OLYMPIA Corporate History 1884-1999


© John Glanfield. January 2012


Known directors as at 4 March 1905

Frederick Harold Payne, (late MD of second Olympia Ltd and director of Allsopp & Sons Ltd].

As Managing director & acting secretary                       277 ordinary shares.

Percy C Quilter. stockbroker                                        250 ordinary shares.

Emile Daoust. gentleman                                               200 ordinary shares.

Principal shareholders as at 22.3.1905

Charles Morrison                                                          34,373 shares.

Sir Cuthbert Quilter MP                                                21.000 shares.

Edward Frederick Quilter                                             21.000 shares.

John S Banner MP                                                       11,000 shares.

National Archives. Kew company papers piece BT31/10934/83008.


1912. 11 July. New Olympia Company ceases trading

            Edward C Moore was appointed liquidator Olympia had collapsed with heavy losses arising from Payne’s decision to back impresario Charles Cochran’s stunning production ‘The Miracle’ (24 December 1911-2 March ‘12) Olympia put up all the money in return for half the profits, the other half to be divided equally between Payne and Cochran. Olympia had secured a mortgage of £11,000 to underwrite its commitment. The company lost nearly £20,000. Attendance’s averaged 5,000 at each of the twice-daily performances for the first 2-3 weeks, with box office receipts falling just below running expenses. Lord Northcliffe’s eventual support through his Daily Mail brought full houses, but too late for recovery Ironically, the production had to close on 2 March to make way for the Ideal Home Show.


1912. 7 August. ‘Pa’ Payne returned to Allsopp’s at this low point.

            But he left Olympia with an assured long-term future, its lettings calendar transformed He joined the board of Earls Court Ltd as chairman in February 1913. The fledgling Trade Fairs and Exhibitions industry was quick to grasp the opportunities presented by Frederick Payne’s vision. Olympia’s transformation presented the nation’s first true exhibition centre, offering its tenant shows annual continuity and growth. His courage had set the industry on a radically new course that holds good today. He deserves to be fittingly commemorated


1912. Olympia (1912) Ltd is formed, and buys Olympia.

Chairman:                           Sir Gilbert Greenall.

Managing Director              Reginald Heaton who had founded Olympia’s International Horse Show      in 1907. He sold his farm and stud for £12,000 in order to take up Sir

                                          Gilbert’s invitation to join him.

Directors:                           Sir Richard Cooper.       

                                          Wm. Bainbridge,

                                          Robert Flemming.

Co. Secretary:                    Wallace Jones, late MD of the second Olympia Ltd. in 1895, etc.


Capital £100,000 in £10 shares and £50,000 in £100 debentures at 4.5%.


1914 & World War 1. Olympia initially requisitioned as a temporary civil prison camp.

            For German nationals and other potentially hostile aliens. From 1915 it became an Army clothing store.

De-requisitioned spring 1919.


1914. June. Olympia acquires W Kensington Gardens.

            Sir Gilbert Greenall purchased Nos. 4-32 W Kensington Gardens, a row of substantial houses and gardens fronting Hammersmith Road. Behind them lay Olympia. It was clearly a vital site if Olympia was to expand. The National Hall and the east end of Olympia 2 now occupy it. Sir Gilbert secured the freeholds for £23.000 from the Latymer Foundation of Edmonton, an educational trust, in June 1914. It was an inspired acquisition. War came only weeks later, delaying its redevelopment.

For purchase of W Kensington Gardens by Olympia see London Metropolitan Archives, piece No. MCC/CL/L/EO/092

            Planning consent to demolish at least part of this property and build a further hall was granted in 1917 subject to certain conditions. Olympia failed to signify acceptance.


1922-23. THE ‘New Hall’ (National Hall)

            Renamed The National Hall in 1930 on completion of the Empire Hall- now O2. The Motor Show’s pressing need for more space forced the expansion of Olympia’s capacity The four most easterly houses in West Kensington Gardens fronting Hammersmith Road together with the remaining Vineyard Nursery buildings round the corner in Addison Road were demolished to make way for the Hall. James Carmichael of Wandsworth was contracted 23 April 1922 to build it for £494,000. Construction began immediately, though L.C.C. consent had not been given. Olympia was summonsed for proceeding without approval.

            The young Architect Joseph Emberton chose an unadorned external style, believing that a building’s function or purpose should determine its architectural form. The structure is a smaller and lower version of the adjoining Grand Hall. It boosted Olympia’s exhibition space by more than 9,000 sq. m to 28.000 sq. m in all. The site was cleared and the hall completed in just 12 months from award of contract. ‘New Hall’ was first occupied in May 1923 for a tobacco exhibition.


1929. February. Olympia (1912) Ltd is sold for £1m.

            Philip Ernest Hill, a financier and Chairman and MD of Philip Hill & Partners Ltd. a major

issuing house, purchased Olympia on 27 February 1929 and took possession 25 March. He registered Olympia Ltd, inviting applications for £400,000 7% preference shares of £1.0 each, and 400,000 ordinary shares of 5 shillings each to acquire the property from Olympia (1912) Ltd.

            The urbane and highly regarded Reginald Heaton was retained as Managing Director and joined the board. 14 Freehold properties acquired with Olympia included:

            Maclise Mansions (a block of flats in Maclise Rd fronting Addison Rd Station; 2 shops on                     ground floor)

            No 1 Maclise Rd (corner shop let to an exhibition furnisher).

            Nos. 21,23,27 &29 (4 shop units in Madise Rd)

            No 31 Maclise Rd and Olympia Mansions in Beaconsfield Terrace Rd.

            The 60,000 sq. ft ‘Otto House’ site in North End Rd West, approx. 450 yds from Olympia                   With a 516 ft frontage to N End Rd it had been intended to make this a car park for                  Olympia.

            Addison Court Gardens and other properties on the Hammersmith Rd/Blythe Rd corner, see                 below,

1929, March. The British Industries Fair, para 1.

            All would be administered by the Kensington Property Company Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Olympia Ltd.

1929. March. The British Industries Fair announces transfer to Olympia

            The country’s biggest trade event was the annual British Industries Fair with sections in Birmingham and London’s White City. The still-growing London section totalled 1,500 display stands with a combined frontage of six miles, the Fair was created in 1915 to counter wartime trading difficulties abroad, and was sponsored by the Department of Overseas Trade (DOT).

            To Hills’ bemused delight the BIF organisers approached him early in March 1929 just days after his purchase of Olympia and the London Fair’s closure on the 1st. They wished to explore the possibility of transferring it to Olympia the following February for the next 10-years. The Fair had been staged since 1921 at the White City, built by Imre Kiralfy for his giant Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. Its halls were run-down and lacking adequate services. The recent BIF was a disaster, freezingly fogged-in for the period leaving the poorly heated buildings bitterly cold An exhibitors’ rebellion was raging, fuelled by complaints from home and overseas buyers. The Exhibitors’ Advisory Committee met on 15 March to urgently consider three options.

1.         Acquire the whole available While City site and construct thereon single-storied buildings                       for the exclusive use of the Fair exhibitors, stands being left in situ from year to                              year.’

2.         The construction and leasing to exhibitors of suitable buildings by the Underground Railway                    Company [sic! at Earls Court’, i.e. the derelict Earls Court showground built by John               Whitley in 1886/7 and later developed by Imre Kiralfy.’

3          Occupation of Olympia with material additions, ‘(researcher’s emphasis).


            The Advisory Committee voted 11:1 for Olympia. Philip Hill had quoted ‘some £25,000 p.a. for 10 years’. The BIF would have to pay White City over £20,000 to secure release from its Letting Agreement that would not terminate until after the 1930 Fair. Accordingly, Hill agreed to waive part of Olympia’s first year’s rental equal to the sum payable to the Shepherds Bush company, to be repaid to Olympia over the remaining nine years. The BIF calculated that all the Fair’s outgoings would be met if exhibitors were charged 2s/9d per sq. ft. (10.75 per sq. ft. £l.16 per sq. m.) Critically however, the London Fair’s net sold area of 318,000 sq. ft (29,500 sq. m.) could not be matched by Olympia’s estimated 285,000 sq. ft. net (26,500 sq. m.). The deal was clinched with Hill’s promise to construct the Empire Hall (now Olympia 2) in time for the next Fair opening 17 February 1930. He also gave promise of future additional space if required. The BIF and DOT were well satisfied.

The Times, 20 March 1929. National Archives. Kew Treasury file piece T161/618.

            Hill had caught a beauty. Within days of buying Olympia this coveted 10-year letting just fell into his lap Had Sir Gilbert Green all any expectation of securing the BIF his price for Olympia would have carried a hefty premium. Hill announced to the Press on 19 March that the BIF was coming. National Hall’s architect Joseph Emberton was immediately appointed That same month he rushed out a structural design for approval and quantity survey, sought LCC planning consent and appointed contractors. The groundworks started on 1 April.


1929-30. EMPIRE HALL (Olympia 2).

            The Hall’s construction cost £580,000. It replaced the last four West Kensington Gardens properties fronting Hammersmith Road, leaving only a bank at No 34 and the Bell and Anchor pub (38-40) on the corner of Blythe Road and Hammersmith Road. Immediately behind them stood two blocks of flats - Addison Court Gardens. These four properties occupied the site of today’s Olympia 2 car park. The bank and pub were demolished around 1967/8. Addison Court probably went in 1957.

            The cramped site forced Emberton to build upwards, adding 20,000 sq. m to Olympia’s gross letting capacity which now totalled nearly 50.000 sq. m. His front elevation, hinting Art Deco, is clad in concrete slabs cast from crushed Portland stone aggregate and fixed to the structure with tie rods The interior remains configured like a department store to stimulate visitor flow to upper levels. The tight schedule forced construction to run simultaneously with excavation for a basement restaurant and adjoining kitchens. 35,000 loads of spoil were removed in 20 weeks.

            The exceptionally tight construction deadline was not fully met Only two of Empire Hall’s three exhibition floors were completed and fitted-out in lime for the Fair in February 1930, but it remains a stunning achievement. Escalators were not installed until 12 February 1937, three days before that BIF opened.

            The Grand, National and Empire Halls were so named following completion of the latter. A covered footbridge was also built across Addison Road at this time to link the station directly with Grand Hall.



© Exhibition Study Group 2013