Home Page
The Music Hall and Theatre History Website

 

Home - Index - Forum - Contact

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The City Varieties Music Hall, Swan Street, Briggate, Leeds

Formerly - Thornton's Music Hall / Stansfield Varieties

Leeds Theatres Index

A Google StreetView Image showing the Entrance to the City Varieties Theatre and Thornton's Arcade - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image showing the Entrance to the City Varieties Theatre and Thornton's Arcade - Click to Interact

 

The Auditorium of the City Varieties, Leeds in a photograph taken in 1986 - Courtesy Ted BottleThe City Varieties in Swan Street, Leeds originally opened as Thornton's Music Hall on Monday the 13th of March 1865. It was designed by the architect George Smith of Victoria Chambers, South Parade, Leeds, and built for Charles Thornton who also commissioned Thornton's Arcade which is still in existence beside the Theatre today.

Right - The Auditorium of the City Varieties, Leeds in a photograph taken in 1986 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Thornton's Music Hall was originally constructed as an attachment to the White Swan Inn which had been on the site since the mid 1700s. Charles Thornton had been its Landlord since at least 1857.

A notice in the ERA on the 12th of March 1865 carried the following advertisement for Thornton's Grand New Music Hall saying:-

'One of the handsomest and most commodious in the Provinces, Open every Evening, with a powerful and talented Company. On Monday, 13th inst., the celebrated HERR SCHALKENBACH (Member de l'Academie National, Paris), with his extraordinary PIANO ORCHESTRA ELECTRO MOTEUR!, Astounding Array of Novelties A programme for 'Remember Me' at the City Varieties in 1951. on the occasion of THE GRAND OPENING, which will take place in the present Month, under distinguished patronage, Vacancies for Novelties and Talent of the Highest Order for immediate and future dates. No stumps. Three days' silence a negative. General Manager, Mr Alfred Roe. Sole Proprietor, Mr Charles Thornton, to whom applications are to be addressed.

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 12th of March 1865.

The ERA also remarked in another edition that the Hall was seventy two feet long, thirty six feet wide, and thirty feet high, and possessed excellent acoustical properties. There was also a spacious retiring room for the performers and a suite of dressing rooms immediately behind the stage.

Above Left - A programme for 'Remember Me' at the later renamed City Varieties in 1951.

 

An Entrance Token for Thornton's New Music Hall, Billiard & Supper Rooms, Briggate, Leeds - Courtesy Alan Judd An Entrance Token for Thornton's New Music Hall, Billiard & Supper Rooms, Briggate, Leeds - Courtesy Alan Judd

Above - An Entrance Token for Thornton's New Music Hall, Billiard & Supper Rooms, Briggate, Leeds - Courtesy Alan Judd

 

The Circle bar in the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds, displaying archive images for this and other Leeds Theatres, including a poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife, Katty King at the Princess' Palace, Leeds 1880. - Photo Courtesy The City Varieties Theatre, Leeds.

Above - The Circle bar of the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds, displaying archive images for this and other Leeds Theatres, including a poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife, Katty King at the Princess' Palace, Leeds 1880. - Photo Courtesy The City Varieties Theatre, Leeds.

 

The Circle bar in the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds, displaying archive images for this and other Leeds Theatres, including a poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife, Katty King at the Princess' Palace, Leeds 1880. - Photo Courtesy The City Varieties Theatre, Leeds.From 1877 to 1884 the name of the Hall was being billed in newspapers as the Stansfield Varieties but after 1893 the name was being billed as the City Varieties, a name the Theatre retains to this day. If you have any more information on the Stansfield Varieties period or the exact date of the change to City Varieties please Contact me.

Right - The Circle bar of the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds, displaying archive images for this and other Leeds Theatres, including a poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife, Katty King at the Princess' Palace, Leeds 1880. - Photo Courtesy The City Varieties Theatre, Leeds.

On Monday October the 1st 1898 the City Varieties was purchased by Fred W. Wood of Leeds along with the adjoining Hotel. J. C Whiteman who was a well known humourist in the North of England at the time became the Theatre's manager. The following year the 'Clog Dancing Championship of the World' took place at the City Varieties. The first prize was awarded to Harvey of Dublin.

 

The City Varieties was true to its name for the next 60 years presenting Music Hall and Variety shows nightly and in January 1953 the BBC broadcast a programme about this famous Music Hall from the City Varieties itself, and the programme's producer, Barney Colehan, proposed that they should start doing outside broadcasts from the Theatre on a regular basis.

Left - A Youtube video showing a selection from the BBC's 'The Good Old Days'

Programme for 'Wisecracks of 1940' at the City Varieties 1940. And so 'The Good Old Days' was born, a TV show which tried to recreate the atmosphere of Music Hall for a modern audience, and although not a completely accurate representation of Music Hall, it nonetheless went on to become one of Britain's favourite television shows for the next 30 years, running from 1953 to 1983.

Right - A programme for 'Wisecracks of 1940' at the City Varieties in 1940. (More below)

Today the City Varieties is a Grade II Listed building and the Theatres Trust says of the Theatre: 'What is seen today would appear to be the 1865 hall, possibly incorporating earlier fabric, and still more or less in its modified 1888 form. It is, thus, one of the most important early grand music hall survivals, comparable in rarity and completeness with London, Wilton’s and Hoxton Hall and the Glasgow Britannia.'

In 2011 the City Varieties is undergoing an extensive £9.2m refurbishment funded by Leeds City Council (£5.2m) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (£2.74m), and is due to reopen on September the 18th, 2011. For more details on the building and the refurbishment you may like to visit the Theatre's own website which can be found here.

 

Programme for 'Wisecracks of 1940' at the City Varieties 1940.

Above - A programme for 'Wisecracks of 1940' at the City Varieties in 1940.

 

Three Posters for the City Varieties, Leeds

A Poster for 'Folies Burlesque' at the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds - Courtesy Kenny Cantor A Poster for 'Red Riding Hood' at the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds - Courtesy Kenny Cantor A Poster for 'Red Riding Hood' at the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds - Courtesy Kenny Cantor

Above - Posters for 'Folies Burlesque' and 'Red Riding Hood' at the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds - Courtesy Kenny Cantor

Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.