Location Six

6. The Albany

Audio Description – Caption Six
Summary for Caption Six

The organisation now called the Albany was initially established in 1894 as the Albany Empire, a charitable enterprise for the Deptford community. The Deptford Fund then decided to commission its own projects, which began with the construction of the old Albany Institute. This building was formally opened in 1899 by the Duchess of Albany, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, and the patron of the Deptford Fund.

Map of where the Albany Institute once stood

The Albany Institute was founded to assist women in securing safe employment away from slaughterhouses, the main employer at this time. With the expansion of funding, the institute went on to house people in Deptford, and tackle the poverty and deprivation following the closure of the docks in 1869.

In early 1971, the Albany Institute was occupied by the Combination, a theatre company based in Brighton, with a brief to transform the old building into a vibrant fusion of radical theatre and community arts. The company gave the Albany a new life as it focused its attention on social issues significant to local people. Changing its name from the Albany Institute to the Albany Empire in the 1970s, this Victorian building served as a free school, community theatre and health institute, its aim always to serve the local people. 

The old Albany building

While researching the Albany for [Captioning Lewisham] people told me about the friends they made, the sense of community, the youth clubs, the boxing club, the comedians, musicians and gigs. There was a sense of joy in their memories and experiences of this building.

Most often remembered is the Albany’s support of Rock Against Racism, holding fifteen anti-racism concerts. When the Albany burnt down in 1978 questions were raised about the cause of the fire. Speculation arose that it was due to the support for the Rock Against Racism campaign and the venue’s commitment to radical political art. According to History – The Albany, the Empire’s destruction was an arson attack.

After the fire at the Albany Empire – A Rock Against Racism stall on the site

Local people also remembered Jenny Harris, who developed the Combination. It was Jenny’s commitment that saw the building of the new Albany in 1981, the purpose-built arts centre on Douglas Way that still exists today. She understood what community arts could be and should be; she combined health schemes with young women’s art projects, circuses and community plays, and hosted many ground-breaking and radical musicians. Most importantly, under Jenny’s leadership the Albany aimed to engage directly with the community it served.

Deptford has a long social history of anti-racism and community activism, creating communities of support and resistance – a history of which Deptford is rightly proud and which continues today.


Aubrey, E., 2022. When London’s music scene took on the racists – and won – Rolling Stone UK. [online] Rolling Stone UK. Available at: <https://www.rollingstone.co.uk/music/features/rebel-music-lewisham-rock-against-racism-history-16099/>

TheAlbany, 2009. The Albany | Get Involved: Albany History. [online] Web.archive.org. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20091128143458/http://www.thealbany.org.uk/infopoint/26/Albany-History

Thealbany.org.uk, n.d. History – The Albany: The Albany has played a vital role for the people of Deptford for over 100 years. [online] The Albany. Available at: https://www.thealbany.org.uk/about-us/history/

Theatrestrust.org.uk, 2017. Albany Empire | Theatres Trust. [online] Database.theatrestrust.org.uk. Available at: https://database.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/3910-albany-empire

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