Our venues are loaded with history and have a wealth of stories to tell.
Earls Court One opened for business in 1937 with the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition, and was joined in 1991 by Earls Court Two which still boasts Europe’s biggest unsupported roof span.
Earls Court One and Two together have a total 60,000 square metres of event space and add to these facilities the purpose-built conference centre and the Museum Hall party space can boast a venue and a space for every event.
Over the years, the venues have welcomed visitors to shows such as the London Boat Show, the British Motor Show, the Ideal Home Show, the London Book Fair, the Great British Beer Festival and the Good Food Show.
The halls have resounded to performances by world-famous artists such as Madonna, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, George Michael, Elton John, Kylie, Rod Stewart, Queen and the Rolling Stones.
We’ve hosted the BRIT Awards, and sporting events such as boxing and wrestling contests, and some of the country’s largest companies have held conferences, training sessions and massive staff parties in our venues.
As the ultimate accolade, Earls Court was selected to be a London 2012 Olympic venue – chosen, according to Lord Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, for its west London location and excellent transport links.
All of this puts Earls Court at the heart of the communities in which they operate, as the 1.5 million visitors, 15,000 exhibiting companies and 300 events that we cater for every year have a sizeable economic impact – in terms of jobs and expenditure.
A study carried out on behalf of Earls Court and sister venue Olympia London, showed that the two venues together supported £258m of expenditure in their boroughs and over £1.25bn in the London region, and accounted for (directly and indirectly)over 1,000 jobs in the boroughs and around 12,500 in London.
The study also showed that one in two Londoners visits the venues every year.
Earls Court was once a rural area covered with green fields and market gardens. The Saxon thegn Edwin had been the owner before the Norman Conquest. For over 500 years the land, part of the ancient manor of Kensington, was under the lordship of the Vere family, Earls of Oxford and descendants of Aubrey de Vere I, who held the manor of Geoffrey de Montbray, bishop of Coutances, in the Domesday Book in 1086. By circa 1095, his tenure had been converted, and he held Kensington directly of the crown. The earls held their manorial court where Old Manor Yard is now, just by the London Underground station. Earl's Court Farm is visible on Greenwood's map of London dated 1827.
Old map of the Earls Court area
Earls Court was largely a waste ground before the introduction of the two railway stations. The idea of introducing an entertainment venue to the grounds was brought about by an entrepreneur called John Robinson Whitley, who sealed the grounds fate in entertainment by introducing Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and a huge observation wheel to the grounds in the late 19th century.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show
The Earls Court Gigantic wheel was 300ft high (the London Eye is approximately 450ft high) and was built in 1896. It was not dismantled until the winter or 1906/7 where a local company cut up the wheel and used for scrap. During it's time, the wheel only broke down once when it got stuck shortly after opening with sixty or seventy passengers on board. They remained stuck until noon the next day and received £5 5s in compensation, which was a substantial sum in those times.
The Great Wheel - 1896
Another major attraction at the Earls Court arena was Captain Paul Boyton's water chute which was constructed in 1899. The Captain flooded the arena in 1893 and built the 70ft high chute backing on to Lillie Road at today's West Brompton entrance. The ride was considered to be the biggest ride of its kind on either side of the Atlantic.
Image of the Water Shoot - 1893
Some of the early exhibitions and shows that took place when Earls Court was an open arena include: The Empire of India Exhibition in 1896, The Victorian Era Exhibition in 1897, The Military Exhibition in 1901, Paris in London Exhibition in 1902, the International Fire Exhibition in 1903 and Venice by Night in 1904.
After the company became Earls Court Ltd, the showground’s fell into decline. Four or five events were staged before the war broke out and closed them. Shortly after taking over, Earls Court Ltd surrendered its lease and went into liquidation. The centre was turned into a home for over 1300 refugees, predominately from Belgian. After 1919, the London General Omnibus Company took up the surrounding area and used it as a depot for unwanted buses. Occasionally, fairs and circuses used the site to entertain but they came and went.
In 1935, it was suggested that the British Government take the initiative and build an exhibition centre specifically for the British Industries Fair. The idea was originally refused as it was deemed extremely wasteful to have a building stood empty for 11 months of the year.
A group of industrialists took action in late 1935 and drew up their own proposals for a new exhibition and event centre at Earls Court. The problem that they had was that the grounds are crossed by four separate sets of railway tracks. However, plans were created and it was decided that on top of the tracks, a giant steel and concrete building was to be erected.
Sir Ralph Glyn, who was chairman of Earls Court Ltd, had laid down some basic requirements:
The idea was to construct a show centre to rival any other in the world and to dominate the nearby Olympia exhibition hall. It was designed by architect C. Howard Crane. The plan was to create Europe's largest structure by volume. The project did not go exactly to plan; it ran over budget and was late in completion.
Images of the construction of Earls Court One
Situated in the centre of Earls Court One's ground floor is a swimming pool - 198 feet (60 m) long and 98 feet (30 m) wide and amazingly, the 750 ton concrete exhibition floor can be removed and reinstated at the push of a button. When used it takes four days to fill and four days to empty and 2 1/4 million gallons of water are needed to fill it. These operations can only be accomplished at night, so as not to put undue strain on local services.
The Pool at Earls Court
Earls Court finally opened its doors to the public for the Chocolate and Confectionery exhibition on 1 September 1937. The Motor Show and Commercial Vehicle show soon followed. In spite of all the problems in the latter part of construction, the project was completed at a cost of £1.5 million. This building is now usually referred to as Earls Court One.
After the success of the Chocolate and Confectionary show and the Motor Show shortly after the centres opening, Earls Court held a spectacular blockbuster for the winter of 1938. The Winter Cavalcade was held in the December and featured a gigantic ski run that reached 100ft into the rood and ran the length of the arena. This is not unlike the Metro Ski and Snowboard Show that we have today at Olympia. There were lots to see and do at the show, including an ice rink, a yodeller and an alpine sunset set to music from Peer Gynt. In spite of the looming war, 350,000 people came to see the show.
Build up of the Winter Cavalcade at Earls Court - 1938
The finished slope at the Winter Calvacade - 1938
Earls Court was on its knees in 1939. Cancellation notices were readied as Britain prepared for war in July of that year. Sir Oswald Mosley packed Earls Court on the 16th July with a final rant to the British Union of Fascists.
The British Union of Fascists at Earls Court
After war broke out, Earls Court was soon used for the manufacture and repair of London’s air defence balloon barrage. Giant ‘blimps’ were inflated and tested under the 118ft ceiling. Earls Court did not suffer any damage during the war, but the nearby West Brompton station was destroyed by incendiary bombs.
After the war had ended, Earls Court won important new shows. Following a thin start in 1947 where only the British Industries Fair and the Motor Show were contracted, Earls Court won an Aqua Show the following year featuring Johnny ‘Tarzan’ Weissmuller and Esther Williams. The Royal Smithfield Show came across from Islington’s Agricultural Hall in 1949 and the Royal Tournament and The Radio Show followed in 1950.
After the development of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham was confirmed in early 1972, the AEO (Association of Exhibition Organisers) pushed for Earls Court and Olympia to merge together to create a London based version of the NEC. Property Tycoon Jeffrey Sterling made a bid for £4.4million for Earls Court and a week later, he bought a huge stake in Olympia. Earls Court & Olympia Ltd was born!
In July 1979, the Greater London Council contributed £5m for an improvement programme for Earls Court. This added to the £1.5m that the new owners had put together that would make the vital improvements to the dilapidated hall.
In 1983, Jeffrey Sterling’s company merged with P&O and he became the chairman of the shipping, construction, property and services giant. The need for extra space was realised and the plans for the £100million Earls Court Two were drawn up.
The striking new barrel-roofed hall which links with Earls Court One via folding shutters is large enough to hold four jumbo jets, and the hall's 17,000 square metre floor is entirely column-free. The hall was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales on 17 October 1991 for the Motorfair. Earls Court Two is situated on part of the former Lillie Bridge.
Earls Court Two during construction
Aerial view of Earls Court One & Two
A cycle of grand opera began at Earls Court in 1988 with Aida. Harvey Goldsmith’s courageous and visionary gamble caused The Times to reflect that it made the Royal Albert Hall look like a studio theatre. The audience loved it and Goldsmith returned the following year with a production of Carmen and the Aida again in 1998.
Carmen at Earls Court - 1989
Elton John in Concert at Earls Court - 1993
The venue is still one of the most popular arenas to play in the UK, with a capacity of around 19,000, including standing room, meaning it is often chosen over venues such as Wembley Arena by bands with a large fan base. Musicians who have played at the venue include: