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

 

The Theatre Royal, Horsefair Street, Leicester

Formerly - The New Theatre

Leicester Theatres

The Theatre Royal, Leicester during the run of 'Play As You Learn' - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.

Above - The Theatre Royal, Leicester during the run of 'Play As You Learn' - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.

A poster for 'Master Crook' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in the 1950s - Courtesy David Garratt.The New Theatre, as it was known until the name was changed to Theatre Royal in January 1837, was built on a site fronting Horsefair Street through to the Market Place, and opened on Monday the 12th September 1836. It had taken 6 months to build in exceedingly dry conditions, not a drop of rain had fallen since the foundation stone had been laid.

On opening night when the Green baize curtain was raised, Miss S. Booth stepped forward being enthusiastically greeted, to deliver the opening address written specially for the occasion by Mr Monro the Acting Manager. The National Anthem was then sung by all, followed by a performance of Sheridan's 'School for Scandal'.

Right - A poster for 'Master Crook' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in the 1950s - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Theatre was designed by Mr W. Parsons the County Architect, and built by Messrs W. & C. Herbert. The exterior frontage had a grand Grecian Pillared façade built out over the pavement. The auditorium was horseshoe shaped. The pit was fitted with benches with a back rail to every other row, and sat 450 people. The circle upstairs was divided into boxes and above this was a second tier of boxes seating a total of another 350 people. The Gallery sat between 450 and 500 people.

The internal decorations were carried out by Mr Crace of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Royal Olympic, and St James Theatre, London, of chaste arabesque character in the style of the Baths of Titus, on a light background with gilt ornaments. The front tier of the boxes were decorated with festoons of flowers with light honeysuckle ornaments. The dress circle front was divided into panels decorated with arabesque scrolls and various birds with elegant plumage on a dark background. The ceiling was divided into 8 panels with painted clouding effect, and in each section was a cameo painted of celebrated authors. From a central gilded rose hung a magnificent gas Chandelier by Mr Morland Broderip.

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Leicester taken from the stage - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.

Above - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Leicester taken from the stage - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.

The stage was 48 feet deep projecting into the auditorium with a curved frontage. The proscenium width being 25 feet. The Stage machinery of traps, sloats and bridges, was constructed by Mr Evans of London.

Opening prices were Boxes three shillings (15p). Pit two shillings (10p) and One shilling in the Gallery (5p). Doors opened at 6.30pm for curtain up at 7.0pm. You could enter for half price for the second half of the performance after 8.45pm.

Charles Kean appeared at the Theatre Royal in October 1837 for 5 nights with the following productions:

Monday. 'Hamlet' followed by 'The Forty Thieves'
Tuesday. 'Macbeth' also followed by 'The Forty Thieves'
Wednesday. 'King Lear' followed by A Romantic Drama.
Thursday. 'Othello' followed by 'The Miller and his Men'
Friday. A Benefit night in his honour when he performed
'Richard the Third' followed by 'The Miller and his Men' again.

A Sketch of the Theatre Royal, Leicester drawn by David Garratt in 2011

Above - A Sketch of the Theatre Royal, Leicester drawn by David Garratt in 2011

A programme for 'She Follows me About' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1951 - Courtesy David Garratt.Famous actors who played the Royal in its early days were William Farren, Helen Fawcit, Barry Sullivan, J. L.Toole, and Sir Henry Irving.

In 1847 the Theatre was sold for the sum of £3500, and a new company formed. In September 1851 a local drama was performed of 'Allen the Gipsy or the Murder of Bradgate Park'. (Bradgate Park is a local beauty spot in which are the remains of Lady Jane Grey's House). On the 29th January 1852 a grand Masquerade and Fancy Dress Ball was held in the Theatre.

A grand Panorama from the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London was presented from the 20th December 1852 till the 14th January 1853, in perpetual motion, depicting a journey from the city of St Louis USA across the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountains to the Great Gold Fields and cities of California.

Left - A programme for 'She Follows me About' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1951 - Courtesy David Garratt.

In 1873 Elliot Galer decided to remodel the auditorium. He removed the side and circle boxes and improved the pit seating. New offices were made on the ground floor, the entrance stairs to the circle were widened, with a bust of Shakespeare placed in niche in front of the stairs. The circle entrance hall was also made more spacious. A large refreshment Salon made on the right hand side and adjoining this a large and comfortable salon. Instead of the old entrance to the circle there were now two entrances. The wall paper used was light green and gold.

Cast details from a programme for 'She Follows me About' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1951 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - Cast details from a programme for 'She Follows me About' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1951 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The rear elevation of the Theatre Royal, Leicester - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.Inside the auditorium the circle front was made deeper by adding an extra section which allowed an extra two rows of seating. The old stage boxes either side of the proscenium were removed and curved walls inserted in their place. The gallery was enlarged and the gallery ceiling rearranged to improve the sight lines. Two entrances were made into the pit instead of the original one entrance. A new separate entrance to the orchestral stalls was made via a staircase from the box entrance. The stall seats, provided now with iron bar separations every two seats.

Right - The rear elevation of the Theatre Royal, Leicester - From the book 'The Theatre Royal' by Richard Leacroft 1947 - Photo Ronald Hunt A.R.P.S.

The old ceiling with its cameo’s of authors was changed, being extended a further 6 feet towards the proscenium arch, and now decorated with panels showing figures of Griffins finished in arabesque with new medallions of famous composers painted by Mr Earle of London, the scenic artist. The decoration of the fronts of the gallery and circle were now altered being sunken frets painted in warm grey, salmon, white and gold. The old Chandelier was replaced with a new sun burner of 190 gas jets in 19 clusters. Above the proscenium was placed the Royal Coat of Arms. New red baize house curtains were installed, with a new drop scene depicting the ruins in Bradgate Park painted by Mr Herbert of Manchester. The Theatre was still heated at this time by fireplaces situated in the walls of the auditorium. These were finally bricked up in 1918.

Ann Welfitt and Cecil Gray in their Character Study in 'A Fool in Paradise' From a programme for 'A Perfect Day' which was presented at Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1918 - Courtesy David Garratt.In 1879 Miss Emily Soldene obtained the provincial rites to the Opera 'Carmen' sung in English which had its UK provincial premier at the Theatre Royal.

1881 saw the curved apron stage removed and made flat in line with the proscenium.

Left - Ann Welfitt and Cecil Gray in their Character Study in 'A Fool in Paradise' From a programme for 'A Perfect Day' which was presented at Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1918 - Courtesy David Garratt.

In 1888 a fly tower was installed by building the stage walls 16 feet higher, and a further extra storey added to the dressing room block. Prior to this the scenery had consisted of flats, which were inserted into grooves in the stage floor and also by hinged grooves above the stage, which could be lowered for use of sliding shutters (these were finally removed in 1947 being the only example left in the country and were removed to the Theatre Museum). The old scene dock was also removed and a ramp made to give direct access from the Market place for scenery delivery. Iron pass doors were also installed and a new Asbestos Fire Curtain hung.

Plays presented in 1903 were 'The King of Terror' and 'The Face at the Window'. In fact the Theatre gained the nickname locally of 'The Blood Tub' due to its blood thirsty fare.

By 1905 Electricity was installed to replace the previous gas lighting

On 22nd of January 1912 the London Lyceum Company arrived with the plays 'Under Two Flags', and 'Moths'.

A Programme for 'Watch on the Rhine' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1944 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce. A Programme for 'Painted Sparrows' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1949 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce. A Programme for 'Trial and Error' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

 

Above - Three styles of Programme Cover for the Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1944, 1949, and 1957 respectively - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce. The 1957 Programme was for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, before it was closed and demolished (See Entire Programme Below).

A Programme for 'Sexton Blake' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.In 1925 Harry Foxwells' Company played for four weeks to be followed by Frank H. Fortscue's Company who played for three weeks. In October Fred Clement's Skegness Entertainers played for eight weeks, returning again in 1926.

Revue was the fare in 1927, with Florrie Ford appearing in 1932. The Theatre was closed for 1933.

Right - A Programme for 'Sexton Blake' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

 A programme for 'Up in Mable's Room' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1950 - Courtesy David Garratt.During the inter war years the Repertory movement grew. This was a permanent company of actors who presented a different play each week. This meant besides playing the current weeks play each evening and matinees, next week's play was being rehearsed in the day time, and the play for the following week was being learnt in the actors' spare time. The permanent scenic artist was also designing and painting the scenery from stock for the next two productions, and so on. It was extremely demanding, but became a good training ground for actors, many of whom went on to become famous.

Left - A programme for 'Up in Mable's Room' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1950 - Courtesy David Garratt.

1934 saw the commencement of permanent Repertory Companies at the Theatre Royal which played there right up to its end, and its eventual demolition. The list of Repertory companies is as follows:

1934 Terrance Byron's Leicester Repertory Company until August of that year followed by Hal Osmond who stayed for three years. March 1938 saw the Lawrence Williamson Repertory Company until October, followed by the Edward Nelson Players. 15th April 1940 saw the Regency Players of which John Baron and Helen Beal were part of the Company. These were replaced in 1945 by the Lyric Players of which Donald Sinden was in the company. 1946 saw the Leicester Repertory Company till August of that year, when the New Leicester Theatre Company took over until 7th June 1947 when the Theatre was put up for sale. It was purchased by Samuel Locker and reopened in December 1948 with Basil Thomas and Derek Salberg presenting on a fortnightly basis.

Cast details from a programme for 'Up in Mable's Room' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1950 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - Cast details from a programme for 'Up in Mable's Room' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in July 1950 - Courtesy David Garratt.

A Programme for 'Trial and Error' at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.From 1950 to 1956 repertory was in the hands of R.S.Theatres Ltd, known as the Saxon Players (See poster top of page) and Leicester Repertory Company, of which Thelma Rogers and Billy Whitelaw were part of the company.

After October 1956 the Theatre closed. A rescue attempt was put into operation and a committee formed which asked the City Council to provide a yearly grant. However this fell through and an appeal was launched to try to raise £10,000, which was needed by December 6th. Negotiations continued with the owner but plans were hindered by new conditions which were set in the lease. Negotiations finally fell through and the owner decided to open the Theatre himself as the Leicester Repertory Company, but this only lasted three months, coming to an abrupt end in 1957.

Right - A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester in May 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce. (See Entire Programme Below.)

The last play presented at the Theatre was 'Trial and Error' by Kenneth Horne (programme shown right and below), the final performance being on the first of June 1957.

A letter from the Theatre's Manager, Peter Scott, and addressed to patrons in the final programme reads:- 'Dear Patrons, This week's play, "Trial and Error," will be the last production here at the dear old Theatre Royal before it is finally torn down to make way for a block of new offices.

The site of the Theatre Royal, Leicester in February 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt.As they tear down the bricks they will also be tearing down 120 years of tradition and history of which Leicester should be proud. Let us pause awhile and think of some of the fine stars that have trod the boards in this theatre - the great Sir Henry Irving, Beerbohm Tree and Company and even the famous Charlie Chaplin played here in "Casey's Court," and who knows, perhaps some of these artistes whom you are going to see tonight will be, in the years to come, as famous as some of the people I have mentioned.

I would like to thank them as I am sure you would for the hard work they have put in during our stay here and you, the audiences, who have so faithfully attended each week.

Yours sincerely, PETER SCOTT.'

Left - The site of the Theatre Royal, Leicester in February 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Theatre Royal had been in existence for 121 years, standing on a commanding position on Horsefair Street on one side of the Town Hall Square.

After its closure on the 1st of June 1957 it was then demolished and in its place Offices were built for the Leicester Permanent Building Society, which still stand today, now being owned by Santander. A sad ending to a very historic Theatre, demolition would not have been allowed to happen today, as it would have been made a Listed building, being one of Britain’s oldest Theatre buildings still in operation at the time.

A Letter addressed to Mr. Peter Scott, the Manager at the Theatre Royal, Leicester at the time, from Samuel Locker, the Theatre's then owner, dated 17th May 1957, informing Mr. Scott that the Theatre had been sold and it would be closing on the following Saturday - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

Above - A Letter addressed to Mr. Peter Scott, the Manager at the Theatre Royal, Leicester at the time, from Samuel Locker, the Theatre's then owner, dated 17th May 1957, informing Mr. Scott that the Theatre had been sold and it would be closing on the following Saturday - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce. The Theatre actually carried on for two weeks and closed on the 1st of June 1957. Peter Scott can later be found managing Samuel Locker's Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 so he seems to have been looked after.

A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed and demolished in 1957

A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed and demolished in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed and demolished in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed and demolished in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed and demolished in 1957 - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

Above - A Programme for 'Trial and Error', the last production at the Theatre Royal, Leicester before it was closed on the 1st of June 1957 and then demolished - Kindly Donated by Lawrence Joyce.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article and most of its accompanying images are © David Garratt 2011.

If you have any archive images of this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Other Pages that may be of Interest