Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Royal Albert Hall

Albert Hall, Kensington-road, was opened to the public in May 1871, and is a huge building of elliptical form in the style of the Italian Renaissance, the materials of the façade being entirely red brick and terra-cotta. The larger exterior diameter is 272 ft., interior 219 ft.; the smaller exterior 238 ft., interior 185 ft. The frieze above the balcony was executed by Messrs. Minton, Hollins & Co., and is divided into compartments containing allegorical designs, by Messrs. Armitage, Armstead, Horsley, Marks, Pickersgill, Poynter, and Yeames. There are two box entrances – on the east and west – with a private doorway from the Horticultural Society's Gardens on the south side, and separate entrances on either side for the balcony, the gallery, and the area, and for the platforms on either side of the great organ. The interior, which is amphitheatrical in construction – like, for example, the Coliseum at Rome – is grotesquely inappropriate to any purpose for which it is ever likely to be required. For gladiatorial exhibitions of any kind, the central area, measuring 102ft. by 62ft., would, of course, though rather small, be capitally adapted. A bull-fight, even, on a very small scale, might be managed here. As a matter of fact, it is used almost exclusively for concerts, when the area is filled up with seats, and the surrounding tiers, specially constructed with a view to commanding the centre of the building, are filled with an audience whose entire attention is specially directed to the extremity, where a space has been chipped out for the orchestra. However, it is a “big thing,” at all events. At the top of the hall is the picture gallery, capable of accommodating 2,000 persons, and used on ordinary occasions as a promenade. There are hydraulic lifts to the upper floors. The hall is 135 ft. in height, and is crowned by a domed skylight of painted glass, having a central opening or lantern, with a star of gas-burners. Altogether the hall is calculated to hold an audience of about 8,000. The organ was built by Mr. Henry Willis. There are five rows of keys---belonging to the choir, great, solo, swell, and pedal organs---130 stops, and 10,000 pipes, the range being ten octaves. The orchestra accommodates 1,000 performers. Large tanks are provided in case of fire on the roof of the picture gallery, and supplied with water from the artesian well of the Royal Horticultural Society, 430 ft. deep, and reaching 80 ft. into the chalk. NEAREST Railway Stations, High-street, Kensington, and South Kensington ; Omnibus Route, Kensington-road; Cab Rank, Queen's-gate.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

    Close by, we find a magnificent building, which may be taken as another - monument to the memory of the much lamented prince. It had been his intention to erect a large hall which might be used in promotion of the arts and sciences, and for the display of works of industry, &c. But he did not live to carry out his design ; and after his death it was determined to realize the idea in a memorial building at Kensington. Hence arose the ROYAL ALBERT HALL, which, however, was not completed till the year 1871. It is an immense building, of fine proportions ; and some notion of its vast size may be gathered from the fact that 70,000 blocks of terra-cotta were used in its construction. Round the frieze we find an inscription, in large letters, which reads thus: 'This Hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences, and for the works of industry of all nations, in fulfilment of the intentions of Albert, Prince Consort. The site was purchased by the proceeds of the great Exhibition of the year 1851. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, on the 20th day of May, 1867, and it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on the 29th day of March, in the year 1871.' Above the frieze run these words, in letters a foot high : 'Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, amid the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is - in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace.'
    The interior of this vast building is arranged as an amphitheatre, and will seat between 6,000 and 7,000 persons; while about 2,000 more can be comfortably placed on a sloping staging in the picture gallery which surrounds the hall. It contains a noble organ; in fact, it is said to be the largest in the world, having about 8,000 pipes, which are distributed over four manuals and a pedal organ. Verily, the organist ought to he able to make a tremendous and highly varied noise in the world! I hope you will not be frightened to go near the organ, when I add that the motive power is supplied by two steam engines !

source: Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

ROYAL ALBERT HALL, KENSINGTON ... A vast structure of an oval form, designed by Fowke and Scott, and erected 1867-71 at a cost of about £200,000. The dimensions are 200 feet in length , 160 feet in breadth, and 140 feet in height. The interior, which is very elegant, is capable of holding 10,000 persons. A grand organ, one of the largest in the world, occupies one end and is surrounded by an extensive orchestra. The building is used for exhibitions of science and art, oratorios, concerts &c. Omnibuses from Charing Cross. Trains from all stations on the Metropolitan and District Railways to South Kensington.

source: Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895


The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences - to give this huge structure its full title - is chiefly used for concerts. Its dimensions arc 270 ft. by 240 ft , with a circumference of 810 ft., so it is not surprising that upwards of 8,000 people can he accommodated within its walls. The building is Italian Renaissance in style, and was designed by Messrs. Fowke & Scott, being completed in 1871. Its ornamentation of coloured brick and terra-cotta is most effective, and the frieze, representing the nations of the world, is well worthy of the famous artists who were engaged upon it. Half of the cost of the building, or £100,000, was defrayed by public subscription, and £50,000 was was contributed out of the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

source: The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896


The Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, was built in 1867-71 at a cost of £200,000, of which some £40,000 was obtained by the sale of boxes. The arena is 100 feet by 70 feet, and holds a thousand persons, while altogether some eight thousand can be comfortably accommodated. Above the three rows of boxes and the balcony, is a gallery, where on occasion pictures are exhibited. In keeping with this enormous amphitheatre is the organ, one of the largest in the world, with its eight thousand pipes, and its bellows worked by two steam engines. The Hall is used mostly for organ recitals and concerts; but now and again, so admirable are its acoustic properties, it is the scene of public meetings.

source: The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896