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Hoxton Varieties, 18-20, Pitfield Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch, London

Also known as - The Theatre of Varieties / Varieties Music Hall / Harwood's Music Hall / New Kings Theatre / Bromwich Theatre / Mortimer's Theatre / Gaumont Cinema

See also in this area: Royal Cambridge Music Hall - National Standard Theatre - Shoreditch Empire, London Music Hall - Shoreditch Town Hall - City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate - Wilton's Music Hall, Whitechapel - Britannia Theatre, Hoxton - The Hoxton Hall - The Royalty / Brunswick Theatres, Whitechapel - The Garrick Theatre, Whitechapel - The Goodman's Fields Theatre, Whitechapel

The remains of the Hoxton Varieties in 1978 - Courtesy Peter Charlton.

Above - The remains of the Hoxton Varieties in 1978 - Courtesy Peter Charlton.

 

The Hoxton Varieties in a photograph taken by John Earl in the 1970s.The Varieties (Variety Theatre or Harwood’s Hall) in Pitfield Street, Hoxton, a short distance from Shoreditch church, was built in 1869 behind the White Horse pub. It was designed by the leading theatre architect, C. J. Phipps, who probably devoted more attention to the pub facade than to the hall itself, which was an exceedingly modest building quite unlike his other theatres. By 1870 it was licensed to George Harwood who, unlike his father, seemed perfectly prepared to run a hall attached to a pub. Interestingly, it had a Lord Chamberlain’s theatre licence from the beginning, enabling Harwood to present short dramatic pieces as items in a music hall bill without breaking the law. It was, thus, truly named a variety theatre.

Right - The Hoxton Varieties in a photograph taken by John Earl in the 1970s.

Harwood opened (more correctly reopened) his ‘magnificent bijou theatre’ in February 1871 with what the Era described as ‘one of the best dramatic and star concert hall companies that has ever appeared in the East End of London’. The opening programme, which included Walter Laburnum and Hyram Travers was, however, not typical of later Varieties fare. At two pence admission to all but a small part of the house, the bills were not likely to be star-studded. Nevertheless, they must have pleased the local population since, by 1882, Harwood was calling on another architect, J. G. Buckle, designer of the Sebright and the Stratford E. Theatre Royal, to enlarge the Varieties.

Buckle’s theatre had a semi-circular corrugated iron-covered roof, rather like a twentieth century army Romney hut and the ceiling was barrel-shaped to match. There was no land available to increase the seating area, so Buckle extended the iron-balustraded balconies back into the pub frontage (see Effingham Saloon for a comparable alteration) raising the roof to accommodate the enlarged top gallery.

 

The remains of the Hoxton Varieties in 1978 - Courtesy Peter Charlton.Harwood ceased to be licensee two years later. The theatre then went through several changes of name under a series of proprietors, but its popular local name of ‘Sod’s Opera’ spoke of a desperate decline in its fortunes.

By 1909, at which time the Varieties was said to have a capacity of 1,160, a makeshift biograph box had been introduced.

Left - The remains of the Hoxton Varieties in 1978 - Courtesy Peter Charlton.

In 1910, when George Cole, a prolific designer of cinemas, installed an improved projection box, the place was known as ‘Ye Olde Varieties’. The upper balcony was removed in 1913. By 1931, the cinema had, rather surprisingly, become a Gaumont house.

The building survived until 1981 but was derelict for some years before its final demolition.

The above text was written by John Earl, former director of the Theatres Trust, in January 1999 and was kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by him in 2009.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1871

 

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