Sitting like a giant Wedgewood urn opposite Hyde Park, on the Knightsbridge-Kensington border, the Royal Albert Hall was, until the end of the 20th century ushered in wonders like the Gherkin, one of London’s most arresting pieces of architecture.
It was the brainchild of Prince Albert, who after the Great Exhibition of 1851, had proposed that a permanent facility be built to celebrate and promote the Arts and Sciences. When the Prince died in 1861, the project had still not begun. A new proposal was put forward for a complex including a memorial in Hyde Park, with a Great Hall opposite and on May 20, 1867, the foundation stone was laid.
The Hall was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Colonel H.Y Darracott Scott of the Royal Engineers. Inspired by the shape of the ancient Roman and Greek amphitheatres, it was constructed in local brick, with a dome of glass and steel. A mosaic frieze around the outside of the building depicts sixteen subjects including “Various countries of the world bringing their offerings to the great exhibition of 1851” as well as the disciplines of arts and sciences. One foot high terracotta letters spell out biblical quotations as well as a dedication to the Prince Consort and a recognition of his contribution to the building.
The Royal Albert Hall opened on March 29, 1871 and saw its first concert, Arthur Sullivan’s Cantata, on May of the same year. Since then it has hosted innumerable ballets, operas, countless classical concerts, the annual summer Proms and many rock concerts including performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeplin, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones (on the same programme!) as well as Pink Floyd (who were banned for life after firing two cannons during their performance); it has seen sporting events including the first Sumo wrestling contest held outside Japan, conferences, ballroom dancing and yes, even the famous Cirque du Soleil. 2069