On the 29 March 1871 Queen Victoria officially opened the Royal Albert Hall. In her journal for the day the queen wrote of Henry Cole, who had organised the grand ceremony:
"Good Mr. Cole was quite crying with emotion and delight……it was naturally trying and 'émotionnant' for me." (1)
The occasion proved testing for the queen. She arrived by carriage on Kensington Gore, but had requested that the statue of her late husband, in the centre of the Albert Memorial, be covered in cloth so as not to upset her. She still wore her black mourning dress, however, it had white ribbons added to it to show that she was in part happy.
During the ceremony, the queen felt unable to deliver a speech and her son, the Prince of Wales, had to step in. He addressed the crowd of 10,000 people, who had been crammed in to the hall designed for 8,000. It is reported that as a consequence of the vast audience, and resulting heat, eau de Cologne was pumped into the ventilation system so that the queen did not have to smell her people!
This engraving from a news magazine of the time shows the packed auditorium, with the arena, stalls, three tiers of boxes, the circle and the gallery at the top. At the back proudly stands the organ by Henry Willis, the largest organ in the world at the time. The velarium can be seen above, covering the iron and glass dome roof, which stands 41 metres above the ground.
(1) Royal Archives, Queen Victoria's Journal, 29 March 1871, cited in Survey of London, volume XXXVIII (London, 1975), p. 191