A Brief History of Alexandra Palace and Park

The story of Alexandra Palace and Park is integral to that of Wood Green. This Victorian enterprise has been the subject of many trials and tribulations, but it has, nevertheless, dominated Wood Green from its lofty position on its western boundary.

First plans

The first plans for a Palace of the People in the style of the Crystal Palace, on the site of the former Tottenham Wood Farm, were proposed by the designer Owen Jones in 1858 but did not materialise. In 1862 the North London Park & Land Co. put up proposals to develop the estate as park and housing, but this scheme went no further.

In the following year Alexandra Park Co. Ltd. acquired the farmland for conversion to a park and to build the People’s Palace which had been proposed by Owen Jones. The park of 250 acres was opened in 1863 and named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), earlier that year. A Tudor style banqueting hall, later called Blandford Hall, was erected in 1864 and the horse racing course opened on 30 June 1868.

Tragedy strikes

The first Palace was designed by Alfred Meeson and work started in 1864 using a substantial quantity of materials from the 1862 International Exhibition in Kensington. The Alexandra Park Co. ran into financial difficulties, a foretaste of things to come, and work was delayed. Two further companies came to the rescue to allow the building to open on 24 May 1873. Tragedy struck sixteen days later when the Palace was burnt to the ground.

A second palace

The second Palace designed by John Johnson, a partner of Meeson, was opened on I May 1875 just within two years of the earlier disaster. The new building, occupying seven and a half acres, featured the Great Hall with seating for 14,000, a Willis Organ, a Palm Court, a theatre seating 3,000 (modelled on Drury Lane), a concert room seating 3,500 (which later became the roller skating rink), various museums and a variety of banqueting suites and refreshment facilities.

The park was redesigned to include a trotting ring and cycle racing track (both within the horse racing course), a cricket ground, ornamental lakes, a Japanese village, tennis courts, a perma¬nent fun fair and an open air swimming pool (next to the New River Reservoir).

More problems

After more financial difficulties the Palace was closed for two years in 1889 and a part of the park to the north of the Palace was sold for building. The risk of further encroachment on the parklands led to a vigorous campaign spear-headed by Henry Burt, a prominent member of the Hornsey Urban District Council (UDC), supported by Ralph Littler, Chairman of Wood Green UDC, which resulted in the Alexandra Palace and Park Act in 1900.

This allowed Trustees, comprising representatives of Middlesex County Council and the local authorities of Hornsey, Wood Green, Islington, Tottenham, Friern Barnet and Finchley to buy the Park and Palace in 1901 on behalf of the people. The purchase price was £150,000 of which Wood Green contributed £37,500. The Palace was reopened on 18 May 1901.

Historic events

For most of the duration of the First World War the Palace and Park were closed and requisitioned as a transit camp for Belgian refugees and then to house German, Austrian and other internees. Normal operations were restored in the 1920s but further financial problems arose in the ’30s.

In 1934 the BBC leased the east wing of the building and the first TV transmission was made on 2 Nov 1936 from the aerial erected on the south-east tower.

Both Palace and Park suffered some bomb damage during the Second World War and a restoration programme allowed the Palace to reopen in 1957.

Local control

As a result of the 1963 London Government Act management of the Palace and Park passed to the Greater London Council in 1966. A GLC feasibility study proposing demolition of the Palace and the creation of a mammoth sports complex was not realised.

A GLC consultation exercise in 1974 confirmed that a large majority of Haringey residents wished to see the Palace and Park retained with improvements in management and amenities. Haringey Council took over trusteeship in January 1980 with an £8 million dowry from the GLC.

Fire and rebuilding

On 10 July in the same year the Palace was again seriously damaged by fire, The Great Hall, the banqueting suite and roller skating rink were completely gutted and most of the west wing severely damaged.

Haringey Council undertook the rebuilding of the Palace using the dowry and £42m insurance money. A temporary Alexandra Pavilion was erected on the former bowling green at the east end to house events during the rebuilding. Planning permission for converting most of the building as a major exhibition venue was granted in 1982 and rebuilding commenced in 1984.

A new beginning

The formal opening of the rebuilt Palace was on 17 March 1988 with a new Great Hall with a pitched roof without internal columns and a new West Hall replacing the Italian Gardens. The Palm Court had been restored to its past splendour with a new Phoenix Bar. Proposals for a hotel in the south-west frontage have failed to materialise.

The Park had also been given a substantial face-lift with improved car-parking, lighting, and new furniture and facilities. Many new trees were planted on the south-facing slope to reestablish the earlier arboretum. In the east wing plans for the refurbishment of the Victorian theatre and former BBC TV Studios are now in hand. An ice skating rink, in preference to a roller rink, was built in the former east concert hall and opened in July 1990.

Although attempts by Haringey Council to have the Palace listed in 1978 failed, a further attempt in 1997 was successful resulting in a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

A palace for the people

Alexandra Palace and Park have been the venue for an extremely wide range of events and celebrations. Firework displays originated by James Pain in 1875 have remained popular to this day. Balloon ascents and parachute jumping were popular with the

Victorian and Edwardian crowds. Large Scout rallies involving tens of thousands of young people were held in 1913, 1922 and 1930. The roller skating rink, opened in 1901, remained popular until the 1970s and now ice-skating provides an alternative; a dry ski slope was popular in its time.

The Park has seen pop concerts, beer festivals, cultural festivals, and fairgrounds as well as the more traditional sports of cricket, football, tennis and golf. Recent additions have been the annual Red Bull Soap Box Derby, The Masters World Snooker Tournament, Darts Tournaments and a Tree Walk.

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