Royal Albert Hall 150 years old

Last Saturday, the 20th May, marked the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone at the commencement of the building’s four-year construction.

Queen Victoria had signed the charter and work began in 1867.

Finished in 1871, it fulfilled Albert’s dream of being the the country’s premiere concert hall.

[H]ere are some fascinating facts of this much-loved venue which, has hosted the BBC Proms since 1942 after the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof, causing a fire.

The foundation stone having been laid by Queen Victoria, and still in mourning for her beloved husband, the Queen renamed the prosaically titled ‘The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’ to The Royal Albert Hall in honour of her late husband, turning a tribute to a prince into a cultural icon.

Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria was a great lover of the arts, he wanted to establish more permanent venues for the public to engage in the arts and sciences after the success of the Great Exhibition. Work was still being done on this scheme when Albert died in 1861.

Albertopolis was the provisional name given to the area which has included within it: The Natural History Museum; Imperial College London; The Royal College of Music; The Royal College of Art; The Science Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum; The Royal Navigation Museum; and The Albert Hall.

The building is not actually circular, but more of an oval shape. The Royal Albert Hall is a Grade I listed building and has been in continuous use since its completion in 1871. Over 350 performances take place at the Royal Albert Hall every year.

Costing £8,000, the Organ, built in 14 months, the largest in England with 9,999 pipes, was once powered by 2 steam engines, if laid end-to-end the pipes would stretch almost 9 miles. The largest measures 2ft 6in in diameter, 42ft high and weighs almost 1 tonne – the smallest as wide as a drinking straw.

Before the dome was placed on top of the hall, it was completely assembled in Manchester to be sure it fit together properly before being dismantled and taken to London. It then was re-assembled, when the props were knocked away it fell 0.08mm precariously dropping into its current position.

The glazed-iron roof of Royal Albert Hall measures 20,000 sq .ft. and was at the time of building the largest unsupported dome in the world. The Royal Albert Hall can currently seat 5,400 people, but when it was first built, it could seat 8,000.

The Royal Albert Hall’s distinct shape may also have spared it from the bombing, as the Luftwaffe reportedly used it as a landmark, although most of the glass panes were bomb damaged. During the First and Second World Wars, the Hall’s roof was used as a navigation point by pilots on the London skyline.

The design of the hall was based on the Coliseum in Rome, the acoustics inside weren’t perfected until 1969, when 135 fiberglass acoustic damping discs were suspended from the ceiling, they have been redesigned and 50 diffusers were removed, the remaining 85 were reconfigured.

A woman’s mosaic class designed the frieze on the top of the building. The first Sumo wrestling tournament in the sport’s 1,500-year history was held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1991. It has a Grade I listed chimney (called ‘The Chimney ‘), still in use today sitting above the steam boilers which heat the Hall

In 1872, the year after the Royal Albert Hall was completed, plans were developed to build a pneumatic railway that would carry visitors from the South Kensington Tube to the Royal Albert Hall by way of The Victoria and Albert Museum. However, the plans went nowhere and the railway was never built.

Featured image: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Grade I listed building completed in 1871. © Copyright Julian Osley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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