Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, painted by Frederick Newenham around 1850.
The Crystal Palace
Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, was the driving force behind the Great Exhibition of the Works and Industry of all Nations which opened in the Crystal Palace in 1851 at a spot in Hyde Park almost opposite to where the Hall stands today. (The Crystal Palace was later moved to Sydenham and burnt down in 1936.)
This exhibition was very popular and a great financial success, bringing together new inventions, fabrics, jewels and exquisite crafts from all over the world. The entrance fee was such that even the poorest of the British public could have the chance to see these wonders.
Prince Albert wanted the huge profits from the exhibition to fund the purchase of land and buildings to house permanent exhibitions of the arts, industry and science which is how the Royal Albert Hall and Museums area came to exist.
Gore House stood on the site which now houses the Royal Albert Hall.
Monsieur Alexis Soyer leased the property in December 1850 in order to open his 'Gastronomic Symposium to all Nations' flamboyant restaurant in 1851. Each room had a different theme and there was a Baronial Banqueting Hall in the grounds. He wanted to attract custom from the Great Exhibition opposite, but food was plentiful and cheap in the exhibition and the public did not want to tear themselves away from the spectacle and excitement there. He had to close down after 5 months, making an enormous loss.
The Gore Estate
The Gore Estate in 1857, bought in August 1852 by the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 with part of the exhibition profits, in order to build 'Albertopolis' – the museums and the Royal Albert Hall.
Henry Cole & Francis Fowke
Henry Cole, to the left of the photograph, is seen here in discussion with Francis Fowke, second left, around 1860. They collaborated on the original designs for the Royal Albert Hall.
The Royal Horticultural Gardens and conservatory
The Royal Horticultural Gardens and conservatory around 1861, looking towards Kensington Gardens. A walkway which extended around the perimeter of the gardens provided shelter and refreshment areas.
A plan of the Royal Horticultural Gardens and Exhibition Building
A plan dated 1863 of the Royal Horticultural Gardens and Exhibition Building of 1862.
Early design for the Hall
An early design for the Hall dating from 1866.
Queen Victoria laying the first stone of the Hall
20 May 1867
Her Majesty Queen Victoria laying the first stone of the Hall on 20 May 1867.
Around 7,000 spectators assembled to catch a glimpse of the rarely seen Monarch, who announced that 'It is my wish that this Hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences'.
The Foundations of the Hall
The foundations of the Hall around 1868; the photograph was probably taken from the scaffolding of the Albert Memorial. The Royal Horticultural Society conservatory and gardens can be seen clearly behind the Hall.
Construction of the Hall
The construction of the Hall took from 1867 – 1871. Here, around 1869, the unfinished Albert Memorial can be seen in the background.
Construction of the Roof
The roof of the Hall was the largest of its kind ever to span an unsupported space. In order to test the unique construction, it was erected near the works of the Fairbairn Engineering Company in Ardwick, Manchester, who had made the ironwork, before being dismantled and transported to South Kensington on horse drawn vehicles in 1869.
Henry Cole in 1871. Cole was an extraordinary man of enormous energy. In his time he reformed the Public Records Office, designed the first Christmas card and steered the Great Exhibition of 1851 to great success and profit. He was the driving force behind the design & building of the Hall, basing it on the Amphitheatres he had seen in the South of France.
The opening of the Royal Albert Hall
29 March 1871
The opening of the Royal Albert Hall was attended by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who, too overcome to make the opening address, had to ask her son the Prince of Wales to announce that 'The Queen declares this Hall is now open'. The Hall was built with a futuristic heating and cooling system, an hydraulic lift, 11,000 gas burners which could all be lit within 10 seconds, and the largest organ in the world.
The auditorium during the opening ceremony
29 March 1871
The auditorium of the Hall at the opening ceremony on 29 March 1871 where every seat was taken. There were over 50 Mayors, the Prime Minister Mr Disraeli, ambassadors, diplomats, royalty and a huge cross section of the society of England, with an orchestra of 500 and a choir twice that size. The air was sweetened with the scent of Eau du Cologne being pumped through the ventilation, supplied by Mr Rimmel.
Demonstration of the first use of electricity at the Hall
In June 1873 the Shah of Persia was invited to a concert, followed by a demonstration of the first use of electricity at the Hall from five points in the gallery.
Her Majesty Queen Victoria
Her Majesty Queen Victoria in her box at a concert in 1876. The situation of this box was judged to be the best acoustically in the auditorium. Note the Hammer Cloth draped over the front of the box; this is still used today when Her Majesty is present.
In May 1877, Wagner himself conducted part of the Wagner Festival. It contained orchestral and sung extracts (with vocalists from the Bayreuth Festival) from Wagner's operas, as well as marches written by the composer.
Later Wagner wrote to a friend that 'On entering the Hall for the first time, it struck me at once as the beau ideal of a place for performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in a manner and on a scale really worthy of the great master. If I had to conduct it, the choir would occupy the gallery and the orchestra I would arrange in the centre of the arena. The effect would be stupendous.'
One of the earliest photographs of the auditorium of the Hall
One of the earliest photographs of the auditorium of the Hall, taken around 1880.
the Royal Horticultural Gardens
The Hall was built at the end of what was the Royal Horticultural Gardens, abutting their conservatory which became the South entrance to the Hall. This conservatory which housed a fine display of plants and statues was demolished in 1889.