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On the March
A £6.5m revamp has turned The Honorable Artillery Company’s Victorian drill hall into the stylish new event space Prince Consort Rooms. Karen Doyle explores the venue’s successful marriage of past and present
For event organisers in London, The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), with its impressive combination of historic mansion, rolling lawns and royal and military connections, has always offered something special. Now, with the addition of a brand new events wing, its facilities are some of the finest in London.
Looking down from the height of a City skyscraper, it’s clear just how invaluable The HAC’s huge outdoor space is – an emerald gem in the surrounding concrete jungle. ‘Where else can you get six acres of uninterrupted lawn in the middle of the City?’ asks Diane Waldron, head of marketing and events at The HAC. She isn’t really expecting an answer.
While the expansive garden may draw people in, it is the brand new Prince Consort Rooms which really set The HAC apart. The purpose-built conference and event facility was given the royal seal of approval when officially opened by The HAC’s patron, Her Majesty the Queen, on 18 May this year. The space is one of the few venues in the City that can host a conference for up to 500 people, and, as a blank canvas, it can also be dressed up for dinner-dances or award ceremonies.
In a project that took two years and £6.5m to complete, the Prince Consort Rooms marry modern convenience with antiquity. ‘We wanted to combine elements of The HAC’s history with a sleek and contemporary setting,’ says Waldron. ‘And guests seem to really like the contrast between old and new.’ So, while the main hall (formerly known as the Albert Room) has retained its original Victorian metal structure, everything else is brand new. Oak-panelled walls keep it in line with the character of The HAC, while broadband internet, audio-visual infrastructure and in-built atmospheric lighting catapult the room into the 21st century.
‘Although The HAC is a traditional establishment, the Prince Consort Rooms are state-of-the-art and they perfectly complement our quirky, contemporary style,’ explains David Stringer of Launch Pad Events, who were recently appointed the venue’s exclusive event organisers for the festive season. ‘I like the fact that traditional elements such as the Minstrels’ Gallery create an interesting juxtaposition in the main dining hall.’
The attached old Sergeant’s Cottage, meanwhile, has been completely rebuilt and is now a modern foyer and reception area with blonde wood flooring and giant skylights. However, reminders of the regiment’s heritage are still proudly displayed. On one freshly painted wall hangs an engraving of The HAC’s crest, and above it the plaque unveiled by the Queen on opening day. ‘We hosted a luncheon for the Queen for 450 people on the day. She presented colours to the regiment here,’ says Waldron. ‘It was a pretty stressful first event, especially since the builders only handed us the keys to the building at 4.30pm the day before! In the end, everything went very smoothly though.’
Also available to event organisers is an outdoor area overlooking the tranquil grounds, decked out with garden furniture and ideal for drinks on a warm summer evening. It is this combination of indoor and outdoor space that makes the venue stand out from its peers.
‘We recently had a company come in for a day-long conference in the Prince Consort Rooms, progress to an evening barbecue outside, and then return indoors for an party that had been set up in the interim,’ says Waldron. ‘It was a great way to take advantage of the variety of spaces available.’
Launch Pad Events is also excited about its latest festive venue. ‘We are delighted to have been chosen to produce the Christmas party season at the Prince Consort Rooms,’ says David Stringer.
‘It is rare that such an impressive space within a particularly prestigious environment becomes available to the market and we’ve already received a huge amount of interest in the Christmas dates. ‘The venue is a perfect mix of old and new and provides so much flexibility regarding the number of guests and the format of events,’ he explains.
Not to be forgotten are the rest of the event spaces available in Armoury House next door. Especially popular is the elegant Long Room with its intricately carved cornices and 500 years’ worth of captain generals adorning the walls. It is available for dinners of up to 160 guests or receptions for 250.
The cosy library is an inviting sitting room (to which Her Majesty retired after lunch), while an attached 12-capacity boardroom has stunning views over the grounds.
Four other event spaces – the Medal Room, the Court Room, the Queen’s Room and the Ante Room – can be used for receptions, meetings or private dining.
This summer, Square Meal readers were some of the first guests to test out the Prince Consort Rooms, just a few weeks after its royal unveiling. During the evening event, held in conjunction with Launch Pad Events, readers enjoyed a Champagne and summer cocktail reception on the lawn while listening to a live saxophonist, with barbecued canapés provided by Chester Boyd.
A few hours later, when the sun gave way to summer 2007’s characteristic shade of grey, guests flowed through the new entrance into the Prince Consort Rooms.
Here, more food, a dessert station and a chocolate lollipop printing stand all proved extremely popular.
In a similarly crowd-pleasing move, the venue’s screening facilities were put to the test as the final episode of The Apprentice was broadcast to a rapt audience.
Incisive Media, long-standing clients of The HAC, also utilised the new Prince Consort Rooms within weeks of the opening.
‘The location is perfect for us because we organise so many events for insurance companies,’ says Kerry Williams, an event organiser for Incisive Media. ‘We hosted both a dinner and a conference recently, and while there were a few teething problems, the food was excellent and the staff eager to please.
‘The most impressive aspect, however, is always going to be that first glimpse of the venue. Having that huge grass lawn in the middle of London is just so unexpected, one can’t help but be blown away.’
Address: The Honourable Artillery Company, Armoury House, City Road, London, EC1Y 2BQ
Tel: 0870 781 5480
Email: [email protected]
Number of function rooms: 7
Prince Consort Rooms (500/450/800)
The Long Room (160/160/250)
The Queen’s Room (60/50/60)
The Ante Room (60/50/60)
The Library and The Boardroom (12/12/20)
The Medal Room (40/20/40)
The Court Room (30/-/40)
The Artillery Garden (-/-/2000)
Contact: Diane Waldron, head of events
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2007.