Interior of Alexandra Palace Theatre
Alexandra Palace Theatre © Keith Armstrong
Alexandra Palace Theatre © Keith Armstrong

Alexandra Park and Palace, North London

Generating over 3 million visits a year, Alexandra Park and Palace is an iconic Grade II listed landmark vested in a Charitable Trust. It is set in 79.32 hectares of award-winning parkland, with a core purpose to deliver public benefit.

Located 10 minutes from Kings Cross and 20 minutes from the City, today the 33,940 square metres building is London’s largest independent event venue for music concerts, sporting events, shows and exhibitions, both indoors and outdoors.

A £27 million construction programme to restore the East Wing of the palace is nearing completion, with the official opening taking place in December 2018. Alexandra Palace Theatre has been sensitively restored to create an adaptable performance space. The revitalised East Court will be the main arrival and focal point for the eastern end, with a café, seating, welcome desk, Creative Learning Centre and exhibitions that showcase the Park and Palace’s eclectic heritage. A home for entertainment and education for people from all walks of life, “Ally Pally” has played a crucial role in the development and increasing access to leisure and recreation - its importance cemented by a 1900 Act of Parliament.

‘The Palace of the People’

Alexandra Palace was born out of the industrial revolution, as mechanised factories drew former agricultural and pastoral workers to increasingly crammed cities. Living conditions were poor but out of the developments in technology came solutions. Railways offered an escape from the city and Joseph Paxton’s success with the iron framed Great Exhibition building enabled public structures on a grand scale. Just as Crystal Palace relocated south, the International Exhibition of 1862 was relocated to the new Alexandra Park. A direct railway offered an affordable escape for the cross section of London’s expanded population.

Victorian entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to provide wider access to leisure, recreation and education. In contrast to exclusive organisations Alexandra Park and Palace were conceived as 'The Palace of the People'. It offered an opportunity to workers and visitors from all backgrounds to enjoy and share the eclectic programme of activities and events.

Restoring the Theatre

Lying dormant for over 80 years, re-awakening the Theatre was always going to be a challenge. Given its heritage significance, with decaying ornate plaster, a raked timber floor, mechanised timber stage machinery and the absence of any modern interventions such as electricity and heating, a considerable amount of research and design was undertaken.

The design principles were established very early on, in that the unique character, with its faded paintwork and crumbling plaster, should be sensitively restored. A number of contemporary elements have been introduced to the space in order to allow it to be used safely and effectively – the biggest intervention being to introduce a flattened floor.

A new modern seating system will be introduced, with just over 300 seats on a retractable platform, which will sit under the existing balcony when not in use. There will be a number of seats introduced along the wings, and the balcony itself will be strengthened and re-raked to allow for improved sightlines for the 400 new seats located there. Combined with a number of loose seats, the capacity for 2018 will be a comfortable 1,300.

Performance will be predominately located within the auditorium itself rather than the historically significant Stage House, allowing audiences to have a greater theatrical experience. To enable this, a seating and staging kit will be provided so that a range of configurations can be created, depending on the type of event. Other 21st century interventions include a stage lighting and audio-visual system, a kit of trusses and a natural and mechanical ventilation system.

Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust (APPCT) has worked closely with both Haringey Council Planning and Conservation teams and Historic England over the lifetime of the restoration project. A major planning and listed building consent application was granted in 2015. Since then, regular updates and site visits have enabled all teams to be involved in key decisions as the project has evolved.