I wrote a little while ago about the Rex Whistler murals at Tate Britain. Today, I discovered some more murals. Well, not exactly "discovered" since I had been looking at them every year for ages! But yesterday I REALLY looked at them.
They are in the unlikely surroundings of Alexandra Palace, the gigantic and entirely unique building that sits atop a hill in North London.
This is a photo of how it looked as I walked down the hill yesterday. Sort of ruined. I think it IS semi ruined. "Ally Pally" as it is known, was originally built in 1873 as a "People's Palace," to be used for all kinds of fun events. In those days, it looked like this.....
Nice, eh? But not for long. Ally Pally hasn't been what you'd call a lucky or calm building. In fact it somehow reminds me of some large, eccentric aunt who is always getting into scrapes. It burned down less than three weeks after it was built, had another major fire in 1980, shortly after it was refurbished, and in the meantime suffered various misfortunes, like being used as an internment camp and getting bombed in the war. It also became the home of the fledgling BBC television service (news was broadcast from there right up to the 1960s.) and somewhere along the way it acquired a nice ice rink. However, its magnificent theatre and Willis organ fell into disrepair - the story of the organ's ups and downs is here
The Palace is basically big and Victorian - look at those huge doors, below - and it has been painted up in magnificent Victorian style. Needless to say, the job is far from finished.
Anyway, let's continue with the brief history. After the 1980 fire it was refurbished again. There was huge trouble about that, and the restoration was eventually deemed unlawful. But hey, they'd already done it. So it stayed. And it's still there, a fine post modern revamp - now a bit shabby - including lots of fabulous and very under appreciated murals.
So yesterday, T and I took young S to the model railway exhibition, where we go most years. And, like we usually do, we went downstairs to the restaurant for some pie and chips. We sat down at the table and for the first time I looked properly at the wonderful murals on the walls. They are Italian and fantastical in style, of classical buildings populated mostly by huge birds, larger than the picture below suggests. (The people eating pie and chips in the foreground in the shot below are NOT part of the painting.)
I've tried to get rid of the yellow tint, but that was the artificial light. As with other dining room murals, it's not easy to get photos - but I will do my best. These murals are really wide, and well lit, and are, I think, wonderfully dreamlike.
like a glimpse into another world. You might notice the packets of salt, pepper, mayonnaise, etc. in the foreground of the picture below. I suppose we should be glad they haven't had the money to put in a sleek new cafe with all the latest stuff, otherwise they'd have covered over the mural years ago, I guess. Would you like to live in that half-hidden red-roofed house overlooking the lake, with its arches and temple in the garden? I would.
On another bit of mural, an easel contains the name of the artist on a scroll - Christopher R. Boulter. He was a master of the Art Worker's Guild, not not a well known muralist, although I think he could have been.
The staff at Ally Pally always seem nice and hardworking, and people do love the building, so it is as well cared for as can be. But the years have taken their toll. The specially woven carpets are worn, and some of the murals have rough patches. Look at the damage here.
After admiring the restaurant murals, I then sent T and S up to the model trains and started exploring further behind the scenes. I realised that this massively expensive 1980s refit had resulted in a fantastic post-modernist interior, entirely unique and full of craftsmanship. These huge murals (by a different artist) were half way up one of the staircases
These large paintings show golden scenes of strange places
This was one of many alcoves in the bar, each one with a different, strange monument painted within. And look at those delightful post modern curved seats.
A very long, wide corridor leading into the main hall is lined with murals set within its yellow brick arches. Here's just one, showing Ally Pally's television past. These are by Gary Drostle (website here).
As well as the murals, the public areas outside the halls are fitted out with columns, pyramids and geometric, vaguely art-deco shapes, mostly in shades of brown. The floors are marble, there is shiny brass everywhere, all absolutely the latest thing in the late 80s, (I liked these quirky columns framing the elevators below)
This 1988 restoration is big, bold and insanely expensive and even included a palm court with sphinxes, a delightful place to hang out
and a there is gigantic rose window in the main hall, of geometric glass.
In fact, it's all quite FANTASTIC!
Ally Pally has never been a moneyspinner. One of its biggest problems is transport links. There is car parking but most of it is a long way away and down a steep hill. There's one useless bus called the "W3" which I've never heard of and goodness knows where it goes. The tube station's miles away. Originally, the Palace had its own railway station, and even its own railway line - the Muswell Hill & Palace Railway. Both are now long closed, though the station remains, hidden behind a fence.
And many years ago, during one of the regular "Oh, what shall we do with this building?" panics about Ally Pally, I visited the station with the Victorian Society, and it still had some of the ancient railway and holiday poster ads up on its walls. A "Marie Celeste" moment.
The financial mess was so great that Ally Pally was almost sold off to commercial developers a few years ago, but people do love it, despite its problems. So, after a public fight and fund to save it, it got given a load of lottery money instead, and now the plan is to finish off repairing the organ, and restore the stunning Victorian theatre and the historic television studios.
I have looked in the plans to see if they want to restore the unique post-modern interior and its murals, but I can't find out anything. But there are so few lavish 1980s interiors left that I feel they are worth fighting for. I'm going to write to them, and I'll let you know what they say. I'll also go on one of the regular tours of the palace which have now begun. I wonder if they include the station.
Outside, there are huge grounds sloping down to Highgate and you can walk around the terrace, lean on the Victorian railings and admire the view of the City in the distance Yes, Ally Pally really is a good place to be.
PS. The babies are doing well. Somehow reminds me of when my daughters used to play with their dolls
And what about this, spotted in South London? It's really called "Allen Gardens" but with a few scribbles of a pen, it becomes something much more interesting!