Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria was a great lover of the arts, and after the exhibition at the Crystal Palace ended, he wanted to establish more permanent venues for the public to engage in the arts and sciences. Work was still being done on this scheme when Albert died in 1861. Queen Victoria signed the charter and work began in 1867 on what would become the Royal Albert Hall. Finished in 1871, it fulfills Albert’s dream of being a premiere concert hall, hosting regular performances as well as the BBC’s Proms series every year. With over 140 years of dedication to the arts, the building has built up many interesting facts.
Albert’s dream resulted in the construction of Albertopolis, of which the Royal Albert Hall is part. The area is in South Kensington between the boroughs of Kensington, Westminster, and Chelsea. Several structures are dedicated to the arts and sciences in the area, including the Natural History Museum, Imperial College London, the Royal College of Music, the Royal College of Art, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Royal Navigation Museum.
Over 350 performances are conducted at RAH every year. It can currently seat 5,400 people, but when it was first built, it could seat 8,000. Its organ is the largest in England with 9,999 pipes.
A Grievous Sin
From Bob Dylan anyway. The legendary folk rock artist, well-known for his use of an acoustic guitar as part of his performance, opted to use an electric guitar starting in 1965. During a 1966 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, one fan is alleged to have shouted “Judas!” at him for playing electric, to which Dylan responded “You’re a liar! I don’t believe you!” before turning back to his band and telling them to “Play it f****** loud!” before starting “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Gotta Test It First
Before the dome was placed on top of the hall, it was completely assembled in Manchester to be sure it fit together properly before being dismantled and taken to London.
Also Known As
The original name of the Royal Albert Hall was to be “The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences” until it was changed to honour Prince Albert.
Though the Proms have been held at the Royal Albert Hall since 1941, the Proms (short for “promenade concerts”) have been going on since 1895. Prior to World War II, they were hosted in the Queen’s Hall at Langham Place, but bombs from the London Blitz damaged the hall beyond repair in 1940, thus necessitating the move to RAH the next year. The RAH’s distinct shape may also have spared it from the bombing, as the Luftwaffe reported used it as a landmark.
A Big First
The first Sumo wrestling tournament in the sport’s 1,500 year history was held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1991.
Remind You of Anything?
The design of the hall was based on the Coliseum in Rome, but the acoustics inside weren’t perfected until 1969, when fiberglass acoustic damping discs were suspended from the ceiling. A woman’s mosaic class actually designed the frieze on the top of the building. Meanwhile, the building is not actually circular, but more of an oval shape.
In 1872, the year after the Royal Albert Hall was completed, plans were developed to build a pneumatic railway that would carry visitors from the South Kensington Tube to the RAH and the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, the plans went nowhere and the railway was never built.
Making the Grade
RAH is a Grade I listed building and has been in continuous use since 1871.