The original Albert Hall served as the heart of the Town's cultural life for over 100 years, hosting hundreds of concerts, shows, bazaars, exhibitions, and other events, playing host to figures as diverse as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Lancashire contralto, Kathleen Ferrier.
After being fitted with a removable sprung floor in the 1930s renovations, the Hall was also used as a dance venue.
In later years, as tastes in entertainment shifted, the vast proportions and inflexibility of the space (coupled with notoriously poor acoustics) led to a slow decline in its popularity.
On 14 November 1981 a devastating fire took hold of the Albert Hall. The Fire Service fought a long battle to contain the blaze, saving the rest of the Town Hall from total disaster. The walls of the Albert Hall retained their structural integrity but the roof collapsed and almost all of the plasterwork and fittings, including the Grand Organ, were completely destroyed.
Traumatic though it was, the damage to the building could have been a great deal worse and in some ways proved to be a blessing in disguise. Given the shortcomings of the old Hall it was decided not to restore it to its earlier state, but to create two new, complementary venues in the old space - the smaller, intimate Festival Hall on the lower level and a new, more adaptable (and acoustically pleasing) Albert Hall above. The ornate plasterwork was painstakingly restored to its former glory and a brand new organ commissioned and installed. The only survivors of the inferno were the Edward VII monument (now in the Festival Hall) and four sculptural panels representing the Four Seasons which were returned to the new Albert Hall.
The new Albert Halls were opened by the then Mayor of Bolton, Barbara Hurst, on 12 April 1985.
Since then the venues have gone from strength to strength.
Click here for current events and booking information about Bolton Albert Halls.
| Detailed history and description of the original Grand Organ in Bolton Albert Hall.
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Fruit and vegetable exhibition
The Albert Hall 'did its bit' in both World Wars to help raise funds, inform the public and keep up morale. This 1940s event features tables of home grown produce accompanied by Ministry of Food posters saying "Don't Waste Food!"
The Grand Organ
The original Grand Organ of the Albert Hall (above) was manufactured by Grey & Davison of London at a cost of £4,000 and was installed during the year following the opening of the Town Hall.
It was modestly described as being 'imposing' with the ornate oak case (designed by Hill and Woodhouse) measuring 36 feet (11m) tall, 32 feet 9 inches (10m) across and 25 feet 7 inches (7.8m) deep - the size of a small house. The entire instrument weighed in at around 40 tons. It was originally powered by two double-cylinder hydraulic engines in the basement but was later converted to electrical power.
The opening recital was given on the afternoon of Wednesday 21 October 1874 by William Thomas Best, organist of St George's Hall Liverpool and the Albert Hall in London. The instrument had been constructed according to Best's own specifications and his programme included works by Weber, Rossini, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Haydn and Widor. He also played two of his own pieces, one of which, Fantasia Pastorale, he composed for the occasion. He gave a second performance in the evening with a completely different programme.