The Royal Albert Hall and SW7’s museums were built as a consequence of the public interest generated by The Great Exhibition of 1851 with its Crystal Palace built by Sir Joseph Paxton. This precursor to the world fair took place originally in nearby Hyde Park before moving to its final resting place in Sydenham. When it became clear to His Highness and his advisors from the overwhelming success of The Great Exhibition that the general public had an appetite for culture and world achievements, the 35-hectare Gore estate was purchased in order to build a complex of public buildings – the Science Museum, The Natural History Museum and of course, the Victoria & Albert Museum, once known simply as the South Kensington Museum.
Also on the site are the Royal Colleges of Art, Music & Organists, the Royal Geographical Society, Imperial College and the Central Hall, now known as the Royal Albert Hall. In essence, a Central Hall of Arts & Sciences (renamed as the Royal Albert Hall unexpectedly by Queen Victoria in honour of her spouse!), surrounded by museums and places of learning. To some, this area was known simply as Albertopolis. The Royal Albert Hall opened on 29th March 1871 with the largest iron roof structure and the largest pipe organ in the world at the time. The design took inspiration from Henry Cole’s love of the amphitheatres of southern France – namely Nimes and Arles – and the interior does seem to have a similar horse-shoe shape, similar to Rome’s Colisseum. Upon opening, a huge – seemingly unsurmountable – problem soon revealed itself – the acoustics were awful with a resounding echo which lead some wags to say that you pay for one concert and get a second free with the echo!
It was only in 1969, that the problem was finally resolved with dampening discs. More recently, between 1996 and 2004 in fact, further work took place – this time largely behind the scenes or rather below them – the largest refurbishment since the Hall opened to allow greater access and better services. Today, over a million people a year watch sports, theatre, opera and rock concerts at this Grade I listed venue with over 350 performances per annum. Take a fascinating tour of the Hall for around GBP12 per adult – group size limited to 20 pax – for around an hour and enjoy 10% discount at both the shop and the rather tasty cafe next to it. I joined one on the day but you can book ahead via their website to avoid disappointment. Our tour included a visit to the Queen’s Box (well almost – viewed via an open door) and the Royal Retiring Room where Her Majesty and her guests assemble pre-performance. In-between productions, you may be allowed to take photographs inside the Hall but only when the guide gives permission.
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