The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

The Modern Restaurant by Thomas Verity

Including Details of the Criterion Theatre

From The Architect, January 1879

Introduction - Details of the Building - Details of the Theatre

The Criterion Restaurant and Theatre in London's Piccadilly Circus - From an early Postcard

Above - The Criterion Restaurant and Criterion Theatre in London's Piccadilly Circus - From an early Postcard.


Till within late years a common reproach to London was the general insufficiency of the accommodation provided for those who, either from necessity or choice, were in the habit of seeking their dinners elsewhere than in their own homes. There were indeed the clubs, the best probably in the world, but they supplied the wants of a comparatively small section of the community, and that too a section owning in most cases houses and establishments of its own. It could boast, moreover, hotels, often of vast proportions, where the prices were generally on a scale of equal grandeur, and where splendour rather than comfort seemed often to be the aim and object of the management. There again in the city and around the law courts were taverns, popularly supposed to have been, in days gone by, the favourite haunts of great and witty men, the fame of whose memories seemed as it were to impart an additional flavour to the wines and dishes. Lower down again in the scale came the foreign establishments, which dispensed their hospitalities mostly in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square. Last of all were the little dining rooms or eating houses, where the surroundings were generally of a nature to destroy the appetite even of the least fastidious; and in fact there were few places where people could lunch or dine at a moderate cost and in a cleanly, comfortable manner, with the advantage of a ménu consisting of something beyond a chop or steak.

As this want began to be felt, it was soon found that dirt and discomfort were not absolutely indispensable to economy, and soon certain establishments, principally in connection with railway stations, at first in small refreshment rooms, but lately in handsomely appointed saloons, such as those at the Midland and Holborn Viaduct Stations. For this result the public are in no small measure indebted to the proprietors of the Criterion. The site upon which it stands was formerly occupied by two hotels, both celebrated in their time - the "White Bear" and "Webb's;" the former was one of the old fashioned galleried inns. These may be considered as examples of the old style, and the present building, being the most important of its kind yet erected, may be taken as a type of the modern house of public entertainment. I hope I shall not be considered egotistical in saying this, but as after a trial of seven years the proprietors tell me they can suggest no material alterations, the Criterion may be considered to fairly meet the requirements of this particular business.

In 1874 I had the pleasure of conducting a large number of the members of the Institute Conference of that year over the building, so that its disposition will not be altogether unknown to many architects, but in order to make my description quite clear I have had diagram plans and sections prepared, which will fully explain the general arrangements of the structure. Without here going into details of the accommodation, I may briefly say that the public portion includes dining rooms of various capacity, restaurant, grill room, buffet, smoking room, a grand hall (now used as a table d'hote, but originally intended for a ball room), lavatories, retiring and cloak rooms, and lastly a theatre.

The service departments, to which I shall presently allude more fully, are arranged in a central block one over the other, corresponding, in level with the different dining rooms, and in communication with one another by means of lifts and staircases, and comprising kitchens, sculleries, larders, pantries, cleaning rooms, wine, beer, and ice cellars, and store rooms for plate, glass, linen, groceries, and all kinds of provisions.

Details of the Building

An Engraving with the caption: 'Premiated Design for the Criterion to be Erected in Piccadilly for Messrs Spiers & Pond. T. Verity, Architect.' - From 'Building Illustrations Private Houses, Public Buildings and Warehouses'

Above - An Engraving with the caption: 'Premiated Design for the Criterion to be Erected in Piccadilly for Messrs Spiers & Pond. T. Verity, Architect.' - From 'Building Illustrations Private Houses, Public Buildings and Warehouses' A collection of illustrations assembled chiefly from the Architect, the Buildings news and the Builder, published in various issues between ca. 1862-1872.

The general arrangements of the building are; on the ground floor - the principal entrance, which is in the centre of the Piccadilly facade, under a large recessed archway, opening into a rectangular vestibule, 30 feet by 25 feet, rising through two floors and forming the central means of communication with all the public rooms. The principal staircase, 10 feet wide, is in the centre of the end opposite the entrance, and leads to the table d'hote and other dining rooms on the upper floors. On the right of the vestibule is the restaurant, 70 feet by about 30 feet, and on the left is the buffet, 90 feet by 25 feet, with smoking room, 40 feet by 25 feet, at the farther end. There is also a side entrance to the buffet from Piccadilly, having on the right a small bar, (where those with strong palates or with none at all may indulge in the fearful concoctions with comical names, so much in vogue on the other side of the Atlantic), and on the left is a cigar shop. There is another entrance to the buffet from Jermyn Street by the secondary staircase, which runs from the bottom to the top of the house. Advantage has been taken of the difference of level in the two streets, to obtain in a half-basement a second class dining or grill room, while to gain still greater height for this room, the floor of the smoking room has been raised 2 feet above the general level of the ground floor.

0n the first floor and on the west side of the vestibule is a room, 50 feet by 25 feet, devoted to the "diner Parisien," and on the east is a room of similar dimensions for banquets, &c., and ranged along the corridor, leading to Jermyn Street, are private rooms of different sizes for parties from ten to fifty persons; these rooms are also approached from Jermyn Street by the secondary staircase. On this floor it will observed by a glance at the plan, that the service to the west or more public rooms is by a separate passage, but for the private rooms is by the general corridor. This at first sight might be considered an objection, but when it is remembered that the visitors would be in the rooms while the dinners were being served, it will be seen that it is not a matter of much moment.

On the second floor, at the Jermyn Street end of the building, there is a large room approached by either staircase, used principally for masonic meetings or banquets, and here the service is direct. On this floor, but at a somewhat higher level, is the grand hall, 80 feet by 50 feet, and 35 feet high; this room occupies the whole length of the Piccadilly front, and is lighted by the range of great windows looking towards the street, and by a large glazed dome in the centre.

The kitchens and serveries are arranged on six successive stories in a vertical series, as follows: on the first basement is a kitchen, principally for the grill room, although much of the roasting for the restaurant and buffet on the ground floor is done here; this was at first done by a large open dangle, capable of cooking a dozen joints at one time, but it has now been replaced by a gas roasting oven, which is much more economical, takes up less space, and does not throw out the same amount of heat as the open fire. Adjoining this is the vegetable kitchen and general scullery, and knife, fork, and glass cleaning rooms, for the lower part of the house, no small labour, when it is considered that the average number of dinners and luncheons is 2,000, and upon several occasions the enormous number of 4,500 has been reached.

0n the ground floor the kitchen partakes more of the character of a serving room, for the buffet and restaurant sauces, and light things such as omelettes, being the only things cooked here; for the rest, the joints and vegetables come from below, and entrées and other made dishes from the chief kitchen at the top of the house.

The floor next over this (mezzanine) is the principal plate-cleaning room; here a staff of nine men is constantly employed cleaning dishes, plates, covers, &c, for the use of the entire establishment. On the first floor the service is for the east and west rooms and the private rooms; on the second floor the service is for the masonic room and the grand hall; this may be also served directly from the principal kitchen on the next floor, of which I give a plan showing the general arrangement. The whole series being, as I said before, in direct communication by means of lifts and the servants' staircase.

Servant's Rooms

The dormitories for the barmaids and managers are arranged round the dome in the roof over the grand hall in two stories, and accommodate twenty-four persons.


The stores entrance is in Jermyn Street, everything being conveyed by means of a lift in the area to the lowest basement, where the receiving clerk checks them and passes them to their proper receptacles, from whence they are issued as required to all parts of the house.

Wine and Beer Cellars

Up to the present time these have been temporarily housed in the adjoining premises in Piccadilly, which are now being rebuilt and added to the Criterion, the space first provided for them being appropriated to other purposes.

The Theatre

The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.

Above - The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.

The idea of an underground theatre was suggested by the Athenée in Paris, but whereas that is only partially sunk, this is entirely below the ground floor. It was not originally intended as a theatre, but as a small concert room, and was, indeed, constructed as a square galleried room (as shown in the perspective view), and it was not until the entire carcase was built that it was determined to convert it into a theatre.

Its position has been somewhat severely criticised, and all kinds of prophecies were made concerning it, some even going so far as to say that the audience would be stifled; but from careful observations of the temperature of most of the London theatres, this has been found to compare very favourably with the best; of course the ventilation is assisted by artificial means, which I will presently explain more at length. The entrance to the stalls and boxes is on the right of the central archway in Piccadilly, and for the pit and gallery from Jermyn Street; the corridors and staircases throughout being entirely fire-proof. Some difficulty arose with the Lord Chamberlain's office at the time it was built, as to whether the theatre could be considered a separate building, as the two licenses were not allowed for the same building; but, after much controversy with the Metropolitan Board of Works, it was agreed that the floor formed a sufficiently fire-proof party division to enable the theatre and restaurant to be considered separate. The entrances were ultimately modified, so that there was no connection between the two, except through the outer lobbies.

The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From a Souvenir Book called 'The Criterion Theatre 1875-1903' by T. Edgar Pemberton.

Above - The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From a Souvenir Book called 'The Criterion Theatre 1875-1903' by T. Edgar Pemberton. You can read the entire book here.

The theatre occupies the whole length of the Piccadilly front, viz., 80 feet by a width of 50 feet, and the height from the stalls to the ceiling is 27 feet. It is divided into stalls and pit on the lower floor, balcony and boxes on the first tier, and gallery and boxes on the upper tier, and will accommodate over 1,000 persons. The stage is 25 feet deep with a proscenium opening of 22 feet. Dressing rooms are provided on both sides and under the stage, the entrance for professionals being by a separate staircase in the Jermyn Street area. Cloak and retiring rooms are provided for all classes on both sides of the house. Only very limited storage is provided for properties, &c., the stores and carpenters' shop being elsewhere; by doing this a very serious element of danger from fire is avoided.


The theatre, buffet, restaurant, and grand hall are lighted at nights by sunlights, having flues formed in the floors by placing rolled iron joists about 2 feet apart with slate bottoms and covers to contain the iron pipes, of which each light has three, running some distance from the burner, the outer one being carried as far as the up-cast shafts in the walls.

The stage having such a limited height, the appliances were of a very special character, particularly as regards lighting. Wing burners were almost entirely dispensed with, the batten lights being mainly depended upon to light the scene; these have iron hoods with flue pipes, coated thickly with Leroy's cement, leading to the extracting shafts going to the top of the building. The only naked lights on the stage being the float in front.


In planning the arrangements for ventilating and warming this building, with all the various conditions to be met in its several departments, involved considerable contrivance, in order to overcome the structural difficulties, and to obtain the numerous air shafts in the necessary positions for carrying away the vitiated air and to introduce fresh air. For this reason the apparatus was divided into two divisions: one being the theatre, the large hall, restaurant, &c., and the other for the buffet, smoking room, grill room, and the dining rooms facing Jermyn Street.

For the ventilation of the theatre a fan is provided, 4 feet 6 inches diameter, worked by a direct acting steam engine. It draws its supply down a series of air shafts, formed in the main eastern wall,and forces it into an air chamber formed under the floor of the theatre. From this chamber shafts are carried up in the walls to diffuse the fresh air at different levels around the whole space. In addition to these shafts, branch distributing channels are provided for a supply of air for the stalls and the pit.

Heating power composed of hot-water pipes arranged in coils are fixed in the chambers, in order that the air supplied may be warmed before its distribution when found necessary. A water spray is also fixed in the main cold air supply for cleansing the air.

For the extraction of the vitiated air from the body of the theatre, a centre perforation, about 5 feet, is provided, in direct communication with a powerful extraction shaft, 4 feet by three feet, running up the entire height of the building. In order to increase the power of this shaft, the waste heat from the grill store, and the products of combustion from sun-burner that lights the theatre, are carried up the centre in independent wrought iron pipes. At the gallery level and also at the back of the stage four other retraction shafts are provided. It is found that when this apparatus is in full working the amount of air supplied and extracted is equal to the entire renewal of the cubic contents of the theatre from five to six times per hour.

The ventilation arrangements for the large hall consist of a series of inlets of fresh air around three sides of the hall, in direct communication with the chamber already described. The vitiated air is removed through the sun-burner, and the perforations round it communicating with a main extractor formed over the dome. The plan adopted for the ventilation of the large hall is generally applied to all the rooms throughout the building.

A second fan is provided for forcing the air to the rooms situated towards the Jermyn Street front. The steam boilers are placed in a convenient part of the basement, and are three in number: two of these are in constant work, the third retained as a supernumerary. They supply the steam for all the culinary purposes, for working the cold water and fire service and the steam for the hot-water supply, and ventilation and heating arrangements. The steam boilers are placed under supervision, and are inspected and cleaned out every two months.

The hot-water services to kitchen, sculleries, lavatories, &c., is worked by a steam heater fixed in basement, from which a 2-inch continuous flow is carried through the different departments, with suitable outlets where required. The flow terminates in two spacious circulating cisterns, and a return pipe is taken back to the heater, passing on its road all the lavatories at the Jermyn Street front.

Lift and Water Supply

The necessity of easy and rapid communication between the store rooms on lowest basement and the kitchens at the top, and on intermediate floors, was provided for by deciding to use a direct acting hydraulic lift. And as it was seen that a large quantity of water would be required to work it, the questions of water supply and lifting machinery were considered by Messrs. Eastons and Anderson, whom I consulted upon this part of the work, and who drew out a scheme which was carried out with slight modifications by Messrs. Turner and Co., of East Street.

A five-inch pipe was connected to the Grand Junction Company's main in Piccadilly which immediately on entering the building branched into two pipes, each with a meter attached. One of these pipes supplied the water at high pressure and the other at low pressure. The rate of charge for the water supplied by the former being 25 per cent more than for that supplied by the latter. 0n the roof of the building, a cast-iron tank was fixed, measuring about 20 feet by 30 feet and about 4 feet deep, and from it were taken the supplies to the kitchens and other parts of the building as well as to the lift.

In the basement beneath the floor level a brick tank was made, lined with asphalte, and to it was connected the service from the low pressure pipe before mentioned, and also the over-flow from the other tank. The water discharged by the lift on its descent is conducted to the brick tank, near which is fixed a steam pump, which draws the water from the brick tank and forces it up to the cast-iron one on roof. Thus no waste of water occurs, and the cost of the power for working the lift is represented by the steam used for driving the pump. The boilers which are provided for the heating and ventilating, and the cooking apparatus, also supply the steam required by the pump.

It is only for short intervals and at different times in the day or night that the Water Company's pressure is sufficient to reach the upper tank, so that practically all the water used is received at low pressure and pumped up.

On the high pressure main and on the supply pipe to lift are fixed on each floor fire cocks with hose and connections; and since the upper tank almost always has some 10,000 gallons of water in it, a large supply is available in case of fire.

The hydraulic lift consists of a wrought turned ram 7½ inches diameter, working water tight through a gland at the top of a cylinder sunk into the ground, and has an oak cage on the top of it, with the necessary guides, valves, balance weight, &c., as usual. The length of the ram exceeds by about 3 feet the total height of the ascent cage which is 72 feet, being the height of the top kitchen floor above the lowest basement. The water pressure acting on the bottom of the ram pushes it out of the cylinder and so raises the cage. A rope passing through the cage and extending the whole height of the lift shaft enables it to be started or stopped by a person inside it or standing on any floor.

The well for containing the cylinder of the lift was sunk to a depth below the basement of 80 feet, or 110 feet below Piccadilly, it was lined with 9 inch brickwork in cement and finished 3 feet diameter in the clear. The London clay was not passed through until the extreme bottom of the well was reached, when a little water made its appearance. After the completion of the well it gradually rose until it attained a height of about 60 feet from the bottom.

All the food lifts are worked by hand by means of an endless rope, and are made with double boxes attached to one another by ropes, so that as one box ascends the other descends.


The basement is considerably below the main sewer in Piccadilly, and it was at one time thought that all the sewage would have to be pumped up, but fortunately it was found that in Regent Street, at the end of Jermyn Street, there existed an old sewer 40 feet below the roadway. Permission to enter this was given, and a barrel drain was driven up Jermyn Street, into which all the sewage passes. It is perhaps more difficult to keep the drains free in this class of building than any other, owing to the enormous quantities of fat and refuse of all kinds from the sculleries.

Although every provision has been made for arresting and collecting it by means of traps, yet it was found that a large portion of the fat passed away with the water into the down pipes where it quickly got chilled and adhered to the pipes, causing partial stoppages; this was at last remedied, by turning the waste steam into them, which has the effect of keeping them warm, and so preventing any deposit. I must say here that the first efforts in this direction were a mistake, as I turned the steam into the cast iron floor gutters, the result being that owing to expansion and contraction the joints soon became leaky. I have now abandoned floor gutters altogether in kitchens, and carry the waste steam to the stack pipes in the manner above-mentioned.


The whole of the ground was excavated to a depth of 30 feet below the level of Piccadilly, and in a great part the adjoining buildings were underpinned to that depth. In several places water was found, and, in order to keep it back, I adopted a system which had been successfully tried at the Royal Albert Hall for other purposes, which was, to build the back portion of the underpinning first 14 inches thick and render it with asphalte, leaving bond for the face work, the bonders being coated with and set in asphalte, as the outer work came up. The result is perfectly satisfactory, although in one place the water came through so fast from an old well on the adjoining premises, that it was with great difficulty the asphalte was made to adhere to the bricks. At first the water thus intercepted run down the back of the wall and rose under the footings; to carry this off I constructed surface drains with cesspools and ran it into the main drain, but as the ground consolidated this ceased in a great measure, and is now scarcely perceptible.

The concrete for foundations and the mortar is General Scott's selenitic; the floors throughout are fireproof, the basements and ground floor on Fox and Barrett's principle, and the upper floors on Dennett's system, which I consider above all the best. The reason for using Fox and Barrett's for the lower floors was to form a strong abutment for the houses and ground all round, to take the place of the shores, which it was necessary to strike, before it would have been possible to form the floors.

The large size of the rooms on the lower floors necessitated an elaborate arrangement of stanchions and girders to carry the walls above, indeed, broadly speaking, the whole of the interior was constructed in that way. All the main stanchions are protected by brick-work, and the girders either by concrete or plaster.

During the building various modifications were made from time to time, which, in some cases, caused an entire change of the system of girders; the most notable being that caused by the conversion of the theatre. The box girder carrying the west wall of the vestibule was calculated as being continuous, having bearings on four intermediate stanchions, and the walls at either end, which made it a comparatively light one, when it became necessary to remove the two centre stanchions in order to form the circle, a plate girder 50 feet bearing and 8 feet 8 inches deep was inserted under the floor of the great hall, and the lower one hung up to it by slings, brought up to their work by key and cottar connections; this, considering the roof was on, and the floors formed, was rather an anxious operation, the girder was hoisted in halves, and riveted in place; the amount of deflection in the lower girder being less than 1/16th of an inch, after the removing of the hydraulic Jacks which supported it during the alteration.

The Piccadilly roof consists of four Warren girders 17 feet deep, the roof shape being made by saddle frames fixed to the backs, the whole very light and giving plenty of space for the dormitories. The Jermyn Street roof is of different construction. The whole of the space being required, there could be no principals, it is therefore formed with an upper and lower curb as tension and compression girders, the whole of the strains being discharged at the angles. The other parts of the building, although in some cases complicated, presented only the difficulties usually met with, and it would be uninteresting if I were to give a further description. I shall therefore proceed to notice the distinguishing feature of the decorations, which is the tile work. I have here used it very extensively as wall decoration, and whatever may be its merits or its faults, artistically it has at least the advantage of being bright and clean, practically indestructible, and not too expensive, and what is most important it will wash. It was the first experiment on so large a scale, and I may say I brought the idea with me from South Kensington where it was then being adopted in the refreshment rooms, and its many obvious advantages led me to use it so extensively.

When I first proposed to tile the walls, it was thought that the effect would be too like a butcher's shop, but having an opportunity of using it on a smaller scale at the Mansion House Station Restaurant, my clients were convinced of its utility, and determined to adopt it for this building.

The cartoons for the figure subjects were drawn by A. S. Coke, Esq, and the work was executed by Messrs. Simpson & Son, who also carried out the painted decorations in the various rooms and in the theatre. The floors of all the rooms are laid out with parquetry by various makers. The vestibule is paved with marble mosaic by Burke.

The building now in course of erection on the east side of the Criterion will contain on the ground floor a buffet and smoking room 29 feet by 70 feet, with a still room at the end, to supply both the bar in the present building and also the additional one. The first floor is designed to be used either as separate dining rooms or a suite of masonic rooms. The upper floor will be in communication with the grand hall, by means of a large opening which may be closed at pleasure by shutters, so that it may be used either as an extension for the table d'hote or for private banquets.

The service of all these rooms will be from the present kitchens.

As an example of a similar class of restaurant, I may allude to the Gaiety, which I have just reconstructed. There the business consists entirely of public dining. There are no private rooms. On the basement is a large grill room 90 feet by 33 feet, with a double grill at one end and a dispense bar at the other. The grill is shut off from the room by a glazed screen, by which means, while all the operations of cooking the chops and steaks can be seen, the heat and smell are avoided. The room is very low, and mainly depends for light upon gas. The burners are enclosed in ceiling lanterns, having ventilating tubes constructed in the floor and entirely enclosed in the Dennett arching, so that there is no heat from this source.

The buffet on the ground floor is 91 feet 6 inches by 30 feet, on the same principle as the Criterion, with a bar along one side and lounges with tables on the other. On the first floor is the table d'hote, the same size as the bar below, but the old floors above having been retained, it is of somewhat limited height.

Here the whole of the cooking is done on the top floor, and the means of communication is by lifts, of which there are three varieties; the large lift for heavy weights is on the geared hydraulic principle, worked by an accumulator; the food lifts are double balanced, and worked by an endless rope by hand, but the most noticeable is the one used principally for carrying the dirty plates (which have all to be sent to the top of the house), this is a continuous lift, vaguely called a Jacob's ladder, the cages are placed at intervals on two endless chains with long links passing over wheels at top and bottom, and worked by a small three-horse power engine. In reconstructing this building, it became necessary to take out the whole of the Strand front and a part of the side front, as the former mezzanine was removed to give greater height to the buffet; this involved a work of underpinning probably the most extensive yet accomplished. This was done most skilfully and with the most satisfactory result by the contractors, Messrs. Geo. Smith & Co.

The above article on the Criterion Restaurant and Theatre, by its Architect Thomas Verity, was first published in The Architect, January 18th, 1879.

Share this page on Facebook