned down within days of its inauguration in 1873. A new palace opened two years later, with more emphasis on cultural and educational facilities than some of the showier exhibition halls built elsewhere at that time. Perhaps because of this, the venue was almost continuously beset by financial difficulties and a consortium of local authorities had to step in and rescue it in 1901.
Alexandra Palace served as a prisoner of war camp in the First World War and the BBC transmitted the world’s first public television broadcasts from a studio here in 1936. The palace’s dedicated railway line closed in 1954.
The Greater London Council managed the site from 1966 and passed control to the London Borough of Haringey in 1980, whereupon half the palace was again ruined by fire. Part of it was restored in 1990 but the rest is still awaiting renovation. Meanwhile the palace serves as a minor exhibition and events centre. It also has an ice rink and a pub, appropriately named the Phoenix.
In 2015 Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust was awarded £18.8million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the palace’s most significant historic spaces to their former glory and secure the building’s future as a heritage destination. Under the plans, the BBC Studios and Victorian theatre will be repaired and refurbished, and a new and more welcoming public entrance hall will be created in the East Court.
The HLF funding makes up the lion’s share of the total project cost of £26.7m, with Haringey council having committed £6.8m and the trust aiming to find £1m to enable the project to be completed. Assuming that last million pounds can be raised, the theatre will once again present a regular programme of performances and the BBC studios will become an interactive visitor experience.
The sight line towards St Paul’s Cathedral from the palace’s dilapidated viewing terrace is designated a ‘landmark viewing corridor’, which new building must not obstruct. Even trees must be cut back if they grow too tall.
Postal district: N22
Station: Great Northern (zone 3)
Further reading: Ken Gay, Palace on the Hill, Hornsey Historical Society, 1992
and Fred Clarke, Tales of the Alexandra Palace and its People, Rocket, 1995
Website: Alexandra Palace: The People’s Palace
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