With its long and storied history, The Royal Albert Hall is revered as one of the most prestigious concert venues in the world. The list of people who have graced its main stage ranges from music icons like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, to political giants, like Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. It’s even played host to academic masterminds like Stephen Hawking and sporting greats such as Muhammad Ali.
What many may not know is that the story behind the Hall is just as interesting as the list of those who have graced its stage. As the name alludes, the concept for the venue was originally devised by the then Prince Consort, Prince Albert. Husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert envisioned a venue dedicated to arts and sciences, where the very best could be showcased and applauded for their outstanding efforts in their respective fields. Sadly, Prince Albert died before his dream could become a reality. He passed away on 14 December 1861, reported at the time as a result of typhoid fever.
With such a close affiliation with the late Prince Consort, the widowed Queen Victoria played a notable role in the process of the venue’s construction. A special ceremony on 20 May 1867 saw the Queen herself lay the Hall’s foundation stone, signalling the start of the building work. Thousands of people came out to witness the event first-hand, all gathered under a vast temporary marquee, the scale of which was described as being almost as big as the finished venue. Built for around 7,000 people, it’s estimated that the actual attendance was closer to 10,000 – an equally sizeable headache for the police tasked with managing the event.
Made of red Aberdeen granite, the foundation stone itself was laid by the Queen using a specially commissioned golden trowel manufactured by goldsmiths R. S. Garrard, adding to the stately ambience of the occasion. A time capsule was placed underneath the stone prior to it being laid; however, very little is known of this making it one of the Hall’s greatest curiosities.
The ceremony itself included a benediction from the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as an orchestral performance of Invocation of Harmony, a composition created by Prince Albert, played by the Royal Italian Opera. The festivities concluded in grandiose fashion with a 21-gun salute in Hyde Park and a trumpet fanfare from HM Life Guards.
Upon laying the stone, Queen Victoria declared:
“It is my wish that this Hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences.”
With that, construction of Prince Albert’s concept began. What started life as a proposed Central Hall of Arts and Sciences had officially been renamed in the late Prince’s honour and would henceforth be known as the Royal Albert Hall. The building process would continue over the next four years, finally reaching completion in 1871.
The opening ceremony was held on March 29 that year, attended by Queen Victoria and her son Edward, Prince of Wales. In keeping with Prince Albert’s vision, the Hall has not only been a hub for arts and sciences since its inception but has grown to become one of the most famous and illustrious performance venues in the world. Today, the foundation stone is still visible in Stalls K, under Seat 87 of Row 11, conspicuously bearing the following words: “THIS STONE WAS LAID BY HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY”.