Although the Alexandra Park is nowadays principally known as the home of the Alexandra Palace it actually began life before the palace was built. In 1856 the owner of Tottenham Farm died and his heirs sold off the land for house building, and in the event, the establishment of a new local amenity - Alexandra Park.
Plans for a ‘Peoples’ Palace were first formulated in 1858 but in the meantime the Tottenham Farm estate was acquired in 1864 and an area of 220 acres was set aside for the park to be named after the wife of Prince Albert Edward, later to become King Edward VII. The park was soon laid out to provide sport and recreation for the rapidly-increasing population of the area and prior to the construction of the palace a small building - The Tudor Hall (later renamed The Blandford Hall) - was erected on the east side of the park to accommodate early visitors. Over the years this served as a gymnasium, a banqueting hall, an experimental aircraft hangar, a dance hall, a clothes factory and a paint store. It burnt down in 1971.
The completion in 1873 of the original palace and the establishment of a railway line right into the park enabled people from a much wider area to visit the park and after the palace burnt down just 16 days after it opened the park become a popular place for people to visit so as to gawp at the ruins.
The new palace was completed in 1875 and for the next 30 odd years the park was used for a variety of activities including horticultural shows, firework displays, air balloon launches or as a place to visit to see ornamental gardens or the three lakes. Due to a financial crisis at the start of the twentieth century (one of many to afflict the park and palace over the years) the north-west area of the park was sold off for housing - an area bounded by the now Grove Avenue and Vallance Road. The area lost included the three lakes and a permanent circus together with a tree-lined avenue that led up to the then main entrance.
To this day at the truncated north west side of the park is a children’s play area and of course the boating lake (not connected with the original three lakes).
For many years, a firework display was an annual event, held on the nearest Saturday to 5th November. The last of these free events took place in 2009.
Members' History Walk - July 2022
A stroll around the parts of the park associated with early aerial entertainment was restricted by the fencing on the South Slope for the crowd-pulling pop and rock bands. Nevertheless Gordon recounted the exploits of the hot-air balloonists and parachutists, including the intrepid Dolly Shepherd, and designers of man-carrying kites. On the field near Go Ape he pointed out where the massive shed had been built for the construction of Dr Barton’s airship (also used to build a smaller airship). The first and only flight of Dr Barton’s airship ended in a catastrophic collapse after a safe landing near Romford.
History Walk - June 2022
On a seemingly pleasant evening, the group completed a swift circuit of the park from Cufos to the Grove. Gordon started with a reminder that the park once stretched down to the bottom of the Avenue and included lakes and a circus. Moving on to the Upper Field, Dr Barton’s airship and the Crouch End Vampires football team got a mention; then on to the Banqueting Hall, the first building in the park and the location of Samuel Cody’s display of man-carrying kites that led to his transformation from Wild West showman to British Army flying pioneer.
Crossing Alexandra Palace Way, Gordon described features that could not be reached in the time available: the rifle range and the swimming pool, and after a brief debate around the hot air balloon weight (or was it a barrage balloon anchor?) the group reached the Racecourse. By then the chilly wind forced some to retire from the walk, but a hardy few reached the Grove; in the 18th century it was a garden frequented by the guests of Topham Beauclerk, including Dr Johnson.
Members' History Walk - November
Perhaps attracted by a desire to learn more about the interestingly named Topham Beauclerk, quite a sizeable group joined Gordon to find out more about the history of the Grove. It was formerly the garden of a fine house called the Grove, lived in during the late 18th century by said Topham Beauclerk. He had an observatory and a conservatory built in the garden, but these are both long gone; as are more recent structures such as the Japanese Village, a restaurant with a large terrace and an elegant bandstand. The location of the last of these is now marked by a liquidambar tree, which in years to come will be equally elegant, but won’t house (human) musicians.
Members' History Walk - Roll up, roll up
A small group of members enjoyed a leisurely stroll in the area east of the palace while Gordon spoke about the various entertainments that have been on offer since the late 19th century. Starting with the two switchbacks (forerunner of the roller coaster) that ran across the ground now occupied by the Pavilion car park and the Rose Garden, we moved on to the Boating Lake, which has always offered boats of some sort, the latest being the tasteful unicorn pedalos. However, the Lakeside Miniature Railway, which ran round the lake for 20 years from 1950, was of more interest. (There’s a detailed account of its history in Bulletin No. 60 (2019) published by the Hornsey Historical Society.) The walk ended on the Upper Field among the young people enjoying Alexandra Park’s most recent entertainment offer: Go Ape.
Members' Walk - History of the Racecourse
Wednesday 14th July
On a mild evening we met up at the Fairground Car Park for a walk around the course of the old racecourse. Gordon explained that the course predated the palace opening up in 1868.
The first race had just one runner.....
We heard stories of the "character" of the racecourse meetings attracting not the highest grade of punter. One famous race commentator was especially fond of the "pan handle" course, John McCririck, and expressed his wish to have his ashes scattered on the course.
The horse racing finally finished in 1970 after celebrating over 100 years of operation. The main reason for its demise being the tight bends and adverse camber on the route around the bottom of the park.
The picture on the left shows the view back from the finishing straight.
History Walk, May 2021
On what could almost be described as a warm evening, Gordon led a group around the park, pointing out significant events and individuals in its history. As always the group was surprised to hear that destruction by fire was not confined to the palace – the football pavilion, the Banqueting (aka Blandford) Hall, two cricket pavilions, and more... The likely function of the ‘bomb’ (which it definitely was not), provoked debate – anchor weight for hot air balloons or for barrage balloons?
One of the group claimed it was definitely the former. She had researched Ally Pally’s famous balloonist/parachutist Dolly Shepherd, on the way to writing a children’s book on Dolly’s life, and Dolly’s daughter had confirmed that. After a quick look at the racecourse, the circuit of the park was completed in the Grove at the spot where the rather lovely Edwardian bandstand once stood.
History walks, Dec 2020
Chapter 8 - ponds, pools and reservoirs was the theme for the fully subscribed History Walks. The weather held and the small group could be shown locations important in the past.... A few extra historical facts about the watery part of the park, not included in A History of Alexandra Park.
Picture shows a corner of the old Swimming Pool by the reservoir.
Members' Walk - History, 5th October 2020
In spite of the inclement weather, Gordon led two history walks based on Chapter 7 of the new book. We found out about the Blandford (Banqueting) Hall history and how fire put an end to it in 1971.
Other topics included the building of airships and their test flying from the park during the early part of the 20th Century.
Much more information to be found in our new history book....
History Walk, May 2017
Members met on the last day of May - a beautiful dry summer’s evening – to be led on a History Walk, featuring music and sport in Alexandra Palace and Park. The walk was meticulously researched as always, and illustrated with photos, by Stuart Little our local historian, ably assisted by Linda.
We learnt of the many concerts held in the Great Hall, including three performances of The Messiah in the 1970s to raise money for the organ refurbishment. We saw pictures of a concert hall which later became an ice-skating rink, before the BBC took over this part of the palace. Outdoor music took place mainly in The Grove area.
We were led to various outdoor areas where sport took place, and shown photographs of open-air boxing, the switchback rides (on wooden horses), the cricket and football greens, sitting quoits (!), archery and penny-farthing bicycles and very early tricycles. We also went to the current playground area and were shown a picture of tennis players on a court with the Alexandra Park Station ticket office (now Cufos) in the background.
Finally, we turned our attention to horse racing, the sport for which many people knew Alexandra Park and which took place for just over 100 years. Stuart showed us more intriguing pictures of the grandstand, horse racing, and trotting.
History Walk, June 2016
Stuart Little took us on trip back in time. We heard how the Park came into being in 1863 with the first Palace coming 10 years later. Unfortunately after a very successful first 16 days, the building burnt down and a decision was rapidly taken to rebuild a second Palace (the one we have now).
We looked at the old Race Course which covered the bottom of the park. Horses used to run right up until 1970.
We gathered around the "bomb" and Stuart explained that it was used as a tether for balloons in order to take men and famous a woman, Dolly Shepherd up to parachute down. It may also have been used for tethering barrage balloons in the Second World War.
Up to the Palace and The Dive, a drinking place especially for the BBC, was evoked as well as the trams that used to come up to the Palace.
We finished on the South Terrace evoking the Park and Palace's First World War history with its interred Enemy Aliens kept here for most of the war.
History Walk -"Where they Stood", June 2015
Stuart Little led us on an intriguing wander around the Park and Palace looking at old pictures and comparing what could be seen then and now.
There were pictures of tennis courts near the Boating Lake and outdoor Boxing by the Pavilion Car Park.
Some things hardly changed and in other places trees completely blocked the earlier vista.
One picture taken from the East of the Palace was very difficult to accurately place...
History Walk, June 2014
In early June, Stuart Little led a History Walk on the topic of Alexandra Palace and Park at the time of World War 1 (as illustrated here). He explained that after the accommodation of Belgian refugees the place was used to house interned "enemy aliens" showing us many interesting photos from the period. Also Margaret Scholes updated us on her research into the history of the "Ally Pally Lido" (by the Wood Green Reservoir).
History Walk, June 2013
On a beautiful balmy evening Stuart Little described the lead up to the opening of Alexandra Park in 1863. We found out that a large part of the land was previously owned by the Rhodes family (to which Cecil Rhodes belonged) and that the portico of the original Tottenham Wood house was preserved and is still to be seen in place at Rhodes Primary School in Rhodes Avenue.
We had quite an illustration of the steepness of the hill on which Alexandra Palace stands as we wound our way up to the top.
The role that fire has played in the history of the Park was touched on including the original Palace burning down only a fortnight after opening and the Blandford Hall later suffering a similar fate. Stuart showed us some great photographs including one of archery which was one of the original activities that took place in the Park.
Thanks a lot to Stuart Little, helped by Linda, for leading this walk.