'A monstrous cross between the Colosseum, Rome, and a Yorkshire pie'(1) was how one critic described the new building of the Royal Albert Hall in 1870.
Built between 1867 and 1871 the hall was intended originally to be both a large music hall and a conference centre for meetings of learned societies. In reality it was not possible to combine the two, however, the range of events held in the hall has always been incredible. From opera to ice skating, rock concerts to awards events, the hall has become the 'Nation's Village Hall'.
The Central Hall of Arts and Science
As early as 1853 Prince Albert and Henry Cole investigated the possibility of building a music hall in South Kensington, and they hoped to include a concert hall in the 1862 International Exhibition, however due to lack of funds it had to be excluded. Albert was a great lover of music and a talented musician and Cole once said: 'in my opinion, Music unites in the highest degree both Science and Art'.
The new building, now intended for a site north of the RHS Gardens, was to be called the Central Hall of Arts and Science. After the death of the Prince in 1861, Cole became the driving force behind the project. It was renamed the Royal Albert Hall by Queen Victoria when she laid the foundation stone in May 1867.
The hall was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and completed by Major-General H.Y.D. Scott after Fowke's sudden death in 1865. Both were engineer designers closely associated with Cole and the South Kensington Museum. In general terms the hall's overall form and internal layout can be attributed to Fowke, and its exterior look and character to Scott.
In 2004 this brick and terracotta amphitheatre-like structure underwent a £70million refurbishment. This included adding three new basement levels and loading bays, to reduce disruption to local residents due to the almost daily changing of events in this busy central London venue.
(1) The Saturday Review, 11 June 1870