9 June 1873: Alexandra Palace burns down

After being open for just 16 days, the first Alexandra Palace, known as the Palace of the People, was destroyed by fire on this day in 1873.


The Palace of the People lasted just 16 days

Alexandra Palace had only been open for 16 days when in June 1873, it was ravaged by fire. Its destruction deprived London of its people's palace' a giant recreation centre and exhibition space.

Perched up on Muswell Hill innorth London, Alexandra Palace welcomed over 120,000 visitors to its impressive 196 acres of parkland in the short time it was open. But at lunchtime on Monday, 9 June, disaster struck.

That day, a group of workmen wereworking on the great domed roof. A burning ember from a brazier, or devil', set fire to the timber. To make matters worse, a stiff breeze fanned the flames, helping it spread.

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At first, the scale of the fire was downplayed. But it soon became apparent that the local fire brigade couldn't cope, and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade was sent for by telegraph. Nine horse-drawn steam fire engines and seven manual engines were dispatched, along with around 120 firefighters, to tackle the blaze. But to get to it, they faced a tiring seven-mile slog up hill.

Meanwhile, frantic staff members ran from room to room ripping the paintings from the walls. Valuable books and tapestries were bundled away to safety, but an exhibition of precious English china fell victim to the fire.

At 1.30pm, the roof collapsed, destroying a giant musical organ designed by Henry Willis, valued at around £30,000. The sound of the crash was said to have been heard six miles away.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade finally arrived at the scene, but were unable tofind enough water to pump. It was all in vain anyway. By 3 o'clock, it was all over. The palace lay in ruins, and the fire would eventually claim the lives of three people.

"The whole interior", reported The Times, "...is an unsightly ruin from beginning to end, completely open to the sky, and filled with iron material, twisted into all kinds of fantastic shapes".

Not for nothing are the Victorians famous for their stoicism. When a bystander asked one of the Palace's directors what was to be done, he coolly replied, "Why, put it up again". And so they did in under two years and at a cost of £417,128 (£43m today), along with a brand new Henry Willis organ.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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