Queen's Hall

Queen's Hall

, in 1895.

The building

Queen's Hall was situated in Langham Place, and had a total of 17 entrances and exits on three streets (the other two being Riding House Street and Great Portland Street). It had seating for up to 3,000 within a floor area of 21,000 square feet (2,000 m²). It was considered to have a 'perfect acoustic' and was designed by Thomas Edward Knightley [Thomas Edward Knightley (1824 – 1905) was District Surveyor for Hammersmith for over 40 years and his practice was in Cannon Street, EC1. Knightley had previously designed the Birkbeck Bank premises (now demolished)] employing a floorplan developed by C. J. Phipps. A peculiarity of the building was that the grand tier was on street level, with the stalls and arena being 'downstairs'. [E.M.I., "A Complete List of His Master's Voice, Columbia, etc, Long Playing Records, June 1955" (London 1955), 401.] The exterior carving was by Messrs Sidney W. Elmes and Son, and the furnishing was by Lapworth Brothers and Harrison. The lighting was a combination of gas and electricity. [Elkin 1944, 18.]

The original appearance was remembered with affection long afterwards: 'the grey and terracotta paintwork, the Venetian red upholstery, the huge red lampshades hanging low over the orchestra, the mirrors surrounding the stalls, the medallions of famous composers at the sides of the platform, the elaborately painted cupids on the ceiling...' The paintwork was to be the colour of 'the belly of a London mouse', and Knightley is said to have kept a string of dead mice in the paint shop in order to ensure the correct tone. [R. Elkin, "Royal Philharmonic" (Rider, London 1946), 89: cf also R. Elkin, "Queen's Hall, 1893-1941" (London 1944), 18.] In the arena with moveable seating and central fountain (which contained pebbles, goldfish and waterlilies), there was a 'brownish carpet that blended with the dull fawnish colour of the walls.' Internal alterations, completed in 1919, reduced the capacity to 2,400, and the hall was given a blue-green colour-scheme. [H.J. Wood, "My Life of Music" (Gollancz, London 1938), 68.] The arched ceiling had an elaborate painting of the Paris Opera House, by Carpegat, with 'attenuated cupids clad in sallow pantaloons'. [Elkin 1944, 18; also cf. E.M. Forster, "Howard's End".]

The Queen's Hall provided a much needed centrally located music venue for the capital. St James's Hall, just south of Oxford Circus, was already proving too small and it had serious safety problems. The Wigmore Hall which opened a decade later was a recital hall, not a concert hall. The Queen's Hall provided modern facilities, open frontage for carriages and parking room, a press room, public spaces and bars and a 500 seater hall (the Queen's Small Hall) adjoining the conservatory. The small hall was 'at the top of the building', and was cigar-shaped with windows in the ceiling. [G.B. Shaw, "Music in London 1890-1894" (Constable, London 1932), III, 271.] The Philharmonic and Promenade Concerts, and the ideal, warm acoustic, established it as London's favourite concert-hall, and Londoners felt its loss like that 'of an old and dear friend.' [R. Elkin, op. cit. 1946, 89.]

Opening, 1893

The Queen's Hall first opened its doors on 25 November 1893 when Newman gave a children's party in the afternoon. In the evening some 2000 ladies and gentlemen attended a concert given by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, which included vocal music, piano and organ solos. At 11.00pm the seats in the arena were removed and the dancing began. On November 27 there was a smoking concert given by the Royal Amateur Orchestral Society, of which Prince Alfred (second son of Queen Victoria) was both patron and leader. The concert was attended by the Prince of Wales and the Prince Arthur. In addition to orchestral numbers it included concert appearances by the violinist Tivadar Nachez and the baritone David Frangçon-Davies. [Elkin 1944, 21-22.]

The official opening of the hall took place on 2 December. The National Anthem was sung (the verse by Mme Albani) and a choir sang Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise" conducted by Frederick Cowen, with Albani, Margaret Hoare and Edward Lloyd as soloists. In the second part of the programme was included a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto" with Frederick Dawson as soloist. [Elkin 1944, 22-23.]

Royal Philharmonic concerts

From the autumn of 1894, the venue was adopted for the annual winter season of concerts of the Royal Philharmonic Society, which had formerly been held at the St James's Hall. At the first Philharmonic concert held there, Alexander Mackenzie conducted the first performance in England of Tchaikowsky's "Pathétique Symphony", which was so well received that it was repeated, by popular acclaim, at the next concert. During the 1894-1895 season both Edvard Grieg and Camille Saint-Saëns appeared there to conduct performances of their works.The Society remained at the Queen's Hall until 1941, their last concert there being a Brahms programme (Academic Festival Overture, Piano Concerto no 2, Symphony no 1) with Myra Hess (piano) under Basil Cameron, given on March 23 on behalf of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. [Elkin 1946 op. cit., 88-89 and 180.]

Promenade concerts

On 10 August 1895 the first Promenade Concert was given, under the musical direction of Henry J. Wood, and with the newly-formed New Queen's Hall Orchestra. Wood's sponsor, Dr Cathcart, made it a condition that the continental Concert pitch should be adopted for these concerts. This was lower than the pitch used in England, which had been insisted upon by Sir Michael Costa. The Queen's Hall organ was retuned, and as a result the Philharmonic Society, the Bach Choir, the London Symphony Orchestra, the concerts of Felix Mottl and Artur Nikisch, the "Sunday afternoon" concerts (which began on October 6 1895) and those of the Queen's Hall Choir all adopted the "Diapason Normal". [Wood op. cit. 1938, 67-84.] The "Sunday afternoon" concerts were also given by the New Queen's Hall Orchestra, and continued regularly until 1924, when they were continued by the London Symphony Orchestra, and then by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. [E.M.I., "A Complete List", etc, 1955, 401.]


On 14 January, 1896, the first public film show was presented at the Queen's Hall to members and wives of the Royal Photographic Society, by the maker of the "Kineopticon" [Birt Acres was born 23 July 1854 in Richmond, Virginia to British parents. He developed and patented a number of developments in early cinema, including the "Birtac", the first British 35 mm moving picture camera, and the first daylight loading home film camera and projector system.] and Fellow of the society, Birt Acres and his colleague, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper. This was an improved version of the early Kinetoscope [ [http://www.earlycinema.com/pioneers/acres_bio.html Birt Acres biography] accessed 21 Jun 2007] .

Newman continued to be interested in new entertainments. A music hall entertainer, and actor, Albert Chevalier persuaded him to instigate variety performances in the small Queens Hall from 16 January, 1899. These were 'clean, wholesome entertainments', compared to the more risqué entertainments available in the halls and proved popular [ [http://www.jeremy-clarke.freeserve.co.uk/Chevalier.htm "Albert Chevalier and ‘My Old Dutch’" (Febridge & District History Group)] accessed 29 October 2007] .

Gervase Elwes

In January 1921 the distinguished English tenor Gervase Elwes was accidentally killed by a railway train at Boston station in Massachusetts, USA. In Britain there was a national outpouring of grief and a memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall. In New York there was a gathering at Mrs Vincent Astor's house on Fifth Avenue, where Malvina Hoffmann's portrait bust of the singer was displayed. [W. and R. Elwes, "Gervase Elwes, The Story of his Life" (Grayson and Grayson, London 1935), 277-278.] The bust was sent to England, and by agreement of interested parties a new niche was designed for the centre of the grand circle of the Queen's Hall with an inscription on a golden scroll, and another recording the affectionate remembrance of his American friends. The bust was placed in this niche looking directly over the platform from which he had sung on many notable occasions. (For example, in May 1916, in company with Clara Butt and Edward Elgar, he had performed "The Dream of Gerontius" there on behalf of the Red Cross on six consecutive days. [Elkin 1944, 96.] ) It was unveiled in December 1922, and tributes were paid by Lord Shaftesbury, Cardinal Bourne, Sir Hugh Allen and Walford Davies, and two Bach chorales were conducted by Vaughan Williams. The Musicians' Benevolent Fund arose from funds created in memory of Gervase Elwes.

Crisis for proms

The death of Robert Newman in November 1926 plunged the future of the proms into crisis. The managing director of Chappell's, William Boosey, was completely opposed to broadcasting, and would not allow a microphone inside the building. He was in the habit of blacklisting singers and instrumentalists who accepted bookings from the BBC. Broadcasting was in competition with the concert hall, and the concerts were in fact heavily subsidized. The 1927 season was in serious doubt, until just in time an agreement was reached, and on 13 August 1927 the season went ahead under BBC auspices. That first concert, including Wood conducting Elgar's "Cockaigne Overture", was the first ever broadcast from the Queen's Hall. [Elkin 1946, 154-160.]

Recordings and broadcasts from Queen's Hall

From 1930 to 1941, the BBC Symphony Orchestra regularly gave broadcast concerts in the hall. Arturo Toscanini, who guest-conducted the orchestra during the 1930s, made a series of commercial recordings from 1937 to 1939 that were issued by His Master's Voice in the U.K. and RCA Victor in the U.S. Some, as well as transcriptions of broadcast concerts, were later reissued on LP and CD by EMI. They include recordings by Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Elgar's music from Queen's Hall. [Seraphim Records, EMI reissues] There is also a fine off-air transcription of a prom featuring Elisabeth Schumann, and a Mozart "Sinfonia Concertante" with Albert Sammons and Bernard Shore, Wood conducting, from 1936.

The Queen's Hall at War

Despite the air raids, Promenade Concerts continued at the Hall through 1940. Immediately following the declaration of War, W.W. Thompson of the BBC without warning withdrew the BBC Symphony Orchestra from the Queen's Hall, and announced the end of the proms. Henry Wood, furious at the perceived discourtesy to himself, and failure of understanding of its importance for national morale, had the concerts up and running with the London Symphony Orchestra by October 1939. The situation was repeated in summer 1940, and when the BBC finally suggested a few concerts the lessors dismissed the offer as the Hall was already booked for other events. The concerts continued through air raids, and as the tube stations were then closed audiences often stayed in the hall until early morning, with musical entertainments continuing after the concerts had finished. [R. Pound, "Sir Henry Wood" (Cassell, London 1959), 241-268.] On December 8 1940 the doors and windows were blown out by 'blast', but it had already been decided to discontinue use of the hall for the proms after the September 7 1940 concert. With temporary repairs, other concerts were however continued; after further damage on April 6 1941 again the repairs were made in time for the following Saturday. [ Elkin 1944, 128.]

The destruction

On the afternoon of 10 May 1941, there was a performance of Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius" at Queen's Hall (Muriel Brunskill singing the angel, Webster Booth the soul, Ronald Stear the Priest and Angel of the Agony [Elkin 1944, 128.] ) conducted by Malcolm Sargent, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society. That night there was a massive air raid in which the chamber of the House of Commons and many other buildings were also destroyed, and damage was inflicted on the British Museum and upon Westminster Abbey. A single incendiary bomb hit the Queen's Hall, and the auditorium was completely gutted by fire beyond any hope of replacement. The building was a smouldering ruin in heaps of rubble, and all that remained intact was the bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood in its alcove, looking out over the chaos. [Pound 1959 op. cit., 271-3.] It is not known what became of the portrait bust of Gervase Elwes. In addition, the London Philharmonic Orchestra lost thousands of pounds' worth of instruments. [E.M.I., A Complete List, etc 1955, 401.]

The Promenade concerts continued at the Royal Albert Hall, and during 1942 Wood and the BBC were reconciled. The BBC Symphony Orchestra had, meanwhile, moved its broadcast concerts and recording sessions to the Bedford School. [Among memorable recordings made there were Sir Adrian Boult's 1944 HMV sessions of Sir Edward Elgar's second symphony, later reissued on CD.] The BBC Symphony later performed in the Royal Festival Hall, which opened in 1951 during the Festival of Britain.

In 1954-55, a report was commissioned, chaired by Lord Robbins, into the feasibility of a replacement, the 'New Queen's Hall', but which concluded: "On musical grounds it is desirable to replace the destroyed Queen's Hall by another large hall of good acoustic qualities, but it is doubtful if there is a potential demand which would enable it to run without subtracting from the audiences of subsidised halls already in existence."

The former site is now the St George's Hotel.


External links

* [http://www.nqho.com/orchestra/queens.html Queen's Hall]
* [http://www.nqho.com/ New Queen's Hall Orchestra Official Website]

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