Throughout its 150-year history, the Royal Albert Hall has meant a lot of things to a lot of people, acting as the home of the Proms, the stage for various political rallies and even the venue of choice for numerous James Bond movie premieres. Yet, despite its rich and storied history, the Royal Albert Hall will always be linked most closely with one man – Prince Albert.
Originally conceived by the Prince Consort as a venue to celebrate the arts and science, the building was still under construction when Prince Albert died at the age of just 42. It was this premature passing that lead to the name change from the original title of Central Hall of Arts and Sciences to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences in tribute to the late Prince. This change was made official by Queen Victoria herself at the laying of the foundation stone, as detailed in our Foundation Stone article.
With the project now also serving as an architectural tribute to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria was naturally set to play a pivotal role in the opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall once the build was completed in 1871. However, despite the event taking place almost ten years after Prince Albert’s passing, the gravity of the event and its association with her beloved proved too much for the mourning Queen.
It is believed that on the opening night on 29 March 1871, the Queen had been scheduled to address the crowd with a speech of her own. Sadly, the emotion of the event got the better of her, preventing her from doing so. Visibly upset by the sentimentality of the occasion, she was only able to utter one line: “I have to express my great admiration of this beautiful Hall and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”
Overwhelmed with grief and unable to speak, she subsequently handed the ceremonial duties to her son, the Prince of Wales – the man who would later take the throne as Edward VII. A foreshadowing of things to come, Prince Edward graciously took over where his mother had left off, delivering a welcoming speech of his own to mark the momentous occasion.
The Prince formally declared the new building open and was immediately followed by a rousing verse of the national anthem as a battery of artillery reverberated outside in Hyde Park in salute. The royal family in attendance then retired to the royal box for the remainder of the opening ceremony. The subsequent entertainment consisted of musical performances, including a piece composed by the late Prince Consort himself.
The speech at the opening ceremony proved to be the first of many appearances at the venue for Edward, Prince of Wales. He even had his very own room at the Hall – the aptly named Prince of Wales Room – which was an opulent room used by the Prince for comfortably retiring outside of performances. The venue’s strong association with Edward would continue for the rest of his life, including his short reign as king from 1901 to 1910.
While his reign began after the death of Queen Victoria, on 22 January 1901, King Edward VII’s coronation didn’t take place until over a year and a half later on 9 August 1902. Despite the wait between officially becoming king and physically being crowned at Westminster Abbey, the new monarch didn’t wait until the coronation ceremony to celebrate.
Continuing the family affiliation with the iconic concert hall, a Grand Coronation Concert would take place on 11 June 1902 in celebration of the new king. Thousands of UK flags were given to the audience to wave during the concert, providing the event with a heightened air of patriotism, union and national pride.
Reporting on the concert the following day, The Times described the occasion as follows:
“The Coronation is yet some distance off. Yet at the Albert-hall last night everything and every one of the thousands who were there – and thousands there must have been, since not a vacant seat was visible down below while up above was a sea of heads – were intoxicated by the Coronation theme.”
With its strong connection to the Royal Family, the Royal Albert Hall remains a venue of choice for royal events and celebrations. Queen Elizabeth II even celebrated her 92nd birthday at the Hall with a concert in her honour in 2018, attended by 42 members of the Royal Family, a Royal Albert Hall record.