Business Design Centre

History

The Business Design Centre is now classed as one of the best modern day conference and exhibition centres.

IN THE BEGINNING…

Originally the Royal Agricultural Hall the (now) Business Design Centre was opened in 1862. The construction was inspired by the Crystal Palace, which had been designed by Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and re-erected at Sydenham in 1852. The function of the Royal Agricultural Hall and its location was related specifically to its proximity to Smithfield, the great livestock market.

THE MOVE TO ISLINGTON…

In the 1880s the Smithfield Club was outgrowing its original location down Baker Street due to the development of new railways. Therefore the decision to raise £50,000 was made in order to create the Agricultural Hall. Mindful of their origins in Smithfield and the routes for driving animals to the livestock market, three acres of land were bought in Islington. This land was previously occupied by pasture and cattle sheds and knows as Dixon’s Lairs, or Layers. With the location chosen, Frederick Peck was appointed as the architect, Whitechapel builders Hill, Kedell and Robinson were employed as the contractors and the ironwork was commissioned from Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby. Peck proposed a single large, covered space with a huge single span roof.

ENLARGMENT AND MODERNISATION…

As early as 1867 the premises were being developed. At the east end of the main building the new St Mary’s Hall was built to function as the Empire Music Hall or Islington Palace, the theatre then ended up turning into a bingo club. In 1869 the Berners Hall was being opened as a further annexe for the Main Hall. The original design for this was a small 100 square feet secondary space but in 1894 it was demolished and rebuilt as a bigger hall. The last addition to the Royal Agricultural Hall was the New Hall of 1930, replacing the Methodist chapel on Liverpool Road. Architecturally the New Hall was utilitarian and nondescript but it helped to extend the site to a total of nearly five acres.

HISTORICAL EVENTS…

The first Smithfield Show was in 1862 and had a record attendance of 134,669. The Smithfield Show continued to take place every year in the Royal Agricultural Hall regularly attracting over a hundred thousand people. On 26th December 1863 the Islington Gazette advertised a ‘Grand Xmas Entertainment’ at the Agricultural Hall. In 1924 the New World’s Fair Company took over from impresario Mr Read when his lease expired. The most glamorous event to take place in the Agricultural Hall was the Grand Ball held for the Belgian Volunteer Regiments during their visit to England in July 1867. Other events included Military tournaments, Walking races, Dog shows and Trade shows.

YEARS OF NEGLECT…

In 1943 the Post Office half a mile away was bombed leading to the inland and foreign parcels departments being moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall. Although the Inland Parcels returned to Mount Pleasant, the Overseas Parcels and Customs remained in the Main Hall until many years after the war. The Post Office became a very un-intensive occupation of the site and during the 1950s the Angel became a dull place. In 1970 the Overseas Parcels moved to new premises in Canning Town. The entire venue, with the exception of the Top Rank Bingo in the Blue Hall, fell empty. In early 1974 the then owner offered to sell the "Aggie" to the council.

RESCUE AND CONVERSION…

In the 1980s Sam Morris came to the Agricultural Hall's rescue and bought the building after being fascinated with how this deserted and derelict building might be reborn. Sam Morris turned to Renton Howard Wood Levin for architectural advice and redevelopment work began. The architectural work began in January 1985. One of the initial tasks was to clear away the buildings and accretions which were not going to be kept.

In October 1986 work was completed and the Business Design Centre opened for business. The official opening took place in July the following year (1987) with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher doing the honours. Twenty six years later, the Business Design Centre is now regarded as one of the best modern day conference and exhibition centres, hosting thousands of events yearly and always providing an exceptional service.

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