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The Story of a Staircase - By Des Kerins

Dublin Theatres Index

The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase now in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins

Above - The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase now in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins

The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.Hawkins Street in Dublin is an obscure narrow street in the city centre that can boast of having been the site of no less than three Theatres Royal.

The first was built in 1820 and opened on January 18th 1821 with an auditorium seating in excess of 2,000 people. This theatre was destroyed by fire in 1880. A new theatre was built on the site and was named “The Leinster Hall”. This theatre opened on November 2nd 1886 and was closed in 1897 and was sold to a new syndicate.

The new owners engaged Frank Matcham to redesign the existing building and it re-opened on December the 13th 1897 as the new Theatre Royal with an adjoining Winter Gardens. History tells us that the theatre was equipped with a wonderful marble staircase designed by Frank Matcham that was much admired by the thousands who came to fill the theatre. My understanding is that the marble staircase gave access from the Dress Circle in the Theatre Royal down to the Winter Gardens.

Right - The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.

This was an area where the audience could partake of tea and triangular sandwiches amid the potted palms and gentle fountains to the sound of a tinkling piano. In the fullness of time this second Theatre Royal was demolished in 1933 and the third Theatre Royal, built on the Hawkins Street site, was opened on September 23rd 1935.

The 1935 Theatre Royal Frontage and the Regal Rooms - From the Theatre's opening night Souvenir Programme.So what happened to the famous staircase? The marble balustrade was used in the new balcony and other sections of the staircase were installed in the Regal Rooms cinema next door, which was built on the site of the Winter Gardens. The Regal Rooms was an Art Deco type of design and was described as a luxury cinema with 1000 seats.

Left - The 1935 Theatre Royal, Dublin Frontage and the Regal Rooms - From the Theatre's opening night Souvenir Programme.

The third Theatre Royal, along with the Regal Rooms, closed with a Gala Variety Show on June 30th 1962 which was a very sad day for the theatre lovers of Dublin.

The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.Fortuitously we find that the Matcham staircase was rescued from the Regal Rooms at the time of demolition and transferred to a very up-market retail store named Brown, Thomas & Co in Grafton Street where it was used to provide access to the basement sales area.

Right - The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.

In 1995 Brown Thomas and Switzer & Co amalgamated and Brown Thomas literally moved their business across the street into Switzer’s premises and sold their own premises to Marks & Spencer. During the refurbishment of their new store M&S decided to feature the staircase and moved it to a prominent position on the ground floor opposite the main entrance and leading up from Ground Floor to 1st Floor.

The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.Today hundreds of customers daily use this staircase in the course of their shopping and it is edifying to see how many still look twice at the beautiful marble stairs and perhaps wonder about its history.

Left - The Theatre Royal, Dublin's Frank Matcham Staircase is now situated in an M&S store in Grafton Street - Courtesy Des Kerins.

A staircase is designed to allow people to move safely from one level to another but this particular one is designed to allow people to “Make an Entrance”.

This article on the Frank Matcham Staircase at the Theatre Royal, Dublin was written for this site and kindly sent in for inclusion by Des Kerins in January 2011. References: The A to Z of all old Dublin Cinemas, by George P Kearns & Patrick Maguire; The lost Theatres of Dublin, by Philip B Ryan, Published by Badger Press Wiltshire; Lost Dublin, by Frederick O'Dwyer, Published by Gill & MacMillan.

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