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Theatres and Halls in Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Grand Theatre - Palace Theatre - Civic Theatre - Mexborough Hippodrome

 

The Grand Theatre, Station Road, Doncaster

Formerly - The Grand Theatre and Opera House

The Grand Theatre, Doncaster in the early 1900s - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'

Above - The Grand Theatre, Doncaster in the early 1900s - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'

The Grand Theatre, Doncaster was built by local builders, Arnold & Sons, to the designs of the architect J. P. Briggs and Chapman and opened on Monday the 27th of March 1899 with a production of "La Poupee," which was a transfer from the Prince of Wales Theatre in London.

The Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Doncaster - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'The ERA reported on the opening of the Grand Theatre in their 1st of April1899 edition saying: 'The New Grand Theatre and Opera House, erected in Station-road, Doncaster by a limited liability company, of which Mr J. W. Chapman is the manager, was opened on Monday night by Mr F. W. Fison, M.P. for the division.

Right - The Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Doncaster today - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'.

The stage is of ample dimensions, being 70ft. wide, 32ft, deep, and 50ft. high from the stage floor to the grid from which the scenery is hung. The width between the fly beams is 36ft. 6in., and the height from the stage to the under side of the fly floor is 21ft. The proscenium opening is 26ft. wide.

 

The Auditorium ceiling of the Grand Theatre, Doncaster - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'All the scenery will be taken straight up instead of being rolled, as at the old theatre. In every respect the stage will compare favourably with that of any theatre in Yorkshire, and on the curtain line it is something like 7ft. or 8ft. wider than that of the Alexandra Theatre at Sheffield.

Left - The Auditorium ceiling of the Grand Theatre, Doncaster today - Courtesy 'The Friends of the Doncaster Grand'

Fire appliances have been fitted up on the stage, the fly floors, in the pit, the circle, and the gallery, and the theatre is heated throughout with hot water on the low-pressure system. Grinnel sprinklers have been fixed all over the stage, the dressing-rooms, and the roof.

 

The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.A complete installation of electric light has been fixed all over the stage and in the auditorium. The dressing-rooms are fitted with hot and cold water, the electric light, gas, automatic sprinklers, and hot water pipes.

The auditorium includes a pit and two tiers. The second tier is divided into balcony and gallery. On the balcony floor there is a commodious bar. The dress-circle is provided with tip-up chairs, upholstered in red plush. At the back of the tier there is a spacious foyer; and on this floor also there is provided a commodious bar, and offices for the resident and touring managers.

Right - The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

 

The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The circles are approached by a wide staircase. An ample vestibule has also been provided. At the dress-circle entrance is a handsome shelter. On the ground floor are five rows of orchestra stalls. In the rear of these is the pit.

Left - The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The theatre has been provided with special exits in case of emergency. Mr Chapman himself designed the whole of the arrangements, and personally drew the plans, which were passed by the Doncaster Corporation The seating and decorations are by Messrs, Dean, Limited, of Birmingham and London, who have carried out similar work connected with no less than 80 per cent of the theatres erected during the last two years.

 

The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The decorations are chiefly in terra-cotta, cream, and gold. From the domed ceiling there are suspended sixteen electric lights with tinted shades. A specially painted panel is fixed over the proscenium opening, including the portraits of poets and dramatists, with Shakespeare as the central figure.

Right - The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The proceedings opened with the singing of the National Anthem, and shortly afterwards Mr F. W. Fison, M.P., stepped on the stage and made a neat speech. La Poupee was then admirably played by Mr E. Lockwood's No. I company. The charming performance of Miss Midge Clark as the doll, and the humour of Mr Harry Parker as Hilarius, kept the house in a constant state of delight. The representatives of Father Maxine and Launcelot were also excellent. A dance afterwards took place on the stage in which the company took part.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 1st of April 1899.


The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The Theatre today is thought to still include parts of a Circus building formerly on the site, which originally faced onto a shopping street opposite the City's main station.

However, due to the City Centre's various alterations over the years, it ended up still facing the station but fronted by a very busy road and rather lost at the back of a shopping centre, only safely reachable by underground passages.

Left - The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Recently the land around the Theatre has been regenerated again and a new interchange development alongside the Theatre has been built with parking for local shoppers and rail users, and much better access to local buses and trains, providing better access to the Theatre as a result, although the Theatre does look rather crammed in as an afterthought.

 

 A Google Streetview image of the poor old Doncaster Grand, now stuck between a major road and a shopping centre - Click to interact.

Above - A Google Streetview image of the poor old Doncaster Grand, now stuck between a major road and a shopping centre - Click to interact.

As with many Theatres of the time the Grand only survives because of having been converted for Bingo in the late 1960's and the tireless efforts of local campaigners to save the Theatre from eventual demolition. The Grand was granted a Grade II Listing in 1994 but has been under the developer's radar ever since.

The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Above - The Doncaster Grand laid out for Bingo in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The Theatres Trust says of the Grand: 'Provided any replanning of the surroundings allows for the get-in and other needs of the theatre, the Grand could quite readily be restored and reopened and would be infinitely better than the present Civic Theatre. It could serve both amateur and professional drama and musical productions, small scale touring and other activities.' The Theatres Trust.

The Friends of the Doncaster Grand fight on to return the building to live Theatre again in the near future. The Theatre is in very good condition, both externally and internally, and much of the original decoration is still extant.

If you would like to find out more about the Doncaster Grand or can help with the campaign to restore and reopen the Theatre please visit the Friends of the Doncaster Grand's website here.

 

Twilight of the Touring Revue by Donald Auty
An extract on the Grand Theatre, Doncaster in 1955.

"The next week was at the Grand Theatre Doncaster. The Juvenile lead also left the show at the end of the Bilston week because Dave could not afford him any longer and I had to take on his duties as well as those of stage manager. I was a lot slimmer in those days.

I arrived with the scenery at the Grand Doncaster on Monday morning at nine o'clock and thought I was at the wrong theatre. A show called Memories of Old Ireland was billed there. I looked closer at the bills and saw that it featured the same names as 'Don't be Shy Girls' so it must be us. Dave explained when he came in that he changed the name when there was an Irish element in the town. The show content was exactly the same.

Doncaster was a better number three date so the bill was strengthened that week with an elderly comic called Phil Strickland who, like Joe King, had been a stalwart of the number three theatres for many years. Part of his routine was to look down into the orchestra pit and say, 'I see you have fresh straw down there tonight.' The musicians union shop steward at the Grand was the trombone player, who was very militant. When Phil did this the entire band walked out. It cost me two crates of beer and a profuse apology from Phil before they would go back into the pit.

Business was better at Doncaster and I had a bit of an adventure with one of the dancers so I cheered up a bit. The next week we went on to the County Theatre in Bedford and became 'Don't Be Shy Girls again.' There was a big electrical factory in Bedford that was staffed almost entirely by Italians who were the nucleus of the theatre audience because of the nudes. One of duties was to dress as a French Apache, now that I was also juvenile lead, and speak a commentary whilst the curtains opened and closed on the nude. Nudes were not allowed to move so the curtains had to be closed whilst she changed poses and opened again when she was ready. My job was to fill in the time for this with my commentary. On the Saturday night second house the Italians threw everything that they could get their hands on at me and I retired from the stage rather quickly."

Text in quotes above is an extract from an article kindly written for this site by Donald Auty.

If you would like to find out more about the Doncaster Grand or can help with the campaign to restore and reopen the Theatre please visit the Friends of the Doncaster Grand's website here...

 

The Palace Theatre, Doncaster

The Palace Theatre, Doncaster was built by Ward and Ball in 1911.

The Theatre was demolished in 1952.

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

 

Civic Theatre, Waterdale, Doncaster
Formerly The New Arcadia / Arcadia Picture House / Doncaster Arts Centre

The Civic Theatre, Doncaster was originally built in 1921 and was privately owned and run by the Theatre producer and comedian Harry Russell. Converted for Cinema use in the early 1930s, but still run by Harry Russell, the building was renamed the Arcadia Picture House.

The building was bought by the local Council in the late 1940s who converted it into a Theatre and Cinema called the Doncaster Arts Centre.

In the 1970s the Theatre was refurbished and renamed the Civic Theatre. The Theatre can seat 495 on one level and has a traditional proscenium arched stage. The Civic currently houses professional and amateur productions, with an annual Pantomime at Christmas.

The Civic Theatre is due to be replaced in 2008 by a new 'Venue' which is being funded in part by Doncaster Council, Doncaster College, the National Lottery, and various arts organisations. The new building will have a main theatre auditorium, a second performance space for Dance, Drama, and Rehearsals, and a live music bar and cafe.

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

 

Mexborough Hippodrome, Mexborough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Formerly The Prince of Wales Theatre

The Mexborough Hippodrome in its original incarnation as the Prince of Wales Theatre - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - The Mexborough Hippodrome in its original incarnation as the Prince of Wales Theatre
Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The Mexborough Hippodrome originally opened as the Prince of Wales Theatre on the 18th December 1893 and was built by G. H. Smith.

The Theatre closed in 1939 and demolition of the building was started but the war intervened and the Theatre wasn't completely demolished until 1973.

 

The Mexborough Hippodrome by Alan Chudley

During my theatrical wanderings, as a young man, I often used to rummage around buildings that were once theatres but no longer welcomed a new company every Monday morning. My National service took me occasionally into Mexborough, where I found that I had time on my hands. Walking along the High Street there in 1949 I saw what looked like a half demolished theatre building; I asked about this in a shop opposite the building and was told that indeed it was a former Theatre, The Mexborough Hippodrome, no less, which had failed just before the last war and had closed. The theatre was purchased with a view to demolition; for the widening of the High Street, the theatre was half demolished when the war broke out and the scheme abandoned. The family of the shop owners had been associated with the Hippodrome, and from what they told me, visits to the local Newspaper, plus my own knowledge of things theatrical I was able to add Mexborough Hippodrome to my collection

The theatre was opened by a Mrs. Livesey as The Prince Of Wales Theatre on 18th December 1893, the first show being a play; "Grelley's Money". The architect of the theatre was Mr. George Henry Smith, who was also associated with The Tivoli Hull and the City Varieties Leeds. The theatre had Stalls, Dress Circle, Gallery and boxes and was said to seat over 1,000. The stage floor was 50' wide, 30' deep and the grid was 44' high, and unusually for a theatre of this ilk, The Prince of Wales sported a paint frame. These days when a new theatre opens, much play is made of the technical equipment; so it was with the Prince of Wales, who boasted the Stage was illuminated by, Tollerton's patent Flashing Lights, these would have been the Gas battens suspended over the stage - in a theatre of this size there would have usually been three of these plus the footlights. Tollerton was the Gas engineer at the Grand Theatre Leeds and had patented the system, Housed in a sheet metal casing there would have been three lines of gas pipes, the lower one about ½ an inch in diameter this would have carried a small number of pilot lights always on, above would have been a second slightly larger Gas pipe for the so called flash lights, a quarter turn of the gas cock and the pilot lights would light these, above the Flash lights would be the main fish-tail burners, another turn of the gas stop cock, and the stage was illuminated.

The entertainment at this time would have been mainly Melodrama plus the annual Pantomime, but the biggest draw card during this time must have been a visit from Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody with his wild west show ;"The Klondyke Nugget". Cody seemed to present this show in the open air during the Summer and in theatres during the winter months, the Mexborough visit being in November 1902. Cody's Ballyhoo was to enter Mexborough on horseback with his performers dressed in their stage costumes of Cowboys and Indians. Apart from the show, he would have given sharp shooting demonstrations. One trick was catching the bullet on a plate, a trick which killed Chung Ling Soo at the Wood Green Empire in 1918. The trick was quite simple, a rifle was aimed at the performer holding a plate who had a bullet hidden in his hand, which he dropped on to the plate when the riffle was fired, the bullet falling into a side chamber in the rifle; at Wood Green, the bullet fired as normal with fatal consequences. Cody had a close shave at the Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds when a bullet fired into the wings narrowly missing the stage crew. When in the mid 1960s and after many years as a beer barrel store the delightful little Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds was being restored as a theatre, an elderly gentleman who knew the theatre for many years showed me the very spot in the stage-house wall where Cody's bullet had landed.

Sometime during 1910 Mrs. Livesey sold the theatre to George Smith's family, who in 1915 renamed it the Hippodrome and introduced a policy of twice nightly Variety. Although many well known artistes appeared here in Variety, most of the shows were the revues which were the staple diet of the number two variety theatres. One revue that did play the Hippodrome was ; "Mr. Tower of London" which stared Gracie Fields and was presented by Archie Pitt, this revue which was to make Gracie Fields famous when Oswald Stoll booked the show for an odd week into the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square London ( the Odeon now stands on the Alhambra site ) in 1923. However, the Mexborough engagement was only the revue's third week, it opened at the Coliseum Long Eaton (St. James Theatre / Scala cinema,) when on the first night every thing that could go wrong, did go wrong, there was an inquest and it was decided that Archie Pitt's fly-blown sketches were the fly in the ointment and that Gracie fields would be given more to do in the revue, so during her stay in Mexborough she would have been rehearsing the new material very hard; Archie Pitt was a hard task master. Twice nightly variety plus pantomime was presented for the next decade, when audience figures began to sag. At this time the Mexborough amateur Opera society started presenting popular musical comedies of the day and the Stephen Venner Repertory company played 12 weeks seasons for a number of years, they played twice nightly and presented two plays each week for 3 nights each.

After about 1930, the Hippodrome seemed to have periods of closure when no advertising was taken in the local papers. An attempt was made to turn the Hippodrome into a cinema with little success, towards the end of 1932 the Hippodrome was leased to Terence Bryon who for about 18 months presented a repertory season, after which the Smith Family closed the Hippodrome. In 1936 a company from Manchester partly refurbished the Hippodrome and installed new lighting equipment. As the New Hippodrome they reopened the Theatre in March 1936 with twice nightly Variety, their first bill was Billy Reid and his Accordion Band. The venture was at first successful, but within two years this firm failed and the Hippodrome closed for the last time. The Price of Wales is dead, Long live the Prince of Wales; The Hippodrome is dead, long live the Hippodrome. A decent theatre which did not deserve to die.

The above text was very kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.

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

 

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