At the Hall’s opening ceremony on 29 March 1871, in front of nearly 10,000 people, the Queen was visibly upset. She only managed to say: ‘I have to express my great admiration of this beautiful Hall and my earnest wishes for its compete success’, before handing the opening of the Royal Albert Hall to her son, the Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria opened the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 as a tribute to her late husband, Prince Albert, and to fulfil his dream of promoting understanding and appreciation of the Arts and Sciences in the heart of South Kensington. The union between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is one of the greatest love stories in history, memorialised in the Royal Albert Hall.
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.
The venue was originally supposed to be called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences. However, Queen Victoria changed the name during the laying of the foundation stone in 1867 to honour the memory of her beloved Prince Albert who had died six years later.
The hall’s design was based on the Coliseum in Rome, but the domed roof meant that the venue suffered from terrible echo problems. For many years, a canvas awning was suspended over the dome. This helped reduce the issue, but the problem was far from solved, and the awning blocked the view of the beautiful ceiling.
Other measures were installed to fix the issue, but the problem wasn’t adequately solved until 1969 when a series of large fiberglass acoustic diffusing discs was installed below the ceiling. These are sometimes referred to as “mushrooms” and they now form a distinctive part of the hall.
The Royal Albert Hall suffered minor damage from a bomb blast in October 1942. However, it’s believed that the hall survived the war because its distinctive shape made it a guidance landmark for the bomber pilots.
When Bob Dylan came to the Hall to play two concerts in 1966, he arrived amid a swirl of controversy. His conversion from acoustic to electric had begun, drawing the ire of much of his fan base — just days before these shows, during a gig in Manchester, a screaming audience member accused him of being “judas” . Here, he tried to placate both camps by playing the first half acoustically, and then inviting a full band onto the other half for a second. It was pointless; he was heckled throughout. Maybe it left a bad taste in his mouth, for it was 47 years before Dylan returned to play the venue.
Roger Daltrey was one of the first artists to fall victim to the Hall’s ban on rock and pop, after The Who’s 1972 show at the venue was cancelled. He doesn’t seem to have held any grudges though, and has since become the driving force behind one of the Hall’s greatest charitable endeavours. Since 2000, a series of gigs have been held in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust — of which Daltrey is a patron — with more than £20 million being raised in the process.
The legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix played the Hall in 1967, riding a wave of praise and fervour for his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They returned two years later, with Hendrix and his musicians playing some blues rarities, rather than the hits they were known for. When they left the stage, the mood was incendiary. The masses demanded an encore and, after what seemed like an eternity, their demands were met — the band returned and tore through Purple Haze and Wild Thing, with Hendrix on the floor, plucking the guitar with his teeth as the crowd flooded the stage in appreciation.