Rumour has it that during the great 1980 fire at Alexandra Palace, sad wailing could be heard coming from the Grand Willis organ pipes in the Great Hall. It’s almost as if the building’s ghosts were mourning its passing.
The disastrous blaze that claimed the Great Hall and most of the western part of the building in 1980 was actually the second unfortunate incident to strike the People’s Palace. In 1873, a mere fortnight after it first opened, a fire destroyed the building completely; it was promptly rebuilt and reopened in 1875. The second time around it took eight years, and although the fire left the East Wing mostly unharmed, it has long since been in a sad state of disrepair.
But its guardian ghosts can now finally be at peace. Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund, London Borough of Haringey and much-needed public donations, a large and ambitious project is underway to restore the East Wing to its former glory. The high brick walls, which currently conceal a disused Victorian theatre and the former BBC studios, will play host to events as well as a new multimedia visitor attraction drawing on the building’s crucial role in the history of broadcasting and entertainment.
The Palace has undergone several transformations and served many different purposes over the years, including a refugee and later an internee camp during World War One. The majestic building dominating the North London skyline was also the site of groundbreaking technological progress – on 2 November 1936, the world’s first regular high-definition live TV service was beamed from here.
The plan is to honour this aspect of its heritage and create an interactive visitor experience in the former BBC studios, using modern digital devices and wealth of materials from the Alexandra Palace and BBC archives.
The LSA team were very fortunate to get a backstage look, and we’re now counting down the days to Spring 2018 and the grand re-opening!