On 25 January 2006 Princess Alexandra opened the newly refurbished concert hall at Over-Seas House, named in her honour as Vice Patron since 1979.
This hall, part of the Westminster Wing, built in 1937 to complete founder Evelyn Wrench's 'Empire Centre' at Over-Seas House, had originally been designated the St Andrew's Hall, with funding coming partly from Scottish members of ROSL, designed together with the Hall of India on the floor above, for lectures, meetings, concerts, and conferences. The St Andrew's Lecture Hall was the scene of the Opening Ceremony of the Empire Centre performed on 14 April 1937 by the Duke of Gloucester. To mark the occasion, the first all-Empire radio/telephone ceremony took place linking the audience in London with the Viceroy of India and the Governor-Generals of Canada from Ottawa, of Australia, from Melbourne, and of South Africa, from Pretoria. The link to the Governor-General of New Zealand failed. Sir Evelyn in his speech drew a parallel with the material benefits of the new telephone links and the idealistic good service and citizenship linked provided by ROSL to all members of the Empire.
The destruction of part of Rutland House in 1935 to make way for the new Westminster Wing.
After this splendid start, St Andrew's Hall continued to be used widely for all kinds of functions. In 1947, the Music Circle began a recital series there, under the banner of the Festival of Commonwealth Youth, which was the original of the present Annual Music Competition.
As the annual Music Festival (renamed the Competition in 1985) grew in importance, the final concert moved from Over-Seas House, first to the Wigmore Hall and then to The Queen Elizabeth Hall. However, all Music Competition auditions and many prize-winner recitals continued to be held at St Andrew's Hall. The hall was not designed originally as a concert auditorium, its limited stage being unable to accommodate a chamber music group and being suitable only for solo or duo performances. Additionally, the refurbishment of the room in the 1950s and 1960s with carpets and curtains deadened the acoustics considerably. The addition of a balcony and upper corridor spoilt the symmetry of the original design.
St Andrew's Hall in 1987, during the semi-finals of that year's Annual Music Competition, showing the now-removed balcony level.
In 1999, the ROSL ARTS Sponsorship Committee was formed to raise money for a project to transform the hall, for which the prime function would be the performance of chamber music. A brief was drawn up and a number of architects were asked to submit plans. The brief specified the creation of a suitable stage, lighting and flexible seating as well as the technical facilities to allow for a variety of other uses such as conference and receptions.
Avery Associate Architects, which had won significant awards for its work in transforming facilities at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), was chosen. They produced a design, addressing all aspects of the vp-brief as well as recreating the elegant style of the original 1930s building. The balcony was removed, together with all extraneous furnishings. The main construction work began in July 2005 and was completed by the end of September when the hall was back in use. The rest of the work, the installation of the curved stage end wall and stage lighting and the upgrading of the foyer, was carried out between October 2005 and January 2006.
Princess Alexandra arriving at Over-Seas House in 2006 for the reopening of the hall.
An appeal to meet the costs of the refurbishment was launched in 2002 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Annual Music Competition. The target of £300,000 was met within three years, mainly from members of ROSL, a success parallel with the creation of the original hall and a tribute to members' recognition of the important part that music and the arts in general have played in ROSL's history and the greater role they will play in the future.
The original St Andrew's Hall sign survived the refurbishment, but now takes up an altogether less grand position in the ROSL ARTS office.