The Theatre Royal, Peter Street, Manchester
Later - The Theatre Royal Cinema / Royal Bingo / Royale Nightclub
Above - The Theatre Royal, Peter Street, Manchester in April 2015 - Photo M.L.
The Grade II Listed Theatre Royal in Peter Street, Manchester was built by John Gould Irwin & Francis Chester, and is Manchester's oldest surviving Theatre. The Theatre opened on Monday the 29th of September 1845 with a production of Douglas Jerrold's comedy 'Time Works Wonders'. The Theatre's auditorium was originally built on four levels with Stalls and three balconies and was originally designed for drama and opera productions.
The Illustrated London News reported on the new Theatre in their 4th of October 1845 edition, along with a sketch of the auditorium and stage shown below, saying:- 'In May, 1844, the Theatre Royal at Manchester was destroyed by fire; and the scene of the conflagration will be found graphically recorded in our journal. This disastrous event, occurring in less than two years after the expenditure, by the spirited lessee, of upwards of £1,600, in embellishing it in the style which made it one of the most handsome theatres (internally) In the kingdom, did not daunt the lessee, Mr. Knowles. The proprietors of the old theatre having decided on the 6th September, that they would not rebuild it, he at once commenced taking the steps necessary for the erection of a new theatre, and having fixed upon the Wellington Hotel and Concert room as a suitable site, purchased it about the 15th Sept.; bought the patent of the proprietors of the late Theatre Royal, for £315, on the 7th Oct., by which time the ground in Peter street was cleared of the old buildings; and the first contracts for excavation and foundations were let on the 9th, to be completed in four weeks, and to be ready for the erection of the front of the buildings to be commenced within a fortnight...
Above - The opening of the new Theatre Royal, Manchester - From The Illustrated London News, 4th of October 1845.
...The corner stone was laid by Mr. Knowles, the proprietor and patentee, on Monday, December 2nd, 1844; but at that time 500,000 bricks had been laid in the foundations and below the level of the street, at a cost of about £1,200. Such an instance of individual energy and industrious enterprise merits this special record.
The site is well chosen, being in the vicinity of our principal public buildings, as the Natural History Society's Museum, the Concert Hall, the Free-Trade Hall, the Royal Institution, Athenaeum, Mechanics' Institution, &c. The theatre has all the advantages and security of isolation; being wholly detached from other buildings, and bounded by four streets, affording a good carriage-way all round.
The external dimensions of the new theatre are about 67 yards in length by 23 yards in width; being 10 yards longer and only 20 inches narrower than the late Theatre Royal. Its form is a sort of parallelogram, more than 2½ times as long as it is broad.
The internal dimensions are, from the back wall of the centre box, to the back wall of the stage, 120 feet; and from side wall to side wall of the boxes, 55 feet. The interior approaches very nearly to the horse-shoe form, and that line is preserved throughout, without that narrowing at the sides of the proscenium which is often seen in theatres, and which impairs their acoustic properties. It nearly resembles, in this respect, the Lyceum, which, being wholly free from these projections, is justly celebrated for its advantages for vocal performances. Some points, too, have been adopted from the Princess' Theatre, in Oxford-street.
The architects of the new Theatre are Messrs. Irwin and Chester, of Manchester. The exterior is of Darley Dale stone, in the modern Italian style, consisting of a centre loggea portico, and wings; the former divided into three entrances by fine Corinthian columns and pilasters; the middle surmounted by a circular arch and pediment.
The audience part of the house consists of a pit floor and four tiers, of which three tiers extend round to the stage, and the fourth is a central space abstracted from within the roof of the building. On the floor are the orchestra, the stalls, and the pit. The first tier is the dress circle; the second, the upper circle; the third, the gallery in the centre, and side upper boxes; and the fourth, the upper gallery. The dress circle and two upper circles are supported by large cast iron beams, ten in each circle, and by as many cast-iron pillars, not brought to the front, but standing some distance back, so that the circles have the appearance of hanging balconies. The upper gallery has six similar beams beneath its flooring.
The house will accommodate with seats 2147 persons, and hold, at the prices stated, about £250.
The decorations, executed from the architect's designs, by Mr. George Jackson, are in the Italian style of the 16th century, the age of Benvenuto Cellini. Its chief characteristics are flowing scrolls and foliage, intertwining and so filling up the space, all the ornaments being in high relief, in burnished and dead gold, on a French white ground. These being not merely the prevailing, but almost the only colours employed, the effect gained is that of great richness and splendour, combined with much chasteness and purity.
From the oval ceiling depends a large gas chandelier, and the lower part of the house is lit by smaller lustres. The arch of the proscenium is very lofty, so that all the audience may see the higher portions of the scenery. The ornaments throughout are neither plaster of Paris, nor wood, but carton pierre; and they are beautifully executed.
Left - A Bill for 'Hunchback' and 'My Valet and I!' at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in July 1854 - From 'Reminiscences of Manchester and Some of Its Local Surroundings from the Year 1840' by Louis M. Hayes, 1905.
We have not space to detail the stage arrangements, which comprise the latest improvements in this branch of the art, especially with regard to the mechanical mode of working the scenes. The classic act-drop is painted by Mr. W. Beverly, who, by the way, is now painting scenery for Mr. Macready's performance at the Princess' Theatre.
There is a provision against fire by a tank of 20,000 gallons of water, upon the roof of the theatre. The building is warmed and ventilated by Mr. W. Walker's improved plan. In its dimensions and capacity - its extent of accommodation and numerous appliances for the comfort of the audience - its various mechanical contrivances and adaptations for giving increased effect to the business of the scene, and its beautiful decorations, illuminations, &c., the new Theatre Royal may be regarded as complete and carefully furnished. The great perseverance, known business ability, spirited enterprise, and large expenditure of the proprietor, are, so far as we know, unexampled in the annals of theatres. To a loss sustained by the destruction of the late Theatre Royal, to the extent of £1600, he has now added an outlay, for the land, building, fitting up, and furnishing of this new theatre, of not less than £22,000, relying on the growing public taste in Manchester for theatrical amusements, to crown his costly enterprise with success.
The new theatre was opened on Monday evening last, when, such was the pressure of the crowd of visitors, that there were present 2168 persons. After "Rule Britannia" had been sung by the vocal corps, the stage-manager, Mr. R. Wallack, delivered an "opening address;" the act drop then rose, the whole of the company appeared on the stage, and "God Save the Queen" was sung. Mr. Knowles, the proprietor of the theatre, was then recognised in his box, and was loudly cheered by the audience. The performances then commenced; they were Douglas Jerrold's admirable comedy of "Time Works Wonders," and the ballet-afterpiece of the "Court Hall in 1740." In the latter, several of the dances were loudly applauded, and the curtain fell at midnight on the most brilliant scene ever exhibited within the walls of a Manchester theatre.
At the close of the comedy, the spirited proprietor presented to each of the architects a piece of plate, as a testimony of his approval of their very efficient services'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Illustrated London News, 4th of October 1845.
Above - A Token for the Theatre Royal, Manchester - Courtesy Stan Owen - The coin is stamped Theatre Royal Manchester on one side and The Hardmans esq on the reverse. If you know who these Hardmans were please Contact me. As the token is undated it may have actually been for the earlier Theatre Royal on Fountain Street.
The Theatre was redecorated in 1861 and the Manchester Courier reported on the changes in their 31st of August 1861 edition saying:- 'The Theatre Royal of this city was erected in 1845, and has enjoyed some fifteen seasons of average theatrical prosperity under a what is generally conceded to have been good management. During this extended period the building has received several partial renovations, Manchester air being very destructive to architectural embellishment. During the last month or two, however, a complete and entire renovation of the Theatre Royal has been effected, both externally and internally so that competent judges have pronounced the building, to be more chaste and effective in its decorations now than when first erected.
The theatre will re-open for the season on Monday next, September 2, and therefore the present will be a favourable opportunity for a brief description of the extensive improvements which have been effected under the direction of Mr. F. Chester, the architect of the building. The Peter-street facade has been happily metamorphosed from its pristine black to the natural colour of the stone, so that it now rivals in cleanness of appearance the adjoining Free-trade Hall, and matches admirably with the Museum, which has also been renewed, greatly to the improved appearance of this important thoroughfare. Several minor improvements have been made on the outside of the theatre, which will be appreciated by the play-going public, and of course wherever paint and gilding would be appropriate, they have not been spared. The marble figure of Shakespeare now does credit to the immortal bard, and shows to advantage in its conspicuous position under the noble arch that towers above.
Entering the theatre, we find in the vestibule still greater proofs of the activity and taste of the decorators. The walls are painted to represent grey or Aberdeen granite, and the pilasters are painted a red granite, somewhat darker than that found at Peterhead. The cornices and other mouldings have patterns stencilled in neutral colours, and gilt; while the doors are diapered in patterns of gold. The railings of the principal staircase are bronzed and gilt, gold being freely used everywhere in the decoration. At the head of the staircase a large bronze bust of Shakespeare has been placed on a scagliola pedestal. The arched ceiling over the staircase is elegantly painted in gold and colours, with diapered patterns on a blue ground, the walls grey and stencilled, and the mouldings gilt.
The first room entered is the lower or best saloon, with a ladies' room beyond, connected with the dress circle. The inner room is covered with new Brussels carpet, and the saloon with thick druggeting. Above the saloon fire place is a large mirror, and other pier glasses adorn two opposite sides of the room, also console tables with marble tops. Mirrors also embellish the ladies' room, and both are made thoroughly comfortable with seats, &c.
The passages to the boxes, upper as well as lower, are covered with cocoa nut matting, to lessen draught and noise. The 300 seats in the dress circle have been re-seated and covered with crimson damask, and are much more comfortable than formerly; while the chandeliers have been raised a little, so as not to intercept the view. Passing into the pit we find four rows of roomy stalls in the front, numbered plainly and neatly, well stuffed and with elbow rests. The private boxes in the proscenium have had their circular fronts advanced, and their interior fittings renovated in a superior style. There are eight Private boxes, four on either side, of different dimension, and all very elegant and cosy.
Left - A Bill for 'The Spy', 'Fast Coach', and 'Don Giovanni' at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in October 1860 - From 'Reminiscences of Manchester and Some of Its Local Surroundings from the Year 1840' by Louis M. Hayes, 1905. Henry Irving and Fred Lloyd, Arthur Lloyd's Brother, are both mentioned on the Bill.
Ventilation is a most important point in every public building, especially in a theatre, where the audience usually numbers thousands, the entertainments are long, and always by gas light. Extra ventilators have therefore been inserted in the passages, the galleries, and above the stage. In this respect there cannot be much room for future complaint or improvement. Ascending to the upper circle the same style of decorations is found to prevail in painting the pilasters, walls, and ceiling, as in the dress circle; and the seats have also been re-covered, the walls re-papered, &c.
The view of the house from the stage, and, indeed, every part, is exceedingly elegant. The whole of the ornamental work on the front of the two tiers of boxes and the galleries has been re-gilt, producing a brilliant effect without tawdriness. Some judicious alterations have been made in the ceiling, where there was much heavy and useless ornament. This has been removed, and the effect is now simple and elegant. From the centre depends the large crystal chandelier, and the side panels are filled with "strap" work in gold upon a sky blue ground; the effect being that of viewing the sky through a golden trellis. Lightness, neatness, and security are combined in this improvement.
A new act drop has been painted by Mr. W. R. Beverley, representing the "Ruins of an Ancient City," at sunset. This is a clever painting, and fully sustains Mr. Beverley's high reputation as a scenic artist. A group of beautiful females are taking their pastime in the foreground; behind them, stretching far into the distance, are classical ruins; in the centre is a lake, whence a nymph is drawing water; and on the left rise majestic trees, with a charming landscape bounded by Italian mountains. The picture is a beautiful one, and no eye that loves the beautiful in art and nature will tire of gazing on it during the intervals between the acts.
The green room and performers' dressing-rooms have also been renovated, and now scenery is being prepared for the novelties of the next season. Hart's burners have been affixed to the gas lights, and many new burners added, so that the whole of the theatre will be brilliantly illuminated. It only remains to add that the painting and decorating has been performed by Mr. Richard Anderton, while the upholstery, &c., has been supplied by Mr. Standage, Messrs. Agnew, Mr. Whaite, Mr. E. T. Bellhouse, Mr. Heighway, Mr. Harrap Messrs. Patteson, &c.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Manchester Courier, 31st of August 1861.
Fred Lloyd, Arthur Lloyd's elder brother, is known to have been in the Company at the Theatre Royal, Manchester from September 29th 1860 to July 31st 1861, with none other than Edwin Booth and Henry Irving. The ERA reported on one of this Company's productions in their December 1st 1861 edition saying:- 'Massinger's play of A New Way to Pay Old Debts was performed on Tuesday. Mr Booth's delineation of Sir Giles Overeach through its various phases of will and passion, elicited the highest encomiums. Mr F. Lloyd made an excellent Marall, and Mr Thompson was unctious as Justice Greedy. Mr Henry Irving was Wellborn, and Miss Lucy Rushton Margaret.' - The ERA, 1st December 1861.
Dame Genevieve Ward, the once Famous American Tragedienne, made her first dramatic appearance at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in September 1873 as Lady Macbeth. She died at the age of 84 and was the Granddaughter of a former Mayor of New York.
Right - A Bill for the Last Night of an Italian
Opera Season at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in August 1862
- From 'Reminiscences of Manchester and Some of Its Local Surroundings
from the Year 1840' by Louis M. Hayes, 1905.
In 1875 Mr. Knowles, the original proprietor of the Theatre Royal, sold the Theatre for £50,000. The Theatrical Observer reported briefly on this in their 20th of February 1875 edition saying:- 'The Theatre Royal, Manchester, has been disposed of to a company for 50,000 by the present proprietor, Mr. Knowles. Considerable alterations are contemplated in the building, and will be commenced upon the conclusion of the pantomime season. Mr. Knowles, it is stated, intends to devote the closing performances to the benefit of the local charities.'
Improvement and redecoration of the Theatre Royal by the architect Edward Salomons was completed in August 1877, the ERA reported on the changes in their 29th of July 1877 edition saying:- 'Theatre Royal - Manager, Mr. Alfred Thompson. - This establishment will reopen on Monday next under new management, after a recess of one month. The interval has not been idly spent. In addition to the change of management other improvements of an important character have been effected. The decorations of the auditorium, hitherto of a somewhat sombre description, have undergone a change in favour of lighter and gayer colours; the corridors at the back of the circles have been thrown into the auditorium by the removal of the partition walls, a new sunlight has been substituted for the illuminating apparatus which previously existed, and which was not so effective as could have been desired, and in several minor details the comfort of the audience and the elegance of the auditorium have been attentively studied. A great improvement may, therefore, be looked for on Monday evening.
The new Manager, Mr Thompson, is a hitherto untried man so far as Manchester is concerned, the local public being best acquainted with him through the medium of his Pantomime of Aladdin, written and constructed for the Prince's Theatre two seasons ago, and for the magnificently-designed costumes in connection with several of the Shakespearean revivals at the same theatre. That a new era of popularity is about to dawn for our senior Theatre may, however, be taken for granted, for the significance of the change that has occurred can hardly be over-rated. Mr Thompson starts on his new career with the hearty good wishes of all who have the interests of the Drama in Manchester at heart, and we trust to have to record in the future an as nearly as possible unbroken series of managerial successes. The new season will be inaugurated by Miss Lydia Thompson and the celebrated company from the Folly Theatre, in the three most popular pieces in the company's repertoire, to wit, Blue Beard, Oxygen, and Robinson Crusoe. Mr F. Stainslans has been appointed musical director, and the acting managership continues to be vested in Mr Gilbert Tate.'
In 1882 the Theatre Royal, Manchester, the Court Theatre in Liverpool, and the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, were amalgamated with several London Theatres. The Manchester Courier reported on this in their 16th of August 1882 edition saying:- 'Amalgamations are the order of the day, and while the gas companies are combining theatrical managers are not idle. The Daily News says that a partnership has been effected between Mr. John Hollingshead, Mr. D'Oyley Carte, Mr. Michael Gunn, and Captain Bainbridge of Manchester, by which the Savoy, the Gaiety, the Theatre Royal and the Prince's Theatre in Manchester, the Court Theatre in Liverpool, and the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin are practically united for business purposes.
The Savoy in London, the Gaiety in London, and the Gaiety in Dublin will be carried on by Mr. Carte, Mr. Hollingshead and Mr. Gunn as before, but the two theatres in Manchester and the one in Liverpool will be under the joint control of the syndicate.
Captain Bainbridge will retain his direction of the Theatre Royal, Manchester, and Mr. John Hollingshead will become personally responsible for the Prince's Theatre at Manchester, and has already taken possession. Various reforms before and behind the curtain will be effected before Christmas. There is a probability of a New York Theatre being added to this combination.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Manchester Courier, 16th of August 1882.
In June 1889 the Theatre was closed for refurbishment again, this time by its new Manager, Thomas Ramsay, who reopened it on Monday the 5th of August 1889 with a production of 'The Silver Falls'. The Manchester Courier reported on the changes in their 5th of August 1889 edition saying:- 'The Theatre Royal, and the Comedy Theatre, which almost front each other in Peter-street, will re-open for the season to-night under very favourable auspices. Both places of entertainment have been superbly redecorated. We are informed that the amount expended on the Theatre Royal alone is about £3.000. Walls and ceiling are most tastefully beautified, and the effect is added to by mirrors draped with rich plush curtains. Settees are dotted about upholstered in claret plush, with which, too, the handrails on the staircases are covered. The stalls and dress circle are upholstered throughout in crushed strawberry plush, and the curtains to the private boxes are of the same material, while the walls, which are covered with Japanese leather paper, are ornamented with tufted panels of silk plush. The floors in the corridors, stalls, circle, and ante-rooms, and all the corridors leading to them, are covered with Royal Axminster carpets of beautiful designs. The upper circle is upholstered in leather cloth, and the floor is covered with what is known as cork carpet, a thick material which deadens all sound, and prevents the creation of dust. The same kind of carpet, too, is laid down in the pit. The proscenium is done in dull and bright gold, and the floret scrolls round the front of the dress circle, the upper circle, and the gallery are faced with gold, while the back ground is plush. The ceiling is quite a work of art, the style being French, of the period of Louis XVI. Immediately round the sunlight is a broad band of gold, and round this again figures are painted representing comedy and tragedy, while the outer circle contains the following names of actors in panels Garrick, Kean, Kimble, Macready, Brooke, Phelps, Matthews, Betterton, and Cooke. The sunlight embodies all the latest improvements combined in the Scott-Thorpe patent, by which greater ventilation and increased light are obtained. The gas fittings and globes throughout the theatre are new, and improved sanitary arrangements have been made in every part of the house. The entire work has been carried out by Messrs. Kendal, Milne, and Company, of Deansgate, in this city. Mr. Ramsey, the new manager, has completed his arrangements for the ensuing season, which, include engagements with many of our most popular actors and actresses. Mr. Ramsey has also secured the right of the first use of the new patent automatic opera-glass box...'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Manchester Courier, 5th of August 1889.
Above - A Poster signed by some of the cast and advertising the Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company performing 'San Lin or The Cat and the Cherub' at the Theatre Royal, Peter Street, Manchester for May 11th 1899 - Courtesy Jeffrey Bennett, Prison Fellowship UK
The Theatre was again altered in 1902 and the Manchester Courier reported on the changes in their 26th of May 1902 edition saying:- ''MANCHESTER THEATRE ROYAL. The above theatre has been closed until August 25, when Mr. Weeden Grossmith appears in the comedy "The Night of the Party." The reason of the theatre's closing is on account of certain structural alterations which the city surveyor considers imperative for the safety of audience and actors. A new staircase will be constructed from the gallery and concrete staircases instead of the present wooden arrangements will connect the dressing rooms with the stage. These changes will be very difficult, and the fact that the theatre will need to be closed three months is sufficient indication of the work entailed. The theatre was opened in 1845, and has not suffered any damage from fire or accident, and the need for the present alterations is a question of doubt to many.' - The Manchester Courier, 26th of May 1902.
Above - The Theatre Royal, Peter Street, Manchester in April 2015 - Photo M.L.
In 1922 the interior of the Theatre was again reconstructed, this time for Cinema use, and most of the stage was removed along with one of the Balconies. The Dundee Courier reported briefly on this in their 5th of January 1922 edition saying:-
FAMOUS THEATRE TO BECOME CINEMA
The Theatre Royal, Manchester, has been acquired by Messrs Carreras, of London, and on Easter Monday next will open as a super-cinema with seating accommodation for 2500. This famous theatre was opened by Mrs Siddons, and practically all the great tragedians of the Victorian age have trod its boards.
Messrs Carreras state that they are to spend £30,000 on reconstructing the theatre, and that their aim is to make it one of the most luxurious cinemas in the country. A feature will be lifts to the balconies. - The Dundee Courier , 5th of January 1922.
Right - A Programe for the Theatre Royal, Manchester in 1915 - Courtesy Peter Charlton.
A Prospectus for shares in the new Theatre Royal Cinema was published in The Daily Telegraph, London on the 13th of February 1922 and can be seen below:
Above - A Prospectus for shares in the new Theatre Royal Cinema, published in The Daily Telegraph, London, 13th of February 1922.
In 1963 the Theatre was further reconstructed for Cinerama. There is an interesting article on the Theatre Royal Cinema on the website of the Widescreen Movies Magazine here.
In 1972 the Theatre was converted for Bingo and in the 1990s it was converted into a Nightclub.
Right - The Theatre Royal, Manchester's procenium and stage hidden behind a cinerama curtain whilst the Theatre was being used for Bingo in 1980 - Photo Courtesy Ted Bottle.
In October 2009 the Theatre Royal, which is Manchester's oldest surviving Theatre, was put forward as one of the proposed new homes for the Library Theatre Company but they later moved to a new £19m venue on First Street in the city centre along with the Cornerhouse cinema.
Above - Rebecca Andrews and Paul Brandreth in rehearsals for 'The Decision at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in July 2010 - Photo Ashley JS McKenzie - Courtesy Mia Darlone.
In 2010 it was announced that a production of 'The Decision' presented by Mia Darlone would be staged at the Theatre Royal in late July, the first stage production to be produced there since 1922.
Right - Rebecca Andrews and Paul Brandreth in rehearsals for 'The Decision at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in July 2010 - Photo Ashley JS McKenzie - Courtesy Mia Darlone.
The production was written and produced by Mia Darlone and directed by Charlie Mortimer. It was put together with no budget and used to showcase the script for the screen, and with the hope of gaining further opportunities within the industry for everyone involved in the production.
An article in the Manchester Evening News of the 20th of November 2012 said that the Theatre Royal had been bought by the Edwardian Hotels group who own the adjacent hotel in the former Free Trade Hall. The article says that the Hotel Group plan to 'restore and refurbish' the building and one can only hope that it will be reopened as a live Theatre again. The Theatre is currently vacant and the front entrance was recently boarded up. Full article here.
The Theatres Trust Guide says of the Theatre today that: 'The façade of the Theatre Royal, as well as Cockerells banks were clearly a source of inspiration for Richardson and his partners when designing the front of the Royal Opera House.' The guide also says that: 'The ornate ceiling, now not easily visible, has deeply coved sides and basketwork enrichment reminiscent of Covent Garden.'
Left - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Manchester in 1980 whilst being used for Bingo - Photo courtesy Ted Bottle.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
If you have any more information about this Theatre of have programmes or images you are willing to share please Contact Me.