Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre

Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

About the venue

Located within the Southbank Centre is the distinctive Royal Festival Hall. It is in the London Borough of Lambeth, near Hungerford Bridge on the South Bank of the Thames. It is a 2,700-seat venue that hosts a variety of shows, concerts, dance performances and talks.

Welcome to the Royal Festival Hall

The massive complex has a distinctive 1950s Modernist appearance. The then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, laid the foundation stone of the Hall in 1949, on a site that was home to a brewery in 1837. A recent renovation project provided for a beautiful wood-panelled venue, featuring a high ceiling and new bright lighting. Even though the building only dates back to the 1950s, the English Heritage has declared it a Grade I listed building in 1998, thanks to its unique style. The Royal Festival Hall is the first post-war constructed building to be constructed so securely.

More Than Just a Performance Venue

London County Council built the venue, which opened on 3rd May 1951 as a part of the Festival of Britain. The Arts Council took it over when the London County Council shut down in 1986. They managed the Hall along with Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, and the Hayward Gallery; opened in 1967 and '68 respectively. The Council gradually became an independent arts organisation in 1998.

The venue is easily recognisable thanks to Nelson Mandela's prominent bust statue on the walkway between Hungerford Bridge and the Hall, which was built by Ian Walters in 1985. It was initially a glass-fibre structure but was later re-cast in bronze due to repeated vandalism.

The Royal Festival Hall complex features the Clore Ballroom, which can accommodate approximately 440 diners. One of the world's most popular performance venues, it is also home to the Skylon restaurant, Central Bar, Riverside Terrace Café, Southbank Centre Shop, and the National Poetry Library.

The Royal Festival Hall in the 2000s

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave a £12.5 million in-principle award to the Southbank Centre in August 1999 to plan a refurbishment. The following month, the concrete walkway was demolished; the changes were funded with the support of English Partnerships. The Royal Festival Hall turned fifty in May 2001, celebrated by the Total Meltdown Birthday exhibition and Gala Concert. The same year, Paul Mason became the Acting Chief Executive after the resignation of Karsten Witt.

Recent Events

  • In 2002, Lord Hollick took over as Chairman.
  • Festival Square Café opened in 2003, and The Poetry Library celebrated its 50th anniversary.
  • In 2005, the Hall closed for refurbishment following a hit concert by Patti Smith and Alfred Brendel. Jude Kelly became the SBC's Artistic Director.
  • The Royal Festival Hall hosted a concert in 2007 on its re-opening with SBC's resident orchestras. A 7-hour Indian gala concert also ran, featuring Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, Dr L. Subramaniam and his son.