The Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych, Strand, London
- The Strand Musick Hall
Above - The Gaiety Theatre during the run of 'The Millionaire Kid' in 1931 starring Cyril Ritchard, Madge Elliott, Barry Lupino, and Laddie Cliff - See British Pathe Film Clip here - From a quarter plate glass negative - Courtesy John Griffiths.
The Gaiety Theatre that some people may still remember today was a prominent building situated at the southern end of the Aldwych close to Waterloo Bridge and the eastern end of the Strand in London. It opened with a productin of 'The Orchid' (programme shown right) on the 26th of October 1903 and closed in 1939, although it wasn't finally demolished until 1958.
However, this was not the first Theatre with the Gaiety name to be operating in this area, as an earlier Theatre, first called the Strand Musick Hall, and then later the Gaiety Theatre, was originally constructed on a site roughly opposite the later Theatre, in 1864.
The Strand Musick Hall was situated in the Strand on a site stretching between Wellington Street and Catherine Street, and was built on part of the site of the former Exeter Change, roughly where the hotel 'One Aldwych' stands today, and was built in 1864. It was then reconstructed and renamed the Gaiety Theatre in 1868.
This Music Hall was later demolished for the Aldwych widening scheme and the New Gaiety Theatre was built close by in the newly built Aldwych in 1903. After this second Gaiety Theatre was demolished in 1957/8 a new building for the English Electric Company was then constructed on the site. This building was itself demolished in 2006 and a new Hotel was then constructed on the site, opening in December 2012.
Details of all these Theatres and buildings follows:
The Strand Musick Hall was situated in the Strand on a site stretching between Wellington Street and Catherine Street, and was built on part of the site of the former Exeter Change, roughly where the hotel 'One Aldwych' stands today, and officially opened on the 17th of October 1864, although it had had an inaugural evening on the 15th of October.
Right - The Strand Musick Hall in its later guise as the first Gaiety Theatre - From 'The Sphere' 1950.
The ERA reported on the new music hall in their 16th of October 1864 edition saying: 'This establishment, which is promoted by a Joint Stock Company (The Strand Musick Hall Company) after numerous delays, opens to the public to-morrow, though probably it will never have a more crowded or attentive audience than at its inauguration last evening. Continental Gothic is the basis of this eclectic design, and if the architect has succeeded in erecting a structure which, departing from recognised codes, outrages none, he trusts that unity and comprehensiveness in the execution of a difficult task will obtain for him a just appreciation of his work.
The main building as it at present exists, which constitutes what may be called the Hall proper, covers ground running E. and W. from opposite the Lyceum Theatre, in Wellington Street, Strand, to Catherine Street, where it has a present frontage of seventy feet, from which to Wellington Street the depth is over a hundred and ten feet.
Above - An Entrance Token for the Strand Music Hall - Courtesy Alan Judd
The Company have acquired the land upon which will ultimately extend the main building to Exeter Street on the N., where it will possess a frontage of about sixty feet. The Hall is approached from the Strand by a building ninety-six feet long, with a frontage of thirty-six feet to the Strand, which contains besides the spacious corridors and grand staircase saloon (forming communications from the Strand with all parts of the building), commodious and elegant dining and smoking rooms, with waiters' serving rooms, and lavatory and dressing rooms for visitors to each; and immediately communicating with the Hall proper on the ground, balcony, and box floors, refreshment bars or buffets, which will be used as luncheon bars and for the service of the dining-rooms during the day, and as buffets for the use of the Hall in the evening.
The building has been erected from the designs and details of Mr. E. Bassett Keeling, of Gray's Inn, and under the superintendence of himself and Mr. H. H. Collins, the joint architects to the Company. The whole of the coloured decorations, which are of a very novel and elaborate character, have been executed from the special directions of Mr. Keeling, under whose independent control the whole of the decorative portions of the building have been carried out.
Left - The Strand Musick Hall interior in 1864. From 'The Lost Theatres Of London' Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson 1975.
Among those connected with the building we may mention that the general contractors were Messrs. Trollope and Sons. The whole of the gas arrangements have been executed by Messrs. Defries and Sons. The ventilating apparatus, lifts, etc have been under the care of Mr. Wilson W. Phipson C.E. All ornamental wrought iron work in the front building is by Hart and Sons, and the copper foliations are by Brawn, of Birmingham. The painting and decorations have been executed by Mr. Geo Foxley, and the greater portion of the stone carving has been undertaken by Mr. Tolmie.
The ventilation of the whole structure has received the greatest attention at the hands of Mr. Wilson W. Phipson, and it is hoped that a degree of success has been secured which will render the Strand Musick Hall the best ventilated public building in London. Vocal and Instrumental Operatic Selections will fill a prominent place in the nightly programmes, and will be arranged upon a novel plan, calculated to afford full scope at once for the talent of the singers and for the skill of the orchestral performers. The symphonies of the Great Masters will occasionally be rendered, but at the same time the light and effervescent works of the composers of the hour will receive their full share of attention. The aim of the Directors of the Strand Musick Hall will be to please all tastes, save only those which are depraved. They purpose to enable the classical amateur to revel in the emanations of the loftiest genius - the lover of sparkling dance music to drink in the capering melodies to his heart's content - the worshipper of grand lyric inspirations to depart well satisfied with his treat - the adorer of the simple ballad to feel that he has had his full share of enjoyment - and the patron of comic singing to recognise that his special predilections have not been uncared for. In the last- named department it may be almost needless to say that every feature introduced will be jealously and rigorously scrutinised, and carefully kept free from anything that could shock the most refined taste or grate upon the most delicate susceptibilities.
Above - An Entrance Token for the Strand Music Hall - Courtesy Alan Judd
Smoking and drinking have, in the establishments heretofore called Music Halls, sat elbow to elbow - with harmony. The Directors of the Strand Musick Hall have thought it fitting to bestow this designation upon their building, inasmuch as it is a Hall devoted to the performance of music - but as the music given will be of a superior class, they expect from their visitors an equally exalted etiquette. Creature comforts - both nicotian and alcoholic - will be found at the spacious buffets, and in the corridors and saloons which surround the Hall. Visitors will have all the facilities they could desire for their puflings and their potations, but not within the Hall, which is consecrated to music.
From a circular distributed in the Hall by Messrs. Defries we extract the following: The novel system invented and patented by Messrs. J. Defies and Sons, who have had the entire management of everything concerning the lighting of the building, will form one of the prominent features of the Hall, and cannot fail to create a total innovation in the system hitherto adopted in lighting Theatres, Concert-rooms, and other large buildings. This new system combines that great desideratum of allying with the nearest approach to a soft daylight a system of thorough and complete ventilation throughout the building. Hence to Messrs. J. Defries and Sons is due the full credit of having overcome those difficulties which had hitherto arisen in lighting, and the same time introducing a proper system of ventilation; and their patent is destined to form a new era in the principle of lighting. The numerous audiences which will no doubt visit this new resort of amusement will fully appreciate the beautiful amalgamation of colours produced without there being any show of gas. The light is entirely given from the top of the building, and by a combination of coloured sheets of glass and prisms, a soft and radiant light is thrown into every part of the building. The system of ventilation is so perfect, that a continual current of fresh air is introduced throughout the building, whilst the impure air, as well as the heat, is carried away through the top of the building by the powerful current which is established.
To convey a slight idea of the vast importance of Messrs. J. Defries and Sons' new patent, it will be sufficient to state that there are several thousands of burners. The lighting chamber contains upwards of 350 ventilating tubes, the whole of which are conducted into enormous shafts, in which a proper vacuum has been established, thus causing an unvarying upward current, so that heat as well as the vitiated air is constantly conveyed out of the building. The thorough lighting of all our principal Opera Houses, Theatres, Music Halls, etc., bear full testimony to the vast resources of Messrs. J. Defries & Sons, but they have now in this new method surpassed anything hitherto produced.'
Above - The Original Gaiety Theatre, Strand, London, formerly the Strand Musick Hall - From 'The Sphere' 1950.
The first Gaiety Theatre was constructed on the site of the earlier Strand Musick Hall and opened on Monday the 21st of December 1868 with the operetta 'The Two Harlequins', a French comedy called 'On the Cards', and the opera 'Robert le Diable.' The Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps and could accommodate 2,000 people in its lavish auditorium, and was opened under the management of John Hollingshead.
The ERA reported on the opening of the new Theatre in their 13th of December 1868 edition saying: 'This large, elegant, and central Theatre, has been erected on part of the Strand, part of Exeter Street, part of Catherine Street, and part of Wellington Street, and the site of the Strand Musick Hall - a building that has been entirely pulled down for the lobbies of the new house. The site possesses the very marked advantage of approach from the four main thoroughfares before named, and occupies a much larger area than any similar property situated on that great stream of through traffic - the Strand.
A portion of the Strand frontage, lately known as that of the Strand Musick Hall, remains almost as formerly; a few modifications, however, have necessarily been made on the ground storey by the erection of the new entrance, which will form the approach to the principal tiers of the Theatre.
Left - The auditorium of the first Gaiety Theatre of 1868 - From 'The Lost Theatres Of London' Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson.
The rooms over this entrance, and the new building extending along the Strand, forming the angle of Catherine Street will form the Restaurant' entirely distinct from the Theatre, but with a corridor of access from every tier of the Theatre.
As mentioned above, the principal entrance is in the Strand, leading by a few steps to the level of the stalls, and by a spacious octangular staircase to the balcony or grand tier and the upper boxes. Another entrance, also on this level, is in Exeter Street, on the other side of the stalls, which, though designed specially as a private entrance for the Royal Family, is available as an exit-way in case of sudden panic, there being a stone staircase from the entrance to the highest floor of the Theatre, with communication on every level. There is also a corridor running under the back of the pit, solely for the use of the stalls' audience, thus giving access on both sides of the house, and obviating the unpleasantness of having to cross the audience when the performance has commenced. The entrances to pit and gallery are in Catherine Street, and the stage entrance is in Wellington Street.
Above - Details from a programme for 'Carmen Up To Data' at the first Gaiety Theatre in 1890
Above - The Synopsis of Music for 'Carmen Up To Data' at the first Gaiety Theatre in 1890
The plan of the auditory is quite new to London. It consists of a balcony, the front forming a semicircle, opening out by arms of a contrary flexure to the proscenium column; behind this is a tier of private boxes, with the rest of which the front of the upper boxes radiates; and a gallery above, the front of which form a complete circle. The columns supporting the various tiers are carried up to a sufficient height above the gallery, and from the cap spring a series of arches supporting an elaborate cornice and coved ceiling.
The proscenium pillars are all of solid stone, enriched with carved capitals. There are five rows of arm-chairs in stalls; a commodious pit; three rows of arm-chair stalls in balcony; four rows of upper box seats, with considerable standing room; twenty-eight private boxes; and a spacious gallery. In all, the capacity of this house is above the average of the London Theatres, and will hold upwards of 2,000 persons.
Every department or division of the audience has its own approach separate from the others; and all the tiers have enclosed corridors at back; one special feature of the arrangements being that there are staircases on both sides of the dress circle, upper boxes, and gallery, with external doors at the bottom of each, and all fireproof. In fact, the whole construction of the building is as nearly as possible fireproof, for not only are all staircases, passages, and corridors of stone or cement, and separated in every case by brick walls, but the several tiers - balcony, upper boxes, and gallery - have no wood in their construction, except the flooring boards; they are entirely built of an iron framework, embedded in and filled between with a solid mass of cement concrete, much on the principle adopted at the Grand Opera and the New Vaudeville Theatre at Paris, which system was adopted there as being the most perfect that could be devised, as by diminishing the amount of inflammable material in a building the risk of its even taking fire is rendered almost impossible, while the prevention of a fire spreading is insured. With the exception of the two Theatres at Paris before mentioned, the Gaiety' will be the only Theatre in Europe so constructed.
The ironwork necessary for this construction has been manufactured by Messrs. W. and T. Phillips of the Coal Exchange, at their works in Belgium, and constructed by them at the Theatre, in a very satisfactory manner.
The very elaborate box-fronts, together with the arches and cornices, are executed in patent plaster on canvas, and manufactured and fixed by the patentees, Messrs. George Jackson and Sons, of Rathbone Place, from the architect's designs. The iron balcony-front was executed by Messrs. Hart, of Wych Street.
The lighting of the auditory is by a powerful sunburner, which will act as an efficient ventilator, manufactured by Messrs. Strode and Co., who have also executed the float-lights. These are of peculiar as well as novel construction, and have only been used before in England at the Queen's Theatre and at Brighton, by the same architect. In the present instance, many modifications have been introduced. The float consists of a series of argand burners reversed, and burning downwards, the products of the combustion being taken away in a large iron cylinder running parallel with the front of the, stage, and carried up inside the brickwork behind the proscenium columns. One great advantage gained by this invention is, that the unpleasant vapour screen, which in the old manner was constantly rising between the audience and the scene, is entirely removed, and the performers can now approach the foot-lights without the risk of getting burnt, as a piece of gauze may be placed over the burner without ignition. By an ingenious contrivance, should any of the glasses break, that particular burner falls down and shuts off the gas. The coloured glasses, called mediums, are worked on levers in front of the lights, on the same principle as the switch-lights on railways.
Above - Detail from a programme for 'In Town' at the first Gaiety Theatre in 1893
The stage has been constructed by Mr. G. R. Tasker, the Clerk of Works, and is a most elaborate piece of mechanism, admirably contrived and executed, fitted up with several novelties in the way of machinery. There is a depth of some twenty feet under the stage floor, for sinking large scenes, and a height above of fifty feet. All the departments of the stage are very complete. There are green-rooms, managers' rooms, and more than twenty other rooms, for the numerous requirements of a large dramatic company, with wardrobes, property-rooms, carpenters' shops, etc.
The whole of the coloured decoration of the auditory and the lobbies has been executed by Mr. George Gordon, late of the Bristol and Bath Theatres. It partakes somewhat of the early Romanesque character, thus carrying out the architecture of the house with some of the most beautiful- and varied of the Greek forms of ornament introduced. The same gentleman has also painted the act drop, which, unlike that at most Theatres, is intended not as a scene or a picture, but as a part of the decoration of the Theatre. The design is extremely chaste and elegant; and the small vignette in the centre, representing a villa on one of the Italian lakes, is broadly, and at the same time delicately painted.
Left - A programme for 'Aladdin' at the first Gaiety Theatre in 1882 - Click to see the entire programme.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the decoration is the frieze over the proscenium, designed and painted by Mr. H. S. Marks - 30 feet long by 4 feet 6 inches deep. It represents a king and queen of mediaeval times, with surrounding courtiers, watching a masque which is being performed before them. On either side this frieze, over the proscenium boxes, are lunettes in the arches - the one on the left represents lyric, and the other epic poetry - designed by the same artist. It is satisfactory to find that these pictures, which are really fine works of art, have been painted by Mr. Marks in no narrow spirit as easel pictures, but as forming a part of, and in a measure subservient to, the general scheme of decoration.
The arm-chairs in stalls and balcony are those designed by the architect, and manufactured by Wadman Brothers, Bath. The chairs for private boxes were made by Mr. Church, of Bath. The curtains have been supplied by Messrs. Hampton, of Pall Mall, and the carpets by Messrs. Tyler, of Long Acre.
The general builder's work has been done by Mr. Simpson; and the gas work (except as mentioned above) by Messrs. J. Jones and Son, of Bow Street.
The Gaiety Theatre, which is to be under the Lesseeship and Management of Mr. John Hollingshead, will be opened on the evening of Monday, the 21st inst. All box, booking, and other fees will, with the necessary assistance of the public, be thoroughly abolished, and the performances will always conclude at a reasonable hour. Among the members of the dramatic company are Mr. Alfred Wigan, M. Stuart (from the Odeon and Guile, Paris), Miss Madge Robertson, and Miss E. Farren. Mr. Robert Soutar will be Stage-Manager. The ballet will be principally selected from the Royal Italian Opera, and Mdlle. Bossi (from the Porte St. Martin) will be premiere danseuse.
The entertainments on the opening night will consist of an operetta, entitled The Two Harlequins; a comedy from the French, called On the Cards; and an operatic extravaganza, by Mr. Gilbert named Robert le Diable. The orchestra will be under the direction of M. Kettenus, of Her Majesty's Opera.' The above text in quotes was first published in the Era, 13 December, 1868.
Right - The Programme for last performance at the original Gaiety Theatre - July 4th 1903 - Courtesy Michaela Bilynskyj - Click to see the entire programme.
The last performance at this first Gaiety Theatre was on July the 4th 1903 and consisted of act 2 of 'The Toreador' and a production of 'The Linkman', followed after midnight by a speech by Henry Irving and the audience and cast singing 'Auld Lang Syne'. The building was then demolished, but its replacement was already being constructed in 1901, just opposite the old Gaiety and in the centre of the newly constructed Aldwych. This was done so that the new Theatre could begin operation as soon as possible after the old one closed, which as it turned out, would be 4 months later, on October the 26th 1903.
Above - The Waldorf Hotel with the Waldorf (now Novello Theatre (left) and the Aldwych Theatre (right) c.1906. The corner of the Second Gaiety Theatre may just be seen at the extreme left foreground. Opposite the Waldorf Theatre, on Catherine Street is the 'unique site' which because of an Ancient Lights ruling remained vacant until 1925 when the Duchess Theatre was built on part of it. On the horizon, behind the Aldwych Theatre may be glimpsed some of the roof of Drury Lane Theatre. Bedford Lemere took the photograph from the rear of the site now occupied by India House. To his right would have been the sites of two recently demolished theatres, The Globe (1868 - 1902) and the Opera Comique (1870 - 1899). Text and image from Theatrephile Volume 2 No.6 Spring 1985.
On This Day The Times, December 11,
Above - An article originally printed in the The Times newspaper of 1868 and then reprinted in their 11th of December 2002 edition, with and image of the last performance programme from this website - Article reproduced courtesy The Times newspaper and transcribed below.
A FEW years since and the erection of a new theatre in London was, if not a very important, at least a very unusual event. Twenty years ago and there was not much more than half the number of theatres in the metropolis than exist now, to say nothing of the great mass of semi theatres the music halls, which have risen up in all directions. Within the last two or three years the New National Standard Theatre, the Queen's Theatre, the Prince of Wales's Theatre, the Globe Theatre Royal, the Royalty Theatre, the Theatre Royal Holborn and the Royal Amphitheatre and Circus, Holborn, have with other minor places of entertainment been added to the list.
Yet, in spite of these increasing numbers, all seem to be doing better, both old and new, than when there was half the number some few years ago. There can be no question in the face of these facts that the passion for dramatic entertainment has spread to an immense extent among all classes, and the more they get of it, the more they seem to want, and in consequence, in the whole range of light ephemeral literature, there is no literature which pays so well as writing for the stage. Such success has not unnaturally lured another competitor for public favour into the lists, and in the Gaiety Theatre, which has just been built, and which is to be opened in a few days, the visitors will see, both in decoration and accommodation, a model of what such buildings should be. It is not too much to say of it that, for its size, it will be one of the best built, most convenient, and best decorated theatres of its kind in England.
The architect is Mr Phipps,
and as this is the eighth theatre he has erected it may fairly be presumed
that he has made the science of theatre construction a special study.
Both in form and construction, he has gone out of the beaten track,
and no cost seems to have been spared to make the building beautiful
and convenient. The frontage of the old Strand Music-hall
remains, with the exception of the alterations necessary to make a new
chief entrance. The rooms over this form a restaurant entirely distinct
from the theatre, but with a corridor to access all parts of it. This
arrangement is in every respect new to London playgoers, but it will
be found, we think, a great boon to the public When we add to this that
pit, boxes, and gallery have each their own restaurant rooms, waiting
rooms, retiring rooms, and lavatories, we have said enough to show that
the lessees are trying all in their power to induce visitors to come,
and make them comfortable when they have arrived. One reform deserves
special notice, and it is that all fees, donations, or gratuities to
attendants are under any and every pretence prohibited. There is to
be no fee for booking, no charge for bills, no charge for taking care
of cloaks or hats. The one payment at the door clears everything. This
is a radical improvement, and one which will soon force other theatres
where the attendants live by open mendicancy, and where a programme
is often not to be had at a less price than a shilling, to follow an
example which should have been set long before.
The original Gaiety Theatre, which had seating for 2,000 people, stood on the Strand and became famous for staging burlesque comedies. Ten years after it opened, it became the first theatre in England to install electric lights on its frontage. The theatre was replaced by a new building in 1903.
Left - The foundations being laid for the New Gaiety Theatre - From 'Black & White Budget' September 28th 1901.
The New Gaiety, which became associated with
many celebrated performers including Leslie Henson and Stanley Lupino,
was demolished in 1957.
The above text is from an article originally printed in the The Times newspaper of 1868 and then reprinted in their 11th of December 2002 edition, with and image of the last performance programme from this website - Article reproduced courtesy The Times newspaper.
Above - An early photograph of the Gaiety Theatre
The second Gaiety Theatre, and the one that some people may still remember today, was constructed by Henry Lovatt and designed in the Italian Renaissance style by Runtz and Ford, and opened on Monday the 26th of October 1903 with a production of the musical comedy 'The Orchid', (see programme right and below) which would go on to run for 559 performances. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were in attendance for the opening night performance.
The Gaiety Restaurant, which was constructed behind the Theatre, was designed by the well known architect, Norman Shaw, the exterior of which still survives today, although the interior has been completely gutted and rebuilt. The auditorium of the Theatre was constructed on four levels, stalls and pit, dress circle, upper circle, gallery, and 12 boxes which could accommodate in all 1,338 people, and there were 29 dressing rooms for artistes.
The ERA printed a report on the new Theatre in their 17th of October 1903 edition saying: 'The site of the New Gaiety Theatre, Strand, which opens on the 24th inst. with the musical comedy, at present entitled The Orchid Hunt, consists of 12,800 square feet, and has a frontage of 97 ft. 6in. to the Strand, and a corner frontage of 40ft. and a frontage of 138ft. 6in. to Aldwych in which the stage door is situated.
Entering under the dome we find ourselves in a circular columniated crush-room, with retiring-rooms and box-office, from which staircases lead right and left up to the grand circle 'back.' This again leads one right and one left for the full width of the tier, with three entrances thereto and down both sides of it, with additional entrances at the bottom, and midway between them on either side an extra exit on to the street, which obviates the necessity of passing through the crush-room in the event of a panic. This arrangement obtains practically in all parts of the house.
Suitable accommodation for both ladies and gentlemen is provided for each part. Below the crush-room is the stall saloon, and above it are the saloons to the grand circle, balcony, and gallery, all following the lines of the crush-room and circular or oval in plan.
A special feature has been made of private retiring-rooms or lounges to the private boxes of the stalls and grand circle tiers; those to the latter on the O.P. side become the royal retiring-rooms, with a separate entrance from Aldwych, and with private and separate accommodation. The ranges of boxes and the adjoining retiring-rooms can be respectively thrown into one at will. The entrances and exits to the parts other than the stalls and grand circle are alternately in the Strand and Aldwych.
On the north side is provided a convenient and commodious suite of offices for the use of the management.
Left - The auditorium of the second Gaiety Theatre - From 'The Lost Theatres Of London' Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson.
The open colonnade or loggia is approached by two staircases from the gallery level. Great care has been taken in designing the line of the tiers so as to insure a perfect view of the whole of the scene from every seat in the house...
Above - Cast Details from a Programme for the opening production of 'The Orchid' at the new Gaiety Theatre in 1903
Above - Cast Details from a programme for 'Our Miss Gibbs' at the second Gaiety Theatre in 1909
Above - Cast Details from a Programme for 'After the Girl' which was produced at the second Gaiety Theatre in 1914 and ran for 105 performances - Courtesy Lynn Stratton.
...The theatre is what is known as a `three-tier house,' and the seating accommodation is approximately as follows: Gallery, 400; upper circle, 250; dress circle, 180; stalls, 140; pit, 320; private boxes, 48; total 1,338. The chief dimensions are as follows: Auditorium, 60ft. wide by 64ft. deep; proscenium, 30ft. wide by 32ft. high by 36 ft. 6in. deep. Behind the proscenium is a commodious stage 40ft. deep, and of an average width of 80ft., with a mezzanine floor and cellar below. Right and left to the Strand and Aldwych are the stairs leading to the stage exit and entrance and the dressing-rooms, numbering twenty-nine.
Right - Edmund Payne and George Grossmith Jnr - From a postcard for 'Our Miss Gibbs' - Courtesy Barbara Choddy.
The grand but simple proportions of the Italian Renaissance of the Florentine school have supplied the motif of the external treatment, sufficient relief for the large wall spaces being found in the large circular-headed windows and niches with their pilasters and pediments. The massiveness of the treatment is well crowned by the open order of coupled Ionic columns, entablature, and balustrade. But the most striking feature is naturally the large dome, 40ft. in diameter and 90ft. above the pavement level, supported by seven pairs of consoles of strong, yet graceful, outline, and surmounted by a figure 17ft. in height.
The whole of the facades are executed in Portland stone, with bands of verde antique marble. The internal dome will be constructed of steel and concrete, and finished in gold and colour mosaic. The external dome will be built up in steel and wood and covered with copper. The whole of the construction is as fireproof as is practically possible, and generally consists of cement, greystone and blue lias-lime, brickwork and steel, and concrete floors and roof. The floors are almost exclusively finished in cement, and the roofs (of auditorium) with a double layer of asphalte. The steps throughout are of granolithic. Scagliola will be employed in the columns of the crush-room and foyer, with modelled caps and bases in plaster, and where practicable all architectural decorations will be in plaster. The proscenium is fitted with an improved double thickness asbestos fire-resisting curtain, with patent slip gear at the stage level and at the stage door, as demanded by the London County Council, as well as the usual raising and lowering gear and counter-balance weights, and provision is also made for cooling the curtain by means of a specially designed sprinkler controlled from the stage level or in necessity from the stage door. The circles are constructed in steel and concrete throughout, and so designed as to carry from wall to wall of auditorium without intermediate supports. The main girders of circles vary from 3ft. to 4ft. in depth, and support lighter shaped girders through which cantilevers project 12ft. to 15ft. to the front of circles. The cantilevers are built up with steel plates and angles, and the larger ones have a depth of 2ft. at the fulcrum. The total weight of the three circles when fully loaded is estimated at about 350 tons, and this weight is transmitted to the foundations partly by the brick walls and partly by cast-iron and steel stanchions embedded in the brickwork. The plans of the building in their successive stages had to receive the approval of the following bodies and committees : The Building Act Committee and its departments, the Theatres Committee and its departments, the Lord Chamberlain, the Westminster City Council, the district surveyor, and the New Gaiety Theatre directorate.
Above - The Gaiety Theatre during the run of 'The Millionaire Kid' in 1931 starring Cyril Ritchard, Madge Elliott, Barry Lupino, and Laddie Cliff - See British Pathe Film Clip here - From a quarter plate glass negative - Courtesy John Griffiths.
The auditorium is flanked with twelve private boxes, with arched loggia over, forming also a constructional feature in carrying the novel vaulted ceiling with its squinch-arch treatment, trumpet-like in general formation for acoustic purposes, and embellished with bold winged figures and modelling by Mr. W. J. Neatby, and three decorative tympanum panels in oils by Buchel, the principal one over the proscenium opening representing Aladdin journeying with his magnificent retinue to his new palace. Upon either side of this arched opening and in the spandrels are two niches containing figure-subjects of Music and Dancing, by Hibbert Binney. The whole of these figures are decorated in colour. The boxes are divided by pilasters and columns, in front of which are conventional figures bearing electric lights. The ceiling over the auditorium is fan-shaped, with the divisions embellished by shells, masks, and swags. The circle fronts are of modelled plaster, principally by Sidney Webb, and are most refined in detail. The mural decorations have a groundwork of old rose, with a raised 'art nouveau' design in gold, cerulean blue, Hooker's green and permanent red being sparingly introduced. The draperies are of pale moss green, richly embroidered, in conformity with the general scheme, the carpets and seats being of similar colour.
Above - The Gaiety Theatre in 1934 with Stanley Lupino and Laddie Cliff in 'Sporting Love' which ran for 302 performances.
The retiring-rooms, in the rear of the boxes, are of various colour schemes, in contrast to the auditorium; the royal rooms are in the Georgian style, having a special brocaded fabric on the walls. The crush-room is in the Georgian style, with marble columns with bronze caps and bases supporting a modelled entablature and frieze, and the walls are panelled in hardwood, dull polished, six panels being occupied by full-length portraits of the following Gaiety favourites: Nelly Farren as the Street Arab; Kate Vaughan as Morgiana, in The Forty Thieves; Letty Lind as a Dancing Girl; Sylvia Grey, in Monte Cristo; Connie Gilchrist, in The Forty Thieves, and Ellaline Terriss, in The Runaway Girl. The frieze above is plain tinted, and the modelled ceiling is entirely in ivory white. The buffet, occupying a segment of the foyer, is in hardwood; the balcony foyer is panelled in hardwood and tapestry fabric; and the gallery saloon is panelled for the reception of sketches in black and white by well-known artists.
The architects are Messrs. Ernest Runtz and Geo. M'Lean Ford, and in addition to the general structure the whole of the decorative work and upholstery are from their designs. The contractor is Mr. Henry Lovatt.'
The Musical Comedy which opened the new Gaiety Theatre, 'The Orchid', set the mold for the Theatre's future and it was subsequently home to a string of successful musical comedies for the next 3 decades and became a much loved Theatre with the general public and artistes alike. The Theatre is still remembered as the home of the fabulous Gaiety Girls.
Right - A Postcard of the Gaiety Theatre during it's first production, 'The Orchid' which opened on the 26th of October 1904.
All the more surprising then, that in 1939 it was announced that the Theatre was to close and be demolished for a road widening scheme. The new Waterloo Bridge was already under construction and the plan was to demolish the Gaiety and the Lyceum so that a new approach to it could be built on the site of these two Theatres and surrounding buildings.
The last performance at the Gaiety, 'Running Riot' was on the 25th of February 1939 and the Theatre then closed down for good.
But this wasn't the end for the building as the original road widening scheme didn't actually happen and both Theatres were saved from imminent demolition. However, the Gaiety was subsequently in trouble again only a few months later when it was announced that a new office building was to be constructed on the site. The Theatre was subsequently stripped of all its fixtures and fittings but then the war intervened and all the plans for demolition etc were put on hold.
The Lyceum was converted into a ballroom and the Gaiety stood forlorn and derelict, only to be hit by a bomb during the blitz and have its roof destroyed.
The Theatre remained in this condition for many years but looked like it might be restored to theatrical use again when Lupino Lane bought the building for an estimated £200,000 in 1946. However, despite having spent over £25,000 on the building in an attempt to make it safe and reopen it, the costs of repairs and refurbishment continued to spiral out of control, and the difficulties in obtaining permits for reconstruction eventually defeated Lane and he sold the building in 1950 for £190,000 to a firm of builders.
Right - The Illustrated London News 1957 reports on the building soon to replace the Gaiety Theatre - Click to enlarge plus details of all the buildings on the site since then.
The following article about the Gaiety Theatre was written by Harold P. Clunn in his 1956 book: 'The Face Of London'
Above - A photograph of the Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych, London circa 1909 - 1911.
Farther west, between Catherine Street and Wellington Street, stood the old Gaiety Theatre and Restaurant and the offices of the Morning Post. Parliament obliged the London County Council to reinstate these two concerns, and the present Gaiety Theatre was built at the eastern corner of Aldwych in 1903. A new building was erected for the Morning Post at the western corner of Aldwych, adjoining Wellington Street, approximately on the same site as the former building.
Right - Marconi House, formerly the Gaiety Restaurant - Photo M.L.
The old Gaiety Theatre, built in 1864 for Mr Lionel Lawson, was originally called the Strand Music Hall. It was taken over in 1868 by Mr J. Hollingshead as a home of musical comedy and farce, and afterwards came into the possession of Mr George Edwardes. It had a side entrance in Catherine Street and stood on the ground now covered by the roadway of Aldwych.
When this theatre was demolished in 1903, swarms of rats were disturbed, causing a general invasion of the Gaiety Restaurant next door by these rodents, and much damage was done before they could be driven back into the sewers.
By this time the construction of both the new Gaiety Theatre and the Restaurant was well advanced, and the following year the latter was removed to its new quarters. It was on a much grander scale than the old restaurant, but unfortunately it never enjoyed the same popularity and was therefore closed down altogether in 1908. This building afterwards became the headquarters of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company and was known as Marconi House; later it became the headquarters of the Ministry of Civil Aviation when it was renamed Ariel House. A small portion of the ground floor is occupied by Short's, the well-known wine house.
Upon the occasion of the farewell performance at the old Gaiety Theatre in July 1903, there was keen competition among its patrons to secure admission, and the same eagerness was shown by these people to obtain admission to the opening performance of The Orchid at the new Gaiety Theatre on the 26th of the following October.
The handsome columns which adorn the exterior of the present Gaiety Theatre were not originally included in the design of Mr Norman Shaw, the architect, but the London County Council, wishing to make this corner building worthy of such a great London improvement, invited its proprietors to include these extra columns for the sake of effect, and agreed themselves to meet the extra expense which would be thus incurred. But when the formal claim for the cost of this work was presented to the London County Council, they regarded it as excessive and disputed the amount claimed. Litigation followed, as a result of which the Council had to pay the full sum claimed by the Gaiety Theatre Company.
Left - A TheatreLand sign which was mounted on the side elevation of The CityBank building, in 2003. The Citibank building was demolished in 2005 to make way for a new Hotel. Click for details and images of all the buildings on the site since the Gaiety Theatre was built in 1903.
By 1938 the interior appointments of the Gaiety Theatre had become out of date and to conform to the present-day regulations of the London County Council would have necessitated a heavy financial outlay before a renewal of the license could be granted.
The owners would not agree to carry out the necessary alterations and in 1939 the Gaiety Theatre was closed and its fixtures and fittings sold by auction. In 1946 the shell of the Gaiety Theatre, bombed during the war, was bought for £200,000 by Mr Lupino Lane who planned to modernize the building and reopen it as a centre of musical comedy. But after spending £35,000 on repairs, dry rot and worm-rot were encountered and restoration work was stopped altogether. Heartbroken at his failure to restore the Gaiety Theatre, into which task he had put his life-savings, Mr Lupino Lane sold the building for £190,000 to the Indian Government who are going to erect a new office building at a cost of £300,000.
The above text was first published in 'The Face of London' by Harold P. Clunn, 1956.
Stars of Victorian and Edwardian
Days Forgather for Celebrations in London
The atmosphere of the gay nineties was revived in London at the beginning of January when some of the original Gaiety Girls were guests a birthday party at Grosvenor House celebrating the forty-first anniversary of the Actresses' Franchise League. Later many of them attended the Foyle's Literary Luncheon at the Dorchester, honouring the Gaiety Theatre and launching Mr. W. Macqueen-Pope's new book, "Gaiety, Theatre of Enchantment." In the following article Mr. Macqueen-Pope describes the London reunion of the stars of yesteryear.
WHAT was it that gave the Gaiety Girl her glamour? Why was she always in a class apart, something unique and singular in theatrical history? There were lovely ladies at many other theatres, yet one never says - She was a "Daly's Girl," or an Adelphi Girl - and one always says "She was a Gaiety Girl" and having said that, there is little more to be added. For the Gaiety Girl was a thing complete in herself. She was worshipped and adored. She stood as a criterion for all that was enchanting.
The Gaiety Girl was invented by a genius of the theatre - John Hollingshead, and she was invented for the Gaiety Theatre. Hollingshead, a great pioneer who started many things, was the real creator of the chorus as we know it.
There are really two reasons for the supreme attraction of the Gaiety Girls, one of which was supplied for them and one which they supplied themselves. The first of these was The Gaiety Theatre itself. For that theatre was a thing apart from other playhouses when it first opened in 1868.
Above - Page 1 of the article printed in 'The Sphere,' January 1950, about a reunion of the infamous 'Gaiety Girls' - There is a picture of Ruby Miller at a luncheon in the above article and David Cunard has recently sent in some interesting information about her which is printed here: 'When I was a producer at EMI, in the late 60s, I produced a record (45 rpm) of Ruby Miller, one of the Gaiety Girls, a song called "Stop and Think" and the B side was "Love Shades", both by Roy Cowen and Ian Kerr, who were managing her at the time - they became well known for their "Goldberg and Solomon" shows - a humorously Jewish version of G&S. The MD for the record was Arthur Greenslade. Ruby Miller performed "Stop and Think" on the very last edition of "Thank Your Lucky Stars" in June 1966, an episode called "Goodbye Lucky Stars". Her co-stars included the Beatles and there was an audience of 16 million; she was the oldest artist ever to appear on the programme. EMI were astonished that she had a spot, but she did pretty well for an old Gaiety Girl! There's a picture of her at a luncheon above, she must have been the oldest working Gaiety Girl ever! You can take the girl out of the Gaiety, but you can't take the Gaiety out of the girl!' - Courtesy David Cunard.
It was not just a building with an auditorium and a stage. It was the embodiment of an ideal. For years Hollingshead had dreamed of his ideal theatre, how he would run it and with what he would fill it, and when he acquired the Gaiety he made that ideal into actuality. The actual term "Gaiety Girl" really belonged to the chorus. It would not have been the thing, during the great days of the Gaiety, to think of its leading ladies as "Gaiety Girls." But now that it has been closed for years and trembles on the verge of rebirth, the term "Gaiety Girl " can be applied to the very greatest of its great ladies.
To go back over a list of the famous Gaiety Girls of the past requires the space of a book and it has its own book now. To most people to-day the words " Gaiety Girls" mean those creatures of romantic wonder of the days of George Edwardes, beginning when he invented musical comedy and first staged it at the Gaiety in 1894 with The Shop Girl-even putting the word "Girl" into the title, it will be observed. Yet one must recall some of the Girls before then. One must remember that wonderful woman, Kate Vaughan, and her delightful dancing. Dressing always in long, clinging skirts, she also carried a lace handkerchief and she wore long black gloves. To do her honour, the fashionable young men who filled the Gaiety stalls and boxes all donned black gloves too, and, at a prearranged signal, all the black-gloved hands shot into the air together to salute the lady they loved.
There was Connie Gilchrist, who became the Countess of Orkney, who rose to fame through a skipping-rope dance and who became one of the, greatest Gaiety Girls. Everyone knew her; her name was a household word, and when a learned judge inquired from the Bench, " Who is Connie Gilchrist ? ", a nation howled with laughter. She adorned the peerage as she adorned the Gaiety. But then, a Gaiety Girl could do anything-be anything-with the greatest distinction. One of them-Mabel Russell-even became a Member of Parliament. You could not stop a Gaiety Girl, she was and remains invincible.
Above -Page 2 of the article printed in 'The Sphere,' January 1950, about a reunion of the infamous 'Gaiety Girls'
Starting with The Shop Girl fifty-six years ago - a very long time so far as public memory is concerned - the Gaiety Girls continue to prove themselves invincible. And there are still many of those great ladies with us to-day. That was shown at the recent functions in London when there was called together a select company of Gaiety Girls. There, seated at the top table, in the place of honour, was the living history of the Gaiety Theatre-with even a link with its opening night. There they were for all to see. A vast gathering acclaimed them as they rose to make their bow in response to a call from the chairman, Sir Gerald Kelly. What did it matter if the public had seen them last ten, twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty years ago ? They were the Gaiety Girls, the creatures of enchantment, peerless and unchallenged still. There was the senior of them all-Sylvia Grey-over eighty, but as fresh, vivacious and bright as anyone there, with that same piquant face and smile which rocked the young men of sixty years ago. Retired long since, but nobody had forgotten her. There was Hilda Jacobson, delightful artist and singer, who took her bow with smiling charm. There was delightful Grace Palotta, as handsome as ever, singer of that immortal song, - "The Soldiers in the Park," in A Runaway Girl in 1898. There was Mai Bacon and lovely Ruby Miller, of a later Gaiety vintage, and Madge Elliott, too, all bearing that unmistakeable stamp of quality which the Gaiety gave to its own. There was Claire Romaine, who sang " Maude, Maude, Maude, The Girl Who Has Studied Abroad," - in The Toreador, a great comedienne, with attack and vigour unimpaired, daughter of a fine composer, Edward Solomon.
A great greeting, too, for Ethel Sydney-a true Gaiety Girl-a leading lady in the last show at the old and the first show at the new Gaiety. Unchanged and as sincere and sparkling as when she sang ---The Language of Flowers - in The Toreador. And clustered round the chairman, who was the envy of every man in the gathering, were the holders of great names unforgettable in the minds of playgoers. Ellaline Terriss, now Lady Hicks, who was everybody's sweetheart in her Gaiety days and remains that still, dainty as Dresden china, silver hair framing her beautiful smiling face, who blew a kiss to the roars of applause, and who still had them all on that "Little Bit of String" of which she sang in The Circus Girl in 1896.
And there, too, was Lily Elsie recalling the days of The New Aladdin before she made her astounding success in The Merry Widow-there was this extremely lovely person with the same calm beauty and direct gaze from the blue eyes, the same complete glamour (real glamour such as is very seldom seen), bringing a lump into the throat of her adoring admirers. And Phyllis Dare herself, recalling The Sunshine Girl in 1912-with the same sunshine still in her beauty - and earning the plaudits of playgoers of to-day by her true Gaiety artistry in King's Rhapsody at the Palace at this very moment. And on the chairman's right and left were the two peeresses of the Gaiety who were present. There was Rose, Marchioness of Headfort, who, as Rosie Boote, was a Gaiety girl of supreme quality. She was born in Luton-not in Tipperary, as is usually stated-and she began as a dancer. She learned her business the right way, on tour. She had her big chance in The Messenger Boy, and she took it.
There remains one more - the other Gaiety Girl who, with Nellie Farren, enshrined in herself the true spirit of the Theatre of Enchantment. On the list of guests she was named Countess of Dudley, but on every lip, in every heart, she was and always will be-Gertie Millar. What a roar of cheers she got!
Right - Gertie Miller - from an undated postcard.
True, the Gaiety made them Gaiety Girls, but why is it that they are so vividly remembered over so many years full of such worldshaking events ? lt is because they made their fame and their reputations by real, genuine talent of their own.
The above article was first published in 'The Sphere,' January 1950.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.