Grand Hall and Pillar Hall, Olympia Exhibition Centre


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road/Olympia Way, W14 8UX


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Statutory Address:
Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road/Olympia Way, W14 8UX

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Hammersmith and Fulham (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Olympia Exhibition Centre comprising: The Grand Hall, the former National Agricultural Hall, and Pillar Hall, the former Minor Hall, both of 1885 in Italianate style by Henry Edward Coe with James Edmeston and engineers Arthur T Walmisley M.Inst.C.E. and Max Am Ende M.Inst.C.E. The ironwork of the Grand Hall roof is by Handyside of Derby. Olympia National (the former National Hall), an annexe of 1923 by architects Holman and Goodrham and Olympia Central (built as the Empire Hall) of 1929, by architect Joseph Emberton, altered in the later C20.

Reasons for Designation

The Grand Hall and the Pillar Hall of 1885, designed by Coe and Edmeston, are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * for the shared, distinctive treatment of the principal facades which articulates their design intention to create a national hall; * for the technological innovation of the Grand Hall’s roof, engineered by Arthur T Walmisley and Max Am Ende, which marked an evolution of the constructional techniques displayed in similarly large barrel-vaulted roofs, through the use of plates, ball-and-socket joints and crinkle-crankle gable ends; * for the artistically accomplished, richly decorated and little altered interiors of the dining and assembly rooms of the Pillar Hall.

Historic interest: * as the earliest elements of the Olympia Exhibition Centre, of national historic interest for its role in the country’s cultural life, and a nationally rare surviving example of a building type which rose in prominence in the mid-C19, of which few examples remain countrywide.

Group value: * the Grand Hall and Pillar Hall were designed as a set piece and have a strong group value with each other and with Olympia National and Olympia Central, listed at Grade II.


Olympia was originally conceived in the early 1880s as the National Agricultural Hall, a larger version of the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington. The project of building a National Agricultural Hall was conceived by Major Edwyn Sherard Burnaby (1830-1883), MP for Leicestershire North, who primarily wanted to see shows such as the military Royal Tournament, held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington (1861-62, Grade II) since 1880, staged on a much larger scale and made more easily accessible by railway from across London and the rest of the country.

The site chosen was a former market garden in West Kensington, immediately adjacent to Addison Road station, already a major passenger station on the West London Railway, which became an important method of transport for visitors to Olympia. The building was branded as Olympia even before it opened as its commercial rationale quickly evolved beyond the staging of agricultural or military shows into an open-ended exploitation of what was the largest such venue in England at the time. Intended as a large indoor space for exhibitions, tournaments, sporting competitions and entertainments of various kinds, the building followed in the tradition of large-scale exhibition halls popularised by the Great Exhibition in 1851, the inspiration for various imitators in London, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and around the world.

The foundation stone was laid Tuesday 21st July 1885 when details of the proposed design by Henry Edward Coe (1826-1885) were released in the architectural press. Coe was an obvious choice for principal architect, having already designed the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington with his partner Peck in the early 1860s, which at the time of completion was the largest such hall in the country. Coe had trained under George Gilbert Scott in the 1840s, at the same time as George Edmund Street, and had enjoyed a solid career with particular success in public buildings such as the Cambridge Guildhall and Royal Agricultural Hall, educational buildings and some churches.

Working across a range of styles in his career, Coe was evidently confident in the High Victorian mode of merging historicism with pragmatic and sometimes daring solutions to modern building types, as had been seen at major railway stations, market halls and other large indoor spaces from the 1850s onwards. Coe’s Italianate elevation for the new hall along Addison Road (now Olympia Way) was surmounted by the huge, glazed vault of the roof, with applied decoration kept to a discreet minimum. Henry Edward Coe died in December 1885, a year before the grand opening, but the design of the Grand Hall was entirely his, as well as the overall plan and concept of the hall complex including the Pillar Hall (built as the Minor Hall) and function rooms. James Edmeston had already been announced as an additional architect a few months before Coe died, and it was Edmeston who completed detailed designs for the Minor Hall (now known as the Pillar Hall), an ornate neo-classical anteroom to the Grand Hall designed for smaller events, lectures and dinners. The upper room at the Pillar Hall, referred to as the Assembly Room, appears to have been built as a concert hall. It has a subsequent use as an early cinema, where the theatregraph used in the concert hall to entertain Victorian audiences was one of the earliest systems for projecting moving images onto a screen. 

The Grand Hall had an impressive principal floor area of 440 ft by 175 ft (134m by 53m) under a largely glazed barrel-vaulted roof. It was England’s largest enclosed space at the time of construction and created an architectural spectacle matched only by the great railway termini of the High Victorian period. The roof was engineered by Arthur T Walmisley and Max Am Ende, both of whom had worked earlier with Rowland Ordish, a specialist designer of iron structures who designed the St Pancras Station roof, the largest span iron roof in the world at that time. Walmisley and Am Ende employed a number of innovative approaches to maximise stability whilst maintaining an open and light structure. These include the hinged top openings and crinkle-crankle effect to the end gables (which Walmisley described as vertical ridge and furrow construction). The new Olympia opened on Boxing Day in 1886, with an opening show from the Paris Hippodrome Company, a circus spectacular which included performing horses and elephants. At its opening, Olympia was the largest uninterrupted floorspace in the country and had a multifunctional character from the start, with numerous ways to profitably exploit such a valuable resource. With temporary raked seating in place, stretching from the floor to above the level of the gallery, 9000 people could be seated, and it was claimed that the arena and track laid out at the centre of the audience (suitable for the stag hunting staged by the Paris Hippodrome) was 100 ft (30m) longer than any previously available in the country. Before subsequent phases of Olympia and nearby houses were constructed, pleasure gardens were also laid out surrounding the undeveloped portions of the original site, for the purposes of dances, musical entertainments and promenading during the summer months, emphasising Olympia as an entertainment destination and not just a functional space for one-off events.

The second phase of Olympia, Olympia National, was built in 1923, designed by architects Holman and Goodrham. Known as the New Hall (subsequently National Hall) it was built on the site of a detached house and three pairs of semi-detached houses at the eastern half of West Kensington Gardens and opened in time for the Ideal Home Exhibition in March 1923. It fulfilled a functional requirement for more space in what had become a successful commercial enterprise, and referenced the original building stylistically and in its plan, albeit at a smaller scale with a substantial new commercial frontage to Hammersmith Road entered from a chamfered corner between Hammersmith Road and Olympia Way. This entrance had a large restaurant on the ground floor and a substantial function room above it (currently known as the Apex Room) with numerous smaller functions rooms, offices and miscellaneous service rooms over two floors and a basement, used largely for kitchens and store rooms. There was, and still is, complete interoperability between Olympia Grand and Olympia National (and later with Olympia Central) with roller shutter doors installed at both the main floor and gallery levels. Events could be held separately across the separate halls or unified across the available space, a design maxim that continued in further expansions of the site.

From 1929 onwards, a newly reconstituted company, Olympia Ltd, commissioned Joseph Emberton, one of the country’s leading architects in the modern idiom, to design a major new hall for the complex, several auxiliary structures and a multi-storey garage completed in 1937. The Hammersmith Road elevation of Olympia Central (Emberton’s Empire Hall of 1929-30) was an early expression in England of the modern movement in architecture. Functionally, it was the first four storey exhibition building ever erected in the country, with an emphasis on the pragmatic requirement for floor space rather than the large enclosed spaces required for spectacular shows.

CHANGES TO THE BUILDINGS The Grand Hall is little altered as an exhibition space. The most notable alterations are the addition of an entrance foyer to the east of the Grand Hall by Emberton in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the pediment and seated figure of Britannia was removed from the façade of the Grand Hall. Part of the bas relief within the triumphal arch was removed to allow the insertion of a fire escape into the stonework. Plant housing has been added to the north elevation and openings into the west elevation were inserted to allow access to Olympia West. Attached to the north-west of the Grand Hall is the Henley Suite (former Prince’s Room) completely refurbished internally in the late-C20.The Pillar Hall has been used for a variety of purposes and has recently had its decorative plasterwork exposed on the first floor gallery's balustrade; its form and most interior decoration is in place, although the windows were probably replaced in the 1930s.

Similarly Olympia National is little altered, but Olympia Central has been remodelled. The exterior of Olympia Central has a good degree of survival, although the loss of ‘1929’ below ‘Olympia’ in relief to the front elevation is noted. The exhibition floors, which were intended to be functional, remain much as constructed. However, the glazed lantern roof is replaced and the interior of the reception block on Hammersmith Road has been greatly reordered including the removal of the principal stairs and lantern above, although the basement lift lobby is thought to survive. A conference centre with lecture theatre was created on the third floor, with conference facilities located on the second floor in addition to the exhibition area.

Olympia West, located on the site of a one-storey annexe built in the 1890s intended as an overflow space, is a two storey exhibition hall dating from 2011 (by Collado Collins Architects) which fills a curved wedge shape to the west of the Olympia site and sits between the rear of Olympia Grand and Central. Its external brick, curved wall is historic fabric but as a building principally of 2011 it is not eligible for listing and was not assessed in the listing amendment of 2018.


Olympia Exhibition Centre comprising: the Grand Hall (the former National Agricultural Hall) and Pillar Hall (the former Minor Hall), both of 1885 in Italianate style by Henry Edward Coe with James Edmeston and engineers Arthur T Walmisley M.Inst.C.E. and Max Am Ende M.Inst.C.E. The ironwork of the Grand Hall roof is by Handyside of Derby. Olympia National (the former National Hall), an annexe of 1923 by architects Holman and Goodrham and Olympia Central (built as the Empire Hall) of 1929, by architect Joseph Emberton, altered in the later C20 are described in a separate List entry. Olympia National occupies the south-east corner of the site, with the principal, façade and entrances onto Hammersmith Road with a prominent corner entrance at the junction with Olympia Way. Olympia Central is attached to the west of Olympia National, with its main entrance on Hammersmith Road.

MATERIALS: both the Grand Hall and Pillar Hall are in red brick with stone dressings; the Grand Hall has an iron, glazed roof.

PLAN: the exhibition halls occupy the majority of the exhibition site, served by an open yard to the west with access from Blythe Road. The halls have shared ground and first floor levels in places, and are linked internally, but can operate independently with their separate entrances. Internal ‘streets’ for vehicular movement known as Hospital Avenue and Portcullis Avenue fall within the footprint of Olympia Central and National.

The Grand Hall and the Pillar Hall are aligned on an east-west axis, with separate principal multi-storeyed entrance ranges to the east housing staircases and rooms at each level. The Grand Hall lies towards the north of the site, addressing Olympia Way opposite the entrance to Kensington Olympia station, and has an additional foyer added by Emberton. The main body of the hall lies under the barrel-vaulted roof, with an additional lean-to roof covering the surrounding gallery. To the north of the Grand Hall is the Pillar Hall, the pair linked at the ground floor by a single-storey structure with a makeshift first-floor link of later date.


EXTERIOR: Olympia Grand Hall has a basement beneath the front range and to the rear, and two further storeys to the front range at the east. The main entrance facade on Olympia Way is Italianate in style and of fifteen bays, with six bays flanking a central triumphal arch in a three-bay projection providing the original entrance, with stone carving to the spandrels, partially obscured by Emberton's entrance hall of 1936, itself extended with further late C20 additions. At each end are slightly projecting wings, all with giant order Corinthian columns. The basement windows are plainly detailed, but at the ground floor, the window openings have elaborate carved stone dressings, set in semi-circular recesses. At the first floor the windows are set in stone surrounds with semi-circular heads. The windows are wooden sashes. The curve of the Grand Hall's roof is visible above the entrance. The roof is approximately twice the height of the brick and stone facade and dominates the elevation.

Where observed the side elevations are in plain brick with modern plant attached. Attached to the north-west is the irregularly-shaped, three-storey Henley Suite (former Prince’s Room), with functional brick elevations and top-lights.

INTERIOR: the Grand Hall consists of an approximately 110,000 sq ft (9,300 sq m) total area of floor space, most of which is free of columns under the principal barrel vault roof, but the side projections (under their own sloping roofs) provide additional 12m (40ft) stretches in the form of aisles and galleries, which are supported by further columns independent of the main roof arch.

The principal interior feature of the Grand Hall is the glazed barrel-vaulted roof with a light wrought and cast iron structure consisting of flat bars and angle irons riveted together, largely eliminating the use of plates. There is a 53m (170 ft) span with braced lattice ribs placed 10m (34 ft) apart, forming 11 bays between end screens. The main braced, lattice ribs are box girders, 7 ft deep and 2 ft wide. The total floor space on the ground floor is 134m (440 ft) by 250 ft between the walls, as the ground floor extends beyond the boundary of the columns supporting the roof span. The top of the roof arch is unhinged, and topped externally by a ridged ventilator (now with additional vents). Ball-and-socket joints, concealed in the foliated capitals and bases of the cast iron columns, cleverly channel the outward thrust of the arch down to the ground. Ridge-and-furrow glazed semi-circular end screens provide resistance to wind pressure and represent an early, and elegant, use of steel. From the main floor of the hall it soars to 31m (100ft) at its highest.

The overall effect is one of spaciousness and decorative restraint, with the only notable stylistic features being the ironwork panels set into the balustrade of the first floor gallery that runs around the whole main body of the hall. The panels, filled with tendrils, leaves and flower motifs, include central medallions with a sheaf of corn design in relief, facing out to the hall as one of the few symbolic expressions of the original basis for the building as the National Agricultural Hall.

The front (east) range includes refreshment rooms at ground floor level with elaborate decorative plasterwork. The main stairs in this range lead to some panelled offices above where decorative plasterwork features remain.The stairs in the Henley Suite (attached to the north-west) have brass handrails, but the plan-form, fixtures and fittings are late-C20. The interior* of the Henley Suite is excluded from the listing.

The 1936 entrance hall to the Grand Hall is thought to retain some internal finishes and forms.


EXTERIOR: the Pillar Hall to the north of the Grand Hall has a four storey front range to the east of cranked double-height dining and assembly rooms to the rear. Stylistically, the facade complements the Grand Hall's elevation in an Italianate style, presenting a miniature palazzo frontage three bays wide. Window and door dressings are in carved stone, complete with a first floor balcony in stone and balustrade to the parapet. The central moulded timbers are contemporary. A single storey brick building with central lantern links the ground floors of the Grand and Pillar Halls. The north, south and west elevations of the Pillar Hall, not envisaged to be on display, are in plain brick with few details. Art Deco windows of about 1923 have simple floral motifs.

INTERIOR: the Pillar Hall was designed for more intimate events with a focus on comfort and opulence. The single storey ground floor link between Olympia Grand and the Pillar Hall has timber panelling and a domed lantern, now blind; above there is a first floor link made from temporary materials. The dining room on the ground floor and assembly or lecture room on the first floor have rich neo-classical interiors by Edmeston. The dining room has Corinthian pillars on the ground floor that give the hall its current name. The coffered ceiling has rich decorative plasterwork. The assembly room on the first floor had an inserted stage at the west end, and a surrounding gallery supported on columns. Recently revealed rich plasterwork to the gallery balustrade has musical motifs, swags and floral features. The elliptical-arched roof has carved ribs rising from pilasters and there is some decorative plasterwork to the ceiling, approximately one third of which has been removed. Double doors at the east end access broad stairs that rise through the front range where kitchens storage and offices are located on each floor.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: between the facade of the Grand Hall and Pillar Hall are two brick gate piers with stone capping incorporated into a later brick wall.To the north of the hall is a tall red brick chimney. Attached to the north elevation of the Grand Hall are buildings of a functional nature which are not mapped.

* Pursuant to s1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned feature are not of special architectural or historic interest.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (2002)
Jonathan, Clarke, Early Structural Steel in London Buildings, (2014), 118
A.T.Walmisley, Iron Roofs, London, E and FN Spon, 1900.
A.T.Walmisley, The Roof of the National Agricultural Hall, Kensington, 1887, RIBA pamphlet collection
Olympia Exhibition Centre Research Report, Matthew Whitfield, Historic England 2018
The Architect and Building News, February 24, 1933.
The Architect and Building News, January 24, 1930, pp.127, 130-137.
The Architect and Building News, January 9, 1931. pp.74-6.
The Architect and Building News, March 28, 1930.
The Architect and Building News, October 3, 1930, pp.455, 468-9.
The Architects' Journal, April 8, 1937, pp.601-606.
The Architectural Review, April 1930, pp.319-320.
The Builder, December 18 1885, p.876
The Builder, October 3, 1885, pp.460, 477.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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