In 1861 the first foundation stones of The Agricultural Hall were laid. At a cost of £50,000 the architect Frederick Peck created an imposingly large enclosed space, the clear span of which was greater than both its contemporaries at the time, Crystal Palace and Alexandra Palace. The building took 1 year to construct.
In 1985 following years of Royal patronage, the name was changed to The Royal Agricultural Hall, though to locals it has long been known as ‘the Aggie’.
Once the Hall had opened there began a programme of events which, until the outbreak of World War II, included almost every conceivable type of exhibition: bakery & confectionary, drapery, brewing, laundry, shoe & leather, cycle, motor, furniture, dairy, grocery, Crufts and the horse shows, as well as revivalist meetings, circuses and the World’s Fair.
While exhibitions of ‘honest work and daring invention’ were staged and the dawn of design conscientiousness could be glimpsed, entertainment remained the predominant activity. Among the many artists who frequented the Hall for inspiration-in-the-mode-of-Lautree was William Sickert who attended circus performances to capture the thrills on canvas for posterity. Charles Dickens was another visitor, recording events at the Great Reformatory Exhibition of 1865, an exhibition opened by HRH the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII.
In the same year, The Agricultural Hall held the most prestigious and glamorous event of its history; The Grand Ball in Honour of the Visit of the Belgian Volunteers to England. With the Royal Family occupying the chairs of State and the gallery partitioned into State apartments, nearly 5000 guests danced until 7 am to the music of the Grenadier Guards.
The years went on and The Aggie’s visitors began to read like a Who’s Who of celebrated London, including Winston Churchill, William Gladstone and Edward VIII to name a few.
With the outbreak of World War II the Government requisitioned the building, and in 1943 The Inland and Foreign Parcels Office was moved to the Hall, this remained until 1971 after which the building remained derelict for many years.
In 1981 Sam Morris, Chairman of CIL fell in love with the Aggie, complete with its disrepair and forest of undergrowth, and formulated a tender for the site based on the American trade mart concept which he won. In 1986 after a £12m investment the building was restored and opened as Business Design Centre you see today.