Royal Agricultural Hall Company Ltd

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Records concerning management of the hall, including:

  • Memoranda and Articles of Association (1906, 1949, 1958); directors' reports and balance sheets (1865-1959, incomplete); correspondence and minutes of the board of directors (1945-1958).
  • Other financial records, including cash books (1877-1896, incomplete; 1935-1953) and company returns (1935-1941); also summaries of capital and shares (1864-1905, incomplete), trust deeds for securing debenture stock and deeds of appointment (1895-1955) and miscellaneous related material (1914-1958).
  • Letting agreements (1863-1937) and related correspondence (1920s-1940s), plus event posters (c1870-1885) and exhibition catalogues (1880s-1930s).
  • Building and maintenance records (mainly 1923-1959), including plans and correspondence re alterations to the Blue Hall Cinema (1923-1946).

Also later material concerning future use of the site, including feasibility studies, structural reports, architectural reports and photographs (1970s) and publicity material for the 'Save our Aggie' campaign (1974-1975).

In addition, the collection includes cuttings from newspapers and periodicals (c1861-1999), with many illustrations of displays and events. These are unsorted and also include flyers and leaflets for early exhibitions and events (mainly 1870s).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Agricultural Hall Company was established in 1860 by the Smithfield Club to construct and manage the Agricultural Hall, Islington. The hall was built to host the club's annual meeting and cattle show but also used for public events and large-scale exhibitions. It was designated the Royal Agricultural Hall in 1884 and known locally as the 'Aggie'.

The original building was designed by Frederick Peck and covered almost two acres. The foundation stone was laid in November 1861 and the building opened in December 1862. Additional buildings were added over the next several decades and the structure eventually covered almost five acres.

Amongst the events held at the hall were World's Fairs, circuses, musical recitals, grand balls, military tournaments, revivalist meetings and sporting events including cycling competitions and the famous Victorian pedestrian races. The first Cruft's dog show took place at the hall in 1891 and then annually until 1939. In addition, the hall was used for a wide variety of trade shows, including cycle, motor, brewing, bakery & confectionery, shoe & leather, furniture, dairy and grocery exhibitions. The site also included a music hall, which was licensed as a cinema in 1908. By the early 20th century, the Royal Agricultural Hall was the principal exhibition centre for London and it remained in regular use until 1939.

The building was requisitioned during the Second World War and used by the General Post Office from 1943 to 1971. By the early 1970s, the building was in a derelict state. There was a local campaign to save the building, which was purchased by the London Borough of Islington in 1976. In 1986, the hall was converted into an exhibition and conference centre and renamed the Business Design Centre.

Conditions Governing Access

Opened for consultation by appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying is carried out at the discretion of staff, depending on the condition of the materials and according to the Local History Centre's photocopying policy, which is available on request. No photographs over 50 years old and no material over 100 years old may be copied. Copies of material still in copyright can be supplied for research use only. Written permission must be obtained from the archivist to publish or reproduce any material held in the Local History Centre. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearance from the copyright holder.

Custodial History

The archival history of the collection is unknown. The financial and administrative records, programmes and posters which form the bulk of the collection were acquired by Islington Libraries, probably post-1958. The later materials and most of the newspaper cuttings appear to have been collected by library staff.

Some of the material was previously placed in other areas of the Local History Centre collections but later transferred to this collection. These include photographs, cuttings and the 1970s building reports (ref. YA008).

Related Material

The Evanion Collection at the British Library contains posters and programmes for events held at the Royal Agricultural Hall (ref. EVAN).

Bibliography

Facsimilies of some items from this collection were published in the book 'The Royal Agricultural Hall', compiled by J A Connell with historical research by E A Willatts (Islington Libraries, 1973).

Other publications based on this collection include 'Wobble to death', a crime novel by Peter Lovesey based on the pedestrian races held at the hall (Arrow, 1970) and 'The building that would not go away: the story of how Sam Morris rescued the Royal Agricultural Hall' by Tadeusz Grajewski (Royal Agricultural Hall, 1989).

Geographical Names