History of the Great Hall

1887 - A royal opening

Originally opened in 1887 by Queen Victoria, the People’s Palace was built to provide cultural activities to the people of east London. 

The original Palace sat where the Queens’ Building is located today and included a large concert hall called ‘the Queen's Hall’, a library (now known as The Octagon), Winter Garden, swimming pool, gymnasium, gardens and tennis courts. 

The People’s Palace brought culture, entertainment and education to enrich the lives of the local people; more prosaically, it was a distraction from the gin-palaces of the day. Entertainment included everything from donkey and art shows, to dances and concerts.

1936 - The new People’s Palace 

In the early hours of February 26 1931, the Queen’s Hall was completely destroyed by a fire and the Palace was rebuilt and reopened in 1936 in its current location, adjacent to the Queens’ Building.

The building was built of Portland Stone and red brick in art-deco style with its imposing façade featuring reliefs by Eric Gill –a striking addition to Mile End Road.

In keeping with the spirit and purpose of the original Palace, it was built as a theatre, cinema and music hall and was run successfully on that basis for a number of years. But following a decline in revenues the Queen Mary purchased the Palace in 1954.

2012 - The latest restoration works 

Completed in September 2012, the latest refurbishments are the most sympathetic of the various restoration schemes. Their purpose was to restore historic elements of the recently Grade II listed building as well as to make it more comfortable, with up-to-date sound, lighting, audio-visual and theatre systems.

In the Great Hall, the original 1930s colour scheme was discovered under layers of paint that had built up over the years, and was recreated. The Hall's wooden floorboards have been cleaned and, using old photographs, the decorative lantern in centre of the hall has been recreated. The Grade II* listed Rutt pipe organ - one of the best examples of its type - has been restored and the old projection room high up in the roof has been returned to use.

But the works have been about more than a faithful restoration of the Great Hall. The building's infrastructure has received a much-needed upgrade. New automatic cooling and ventilation systems have been introduced to cope with the heat produced by the Hall's 770-capacity audience. In addition, new theatre lighting and audio-visual systems have been installed, as well as retractable 'bleacher' style seating.