The Alexandra Theatre and Opera House, 65 & 67 Stoke Newington Road, Stoke Newington
Later - The Palace Theatre of Varieties / The Alexandra Theatre
Above - A Sketch depicting the Alexandra Theatre, Stoke Newington - From a programme for 'Sinbad the Sailor' Boxing Day 26th December 1899 - Courtesy David Garratt.
The Alexandra Theatre in Stoke Newington Road, London was built in 1897 for F. W. Purcell, and designed by the renowned Theatre architect Frank Matcham. The Theatre was positioned between Princess May Road and Belgrade Road and opened on Monday the 27th of December 1897 with the Drury lane production of the pantomime 'Dick Whittington' by Sir Augustus Harris, Cecil Raleigh, and Henry Hamilton. Miss Billie Barlow played Dick Whittington and the production was very well received, indeed pantomime would become a regular fixture at the Theatre over the following years. The Theatre had a capacity of over 1,700 on its opening.
Above - The opening night cast of 'Whittington' at the Alexandra Theatre, Stoke Newington on December 27th 1897.
Shortly before the Theatre opened the ERA printed a report on the building in their 18th of December1897 edition saying: 'The latest addition to the suburban theatres is that nearing completion in the Stoke Newington-road. The Alexandra, erected for Mr F. W. Purcell, who is also proprietor of the Grand Theatre, Derby, and late proprietor of two other important theatres in the north - i.e., Bury and Rochdale, is from the designs of the eminent theatrical architect, Mr Frank Matcham.
The site of the Alexandra being an almost isolated one, has given an opportunity of providing more than the ordinary number of exits, and with the many other facilities afforded, Mr Purcell may be said to have erected a theatre which for beauty and model arrangements cannot be surpassed.
The building is constructed upon a new principle, the upper circle being raised at the back of the dress-circle, thus forming a corridor with entrances at the sides and centre of the dress circle, which latter part is fitted with tip-up chairs. The gallery is over the upper circle and dress-circle, and contains large seating accommodation. The pit is a very commodious one, and is level with the street. It is filled with upholstered seats with backs. The floor having a good rake gives a clear and uninterrupted view. The walls of the pit have a dado of encaustic tiles. In the front of the pit are the orchestra stalls - four rows of handsomely upholstered tip-up chairs.
The sight lines of the theatre are perfect. There is not a corner from which a perfect view of the stage cannot be obtained. The principal frontage to Stoke Newington road is of bold Italian style of architecture in dark red bricks and stone ornamentation. The two ends are carried up with pediments filled in with rich carving, under which is a deep cornice with entablature with gold letters bearing the words, "Alexandra Theatre and Opera House." The centre portion is lower, and is divided by columns between the windows, a large stone oriel window projecting from the crush-room. The whole is crowned at the top with bold balusters, divided with pedestals containing flambeaux. Two large, handsome ventilating roofs are at each end of the exterior, over the gallery and stage. Ventilation has been one of the matters that has received the architect's most careful consideration.
Over the pavement in the centre of the facade, a large, handsome glass and iron verandah is being erected to shield the dress-circle and stall patrons from inclement weather; the pit and gallery entrance is similarly favoured. The theatre is Particularly well provided with handsome vestibules, crush-rooms, foyers, &e., the walls and staircases being of marble. The ceilings are artistically modelled in fibrous plaster, the floors are of vitrous mosaic, and there are thick velvet pile carpets, mirrors, and brilliant illuminations by the electric light. The entrance doors are of polished wood, fitted with copper handles and plates, and coloured glass is introduced into the windows and doors effectively.
Each part of the house has a separate entrance and an additional exit. The staircases and corridors are all fireproof, and are excellently well arranged for easy entrance and egress, all doors being fitted with alarm exit bolts. Large and well-lighted saloons and retiring rooms, heated with hot water, are provided for each part of the house, and the comfort and safety of the audience has had every consideration. Hydrants abound in convenient positions, and there is an asbestos and water curtain to the proscenium, forming a fireproof division between the stage and the auditorium.
The galleries are constructed on the cantilever principle, and are of steel and concrete. The stage, which is a very large one, is fitted with the latest improvements, and is capable of staging the biggest productions or the heaviest of pantomimes, has been laid under the experienced direction of Mr J. W. Cawdery. The dressing-rooms are contained in a block apart from the stage. They are well lighted and ventilated, and heated by hot-water pipes.
The auditorium is being decorated from the architect's design in a rich Elizabethan style, the whole being finished in. cream and gold, with a light copper-bronze ground and artistic paintings on a blue ground. The effect is quiet and yet rich, and with the handsome strawberry and pink valances and curtains to the boxes and stage opening, and carpets and upholstery of a similar tone, a very artistic result is obtained.
The electric lighting is on the most elaborate and complete scale. Mr Purcell has evidently spared no expense in obtaining the services of the best and most competent assistance to enable him to possess one of the finest theatres that could be erected, and his efforts, combined with his managerial experience of something like twenty years as a theatrical caterer in the provinces should stand him in good stead with his patrons in North Central London.'
Above - The Alexandra Theatre and Stoke Newington Road - From a period Postcard
Not long after the Alexandra Theatre opened the Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times printed a review and sketches of the Theatre in their Saturday March the 5th 1898 edition, saying: 'The Alexandra Theatre in the Stoke Newington Road, situated within five minutes walk of Dalston Junction of the North London Railway, is one of the prettiest and most commodious of the new suburban playhouses, and deserves to be sketched in the P.I.P (Shown Right). Mr F. W. Purcell is the Owner and Manager.
Right - A sketch of the Alexandra Theatre Stoke Newington - From the Penny Illustrated Paper 1898.
Attractive touring companies have, since the successful run of the Augustus Druriolanus pantomime of "Dick Whittington" (in which Miss Billee Barlow, Mr E. J. Lonnen, Miss Maud Boyd, and Mr. J. A. Cave appeared) presented talking pieces.
Mr. Augustue Van Biene's "Broken Melody" is being performed this week.
Well named after our most popular Princess, the Alexandra is the finest building in Stoke Newington, and the red brick and stone front is much admired. Inside it is in every respect equal to any West-End house, the pretty foyers, saloons, and box-office vieing with one another in beauty. The auditorium is well arranged, and the stage has the advantage of size fit for the production of a big spectacular drama. The decorations are in excellent taste. Indeed Mr. Frank Matcham, the clever architect, has evidently devoted his best endeavors to produce a handsome and comfortable theatre. In this he has certainly succeeded.
Left - A sketch of the auditorium of the Alexandra Theatre Stoke Newington - From the Penny Illustrated Paper 1898.
Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, on the opening night, graciously sent a telegram from Sandringham, acknowledging the compliment. Mr. Purcell has also the good wishes of his confreres, as evidenced by the telegrams from Sir Henry Irving, Mr. Beerbohm Tree, Mr. George Alexander, and others.'
The above text in quotes and sketches were first published in the Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, Saturday March the 5th 1898.
In 1905 the Theatre was taken over by new owners and renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties but after being taken over by Stoll Moss Theatres in March 1909 the Theatre's name reverted to its original. The Theatre was equipped to show films as part of its Variety shows, and by 1922 it had been turned over to full time Cine-Variety. Films were shown on Sundays as live productions were still not allowed on Sundays.
Right - A programme for 'Boys Will Be Boys' at the Alexandra Theatre, Stoke Newington - Click to see the Entire Programme.
In 1932 the Alexandra was taken over by Standard Cinema Properties Ltd and was turned over to full time Cinema use. However, under independent management a few years later in 1934, the Theatre was fitted for sound and began showing Films, Variety, and Plays, still with Films only on Sundays.
During the war the Theatre was open only sporadically but it reopened afterwards in 1945 but found it difficult to secure live productions and so went over to putting on boxing matches and Yiddish Productions and became known as the Yiddish Theatre for a while.
Left - A Google StreetView Image of Alexandra Court, which was built on the site of the Alexandra Theatre in the 1960s - Click to Interact.
The Theatre closed down completely in 1950 and remained unused for a decade until it was finally demolished in the early 1960s for the building of a Council Housing Block called Alexandra Court.
Some of the later information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.
Kingsland and Stoke Newington
After passing Dalston Station we come to Kingsland High Street, which, together with Stoke Newington Road and High Street, forms a busy shopping thoroughfare about a mile long, extending north to Stamford Hill. Just off Kingsland High Street on the east side is Ridley Road, at the entrance to which is a wide opening that serves as a street market. During week-ends this ground has been the rendezvous for numerous political meetings resulting in riots between Fascists and Jews in which passions and heated arguments reached boiling point. Because of these disturbances all political gatherings in public thoroughfares are now prohibited by law.
On the west side of Stoke Newington Road is the Alexandra Theatre and the Savoy Cinema and there is an Odeon Cinema in Kingsland High Street. Kingsland is supposed to have derived its name from a royal residence or mansion on Stoke Newington Green, traditionally said to have been frequented by Henry VIII when indulging in the pleasures of the chase. Until about the middle of the eighteenth century it contained a hospital for lepers, which was annexed after the Reformation to St Bartholomew's Hospital, and was used as a sort of out-ward for that institution. Kingsland forms part of the metropolitan borough of Hackney, and has been joined to Shoreditch and London for well over a century. At the corner of Stoke Newington Road and Arnhurst Road are the ruins of West Hackney Church which has been destroyed in the blitz of 1940. Its facade, which has escaped destruction, has a portico of four column and a bell dock-tower. The Congregational church in Kingsland Road has also been destroyed
Left - The Alexandra Theatre, Stoke Newington - From a period Postcard.
Stoke Newington, now a metropolitan borough of 46,560 inhabitants, is situated between Hackney and Islington and is bounded on the north by Tottenham. Already in the Ambulator of 1774 it is described as 'a Pleasant village near Islington where a great number of the citizens of London have built houses and rendered it extremely populous, more like a large flourishing town than a village. The church', says the writer, 'is a low Gothic building belonging to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's. Behind the church is a pleasant grove of tall trees where the inhabitants resort for the benefit of shade and a wholesome air.'
The name of Stoke Newington denotes the new village or town built on the borders of a wood. In the words of Walford's Old and New London, our land is full of Stokes, and wherever there is a Stoke we may be sure there was once a wood. The wood in which Stoke Newington was situated formed part of the great Middlesex forest. In 1835 it consisted principally of the one long street already mentioned, which extends from Kingsland Road to Stamford Hill on the high road from London to Cambridge, and at that time contained a population of 3,500 inhabitants. The eastern side of the main road is in Hackney, and branching off on the western side near the centre of the town is Church Street, leading to the parish church and Green Lanes. Alderman Pickett, who instituted the great improvements in the Strand near Temple Bar, is buried in the churchyard, together with his son and daughter.
At the corner of Church Street overlooking the churchyard is the handsome new Town Hall opened on 3 July 1937. This is a building of yellow brick with stone dressings and circular columns on the ground floor. It has replaced the old Town Hall in Milton Grove.
On the opposite side of Church Street is the handsome modern church of St Mary, built in 1838 from the designs of Sir G. Gilbert Scott. Albion Road, to the south of Church Street, leads to Newington Green, a large square which still retains its old-world appearance and which is surrounded by lofty elm-trees. Adjoining the parish church is Clissold Park, laid out in 1889 and named after Augustus Clissold, a curate of this neighbourhood who died in 1882. It extends westwards as far as Green Lanes and covers an area of fifty-five acres.
Right - A Programme for 'Up In Mabel's Room' by Wilson Collison and Otto Harbach, Arthor of 'No, No, Nanette,' at the Alexandra Theatre, Stoke Newington in 1928.
On the north side of Church Street is Abney Park Cemetery, laid out about 1840 on the site of the grounds of the mansion of Sir Thomas Abney, a member of the Fishmongers' Company and a distinguished Nonconformist He was knighted by William, III and became Lord Mayor of London in 1700. His daughter, Miss Abney, ordered by her will that after her death the estate of Abney Park should be sold and the proceeds distributed amongst charities and given to the poor. It was accordingly sold to Mr Jonathan Eade and later became a college for youths of the Wesleyan Society, until it was pulled down in 1845. The Town Hall is on the north side of Church Street and in Lordship Road are several large new blocks of workers' flats.
The above text on Kingsland and Stoke Newington is from 'The Face of London' by Harold P. Clunne 1957.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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