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.

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. The Alexan­dra Palace the­atre has been repaired and refur­bished – with an ‘arrest­ed decay feel’ (as vis­i­ble in the pho­to below) – and a new and more wel­com­ing pub­lic entrance hall has been cre­at­ed in the East Court.

Hidden London: Alexandra Palace theatre

The sight line towards St Paul’s Cathe­dral from the palace’s 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
The Alexandra Palace theatre photograph is by Jan Newbigin and is reproduced here with her kind permission.