Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace, Haringey

North London’s answer to the Crystal Palace crowns the 313-foot summit of Muswell Hill, west of Wood Green

Alexandra Palace full width

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.

Rose window
Rose Window, Alexandra Palace

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