The centre was built by Sir Robert McAlpine and first opened in November 2000. In May 2008, it was acquired by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company. Phase II of development, which included building London’s first International Convention Centre (ICC) and creating an eastern arrival experience, was completed on 1 May 2010. In 2015, ExCeL announced the opening of CentrEd at ExCeL, a dedicated training and meetings space located close to the western entrance of the venue overlooking Royal Victoria Dock, adding to ExCeL’s wide range of flexible spaces.
Olympia is an exhibition centre, event space and conference centre in West Kensington, London, England.
The venue is home to a range of international trade and consumer exhibitions, conferences and events.
The nearest railway station is Kensington (Olympia) which is both a London Overground station and a mainline rail station. The nearest underground stations are Barons Court, Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush and West Kensington. The direct District Line spur to the station only runs on weekends.
Olympia London’s story began in May 1884. John Whitley had created the National Agricultural Hall Company with the aim of building and operating the country’s largest covered show centre.
Opened on 26 December 1886 as the National Agricultural Hall, it soon changed its name to Olympia in keeping with its ideals and objectives. It was built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby and covered an area of 4 acres (16,000 m2). The Grand Hall was said to be the largest building in the United Kingdom to be covered by one span of iron and glass.
Olympia London now features four event venues and a conference centre. The event venues are Olympia Grand (19,325 m2 or 208,010 sq ft), Olympia National (8,730 m2 or 94,000 sq ft), Olympia Central (formerly Two) (7,850 m2 or 84,500 sq ft) and Olympia West (7,688 m2 or 82,750 sq ft).
Having secured the site, the National Agricultural Hall Company commissioned Henry Edward Coe to design the building. He had already designed the Agricultural Hall in Islington twenty five years before and took its barrel-roof form as the basis for the new building. With fixed seating for 9000 people and at nearly an acre in size, the arena was far larger than any other roofed arena in England.
The roof had to be high – 115 ft at the apex – to enable its great weight to be carried down as near vertically as possible. The loads of the 1200 ton iron frame plus 85 tons of glass and 75 tons of zinc are most elegantly carried by ten cast iron columns along either side with a ball and socket bearing at the top and bottom of each to absorb stress. The structure is incredibly strong, with the hurricane of 1987 achieving no more than the destruction of a loose ventilation hatch.
The roof of the hall was erected in twelve weeks in midwinter in 1885. Its non-putty patent glazing ensuring free expansion and contraction of 2,500 sheets of quarter inch plate glass. The glass was only replaced in 1991 with a sealed heat treated solar reflective system.
There is a legend that surrounds the ‘Prince’s Apartments’ which is a suite tacked on to the north side of the hall on two floors. This suite appears on the original plans under this name. The story goes that the suite was used by Edward, Prince of Wales (and future King Edward VII) for his amorous liaisons before he became King in 1901 – he had a notorious eye for the ladies. The block was rebuilt in 1937 as management offices and meeting rooms but is still known as the ‘Prince’s Suite’.
The other building of note was the stunning Minor Hall, long since renamed as the Pillar Hall. This is a sumptuous oak-panelled banqueting room with marble columns and a richly moulded and decorated ceiling. It is one of London’s least known public rooms.
Olympia opened its doors on 26 December 1886. The management of the venue were sure that the Royal Tournament would move from the Agricultural Hall (now the Business Design Centre). However, this did not happen which put Olympia in financial difficulty. They were dealt a lucky break when the Paris winter venue of the Hippodrome Circus was closed for repair, and a London fixture was just what they were looking for.
The Paris Hippodrome – 1886/7
Despite the success of the Hippodrome event, the National Agricultural Hall Company was still in some financial difficulty.
The Hippodrome event had been followed in 1887 by a Sportsman’s Exhibition, an Exhibition of Sporting Dogs by Mr Charles Cruft, a national gymnastic meeting and a horse show. The Irish Exhibition in 1888 was the first of Olympia’s set piece recreations featuring aspects of Irish life, work and industry.
The company managed to pay off its debts but events were still thin on the ground. However, shows in 1888 included, the First Great Horse Show which still frequents the venue today.
In 1889-90, the circus returned to Olympia with Phineas T. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. The showman bought his show over from New York City and headed straight to Olympia London.
After the circus left town, an American roller skating promoter was brought in to fill the gap. £6000 was invested in decking over the entire ground floor with the hope that this huge rink would revive the craze for ‘rinking’.
The International Motor Exhibition was also held annually at Olympia from 1905 to 1936. The “Olympia Aero Exhibition” organised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders was held for the first time in 1909.
On July 16, 1914 the highly ballyhooed international heavyweight boxing contest between France’s Georges Carpentier and America’s Gunboat Smith was staged at the Olympia London and sold in the neighbourhood of $90,000 in tickets, one of the largest gates for a sporting event at that time.
World War I
During World War I, Olympia was requisitioned as a temporary civil prison camp for German nationals and other potential hostile aliens. From 1915 onwards, the hall spent the rest of the war as an army clothing store.
After the Zeppelin airships began to raid London, the ensuing panic caused property value to fall. Sir Gilbert Greenhall took advantage of this and bought up West Kensington Gardens which lay between the venue and Hammersmith Road, gaining rental income from the properties and the opportunity to expand.
Olympia London was de-requisitioned in 1919 with its first letting going to Charles Cochran’s heavyweight fight promotion between Joe Beckett and Frank Goddard on 17 June.
The newly renamed Royal Naval, Military and Air Force Tournament returned in June, its cumbersome name being changed to the Royal Tournament the following year.
The Ideal Home Exhibition returned in 1920. It reflected the theme of the Housing Act 1919 which promised ‘homes fit for heroes’ for returning soldiers. Domestic hygiene and labour saving features were key requirements and were reflected in displays throughout the show.
By the late 1920s, Olympia London had built a firm base of annual ‘regulars’ in its exhibitions calendar. Aside from those mentioned, additions embraced machine tools, shipping engineering and marine, furniture trades and printing, advertising and marketing, cookery and food, holidays and travel, fashions and hairdressing exhibitions.
Joseph Lyons, the official caterer for Olympia London, regularly produced luncheons and dinners for thousands but the “Feast of the 8,000” in 1925, after his death, remained in the folk memory at Olympia London for decades as the peak of organisational perfection. The occasion was a Masonic war memorial fund-raising dinner. The diners came from all over the world, paying 17 guineas a head. They sat at three miles of tables served by 1,360 waitresses, supported by 700 cooks and porters with 86,000 glasses and plates in use – breakages totalled 3,500.
The National Wireless & Radio Exhibition transferred to Olympia London from the Albert Hall in 1926. Attendance that year leapt from 54,500 visitors to 116,570 in its new home. It continued until 1939 when the war stopped play. The immensely popular show renamed ‘Radiolympia’ in 1936 returned to the hall after the war until 1950.
After World War I, the Motor Show’s pressing need for more space was met by the decision to demolish the four most easterly houses in West Kensington Gardens together with the remaining Vineyard Nursery buildings fronting Addison Road, to make way for another Hall.
James Carmichael of Wandsworth was contracted on 23 April 1922 to build ‘New Hall’ for £494,000. It is a smaller and lower version of the main hall but it increased Olympia London’s exhibition space by over 9,000 sq. metres to 28,000 sq. metres in all.
The completed hall was first let for a tobacco exhibition in May 1923. ‘The Worlds Greatest Dance Hall’ became a regular event at the New Hall with regular attendances approaching 4,000 at a time.
After a clear run of 17 years Olympia London changed hands again in 1929. Olympia (1912) Ltd was bought for £1 million by Philip Ernest Hill, chairman of Covent Garden Properties Ltd. He formed Olympia Ltd, taking possession on 25 March.
To increase space, Hill built the four-storey Empire Hall (now Olympia Central) in line with the New Hall. The hall, in the Art Deco style, was built mainly to accommodate the British Industries Fair which moved from White City in 1929. Olympia London’s space now totalled nearly 50,000 sq. metres. In 1930 – when the BIF opened – the New Hall was renamed the National and the original main building became the Grand, as it is known as today.
Hill would construct one more major facility – London’s first multi-storey car park. It stands on the Maclise Road frontage and opened in 1937, originally providing parking space for a thousand cars.
World War II
Before the Second World War began, on 7 June 1934 the Blackshirt rally of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists filled the Grand Hall.
Olympia London was requisitioned by the War Office on 10 January 1940 as civilian internment camp №14. During the Dunkirk evacuation in May/June that year the hall was General Charles de Gaulle’s assembly point for what became the Free French Army. The Royal Army Service Corps then took it over as a transport depot until October 1944 when Olympia London became a clothing store, and finally a demobilisation centre, in which role it served until 23 March 1946.
After it was demobbed on 30 June, the place was in very poor condition and had suffered light bomb damage on six occasions. Addison Road Station alongside was badly knocked about in raids in October 1940, closing the line. The station was renamed Kensington Olympia after rebuilding in 1946.
15th National Radio Exhibition 1 to 11 October 1947 Radiolympia 
Olympia London reported 1953/4 to be its best financial year since the war, with pre-tax profits of £220,000.
The first Food Fair opened at Olympia London in 1950, and was held every even-numbered year until 1968. The Hotel, Restaurant and Catering Exhibition launched in 1948, and was held biennially until the 1980s.
The 1953 Motor Show opened early on police instruction when a queue ten deep doubled back down to Philbeach Gardens. This shows how popular the shows at Olympia London were during this time.
The first computer exhibition, British Electronic Computer Exhibition, opened on 28 November 1958 in the National Hall,. Many other computer exhibitions were later held at Olympia London, with stiff competition from the nearby Earls Court Exhibition Centre.
The birth of EC&O
In the early 1970s, property tycoon Jeffrey Sterling’s Sterling Guarantee Trust (SGT) had made a bid for Earls Court. His objectives were made clearer a week later when he bought a huge stake in Olympia. The Earls Court bid was accepted on 23 March. SGT then successfully bid £11.4 million for Olympia London in March 1973. Sterling had plans to redevelop Earls Court into a more modern mixed-use exhibition hall, and eventually planned to redevelop Olympia for other purposes. Large events such as the Motor Show and the Tournament were expected to move to Birmingham’s NEC while others could occupy Olympia London pending completion of the new Earls Court.
This plan was ready to go when the 1973 oil crisis broke. The economy crashed and property values went down with it; Jeffrey Sterling’s scheme was expensively stalled.
Due to the oil crisis London’s landmark halls were much improved. The old rivals were united, brought to continental standards of service and performance, letting space increased to 100,000 sq. metres, and record high annual occupancy levels were achieved.
Jeffrey (now Lord) Sterling managed to keep the two halls open through the difficult winter of 1973/4. Rather than closing Earls Court, which was making heavy losses Sterling merged the companies into a single Earls Court and Olympia Ltd (EC&O), removed the rigidities that accumulate over time in a sellers’ market, and began to rebuild the business as EC&O Venues.
The Festival of Mind and Body at Olympia was launched in 1976 and ran on into the 1980s (the Mind Body & Soul exhibition still runs today). The National Cat Show was the largest show of its kind for years, with attendances reaching the capacity of the National Hall. The British Designer Shows were held for over ten years from 1976.
Olympia London handled the 1978/9 ‘Winter of Discontent’ by juggling large shows and fitting in smaller ones.
The National Federation of the WI took over the Grand Hall to present a vast exhibition demonstrating the broadening of interests of members as well as health and leisure opportunities; they promised ‘half a mile of jam’.
In 1986 Saudi Arabia shipped sand over to cover part of the Grand Hall for a Bedouin encampment complete with date palms, camels, goats and a sheik’s tent filled with rugs, silver and dark furniture.
A cycle of grand opera began at Earls Court in 1988 with Aida, organised by Harvey Goldsmith; The Times said that it made the Royal Albert Hall look like a studio theatre in comparison. It was successful, and Goldsmith returned the following year with a production of Carmen, and repeated Aida in 1998.
In 2012, Olympia London celebrated 125 years of events by commissioning British artists Peter Blake, Rob Ryan, Sanna Annukka and Paul Hicks to create their interpretations of the venues.
In January 2013, a £40 million investment was completed and the company re-launched with a new brand; subsequently the business was awarded the Best Marketing Campaign at the Exhibition News Awards 2014.
- BBC Good Food Show
- Olympia London International Horse Show
- London Chess Classic
- Pure London
- Spirit of Christmas
- International Art & Antiques Fair
- Marketing Week Live
- Great British Beer Festival
- Salon du Chocolat
- UCAS Design your own future
- National Wedding Show
- Toy Fair