Earls Court Exhibition Centre

Earls Court Exhibition Centre was a major international exhibition and events venue in London, England. At its peak it is said to have generated a £2 billion turnover for the economy. It replaced exhibition and entertainment grounds, originally opened in 1887, with an art moderne structure built between 1935 and 1937 by specialist American architect C. Howard Crane. With the active support of London mayor Boris Johnson, in an attempt to create Europe's "largest regeneration scheme", its proposed heritage listing was refused after it was acquired by developers, who promptly in 2008 applied for and were granted a Certificate of Immunity from Listing by English Heritage, and its demolition was completed in 2017.[2]

Earls Court Exhibition Centre
Earls Court One (1991–2014)
Earls Court Exhibition Centre in 2008
LocationKensington, Fulham, London, SW5
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°29′20″N 0°11′52″W / 51.48889°N 0.19778°W / 51.48889; -0.19778
Public transitLondon Underground Earl's Court
London Underground London Overground National Rail West Brompton
OwnerTfL, APG and Delancey
Opened1 September 1937; 86 years ago (1937-09-01)
ExpandedEC II in 1991
Closed13 December 2014; 9 years ago (2014-12-13)
Construction cost£1.5 million
(£132 million in 2024 pounds[1])
ArchitectC. Howard Crane

Located in Earl's Court but straddling the boundary between the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, it was the largest such venue within the capital served by two London Underground stations—one of them, Earl's Court tube station, being specially adapted with a tunnel for show visitors, and in latter years with a direct link to Heathrow Airport. The founder of the entertainment grounds was the Leeds entrepreneur John R. Whitley and the first attraction headlined performances by Buffalo Bill Cody as part of the American Show visited by Queen Victoria and subsequently by members of the Royal Household.[3] This was followed by numerous other exhibitions representing countries such as Canada, France and India.

Earls Court was widely known for serving as London's and the country's premier exhibition venue for many decades, hosting the Royal Smithfield Show, Royal Tournament, the British International Motor Show, London Boat Show, the Ideal Home Show, Billy Graham rallies, the Brit Awards (until 2010), Crufts and other events such as large scale opera productions and pop concerts in addition to hundreds of trade shows, such as the London Book Fair.[4] It was also used as one of the venues for both the 1948 and 2012 Olympic Games.

History edit

the 1894 Great Wheel at Earl's Court
Aerial view of Earls Court, 2008 L-R Empress State Building, Earls Court Two and Earls Court

Before 1887, Earl's Court was farmland attached to Earl's Court Manor. With the arrival of a multiplicity of railway companies, and before London Underground became distinct from the cross-country railways, the tracks formed a triangle which became 'waste ground'. The introduction of two Underground stations, and a mass network of rails trapped the land. The notion of introducing education and entertainment to the area was effected by John Robinson Whitley, an entrepreneur who used the land as a showground for a five years from 1887. Whitley did not profit from his efforts, yet his desire had decided the future of Earl's Court and its purpose in later years. The Great Wheel, a Ferris wheel, was created for Imre Kiralfy's Empire of India Exhibition in 1895. A plaque in the EC press centre commemorated some of these facts and that the reclusive Queen Victoria was an occasional visitor to the shows. Kiralfy had the neighbouring Empress Hall built to seat 6,000 people and then had the Earls Court grounds converted in the style of the 1893 Chicago White City for the Columbian Exposition, and went on to found nearby White City in 1908.

In 1935, Earls Court was sold and the new owners decided to construct an exhibition centre, with an internal pool, to rival any other in the world and to dominate the nearby Olympia exhibition hall. The plan was to create Europe's largest structure by volume. The project did not go exactly to plan; it ran over budget and was late in completion. Designed by the specialist American theatre architect, C. Howard Crane, with over 40,000 sq m of space over two levels, Earls Court finally opened its doors to the public for the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition on 1 September 1937.[5] The British International Motor Show immediately followed and later the Commercial Vehicle show. In spite of all the problems during the latter part of its construction, the project was eventually completed at a cost of £1.5 million.

At the centre of Earls Court was its internal pool or "lake" (its basin being 60m long and 30m wide), which for use took four days to fill and four days to empty; 214 million gallons of water were required to fill it. These operations could only be accomplished at night, so as not to put undue strain on local services. A 750-tonne retractable floor in three sections covered the pool when not in use and was lowered using water hydraulic rams.[6] The pool was used for watercraft exhibitions and lastly as a feature for the Ideal Home Show in 2011.

A new entrance to Earl's Court tube station was constructed on Warwick Road to facilitate easy access to the exhibition centre, including a direct entrance from the underground passage which connected the District and Piccadilly lines. However, this was closed in the 1990s after the capacity of the exhibition centre had been expanded by the construction of a second hall, Earls Court Two, in an effort to compete with the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.[7]

Earls Court Two edit

Earls Court Two
Entrance to Earls Court Two, 2009
LocationKensington, London, SW5
United Kingdom
OwnerCapital and Counties Plc
Capacity10,750 or 6,000 (seated)
Opened17 October 1991
Closed13 December 2014
Construction cost£100 million
(£383 million in 2024 pounds[1])

In 1985 it was decided by the then owners P&O to expand the covered venue to fend off competition from rival national venues, such as the NEC in Birmingham and in response to the drastic need to increase exhibition space.

Earls Court II was built over the London Underground and British Rail lines and adjacent land originally occupied by a mass of sheds linked to the Lillie Bridge Engineering and Railway Depot in Hammersmith and Fulham. Earls Court Two was constructed at a cost of £100 million. The barrel-roofed hall linked with Earls Court One; the hall's 17,000 sq m floor was entirely column-free and could hold a maximum capacity of 10,750. The hall was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales on 17 October 1991. The biennial London Motorfair was the first event held in the new hall. Following the construction of Earls Court Two, the original building became known sometimes as Earls Court One. One of the largest gatherings at Earls Court II was the United Kingdom Padhramni from 5–14 August 1994 when the Aga Khan visited daily for a series of religious gatherings with the UK and international Ismaili Muslim community.

Earls Court Two was demolished by Capco Plc in 2015.

Closure edit

With falling attendances and the sale of Earls Court-Olympia to a newly formed developer group in 2008 confidential plans were drawn up to demolish Earls Court. These were approved in outline by the two local authorities in 2013, along with a swathe of public housing, existing retail and the historic Lillie Bridge Depot in Fulham in order to make way for four new urban "villages" inspired by Terry Farrell on the 80-acre site, which was expected to be completed in 2033. Demolition work began on the site in December 2014 following its closure on 13 December.[8] The final event in the main Earls Court was a concert by indie rock band Bombay Bicycle Club.[9] The final event to be broadcast from the venue was the 2014 BBC Music Awards two days earlier. The site remains derelict to this day (2023).

Events edit

Exhibitions edit

Ideal Home Show (March 2011)

Earls Court hosted many shows and exhibitions throughout the years, including the Earls Court Motor Show, Ideal Home Show and the BRIT Awards. The MPH Show, one of Britain's largest motoring exhibitions and shows, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson and others, took place there each winter after an earlier showing at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

Each summer from 1950 to 1999, Earls Court was home to the Royal Tournament, the first, oldest and biggest military tattoo in the world. For this the area now occupied by Earls Court Two became a stables, artillery and vehicle depot for some two months, with several hundred military personnel from all three services billeted 'on site'.

The Professional Lighting and Sound Association held its annual trade show, the PLASA Show, at Earls Court between 1992 and 2012. The 2013 show was held at ExCeL.

London Film and Comic Con was hosted at Earls Court 2, held every July. The convention held autograph and photoshoot sessions with celebrity guests as well as providing a place to play games and buy collectables. In July 2014, due to the increase in the event's popularity, it was hosted in both Earls Court 1 and Earls Court 2.

Historical edit

Earls Court frontage viewed from Earl's Court station

Notable historic exhibitions at the centre included:

  • The American Show, 1887.
  • The Italian Exhibition in London, 1888.
  • The Spanish Exhibition, 1889.
  • French Exhibition, 1890.
  • German Exhibition, 1891.
  • Captain Boynton's Water Show, 1893.
  • Empire of India Exhibition, 1895.
  • Empire of India & Ceylon Exhibition, 1896.
  • International Universal Exhibition, 1898.
  • Greater Britain Exhibition, 1899.
  • Paris in London, 1902.
  • International Fire Exhibition, 1903.
  • Italian Exhibition, 1904.
  • Imperial-Royal Austrian Exhibition, 1906.
  • Balkan States Exhibition, 1907.
  • Old Japan, 1907.
  • Golden West Exhibition, 1909.[10]
  • Shakespeare's England, 1912.

Boat shows edit

The central area of the main hall concealed a massive pool area, formerly used for the London Boat Show which was held annually from 1960 until 2003. The event transferred to ExCeL in the London Docklands the following year. It was also briefly used for the Earls Court Boat Show in 2007 and 2008.

War refugees camp edit

During the First World War, Earls Court Exhibition grounds, including the adjacent 6,000 seater Empress Hall, turned into a huge refugee camp of the British Government. From 15 October 1914 onwards until 1919, more than 100,000 Belgian refugees stayed in this camp.[11]

Sports edit

Earls Court hosted the volleyball matches during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Empress Hall was the site of the first game played outside of North America by any of the major North American professional sports leagues, when on 21 April, 1938 the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL played the starting game of the 1938 Detroit Red Wings–Montreal Canadiens European tour there.[12]

Earls Court hosted the volleyball competitions in the 2012 Summer Olympics. The volleyball events were scheduled for the multi-sport arenas in the Olympic Park.[13] At the 1948 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the boxing preliminaries, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling events.[14]

The London leg of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour was held at Earls Court Two on 11 March, with Wayne Rooney making an appearance with the trophy.

Religious gathering edit

Earls Court was the venue for the visit or mulaqat of the Aga Khan during the inauguration of the Ismaili Centre at Cromwell Gardens on 24 April 1985.

Musical events edit

Earls Court was one of the most popular arenas to play in the UK, with a capacity of around 19,000 including standing room, meaning it was often chosen over other venues by bands with a large fan base. Slade[15] and David Bowie[16] were the first rock acts to play there, in 1973. Led Zeppelin performed five sold-out shows at the venue in May 1975. Bowie's 1978 concert performance, part of his Isolar II Tour, was released as Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78) in 2018. Pink Floyd performed live shows since 1972, and the concerts from The Wall Tour in 1980 and 1981 were recorded and released in 2000 as Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81, while performances from The Division Bell Tour in October 1994 were recorded and released on the live concert film Pulse in 1995. In November 1995, Oasis staged the two biggest ever indoor gigs at the time in Europe, at a specially expanded Earls Court. Between 28 May and 1 June 2002, Irish vocal pop band Westlife held concerts as part of their World of Our Own Tour supporting their album World of Our Own.[citation needed] However, after the opening of the O2 Arena in 2007, concert performances at Earls Court were rarer. Iron Maiden performed at Earls Court in 2000, 2003 and two nights in 2006 - each time sold out with circa 21,000 in attendance.[17]

Pink Floyd seating collapse, 1994 edit

On the night of 12 October 1994, Pink Floyd were scheduled to begin a 14-night residency of the venue as part of The Division Bell Tour. During their opening song, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"[18] a section of seating, containing 1,200 attendees, collapsed, injuring 90 people with no fatalities.[19] The show was immediately cancelled and rescheduled for 17 October.[19][18]

Spice Girls incident, 1999 edit

On 11, 12, 14 and 15 December 1999, the Spice Girls performed Christmas in Spiceworld Tour.

While dismantling the stage on 16 December, a worker died from falling more than 80 ft.[20]

Brit Awards edit

The Brit Awards, the British Phonographic Industry's annual pop music awards, were first held at Earls Court in 1996 and 1997. The awards show returned in 2000 at Earls Court Two, before moving back to the main Earls Court in 2006. The awards show moved to The O2 Arena in 2011.

Dog Show edit

Before moving to the Birmingham's NEC, Crufts Dog show was held here annually. With public and Kennel club concerns about the neglect and mistreatment of dogs, it introduced an annual exhibition aimed at showing how best to look after dogs as pets or care companions. This was Discover Dogs. The last show in London was held in 2014.[citation needed]

Demolition and redevelopment edit

Earls Court 2 and former Green corridor

The owner of Earls Court and Olympia, Capital & Counties Properties (also known as Capco), opened discussions in 2010 with the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to demolish the existing landmark centre and redevelop the area with up to 8,000 residential flats, retail outlets and, possibly, a new convention centre.[21][22][23]

Demolition work began on the site in December 2014.

Earls Court Exhibition ancillary site in Fulham edit

Lillie Sports Ground, c. 1875

Since the 1970s, Earls Court-Olympia had acquired parcels of industrial land west of the West London Railway in Fulham to use as a marshalling yard and overspill car park for the exhibition centre. Prior to its early 20th-century mixed industrial use, as a coal yard and for the automotive industry, the 20 or so acres were known as the "Lillie Bridge Grounds", a popular sports destination.[24] Since the site's acquisition by Capco plc as part of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre deal, it is being redeveloped as "Lillie Square", an estate of apartment blocks, some of them high-rise.[25]

Opposition to demolition edit

1865 heritage buildings in Empress Place SW6, named in honour of Queen Victoria's visit, backing onto Earls Court 2 also due for demolition

The demolition of Earls Court was opposed by the 'Earl's Court Area Action Group', which began a 'Save Earl's Court' campaign.[26] The Group is composed of local residents and interested parties who would be affected by the exhibition centre's destruction and subsequent 20 years of proposed redevelopment.

Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, wrote to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and argued that "the Earl's Court demolition plans are a recipe for a disaster, with massive economic, social and environmental consequences. The winners will be the wealthy developers and overseas property speculators while the losers will be the community, local businesses and Londoners who will lose one of the capital's key exhibition centres."[27]

The Guardian's London blogger Dave Hill cited concerns over the number and relative affordability of the housing units that will be constructed on the site after the proposed demolition of Earls Court, as well as concerns over the views of local residents.[28]

Despite the opposition, Boris Johnson approved the redevelopment plans on 3 July 2013.[29]

H&F Council bid to take over scheme edit

Since the election of a Labour majority on the Hammersmith and Fulham side of the boundary in 2014, relations between the developers and elected representatives have soured if not stalled. Sensitivities on the Conservative Kensington and Chelsea side have grown since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 has put elected representatives in the spotlight in relation to their public responsibilities. During 2018 the developers have been touting for buyers to off-load at least part of the scheme. In February 2019 Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council let it be known they were considering a Compulsory purchase order to take over the Earls Court and adjacent land currently banked by the developers. In May 2019 H&F Council indicated they would be going ahead with raising £200 million capital to compulsorily purchase the land, including that in RBKC, with a view to "remastering" the plans, a decision to be considered at a full council meeting in September 2019. A spokesman for the developers responded that the council had not demonstrated their capacity to do this.[30]

Earls Court sold on edit

Capco plc sold their declining interest in Earls Court to APG, a Dutch pension fund, and to the British firm Delancey for £425 million in November 2019. In 2015 Capco plc was valued at £1.4 billion. The two Hammersmith and Fulham housing estates are to be sold back to the Council at cost.[31]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  2. ^ Hill, Dave (21 November 2013). "Earls Court: Boris Johnson's borough chums sell lump of London cheap". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  3. ^ Charles Lowe (1892). Four National Exhibitions in London and their Organiser. London: T. Fisher Unwin. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  4. ^ Glanfield John (30 March 2003). Earls Court and Olympia: From Buffalo Bill to the Brits. Sutton Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0750929981.
  5. ^ "The final curtain for Earls Court: last gig at legendary music venue". London Evening Standard. 12 December 2014.
  6. ^ Jessel, Anne (2 July 2001). "Earls Court Exhibition Centre Pool - 1935". Finding Lidos - Dive into Lost Lidos. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  7. ^ Glanfield, John. (2003). Earls Court and Olympia: From Buffalo Bill to the Brits. London: Sutton Publishing.
  8. ^ "Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London". www.modernistbritain.co.uk. Archived from the original on 17 January 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  9. ^ "The final curtain for Earls Court: last gig at legendary music venue". Evening Standard. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  10. ^ Board of Trade Journal. H.M. Stationery Office. 1908.
  11. ^ "Fork CMS". Fork CMS. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017.
  12. ^ "Canadiens, Wings Play at London Thursday". The Montreal Gazette. Canadian Press Cable. 18 April 1938. p. 14. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  13. ^ London2012.com profile. Archived 2 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine – accessed 29 September 2010.
  14. ^ 1948 Summer Olympics official report. Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine pp. 43, 46, 49–50.
  15. ^ "Slade Earls Court London 1973 Live Review".
  16. ^ "Bowie and Sid at Earl's Court 45 years ago". David Bowie. 12 May 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Tours". ironmaiden.com. 15 February 2022. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  18. ^ a b "Pink Floyd - 1994 Earls Court seating collapse report". Brain Damage magazine. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  19. ^ a b Penman, Danny (13 October 1994). "Pink Floyd 'very angry and upset' over accident: Human error could have caused temporary stand's collapse at rock concert attended by 15,000 fans". The Independent. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  20. ^ "Workman dies on Spice set". The Guardian. 17 December 1999. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  21. ^ yourearlscourt.com Archived 16 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Carmichael, Sri (22 January 2010). "On the Bill: Earls Court Demolished To Make Way for 8,000 Flats". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  23. ^ (registration required) Hatcher, David (19 June 2009). "Olympian Effort". Property Week. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  24. ^ "Lillie Bridge". www.runtrackdir.com. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  25. ^ "Earls Court gets 808 new homes at Lillie Square". Evening Standard-Homes and Property. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  26. ^ "Save Earl's Court! – Home". Saveearlscourt.com. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  27. ^ "News from Darren Johnson AM: Mayor urged to refuse Earl's Court planning application | Greater London Authority". London.gov.uk. 5 March 2013. Archived from the original on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  28. ^ Hill, Dave (26 November 2012). "Earls Court: Kensington and Chelsea's go ahead can't hide the contradictions". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  29. ^ "Earls Court demolition plan approved by Mayor of London". BBC News. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  30. ^ Jonathan Prynn (17 May 2019). "Council make 200m bid to seize earls Court land for affordable housing". Evening Standard. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  31. ^ Megan Kelly (18 November 2019). "Capco sells Earls Court estate for £425m". Construction News. Retrieved 28 November 2019.

External links edit

Preceded by Miss World venue
Succeeded by
Dongsheng Fitness Center Stadium
  Ordos City