Originally on the site now occupied by the London Palladium was the London home of the Dukes of Argyll; Argyll House. In the 1800s the first Earl of Aberdeen lived there until his death in 1860 when the building was demolished and the land excavated so as to build ‘Bonded Wine Cellars.’ Above these cellars, in 1870, the Corinthian Bazaar was erected as a temporary structure.
The land was later acquired by Charles Hengler, who had worked in the Circus all his life. He altered and renamed the building Hengler’s Grand Cirque which opened in 1871. The original architect for this building was J. T. Robinson and it had a capacity of 1,090 but the building was eventually condemned as it was made entirely out of wood. In 1884 Hengler had the building enlarged and almost completely rebuilt by C. J. Phipps. However, when Hengler died in 1887, even though his sons continued with the enterprise, Circus in such a big scale as the Hengler Family presented was proving to be to expensive.
Another Circus Showman called Edward Wulff took over the running of the building for a short period but was unsuccessful so in 1895 the place was turned into a skating ring, called the National Skating Palace, which was famed at the time for having real ice.
Ten years later in 1905 another go at Circus was tried out in the building when it was renamed The Royal Italian Circus. Managed by Horace Livermore and a certain Signor Volpi who was also the animal trainer. Volpi had the honour of performing at Buckingham Palace on the 23rd of June 1904 by command of His Majesty King Edward VII. Before that Volpi allegedly also performed for the Sultan of Turkey.
However the Royal Italian Circus was getting too much competition from the newly opened London Hippodrome which combined circus with Music Hall, also the London County Council had near enough condemned the building demanding major alterations and improvements which were too expensive for the present owners, consequently the building closed down and the lease became the property of a syndicate who were already drawing up plans for a new Music Hall on the site, namely the London Palladium. Walter Gibbons, an early moving-pictures manager, built the Palladium in 1910 to compete with Sir Edward Moss’s London Hippodrome and Sir Oswald Stoll’s London Coliseum.
The Theatre was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham and built at a cost of £250,000, with an auditorium constructed on three levels, stalls, dress circle, and upper circle, with a massive original seating capacity of 3,435, today a more modest 2,298. Yet despite its size, even today, the Theatre is surprisingly intimate. The facade dates back to the 19th century. The horse statues referring to the circus were removed and Matcham replaced them with lively sculptures. The facade is a striking relic of the old Corinthian Bazaar, a painted stone classical temple front with Corinthian columns on tall pedestals.
The London Palladium
8 Argyll St
Soho, London W1F 7TE