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Theatres and Halls in Cheltenham

The Everyman Theatre - The New Theatre and Opera House - The Assembly Rooms - The Playhouse Theatre - The Theatres Royal and Royal Wells Music Hall

The Everyman Theatre, Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Formerly - The Assembly Rooms / The New Theatre and Opera House

The Cheltenham Everyman in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

Above - The Cheltenham Everyman in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

 

A period photograph of the Everyman, Cheltenham when it was known as the New Theatre and Opera House.The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham was built by Bradney and Co of Wolverhampton in 1891 and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham in the Louis XV style. The Theatre today is considered to be the oldest surviving example of a Matcham Theatre, although the stage house was rebuilt in the 1980s.

The Theatre opened on October the 1st 1891 as the New Theatre and Opera House with a production of 'Lady Clancarty' starring Lily Langtry.

Right - A period photograph of the Everyman, Cheltenham when it was known as the New Theatre and Opera House.

A notice in the ERA the year before the Theatre opened announced that: 'Mr Frank Matcham is preparing the plans for a handsome new theatre for Cheltenham. The large block of buildings in the centre of the High-street, and known as the Assembly Rooms, for some time leased to Mr E. Shenton, has been bought for that gentleman, and will speedily undergo conversion. It is intended to build the theatre on the site of the present ballroom, the latter being superseded by one on a much larger and more modern plan. The ERA, March 1st 1890.

By September 1891 the Theatre was nearing completion and the ERA reported on the new building in their 19th of September edition saying:- 'The new theatre is rapidly approaching completion, and will, without doubt, be one of the handsomest in the West of England.

The Opera House, Cheltenham, 1891 - Courtesy Derek Aldridge, Marketing Manager of the Everyman, and Les Osman.The directors have done well in selecting such a well-known architect as Mr Frank Matcham, whose services are at present in such request, and they have been equally fortunate in placing the work in the bands of Mesas Bradney and Co., Wolverhampton, who may be considered the leading builders.

Left - The Opera House, Cheltenham, 1891 - Courtesy Derek Aldridge, Marketing Manager of the Everyman, and Les Osman.

The theatre is estimated to seat 1,400 or 1,500 persons, but, if occasion requires, a greater number can be accommodated. The experience of the architect peeps out everywhere, and great has been his ingenuity in taking advantage of every available inch of apace, while the comfort and safety of the public have been studied most sedulously.

 

The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

Above - The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

The facade is neat and in good taste. The red brick is relieved by stone pediments and sills to the doors and windows, and upon the pediments there is, as a rule, some slight carving, heads in relief, representing Comedy, Tragedy, &c., while the gauge brick spandrills are also panelled and carved. In particular, over the pay-office window of the vestibule there is a gauge brick panel, with a carving of Shakespeare's head, with allegorical design and background in low relief. There is an ornamental pediment to the front gable of roof, and just below is a line of panels in Scaffato work of French design, the prevailing tints being Indian red and yellow ochre. About 30ft. above the level of the ground is a frieze 19ft. 9in. long and 2ft. in height bearing the words "Opera House" in ornamental raised letters, while the background is filled in with foliation in low relief. The pit doors are in the centre of the building, and on one side at the extremity of the front, are the gallery doors, and on the other side the principal entrance, and the double doors leading to a kind of private yard.

 

The auditorium and iron curtain at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

Above - The auditorium and iron curtain at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

 

The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.The principal entrance, which is to the extreme left of the pit doors, leads directly into the vestibule, which is octagonal in shape, and bids fair when completed to be a picture of elaborate ornamentation. The design is said to be Moorish. Rich ornamentation has been lavished upon the ceiling, which is elaborately gilded and painted.

Right - The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.

The prevailing colour is blue, and this is intermingled with a sort of fawn, the whole being picked out in Indian reds. Around are pilasters, trusses, panelled arches, all picked out in various tints, spaces have been left for flashing mirrors.

 

The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.From here there are ways and bye-ways to all parts of the house; but for the public there will be the entrance to the private boxes, grand circle, upper boxes, and orchestral stalls. To the orchestral stalls one goes along a corridor at the side of the pit, but the dress-circle, &c., are attained by way of the grand staircase - a broad and easy ascent, which, like all the others in the building, is of stone.

Left - The auditorium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.

In convenient positions off the grand staircase are the ladies' cloak and tea rooms, and over the vestibule there is an exceedingly nice light and airy refreshment room. It is but two short flights from the vestibule to the dress circle, and the upper circle is just above. In front is the stage, below is the orchestral stalls and pit, and above is another gallery. The gallery above is divided into two parts - the lower part being the upper circle, and the upper part, slightly more elevated, is the abode of the "gods," who have had very comfortable quarters provided for them. There are four private boxes, one on each side of the stage over the orchestral stalls. Over each of the stage boxes is an ornamental box, with a round opening, surmounted by a large figure of an angel. The whole interior, which is in the style of Louis XV. with a slight Italian intermixture, presents quite a gorgeous, and yet withal, artistic appearance.

 

The Dome of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.Throughout the auditorium the prevailing tints are vellum, shades of cream, and electric blue, while gilt has been used wherever it could be introduced with effect. The ceiling has been treated with great skill, and looks very handsome. In the dome, the panels are painted in sky blue, with birds flying about.

Right - The Dome of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.

There are four panels in the ceiling, filled in with paintings, which typify the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water. In the "outer ring" of the ceiling there are eight panels, containing paintings of cherubs, or "cupids" according to the popular description, symbolical of music, painting, poetry, writing, the arts, &c.

 

The Proscenium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.Over the private boxes there are medallions, hand painted, with trophies of musical instruments. In the corners of the proscenium are figure paintings on a gold ground, representing Comedy and Tragedy. The gallery fronts have been decorated in accordance with the general pattern, and with cherubs peeping out here and there.

Left - The Proscenium of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in October 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.

The decorations have been carried out by Messrs Binns and Sons, of Halifax. The expedition with which the ornamentation of the building has been carried out, and its pleasing result, are in a great measure due to the work of the Fibrous Plaster Company, 45½, Eagle-street, Red Lion-square, London. Mr Moms is the representative of the firm in Cheltenham, and under his supervision the plaster ornaments have been fixed and joined, preparatory to being painted by the artist. Under this system the plaster has been brought down from London in slabs, to be fixed up here. It is remarkably tough and strong, and very dry, and can be painted upon almost as soon as it has been fixed.

 

The auditorium of the Everyman, Cheltenham in 1988 - Courtesy Ted BottleOne feature which strikes a visitor as peculiarly gratifying is that, in whatever part of the house he may find himself, he can obtain a good view of the stage. Even the sixpenny gallery is well off in this respect.

Left - The auditorium of the Everyman, Cheltenham in 1988 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The steps from the street to the gallery are arranged in easy flights, and there is an extra staircase, in case of need, leading directly down into the yard. It is intended to provide the patrons of the gallery with a small refreshment bar, which can be enlarged if necessary. A few steps from the street takes one into the pit, which is to be made very comfortable and inviting. There are to be sixteen rows in the pit, fourteen of which will seat thirty persons each.

 

Under the pit are a refreshment room, wine cellars, &c. There are to be five rows of orchestral stalls. Sanitary conveniences have been fitted up throughout the building, and every precaution has been taken in case of fire, there being extra doors on all sides, hydrants in convenient positions, while the stage is shut off by iron doors both in the flies and in the orchestra. All the exit doors have been fitted with a patent fastening, so that with a slight push from the inside they fly open, while no effort could induce them to open from the outside. These fittings are called Kaye's patent panic bolts.

The auditorium of the Everyman, Cheltenham in 1988 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The stage proscenium is 24ft. wide in the clear, and 34ft. high in the centre. The arch is in scagliola, and looks very effective. The stage is 48ft. wide, and 45ft. from the curtain line to the back. There are two scene docks, one on each side, 30ft. by 12ft. Above, at the back of the stage, is the "paint-bridge," which can be entered from the flies, and will be the place used for painting scenery.

Right - The auditorium of the Everyman, Cheltenham in 1988 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The comfort of the artistes has been well looked after. Above the green rooms are five dressing rooms, fitted with every convenience, and hot and cold water. The sanitary arrangements are also adequate. Below the stage is a compartment for the orchestra, and the dressing room for supernumeraries, Here we also find the groove in which the big drum for raising and lowering scenery is to work, "cuts" through which the scenery will be raised and lowered, trap doors, and other mysteries.

 

The Auditorium and stage of the Everyman Theatre in 2006 - Courtesy Derek Aldridge and Les Osman.The musicians will be able to proceed through a door underneath the stage into the orchestra. To the right of the stage is a small lime-light "house " and the engine-shed, which is of large and convenient dimensions, containing the engine and dynamo for the generation of the electric light. The system is that of Messrs Lang, Wharton and Down, electrical engineers, New Bond-street (of whom Mr Shaw is the local representative), who have erected a gas engine of twelve-horse power, equal to 190 lights in the building. Mr G. Ezra is superintending the fitting-up of the electric light apparatus.

Right - The Auditorium and stage of the Everyman Theatre in 2006 - Courtesy Derek Aldridge and Les Osman.

Gas is also put on to every portion of the building. Messrs Mallory and Sons have fitted up the gas fixtures, the ironwork, and the electric bells, and Messrs Marshall and Sons the heating apparatus, boiler, and hot water pipes. The upholstery and luxurious fittings will be supplied by the Cavendish House Company. The work has been most energetically pushed forward by Mr Butler a member of the contracting firm, and Mr T. W Charles, who has proved a most efficient clerk of till works. The season opens on Oct. 1st, with Mrs Langtry as the bright particular star.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, September 19th 1891.

 

The Theatre opened on October the 1st 1891 as the New Theatre and Opera House with a production of Tom Taylor's play 'Lady Clancarty' starring Lily Langtry who also recited an introductory prologue praising the new Theatre before the performance.

The Theatre then went on to stage various plays and dramas over the following years, and was also a regular home to the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Many famous actors graced the Theatre's stage in its early years including Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. In 1925, with a change of ownership, the Theatre began putting on a wider variety of productions including Ballet, Opera, and Comedy shows. The Theatre also became a cinema for 3 or 4 years from 1929.

 

Lucan and McShane at the Cheltenham Opera House on 4 March 1941

"In early 1941 the Lucan-McShane stage show’s title was either Old Mother Riley Comes to Town or Old Mother Riley Pays Us a Visit but the line-up was much the same. Also at this time, in order to stress the fact that the road show was live and not a film, press advertisements began to specify “personal visit of the famous film stars Lucan and McShane.” When the show reached the Cheltenham Opera House on 4 March 1941, the enthusiasm of the population of this normally staid spa town exceeded all expectations. According to the Gloucester Citizen

More than 10,000 people saw Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane in ‘Old Mother Riley Pays Us a Visit,’ at the Opera House last week. This, Mr. Wilfred Simpson tells us, is an all-time record for the Opera House. Apart from about 50 seats at the first performance, the theater was filled to capacity at every house. On Saturday fans queued continuously from 11 o’clock in the morning until 8.15 at night. ‘I have never,’ says Mr. Simpson, ‘heard so much laughter in the building.’"

The above text is an extract from the book 'The Man Who Was Old Mother Riley' with the kind permission of its author Robert V. Kenny.

 

In 1955 the Theatre was bought by the Cheltenham Corporation in order to revive its flagging audiences but they were unable to do so and sold it on to a consortium of businessmen who were equally unsuccessful and subsequently in June 1959 it was announced that the Theatre would close.

The Everyman in the 1960s - Courtesy Derek Aldridge and Les Osman.The closure incensed the local population however, and a new Company was formed, the Cheltenham Theatre Association, which began raising funds and lobbying the local Council to allow them to run the Theatre. Six months later they were able to reopen the Theatre with its new name, The Everyman, chosen to show people that this was a Theatre for everyone.

Right - The Everyman in the 1960s - Courtesy Derek Aldridge, Marketing Manager of the Everyman, and Les Osman.

The Theatre had its own staff and a Company of actors and instead of being a touring house the Theatre was now in production as a repertory Theatre. Many well known names of today began their careers at the new Everyman including Steven Berkoff, Harold Pinter, Windsor Davies and Penelope Keith.

In 1983 a £3 million repair and refurbishment program began which involved renovating the auditorium and completely rebuilding the stage house and backstage areas. Repertory production then continued until the mid 1990s when the Theatre became a touring house again.

In the summer of 2011 the Everyman was substantially refurbished again at a cost of £3million, funded by Cheltenham Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council, and individual sponsors. Restoration included restoring the plasterwork and paintings, new carpets, curtains and seats and the auditorium and foyers were updated and re-furnished. The Theatre reopened on September the 23rd 2011 with a one night special performance of Ken Dodd and his 'Laughter Show.'

The Everyman Theatre is a Grade II listed building . For more information and details of the Theatre's history you may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

A new book on the history of the Everyman with a foreword by Steven Berkoff and called 'A Theatre for All Seasons' has been written to commemorate the reopening of the Theatre by Michael Hasted which you can find full details of here.

T. C. King, actor, manager, and Drury Lane Tragedian, and father in law to Arthur Lloyd, was born in Cheltenham in 1818 and performed in the former Assembly Rooms, now the Everyman Theatre, in 1841.

If you have any early programmes for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Playhouse Theatre, Bath Road, Cheltenham

Formerly - The Montpelier Baths

A Google Streetview image of the Cheltenham Playhouse - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Streetview image of the Cheltenham Playhouse - Click to Interact

The Playhouse Theatre in Bath Road, Cheltenham began life as the Montpelier Baths which first opened in 1806 and was converted into a swimming pool in 1898. In 1945 the building was converted into a Theatre for amateur use by flooring over the pool and placing unfixed seating facing the stage end.

Today the auditorium floor is raked and has fixed seating for 228 people. Part of the former swimming pool beneath the Theatre is today in use as the Theatre's orchestra pit, and the rest is used for storage. The original reception lounge of the Montpelier Baths is now in use as the Theatre's lounge. The Theatre's stage has 14 hemp lines and there are 5 dressing rooms and a quick change room. Two former cottages which were next to the building have been converted into a workshop area.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Theatre Royal, Bath Street, Cheltenham, and The Theatre Royal and Royal Wells Music Hall, Montpellier Street, Cheltenham

Also known as - The Cheltenham Theatre

An early Bill for a production of 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Of Age Tomorrow' at the Theatre Royal, Cheltenham for the 12th of March 1816 - Courtesy Gerrard Shannon and George Richmond.The first Theatre Royal in Cheltenham was situated on Bath Street, near the Royal Wells Pump Rooms.

Right - An early Bill for a production of 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Of Age Tomorrow' at the Theatre Royal, Cheltenham for the 12th of March 1816 - Courtesy Gerrard Shannon and George Richmond.

An article on this first Theatre Royal, printed in the Cheltenham Chronicle of May 1819, describes the refurbishment of the Theatre that year saying that the Theatre had now been enlarged and the auditorium was to be lit by a gas chandelier by Mr. Collins of Temple-Bar, who had also supplied the same for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Opera House in London. The auditorium had been enlarged by the addition of Stage Boxes. The front of the auditorium was redecorated, and new Wings were added to the stage. Prices for the Theatre's reopening were Boxes, 5s - Pit, 2s.6d - Gallery, 1s.6d, although lower prices were advertised for late comers. Performances were scheduled to conclude before eleven each evening.

Sadly the first Cheltenham Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire on the 3rd of May 1839, it was owned at the time by a Mr. Grattan who had been running it for some time. Several adjoining houses were also destroyed by the fire which was so severe that the Theatre was completely destroyed and only a pile of ruins were left in its place. The damage was estimated to have been £5,000.

The ruins of the Theatre had stood on the site for 12 years before Messrs. Rowe and Onley set about constructing a new building on a new site in 1849. This included a large Music Hall called the Royal Wells Music Hall at one end, the new Montpellier Pump Rooms, and the Theatre Royal at the other end. The building opened in 1850. There are some early images of the Montpellier Pump Rooms here and here.

The ERA reported on the opening of the new building in their 22nd of September 1850 edition saying: - '...The place is of a somewhat heterogeneous though elegant nature, partaking, as it does, of pump-room, promenade, conservatory, music hall, and theatre. The success the Haymarket troupe has met with, and their evident acceptability to numerous and fashionable audiences, we trust is the advent of a long career of successful management to the liberal and enterprising managers. We hope the drama once more having a firm footing is Cheltenham - that Messrs. Rowe and Onley will do all in their power to Sustain its dignity, nor let their generosity be imposed upon, to the injury of themselves and their patrons, by the designs of crafty managers.' - The ERA, September 22nd 1850.

Although historical documents for the Theatre and Music hall are sketchy several have come to light recently, one for the 1853 season at the Royal Wells Music Hall, remarks on the fact that the season opened with an entertainment consisting of a production of 'The Rivals' and the farce 'The Dead Shot'.

Another article in the ERA mentions that Samuel Onley, the proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Cheltenham took his benefit at the end of the 1855 season in which the 'principle gentry of the town' were in attendance. Onley made his first stage appearance on this occasion too, as Antonio in a production of 'The Merchant of Venice.' Also in the cast were Mr. Shenton as Shylock, Mr. Clifford as Bassanio, Mr. Humphreys as Lorenzo, Miss Noel as Portia, Miss Travers as Nerissa. Jessica was played by Miss King, the sister of the well known Tragedian T. C. King, whose daughter Katty King would eventually marry Arthur Lloyd in 1871. T. C. King was born in Cheltenham in 1818 and made his first theatrical appearance there at the age of just 15, he would later marry his wife Elizabeth Chiswell in Cheltenham in 1838 and go on to appear at the Assembly rooms, now the Everyman Theatre, in the town in 1841.

In 1866 a notice appeared in the ERA of September the 16th which shows how popular the Theatre still was at this time, the notice says:- 'CHELTENHAM THEATRE ROYAL. The Proprietor is much obliged to those Gentlemen who have applied to him to take this Theatre, and, to save others the trouble of writing on the subject, he begs to say that Mr, GEORGE HODSON (the Manager of last Season) is the Lessee for the ensuing Season, commencing the 24th inst., and terminating in June, 1867. SAMUEL ONLEY, Sole Proprietor Royal Old Wells, Cheltenham. September 7th, 1866.

The Cheltenham Theatre Royal was demolished in 1890. Shortly afterwards a new Theatre for the town was constructed on a different site in Regent Street, designed by Frank Matcham. This Theatre, built on the site of the former Assembly Rooms, opened in 1891 as the New Theatre and Opera House, and is today known as the Everyman Theatre.

The Cheltenham Chronicle report on the first Theatre Royal was kindly sent in by Richard Crompton whose ancestor was a Mr Lombe, an actor who performed in Cheltenham many years ago.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: