This Hall is famous for the wide range of events we hold here – music of all types, ballet, opera, films, lectures, sporting events and dinners. The building also has a secret history few know about – as the location for funerals and full-length immersion baptisms, séances, ghost hunts, and gangsters.
Read on to hear some of the less known stories from the Royal Albert Hall.
A Place of Public Worship
The Hall was registered as a place of public worship in December 1891, and in 1928 held its most spectacular religious event when the Arena was turned into a mock-up of the River Jordan.
On the stage, surrounded by sand, stood a specially-made galvanised iron tank, masked from the audience by banks of flowers, through which ran a stream of water representing the River Jordan. One-by-one over fifty men and women stepped into the water to be given full-length immersion baptisms by legendary Welsh revivalist George Jeffrys and his Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance.
The World’s First Bodybuilding Contest
The Royal Albert Hall played host to the world’s first body-building contest, on 14 September 1901, judged by respected sculptor and athlete Sir Charles Lawes, and none other than Sherlock author Arthur Conan Doyle! Orchestrated by Prussian strong man Eugene Sandow, 12 finalists competed for a prize of 1,000 guineas, and a gold statuette.
A sell-out success, the Hall was packed with a 15,000-strong audience, with hundreds more turned away at the door. A new enthusiasm for health and fitness gripped London, and bodybuilding came of age overnight.
In the winter of 1931, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals decided to bake a record breaking Christmas Pudding. The mixture (weighing 10 tonnes), was displayed at a Christmas Market held in the auditorium on 24 – 25 November, where the public had a chance to stir it.
This extraordinary pudding, once baked, was divided into 2lb pieces and distributed to the poorest families in the UK in time for Christmas.
On 3 December 1991, Europe’s first ever indoor beach volleyball match took place at the Hall, on a sand-strewn Arena floor!
Some 19 minutes into the game however, the power in the building failed, the lights went out and the game had to be abandoned, giving beach volleyball the unusual accolade of having the shortest history of any sport at the venue.
A Royal Albert Hall funeral
The only funeral to have taken place here was for Hall’s first Chief of Staff Bramwell Booth, on 23 June 1929. One week after he had died, his family and friends, and a full audience of 10,000 Salvationists (he was second General of the Salvation Army) gathered round his coffin in our auditorium for his funeral.
A programme designed by Picasso
In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the ‘Spain and Culture’ in Aid of Basque Refugee Children event – a mass rally in opposition to General Franco and the Nationalist Army, attracted an extraordinary audience to the Hall to raise money to rescue Spanish children and bring them to England.
The rally included speeches from international politicians, and Pablo Picasso designed the programme cover, which was dedicated to the mothers and children of Spain. The Hall was packed with famous names including W H Auden, E M Forster, Virginia Woolf, H G Wells, Jacob Epstein, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Listening to concerts via Electrophone
In 1896, for a cost of £50 per year, members of the public were be able to dial up to listen to events happening at the Hall via a device called the Electrophone! The Electrophone (a device rather like a telephone) was never very popular however, and was replaced by radios.
The first Miss World pageant to be held at the Hall took place on 27 November 1969.
It continued to be held here annually until 1988, despite the fact that in 1970 the Miss World contest was vociferously interrupted by Women’s Liberation activists, who pelted the host with tomatoes, smoke-, flour- and stink-bombs. Chants echoing around the arena of ‘we’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry’, were broadcast live across the world.