A couple of weeks ago now, we went up to Alexandra Palace to take a history tour, which we quickly booked up after joining the email notification list. Perched atop a big hill overlooking North London, it’s not far from us though quite a shlep on a couple of twisty bus routes to get there. You’re rewarded with quite a lovely view from the surrounding park though.
The tour promised never-heard stories from Ally Pally’s very interesting history as well as offering behind the scenes glimpses into the parts of the palace that are rarely seen by the public. In its time it’s been a Victorian theatre and entertainment venue, BBC TV and radio studio, railway station, exhibition hall, concert venue and ice rink amongst quite a lot else.
Our guide explained that the palace is in the process of securing funds from the council and Lottery to restore and make public even more of the palace to bring it back to its original function as a wide-reaching entertainment venue.
The tour started in the old Victorian theatre, which was definitely also the highlight of the tour. The theatre was amongst the first to use mechanics to move scenery and allow for special effects like actors ‘disappearing’ into the floor. A project to restore the machinery is currently underway; there are also long-term plans to level out the sloped floor to allow the space to be used for a wider range of events.
We wandered down some fairly spooky back corridors, passing the artists’ entrance where bands show up to play concerts.
The old railway station is at the back of the building. Sadly just a few weeks after the palace and railway station opened in 1873, a fire destroyed nearly the whole building and the railway services stopped. Restoration work began in the 30s, but the war stopped it again and the line was eventually made defunct. (Part of the same disused line makes up the lovely Parkland Walk now.)
The final stop was the Great Hall, where concerts and exhibitions take place – from All Tomorrow’s Parties to the Knitting and Stitching Show. This part of the building also burned down in another fire in 1980, so the grand organ and its surrounds are all new but reproduced as they would have been.
The tour was okay: I felt like we didn’t see all that much that wasn’t open to the public anyway. I would have liked to have seen some of the old BBC studios as well, but they are apparently unsafe to actually be in and are awaiting restoration funds. But it was worth it to see the old theatre and to have an ice cream in the park on a nice sunny day. You can sign up here to be notified of future tours.