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Coventry Theatres and Halls

Theatre Royal - Empire - Hippodrome - Royal Opera House - Alexandra Theatre - Parkgate Concert Hall

 

The Hippodrome, Hales Street, Coventry

Formerly The Coventry Theatre / Apollo / Gala and Hippodrome / ABC Cinema

The Coventry Hippodrome during the run of Can-Can on the 7th of May 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Above - The Coventry Hippodrome during the run of Can-Can on the 7th of May 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

COVENTRY HIPPODROME PANTOMIMES 40 YEARS AGO
By Alan Chudley, 2003

Poster for a Variety show at the Coventry Hippodrome on June 20th 1921 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.It is almost a year ago that they demolished the old Coventry Hippodrome (Shown Above). Dam their eyes! Forty years ago it was the premier pantomime date in the Midlands.

Right - A Poster for a Variety show at the Coventry Hippodrome on June 20th 1921 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

The Hippodrome was a big theatre, almost 2,000 seats, nearly twice the size of the Belgrade with a fly tower which meant that you could put on much larger and spectacular scenes than you can at the Belgrade, but the Coventry Council eventually achieved an ambition that germinated forty years ago and pulled the poor old place down.

Billy Eckstine on stage at the Coventry Hippodrome on the 24th of May 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - Billy Eckstine on stage at the Coventry Hippodrome on the 24th of May 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

The pantomimes were magical and it was a 52 weeks in the year job manufacturing that make believe land. The scenic workshops in the old Plaza cinema and the wardrobe department at a disused garage in Quinton Road worked on pantomime land all the year.

 

The Coventry Hippodrome during the run of 'Song of Norway in October 1949 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - The Coventry Hippodrome during the run of 'Song of Norway in October 1949 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

 

Apart from the Hippodrome, pantomimes were also presented at the Alhambra Theatre Bradford, the Hippodrome Theatre Brighton, the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield and the Hippodrome Theatre Dudley by Sam Newsome who was the presiding genius and producer at the Hippodrome.

Billy Eckstine on stage at the Coventry Hippodrome on the 24th of May 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - Billy Eckstine on stage at the Coventry Hippodrome on the 24th of May 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Sam Newsome built the theatre in the thirties and opened it despite the opposition of Cinema. He kept it open despite the German bombs during the war, and made it the show place of the midlands in the fifties and early sixties.

An expectant audience queues outside the Coventry Hippodrome for a recording of a Radio Luxembourg programme called 'People Are Funny' on the 26th of September 1954 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - An expectant audience queues outside the Coventry Hippodrome for a recording of a Radio Luxembourg programme called 'People Are Funny' on the 26th of September 1954 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

The Coventry Hippodrome during a recording of a Radio Luxembourg programme called 'People Are Funny' on the 26th of September 1954 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - The Coventry Hippodrome during a recording of a Radio Luxembourg programme called 'People Are Funny', sponsored by PYE Television, on the 26th of September 1954 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Act 19 of a Variety show at the Coventry Hippodrome in October 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

Above - Act 19 of a Variety show at the Coventry Hippodrome in October 1955 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone.

When times started to get hard after the advent of television in 1963 Newsome asked the council to give him some relief on his rates. In their wonderful wisdom they refused and set in motion a chain of events that resulted in that hole in the ground on the corner of Hales Street where the theatre used to be.

The above text was written in 2003 and very kindly sent in for inclusion on the site by the author, Donald Auty.

Also see Pantomime economics of fifty years ago by Donald Auty.

Also see this article on Britain's Hippodrome Theatres here.

Note: The Coventry Theatre became part of the EMI group that owned the ABC Cinema Circuit and was sometimes in use as an ABC Cinema when live shows were not on.

 

The Theatre / The Theatre Royal / The Empire Theatre of Varieties, Smithford Street, Coventry

The first permanent theatre building was erected in 1819 by Sir Skears Rew, a local businessman. Like other theatres of the period, the Royal ran a stock company for about two months in the year and was part of a local circuit. It suffered the general downturn in attendances during the 1840s and 1850s but managed to stay afloat whereas many others closed permanently. The interior was modernised in 1857 along the lines of newer theatres but initial public enthusiasm soon faded and it became a music hall in 1865.

An entrance token for the Coventry Music Hall - Courtesy Alan Judd An entrance token for the Coventry Music Hall - Courtesy Alan Judd

Above - An entrance token for the Coventry Music Hall - Courtesy Alan Judd

Ted Bottle's fascinating book on the history of Coventry's Forgotten Theatre - Click to buy this book at Amazon.co.ukDrama returned in 1868 with various stock companies but these gradually gave way to national touring companies who would stay for a week at a time and move on elsewhere. William Bennett, who took over in 1880, did much to improve the building but it was too small and inconvenient to provide for the elaborate productions then on the road. Bennett built the nearby Opera House for these shows and turned the Royal into the Empire Theatre of Varieties in 1889. Although this was a period of music hall boom, audiences gradually dwindled to the point where the theatre became uneconomic to run. Competition from two pub music halls did not help. Even stars like Charles Coborn and Arthur Lloyd could not reverse the financial state and the Empire closed permanently at Christmas 1895 and was demolished around 1903. Ellen Terry played there in November 1880.

The above text is a concise history of the Empire, kindly written for this site by Ted Bottle. Ted Bottle is the author of 'Coventry's Forgotten Theatre, The Theatre Royal and Empire' published by Badger Press, in which he describes the Theatre's fascinating history in detail and includes glimpses of other Coventry Theatres and Music Halls, with an informative background of nineteenth Century English Provincial Theatre. Click the image to buy this book at Amazon.co.uk.

Arthur Lloyd is know to have performed at the Empire Theatre of Varieties, Coventry in 1895

T. C. King, who was Arthur Lloyd's father in law and father of Katty King, Arthur's wife, headed a week of classics at the Theatre Royal, Coventry in January 1884. The productions that week were 'Othello,' 'Ingomar,' The Merchant Of Venice,' and 'Hamlet.'

 

Royal Opera House, Hales Street, Coventry

The Opera House, Coventry in around 1949-50 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone

Above - The Opera House, Coventry in around 1949-50 - Courtesy Allan Hailstone

Poster for 'Plucky Nipper' at the Royal Opera House, Hales Street, Coventry on Monday, July 9th 1906 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.The Royal Opera House in Hales Street, Coventry was built in 1889 by Essex And Nicol with consultation by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps.

The auditorium was built on four levels, Stalls and three circles and could accommodate 2,000 people.

When the Theatre first opened the Stage was 30 foot deep by 70 wide, with a Proscenium opening of 24 foot, which meant that it was equipped with considerable wing space for such a small stage.

Right - A Poster for 'Plucky Nipper' at the Royal Opera House, Hales Street, Coventry on Monday, July 9th 1906 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

The Theatre was altered by W. G. R. Sprague in 1898 when the auditorium's Dress Circle frontage was changed and furthur alterations were carried out to the Gallery and the Proscenium Arch.

The Opera House was damaged by bombs during the Second World War in 1940 but was reopened the following year as a Cinema.

Although there were plans to reopen the Opera House as a live Theatre after the war, sadly this never came to fruition and so in 1961, after the Theatre had closed for the last time, it was demolished.

If you have any more information on this Theatre's history, or images you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Alexandra Theatre / Picturedrome, Ford Street and Cox Street, Coventry

Later - Theatre One / Mustard Nightclub

A Google StreetView Image of the former Alexandra Theatre, Coventry - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Alexandra Theatre, Coventry - Click to Interact

The Alexandra Theatre was situated on the corner of Ford Street and Cox Street, Coventry and was originally opened as the Alexandra Picturedrome in 1917 by Elijah Strong, who was the landlord of the General Wolfe Hotel in nearby Foleshill Road. The Theatre was a conversion from a former Coffee House which is noted as having been the first meeting place of the Coventry Labour Party. The Cinema's auditorium was constructed behind the original Coffee House. The Theatre is also noted as being one of the first to experiment with 3D Films in the 1920s. After Elijah Strong died the Theatre was bought by Harold T. A. Philpot in the mid 1930s.

The Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s

Above - The Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s

Damaged in the early part of the war the Theatre was sold on to Hugh Orr but building restrictions at the time meant that he could only make the building water tight. However, he acquired equipment from other damaged Cinemas and reopened the Theatre in January 1941. The Theatre had a Cinemascope Screen and stereo sound installed in 1955.

The view from the roof of the Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s, showing the Theatre's sign from the back.

Above - The view from the roof of the Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s, showing the Theatre's sign from the back.

The Alexandra was closed in 1968 and refurbished, then reopened in 1970 with the new name of 'Theatre One', it was still a single screen Cinema then, but it was split into a two screen Cinema in 1972, and in 1974 yet another screen was added. The foyer was damaged by a fire in 1978. Hugh Orr died in 1979 and the Alexandra was taken over by its then manager, Brian Saunders, who in 1989 spent some £65,000 on its refurbishment.

The view from the roof of the Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s, showing the Elastic Inn and the Sydenham.

Above - The view from the roof of the Alexandra Theatre, Coventry in the 1930s or 1940s, showing the Elastic Inn and the Sydenham.

The Theatre was sold in 1991 and converted into a nightclub called Mustard but this too closed after a few years and a planning application to demolish the building and build student accommodation on the site, with retail units on the ground floor, was approved in 2011.

Some of the above information was gleaned from a very nice article about it on the website of 28 Days Later which also has some interesting present day images of the inside of the building here.

If you have any more information on this Theatre's history, or images you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Parkgate Concert Hall, and Apollo Concert Room, Little Park Street, Coventry

Formerly - The King's Head Public House / The Parkgate Inn

John Judd of Coventry took over the licence of the Kings Head Public House, Little Park Street in 1847. The following year he extended the building to the rear and created the Parkgate Concert Hall, opening on the 22nd of July 1848. The main room of this was called the Apollo Concert Room. The Concert Hall was open every evening with 'first class Vocalists and a Pianist' and could accommodate some 350 people.

John Judd and Co also ran the Holders Hotel and Music Hall in Coleshill Street Birmingham in the 1870s.

The above information on the Parkgate Concert Hall was kindly sent in by Shirley Smith (nee Judd).

If you have any more information on this Theatre's history, or images you are willing to share please Contact me.