Secrets Of The Royal Albert Hall

By Londonist Staff Last edited 92 months ago

Last Updated 06 October 2016

Secrets Of The Royal Albert Hall

It was supposed to be the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences until a nostalgic Queen Victoria renamed it the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences. Did you know these facts about one of the world's most famous performance venues?

Last Night of the Proms. Photo: Chris Beckett.

For the first 98 years, its acoustics were shocking

The Royal Albert Hall is certainly a looker. In fact, it was designed with aesthetics in mind, rather than optimum acoustics. Because of an echo caused by the concave ceiling, it was a long-running joke that here was the only venue a composer was guaranteed to hear their piece played twice. Arf.

The hall's acoustics were only perfected in 2001. Photo: Robin.

It wasn't until 1969 that something was properly done about it: 135 'mushrooms' were inserted into the ceiling to soak up the sound. In 2001, it was decided they had too many, and 50 were plucked out.

Bonus fact: At the end of each Festival of Remembrance, one million tissue poppy petals are dropped from the ceiling.

The Krays performed here. All three of them

The Krays: won, lost, disqualified. Photo: Matthew Gidley.

Boxing, not singing. Brothers Reggie, Ronnie and Charlie all took to the ring in the middle of the Albert Hall in separate bouts on 11 December 1951. Reggie beat Clapham's Bobby Manito. No such luck for the other two: Charlie lost and Ronnie was disqualified for (literally) using his head.

Bonus fact: According to an article by, er, us, the Krays were the only two people to perform at the Albert Hall AND be imprisoned at the Tower of London.

It was flooded with 600,000 litres of water

No one really knows how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. We do know, however, how much water it takes to fill the arena. Photo: David G.

On purpose. Beneath the arena is space for huge water tanks. These are occasionally used for liquid epics, such as the 1998 production of Madame Butterfly. It takes about an hour to fill up the area with eight inches of water; no such luxury for draining it away: "It's difficult because... we only have 15 minutes to get it off stage in the interval," said the bloke in charge of water.

It has a sense of humour

The Albert Hall was offended that the Beatles wanted to 'turn it on'. So the story goes. Photo: andy teo.

An incensed letter from the Albert Hall's chief executive Ernest O'Follipar details a number of reasons why the Beatles song A Day in the Life has tarnished the venue's reputation, including "the wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium". O'Follipar goes on to suggest the lyrics be changed to "I read the news today, oh boy/another fine proms season just announced."

It is, of course, an April Fools joke, but a beautifully executed one. There's even a droll reply 'from John Lennon', addressed 'Dear Prince Albert and friends". We salute such dedicated tomfoolery.

It nearly had its own pneumatic railway

Unfortunately, this only ever remained proposed.

Back in 1877, Thomas Rammell — a pioneer of the pneumatic railway — suggested there should be a train running from South Kensington Underground to the Royal Albert Hall. Plans were drawn up, but never came to anything. Anyone who's found themselves schlepping to and from the Proms on a regular basis will know that Rammell was onto something.  

It hosted the first international sumo wrestling tournament

Photo: Judy.

For around a millennium and a half, professional sumo wrestling only took place in Japan. Then, in 1991, the Royal Albert Hall got the gig. They went all out, mining the clay for the ring from a quarry near Heathrow. Extra large showers were fitted in the changing rooms, and toilets weight-tested.

It shares its name with an Apocalypse Now actor

Albert Hall in Apocalypse Now.

Albert Hall played Chief Phillips in 1979's Apocalypse Now. You may also recgonise him from his recurring role as judge Seymour Walsh in Ally McBeal. There's no proof that Albert Hall was conceived in South Kensington, but we know he was born in Brighton. Brighton, Alabama, that is.

Bonus fact: there are five 'A Hall's listed in the London phonebook. We sincerely hope at least one of those As stands for Albert.