Could you live on ÂŁ1 a week? Especially when you were told you could only buy certain things? This was just one of the rules which operated at Alexandra Palace from 1915 until 1919 â the time when the palace was turned into a civilian internment camp for German, Austrian and Hungarian enemies (FO 383/33). 1
Not being a local Londoner, it was only by chance that I stumbled across Alexandra Palace. Being German, I was fascinated by its varied and troubled history, particularly with regards to the First World War, and I wanted to find out more. This is exactly what I have been able to do over the past three months inÂ my internship at The National Archives – part of my Public History MA course at St Maryâs University, Twickenham. The vastÂ numberÂ of documents available at the archives reveal the almost forgotten history of Alexandra Palace.
‘The Palace for the People’
For those of you, who, like me, arenât familiar with ‘Ally Pally’ (as it was nicknamed in the 1930s), hereâs a brief history. Alexandra PalaceÂ –Â named in honour of the Danish Princess Alexandra who, in 1863, married the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) – is located in the North of London between Muswell Hill and Wood Green. The palace was originally built as âThe Palace for the Peopleâ (sounds grand, doesnât it?) to cater for the education, entertainment and leisure of the masses. Things didnât go smoothly, though. The planning process started in 1858 and the building process began in 1864, but financial difficulties continually overshadowed the project. The palace finally opened to the public on 24 May 1873, but disaster soon struck. Alexandra Palace burnt down on 9 June 1873, only 16 days after it had opened, and three palace workers died.
No time was lost. The palace was rebuilt in a mammoth project and opened again on 1 May 1875. A vast variety of attractions and events like concerts, plays, a cinema, a skating rink, a race course, water-chute rowing on a lake and a 3000-seat theatre were planned to attract the public (FO 383/469). However, this wasnât sufficient to draw in a big enough crowd; low levels of public attendance – as well as expensive maintenance and heating charges – turned the project into a financial disaster. 2 The following years were marked by turbulent times and upheavals; the palace had to be closed and reopened again several times. Continue reading »
- 1. I admit that ÂŁ1 in 1915 would, according to the Bank of England, nowadays cost round about ÂŁ92, so this is not a fair comparison to the present but it gives you an idea of the regulations back at that time. ^
- 2. See Janet Harris, ‘Alexandra Palace: A Hidden History’ (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), 19. ^