Theatres in New Cross, Deptford, London, SE14
Also known as the Deptford Empire of Varieties / New Cross Empire Theatre of Varieties
Above - The New Cross Empire Theatre, London - Courtesy Peter Charlton
The New Cross Empire was built by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham for London District Empire Palaces Ltd., and opened with a variety show on the Tuesday the 1st of August 1899. The Theatre was to have opened on Monday the 31st of July but the Licence wasn't ready in time.
The large auditorium with a seating capacity of 2,000 was built on four levels, Stalls (290) and Pit (466), Grand Circle (406), Upper Circle (254), Balcony (240), and four Boxes, two on either side of the proscenium, with seating for four persons each.
Right - A variety programme for the New Cross Empire for the 5th of June, 1911 - On the Bill were Joe Boganny's Opium Friends, Belloni's Wonderful Cockatoos, Barrett & Knowles, Lillie Lassah, Will Poluski Junr, Henry Helme, Mona Garrick, Ernie Leno, Harry Friskey, Van Biene, and the American Bioscope - The Programme is part of a collection of material from Ethel Bourne and Mona Garrick who were solo performers but also performed as part of their family act 'The Five Sisters', see card below.
Above - The Five Sisters - From an early Postcard and part of a collection of material from Ethel Bourne, a contralto vocalist, and Mona Garrick, a character actress, who often appeared individually or as part of their family act 'The Five Sisters'
'Mr Oswald Stoll is evidently a believer in the well-known saying of Addison; and if in the fine, handsome, and well-appointed Empire in the New-cross-road he cannot command success, he will certainly deserve it, for we have no more luxurious people's music hall in the suburbs. The house starts with excellent credentials, for the chairman is Mr H. E. Moss, who is also chairman and managing-director of similar places in Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Bradford, Hull, and the New London Hippodrome, now in course of erection in Charing-cross-road and Cranbourne-street. Mr Stoll, too, is a man of many enterprises, and to his strenuous hard work and far-sightedness are, in a considerable measure, due the establishment of the Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Stratford, and Holloway Empires, though he himself, being a modest man, is only too desirous to give all the credit of these important ventures also to Mr Moss. Indeed, what may be termed the Moss and Stoll establishments at the present moment figure out at a valuation of one million and a quarter.
The building has been erected at a cost of £25,000, and it is constructed to seat over 3,000 persons. The principal facade fronts the New-cross-road, and, by the construction of new thoroughfares, the place is completely isolated. Its external design may be described as composite, although the Italian Renaissance, with a free treatment in the direction of Mauresque, more clearly indicates the work of the well-known architect Mr Frank Matcham, whose knowledge of the requirements of the modern theatre and music hall need not be insisted on in these columns.
Left - The Auditorium of the New Cross Empire as it looked when it first opened in 1899 - From a poster advertising the opening night.
So far as concerns the interior, the building is constructed on the cantilever principle, with three tiers, consisting of grand circle, balcony, and gallery, the floor of the house being divided between fauteuils, stalls, and pit. A feature of the gallery is that the seating does not extend to the proscenium on either side, the space that is generally occupied by boxes in less up-to-date houses being made a decorative feature of. Panels most artistically painted represent the ancient industries of Deptford, and the innovation, if such it can be called, is a very welcome one. There are no pillars in any part of the house that can obstruct the view of the stage, and the theatre is provided throughout with the latest sanitary and fire extinguishing appliances, as well as electric lighting, and has the additional luxury of a sliding roof, for use during hot weather, with all modern improvements in ventilation.
Above - A notice in the ERA of the 26th of August 1899 , just a month after the New Cross Empire opened, reads 'Mr. Arthur Lloyd the Original Arthur Lloyd, an Immense Success with Son and Daughter at New Empires, Stratford and New-cross, The Bedford.
The decorative work is of the Louis XIV period, and the prevailing tints are bronze, gold, and pale blue. The vestibule is remarkable for a grand staircase with marble pillars; and the pay-boxes are surmounted by a prettily decorated cupola - a happily conceived idea which gives an oriental character to the entrance. The upholstering by Warings is on a sumptuous scale, the colour being a deep crimson. Tip-up chairs and seats have been introduced, and those of the pit and balcony are cushioned and have padded backs. A novel feature of the dress circle is that two roomy boxes have been placed at each end.
The stage depth is 40ft., with a proscenium opening of 36ft. The stage is fitted with traps, &c., and is adapted for large productions, while the dressing-rooms are large, and fitted with hot and cold water. The treatment of the four private boxes is novel, large niches being arranged between them, and the whole interior shows excellence of design.
Above - The New Cross Empire - From a postcard sent in 1910
The favourable position of the theatre affords scope for exits at every necessary point; and the consideration which will probably most largely interest the people in the neighbourhood is that the prices range from as low as threepence for the gallery to only two shillings for numbered fauteuil.
Right - A Variety programme for the New Cross Empire in February 1935 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
The new house is to be run on the two houses a-night principle. Pithy programmes are to be the pabulum for the people of New-cross and Deptford. It is, indeed, claimed forthe dual performances that the early one provides distant residents with an entertainment of satisfying length, and it also enables them to reach home at convenient hour - a very great desideratum indeed with working folk. It also meets the views of those in the more immediate vicinity who prefer early hours. The late performance answers the requirements of persons detained late at business, and who have hitherto had to pay whole prices for half performances or forego these entertainments altogether.
It was unfortunate that the original intention of opening the hall on the Monday could not be carried out; but the provisional licence, for some reason or other, could not be confirmed before Tuesday. On that evening the new place was launched. Rightly and properly, the National Anthem, played by the band of the Second Battalion of the Duke of Cambridge's Own Middlesex Regiment, under the direction of Mr George P. Robertson, and the theatre orchestra, led by Mr Shackleton, inaugurated the entertainment, the solo being taken by Miss Katie Cohen.
The fine stage was utilised in the course of the two entertainments to its fullest capacity, and the landscapes and interiors are exceedingly creditable to the taste of Messrs Walter Hann, Frederick Fox, and J. B. Parker. The set used for Humanity, Mr John Lawson's sketch, was a particularly elaborate one, and that remarkable production again exercised its fascinations on an audience to whom its exciting fight in a fully furnished drawing-room was probably new. In the representation Mr Lawson was supported by his old comrade, Mr E. S. Vincent, as the Christian "cur," and by Miss Cissie Russell.
Above - The New Cross Empire - From a postcard
The series of animated pictures projected upon the screen by the Bio-Tableaux includes one, "The Devil in a Convent," that conscientious Roman Catholics would certainly object to. The fine and exciting reproduction of the race for the Northumberland Plate, however, deserves nothing but praise.
Right - Ticket prices from a Variety programme for the New Cross Empire in February 1935 -Courtesy Roy Cross.
Early in the evening the Fothergills presented their popular Irish sketch; and Bella and Bijou kept the audience highly amused by their amusing and well-written character duets. Mr J. W. Rowley soon made himself quite at home with the Novocrucians, who listened with delight to his patter and his puns, and encouraged him by the merry music or their applause in his never-to-be-forgotten ditty, "Going to the Derby."
There is something so neat, ingenious, and withal so funny and original about the business of Manning and Prevost that surprise and astonishment alternate with laughter. The two are fine acrobats - masters of every conceivable form of ground tumbling; but they have neither part nor lot with the ordinary solemn-visaged somersaultists with which one is so familiar. They work their business into a farcelet brightened by the drollery of a comic Turkish bath incident.
The grace and strength of the Three Donals were displayed in a high-class athletic exhibition, which was applauded to the echo on the opening night. Mr Ernest Heathcote found passports to favour in his comic singing and eccentric dancing; Miss Ella Dean exercised her fine contralto voice in fascinating melody; and Mr Albert Christian stirred the patriotic pulse of his hearers by his rendering of "Death or Glory Boys." The stage was under the capable arrangement of Mr A. Rees.
Above - The New Cross Empire - From a postcard
In the course of the evening Mr Oswald Stoll came to the footlights to say a few words. No doubt he would disclaim being an orator, but his remarks were very much to the purpose, and his voice could be heard in all parts of the large house.
Right - A Variety programme for the New Cross Empire in June 1934 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
He spoke as follows: - "Ladies and Gentlemen: - As managing director of the company owning this property it devolves upon me to thank you for your presence to-night. In coming here to see the launch of our vessel you are helping it to float. It is a kind of pleasure yacht, built not to win the America Cup, but to win your favour. To do that we mean to have a good try, and notwithstanding the hard things sometimes said of music halls, we set out with the hope that you believe, as I do, that it will be possible for you to spend many a bright hour here without lessening your chances of a front seat in Heaven. I will now take the liberty of introducing to you a gentleman who, like the Right Honourable South Africa Rhodes, is a great Empire-maker. Of nearly all the establishments named in our advertisements, representing over a million and a quarter of capital, he is personally the founder. In these days of Copper Kings and Diamond Kings he is what we may call the Music Hall King, as about fifty thousand people nightly, approximating sixteen million annually, take their pleasure out of the mines of amusement that he has opened up. I allude to the chairman of our company, Mr H. E. Moss." Mr Moss then came to the footlights and bowed to the enthusiastic greeting accorded him. Mr Stoll then continued, "There is another gentleman whose ability commands both recognition and admiration. It is he in whose fertile brain this handsome building took ideal shape before contractors gave it solid form.
I mean our able architect, Mr Frank Matcham." Mr Matcham, on appearing to bow his acknowledgments, was also enthusiastically greeted. Mr Stoll concluded by saying that, through the example of both the gentlemen he had introduced, the force of the old maxim "Silence is golden" had come home to him, and with a further word of thanks he would retire.
As we left, the doors were opening for a second performance, which was being awaited by a vast crowd. So excellent, however, are the arrangements for ingress and egress that the outgoing audience caused no inconvenience to the incomers. Among those who came to congratulate Messrs Moss and Stoll on their latest Empire were Messrs Richard and Emanuel Warner, Frank Allen, H. T. Brickwell, Gallirnore Fox, George Foster, Percy Cohen, and others. The acting-manager of the house is Mr Henry Raymond. By the will of the London County Council the sale of intoxicating liquors is forbidden. This is excellent business for the neighbouring hostelries, which are expected to add at least twenty per cent to their value in the near future."
The New Cross Empire Theatre was built for London District Empire Palaces Ltd., and was managed by Oswald Stoll from its opening in 1899 to 1912 when Sir Horace Edward Moss took over. From then on it had a succession of different managements including Moss Empires Ltd., in 1925. The last management at the New Cross Empire was Park Theatrical Productions Ltd., with Frank Sydney Webb.
Right - Programme for 'The All Comedy Variety Show, Laugh and be Happy' at the New Cross Empire in May 1948.
Left - Detail from a 1948 Variety Programme advertising the forthcoming BBC 'Happidrome' Radio show to be performed at the New Cross Empire.
The Theatre opened with two performances a day and an entire change of programme every week, and was mainly in use as a Music Hall and Variety Theatre, indeed it was also known as the New Cross Empire Theatre of Varieties, and the Deptford Theatre of Varieties for many years. In its later years the Theatre was also sometimes host to the BBC's 'Happidrome' radio show.
The Theatre was demolished in the 1950s.
Above - Programme Detail for 'The All Comedy Variety Show, Laugh and be Happy' at the New Cross Empire in May 1948.
Later - The Broadway Cinema / Century Cinema
Above - The Broadway Theatre, New Cross, Deptford - From a Postcard - Courtesy Andreas Praefcke
The Broadway Theatre was designed by the Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and built at a cost of £35,000. The Theatre was similar to Sprague's Coronet Theatre, Notting Hill, which opened a year later, and which, unlike the Broadway, is still standing. The Broadway Theatre's auditorium was decorated in the Italian Renaissance style and had a capacity of 3,000, with a large stage of 80' by 40'. The Theatre was opened by Cissy Graham on the 27th of December 1897 with the pantomime 'Cinderella'.
Right - A Poster advertising a Farewell Benefit for Mr. Geo. Morton at the Broadway Theatre, New Cross on Wednesday the 19th of November 1902. On the Bill were amongst others, Arthur Lloyd and his daughters Lillie and Dulcie. Click to Enlarge.
Shortly before the Theatre opened the ERA reported on the building in their 18th of December 1897 edition saying:- 'As we announced last week, the new Broadway Theatre at Deptford will be opened by Miss Cissy Grahame on Boxing Day afternoon with the pantomime of Cinderella; and the following additional particulars respecting the house, which is on the two tier system, are of interest:-
The elevations are of a bold, classic design, executed entirely in white Portland stone. The main corner is treated in the form of a tower, and is surmounted by a copper dome. Above this rises a miniature cupola, in which revolves a powerful search-light that will send forth various coloured flashes. The front is embellished by some very rich carvings. The heads of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Beethoven are in medallion above the doors leading from the grand saloon to the first gallery level. A richly carved frieze, 4ft. 6in, deep, is carried right round the building, on the second floor level. Other carvings conclude an exceedingly rich effect.
The entrances to the better parts of the theatre are from the main corner, into a semi-circular vestibule, and thence direct into a handsomely appointed crush-room, the walls of which are partly lined with marble. From the crush-room the private boxes, stalls, dress-circle, and balcony are reached direct by short flights of steps.
The auditorium will be one of the largest of any theatre in London, having a depth of nearly 80ft. on the pit level from the curtain line to the back wall with a clear width of 60ft. The stage is some 80ft. wide, with a depth of 40ft. The dressing-rooms are an entirely separate block, about eighteen in number, and they are entirely fitted with hot and cold water, bath-rooms, &c.
Fine saloons and retiring rooms are provided for each section of the audience, the grand saloon being specially treated. Its size is 30ft. by 30ft., with circular ends. From this saloon visitors will have access to a balcony projecting over the main entrance. The decorations are throughout in the Italian Renaissance style, and in lieu of the usual gold, different tints of bronze and silver are used, giving an exceedingly rich and handsome appearance. The electric light has been made a special feature in the decorations, and the theatre has been provided with the most costly and elaborate plant, the extra lighting power being so arranged that many novel effects can be obtained in the case of pantomime and other spectacular productions. The electric apparatus is in a separate building in the rear of the theatre.
The furnishing and draperies throughout are of old rose gold, and form a charming contrast to the deeper shades of colour employed in the decorations. An asbestos fireproof curtain has been provided, and hydrants are dominated throughout the building, which is heated by a low-pressure hot-water apparatus. The building has been designed by the well-known architect Mr William G. R. Sprague, and erected under his personal superintendence. The site is almost an ideal one, having frontages on New-cross-road and Tanner's-hill, directly facing the Broadway. The erection of the theatre has cost £35,000, and its holding capacity is over 3,000 persons. The act drop is from the famous picture by Seymour Lucas of Peter the Great working out his apprenticeship in the London dockyards. A happy thought is a bicycle annexe where machines can be stored during the evening.'
The Broadway Theatre opened on the 27th of December 1897 with the pantomime 'Cinderella' but just a year later an accident occured at the Theatre when part of the ceiling collapsed onto the heads of the audience below. Although no serious injuries were sustained it prompted an article by J. Ford Mackenzie, author of "The Pleasures of House Building, Jerrywise and Otherwise" to have a say on the construction and safety of plaster decorations in Theatres ceilings. This was something which would make the news again 115 years later when part of the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue collapsed onto an unsuspecting audience in 2013.
The Building News and Engineering Journal included the Mackenzie article on the Broadway Theatre accident in their September 16th 1898 edition, which read:- 'The accident last Friday from the falling of a portion of the plaster ceiling upon the heads of several persons in the pit, during a performance of "The White Blackbird" before a large audience at the Broadway Theatre, Deptford, arouses the attention of the public to the alarming risk frequenters of newly-built theatres have sometimes to encounter. There is, nowadays, such extreme haste in the construction of these buildings that everything is sacrificed to speed. Even architects who design these erections have to get out their designs, prepare all the plans, working drawings, and specifications with such a rush, that they are hardly permitted bare time to think. And how can they always, in their hurry, hit upon which material is the very best in every respect for the safety of the hundreds and thousands of confiding mortals who, unaware of any danger, trust themselves to their mercy, and sit for hours at the risk frequently of precious life and limb.
The heavy old-fashioned system of plaster-decoration may have been considered the proper thing when nothing better was known; but there is no excuse now for the use of decorations of that description. What is required in a modern public hall or theatre is a decorative material that is at once perfectly fire-resisting, while at the same time capable of being produced in beautifully elaborate and chaste bas-relief designs. The latter desideratum may be found in some of the modern paper-pulp enrichments which are in the market, and known under a variety of more or less unpronounceable names; but for the purpose of theatre decorations they all lack the former quality, which is, without doubt, an essentially necessary feature where public safety has to be considered.
One good point in these pulp decorations is their extreme lightness. If properly put up, they have no more tendency to fall than has an ordinary sheet of wall-paper, and if they did drop down they would simply flutter away and injure no one. From many such considerations, architects are beginning to grasp the fact that some decoration with all the good points of the light paper pulp materials, and with the added qualification of being at the same time - like the historical salamander - thoroughly fire-resisting, is the proper thing, and indeed the only thing for wall and ceiling decoration that should be permitted to be used in any theatre or public hall.
Without desiring to advertise any one particular decorative material, we cannot resist calling the attention of all interested in the preservation and decoration of buildings of public resort and entertainment to the perfectly fireproof decorations manufactured from pure asbestos fibre pulp, under the name of "Salamander," by the United Asbestos Company, Limited. This decoration has been over and over again subjected to the most severe of fire tests, and has come out every time scathless, like its ancient prototype. The London County Council and other governing authorities should see that no ceilings are constructed likely to drop down, sooner or later, upon the heads of an unwitting audience, as this one has just done at Deptford. This accident, which might have produced more serious and perhaps fatal results, should be a red-flag warning to theatre builders and owners, and to architects alike. The next similar accident may be still more startling and more disastrous. Nor have we yet forgotten the sad lesson of the Paris fire a year ago.'
The above text in quotes was written by J. Ford Mackenzie and published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 16th 1898.
The Broadway Theatre's ceiling was soon repaired, however plaster ceilings continued to be the fashion for many years to come, and asbestos, as mentioned in the above article, although fire resistant, would have its own problems many years later of course. The Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse 115 years later in 2013 prompted new requirements for Theatre owners to have their ceilings inspected and certified far more regularly. That particular collapse was eventually put down to the "deterioration over time of wadding ties which supported the ceiling, thought to be in place since the Apollo's construction in 1901.
After the Broadway Theatre's ceiling collapse the Theatre went on to have quite a short life as a variety Theatre and playhouse anyway, as it was soon to be converted for cinema use in 1911 by its then owner Sir Oswald Stoll, who had been running the Theatre since 1909. Edward Moss took over the Theatre in 1912 and the Theatre was renamed the Boradway Cinema a few years later in 1916.
The Theatre was operated as an Independent Cinema in the late 1930s, run by Broadway Entertainments Ltd, but in 1948 it was taken over by Granada Theatres Ltd., who closed it in October 1949 so that it could be altered and improved by the architect George Coles. The Theatre reopened on the 21st of December the same year.
In August 1955 the Theatre was renamed the Century Cinema, still run by Granada, who then closed it completely on the 30th of April 1963 with a last showing of the films 'Carry On Constable' and 'Roadracers'.
The Theatre was then demolished the following month, March 1963, and the site was used for the construction of a parade of shops.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the Broadway Theatre, New Cross today - Click to Interact.
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.
Later The Kinema / The Gaumont / The Venue
Above - The former New Cross Kinema in July 2008 - Photo M.L.
The New Cross Kinema was built as a Super Cinema with stage facilities and opened on the 7th of September 1925 with the films 'Two Little Vagabonds,' 'The Fast Set' and 'Squibs' with the well known actress Betty Balfour who was at the opening night performance in New Cross to celebrate the Theatre's inauguration. On its opening the Theatre had a capacity of 2,300, a stage 30 foot deep, and three dressing rooms. Above the foyer of the Theatre was a cafe and Dance Hall called the Palaise de Dance.
In 1927 the name was changed to the New Cross Kinema and it was bought by Denman Gaumont the following year. In 1929 the Theatre gained a Wurlitzer Organ.
By 1948 the name had been shortened to the simpler 'Kinema' but in May 1950 the name was changed to the 'Gaumont' which it retained until the Theatre's closure in August 1960 with a final showing of 'The Chaplin Revue' and 'A Dog's Best Friend.'
Above - The former New Cross Kinema in July 2008 - Photo ML
Sadly the Theatre then stood unused and unloved for many years until, in a poor state of repair, the auditorium and stage house were demolished so that an Office building could be built on the site. The Facade of the building was preserved however, along with the FOH areas which were then used as a Supermarket, and then later as a furniture store with a nightclub called the 'Venue' constructed in the former Dance Hall above.
In 2006 the exterior of the former Theatre was restored and the 'Venue' was successful enough for the company to take over the whole of what remained of the building to make a larger Nightclub which is still running today (2009).
There are some archive images of the Theatre in its various guises here.
Much of the information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Website Cinema Treasures.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre 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.