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Theatres in Lewisham and Catford

The Lewisham Hippodrome - The Electric Palace / Prince of Wales Picture Playhouse

 

The Lewisham Hippodrome, 135 139 Rushey Green, Catford

Later - The Eros Cinema

Also see - Britain's Hippodrome Theatres

Frank Matcham's Lewisham Hippodrome

Above - A Postcard showing Frank Matcham's Lewisham Hippodrome

Lewisham Hippodrome programme for 'The Love Race' Jan 26th 1931The Lewisham Hippodrome Theatre opened on the 13th February 1911. The Theatre was not actually in Lewisham at all but on the corner of Rushey Green and Brownhill Road in Catford. The Theatre was built as a variety Theatre for Walter Gibbons and Charles Gulliver and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham.

Right - A Lewisham Hippodrome programme for 'The Love Race' for January the 26th 1931 with Stanley Lupino headlining a fine cast.

The Theatre's auditorium was constructed on three levels, stalls and pit, circle, and gallery, and also had four boxes and could accommodate some 3, 629 people if the 1000 standing places were taken up. The orchestra pit could accommodate some 16 musicians and the Theatre had its own resident orchestra of 13. Most of the big names of the day appeared at the Lewisham Hippodrome.

In May 1927 the Theatre was taken over by Granada Theatres who then renovated it and converted it into a Cinema in September the same year. However it was then renovated again in 1930 and reopened as a live Theatre again. This only lasted for a short period though and it closed after the last production of 'Blue Roses' on the 28th of March 1931.

 

Detail from the Lewisham Hippodrome programme for 'The Love Race' Jan 26th 1931

Above - A Detail from the Lewisham Hippodrome programme for 'The Love Race' January 26th 1931

 

A Poster for Charlie Kunz and other Music Hall acts performing at the Lewisham Hippodrome in October 1935 - Courtesy Keith Hopkins.The Theatre was then altered by the architect Cecil Masey and the interior was redecorated by the well known designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. It was reopened on the 4th of April 1931 by ABC. Despite this by 1933 the Theatre was operating as a Music Hall with films showing on Sundays but it closed again in June 1933.

Charlie Carpenter, Bandmaster at the Lewisham Hippodrome, shown here in the uniform he was wearing at the Axminster Town Silver Band on 11th of November 1935, wearing "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" (WW I medals) - Courtesy  Maud Grant.In October the same year, 1933, the Theatre was taken over by an independent operator who reopened it as a Music Hall again.

Right - A Poster for Charlie Kunz and other Music Hall acts performing at the Lewisham Hippodrome in October 1935 - Courtesy Keith Hopkins.

Left - Charlie Carpenter, a former Bandmaster at the Lewisham Hippodrome, shown here in the uniform he was wearing at the Axminster Town Silver Band on 11th of November 1935, wearing "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" (WW I medals) - Courtesy Maud Grant.

The Theatre was damaged by bombs during the war and was closed in 1940 but reopened in 1943.

Percy G Court writes about working at the Lewisham Hippodrome at this time in his 'Memories of Show Business' saying:- 'We did not have far to go to our next theatre - it was Lewisham Hippodrome - and as I lived a few yards from the stage door, I did not require an office at the theatre. At Lewisham the accommodation is very limited and companies that are numerous - are very handicapped. It is impossible to dress a company of more than thirty at Lewisham. During our 1944 dates, friction was caused by lack of space and facilities for ablutions etc. If you have two or three star artists - each will demand a dressing room for himself or herself and I support that. It is these artists who are the attraction when they go on the stage to entertain. If they are not at their best - they give an indifferent performance. Whilst the other twenty-seven are packed like sardines. The manager of the Hippodrome, Lewisham, was a Mr. Schofield and I was always very happy by the service he rendered...' - Percy G Court.

The Theatre continued in live use into the early 1950s, see programme below, but the end was near and by 1952 the Theatre had been closed down and put up for sale.

A Programme for 'Naughty Girls of 1951' at the Lewsisham Hippodrome - Courtesy Ian Barratt

A Programme for 'Naughty Girls of 1951' at the Lewsisham Hippodrome - Courtesy Ian Barratt

Above - A Programme for 'Naughty Girls of 1951' at the Lewsisham Hippodrome - Courtesy Ian Barratt

After the closure in 1952 the Theatre was taken over by the Hyams Brothers who reopened it as the Eros Cinema on the 12th of May that year. By this time the capacity had been reduced to 1,500.

A notice in The Stage of April 30, 1959 reports on the proposed demolition of the Lewisham Hippodrome.The Eros Cinema had a short life and was closed on the 14th of November 1959, along with the Gaumont next door and then both buildings were demolished in June 1960.

Right - A notice in The Stage of April 30, 1959 reports on the proposed demolition of the Lewisham Hippodrome.

The now Grade II Listed 'Brutalist' construction Eros House occupies the site of the Lewisham Hippodrome today (see photo below).

Some of the information on the Theatre's later years was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.


A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Lewisham Hippodrome, now home to the Grade II Listed 'Brutalist' construction Eros House - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Lewisham Hippodrome, now home to the Grade II Listed 'Brutalist' construction Eros House - Click to Interact

 

The Electric Palace, High Street, Lewisham

Later - The Prince of Wales Picture Playhouse / The Prince of Wales Cinema.

The Cinema News and Property Gazette of March the 12th 1913The Electric Palace was designed by William Hancock and opened on the 21st December 1909. It was the first Cinema to operate in this area and also the first in London to use a rear projection screen. The Theatre, which had its own orchestra to accompany the silent films, was renovated and redecorated in 1913 and an article in the Cinema News and Property Gazette of March the 12th 1913 reported on the improvements saying:- 'I have heard it said that an attractive exterior is half the battle. Then Mr. W. Holbrook, the manager of the Electric Palace, High Street, Lewisham, has every reason to consider himself fortunate, for his directors have provided him with a facade which commands the attention of all who traverse the main artery of one of the most residential suburbs on the south side of the Thames. Attractive as it is by day time, its beauty is enhanced when dusk has fallen by a flood of blue light from the lamps with which it is illuminated.

The impression one forms upon first glance is strengthened as soon as one finds oneself on the inner side of the entrance doors. Luxury and comfort are the prevailing keynotes, whilst the artistic taste is satisfied by the floral decorations which abound on every hand. Here one can recline at ease whilst partaking of refreshments or enjoying the fragrant weed. A cosier auditorium it would be impossible to find. Warmed to a nicety in winter time and admirably ventilated and cooled during the hot weather, the Electric Palace, Lewisham, has become a place of family resort and the common meeting ground of the elite of the borough.

At present the house is undergoing thorough renovation and re-decoration, for the directors of this company, aided by their able local manager, believe in having everything quite spick and span, and when the work is completed the theatre will be quite one of London's best.

 

The Cinema News and Property Gazette of March the 12th 1913I have said that an attractive exterior is half the battle, but although this will catch the passer-by it will not make him a regular patron unless he is satisfied that he has had value for his money when once he has been tempted to visit the house. There are two things which will convince him on this score. First and foremost the quality of the films; and secondly, the music with which they are accompanied. And it is just in regard to these two items that this theatre excels. The latest and best are always to be found, and the long film plays a dominant part in the programme, for not only does Mr. W. Holbrook believe in the three-reel subject, he also holds the opinion that the long film has come to stay, and that pictures of a length similar to "Les Mliserables" will, in time to come, be quite a common occurrence.

Here it may not be out of place to say a word or two in regard to Pathe's gigantic success which I have just named. I must admit it was somewhat of a surprise to me to learn from Mr. Holbrook that whilst this picture was showing patrons from so far afield as Dartford, Charlton, and the district were drawn to the house, striking testimony not only to the quality of the picture, but to the fame which this Electric Palace enjoys.

With regard to the musical side of the programme, I cannot speak too highly, for finer orchestration it would be impossible to find, much less to desire. This theatre enjoys the unique distinction of being the only cinema hall in London where the picture is projected from behind the screen - a system which possesses a great advantage in that there is no shaft of light visible from the operating box to the screen, whilst the incessant and annoying "click, click" of the shutter and the vibration of the motor are conspicuous by their absence.

Courtesy and urbanity are two of the distinguishing traits of Mr. Holbrook's character, but business capacity also plays a large part. There are few managers who could have raised in a short space of time the catering department some two or three hundred per cent, yet this is what he has actually accomplished. Again, his inventive faculty is well developed, for recognising the difficulty which patrons experience in partaking of tea whilst their attention is concentrated on the screen and the discomfiture of balancing in one hand a cup and saucer and in the other a plate he has designed and patented a special tray for use in theatres, which makes the serving of refreshments in the auditorium much easier, and removes all the disadvantages hitherto experienced by members of the audience. This tray is to form one of the exhibits at Olympia next week, and I shall be surprised if showmen throughout the country do not jump at the opportunity for securing a much-needed adjunct to the refreshment department.

It is ak ays gratifying to find an employee who speaks well of those whom he serves, and who is ready to ascribe the credit for some of his success to them, and it was with extreme satisfaction that I listened to Mr. Holbrook's meed of praise for Messrs. Sedger and Laurillard. I had heard from others that they gave their managers practically a free hand, only reserving to themselves the right to criticise where the results warranted such criticism, and I was pleased to find this opinion confirmed. Certainly the inhabitants of Lewisham and district have reason to be proud of their Electric Palace and its popular and astute manager.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Cinema News and Property Gazette, March 12th 1913.

The Electric palace was closed on the 26th of February 1922 and then demolished to make way for a new Theatre on the site. The new Theatre used the rear and south facing walls of the old Electric Palace but was in essence an entirely new building, this time designed by the architect John Stanley Beard. The new Theatre opened as the Prince of Wales Picture Playhouse on the 9th of October 1922, and had its own Tea Lounge, and a small ten foot deep stage capable of putting on live variety shows along with its film presentations. There were also four dressing rooms for the artistes.

The Picture Playhouse was sometimes in use by the BBC who staged live radio broadcasts from the Theatre, and it was also home to the first 'Talking Pictures' in Lewisham. In 1933 the Theatre was taken over by ABC and in 1946 it was renamed the Prince of Wales Cinema.

The end came for this Theatre in June 1959 when it was closed and demolished, shops were then built on the site.

Some of the later information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

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