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


The Queen's Theatre, 12 Watson Street, Gallowgate, Glasgow

Formerly - The Shakespeare Music Hall / Shakespeare Grand Music Hall and Palace Theatre / New Star / The People's Palace / Pringle's Picture Palace

Glasgow Index

Seven Decades of Theatre at Glasgow Cross
By Ted Bottle and Graeme Smith

An early and rare photograph showing Watson Street, Glasgow and the Queen's Theatre in about 1901 - Courtesy the Mitchell Library.

Above - An early and rare photograph showing Watson Street, Glasgow and the Queen's Theatre in about 1901 - Courtesy the Mitchell Library. Compare this image with the 2012 one below.

A Watercolour of Gallowgate west to Glasgow Cross, by Robert Eadie RSW, around 1910. Watson Street is on the the right with the theatre (out of sight) on its right - Courtesy the Eadie family.The Queen's Theatre, originally created for Arthur Lloyd as the Shakespeare Music Hall, and situated in the Gallowgate, now a working class area, immediately to the east of Glasgow Cross, had a fascinating and colourful 71 year history. It is not well known among theatre enthusiasts but deserves a wider press.

Right - A Watercolour of Gallowgate west to Glasgow Cross, by Robert Eadie RSW, around 1910. Watson Street is on the the right with the theatre (out of sight) on its right - Courtesy the Eadie family.

Like the Trongate's Britannia, it occupied the upper floors of a warehouse block at 12 Watson Street where the under-stage area was on the ground floor and this would have caused difficulties in getting scenery and properties onto the stage above. It was built by the contractors Morrison and Mason, as a speculative venture when music hall entertainment was in the ascendant. Morrison and Mason had just completed John Morrison's own theatre three years earlier in Gorbals and best known as the Royal Princess's. Glasgow Cross and Gorbals were both receiving attention under the City's Improvements Trust.

Arthur Lloyd opens the Theatre

Poster for the opening night of Arthur Lloyd's Shakespeare Music Hall - October 1881 - Click to enlarge.Often quoted as being opened as the Star by Dan M'Kay in 1878 – which seems to be a confusion with the Star music hall at the top of Hope Street and part of the Theatre Royal complex created there by the Baylis family – it actually first saw the light of day as the Shakespeare Music Hall on October 10th, 1881, with the well known Arthur Lloyd at the helm. He was a Scottish singer who was already touring Britain and Ireland, and the United Kingdom, a prolific songwriter, comedian and impresario who was on home ground. To read the ERA's opening report on the Shakespeare Music Hall see this section of Arthur Lloyd's Biography.

Right - The Poster for the opening night of Arthur Lloyd's Shakespeare Music Hall, Glasgow on Monday October the 10th 1881 - Click to enlarge. The poster is one of a large collection of original Lloyd Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family and found recently after being lost for 50 years. To see all these posters click the Poster Index here.

On the ground floor of the theatre, a handful of orchestra stalls fronted a very large pit of wooden benches. Above were two lyre shaped balconies and the house sat around 2,000 people. Traditional boxes were absent, although sufficient room for them existed between the proscenium wall and the circle edges. Shakespeare's bust adorned the top of the proscenium and painted heads of characters from his plays occupied a number of surrounding panels. Names of English, Scots and Irish poets were prominently displayed, all of which made the interior well removed from the usual music hall décor so familiar to those who patronised such venues.

The proscenium arch, with fluted Corinthian columns, was recorded as 21 feet wide by 26 feet in height with a small stage, 48 feet wide by 23 feet deep, similar to that at Leeds City Varieties. The grid height is unknown but it is believed that cloths could be flown, possibly with low masking borders. A photograph taken after a fire in 1952 suggests a wider proscenium opening but confirmation has yet to be found. The apron and orchestra pit were deep making the front row of seats about 13 feet from the proscenium. The act-drop was painted by W. W. Small, who had worked at the Glasgow Royal Princess's and in October 1882 he began an engagement at Sunderland's New Avenue Theatre. Dressing rooms and Lloyd's office, were at the rear of the stage.

The stalls and dress circle were accessed up a wide staircase from a narrow passage off Watson Street, whilst the remainder of the house was reached from Watson Lane at the side. A staircase, with three landings, reached the pay box and the pit entrance on the first floor from where a torturous flight of stairs, with eight landings, led to the gallery. Prices ranged from 3d to 1/- and the doors opened at 6.30 pm for the once nightly performance at 7.00 pm.

Names of Contractors Engaged in Building the Shakespeare Music Hall, Glasgow - From the opening night poster of the 10th of October 1881

Above - Names of Contractors Engaged in Building the Shakespeare Music Hall, Glasgow - From the opening night poster of the 10th of October 1881.

Programme cover for Arthur Lloyd's Shakespeare Music Hall 1881 - Click to see enlargement at The Glasgow StoryThe inaugural presentation on October 10th, 1881, consisted of Arthur Lloyd, his wife Katty King, together with a juggler, gymnast, vocal comedian, ballad singers, an impersonator and a sketch. The pit orchestra of nine players, under the baton of Dennis Butler, was described as excellent.

Right - A thumbnail of a Programme cover for Arthur Lloyd's Shakespeare Music Hall 1881. To see the programme enlarged and for details visit the The Glasgow Story here. Please note that their text is out of date regarding name and formation of the theatre.

Charles Coborn worked a week in December and a burlesque of 'Robinson Crusoe', with Lloyd and King playing the leading roles, was on the bill after Christmas, but local support was poor and the venue closed around mid January 1882. The building's ambience and the quality of the acts may have been too highbrow for Gallowgate audiences, which resulted in Lloyd's bankruptcy. He had a good theatre but in the wrong place.

Shakespeare and the Butler

In May, the hall was leased to Dennis Butler, the former musical director and once a conductor at the Britannia, who opened it on August 28th as The Shakespeare Grand Music Hall and Palace Theatre. There were 23 'genuine' star artists on the opening bill including Captain Swan, an aquatic wonder, who worked with an alligator, boa constrictor and serpents. The crowds flocked in such numbers that alterations were reported to the pit in order to increase the accommodation.

Prices for the two Saturday performances, at 5.00 pm and 8.00 pm, were reduced for the first month, possibly as an inducement. On Friday nights, prizes, such as sewing machines, were given to the prettiest Scots lady vocalist from the audience whilst the best male singer would receive a tweed suit. There was a need for Butler to increase the footfall as his outgoings were heavy due to booking so many artists. In one week the payroll was £300 when admission prices ranged from 2d to 1/-. The inevitable end came on March 3rd, 1883.

New life as the Star

Dan S. M'Kay, lessee of the Edinburgh Albert Hall, reopened the theatre twice nightly as the New Star on September 15th 1884, with reduced prices, and running it in tandem with the newly acquired Gaiety in Sauchiehall Street. On November 1st, a false fire alarm panic at the Star claimed the lives of 14 people. The Star reopened, with additional exits, to a large gathering on November 17th, although the gallery's capacity was reduced by half to 450 until an extra way out could be constructed. In January 1885, M'Kay distributed £100 to sufferers of the panic in sums ranging from £1 to £5, but he lost £800 over the whole affair.

A tug-of-war, arranged for members of the audience, occurred on stage in August 1889 where a prize of £10, and a silver medal, was given to each of the five members of the winning team. Harry Randall and Bessie Bellwood were two of the better known performers who appeared at that time. However, gimmicks did not swell the box office takings sufficiently and the New Star closed on May 31st, 1890, as M'Kay ran out of money but he kept the Gaiety open until December 13th. H. E. Moss and Richard Thornton reopened it in January 1892 and the hall eventually became the Empire. In January 1891, M'Kay was in the bankruptcy court over his large debts incurred at the Star but reports that he had left both venues to manage the Britannia are incorrect as M'Gown continued running the Brit until May 16th, 1892 when M'Kay took his place.

People's Palace

A drawing of the frontage of the People's Palace Music Hall, which would later become the Queen's Theatre, Watson Street, Glasgow  - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - A drawing of the frontage of the People's Palace Music Hall, which would later become the Queen's Theatre, Watson Street, Glasgow - From a People's Palace Music Hall programme - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Star remained unused until John Wilson formed the People's Palace Company whose directors included a number of councillors and a Lord Provost. Their aim was to improve the conditions for the working classes. Renamed The People's Palace, it re-opened on November 28th, 1892, with Tom Colquhoun, grandson of Mrs James Baylis at the Scotia Music Hall in Stockwell Street, and Barney Armstrong, a performing knockabout comic with a variety agency, at the tiller. This agency booked acts for the Queen's, Paisley Empire and other Scottish halls. Additional fire escapes permitted seating for 2,300 and standing room for 320 people. Once nightly shows were back with wives and sweethearts admitted free on Friday nights. The opening performance included a champion swimmer using a large tank, comedians, ballet, burlesque, a contortionist, and a ventriloquist. A reviewer remarked that "the orchestra, after a night or two's practise, should be a feature of the house". Admission prices of 3d, 6d and 1/- were reduced the following year as audiences again dwindled.

A Glasgow OS map of 1893 showing Watson Street, near Glasgow Cross, and the position of the theatre, operating then as the People's Palace Music Hall - Courtesy the National Library of Scotland.

Above - A Glasgow OS map of 1893 showing Watson Street, near Glasgow Cross, and the position of the theatre, operating then as the People's Palace Music Hall - Courtesy the National Library of Scotland.

Queen's Theatre

A Thumbnail image of a 1930s Programme held on the excellent Glasgow Story Website - To see it enlarged and for details click here.Sam Torr, a comedian in the Lion Comique style and associated with music halls in Leicester and Nottingham, appeared in October 1895 before the start of a year's drama which closed on March 6th 1897. Fred Cooke, lessee of the Batley Theatre Royal, took control at the end of August and reopened the venue as the Queen's Theatre after installing electricity which reduced the dirt and grime from gas that necessitated frequent redecorations. He booked weekly touring drama companies which specialised in sensation and melodrama, both of which were popular.

Right - A Thumbnail image of a 1930s Programme held on the excellent Glasgow Story Website - To see it enlarged and for details click here. Please note that their text is out of date regarding name and formation of the theatre.

The Queen's and Tivoli became closely linked. Colquhoun and Armstrong reopened the Tivoli in Anderston Cross, which was the old Victoria, on January 2nd 1899, while Cooke leased his Batley Royal to Macnaughton in July. In November the two managers, took over the Queen's lease from Cooke. Their policy was once nightly variety with around nine turns and a sketch. Some artists worked both Queen's and Tivoli the same night. For example, Les Frasettis, versatile musicians, were booked at the Tivoli for 8.30 pm and at the Queen's for 9.45 pm. Some artists were retained beyond a week according to their popularity and films accompanied most programmes.

Glasgow Corporation become owners

  • Queen's Theatre 1944 Ground Floor Plan.
  • Queen's Theatre 1944 Stalls First Floor Plan.
  • Queen's Theatre 1944 Circle Plan.
  • Queen's Theatre 1944 Gallery Plan.
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Glasgow Corporation purchased the Queen's - for reasons not yet known - with the surrounding warehouse in 1902, and reduced the theatre's capacity to 1,800 before reseating it. Colquhoun and Armstrong reopened the Tivoli, after its major reconstruction, on December 28th, 1903. The following year the Queen's and Tivoli went twice nightly necessitating the artists, and luggage, being ferried between the two halls by broughams but both halls went once nightly again from April 1904.The association with the Tivoli ended in November 1904 when S. King Alexander took it over with theatre debts of £10,000. Armstrong left the management of the Queen's in March 1905 and went back to performing whilst Colquhoun departed the following month seeking another theatre to manage. In August both the Queen's and Tivoli closed as they had become bankrupt, and all contracts were cancelled. The liquidator sold the interests in the Queen's to P. M. Findlay who reopened it in September and held it until Barney Armstrong reacquired the Queen's lease in March 1906 when both theatres were running together again.

Right - A Selection of Floor Plans for the Queen's Theatre, Glasgow from 1944 - Courtesy Glasgow City Archives.

Artists worked both halls but only for four nights a week at the Tivoli as the other two were earmarked for boxing tournaments. Boxing was a craze in Glasgow at the time and sometimes it took place at the Queen's, which was contrary to the terms of its lease as it contravened the Police Further Powers Act of 1892 but this did not apply to the Tivoli. Magistrates had instructed the lessee that boxing should cease but the edict was ignored as the managers assumed their three months licence, which did not run out until December, covered them.

On October 17th 1906, the Chief Superintendent of Police went on stage, stopped the performance and evicted both the artists and audience with the option of arrest if they did not leave. Acting manager Bowerman, rather than Armstrong, was charged with opening an unlicensed theatre and fined three guineas. The Queen's remained closed and the proposed sale of fixtures and fittings was postponed on appeal from the lessee to the disappointment of those who looked forward to purchasing bargains. Armstrong advised artists already booked, to send their vacancies to his nephew at the Anderston Cross Gaiety, who would use them if possible.

Pringle's Picture Palace

An Advert for Pringle`s Picture Palace from April 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Queen's remained closed until November 1907 when Robert Pringle leased it as a cine-variety house which became known as Pringle's Picture Palace, but advertisements for large stage specialities still appeared in the press.

Right - An Advert for Pringle's Picture Palace from April 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In the 'Pied Piper' pantomime of 1907/8, the saloon of the very new RMS Lusitania took up the entire width of the stage and rocked with the waves. However, most turns, which appeared in-between the films, were 'run of the mill' music hall acts, all operating twice nightly.

The Frutin Circuit takes control

Bernard Frutin took control of the Queen's during World War 1 and it reverted to full time variety shortly afterwards. The layout of the auditorium did not endear itself to film watching which was probably highlighted as newer purpose built cinemas came on stream. In 1923, Deville, the famous illusionist and escapologist, with his large company, were so popular that hundreds were unable to get in to either house on the Monday and the police were called to control the crowds, which demonstrated that the demand for good spectacular variety remained.

The first ever wedding to be solemnised in a theatre took place on the Queen's stage after the performance on Wednesday 28th August 1929. Rosanna Anderston and George Watson were the bride and groom and at the end of the ceremony, the pit orchestra struck up the wedding march while the audience cheered. (Glasgow relished its social innovations. The first wedding in Europe conducted inside a lions' cage took place on the evening of Friday 15th April 1910  at E. H. Bostock's Scottish Zoo and Variety Circus in New City Road.)

Direction by the Hall family

Pantomime Dame Sammy Murray - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Bernard Frutin appointed Harry Hall (real name Close), one of his managers, to run the Queen's in 1931 and this began a notable period in its history. Hall instigated memorable pantomimes, spoken in a broad Glaswegian dialect and written by Frank Droy who, with his wife Doris, took part along with Sam Murray, shown right, who was always the dame.

Right - Pantomime Dame Sammy Murray - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

These simply staged twice nightly shows were 'earthy', ribald and permissive which attracted audiences for months on end and were often the longest running pantos in the country. Managers came from far and wide bemused to see how the Queen's achieved its records. The Glasgow magistrates, conscious that the Corporation owned the theatre, at one stage did not approve of this low level entertainment and discovered that one script had not been passed by the Lord Chamberlain, a requirement which ceased in 1968. Hurriedly, Frank Droy scribbled a pencilled copy of the script, written in the local vernacular, into an exercise book but carefully omitted all stage directions and sent it to his Lordship. It passed, as one assumes no one in London could understand it.

The 1937/8 pantomime 'Bluebeard' broke all records and ran twice nightly for 19 weeks. The swollen annual pantomime receipts are likely to have kept the theatre profitable throughout the rest of the year. 'Simple Simon' had a 16 week run but on February 8th, 1949, the 'irreplaceable' dame, Sam Murray, died just aged 53, mainly of alcoholism, and his funeral drew huge crowds to Gallowgate. Harry Hall died shortly after and the Droys lost interest as it was unlikely that suitable replacements could be found to continue the unique tradition, however, pantomimes did continue until 1951 when the last was 'Sanny's Magic Sporran'.

John Hall of the Frutin Circuit and Queen's Theatre. Future President of the Scottish Show-business Benevolent Fund - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Hall family continued the lease and in its final years, drama groups also occupied the boards including the Unity Theatre. The Queen's carried on until the early hours of January 24th, 1952, when fire destroyed the backstage area. Although the age of television, which decimated music halls and cinemas, had not fully arrived, the decision was taken not to rebuild although the photograph taken after the fire suggests this was feasible. The edict probably lay with Glasgow Corporation who, in the early 1950s, had grandiose plans to redevelop many areas of the city, including Glasgow Cross. And so this iconic theatre died and was finally demolished a few years later.

Left - John Hall of the Frutin Circuit and Queen's Theatre. Future President of the Scottish Show-business Benevolent Fund - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

John Hall continued producing in the Frutin circuit and became President of the Scottish Show-business Benevolent Fund.

The site of the former Queen's Theatre / Shakespeare Music Hall has for a long time been in use as a car park, see image below from 2012, but in 2022 it is finally being redeveloped into an apartment building.

A Google StreetView Image of Watson Street, Glasgow and the site of the former Queen's Theatre / Shakespeare Music Hall in October 2012. In 2022 the site was being redeveloped - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of Watson Street, Glasgow and the site of the former Queen's Theatre / Shakespeare Music Hall in October 2012. Compare this image with the 1901 one above. In 2022 the site was being redeveloped - Click to Interact.

The above article on the Glasgow Queen's Theatre was written by Ted Bottle and Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by them in March 2022.

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