Renewing Alexandra Palace

Bob Hare


Ally Pally, which has suffered much over its 142 years, is currently at a high point. The historic significance of the Palace has been recognised and is providing the foundation for its future.

The winning of the huge grant from the Heritage Lottery that will what a transform the historic parts of the building was less like a journey than a ride on one of the 'soapbox' vehicles that will shortly again be racing down the Ally Pally hill. The main bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) first had to win development phase funding by showing that it would deliver education, public benefit and, ultimately, financial sustainability.

Concept and master plans were developed by Terry Farrell architects. One of the key factors was that the Palace was already a public destination and had the infrastructure needed to support the new public attractions, a TV museum/experience and a restored Victorian theatre. Another was that the restoration of the historic parts at the east end of the Palace would help bring a hotel to the west end, unlocking the conference and exhibition business. For the HLF the prize was not just the achievement of historic restoration, but real regeneration, with benefits beyond Alexandra Palace to Haringey and London. Our successful bid includes £18.8 million awarded towards the total project cost of some £26.7 million. The London Borough of Haringey has committed £6.8 million, and a further £1 million must be achieved by fund-raising.

When work is completed in 2018, the cheerless East Court will be entirely refurbished to become a new and welcoming public area, as well as the entrance for the TV studios and theatre. The former BBC TV studios, birthplace of high-definition television broadcasting in 1936, will be re-opened as a new visitor attraction. Both the BBC and the National Media Museum at Bradford will provide objects and archive material.

Since the BBC took over the Victorian Theatre in 1936, it has remained unused, so it retains one of the best-preserved examples of stage machinery to be found anywhere. Under the stage, a deep pit contains a huge array of wooden machinery that could, for example, propel an actor up through a trap in the stage to create surprise appearances or even great leaps of as much as 30 feet. Audience 'wow' was evidently much more important than health and safety! A new book about it, Drama at the Palace. Victorian Heyday: The Alexandra Palace Theatre 1873 - 1901, available from the Friends at www.fapt.org.uk, tells the story.

Finally I would like to acknowledge the huge role played by the former Chief Executive of Alexandra Palace, Duncan Wilson, OBE, for envisioning and piloting every aspect of this stunning achievement. The restoration works will be beginning soon, and will take around two years. I am greatly looking forward to their completion!