It was a beautiful sunny September Wednesday when thirty-two Old Loughtonians met for a tour of the Royal Albert Hall, starting with a visit to the Verdi restaurant for a pre-tour coffee & Danish pastry .
Coffee break over, we split into two groups and were introduced to our guides for a simply spell-binding journey of discovery from the original building of the Albert Hall in the 1850s to its completion in 1871. We were told by our guide, Tony, how the building had been the brain child of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, who was keen to expand the arts in London. Prince Albert was heavily involved in the production of the Great Exhibition, which led to his building project which he did not live to see completed in 1871, dying of typhoid a few years before at the age of 42. Queen Victoria’s grief so affected her that she stopped all work on the project and diverted all funds to a structure in his memory, the Albert Memorial.
Anybody and everybody in the performing arts wants to appear at the RAH and from the many photographs on the walls leading to the seats & boxes, most have performed there.
The sheer scale of the interior is both breathtaking and magnificent. The design of the building itself, the arena, seating, stage, domed ceiling and audience boxes is a fine testament to the standard of British architecture and workmanship in the nineteenth century. The original glass domed roof is still intact, made from hundreds of tons of glass, although the dome has cladding on the inside. This was due to the acoustics being so poor that music echoed badly. Even after the internal cladding, things did not improve until huge special mushroom shaped sound absorbers were hung from the ceiling; a technical advance which is now copied worldwide, providing a sound system second to none.
We discovered that it costs £20,000 to hire the main Hall, but the price rises quite rapidly for the electricity used, a percentage of the ticket sales going to the the hall, work done to accommodate the artists, installation and removal of seating in the arena area etc.
It can seat 5,200 people with space in the lower ground floor to accommodate 1,000 more people waiting to be led into the hall, as well as space in the upper circle for about 500 people standing or sitting. This means that there could be well over 1 millions pounds weight, or almost 500 tons, of people attending a performance. The world famous organ has dozens of sound tubes varying in diameter from a few centimetres to over 9 feet. If laid end to end, the tubes would extend for 45 miles.
A lower level also caters for articulated lorries to enter for deliveries, particularly useful for the Royal British Legion annual Remembrance Service every November. Although we did not see this area as they were preparing for a concert that night by David Gilmore (of Pink Floyd fame), but we were privileged to witness the rigging of the hall as well as the sound and light checks.
We were shown the Queens royal box and although not allowed into it, we were taken to the Queens retiring room, where she goes at the interval, and we sat on the very chairs the Royal Family would use regularly. This room has a door leading to the Queen’s private staircase and entrance. If the royal box is not being used, staff at Buckingham Palace are given the opportunity to use it.
Apart from the main arena area, there are numerous large rooms around the outer edge of the building for special uses, such as seminars, small stage productions, music sessions etc. In one room used for music and entertainment, there is a beautiful red piano donated by Sir Elton John.
About 18 of us returned to the Verdi Restaurant for lunch before making our way home. It was a fascinating journey through the Royal Albert Hall’s unique history, incredible architecture and legendary performances.
Below are a number of photographs of our day and of the Hall and Memorial. Also shown are the acoustic “mushrooms” on the ceiling.