OLYMPIA Corporate History 1884-1999


© John Glanfield

January 2012


Working notes


1. The National Agricultural Hall           1884, 16 May

            Renamed Olympia                    1893, March, by Olympia Ltd. as purchaser

2. The Grand Hall was formally named  1930 on completion of The Empire Hall

3 The New Hall                                    1923 on completion

            Renamed The National Hall      1930 on completion of The Empire Hall

4 The Empire Hall                                 1930 on completion

            Renamed Olympia 2                 1983 on conversion as specialist venue for smaller events


Primary sources

Earls Court & Olympia, archives

The National Archives, Kew. Company records (BT31 series. J series), railway operators’ records       (RAIL series). Treasury and other records, as indicated.

London Metropolitan Archives. LCC and GLC files on Olympia, 1895-1983. Correspondence             Between Olympia and the LCC re building consents etc. Correspondence with London &           NW Rly.

The British Library. Company records, memoirs.

The Guildhall Library

The Royal Borough of Kensington library

Hammersmith & Fulham Archives & Local History Centre


Other sources

The British Library. Periodicals,

Bird, Peter, The First Food Empire. A History of J. Lyons & Co. Phillimore. Chichester, W Sussex,      2000

Binns, Lt-Col PL. The Story of the Royal Tournament, Gale 8 Polden, Aldershot, 1952

Cochran, Charles, Cock-a-Doodle-Do, J. M. Dent, London, 1941

Cochran, Charles, Showman Looks On, J. M. Dent, London, 1946

Cochran, Charles, The Secrets of a Snowman. Wm. Heinemann. London. 1925

Exhibition Study Group, http://www. studvqroup.org.uk/

Hartley, Harold, Eighty Eight Not Out, F Muller, London, 1939

Heppner, Sam, ‘Cookie,’ L Frewin, London. 1969 isbn 09 0954 10 6

Ryan, Deborah, The Ideal Home Through the 20th Century, Hazar Publishing, London, 1997. ISBN 1

            874371 81 4

Stem, Ernest. My Life My Stage, V Gollancz, 1951

The Times’.


1884 March. Site is acquired for National Agricultural Hall (NAH)

            On 10 March Edward Yates of 2 York St. Southward sold the 6.25 acre site for £41,000 to Edward Lindsell Hunt, gentleman, of 140 Albany Street, Middx.


1884 April.

            On 10 April the site was sold on by Hunt for £52,000 to James Thorne, Trustee of The National Agricultural Hall Company Ltd pending its registration. The terms of sale required the company to transmit direct to Yates the payment due to him from Hunt in the form of £31,000 cash and £10.000 in paid-up £10 shares in the company. Hunt to receive the balance of £11,000 in cash.

National Archives. Kew. Co. Prospectus, piece RAIL 404/171.

Also contract between parties on terms of sale. 21 1 1885. piece BT31/3335/19814.

            The NAH site lay sandwiched between the celebrated Royal Vineyard Nursery on its north side (established c.1745 by plantsman James Lee), and 4-32 West Kensington Gardens to the south, a row of eight substantial houses fronting Hammersmith Road. The run of their back garden fences was the Hall’s boundary. The nursery and surrounding area north of Hammersmith Road had earlier been a vineyard since at least the 1600s, producing a good Burgundy


1884 16 May. Creation of The National Agricultural Hall Company Ltd (NAH Co.)

Company Registration 7644 Aims.

            ‘To provide healthy amusement and reinvigorate by brilliant demonstrations the national love of athletic exercises and contests of skill: to raise the tone of popular taste by entertainment’s and displays which shall be of the purest and highest character: to educate the masses, aye, and even the ‘classes’ by exhibitions of art, science and industry.’

President, NAH Co.        The Earl of Zetland

Chairman                         The Rt. Hon The Earl of Lathom (the Lord Chamberlain)

Deputy Chairman             Sir John Humphreys

Directors                         Maj-Gen Duncan Baillie. W. W. B. Beach, W. Armine Bevan,

                                       Wentworth L Cole of the Albert Hall, J.C. Lawrence, Thomas Pain of

                                       Tattersalls, H. J. Waterlow, Alderman.

Gen. Manager                 Mr J.S. Wood. Reputedly a discreet and sober man and event organiser,        having produced an Old English Fair in South Kensington that took                          London by storm. More recently. Woods had staged a Shakespearean           event.

            Some 200 vice-presidents were appointed, including four Earls. Major landowners and those in the sporting world predominated. The Earl of Zetland was no doubt instrumental in securing many of the eighty peers and sixty knights among them.

            Nominal capital £200,000 in shares of £10.00, half taken up privately. The balance was offered to the public whose response proved disappointing. As an inducement, buyers of twenty-five or more shares were offered life membership with free admission to the Hall and gardens when open to the public.

            National Archives, Kew, piece Rail404/171 include company prospectus and application for shares, with press quotes on the prospectus, reproductions of two of Henry Coe’s drawings and sketches of the building, and correspondence of the railway companies operating through Addison Rd. station, relevant to the new hall.

piece BT31/3335/l9814 incl copy of the1885contract to purchase land for the Hall, Memorandum of Association of The National Agriultural Hall Company Ltd. Returns of capital & shares, winding-up papers.


1885 July. The foundation stone is laid

            The ceremony on 21 July was followed by a fine luncheon for company directors and invited shareholders in a pavilion on or near the site. Hosted by its President The Earl of Zetland, who laid the engraved stone after a cavity beneath had been filled with the usual documents and coins’. He expressed the hope that it might prove the foundation of a building that would be of infinite service to the agricultural interests and industries of the nation. The stone is visible inside the Grand Hall’s main entrance, a small room on the right.


The National Agricultural Hall Company prospectus

            The directors announced acquisition of the Kensington site for £52,000 estimating the build cost at £130,000. (Lucas 8 Son the general contractor would receive £131,573). The Press anticipated a final overall cost of £225,000 including contingencies to yield a dividend of 5% Annual net profit of around £12,000 was thought to be achievable. The prospectus cited the smaller and more remote Agricultural Hall in Islington where return on capital was said to be 12% despite its ‘manifest disadvantages.’ The ‘Aggie’s’ £10 shares had recently touched £23.

            Architect Henry Coe, who with Mr Peck had built the Agricultural Hall, completed much of the design of the NAH before being taken ill and resigning. Sadly, he died late in 1885. James Edmeston took over. Coe’s ambitious floor plan and sinking engraving of the ‘Grand Hall’ accompanied the Prospectus. This was said to be the largest framed structure in the kingdom at 440 ft/134 m long and 249 ft/76 m wide beneath the tall arched roof with its dramatic 170 ft/52 m clear span. The roof stands 115 ft/35 m high at the apex, the glazing set in 1,200 tons of cast iron This and the building’s iron frame are of exceptional tensile strength, cast by Andrew Handyside & Company at the Britannia Foundry, Derby The 10,200 sq. m ‘footprint’ was nearly 50% greater than Coe’s Agricultural Hall, with a further 4,300 sq. m overall at gallery level. Four shop units flanked either side of the main entrance. They were listed among other revenue generating sources including the refreshments concession, auction sales, tennis courts, and the establishment of commercial registers of farms, estates, breeding cattle and stallions.

            Four accompanying pages of favourable Press comment included,

            ‘The Company have also secured the optional right to purchase at any time before 29 September 1884 upwards of five and a half additional acres in close proximity ‘ Aberdeen Journal. Morning Advertiser and other titles.


© Exhibition Study Group 2013