Earls Court Exhibition Centre was an internationally renowned exhibition, conference and events venue in London that originally opened in 1887 and was built in 1937 in its most recent art moderne style exterior. It was located in Earl's Court within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and was the largest such venue within central London. The founder was John R. Whitley and the first exhibition included performances by Buffalo Bill Cody as part of the 'American Exhibition'. This was followed by 'Four National Exhibitions', the title of C. Lowe's 1892 book about Earls Court and its founder.
Earl's Court was widely known for serving as London's premier exhibition hall for many decades, hosting the Royal Tournament and Earl's Court Motor Show, Ideal Home Show, the Brit Awards (until 2010), Crufts Dog Show and a number of other notable events and concerts. It was also used as one of the venues for both the 1948 and 2012 Olympic Games. It was served by two London Underground stations: Earl's Court and West Brompton, opposite its entrances on Warwick Road and Old Brompton Road respectively.
In 2013 plans to demolish Earl's Court were approved in order to make way for a new residential and retail estate on the site, which is expected to be completed in 2033. Demolition work began on the site in December 2014.
Before 1887 Earl's Court was farm land attached to Earl's Court Manor. With the arrival of a multiplicity of railway companies, and before London Underground became distinct from the cross country railways, the tracks formed a triangle which became 'waste ground'. The introduction of two Underground stations, and a mass network of rails trapped the land. The idea of introducing entertainment to the area was brought about by John Robinson Whitley, an entrepreneur who used the land as a show-ground for a few years from 1887. Whitley did not profit from his efforts, yet his desire had decided the future of Earl's Court and its purpose in later years. In 1895 the Great Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel, was created for Imre Kiralfy's 'Empire of India Exhibition'. A plaque in the press centre commemorates some of these facts and that Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to the shows. Kiralfy had built Earl's Court in the style of the 1893 Chicago White City for the Columbian Exposition, and went on to found nearby White City in 1908.
In 1935 Earl's Court was sold and the new owners decided to construct a show centre to rival any other in the world and to dominate the nearby Olympia exhibition hall. 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. Designed by architect C. Howard Crane with over 40,000 sq m of space over two levels, Earls Court finally opened its doors to the public for the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition on 1 September 1937. The Earls Court Motor Show immediately followed and later the Commercial Vehicle show. In spite of all the problems during the latter part of its construction, the project was eventually completed at a cost of £1.5 million.
Following the construction of Earls Court Two, this original building became known sometimes as Earls Court One.
Earls Court Two
In response to the drastic need to increase exhibition space, Earls Court Two was constructed at a cost of £100 million. The barrel-roofed hall links with Earls Court One and the hall's 17,000 sq m floor was entirely column-free. The hall was opened by Princess Diana on 17 October 1991 for the Motorfair.
Earls Court Two, demolished by Capco Plc in 2015. It was situated on land originally occupied by a mass of sheds linked to the Lillie Bridge Engineering and Railway Depot.
Earl's Court hosted many shows and exhibitions throughout the years, including the Earl's Court Motor Show the Ideal Home Show and the BRIT Awards. The MPH Show, one of Britain's largest motoring exhibitions and shows, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson and others, took place there each winter after an earlier showing at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Each summer from 1950 to 1999 Earl's Court was home to the Royal Tournament, the first, oldest and biggest military tattoo in the world. For this the area now occupied by Earls Court Two became a stables, artillery and vehicle depot for some two months, with several hundred military personnel from all three services billeted 'on site'.
Notable historic exhibitions at the centre include:
- The American Show, 1887.
- TheItalian Exhibition in London, 1888.
- The Spanish Exhibition, 1889.
- French Exhibition, 1890.
- German Exhibition, 1891.
- Captain Boynton's Water Show, 1893.
- Empire of India Exhibition, 1895.
- Empire of India & Ceylon Exhibition, 1896.
- International Universal Exhibition, 1898.
- Greater Britain Exhibition, 1899.
- Paris in London, 1902.
- International Fire Exhibition, 1903.
- Balkan States Exhibition, 1907.
- Old Japan, 1907.
- Shakespeare's England, 1912.
The central area of the main hall concealed a massive pool area, formerly used for the London Boat Show before that transferred to ExCeL in the London Docks. The floor was supported on a combination of hydraulic jacks with lock-in rigid supports, enabling it to be used in its 'up position' for 'heavyweight' events such as the Royal Tournament, then lowered and flooded to give a 60 m long and 30 m wide pool between 2.5 m and 3 m deep (depending on usage). The 750-ton concrete exhibition floor could be removed and reinstated at the push of a button. When used it took four days to fill and four days to empty and 2 1/4 million gallons of water were needed to fill it. These operations could only be accomplished at night, so as not to put undue strain on local services.
London Film and Comic Con was hosted at Earls Court 2, held every July. The convention held autograph and photoshoot sessions with celebrity guests as well as providing a place to play games and buy collectables. In July 2014, due to the increase in the event's popularity, it was hosted in both Earls Court 1 and Earls Court 2.
Earl's Court hosted the volleyball competitions in the 2012 Summer Olympics. The volleyball events were scheduled for the multi-sport arenas in the Olympic Park. At the 1948 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the boxing preliminaries, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling events.
It housed two World Wrestling Entertainment Insurrextion shows in 2000 and 2001. These were initially shown on live pay-per-view exclusively to the United Kingdom on Sky Digital, then later released worldwide on DVD. Earls Court has also hosted WWE's worldwide TV shows, RAW, SmackDown! and ECW on 23 and 24 April 2007.
Earls Court used to be one of the most popular arenas to play in the UK, with a capacity of around 19,000 including standing room, meaning it was often chosen over other venues by bands with a large fan base. However, after the opening of The O2 concert performances at Earls Court were much rarer.
Musicians who have played at the venue include:
Listed in chronological order, with name of artist and date of concert
- Pink Floyd performed The Dark Side of the Moon suite on 18/19 May 1973 to two sell-out gigs.
- The band also played six nights on 4–9 August 1980 for its performances of The Wall. The exercise was repeated one year later as the band played five nights on 13–17 June 1981 for attempts at filming and recording the live Wall performances, which were later released on Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81; the last of these concerts would mark the final appearance of the classic lineup of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason until their reunion at Live 8 in 2005.
- In 1994 the band played on 13 October, their first of a record-breaking 14 nights at this venue and was filmed and recorded on P•U•L•S•E (album) & P•U•L•S•E (1995 film). However, the concert of 12 October was forced to be cancelled, after a section of seating in the arena collapsed during the show, injuring several people.
- Slade performed to 19,000 on 1 July 1973. The show was filmed but has never been released. Thousands of Noddy Holder look-alikes with mirrored top hats and glitter were seen on the London Underground as Slade Mania reached its height. At the time they were no.1 in the pop charts with Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me.
- Led Zeppelin performed for five sold-out nights in May 1975. Footage from the concerts was filmed and was released twenty-eight years later on the Led Zeppelin DVD. The full concert was not released on the DVD. This series of concerts is widely considered by fans to be amongst the best of the band's career.
- Elton John performed three shows on 11–13 May 1976, during his Louder Than Concorde tour. Video footage from the 12 May concert has been widely bootlegged. He also performed two shows on 12–13 May 1993, during his The One Tour.
- Queen performed 6–7 June 1977 and filmed footage has been widely bootlegged. These gigs ended their A Day at the Races Tour.
- Genesis performed on 23–25 June 1977, six sold-out shows in November 1992 (videoed for The Way We Walk DVD) and one show in 1998.
- David Bowie performed, on three consecutive nights, on 29–30 June & 1 July 1978, these gigs ended the European leg of his Isolar II Tour. The final night of the performance was recorded by the RCA mobile unit, with the live performance premiere of the song, Sound and Vision, later released on the 1995 compilation album, Rarestonebowie. The song was not performed live again until the 1990 Sound and Vision Tour.
- Supertramp performed three nights in May 1983, on their Famous Last Words Tour, which was their final tour with member Roger Hodgson.
- Roger Waters performed, on two consecutive nights, during The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking Tour on 21–22 June 1984 & on two consecutive nights, during The Dark Side of the Moon Live Tour on 11–12 May 2007. On the 12th Waters was joined by his former Pink Floyd bandmate Nick Mason.
- Whitney Houston performed three sold-out shows on 5–7 November 1993 during her Bodyguard World Tour.
- Take That performed ten consecutive shows during their Nobody Else Tour from 20–31 August 1995.
- Oasis performed on 4/5 November 1995; some of their performance was included in ...There and Then.
- Celine Dion performed on 13/14 June 1997 at the end of her successful Falling into You Tour 8 months after the 15-day sold-out UK tour in 1996. On completing these dates, she had sung to 200,000 fans in the UK.
- The Spice Girls performed four nights in December 1999 as part of the Christmas in Spiceworld Tour, including their last concert as a group, until their reunion tour in 2007/08.
- Morrissey performed on 18 December 2004 and footage was later released as Live at Earls Court.
- Muse performed on 19–20 December 2004 and later released some of the video footage on their Absolution Tour DVD in 2005.
- Kylie Minogue performed 7 sold-out consecutive dates between 30 April and 7 May 2005 as part of her Showgirl: The Greatest Hits Tour. Over 100,000 watched the concerts, and it grossed over $7 million. These were to be her last concerts before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
- The Give it a Name Festival was held at Earls Court on 29–30 April 2006, 27–29 April 2007 and 10–11 May 2008.
- Janet Jackson was supposed to perform two nights in a row at the venue on 11 and 12 December 2001 during her All for You Tour. Eventually, the entire European leg of the highly anticipated tour was cancelled, for security reasons, due to 9/11.
- T4 Stars of 2010 and 2011 have also taken place at Earls Court.
- Deadmau5 performed on 18 December 2010 and was the first Electronic music artist to sell out the venue.
- Arctic Monkeys played two nights on 25 and 26 October 2013 during the tour of their 5th studio album AM.
- Arcade Fire played the venue on 6 and 7 June 2014.
- The BBC hosted the inaugural BBC Music Awards on 11 December 2014, hosted by Chris Evans and Fearne Cotton. Music came from Coldplay, Labrinth with Ella Henderson, Clean Bandit, Gregory Porter, George Ezra, One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding, John Newman, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Paloma Faith, Take That, will.i.am, Tom Jones, plus the BBC Concert Orchestra.
- On 13 December 2014, Bombay Bicycle Club gave the very last performance at the venue before its demolition. David Gilmour joined them on stage as a special guest performing 'Rinse Me Down' and 'Wish You Were Here'.
The Brit Awards, the British Phonographic Industry's annual pop music awards, were first held at Earls Court in 1997 and then from 2000 to 2010. The awards show moved to The O2 in 2011. The name was originally a shortened form of "British", "Britain" or "Britannia", but subsequently became a backronym for British Record Industry Trust.
Before moving to the Birmingham NEC, Crufts Dog show was held here annually. With public and Kennel club concerns about the neglect and mistreatment of dogs, it introduced an annual exhibition aimed at showing how best to look after dogs as pets or care companions. This was Discover Dogs. The last show in London was held in 2014.
Demolition and redevelopment
The owner of Earls Court and Olympia, Capital & Counties Properties (also known as Capco), opened discussions in 2010 with the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to demolish the existing landmark centre and redevelop the area with up to 8,000 residential flats, retail outlets and possibly a new convention centre.
Demolition work began on the site in December 2014.
Opposition to demolition
The demolition of Earls Court was opposed by the Earls Court Action Group. The group was composed of local residents and interested parties who would be affected by the exhibition centre's destruction and subsequent 20 years of proposed redevelopment.
Nicky Gavron, a Labour Party member of the London Assembly, argued that "losing Earls Court would be a huge setback for the London and UK economy. Earls Court brings in £1bn a year, provides a shop window for UK industries and sustains thousands of long-term jobs in the local area. This economic benefit cannot and will not be replaced by a one-off construction project. There is no evidence London needs less exhibition space. Britain's competitors are currently expanding their own capacity because they understand the economic benefits these centres create."
Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, wrote to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and argued that "the Earls Court demolition plans are a recipe for a disaster, with massive economic, social and environmental consequences. The winners will be the wealthy developers and overseas property speculators while the losers will be the community, local businesses and Londoners who will lose one of the capital's key exhibition centres."
The Guardian's London blogger Dave Hill cited concerns over the number and relative affordability of the housing units that will be constructed on the site after the proposed demolition of Earls Court, as well as concerns over the views of local residents.
Despite the opposition, Boris Johnson approved the redevelopment plans on 3 July 2013.