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

 

The Music Hall and City Theatre, Guildhall Street, Dunfermline

Also - The Corn Hall / Corn Exchange - Later - La Scala picture house

Dunfermline Index

A sketch of the Abbot’s House in Dunfermline which also shows the pyramidal / Dutch styled roof of William Clark’s Music Hall - Courtesy Colin Gourlay

Above - A sketch of the Abbot’s House in Dunfermline which also shows the pyramidal / Dutch styled roof of William Clark’s Music Hall - Courtesy Colin Gourlay

A Bill for the Dunfermline Music Hall with Professor Anderson in July 1863 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.By 1850 the Town Council had started a subscription fund to build a public hall but continued to dilly and dally. The town was also tardy in trying to find a site for a new Corn Exchange. William Clark, junior, stepped forward and solved both problems.

He was the son of William Clark, established printer, bookseller, publisher and founder of the Dunfermline Journal newspaper, who had in the early 1840s lost a considerable amount of money in speculative property. William Clark, junior, learnt the printing trade and also became a civil engineer, auctioneer, inventor and antiquarian.

Right - A Bill for the Dunfermline Music Hall with Professor Anderson in July 1863 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Undeterred by his father`s financial collapse, and despite disparagement from some citizens, young Clark designed and built his large Music Hall complex, taking 18 months and opening with a grand concert on the 30th December 1852. The two storey building was topped with a pyramidal roof. The main entrance was from Guildhall Street, just down from the Cross, and other entrances were in the Fish Market Close which soon became known as Music Hall Lane. The main hall was on the upper level and live entertainment included concerts, and variety programmes with William Clark, junior, as Chairman on the platform. This hall held about 1,500 people and in 1860 a large gallery was added holding a further 500, with its entrance in the lane. Tickets were available at Clark`s bookshop in the High Street. The Music Hall attracted variety companies from around Britain; and it also was the venue for dioramas, concerts - including the Dunfermline Philharmonic Society – minstrel shows, public meetings, lectures, exhibitions, soirees, dinners and balls. The local paper proudly reported that “Mr Clark has purchased 3,000 cups and saucers.” On occasions the hall was used for Sunday worship.

In 1857 the Town Council decided to use money subscribed for a public hall, but not now needed because Clark had built his Halls, the largest public building in the town. To help the unemployed during the winter – “It was agreed to use this money to purchase spades and other implements of like kind, in behalf of each of such unemployed as were able for out-door labour.”

The major improvements of 1860 included new lighting and decoration. Clark encouraged the public to come in during daytime to see the work being done. Papers reported - “The roof is spangled over with flowery looking clouds; the wall compartments between pillars are being filled with fine landscapes, each of which would be large enough to cover the canvas of a drop-scene for any theatre. These landscapes are from the pencil of Mr Peter Finlay of Glasgow.” (With Clark`s creative interests in mechanical engineering and auctioneering the landscape artist may have been a son of the extensive business of Peter Finlay & Son, of Glasgow -“veterinary shoeing engineers”- who went on to start a dynasty of veterinary surgeons.)

The annual trades holiday, and New Year, added more entertainments. Newspapers reported on the August 1865 trades holiday when the enterprising William Clark arranged dancing for the occasion – “As a conclusion to this programme of Friday`s proceedings, Mr William Clark, junior, has engaged music and is to open a ball in his Music Hall that same evening, the dancing to commence late that same evening so as to catch the various excursionists as they enter the city, and prevent them from mauling their bodies and brains in the public-houses. A very good conclusion too; at least for such of us, after the fatigues of an excursion and a ten hours trot from this place to that place on shanks naiggy are able to carry on the fun in jigging and strathspeying till cock-crow. The pillow waltz, with Morpheus as a partner, will be the likeliest dance that the majority will join in that night.”

An advertisement for the City Theatre, Dunfermline in 1864 - Courtesy Graeme Smith. On the lower level of his building were two more halls, one capable of holding about 800 people and also had a gallery. This became known as the Corn Hall or Corn Exchange when Clark became Superintendent of the new Dunfermline Stock Market or Corn Exchange, where farmers and merchants met each Tuesday to trade crops. This was an ideal hall for drama companies and it soon became known as the City Theatre.

Left - An advertisement for the City Theatre, Dunfermline in 1864 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The third hall was used for rehearsals, and other activities. Lessees of the Corn Hall / City Theatre for seasons each year included Edmund Glover with his company from the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, Glasgow and Robert Douglas of the Theatre Royal, Dundee. Productions included drama, comedy, revues and pantomime. Prices were usually Boxes 1s 6d, Pit 1s, Gallery 6d.

In 1869 the City Theatre had extensive alterations including a new proscenium, act-drop and scenery. For its reopening in March the acting company was under T C Howitt an old favourite of Dunfermline, his orchestra leader J Hayes, and the first evening was Hamlet followed by a farce of Beautiful as Ever.

The Music Hall continued to be the largest hall in Dunfermline even after a competitor opened the St Margaret`s Hall (sometimes described as Theatre) in 1878. However the attractions of a new building started to draw some drama companies to it and away from the City Theatre. The Music Hall in the late 1880s continued as the main public hall, and variety venue. In 1898 Clark finally retired and the stock of sets, scenery, flats and angles were sold off. The Clark printing business and Dunfermline Journal took occupation until 1913 and the building was then converted to a picture house, La Scala, known locally as the Scratcher, until it was destroyed by fire in 1924. On Clark`s very successful site would be constructed the town`s new Employment Exchange.

William Clark became a town councillor in 1876 and ultimately Dean of the Guild Court in 1891. In 1877 he also built a bonded warehouse in Guildhall Street. Of his many inventions, one was a multi-tubular heater for heating large buildings by hot air. This was installed in 500 churches.

The above information on the Music Hall and City Theatre was written for this site by Graeme Smith in April 2013.

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

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