This month marks 38 years since Alexandra Palace, known to many as the ‘People’s Palace’, in north London burned down – for the second time.

The palace – named for Princess Alexandra, wife of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and subsequently nicknamed ‘Ally Pally’ – was originally opened in 1873 as an entertainment and recreation centre inspired by the success of the Crystal Palace in London’s south.

But just 16 days later – having already attracted some 120,000-plus visitors – Alexandra Palace burned down when a fire started in the dome. A second palace complex was opened on the site two years later, on 1st May, 1875, and this palace, which a 1900 Act of Parliament declared was to remain forever available for public use, stood until 1980.

It served various purposes over the years including, of course, hosting various musical and threatrical events as well as hosting shooting events during the 1908 Olympics, acting as an internment camp during World War I, and being used as the transmitting centre for BBC radio and television – a role which saw it, in 1936, become the home of the world’s first regular public television service.

On 10th July, 1980 – having been transferred into the ownership of Haringey Council from the Greater London Council six months earlier and now in the early stages of a renovation project, it caught fire during a jazz festival.

Starting behind the venue’s historic Willis Organ in the Great Exhibition Hall, the fire spread through the roof and destroyed about a third of the building including the hall, Banqueting Suite, former roller rink and theatre dressing rooms. Only the Palm Court and area occupied by the BBC – including the theatre and transmitting tower – escaped damage (interestingly, the burnt out shell of the Great Hall featured in the film 1984, representing Victory Square).

The building was subsequently redeveloped and restored and reopened again on 17th March, 1988. Offering a range of recreational facilities including performance spaces, an ice rink, boating lake and animal enclosure, it now operates as a charitable trust administered by the London Borough of Haringey.

Grade II-listed since 1996, the palace is currently undergoing a £27 million restoration and development project which will see a new public space created in the East Court and allow visitor access to a range of historical artefacts, including photographs and early film, for the first time, as well as see the Victorian-era theatre restored.

The theatre will reopen in December but before that – on 1st September – will host the Proms with the BBC Concert Orchestra performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (the event is already sold out). For more, see www.alexandrapalace.com.

PICTURE: Alexandra Palace today (Dun.can (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

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A unique collection of contemporary botanical art from The Florilegium Society at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, has opened at The Shirley Sherwood Gallery in Kew Gardens. Among several exhibitions marking the gallery’s 10th anniversary, this display features life-sized works by 64 Australian and international artists of the society (the name florilegium means ‘a gathering of flowers’). Meanwhile, a showcase of botanical works by Australian and New Zealand painters selected by Dr Shirley Sherwood from among her collection has also gone on show. Down Under II: Works from the Shirley Sherwood Collection follows an earlier exhibition in 1998. And finally, with the Temperate House set to reopen next month after a five year restoration, the gallery is also hosting Plans and plants – the making of the Temperate House which takes a look at the history of this Victorian-era landmark through plans, drawings and photographs taken from Kew’s archives. All three displays can be seen until 16th September. Admission included with Gardens entry.  For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: Banksia praemorsa by Margaret Pieroni. The Florilegium Society at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Sir Hugh Carlton Greene, director-general of the BBC during the 1960s, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Holland Park. Greene (1910-1987) lived in the two-storey semi-detached home at 25 Addison Avenue between 1956 and 1967, a period which mostly coincided with his time as director-general. A former journalist and younger brother to novelist Graham Greene, he had joined the BBC in 1940 and was appointed director-general in 1960, remaining in the post for more than nine years before resigning in 1969. He presided over the BBC during a period in which the broadcaster was forced to reinvent itself following the arrival of ITV. The plaque was unveiled by veteran broadcaster, naturalist and former colleague, Sir David Attenborough. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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• A new website has been launched to showcase the UK’s vast national collection of oil paintings. While the website, which is a partnership between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation, and participating collections and museums, currently hosts around 60,000 works, it is envisaged that by the end of 2012 it will carry digitised images of all 200,000 oil paintings in the UK (in an indicator of how many there are, the National Gallery currently has around 2,300 oil paintings, about one hundredth of all those in the nation). The works on the site will eventually include almost 40,000 by British artists. The 850 galleries and organisations participating so far include 11 in London – among them the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bank of England, the Imperial War Museum and Dr Johnson’s House. For more, see www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/

• Arctic explorer John Rae has had a Blue Plaque unveiled in his honor at his former home in Holland Park. Although his feats were relatively unsung in his lifetime, the explorer’s expeditions in the Canadian Arctic saw him travel 13,000 miles by boat and foot and survey more than 1,700 miles of coastline. He is also credited with having “signposted” the only north-west passage around America that is navigable without icebreakers. Rae, who died in 1893, lived at the property at 4 Lower Addison Gardens in Holland Park for the last 24 years of his life.

Transport For London is calling on Londoners to share experiences of “kindness” that they have witnessed or participated in while travelling on the Underground. Artist Michael Landy has created a series of posters which are calling on people to submit their stories. Some of the stories will then be shown at Central Line stations (the first four posters go up on 23rd July at stations including Hollard Park, Holborn and Liverpool Street). For more, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/art.

On the Olympic front, the City of London Corporation has announced Tower Bridge will be bedecked with a set of giant Olympic Rings and the Paralympic Agitos during the 45 days of next year’s Games. Meanwhile, the Corporation has also unveiled it will host next week the launch of a London-wide campaign to get people involved in sport and activity in the lead-up to the Games. More to come on that.

On Now: Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril Beyond the Moulin Rouge. The Courtauld Gallery, based at Somerset House, is running an exhibition celebrating the “remarkable creative partnership” between Jane Avril, a star of the Moulin Rouge in Paris during the 1890s, and artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec created a series of posters featuring Avril which ensured she became a symbol of Lautrec’s world of “dancers, cabaret singers, musicians and prostitutes”. Runs until 18th September. See www.courtauld.ac.uk for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This curiously named part of London, pronounced Mar-lee-bone, takes it’s name from a church dedicated to St Mary which was originally built near a small river or stream called the Tyburn or Tybourne. Hence St Mary-le-Burn became St Marylebone.

There was a medieval village here which during the 18th century became subsumed into greater London as fashionable people sought land to the west of the city. The area – in particular Harley Street – became known as a location of choice for doctors to site their consulting rooms and is still known for its medical establishments.

Among the significant sites is the St Marylebone Parish Church (pictured right) which, consecrated in 1817, was where poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married in 1846 following their elopement, the John Nash-designed All Souls Church in Langham Place, the Langham Hotel which opened in 1865 and boasted Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain among guests, 221B Baker Street, fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and now the site of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds.

Marylebone is also home to the world famous Wallace Collection, bequeathed to the government in 1897, the concert hall Wigmore Hall, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Institute of Architects, and the art-deco headquarters of the BBC, Broadcasting House. Marylebone High Street remains a shopping mecca offering a diverse range of independent boutiques and specialty shops while in the south, Marylebone includes one of London’s most famous shopping strips on Oxford Street.

Other famous people connected with the area include four time Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived at 73 Harley Street from 1876 to 1882, writer Charles Dickens who lived at 18 Bentinck Street while working as a court reporter in the 1830s, author Edward Gibbon, who lived at 7 Bentinck Street while writing his landmark text The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the 1770s, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who worked in Upper Wimpole Street in the 1890s.