The Royal Albert Hall was inspired by Prince Albert, a man who held a great affinity for the arts. Following the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851, Albert envisioned the creation of some permanent facilities to promote public exposure to the arts. He planned to call his ‘haven of the arts’ Albertopolis, and in response to his plans, the Exhibition’s Royal Commission bought Gore House–one time home of William Wilberforce–and its surrounding grounds.
Although Prince Albert had set the wheels in motion in 1851, at his untimely death ten years later, little progress had been made. Reacting the prince’s death in 1861, a proposal was put forward to build a memorial in Hyde Park, across from a great hall for the performing arts. Queen Victoria hired two Royal Engineers, Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General H.Y. Darracott Scott, to design the great hall.
On 20 May 1867, the foundation stone was laid and construction began. As can be seen by looking at the end product, the designers were inspired by ancient amphitheaters. The main part of the hall was built with red brick and scattered terra cotta ornamentation. The dome, however, was a different story. Built in the form of a wrought iron framework, it was first constructed in Manchester. After assuring the accurate assembly, the dome was disassembled and transported to London where it was reassembled atop the rest of the structure.
Construction was scheduled to end on Christmas Day 1871. The official opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall took place on 29 March 1871. Queen Victoria had gone into a deep mourning after the death of her husband Prince Albert. Although the ceremony was ten years after Albert’s death, Queen Victoria was overcome with emotion and unable to speak. In her place, Edward, the Prince of Wales, gave a speech. At the inaugural concert, however, it became apparent that the hall had acoustic deficiencies, problems that would continue to surface until they were definitively repaired in 1969.