Skip to main content  

Earls Court, 2014

Earls Court, 2014.

It’s Show Time: the archives of Earls Court and Olympia are now fully catalogued

London Metropolitan Archives is delighted to announce that the three-and-a-half-years funded project to catalogue the archives of Earls Court and Olympia London has been completed (March 2019). This exciting and substantial archive collection covers 216 linear metres charting the organisation of exhibitions, shows and events at Earls Court and Olympia from the 1880s until the 2010s. The archives were first deposited in late 2014 and the funding of the cataloguing project was provided by Capital and Counties Properties PLC and Olympia Management Services Limited. Richard Wiltshire tells more.


Since the 1880s, the Earls Court and Olympia sites have hosted an astonishing range of exhibitions and concerts from the cowboys and Indians of Buffalo Bill to the Ideal Homes Show (first held in 1908), the Women’s Exhibition of 1922, the Boat Show, the Motor Show and Royal Tournament, boy band Take That and the Brits.

The history of Olympia can be traced back to 1884 when the National Agricultural Hall Company was established to operate a national centre to showcase agricultural displays, military tournaments, sports and theatricals. The National Agricultural Hall was built to Henry Edward Coe’s design in 1886 and still stands today. Later buildings at Olympia were added including the Empire Hall in 1930. Crowds were first attracted to Earls Court on 9 May 1887 to the inaugural American Exhibition. Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West’ show at Earls Court was secured through the efforts of Earls Court founder John Robinson Whitley, later Director General of the National Exhibitions. The Earls Court grounds closed in 1914 to be replaced by Earls Court Exhibition Centre which opened in September 1937. This building had a huge indoor swimming pool which later hosted the Boat Show.

Jeffrey Sterling, property business magnate later bought Earls Court and successfully bid for Olympia in 1973. This purchase led to the amalgamation of the companies running the sites and the establishment of a holding company, Earls Court and Olympia Limited. P&O later acquired the company and exhibition venues through P&O Exhibition Services Limited; in 1991 Earls Court 2 building opened. P&O decided in 1999 to sell the concern to re-focus on shipping. By the early 2000s the ExCel centre and Millennium Dome venue (now the O2) in Docklands were in direct competition for exhibitions and music events and business was lost. However, by 2013 a £30 million redevelopment had culminated in a completely renovated Olympia Central and Olympia Conference Centre. In December 2014 Earls Court Exhibition Centre closed for demolition and site redevelopment for housing. Earls Court and Olympia Limited was renamed Olympia Management Services Limited and the business rebranded as Olympia London. The company continues its long tradition in providing venues at Olympia for events, shows and conferences.

The archives of Earls Court and Olympia were formerly held at Earls Court Exhibition Centre. With the pending closure of Earls Court, it was decided by the company that the archives needed to be found a new home to safeguard them for the long-term future. LMA surveyed the records and organised the transfer from Earls Court in late 2014.

Olympia 1886 album

​Olympia album 1886 (series 12) with LMA staff. Ref: LMA/4684/NA02/01/001

Scope and research strengths

The collection dates from the 1880s to 2010s and consists of 216 linear metres of records (LMA/4684). The archive includes foundation records, minutes, annual reports and accounts, and other administrative records, show files, show catalogues, agreements and photographs, exhibition building plans, publicity including posters and artwork; history research, two films, and videos.

Most research enquiries relate to shows which were organised by third parties and hosted at Earls Court and Olympia. The main records documenting shows, music concerts and other events include show fixture lists giving calendars on when events took place, show catalogues produced in advance for each show, posters mainly from 1970s onwards, photographs, press material and exhibition manuals giving information to exhibitors and artwork. These extraordinary series provide wide-ranging sources on almost every activity, interest or industry taking place during the twentieth century in the United Kingdom and beyond. They chart the development of long-running shows such as Ideal Home Show, Crufts, the Royal Tournament and the Boat Show. Show catalogues survive for both sites, although there are fewer volumes for the pre-1930s period. These mainly record the show organiser, a plan and list of organisations exhibiting with stalls, and the events programme. The catalogues are often illustrated. These records are largely produced by third-parties such as the companies and associations which ran the exhibitions, exhibitors and the press. They are therefore subject to third-party copyright.

The show series can be found at the beginning of the catalogue and are arranged by site, Earls Court (LMA/4684/01) and Olympia (LMA/4684/02). Fixture lists from 1970s onward covering both sites and records of the corporate archive which managed and added to these show series can be found under LMA/4684/03. There are also separate sections arranged by company name for each of the firms which ran the sites including subsidiaries.

The collection plugs a key gap in LMA’s business archives relating to entertainment and leisure venues. The archives document the running of some of the largest popular entertainment events in Western Europe and the largest undercover exhibition space and sports venue in southern England. The collection also has wide popular appeal: audiences have been attracted in their thousands from London and far beyond, and many people have unforgettable memories of having attended shows or concerts.

Highlights include the ‘Olympia Album’ 1886 (LMA/4684/NA02/01/001) containing the printed prospectus of the National Agricultural Hall Company. This volume contains detailed descriptions of the National Agricultural Hall, along with illustrations, plans, and advertisements, articles and music and lyrics to a song entitled 'Ode to Olympia'. Also held are records relating to Max Reinhardt's production of 'The Miracle' at Olympia, 'A Wordless Mystery Spectacle' which ran between 1911 and 1912 (LMA/4684/02/02/1911 and LMA/4684/02/06/1911). This theatrical spectacle told the story of the seduction of a nun and involved over 1000 performers. There is also original artwork for events including James Gardner, artist’s impression of the ski extravaganza ‘Winter Cavalcade’ at Earls Court in 1938 (LMA/4684/01/11/002). In addition, there are comprehensive series on event management of pop concerts such as Take That and files on plans for expansion of exhibition venue space in the region and internationally across the world.

Olympia catalogues

​1950s Olympia catalogues. Ref: LMA/4684/02/02

Related archives

There are exhibition hall building plans and architectural artwork for both sites which complement the archives of the London County Council (LCC) which contain plans which were submitted to the Council for building and licensing purposes, for example received plans of Earls Court Exhibition for licensing events 1892-1924 (LCC/AR/TH/02).

Other related collections which are available to consult at LMA include the archives of J Lyons and Company Limited, caterers (ACC/3527); minutes of Earls Court Grounds Limited 1914-1934 (ACC/1297/ECGL); LCC: London Exhibition Buildings presented papers 1888-1909 (LCC/MIN/10840-42); and a County Licensing Committee record of the American Exhibition, Earls Court, 1886 (MA/C/L/1886/059).

Elsewhere Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies collection at Kensington Central Library holds Local Studies Earl's Court folios including show programmes. Further images are held at Hammersmith and Fulham Local Studies and Archives. Berkshire Record Office hold records of Lord Glyn, Chair of Earls Court, 1935-1947 (D/EG1).

Further reading

Copies of the official published history Earls Court and Olympia. From Buffalo Bill to the 'Brits' by John Glanfield (Sutton Publishing, 2003) are available in LMA’s library at 43.5(EAR) and Guildhall Library at 67.1. See also the research papers for this history (series reference LMA/4684/EOG02/11) and collected archives documenting the history of both sites (for Earls Court, series LMA/4684/01/11 and for Olympia, series LMA/4684/02/11).


You can see the catalogue to the collection in the LMA online catalogue under reference LMA/4684. The collection is available for public access except for files containing personal information which are closed under data protection, and administrative files under 30 years old which are access by permission of the depositor only.


LMA would like to thank Capital and Counties Properties PLC and Olympia Management Services Limited for safeguarding the future of the Earls Court and OIympia archives and for funding the cataloguing project.

05 May 2015
Last Modified:
26 April 2019