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The Middlesbrough Theatre, The Avenue, Middlesbrough

Formerly - The Little Theatre

The Middlesbrough Theatre, formerly the Little Theatre, in a photograph taken in 2007 - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Theatre in 2015.

Above - The Middlesbrough Theatre, formerly the Little Theatre, in a photograph taken in 2007 - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Theatre in 2015.

The Middlesbrough Theatre was designed by the London Architects, Elder & De Pierro, and originally opened as the Little Theatre by Sir John Gielgud, with a production of 'Caesar and Cleopatra' in 1957. The Theatre had seating for 484 and large stage 70 foot wide by 40 foot deep.

The Auditorium of the Middlesbrough Theatre, formerly the Little Theatre - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Theatre in 2015.

Above - The Auditorium of the Middlesbrough Theatre, formerly the Little Theatre - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Theatre in 2015.

The Little Theatre Company was first formed in 1930 after the conversion of the Opera House to a Gaumont Cinema in the 1920s had left the town bereft of a home for drama and opera. The Little Theatre Company's first production, the play 'To What Red Hell', was performed in St. John's Hall on Monday the 24th of November 1930 and for the rest of the week. The Company's next 20 years were fraught with difficulties, mostly financial, but they carried on producing productions in various venues, often to great acclaim. Their long term plan however, was to have a Theatre of their own, and this finally looked possible when they managed to purchase a house called 'Parkside' with plenty of land for building a Theatre for the modest price of £3,000 in 1946. Fundraising continued but sadly 'Parkside' was then designated as a plot for a future road traffic island and it was clear a new site for the Company's proposed Theatre would be needed. Another blow came when the Company's long term Chairman, Theodore Shewell, died in 1949, but the search for a new site for the Theatre continued and in 1950 they were able to purchase the 'Toft House' and grounds for £5,250. Due to the National Austerity Programme however, fundraising had to be postponed for several years until restrictions on new builds was lifted in 1954. Several plans were then submitted for approval but eventually in 1955 a plan for the new Theatre was approved and fundraising for its projected £45,000 cost was launched. The final cost of the Theatre, when it was completed in 1957, was £54,357.

The Little Theatre Company ran the Theatre independently from its opening in 1957, presenting their own productions and those of local operatic and dramatic Societies, and sometimes visiting professional Companies too. But by the mid 1960s the cost of running the Theatre had become too high and they had to negotiate with the Teesside Corporation to take over the Theatre. Negotiations took three years but eventually the Corporation took over the running of the Theatre, and the Little Theatre Company were given the right to hire it for their productions.

On the 17th of July 1996 the building was renamed the Middlesbrough Theatre and it continues with this name today. It is currently run as a charitable trust with the local Council as the main trustees.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

If you have any images for this venue that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Empire Theatre, Corporation Road, Middlesbrough

Formerly - The Empire Theatre of Varieties

The Middlesbrough Empire Theatre in 2008 - Courtesy John West

Above - The Middlesbrough Empire Theatre in 2008 - Courtesy John West

A programme for the Middlesbrough and District Operatic Society's production of 'The Three Musketeers' for the week of the 1st of May 1950.The foundation stone for the Middlesbrough Empire Theatre of Varieties was laid on Thursday the 4th of November 1897 by the Mayor of Middlesbrough, Colonel S. A. Sadler, J.P in the presence of a large gathering including the architect of the Theatre, Ernest Runtz. Johnson Laird's string band played music for the guests who were gathered under a large marquee for the ceremony. After a welcome speech by Matthew Murray, Runtz presented the Mayor with a silver trowel and the foundation stone was then laid by the Mayor who enthused over the prospect of having such a worthy new building erected in his town.

Right - A programme for the Middlesbrough and District Operatic Society's production of 'The Three Musketeers' for the week of the 1st of May 1950.

The auditorium of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.Fourteen months later the Middlesbrough Empire was complete and the Theatre was formerly opened on Monday the 13th of March 1899 with welcoming speeches, the national anthem, and then a variety show with 17 acts including Lily Langtry, Daisy Mayer, Kitty Beresford, Manning and Prevost, George Adams, D. J. M`Carthy, Bert Brantford, Ernest Lepard, the Brothers Wartenburg, the Risley performers, Minnie Cunningham, Naomi Ethardo, and Chas Paver.

Left - The auditorium of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The ERA printed a review of the opening proceedings in their 18th of March edition which you can read below but they also printed a review of the building itself in their 11th of March edition saying:

'A few details of the fine structure now nearly finished at Middlesbrough may prove of interest not only to those assisting at the opening, but to our music hall readers everywhere, and may convey to them some idea of the magnitude of the undertaking. The site selected for the building covers an area of upwards of 11,000 square feet, and it is admirably suited in every way for a place of public entertainment, having frontages on three sides to Corporation-road, Pine and Dunning-streets, and a right of way in the rear, thus being practically isolated. The peculiar adaptability of the site has enabled the architect to provide such complete and ample means of exit from the building that the public safety is assured against fire or panic.

 

The vestibule of the Middlesbrough Empire in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West

Above - The vestibule of the Middlesbrough Empire in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West

The main approach is from Corporation-road, through a handsome vestibule 34ft. by 19ft., supported be magnificent marble columns with carved capitals. Upon entering the box-office faces one, and, adjoining, is the staircase to the stalls, whilst on the right is a broad staircase leading to the grand circle. There are two emergency exits from the stalls into Dunning-street and Pine-streets, and an emergency staircase from the grand circle into the former thoroughfare. The pit entrance is on a level with Dunning-street, with an emergency exit opposite, directly into Pine-street, whilst the gallery entrance is from the latter street, with an emergency exit into Dunning-street. It will be seen seen that the staircase towers at each angle of the building are striking features in the elevation.

Some of the elaborate plasterwork in the vestibule of the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.The auditorium is nearly square, being 60ft. in width, 63ft. deep, and the average height to the false ceiling is 45ft. The area comprises orchestra stalls, stalls, and a pit, with seating accommodation for about 450. Spacious saloons are provided, and a clear view of the stage is obtained from both.

Right - Some of the elaborate plasterwork in the vestibule of the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.

The grand circle, possessing ample lounges, has seating accommodation for 150 persons. Immediately in the rear, over the entrance hall, is the principal saloon, 34ft. by 27ft., approached by two short flights of steps, thus enabling a clear view of the stage to be obtained therefrom. Another saloon is also provided on the Dunning-street frontage. Both the entrance and exit staircases terminate in roomy lobbies, and there are communication staircases directly into the stalls from either side. Four private boxes flank the proscenium, and on the gallery level are two private boxes. The gallery itself has seating accommodation for 750 persons, and, as in other parts of the house, an uninterrupted view of the stage can be had. A suitable saloon is provided in the rear.

 

The auditorium and stage of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The ceiling, proscenium, circle, and box fronts are in specially designed and modelled plastic work, decorated in cream and gold, following in a degree the Spanish Renaissance treatment of the exterior. For a theatre of varieties the stage is extremely roomy, and will permit of spectacular productions of all kinds. Its dimensions are as follows :— Width from wall to wall, 70ft.; average depth, 35ft.; height to flies, 25ft.; height to grid, 55ft.; proscenium opening, 30ft. square.

The  Circles of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Above - The Circles of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Six spacious dressing-rooms are provided entirely distinct from the stage and in a separate block, each room being fitted up in the most approved manner. The stage entrance is from Dunning street, and the scenery entrance is in the rear of the building. Every precaution has been taken, in addition to the care observed in planning the numerous exits (eleven in all). Hydrants are provided upon every tier and upon the stage ready for immediate use, and fire buckets are placed in convenient positions. A fire-resisting curtain for effectually separating the stage from the auditorium has been supplied. A complete installation of electric plant has been erected at great cost, enabling the whole building to be illuminated by electricity. The heating is upon the low-pressure system, and the ventilations carefully arranged. The sanitation has received especial care, and is of the most modern and approved system throughout.

The Dress Circle of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Above - The Dress Circle of the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The exterior has been designed to group well with the fine municipal buildings adjoining, in the style of Spanish Renaissance, and, it is believed, is the first public building in England erected of this character. It is built of terra-cotta and red brick, with its ornamental features in modelled relief.

Part of the ceiling decoration at the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.With two such caterers for public amusement as Messrs John Brill and J. L. Graydon, as managing director and chairman respectively, it goes without saying that the performances will be of a similar nature to those so universally successful at the Palace and Royal Theatres of Varieties and the Middlesex Music Hall, London, with all of which these gentlemen are intimately associated. Such association will facilitate largely the engagement of the best talent for Middlesbrough, and indeed the London entertainment will be practically repeated in the New Empire here.

Left - Part of the ceiling decoration at the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.

Ironopolis has long needed a modern house for healthy recreation and amusement, and a most pleasing fact in connection with this undertaking is that it was instigated by an old resident of the town and the company with which he is connected. All contracts for the work as far as possible have been given to local contractors to facilitate the employment of local labour. The building has been designed by M Ernest Runtz, of London.'

Above text in quotes from the ERA, 11th March 1899.

 

A Sketch of the Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough by its Architect Ernest Runtz - From the Academy Architecture and Architectural review of 1898.

Above - A Sketch of the Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough by its Architect Ernest Runtz - From the Academy Architecture and Architectural review of 1898.

The ERA then printed a review of the opening of the Middlesbrough Empire in their 18th of March edition saying:- 'On Monday afternoon, the magnificent, new Empire Palace of Varieties, Middlesbrough, was formally opened by the Mayor (Councillor T. W. Keay), in the presence of the magistrates, members of the Corporation, and a large and fashionable gathering of ladies and gentlemen.

The Stage left box at the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.We published last week a description of the beautiful building, which was designed by Mr Ernest Runtz, whose exceptional abilities as an architect are well recognised. All those present were the guests of the proprietors of the theatre, and were entertained to refreshments. Among those who welcomed the guests were Mr John Brill, of the Royal Holborn, who is the managing director of the new undertaking, Mr J. L. Graydon, of the Middlesex, Mr Donald Munro, both directors of the new theatre, and Mr John Whittle, who has been appointed manager of the establishment.

Right - The Stage left box at the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.

In performing the opening ceremony the Mayor mentioned that he remembered the first theatre in Middlesbrough, which was a wooden building. Since then they had had two more modern theatres, and now they had that beautiful Empire. Although he had not been accustomed to go to theatres during the last thirty years, he had visited them not only at home but on the continent, in America and and Australia. If he had known much larger theatres than the one they were in, be had never seen one so ornamentally fitted. It afforded him great pleasure to be there, and he hoped the undertaking would be a success. Alderman Hugh Bell tendered his hearty congratulations not only to Mr Brill and Mr Graydon on the possession of such a splendid theatre, but also to Mr Runtz, the architect and designer, on his eminent success.

Colonel S. A. Sadler, in a humorous speech, complimented the proprietors on the way they had carried out the work of providing a theatre of varieties in Ironopolis. The best wish he could tender to them was that that theatre, built on such beautiful lines, would be carried out on still more beautiful lines by the entertainments being such as not only to please the people, but also to satisfy the authorities. Mr John Brill, Mr Graydon, Mr Runtz, and Mr Matthew Murry suitably returned thanks, and a vote of thanks to the mayor for his presence having been accorded, the proceedings terminated.

 

The Stage right side of the auditorium of the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.The first performance given in the evening was naturally inaugurated by a verse of "God Save the Queen," which the audience arose and sang, led by Mr George Adams, a baritone vocalist, and accompanied by the band under Mr G. W. Greenfield. The theatre at this point presented an extremely brilliant appearance, which was assisted by the banks of flowers at each side of the stage, and by numerous bouquets. In the strong programme for the opening night the principal attraction was the musical entertainment given by the Savonas, who play on over fifty instruments. The Elliott Troupe of trick bicycle riders also proved very popular. The programme contained seventeen turns in all. It was a fête night, and the lady artists were the recipients of numerous bouquets, not forgetting the doll presented to the tiny youngster of the Elliott Troupe, Mr Greenfield handing up the bouquets on behalf of he givers.

Left - The Stage right side of the auditorium of the Empire, Middlesbrough in a photograph taken in 2008 - Courtesy John West.

Among the company engaged were Miss Lily Langtry, with a dashing style of rendering musing songs ; Miss Daisy Mayer, whose dancing was much enjoyed ; Miss Kitty Beresford, comedienne, who did well ; Manning and Prevost, who gave an exceedingly funny and truly marvellous acrobatic show ; George Adams, who rendered several baritone songs in good style ; D. J. M`Carthy, comic ; Bert Brantford, comic ; Ernest Lepard, comic ; Bros. Wartenburg, Risley performers ; Miss Minnie Cunningham, serio and dancer ; Naomi Ethardo, contortionist ; and Chas. Paver, comic.

The opening performance was thoroughly successful and enjoyable, and when it came to a close, between eleven and twelve, the exits were found to be ample, and the theatre was cleared in a marvellously short space of time. There is a fireproof curtain, and a guarantee of the safety of the building in another direction is found in the fact that the constructional steelwork has been supplied by Messrs Dorman, Long, and Co. The scenery is typical and appropriate, and the curtain, representing silk draperies in white, blue, and gold, is in keeping with the splendours of the auditorium. The bars and lounges are all up to date.'

Above text in quotes from the ERA, 18th March 1899.

 

One of the boxes at the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The Empire continued as a Variety Theatre for many years and despite later becoming home to Bingo and then conversion for Nightclub use the structure of its auditorium and exterior remain much as they were when built. However, after the stage was destroyed by bombs in the second world war some rebuilding was necessitated, during which the two flanking towers of the original building were not replaced.

Right - One of the boxes at the Middlesbrough Empire in May 1989 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The Theatres Trust says of the Empire 'The Empire is important as being the best of the only three surviving theatres designed by Runtz, the others being the New Theatre, Cardiff, and the Hippodrome, Hastings (where only the exterior now survives). The present owner seems to be proud of the building, so regret must, in this case, be tinged with relief. ' The Theatres Trust .

However, comparing the condition of the auditorium in the photographs on this page from 1989 whilst in use as a Bingo House and then in 2008 whilst in use as a Nightclub one can see the deterioration of the auditorium that has occurred in the intervening years.

The Grade II Listed Middlesbrough Empire is currently in use as a Nightclub and you may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, 61 Wilson Street, Middlesbrough

Later - The Astoria Ballroom / The Venue / Wonderland Bingo Club / Showboat Social Club / Chicago Rock Cafe

The former Hippodrome Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Stan Laundon

Above - The former Hippodrome Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Stan Laundon

The Hippodrome Theatre was built in 1908 for Middlesbrough Theatres, Limited, who also ran the Theatre Royal for a while. The Theatre was designed by the architect G. F. Ward of Birmingham and cost £20,000 to construct and fit out. The Proscenium of the new Theatre was 40 foot wide with a stage depth of 30 foot, and the auditorium which consisted of stalls, boxes, and two circles was capable of accommodating some 2,800 people. The Theatre opened on the 17th of August 1908 with a Variety show including Arthur Prince, Florrie Ford, and Jock White.

In 1910 Cine Variety was established, but by 1913 the Theatre was being used mainly as a Cinema with only the occasional Variety show. The Theatre was bought by Denman-Gaumont in 1928 and the auditorium was reconstructed in the Art Deco style, however, the Hippodrome name was retained as there was another Gaumont Cinema in the town by this time, namely the former Grand Opera House. Cinema and occasional Variety continued until the Theatre was closed on the 1st of December 1956 when the building was converted into a Ballroom known as the Astoria Ballroom.

In 1968 the Theatre was converted into a Social Club called the Showboat Social Club and later into a Bingo Club called Wonderland Bingo which ceased operations in 1987. In 1991 the building was further altered, this time into a Nightclub called the Venue.

The Theatre's interior has been altered so much since it was first built that G. F. Ward would not recognise it as his Theatre today but the exterior remains much as it was when first built, although a flyover now runs directly in front of the building obscuring some of its detail. Despite all this the Hippodrome is a Grade II Listed building even though it is currently in use as a Chicago Rock Cafe, whilst the former stage is now in use as a Nightclub and Bar.

There are a few photos of the building in its current guise here.

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

 

The Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannon Street, Middlesbrough

A Bill for the 'Stock Season' at the newly decorated Prince of Wales Theatre, Middlesbrough in August 1891 - Courtesy Richard Lake.The Prince of Wales Theatre was situated in Cannon Street, Middlesbrough and, according to the Dramatic Year Book and Stage Directory, opened in 1875.

The Theatre was closed for structural alterations and reopened on August the 31st 1883 with a new capacity of 2,000

Further alterations were carried out in 1889 and the Theatre reopened after redecoration on the 25th of February 1889.

The Theatre was redecorated yet again in 1891, probably due to the result of soot from the gas lighting. This time the work was carried out by Frederick Thomas Penson, who also designed and painted the new Act Drop (See Bills Right and Below). Frederick Penson was born on the 6th of March 1866 in Boothen, Stoke on Trent, one of ten children. He was an apprentice painter at Mintons China in Stoke and before attending the National Art Training School South Kensington (The Royal College of Art) and also spent some time in Paris. He painted many landscapes at Trentham House and Gardens, then belonging to the Duke of Sutherland, who gave Frederick his permission to use the grounds for his A Bill for the 'Stock Season' at the newly decorated Prince of Wales Theatre, Middlesbrough in August 1891 - Courtesy Richard Lake.paintings. His work was used in exhibitions across the country from Glasgow to London in the late 19th early 20th centuries and two of his paintings are held by the Victoria & Albert Museum. None of his paintings have ever been sold at auction, they are all either in private collections, museums or with family members. We are not sure if he ever did any other Theatre work . Frederick died in Twickenham Middlesex on the 24th of Sept 1951.' - Courtesy Richard Lake.

Left and above Right - A Bill for the 'Stock Season' at the newly decorated Prince of Wales Theatre, Middlesbrough in August 1891 - Courtesy Richard Lake.

On the 3rd of December 1894 the Theatre was reopened under the direction of Rollo Balmaine.

In the Building News and Engineering Journal of the 30th of September 1898 they reported on the conversion of an old Music Hall in Cannon Street to a Mission Hall, and this is likely to have been the former Prince of Wales Theatre, although I have yet to substantiate this. The article read:-

'An old music-hall in Cannon-street, Middlesbrough, was purchased some time since for £3,500 by the vicar of St. Paul's in that town, and it has now been converted into a mission-hall, from plans by Mr. Walter G. Roberts, architect, of 61, Albion road, Middlesbrough. The alterations, which have cost about £1,150, have been carried out by Messrs. Allison. The mission-hall was recently dedicated by the Archbishop of York, who at the same time unveiled five windows in St. Paul's Church, which have been filled with stained glass representing Northem Saiats, from designs by Mr. Percy Bacon, of London.' - The Building News and Engineering Journal, 30th of September 1898.

The information for this Theatre comes from The Dramatic Year Book and Stage Directory, the Building News and Engineering Journal, The Stage newspaper archives, and contributions from Ted Bottle and Richard Lake.

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

 

The Theatre Royal, Albert Street, Middlesbrough

Later - The Theatre Royal, Sussex Street, Middlesbrough

The cast of an unknown production pose in front of the Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - The cast of an unknown production pose in front of the Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society. The writing underneath the Pit Entrance mentions the Theatre's manager John Charles Imeson. Year and production unknown, perhaps you know more about this photograph .

There have been two Theatre Royals in Middlesbrough, both of them built on the same site, but with their frontages facing different streets. The first Theatre, which fronted onto Albert Street, was built in 1866 and was designed by Blessey. This Theatre opened the same year as Price's Spanish Circo and the Ship Inn Music Hall under the ownership of J. C. Hunter on Saturday the 31st of March 1866 with a performance of 'The Foundling Fathers' and 'The Quiet Family'. The ERA reported on the Theatre's opening week in their 8th of April 1866 edition saying:

'This place was opened for a short season on Saturday last, and the company, with two or three exceptions, is entirely new. The performances commenced with The Foundling of the Forest and concluded with The Quiet Family. On Monday we had Macbeth, when Mr. James Robertson sustained that character very successfully; and Mr. W. G. Broughton, Macduff. The Lady Macbeth of Miss Jane Dawson was most enthusiastically received, exceedingly well read, and well acted. The other characters were taken by the stock company, of whose merits or demerits we shall speak in due course. My Precious Betsy was the farce, with Mr. Harold White as Mr. Bobtail. On Tuesday we had Don Clesar de Bazan, and on Wednesday. Ruy Blas, when Mr. James Robertson in the chief characters acted admirably. Mr. Harold White, as a comic singer, is a great favourite, and receives two or three calls nightly; while Miss Etty Morris, as an operatic danseuse, is very graceful and pleasing:' The ERA, 8th April 1866.

For some reason shortly after the Theatre opened the stage carpenter, Mr Towel, left suddenly and took some of the Theatre's property with him. The ERA carried a notice in their 1st of April edition saying: 'Wanted, to Join at Once, a stage Carpenter, in consequence of the last leaving without giving notice. Mr Towel, stage Carpenter, is requested to send back the property which probably he took by mistake.'

In 1885 the Theatre was closed for a while when its ventilation system was improved and the interior was redecorated, a new act drop with a painting of the Grand Canal in Venice was also installed at this time. The Theatre reopened on the 4th of August 1885.

Two years later the Theatre's auditorium was again redecorated, probably due to the soot given off by gas lighting. Whilst this was being done the stage and dressing rooms were also renovated and a new Strode Flash Lighting system was installed. The orchestra pit was also lowered at the same time so that it would be out of sight. The Theatre was closed for seven weeks but reopened on the 1st of August 1887.

In May 1890 the Dress Circle, Boxes, and the Orchestra Stalls were reconstructed and were provided with 'fold back lounges' which were upholstered in Crimson Plush. The renowned Theatre architect, Frank Matcham, was hired to alter the look of the auditorium at the same time. Matcham added a new arched ceiling and designed new plasterwork for the proscenium, box and circle fronts. A new act drop depicting the Silver Strand, Loch Katrine was created by the resident artist Fred Holder.

Despite all the alterations over the years the owners seem to have been unsatisfied with the Theatre and several proposals were put forward for the building of a new Theatre Royal on a different site in the town. The Era carried a report on one proposal in their 28th of December 1895 edition saying: 'The proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough-on-Tees, have purchased a prominent site near the Municipal Building, Middlesbrough, in the heart of the town, for the erection of a new theatre. Mr Frank Matcham, the well-known theatrical architect, has been entrusted with the plans. The entrance to the theatre will be from Corporation road, which is the widest thoroughfare in the borough. With regard to the existing Theatre Royal, which has been occupied by Messrs Imeson for many years, the idea at present is to convert it into a People's music hall.' The ERA, 28th of December 1895.

This came to nothing however, but other ideas were still being proposed. The following year the ERA carried another notice in their 28 Mar 1896 edition saying: 'The Middlesbrough Theatres, Limited, is a company which has been formed for the purpose of acquiring the freehold land and premises of the Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough, &c., and also of acquiring a freehold site in the centre of the town, and the erection thereon of a new theatre, fitted up in the best style, provided with all modern appliances, and the electric light, at a cost, including the purchase of the freehold, of £21,000. It is proposed that on the completion of the new theatre the existing house shall be used as a music hall. The present Theatre Royal has been carefully surveyed by the well-known architect, Mr Joseph Potts, and his valuation amounts to £21,010. The site for the new theatre is situated between Wilson-street and Bolckow street, close to the principal thoroughfare of the town, and within three minutes walk of the railway station.' The ERA, 28th March 1896.

However, this idea came to nothing in the end too and the Theatre remained in business right up until the 12th of May 1899 when it was finally closed down for a complete rebuild on the same site. A notice in the ERA of the 5th of May stated: 'The Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough, is about to be reconstructed at a cost of £9,500, and the numerous friends of Messrs George and Charles Imeson, the genial managing - directors of the Middlesbrough Theatres, Limited, are taking advantage of the occasion to do honour to the worthy caterers for the public. The theatre closes at the end of next week, and it is hoped that the alterations will be completed by November. On the 14th inst. a complimentary concert will be given to the Brothers Imeson, to whom presentations will be made. The ERA, 5th May 1899.

The rebuilding was to take a lot longer than first imagined though and the new Theatre, which was designed by W. Hope of Newcastle on Tyne, and, according to the Theatres Trust, Mr. Maxwell too. (Hope and Maxwell went on to design the Grand Opera House in the town in 1903.) The new Theatre Royal took 18 months to construct and cost £10,000, and was built by Messrs Howe and Co. of West Hartlepool, on the site of the old but had its main frontage on Sussex Street. The new Theatre opened on Christmas eve the 24th of December 1900 with a performance of the pantomime 'Aladdin.' The ERA reported on the new building and the opening production in their 29th of December edition saying:

'The Middlesbrough Theatre Royal, which has been almost entirely rebuilt at a cost of £10,000, was reopened on Monday with the pantomime of Aladdin. The premises have been in the hands of the builders for the past eighteen months, and changes have been made of a substantial character. The front of the old theatre used to be in Albert-street, and all the entrances and exits were in a back street, the stage being on the west side of the building. The front and main entrance is now from Sussex-street, and the stage is on the east side of the theatre. A handsome staircase and corridor leads from the main entrance to the dress-circle and boxes, and another way leads to the pit and stalls.

The auditorium has been constructed on pretty much the old plan, but the depth has been considerably increased, and accommodation is given for fully 600 more people, the building now being capable of holding 2,000 persons. The whole of the seating on the ground floor has been rearranged with a view to affording every comfort to the patrons of this part of the house. There are several rows of tip-up chairs in the orchestra and pit stalls admirably upholstered, and about a dozen rows of pit seats, the pit floor being gradually raised to the back to provide a good view of the stage. Handsomely furnished and draped private boxes have been provided on the sides of the proscenium. The whole of the dress-circle and upper boxes have been carpeted with a thick warm cork carpet of terra cotta colour, and the charming artistic work on the front of the boxes and gallery, painted in lighted and gold colours, and a ceiling of painted flowers all combine to make the Middlesbrough new theatre one of the most luxurious in the North, The stage is somewhat larger than before, and is fitted with the latest improvements. There are additional exits, and every provision has been made by the able managing-directors, Messrs George and Charles Imeson, for the safety and convenience of all those visiting this new and well-appointed place of entertainment.

For the reopening of the theatre on Christmas Eve, Mr Arthur Milton's spectacular pantomime Aladdin was selected as the attraction. The performance concluded with a grand finale entitled, "England's Defenders," in which all the regiments who have been or are at present at the front were represented. Miss Louie Guildford as the principal boy acquitted herself with spirit and dash, and her performance was completely successful. In the part of the principal girl Miss Georgie Corlass did well, and her vocal efforts were very much enjoyed. Mr Harry Bickley gave an amusing impersonation of the Spotter; while as Abanazar Mr Arthur Hayman created a good deal of fun. Mr Fred Spencer was responsible for the character of Widow Twankey, and in the part he caused a good deal of laughter. The lively dancing of the Nine Rosebuds was keenly appreciated, and the Welsh Singers' rendering of well-known pieces was greatly enjoyed. Messrs Otto and Twist, in their speciality business, were well received. Under the conductorship of Mr Vincent Exley, the orchestra was ably handled.

At the close Councillor Charles Imeson, who was accompanied on the stage by Colonel S. A. Sadler, M.P., Mr Geo. Imeson, Mr George Hoggett (chairman of the directors), Mr Arthur Milton, and Mr Gibbs, thanked the audience for their attendance and the hearty reception they had accorded the pantomime. The alterations and improvements to the theatre, he said, were not quite complete; there was a little more embellishment to be done. When this was accomplished the directors hoped their efforts would meet with the same encouragement from the public of the town and neighbourhood as in the past. The member for the borough, Colonel Sadler, had been kind enough to promise to formally reopen the theatre, and he had great pleasure in calling upon him to perform the ceremony. Colonel Sadler then formally reopened the theatre, and warmly congratulated Messrs Imeson and their co-directors on the new house. The ERA, 29th December 1900.

Only six years after the new Theatre opened it was closed for redecoration, this time in white and gold with walls of rich crimson and floors covered with crimson velvet pile carpets. The Theatre reopened on the 6th of August 1906.

In 1912 the Stage Guide wrote that the Theatre had ten dressing rooms, a stage of 60 foot wide by 40 foot deep, a proscenium height of 24 foot and a grid height of 60 foot.

The Theatre Royal closed as a live theatre in 1930 and went over to full time Cinema, later passing into the hands of the Essoldo Circuit. However, Essoldo reopened the building as a live theatre again in 1950 with a mixture of Repertory and Touring Revues and the Theatre continued in this vain until it was finally closed and demolished in 1978.

The information for the Theatre Royal, Middlesbrough on this page comes from a variety of sources including the ERA and Stage newspaper archives, the Theatres Trust Guide, the Dramatic Year Book and Stage Directory, and contributions from Ted Bottle, Alan Chudley, and Brent Fernandez, to all of whom I am very grateful.

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The Oxford Palace of Varieties, Middlesbrough

Also known as the Oxford Music Hall / The Oxford Theatre

The Oxford Palace of Varieties, Middlesbrough first opened in 1867, and in 1890 the Theatre was closed for alterations and the construction of a new proscenium by Charles Kirkham of Middlesbrough, reopening on the 4th of August 1890.

In 1898 the Theatre was refurbished again, at considerable cost, upwards of £7,000, which included an enlarged auditorium with the boxes and circles in a semi-circular form, decorated in pea green, cream and gold. The circle seats were replaced with tip-up chairs in crimson plush. The proscenium was altered and fitted with fire proof curtains, and an artistic dome was added to the ceiling. The Theatre reopened on Monday the 28th of March 1898.

The ERA reported on the renovations in their 2nd of April 1898 edition saying:- 'On Monday afternoon this practically new variety theatre was reopened after a long closure. The audience, present by invitation, included many of the principal people of the town. For the past year the hall has been in the hands of the builders and decorators, and the result of their labours has been to transform and beautify the old place out of all recognition.

Messrs Newton, Forster, and Robson, who acquired the premises in the early part of last year, have expended between £6,000 and £7,000 on them, and the hall is now one of the prettiest and most completely equipped in the provinces.

No expense has been spared in ministering to the comfort and convenience of the public, and the decorative work has been carried out with the greatest good taste. Messrs Johnson and Son had the contract for the very considerable structural alterations which have been effected; and the decorative work and furnishing were let to Messrs Marlands and Messrs Collier, both of Hull.

The old rectangular form of the boxes has given place to a semi-circular arrangement, which, while adding to the accommodation, has also greatly improved the general appearance of the interior. The boxes are furnished with tip-up chairs, upholstered in maroon plush velvet, and the floors are laid with Wilton plush carpet to match. The plastic decorations are by Messrs Home, of Bradford, and are in cream and gold. The main ceiling has been domed, and the hand-painted work adds greatly to the general effect.

A complete installation of electric lighting has been fitted by Messrs Roame, of London. Every part of the hall is lighted by electricity, and the footlights are multicoloured and changeable. A fire-proof curtain has been fitted by Messrs Newton Brothers, and Holliday, of Hull, and Messrs Wright and Son, of Hull, have supplied the hydrants, &c. Every precaution has been taken against the danger of fire, and there are fire escapes on each side of the building, by means of which and the ordinary exits a packed audience could easily vacate the premises within a period of three minutes. The refreshment bars in the boxes and pit are in keeping with the general scheme of decoration, and, for its size, the hall is certainly one of the most elegant in the country.

Mr Jack Jowsey, who has the management of the theatre, is well known throughout the district, and may be relied upon to secure the very best talent. The company for the week includes the Royal Welsh Singers, whose fine rendering of well-known glees is much enjoyed; La Renche Troupe, who are very clever and funny skaters; French's acrobatic bicyclists, in a splendid act; Princess Poppie, serio and dancer; Sam Jesson, comic; Signotti Troupe of acrobats; Oscar Hampson, amusing comedian and dancer; the Vanettas, musical entertainers; Master W. E. Jowsey, son of the popular manager of the theatre; and Winona, in her refined and clever aerial rifle shooting entertainment.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 2nd of April 1898.

A notice in the Northern Echo of the 27th of December 1900 advertises forthcoming attractions at the Oxford Theatre, Middlesbrough.In 1900 the Theatre reopened on the 7th of May with the twice nightly principle, by December it was known as the Oxford Theatre.

Right - A notice in the Northern Echo of the 27th of December 1900 advertises forthcoming attractions at the Oxford Theatre, Middlesbrough.

In February 1904 the Theatre's licence renewal was refused until far better fire prevention throughout the building had been accomplished. This included the lengthening of fire hoses, the prohibition of smoking under the stage, a new fire curtain to be installed, all emergency doors to be fitted with springs, and a fireman to be employed on the premises until all this could be completed. This was obviously achieved and the Theatre was reopened. In 1912 it was stated that the auditorium was capable of housing 1,000 people.

Sadly the Oxford Theatre was bombed in 1941 and subsequently demolished.

The information for this Theatre comes from 'The Dramatic Year Book and Stage Directory', The Stage newspaper archives, the ERA, and contributions from Ted Bottle.

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

 

The Grand Opera House, Linthorpe Road and Southfield Road, Middlesbrough

Later - The Gaumont Cinema

A Postcard showing the former Grand Opera House, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Stan Laundon

Above - A Postcard showing the former Grand Opera House, Middlesbrough - Courtesy Stan Laundon

The Grand Opera House, Middlesbrough was designed by the architects Hope and Maxwell who also designed the rebuilt Theatre Royal in the town in 1900. The Opera House opened on the 7th of December 1903 with a production of 'My Lady Molly' and had an auditorium decorated by A. R. Dean of Birmingham which had a handsome dome supported by marble pillars and a capacity of 3,000. The Theatre was lit by electricity throughout and its exterior was built with red brick dressed with Crombie's artificial stone.

On the Theatre's opening it was unable to gain a drinks licence due to the efforts of the Watch Comittee and the fact that it was opposite the Congregational Church.

On February the 26th 1907 the Theatre was sold to the Chairman of Directors for £23,000 and was stated at the time as having Seating for 2,600 and standing room for 700.

In 1912 the Stage Guide stated that the Theatre had 12 dressing rooms, ten private boxes, and an auditorium which was comprised of stalls, pit, pit stalls, dress circle, circle, gallery, and amphitheatre. The stage was stated to be 63 foot wide by 40 foot deep. The proscenium was 32 foot high by 30 foot wide and the grid height was 60 foot.

The Grand Opera House was converted for Cinema use in the 1920s and renamed the Gaumont Cinema, and this continued until February the 29th 1964 when the last film shown at the Cinema was 'The Longest Day'. The Cinema then closed down but wasn't demolished until January 1971.

A Google StreetView image of the site of the former Opera House / Gaumont Cinema, Middlesbrough today - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView image of the site of the former Opera House / Gaumont Cinema, Middlesbrough today - Click to Interact.

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

 

Price's Spanish Circo, Middlesbrough

Price's Spanish Circo opened in March 1866, the same year as the first Theatre Royal and the Ship Inn Music Hall were built in the town.. The ERA reported on the venture in their 30th of March 1866 edition saying:

'This place of amusement is very attractive, and is well patronised. The various members of the Wells and Meers Families in their different lines of business give satisfaction. Mons. Oriel (bottle equilibrist) is exceedingly clever, while Hogini, Adams, and Oriel (the Clowns) are amusing and humorous. The performance on Saturday closed with Dick Turpin's Ride to York, and on Monday and following evenings with Timour the Tartar, when Mr J. W. Ennis and Miss Laura Selton, who were engaged at the Theatre previous to its closing, appeared, and were well received. - The ERA, 30th March 1866.

However, Price himself seems to have failed in the venture and soon sold his horses and props at auction on the 31st of March, although the company continued on their own. The ERA mentions this situation in their 8th of April 1866 edition saying:

'On Saturday last Mr. Price's horses and properties were sold by auction. The establishment has only been open a few weeks, and doing a good business, in no respect, we think, a losing affair. The company remain and perform nightly to tolerable audiences on their own responsibility.' - The ERA, 8th April 1866.

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The Ship Inn Music Hall, Middlesbrough

The Ship Inn Music Hall, Middlesbrough was open in March 1866 and running under the ownership of T. Wynn. However, the ERA caried a notice about the hall's closure in their 30th of March edition saying:

'This week we observe no alterations in the company. We also may just state that in three weeks or a month this Room will be closed, as Mr Wynn is about to enter premises of his own not convenient for concerts, and that we shall be left without a Concert Hall in the town. Any Manager who understands the business would find in Middlesbrough a good chance to speculate. - The ERA, 30th March 1866.

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The Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough

The Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Middlesbrough Theatre in 2015

Above - The Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Middlesbrough Theatre in 2015

The Hexagon Theatre was built in the 1970s and was, at the time, one of only six purpose built Thrust Stage Theatres in the Country, and the only one in the region. It was created as part of the Hall Garth Community Arts College.

The Stage of the Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Middlesbrough Theatre in 2015. The Auditorium of the Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Middlesbrough Theatre in 2015.

Above - The Stage and Auditorium of the Hexagon Theatre, Middlesbrough - Courtesy David Lindsey, Manager of the Middlesbrough Theatre in 2015.

In 2009 the Theatre was scheduled to be demolished along with the Hall Garth and King’s Manor buildings. When demolition was complete the schools planned to merge and move into a new building on the same site.

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The Pavilion, Esk Street, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough

Formerly - The Grand Electric Theatre / Pavilion Picture Palace / Playbarn

A Google StreetView Image of the former Pavilion Theatre, Middlesbrough - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Pavilion Theatre, Middlesbrough - Click to Interact

The Pavilion on Esk Street, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough was built in 1911 and originally opened as the Grand Electric Theatre, being a small variety theatre with a capacity of 1,000.

In 1915 it was converted for use as a Cinema called the Pavilion Picture Palace, by installing a roll up screen which meant that it could still house live theatre, however, for most of its life since this conversion it was used almost exclusively as a cinema. The auditorium of the Pavilion was built on two levels, stalls and one balcony.

In 1943 the capacity was reduced to 600.

In the 1950s the building was in use as a Bingo Hall although Cinema seems to have been shown here too until 1963.

The Theatre was taken over by Middlesbrough Council in the 1970s and was used as a Children's out of School care centre called the Palybarn for many years. In 2006 the building was subject to a £245,000 refurbishment, and in 1992 a new entrance to the building was constructed to the side of the Theatre and the stage access doors were blocked off. The balcony was also partitioned off and the rear stalls were converted for office use.

The end came for this Theatre however, when it was demolished in August 2013.

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

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

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: