Royal Albert Hall

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Royal Albert Hall


Albert Hall, HDR.jpg
The Royal Albert Hall from Kensington Gardens
Type: Concert hall
Grid reference: TQ26607957
Location: 51°30’3"N, 0°10’39"W
Address: Kensington Gore
Built 1867-1871
For: Provisional Committee for the
Central Hall of Arts and Sciences
by Captain Francis Fowke and
Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott
Concert hall
Owned by: The Corporation of the
Hall of Arts and Sciences

The Royal Albert Hall is perhaps the most famous concert hall in Britain: a large, elliptical, Victorian hall on the northern edge of South Kensington in Middlesex with a capacity of up to 8,000. It hosts a wide variety of events though it is primarily a venue for concerts, and hosts the BBC Promenade Concerts ("the Proms") each year.

The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or government funding.[1] Unlike other great institutions of its time, the Albert Hall received no endowment and so has to rely on the income it can generate, which has led its to hosting such unmusical events as boxing matches.

Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world's leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on the stage of the Albert Hall and it has become one of the UK's most treasured and distinctive buildings. It is the location of some of the most notable events in British culture, each year hosting more than 390 shows in the main auditorium, including classical, rock and pop concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestra, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets. A further 400 events are held each year in the non-auditorium spaces.

Interior viewed from the Grand Tier

The Hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall's foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her husband consort, Prince Albert who had died six years earlier. It forms the practical part of a memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by Kensington Gore.



In 1851, the Great Exhibition (for which the Crystal Palace was built) was held in Hyde Park. The exhibition was a great success and led Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, to propose the creation of a permanent series of facilities for the enlightenment of the public in the area, which came to be known as ‘Albertopolis’. The Exhibition's Royal Commission bought Gore House and its grounds (on which the Hall now stands) on the advice of the Prince. Progress on the scheme was slow and in 1861 Prince Albert died, without having seen his ideas come to fruition. However, a memorial was proposed for Hyde Park, with a Great Hall opposite.

The proposal was approved and the site was purchased with some of the profits from the Exhibition. Once the remaining funds had been raised, in April 1867 Queen Victoria signed the Royal Charter of the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences which was to operate the Hall and on 20 May, laid the foundation stone.[2]

The Hall was designed by civil engineers Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott of the Royal Engineers and built by Lucas Brothers.[3] The designers were heavily influenced by ancient amphitheatres, but had also been exposed to the ideas of Gottfried Semper while he was working at the South Kensington Museum. The recently opened Cirque d'Hiver in Paris was seen in the contemporary press as the design to outdo. The Hall was constructed mainly of Fareham Red brick, with terra cotta block decoration made by Gibbs and Canning Limited of Tamworth, Staffordshire. The dome (designed by Rowland Mason Ordish) on top was made of wrought iron and glazed. There was a trial assembly made of the iron framework of the dome in Manchester, then it was taken apart again and transported to London via horse and cart. When the time came for the supporting structure to be removed from the dome after reassembly in situ, only volunteers remained on site in case the structure dropped. It did drop – but only by five-sixteenths of an inch.[4] The Hall was scheduled to be completed by Christmas Day 1870 and the Queen visited a few weeks beforehand to inspect.[5]

The first performance at the Hall

The official opening ceremony of the Hall was on 29 March 1871. A welcoming speech was given by Edward, the Prince of Wales; Queen Victoria was too overcome to speak. At some point, the Queen remarked that the Hall reminded her of the British constitution.[2]

A concert followed, when the Hall's acoustic problems became immediately apparent. Engineers first attempted to solve the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concertgoers from the sun, but the problem was not solved: it used to be jokingly said that the Hall was "the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice".

In July 1871, French organist Camille Saint-Saëns performed Church Scene from the Faust by Charles Gounod, The Orchestra described his performance as "an exceptional and distinguished performer ... the effect was most marvellous."

Initially lit by gas, the Hall contained a special system where its thousands of gas jets were lit within ten seconds. Though it was demonstrated as early as 1873 in the Hall,[6] full electric lighting was not installed until 1888.[2] During an early trial when a partial installation was made, one disgruntled patron wrote to The Times declaring it to be "a very ghastly and unpleasant innovation".

In May 1877, Richard Wagner himself conducted the first half of each of the eight concerts which made up the Grand Wagner Festival. After his turn with the baton he handed it over to conductor Hans Richter and sat in a large arm chair on the corner of the stage for the rest of each concert. Wagner's wife Cosima, the daughter of Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer Franz Liszt, was among the audience.

The Wine Society was founded at the Hall on 4 August 1874,[7] after large quantities of cask wine were forgotten about in the cellars. A series of lunches were held to publicise the wines and General Henry Scott proposed a co-operative company to buy and sell wines.[8]

Acoustic diffusing discs (lit in purple/blue) hanging from the roof of the Hall
Postcard of the Hall (circa 1903)


In 1906 Elsie Fogerty founded the Central School of Speech and Drama at the Hall, using its West Theatre, now the Elgar Room as the School's theatre. The School moved to Swiss Cottage in 1957. While the School was based at the Royal Albert Hall students who graduated from its classes included Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Harold Pinter, Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft.[9]

In 1911 Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff performed as a part of the London Ballad Concert. The recital included his 'Prelude in F Sharp Minor', 'Prelude in G Sharp Minor' and 'Prelude in C Sharp Minor'.

In 1933 German physicist Albert Einstein led the 'Einstein Meeting' at the hall for the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics; a British charity.

In 1936, the Hall was the scene of a giant rally celebrating the British Empire, the occasion being the centenary of Joseph Chamberlain's birth. In October 1942, the Hall suffered minor damage during Second World War bombing but was left mostly untouched as German pilots used the distinctive structure as a landmark.[6]

In 1949 the canvas awning was removed and replaced with fluted aluminium panels below the glass roof, in a new attempt to solve the echo; but the acoustics were not properly tackled until 1969 when a series of large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs (commonly referred to as "mushrooms" or "flying saucers") was installed below the ceiling.[2] In 1968, the Hall hosted as the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest.

From 1996 until 2004, the Hall underwent a programme of renovation and development supported by a £20 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable it to meet the demands of the next century of events and performances. Thirty "discrete projects" were designed and supervised by architecture and engineering firm BDP without disrupting events.[10] These projects included improving ventilation to the auditorium, more bars and restaurants, new improved seating, better technical facilities and more modern backstage areas. Internally, the Circle seating was rebuilt in four weeks in June 1996 providing more leg room, better access and improved sight lines.


The Albert Hall from Kensington Gardens

The largest project of the ongoing renovation and development was the building of a new south porch – door 12, accommodating a first floor restaurant, new ground floor box office and below ground loading bay. Although the exterior of the building was largely unchanged, the south steps leading down to Prince Consort Road were demolished to allow construction of an underground vehicle access and loading bay with accommodation for three HGVs carrying all the equipment brought by shows. The steps were then reconstructed around a new south porch, named The Meitar Foyer after a significant donation from Mr & Mrs Meitar. The porch was built in a similar scale and style to the three pre-existing porches at Door 3, 6 and 9.

On 4 June 2004, the project received the Europa Nostra Award for remarkable achievement.[11] The East (Door 3) and West (Door 9) porches were glazed and new bars opened along with ramps to improve disabled access. The Stalls were rebuilt in a four-week period in 2000 using steel supports allowing more space underneath for two new bars. 1534 unique pivoting seats were laid – with an addition of 180 prime seats. The Choirs were rebuilt at the same time. The whole building was redecorated in a style that reinforces its Victorian identity. New carpets were laid in the corridors – specially woven with a border that follows the elliptic curve of the building in the largest single woven design in the world.

Between 2002 and 2004 there was a major rebuilding of the great organ (known as the Voice of Jupiter),[12] built by "Father" Henry Willis in 1871 and rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1924 and 1933. The rebuilding was performed by Mander Organs[13] and it is now the second largest pipe organ in the British Isles with 9,997 pipes in 147 stops. The largest is the Grand Organ in Liverpool Cathedral which has 10,268 pipes.[14]

Royal Albert Hall from Prince Consort Road

During the first half of 2011, changes were made to the backstage areas to relocate and increase the size of crew catering areas under the South Steps away from the stage and create additional dressing rooms nearer to the stage.[15] During the summer of 2012 the staff canteen and some changing areas were expanded and refurbished by contractor 8Build.[16] Later a new Café Bar on the ground floor, a new Box Office with shop counters and additional toilets were installed and the area named 'The Zvi and Ofra Meitar Porch and Foyer.' owing to a large donation from the couple.[17]

In Autumn 2013, work began on replacing the Victorian steam heating system over three years and improving and cooling across the building. This work follows the summer Proms season during which temperatures were particularly high.[18] Further work has continued since.


The Triumph of Arts and Sciences

The Hall, a Grade I listed building, is an ellipse in plan, with major and minor axes of 272 feet and 236 feet. The great glass and wrought-iron dome roofing the Hall is 135 feet high. The Hall was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people and has accommodated as many as 9,000 (although modern safety restrictions mean that the maximum permitted capacity is now 5,544 including standing in the Gallery).

Around the outside of the building is a great mosaic frieze, depicting "The Triumph of Arts and Sciences", in reference to the Hall's dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are:

  1. Various Countries of the World bringing in their Offerings to the Exhibition of 1851
  2. Music
  3. Sculpture
  4. Painting
  5. Princes, Art Patrons and Artists
  6. Workers in Stone
  7. Workers in Wood and Brick
  8. Architecture
  9. The Infancy of the Arts and Sciences
  10. Agriculture
  11. Horticulture and Land Surveying
  12. Astronomy and Navigation
  13. A Group of Philosophers, Sages and Students
  14. Engineering
  15. The Mechanical Powers
  16. Pottery and Glassmaking

Above the frieze is an inscription in 12 inch-high terracotta letters that combines a description of the dedication of the hall and Biblical quotations:

This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace.

Below the Arena floor there is room for two 4000 gallon water tanks, which are used for shows that flood the arena like Madame Butterfly.[19]


The Hall at the opening ceremony, seen from Kensington Gardens

The Hall has been affectionately titled "The Nation's Village Hall",[20] which well reflects the variety of events held here.

The first concert in the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences was Arthur Sullivan's cantata On Shore and Sea, performed on 1 May 1871.[21][22]

Many events are promoted by the Hall, whilst since the early 1970s promoter Raymond Gubbay has brought a range of events to the Hall including opera, ballet and classical music. Some events include classical and rock concerts, conferences, banquets, ballroom dancing, poetry recitals, educational talks, motor shows, ballet, opera, film screenings and circus shows. It has hosted many sporting events, including boxing, squash, table tennis, basketball, wrestling including the first Sumo wrestling tournament to be held in London as well as 'UFC 38' (a mixed martial arts event held by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, known as 'the Brawl at the Hall'), tennis and even a marathon.[23][24]

On 6 April 1968, the Hall was the host venue for the Eurovision Song Contest which was broadcast in colour for the first time.[25] One notable event was a Pink Floyd concert held 26 June 1969, the night they were banned from ever playing at the Hall again after shooting cannons, nailing things to the stage, and having a man in a gorilla suit roam the audience. At one point Rick Wright went to the pipe organ and began to play "The End Of The Beginning", the final part of "Saucerful Of Secrets", joined by the brass section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (led by the conductor, Norman Smith) and the ladies of the Ealing Central Amateur Choir.[26] A portion of the pipe organ recording is included on Pink Floyd's album The Endless River.[27]

Benefit concerts in include the 1997 Music for Montserrat concert, arranged and produced by George Martin, an event which featured artists such as Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney,[28] and 2012 Sunflower Jam charity concert with Queen guitarist Brian May performing alongside bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, drummer Ian Paice of Deep Purple, and vocalists Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper.[29]

On 2 October 2011, the Hall staged the 25th anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which was broadcast live to cinemas across the world and filmed for DVD.[30] Lloyd Webber, the original London cast including Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, and four previous actors of the titular character, among others, were in attendance – Brightman and the previous Phantoms (aside from Crawford) performed an encore.

On 24 September 2012, Classic FM celebrated the 20th anniversary of their launch with a concert at the Hall. The programme featured live performances of works by Handel, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Parry, Vaughan Williams, Tchaikovsky and Karl Jenkins who conducted his piece The Benedictus from The Armed Man in person.[31]

On 19 November 2012, the Hall hosted the 100th anniversary performance of the Royal Variety Performance, attended by the Queen and Prince Philip, with boyband One Direction among the performers.[32]

Between 1996 and 2008, the Hall hosted the annual National Television Awards. In 2017, the Hall hosted the 70th British Academy Film Awards, often referred to as the 'Baftas', replacing the Royal Opera House at which the event had been held since 2008.

The Hall hosts hundreds of events and activities beyond its main auditorium. There are regular free art exhibitions in the ground floor amphi corridor, which can be viewed when attending events or on dedicated viewing dates.

Regular events

Royal Choral Society

The Royal Choral Society is the longest running regular performance at the Hall, having given its first performance as the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society on 8 May 1872. From 1878 it established the annual Good Friday performance of Handel's Messiah.

BBC Proms

A prom seen from the Circle
The Hall from Kensington Gardens during the 2008 Proms

The BBC Promenade Concerts, known as "The Proms", is a popular annual eight-week summer season of daily classical music concerts and other events at the Hall. In 1942, following the destruction of the Queen's Hall in an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms.[33] In 1944 with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. After the end of the War the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night. In 2009, the total number of concerts reached 100 for the first time. Jiří Bělohlávek described The Proms as "the world's largest and most democratic musical festival" of all such events in the world of classical music festivals.[34]

Proms (short for promenade concerts) is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as "Promenaders", but are most commonly referred to as "Prommers".[35]

Other regular events

  • Tennis was first played at the Hall in March 1970 and the ATP Champions Tour Masters has been played annually every December since 1997.
  • Classical Spectacular, a Raymond Gubbay production, has been coming to the Hall since 1988. It combines classical music, lights and special effects.
  • Cirque du Soleil has performed a show each January since 2003.
  • Classic Brit Awards, hosted annually in May since 2000, organised by the British Phonographic Industry.
  • The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance is held each year the day before Remembrance Sunday.
  • The Institute of Directors' Annual Convention has been held at the Hall for 60 years almost with interruption.
  • English National Ballet summer seasons since 1998[36]
  • Teenage Cancer Trust annual charity concerts since 2000, starting as a one off event but have expanded over the years to a week or more of evenings events. Roger Daltrey of the Who has been intimately involved with the planning of the events.[37]
  • Graduation Ceremonies by the neighbouring Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art hold graduation ceremonies in the hall.

Films, premières and live orchestra screenings

The venue has screened several films since the early silent days. It was the only London venue to show William Fox's The Queen of Sheba in the 1920s.

The Hall has hosted many premières, including the UK première of Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, 101 Dalmatians on 4 December 1996, the European première of Spandau Ballet's Soul Boys of the Western World[38] and three James Bond royal world premières; Die Another Day on 18 November 2002 (attended by The Queen and Prince Philip), Skyfall on 23 October 2012 (attended by Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall)[39] and SPECTRE on 26 October 2015 (attended by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge).[40]

The Hall held its first 3D world première of Titanic 3D, on 27 March 2012, with James Cameron and Kate Winslet in attendance.[41]

The Hall has curated regular seasons of film-and-live-orchestra screenings since 2009, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gladiator, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Interstellar, The Matrix, West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Back to the Future and the world première of Titanic Live in Concert.

In culture and popular culture

A large mural by Peter Blake, entitled Appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, is displayed in the Hall's Café Bar. Unveiled in April 2014, it shows more than 400 famous figures who have appeared on the stage.[42]

Films which feature the Albert Hall include:

  • Alfred Hitchcock films:
    • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934).[43]
    • The Ring (1927)
    • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956): the 15-minute climax sequence
  • Major Barbara (1941)
  • Love Story (1944)
  • The Seventh Veil
  • The Ipcress File
  • A Touch of Class
  • Shine (1996)
  • Spice World.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Royal Albert Hall)


  1. 'It's Hall to do with the experience', Jasper Hope in Metro, 18 June 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "The Building". Royal Albert Hall. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  3. "Charles Lucas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. January 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  4. Engineering Timelines: Royal Albert Hall
  5. Michael Forsyth (1985). "Buildings for Music: The Architect, the Musician, and the Listener from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day" p. 158.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Timeline". Royal Albert Hall. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  7. Edmund Penning-Rowsell, A Short History of The Wine Society, 1989.
  8. "History of the Society". The Wine Society. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  9. The Central Book, Lolly Susi (Oberon Press, London, 2006)
  10. "Projects: Royal Albert Hall". Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  11. (4 June 2004). "Europa Nostra award for Royal Albert Hall". Press release. 
  12. "Mighty Voice of Jupiter pipes up at Royal Albert Hall". 4 July 2004. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  13. "The Grand Organ, Royal Albert Hall". Mander Organs. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  14. "Facts and figures". Liverpool Cathedral. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  15. "Planning Application Documents". Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  16. "8build on site at the Royal Albert Hall". July 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  17. "8build – The Royal Albert Hall". January 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  18. Clark, Nick. "Sweaty business: Royal Albert Hall seeks solution to sweltering temperatures at Proms". Independent. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  19. "3 places to look out for at the Behind the Scenes Day at the Royal Albert Hall". Royal Albert Hall. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  20. Tremayne Carew Pole, Managing Director (2006). A Hedonist's Guide to London. London: ISBN 1-905428-03-0. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  21. "Discography of Sir Arthur Sullivan: On Shore and Sea (1871)". 24 December 2003. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  22. Meirion Hughes and Robert Stradling (2001). The English Musical Renaissance 1840–1940. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-5830-9. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  23. Compiled and Edited by Hugh Cortazzi (2001). Japan Experiences: Fifty Years, One Hundred Views. Japan Library. pp. 250–251. ISBN 1-903350-04-2.,M1. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  24. Sheila Tully Boyle and Andrew Bunie (30 September 2005). Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement. University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 210–212. ISBN 1-55849-505-3. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  25. "Eurovision Song Contest 1968". EBU. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  26. "Pink Floyd - The Final Lunacy, Royal Albert Hall, London 26th June 1969". Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  27. "For their last-ever album The Endless River, Pink Floyd recorded on a boat". Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  28. "Billboard 6 September 1997". p.59. Billboard. Retrieved 7 January 2012
  29. "Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Queen band members perform at charity rock show". NME. Retrieved 7 January 2013
  30. Whitman, Howard. "Blu-ray Review: Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall". Technologytell. Retrieved 23 March 2012. 
  31. "Classic FM Live: the programme". 
  32. "Royal Variety Performance marks 100th anniversary". BBC News. Retrieved 7 January 2013
  33. Christopher Fifield (2005). Ibbs and Tillett: The Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire. Ashgate Publishing Limited. pp. 241–242. ISBN 1-84014-290-1. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  34. Jiří Bělohlávek, Speech from The Last Night of the Proms 2007, 8 September 2007.
  35. Liz Bondi (2002). Subjectivities, Knowledges, and Feminist Geographies. Lahham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0-7425-1562-1.,M1. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  36. Other repertoire: English National Ballet
  37. Teenage Cancer Trust: What we do - Royal Albert Hall
  38. "Spandau Ballet Film to receive its European Premiere at the Royal Albert Hall". Life at the Hall. Retrieved 5 October 2014
  39. "Skyfall premiere is biggest and best – Daniel Craig". BBC. 24 October 2012. 
  41. "Titanic: Kate Winslet and James Cameron at 3D premiere". BBC News. Retrieved 28 March 2012
  42. "Sir Peter Blake mural masterpiece unveiled at the Hall — Royal Albert Hall". Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  43. "The Film Programme". "17 September 2015"