On this day in history – 9th June 1873 – Alexandra Palace, often referred to as the ‘Ally Pally’, is burned to the ground – just sixteen days after being opened to the public….
In an idea conceived by architect Owen Jones in 1859, the intention was to build a counterpart to South London’s Crystal Palace…. It was to be North London’s centre of recreation, entertainment and education – ‘The People’s Palace’….
By 1860 The Great Northern Palace Company had been established – however, it was unable to raise the required finances to start work immediately…. The building materials were eventually acquired and recycled from the 1862 International Exhibition which had been demolished in South Kensington….
In 1863 the company managed to secure Tottenham Wood Farm as land on which to build its Park…. The Park opened to the public on the 23rd of July 1863 and was named after Alexandra of Denmark, the Princess of Wales and wife of the future King Edward VII….
The building of the Palace began and in 1871 construction started on the Edgware, Highgate & London Railway – to connect the site with Highgate Station…. The work on the Palace was undertaken by Kelk & Lucas – who also built the Royal Albert Hall around the same time…. Both Palace and railway were completed in 1873…. On the 24th of May 1873, just in time for Queen Victoria’s birthday, the Palace and Park officially opened to the public…. Some 120,000 people gathered for a performance by Victorian operatic singer Sims Reeves, to listen to recitals and watch a spectacular firework display….
Sixteen days later, at around lunchtime, workmen were working on the roof of the dome – when a burning ember escaped from a brazier they were using…. At first it was thought the fire could be contained – and so there was a delay in calling the fire service…. But the fire was to spread rapidly – staff rushed from room to room, tearing valuable paintings and tapestries from the walls and gathering up books and artefacts….
At 1.30pm the roof collapsed – falling on to the £30,000 organ below which had been designed by Henry Willis…. It is said the crash could be heard six miles away…. Three members of staff were killed and a priceless collection of some 4,700 pieces of historic English pottery and porcelain on loan to the Palace was destroyed….
All that was left of Alexandra Palace were the outer walls…. Never-the- less, in true Victorian form, the Palace was rebuilt and reopened on the 1st of May 1875….