Theatres and Halls in North Shields, Tyne & Wear
The Oddfellows' Hall / Central Palace of Varieties / Comedy Theatre - The Borough Theatre / Borough Circus / Boro Theatre - The Albion Kinema - The Prince's Theatre / Crown / Gaumont / Classic Cinema - Early North Shields Theatres - The New Theatre - The Second New Theatre - The Theatre Royal, Howard Street - The Theatre Royal, Prudhoe Street - The Northumberland Music Hall - Siddall's Concert Hall
Formerly - The Oddfellows' Hall / The Central Palace of Varieties
Above - Part of a postcard showing the Comedy Theatre, North Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society, who says 'A rough little Music Hall if ever I saw one. The pub in the foreground, the Colin Campbell, is still there today, but not the Theatre unfortunately, as it was demolished in 1958.
The Comedy Theatre was situated on Saville Street, North Shields on a site which began life as the Oddfellows' Hall in the 1890s. This early Public Hall was situated above a Public House and Boot Shop on Saville Street and was later reopened as a Music hall called the Central Hall of Varieties in February 1899. Sadly this was not to last very long as it was destroyed by fire in January 1900, after which it was rebuilt and enlarged and reopened as the Central Palace of Varieties in October 1901. The name was changed to the Comedy Theatre of Varieties sometime after 1909, and it began showing films around 1913. In full time Cinema use by 1929 with 800 seats, and still operating in the 1950s with reduced seating for 527, the Theatre was demolished in 1958.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Colin Campbell pub and the site of the former Comedy Theatre on Saville Street, North Shields - Click to Interact.
There is much more information on the Oddfellows' Hall, Central Palace of Varieties, and Comedy Theatre below.
The Oddfelllows' Hall
The Oddfellows' Hall was a room constructed above a Public House and a Boot Shop in the 1890s. The Hall was primarily used for Public Meetings and social gatherings and appears to have even been used as a temporary school from 1895 to 1899, just prior to it being rearranged into a Music Hall.
The Central Hall of Varieties
In 1899 William R. Mould leased the Oddfellow's Hall and at some expense converted it into a Music Hall called the Central Hall of Varieties. The Hall opened on Monday the 20th of February 1899 run by its acting Manager Sidney Wallace. The ERA reported on the occasion in their 25th of February edition saying:- 'The above theatre of varieties (formerly known as the Oddfellows' Hall), was opened on Monday evening, when a very large audience was attracted by the bill-of-fare put forward by the lessee Mr William Mould. The hall was opened with the singing of the National Anthem by Miss Nita, Mayeu and the company, and was followed by a selection by the orchestra under the leadership of Mr F. L. Greenwood. The following artists appeared: - Messrs Ford and Hanson, who were warmly greeted; Daly and Doran, funny comedians; Miss Nita Mayeu, who was well received; Captain Alex. Fox, a good ventriloquist; Mr Dan Lipton, a clever comedian; the Sisters Clare, who are pleasing; Miss Marie Osborne, who was heartily received; and Mr Horace Gibb, who does well as a character and descriptive vocalist. The hall is fitted up in comfortable style, and we hope that the venture will be a prosperous one.' - The ERA, 25th of February, 1899.
The Venture was not to last long however, as a major fire destroyed the Music Hall the following year, on the morning of Wednesday the 3rd of January 1900, along with the Boot Shop situated below it (which was owned by a leather merchant called Mr. Robinson), and the Central Hall Public House, which was owned by the Northumberland and Durham Licensed Victuallers Syndicate.
William Mould wasn't insured so he lost a great sum of money in the fire, and the acting Company who had been performing there that week lost their 'Travelling Equipment'. Arthur Jefferson, well known today as the father of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, was kind enough to make his nearby Assembly rooms available to the Company after the fire, and they were able to continue their production there for the rest of the week.
The Central Palace of Varieties
Undeterred however, William Mould soon set about having the Hall rebuilt, and his new Theatre, now called the Central Palace of Varieties, and much larger than the former Central Hall, opened the following year on Monday the 14th of October 1901. The Stage Newspaper reported on the opening in their October 17th edition saying:- 'The fire which destroyed the Central Palace,' North Shields, in January, last year, may be said to have been the means of providing local lovers of variety entertainment with a theatre, which, for general excellence, can scarcely be surpassed in the neighbourhood.
The building, which was formerly known as the Oddfellows' Hall, was completely razed to the ground, and in its place a structure more than twice as large has been erected, the design and general arrangements reflecting great credit on the lessee and manager (Mr. Wm. Mould), who has displayed considerable enterprise.
The front of the building is designed with brick and stone dressings, with turret pavilion at the sides and three bays between. It has a frontage of 50ft., which is taken up by the entrances and exits of the theatre, a shop, and a buffet. These, with the entrance hall and caretaker's rooms at the back, occupy the space on the ground-floor. On the first storey is the theatre, which comprises the large hall on this floor, and the tier over. The former is divided into pit and stalls, and the tier into first and second circle. The whole of the circle, and the front portion of the orchestra stalls, are fitted, with handsome tip-up chairs, upholstered in crimson plush. There are, in addition, two private boxes of large dimensions and attractive designs, one on ether side of the proscenium; and from every part of the building there is an uninterrupted view of the stage.
The fronts of the proscenium, circle, and boxes are of fibrous plaster, well ornamented and decorated in cream and gold, while the ceiling is artistically painted in oils, a pale blue, relieved with flowers, foliage, and swallows. This work has been done by Messrs. A. R. Dean and Co., Limited. There are separate exits to each part of the house, and everything has been provided to meet the requirements of the audience. The tableau curtain, which is composed of tapestry, is of excellent design, and is attractive, both folded and unfolded.
That the comfort of the artists has not been neglected there is ample proof of in the well-fitted dressing-rooms, situated on a mezzanine floor. Attention has been given to heating, lighting, and ventilation. The building, is lighted throughout by electric light, supplemented by gas, the installation having been carried out by the Northern Electric Engineering. Co., Limited, North Shields. The theatre will accommodate, in round numbers, 1,000 persons.
The building was opened on Monday evening, under most favourable auspices, the management having got together a Co. of merit. The building was crowded in every part by a most appreciative audience. An excellent programme was submitted. Lydia Dreams, a novelty ventriloquist of metropolitan and provincial repute, tops the bill, and well deserves the distinction. He provides a capital entertainment. The Royal Korries, in a musical novelty, displayed skill. Morny Cash is another well-known artist. He sang several songs. Mimi Beers, contralto, rendered several pleasing ballads. The Sisters Le Graham are a clever trio, singing and dancing in a finished manner. The other performers include Geo. Holly, comedian; Abbie Hayler, and Aubrey and Dale.'
The Comedy Theatre of Varieties / Comedy Cinema
Above - A postcard showing Saville Street, North Shields, and the Comedy Theatre - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society. Compare this with the StreetView Image below.
The Central Palace of Varieties had a change of name to the Comedy Theatre of Varieties sometime after 1909, and it began showing films in about 1913. The Theatre was in full time Cinema use by 1929 with 800 seats, and was still operating as such in the 1950s, with reduced seating for 527. The Theatre was closed in June 1958 and was demolished soon afterwards. Today flats and shops occupy the site, although the Colin Campbell Public House next door to the Theatre is still in business at the time of writing in August 2014.
A short piece in The Stage of June the 5th, 1958 reported on the end of the Theatre simply:- 'Another One Goes - Formerly the Central Palace, owned and managed by William Mould, the Comedy Cinema, North Shields, for the past 45 years a picture house, closed down on Saturday last. The 500 seat theatre could no longer operate owing to rising costs and falling receipts.' - The Stage, June the 5th, 1958.
Above - A Google StreetView Image showing roughly the same view of Saville Street, North Shields as the postcard above - Click to Interact.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Also known as - Boro' of Tynmouth Circus & Novelty Hippodrome / The Borough Circus / The Boro' Theatre
The Borough Theatre was situated in Lower Rudyard Street, North Shields and first opened on Monday the 4th of August 1902 with a production of the play 'Queen of the Night'.
The Theatre was constructed on a site next to and including a temporary circus building which had first opened as The Boro' Circus in late 1900.
The following year in August 1901 an advertisement carried in the Stage Newspaper was promoting the reopening of the "Boro' of Tynmouth Circus & Novelty Hippodrome" under the management of Arthur Jefferson on the 5th of August 1901, now fitted with electric light (see image right).
Arthur Jefferson took over the Boro' Circus after its original owner, Henry Alvo Thorpe, died in March 1901. Jefferson was the owner of the North Shields Theatre Royal at the time, and would go on to have his own circuit of Theatres. He is also well known as being the father of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, whose real name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson.
In April 1902 a large advertisement carried in the Stage Newspaper reported on the fact that Arthur Jefferson was to build a new stone built Theatre on an enlarged site he had acquired next to temporary Boro' Circus (see image below).
The new Borough Theatre was situated on an enlarged site next to and including the original temporary Boro' Circus. The Theatre was constructed by J. and W. Simpson to the designs of William C. Hope and J. C. Maxwell who had designed many Theatres together under the name of Hope & Maxwell. The Theatre opened on Monday the 4th of August 1902 with a production of the play 'Queen of the Night' and the Stage Newspaper reported on the event in their 7th of August 1902 edition saying:- 'On Monday night under pleasing auspices, the new Borough Theatre, which is situated on the Ropery Banks, North Shields, and was originally the circus, was opened in the presence of a crowded audience, that was loud in praise of the wonderful change that has been effected by the proprietor, Mr. Arthur Jefferson.
The building stand as a monument to the enterprise of the owner, who has confidence that his patrons will remain with him, and thus assist him in making this, his most recent speculation, a success. Mr. Jefferson has a high reputation as a public entertainer, not only in North shields, but in other towns in the neighbourhood, and also in Glasgow, where his Metropole is one of the principal theatres.
The work of reconstructing the interior of the building has been carried out by Messrs. J. and W. Simpson, contractors, of North Shields, who have given full satisfaction. Every detail has been studied, and the work in its entirety has been done in a manner which redounds to the credit of the contractors. The interior of the building has been completely metamorphosed. The proscenium, which is large and artistically decorated, has been placed at the south end of the building, and from every part of the theatre an uninterrupted view of the stage is commanded. Two tiers of boxes have been erected at either side of the stage. The dressing-rooms have been admirably arranged, and the appointments are up-to-date, due provision having been made for the comfort of the artists.
The stage is illuminated by electricity, the bulbs being of different colours, so that all the lighting effects may be produced in the matter of a second. The building throughout is lighted by electricity. There are 300 incandescent lights and six arcs, the whole being artistically arranged.
Seating accommodation has been provided for about 2,000 persons. The pit stalls and pit occupy the ground floor, which slopes from the orchestra to the rear, so that those sitting at the back are not inconvenienced by those in front. The first and second circles are fitted with rows of tip-up chairs, upholstered in crimson; and seats are also arranged along each side, and may be described as forming balconies. The exits have had special attention, and, in case of accident, the building can be cleared in a few minutes, as the doors on the ground floor open on to the street on either side, and the stairs are of ample width. The latest fire extinguishing apparatus has been provided, and the heating and ventilation, the latter by electric fans, etc., will be perfect when completed. Mrs. Arthur Jefferson has taken a practical part in the decoration and furnishing of the building, and she has displayed artistic taste therein.
On the occasion of the opening Mr. Jefferson provided an excellent drama, Queen of the Night, which is being presented by a powerful Co. under the direction of Messrs. T. Arthur Jones, James Stillwell; and F. Thorpe Tracey. Soon after the doors were opened every part of the building was crowded to excess, hundreds having to go away disappointed. The band having played the National Anthem, Mr. Arthur Jefferson walked on to the stage, and was accorded a very hearty reception. He said he took it from their cheers that they wished him success in his now enterprise. He thanked them heartily for their goodwill and their patronage, and toasted that he would succeed in pleasing them by providing good entertainments. He could assure them that he would do his utmost to give them satisfaction, and he hoped to win their support. The entertainment was then proceeded with and was heartily enjoyed. Queen of the Night is a drama of considerable merit. The Co. are good, and the various characters are portrayed in a highly successful manner.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, 7th of August 1902.
The Borough Theatre opened on Monday the 4th of August 1902 with a production of the play 'Queen of the Night' and was very successful. By the second week, beginning 11th August, which followed the bank holiday and the Coronation of King Edward VII, the takings were reported as being £80 more than the corresponding week of the previous year at the Theatre Royal, North shields, also owned by Arthur Jefferson at the time. Prices at the Borough Theatre for its opening weeks were 6d; 1s; 1s. 6d; 2s; and 2s. 6d.
Before the Theatre opened it was reported that Arthur Jefferson was to employ Bert Vennimore as scenic artist at the Borough Theatre for the Theatre's first three years, Vennimore had previously produced a new act drop at Jefferson's Glasgow Metropole Theatre, and was obviously much in favour as a result.
And in December 1902 an open letter to Arthur Jefferson, printed in the Stage Newspaper, from Walter Howard, who had put on 'Under the Russian Flag' at the Theatre in its opening year read:- 'Dear Jefferson, - It affords me very great pleasure to endorse the general verdict in regard to your new Boro' Theatre. Under the Russian Flag did a splendid week's business, and I am looking forward with pleasure to our return visit. Ever department or your cosy building is worked on modern principles, satisfactory alike to audience and touring managers. My partner. Mr. Paumier, joins me in this fully-deserved expression of congratulation and good-will. All good wishes, Walter Howard.' - The Stage, December 4th 1902.
Despite its early success the Borough Theatre was soon showing early Films as part of its variety bills and would sometimes be referred to as a 'Picture Hall' rather than a Theatre. One such reference to the Theatre being used as a 'Picture Hall' was when the Stage Newspaper reported on a major fire which gutted the building on Friday the 8th of April 1910 leaving the Theatre, as reported, 'a total wreck'. Despite the Stage's reference to the Theatre as a Picture Hall though they went on to explain that George Bernard and the Moncktons had been performing at the Theatre that week so it was obviously still in variety use too. At the time of the fire the Theatre was owned by George Black of the Black Brothers from Roker, Sunderland.
Despite the fire George Black soon had the Theatre rebuilt, this time to the designs of Gibson and Stienlet, and it reopened just a few months later on the 1st of August 1910 with a seating capacity of some 2,000 people, a stage 21 foot deep by 25 foot wide at the proscenium opening, and 4 dressing rooms.
Right - A Poster for the New Boro' Theatre, North Shields for November
the 14th 1910 - Courtesy Jack Thompson,
whose Grandfather, Arthur Thompson, Junior World Champion Weight Lifter,
was on the Bill and can be seen in the photograph below left.
The Stage Newspaper reported on the rebuilding of the Borough Theatre in their 28th of July 1910 edition saying:- 'In place of the old structure which was destroyed by fire some short while ago Messrs. Black Bros. have erected a beautiful new edifice, which is a really handsome adjunct to the town.
The career of the old building was very varied; it commenced as a circus, was changed to a music hall, and finally to a home of the drama. The fire which destroyed it will be remembered as one of the fiercest and most destructive in the district. The new theatre is solidly built, and is considered to be a notable improvement on the existing forms of theatrical architecture.
The interior presents a magnificent appearance, and the decorations are in white, old gold, and crimson, an artistic combination. Great care has been taken to make the building as near fireproof as possible, for all the fittings are nonflammable plastic. Perhaps the most important question of all is that of exits. As a building the new theatre occupies the position of being absolutely isolated, and the exits are numerous and large, and lead into a broad, open roadway. Ventilation has also received a good share of attention, and the patent shafts and electric fans will keep the air clear and free from smoke. The seating accommodation has been carefully arranged, and a full view of the stage can be had from any part of the building.
For the comfort of patrons a spacious waiting-room, and hall with lounges have been provided in case of inclement weather. It is intended later to obtain the permission of the local authorities to erect a verandah along one side for patrons of the pit. The exterior looks very fine, the white frontage being surmounted by a beautiful pillared tower, on which an illuminating Roman altar. The "operating" chamber is excellently fitted; and the projecting machines are of the latest and best, while the proscenium and the stage are very spacious. The artists' accommodation has been well arranged.
Left - Arthur John Thompson aged 19 - Courtesy his grandson Jack Thompson, who says:- 'My grandfather was a Junior World Champion Weight Lifter and physical culture expert who lived in North Shields. On Monday November 14th 1910, he performed at this theatre, only a few weeks after it reopened following the fire damage' - See poster above right.
The proprietors - Messrs. Black Bros. - are to be congratulated upon having a fine new building, as is the town for having such a grand theatre. As far as possible local workmen have been employed in the building operations, the architects being Messrs. Gibson and Stienlet of North Shields, and the contractor Mr. W. T. Weir, of Howden-on-Tyne. All other contracts were carried out locally.
The reopening is on Monday, August Bank Holiday, when a magnificent programme of films is booked. The first class picture entertainment will be kept up, as also will refined vaudeville. A pleasing feature will be the special kindergarten performances for children; on Saturday afternoons, when the subjects shown will comprise travel, educational, and historical pictures, with, of course, some good comics.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper,
28th of July 1910.
The Borough Theatre reopened on Monday the 1st of August 1910 as a Cine / Variety Theatre and would later become part of the Thomson and Collins Circuit. In 1928 it became part of the Gaumont British Denman Cinemas chain, and was later taken over by the Rank Organisation, who would end up closing the Theatre on the 28th of September 1957 for the final time before its demolition and the building of shops and housing on the site.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Above - An early photograph showing the Albion Kinema, North Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society - Compare this with the StreetView Image Below.
The Albion Kinema was situated on Albion Road, North Shields and opened on Monday the 2nd of February 1914. The Theatre was designed by William Stockdale and had seating for just over 1,000 people on two levels, stalls and one circle. The Theatre was also equipped with a stage, 21 foot deep by 38 foot at its proscenium opening, and 4 dressing rooms were included for artistes.
The Stage Newspaper reported briefly on the opening of the Albion Kinema in their February the 5th, 1914 edition saying:- 'The new Albion Kinema at North Shields was formally opened on Monday afternoon in the presence of a large company, including the Mayor of Tynemouth (Mrs H Gregg), the aldermen, councilors and officials of the Corporation, and many leading citizens of the borough. In declaring the building open, the Mayor said that one of the most remarkable commercial and social phenomena of our time had been the rise of the picture palace. It had its inception practically at the beginnings of the century, and its development had exceeded anything that could be anticipated, while its effect upon the social and moral aspect of the community was bound to be enormous. As a memento of the occasion he was presented with a beautiful silver rose bowl by Mr. Alan F. Davidson, the secretary of the company, on behalf of the directors. An exhibition of pictures was afterwards give, among the films being Swiss Cheese-making and the Gaumont Graphic. Mr. J. W. Yeates is the manager.' - The Stage, February the 5th, 1914.
In March 1914 Florence Guest was reported as 'delighting everyone' on stage at the Albion Kinema whilst the main attraction was the film 'What Gods Decree'. In May 1915 the Theatre was screening 'The Middleman' with more films to come, such as 'Mabel's Blunder', 'British Cavelry in the Making', and 'The Albion Gazette'. In September 1915 'Shadows' and 'A Bird's a Bird' were among the films being shown at the Albion, still under the management of J. W. Yeates. Sound had been installed by 1929 and by 1931 Albion Cinemas Ltd were listed as the owners of the Theatre. Cinemascope was installed in 1954.
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Albion Kinema, North Shields today. Compare this with the early photograph above - Click to Interact.
The Albion Cinema closed on the 5th of March 1976 and was then demolished.
Housing and a Freemasons Hall stand on the site today.
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Later - The Crown / Gaumont / Classic Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Prince's Theatre, North Shields - Click to Interact
In 1928 a Company called The Prince's Theatre
(North Shields) Ltd., was set up with a capital of £30,000 in
£1 shares, to purchase land and premises on Russell Street in
order to build the new Prince's Theatre. The Theatre opened the following
year, on October the 7th 1929. The Prince's Theatre was designed by
George Bell of Dixon and Bell, Newcastle,
and built as a cine-variety Theatre with a large fully equipped stage
and fly tower, and seating for 1,600 people. It also had its own Organ,
built by Blackett and Howden, which was played by Leslie Ord for the
Theatre's opening. More information on the Organ, along with many images,
can be found here.
The Stage Newspaper reported on the building in their February 14th 1929 edition saying:- 'A start has been made with the New Princes, North Shield's, and it is hoped that the building may be completed ready for opening in October. The chosen site is in Russell Street, Sidney Place, and Railway Approach. The main entrance will be in Russell Street, and a large vestibule will go across the building to an entrance immediately opposite to the exit to the railway station. The house will be erected on a site of 1,280 square yards, and will have a seating capacity of about 2,000. (N.B. the Theatres Trust say that the actual seating capacity was 1,600)
The architects are Messrs. Dixon and Bell, of Newcastle, and the plans embrace all modern improvements. The stage will be adequate for the largest shows, and the plans allow for an extension of the stage should this be found necessary. One of the features will be the amount of protection against the weather to be provided for persons waiting for admission.
On the whole length of the north side of the building there will be a verandah; on the whole length of the railway side, within the building, there is to be a long corridor for waiting persons, and between the circle and the vestibule there will be a large foyer, where about 200 people can wait for admission to the circle. The prices to be charge for admission will range from 4d. to 1s. 3d. The managing director of the proprietary company is Mr. Dixon Scott.' - The Stage February 14th 1929.
The Princes Theatre was opened by the Mayor of Tynemouth, Dame Maud Burnett JP, on the 7th of October 1929 and British Pathe were on hand to cover the story. Their film of the occasion can be viewed here.
Right - A British Pathe Film on the opening of the Prince's Theatre, North Shields in October 1929.
In June 1931 the Theatre was sold to Provincial Kinematograph Theatres Ltd., one of the Companies belonging to the Gaumont British Corporation. At the time of the sale it was reported that the Theatre was 'one of the largest and best equipped houses on Tyneside'.
The Theatre closed after it was damaged in the war and didn't reopen until 1950 as a Gaumont Cinema. In 1970 it was taken over by an Independent but in 1972 it was bought by Classic Cinemas who ran it as a Cinema until 1976 when it was converted for Bingo use. In 1977 the Theatre's circle was divided into two Cinemas, named Crown 1 and 2, whilst Bingo remained in the stalls and stage.
At the time of writing the Theatre was being operated by Beach Bingo.
Early Theatres in North Shields are poorly documented but in Robert King's 1947 book on North Shields Theatres he does include some text on the earliest mentions he could find saying:- 'There is a tradition that a theatre, roughly built of clinker (in the vernacular: "scars") from the coal fires of the salt pans which formerly existed in great numbers in North Shields and district, stood at a very early date near the Northumberland Arms Hotel on the New Quay. Mackenzie & Dent mention it; and the meagre information they give - based on a statement by an old inhabitant - suggests that a theatre was in existence about 1754. It is possible, of course, that the informant's memory was at fault and that he was referring to the theatre of 1765, of which some account follows; but it is recorded that already in 1701 the salt trade was declining in the town, that the Pow Pans had, in 1707, been "long decayed" and that by 1767 all salt pans on the Duke of Northumberland's land in North Shields had been taken down and houses built on the sites. It is not impossible, therefore, that the traditional theatre was built prior to 1765 and at a time when the salt trade was still flourishing. The first man known to have opened a theatre in North Shields was Thomas Bates, but the very few references to the town's theatrical history make no mention of him.' - North Shields Theatres, Robert King, 1947.
Whether this 1754 Theatre actually existed or not is a matter for further research but the earliest Theatre known to have existed in North Shields is the Theatre of 1765 which Robert King also mentions in the paragraph above. This was the New Theatre, opened by Thomas Bates on the 27th of September 1765 (see details below).
If you have any more information or images for the possible 1754 Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
(Early North Shields Theatres)
The New Theatre was opened by Thomas Bates on the 27th of September 1765 with a production of the play 'The Diftrefs'd Mother' which was followed by the farce 'The Spirit of Contradiction'. There was also an Eulogy written by John Cunningham and spoken by Mrs. Brimyard. Cunnigham would go on to be a member of Thomas Bates' Company at the New Theatre for a number of years.
The exact location of the New Theatre is not known but in Robert Kings book on North Shields Theatres he speculates that it was:- 'in the "Low Street" which fringes the river or on the bank-side which rises steeply to the plateau on which the modern town of North Shields is built.'
It is also not known if the Theatre was a new building or a conversion of an old one, but it is documented as having a pit and gallery with prices ranging from 2 shillings for the pit and 1 shilling for the gallery, and that it was open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Doors opening at 5 and the performance beginning at 6.
The first season at the New Theatre ran until the end of November 1765 with plays such as 'Venice Preserved', 'Hamlet', and 'The Tempest' being performed. Thomas Bates' Company then went on to perform in Newcastle, Stockton, Durham, Sunderland, and possibly other Towns before returning to North Shields for October to December of the following year. It seems that the New Theatre was either closed the rest of the time or perhaps became home to amateur productions. Thomas Bates retired from theatrical management in 1790.
The Theatre was closed in 1783 and a new New Theatre was opened on the corner of Howard Street and Union Street the same year (see below).
The comedian and singer James Cawdell had already been running the earlier New Theatre for some years whilst Thomas Bates was himself running its Company. Cawdwell closed the old Theatre and opened a new one, also called the New Theatre, in 1783 with a more professional company of players than Bates had previously employed.
This new New Theatre was situated on the corner of Howard Street and Union Street, and was better equipped than its predecessor with Boxes enclosing the Pit, with a Gallery above, and it was advertised as being able to accommodate carriages driven close to its doors which was a vast improvement on the earlier Theatre which was apparently difficult to reach even on foot.
James Cawdell also ran several other Theatres, notably in Newcastle, Durham, and the nearby town of South Shields and was much admired in all these places. His Theatre in North Shields would go on to produce a great many notable productions. By 1796 prices at the North Shields Theatre were 2s. 6d for Boxes, 2s for the Pit, and 1s for the Gallery.
The Theatre was closed in 1798 and converted for use as a Dissenting Meeting House. James Cawdell would go on to build a new Theatre on a different site in Howard Street which opened in January 1798, details below.
(Early North Shields Theatres)
Formerly - The Howard Street Theatre - Later The Royal Assembly Rooms
The foundation stone for the new Howard Street Theatre was laid on June the 13th 1797. The Theatre cost some £1,400 to build and was financed by subscriptions of £50 by 12 subscribers. The remainder being paid, it is thought, by the Theatre's owner, James Cawdell, who had previously been running the New Theatre since 1783.
The Theatre opened on Wednesday the 3rd of January 1798 with a performances of 'Cure for the Heartache', 'Jack the Guinea Pig', and 'Lock and Key' accompanied by various songs of the period. James Cawdell was of course in the cast along with Mr Stanfield, Mr Holiday, Mr Townsend, Mr Darley, Mr Dawson, Mr Riley, Mr Warwick, Mr Graham, Mrs O'Keeff, Mils Chapman, and Mrs Darley.
The Theatre's description from an 1811 report in 'Mackenzie's View of Northumberland' states that it was a 'neat brick building on too small a scale for a town where the population was advancing so rapidly' so it seems that although it was an improvement on the earlier Theatre it was soon oversubscribed. By 1824 the Theatre was described as having an interior which was 'handsome and convenient' and that the receipts by then could be as much as £60 when the house was crowded.
Cawdell's Company alternated between his Theatres in South Shields and North Shields for many years until his death in January 1800. Stephen Kemble had taken over the running of the Howard Street Theatre the previous year and following Cawdell's death he went on to run it full time. Kemble was an actor, but primarily a Theatre Manager, and before taking over the Howard Street Theatre he already had a circuit of Theatres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool.
During the first year under Kemble's soul management of the Howard Street Theatre in 1800 performances were on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the Company playing in Newcastle on the other days, meaning that the same productions were probably played in both towns alternately. This traveling between towns every week meant that the Company were put under quite a strain. Robert King details this nicely in his 'North Shields Theatres' of 1947 when he says:- 'As wages were small, the actors, if not the actresses, had usually to walk the roads. There is a story dealing with this point. Dissatisfaction had arisen in the company over wages and other matters and Mrs. Kemble, in a moment of exasperation, had said that those who were dissatisfied might leave as soon as they chose "for there were actors to be got on every hedge." Shortly afterwards Liston was walking with others from Newcastle to North Shields when he saw Mrs. Kemble's carriage overtaking them. At once he clambered to the top of the hedge and began examining the brown, leafless branches and when Mrs. Kemble, seeing him, demanded to know what he was about, replied : "Looking for actors, ma'am, but I can't find a single sprout." The lady, it is said, was pleased with Liston's good-humoured retort and invited him to finish the journey in the carriage.'
Stephen Kemble retired from Theatre Management in 1806 and died in 1822 at the age of 64. After he retired the Howard Street Theatre would go on to have 8 more managers over the ensuing years with varying degrees of success. The first after Kemble was Anderson and Faulkner. Anderson had been treasurer of the Company for some years, and Faulkner was already a member of its acting Company. They would manage the Theatre for the next 14 years until Faulkner retired in 1820, leaving Anderson to carry on alone until he handed over the reigns to Mr Sheffield at the end of the 1822 season.
Sheffield made repairs to the Theatre and reopened it on December the 16th 1822 giving 30 performances over the next few months until February 1823. The Theatre reopened for the summer season in July the same year and would give 12 performances, 8 of which were from the Adelphi Theatre in London. Sheffield's lease ran out in June 1824 and he then gave up management of the Howard Street Theatre.
Sheffield was succeeded by Hillington and Bland who had already been in the acting Company for some time. And in 1825 Bland took over sole Management of the Theatre for the next 2 years. In 1826 Gas Lighting was fitted in the Theatre making control of the lighting in the auditorium and on the stage possible. Previously to this the Theatre had been lit by candle light and the auditorium and stage were permanently brightly lit all the time making 'mood lighting' impossible.
In 1827 Edward Crook joined Bland in the Theatre's Management but on the start of the 1828 season in November Crook became its sole Manager. Crook produced 4 performances a week at the Theatre for the season but was succeeded by Mr Mitchell in October 1829. Mitchell ran the Theatre until he too was succeeded by Mr Parry, a member of the acting Company, who ran it for a few nights in 1831.
The most successful period at the Howard Street Theatre began in 1831 when William Roxby / Beverley took over the Management. Roxby had assumed the name Beverley from the town in which he was born. His father, Henry Beverley, known as 'Old Harry Beverley' had become well known as an actor at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in the late 1700s. Indeed, the whole Roxby family were well known in theatrical circles as William Roxby's wife and their four sons were all in the profession too, and were highly acclaimed in their various fields.
William Roxby / Berverley's first season of 41 performances at the Howard Street Theatre opened on the 28th of November 1831 and continued until March the 14th 1832. The Company played North Shields on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and South Shields on the other three nights. Each performance began at 6pm and lasted until 11pm. Over the next four years each season consisted of between 28 and 45 performances, and all were very successful.
In 1836 the Theatre's stage was enlarged and scenery for the opening play, 'The Jewess' was painted by William Beverley himself, he would often paint the scenery for his productions and was well regarded in this respect by all who saw it.
In 1839 the Theatre was 'extensively repaired' and repainted and redecorated. This included a newly modeled ceiling and an altered proscenium. The gallery and box fronts were also altered at this time to prevent the glare from the gas lighting spoiling the audience's view of the stage.
In 1842 William Beverly died and thus ended his long run of managing the Howard Street Theatre. His widow and son Samuel Roxby then took over the Management of the Theatre. In 1846 they carried out major improvements to the building and by the time it reopened for the season later that year it was reported as being practically a new Theatre. In 1948 Samuel Roxby would gain full control of the Theatre when he bought it from its previous owner, Miss Cawdell, a relative of its original owner James Cawdell. Mrs Beverley continued in Management of the Theatre with her son until a disastrous fire brought the Theatre's long career to an abrupt end on December the 1st 1851.
Rebuilding as the Theatre Royal, Howard Street
Despite the fire of 1851 Samual Roxby was soon erecting a new Theatre on the site of the previous one. During the excavations of the site three coffins were found and it is thought that they bore the remains of French prisoners who had died in a prison that had stood on the site during the war with France in the 18th Century.
The new Theatre opened with the new name of the Theatre Royal on the 8th of November 1852 with an address by Samual Roxby, and this was followed by a comic drama entitled 'The Pride of the Market', followed by the farce 'The Printer's Devil', and the Theatre was now to be open six nights a week for its first season.
The Theatre Royal was reported to have been quite an improvement on the previous Theatre and its Dome and Proscenium Arch alone were said to have taken three months to decorate. The Box and Gallery fronts were enriched with elaborate gold moldings, carvings, burnished medallions, and pictures, with decorations designed by the late William Beverley and created by Percival C. Simms. The Theatre's exterior was reported as being of massive description with vermicated rustic dressings, string courses, and massive doorways with pillars and entablatures. The stage was large and plenty of dressing rooms were provided for its artistes.
The early productions at the new Theatre Royal were melodramas and Shakespeare plays, and even at Christmas a Drama was produced rather than pantomime. This policy continued for a number of years putting the Theatre Royal on the North Shields map as a serious playhouse. In November and December 1858 Fred and Eliza Lloyd appeared at the Theatre Royal and had a Benefit there too.
Henry Powell took over as lessee and manager of the Theatre Royal from Roxby and Beverley in 1861, and he opened his first season there in October that year. This was the end of the Roxby / Beverley management that had started way back in 1831. Samual Roxby died a few years after his retirement in July 1863 at the age of 59, his long term managerial partner Harry Beverley had also died a few months earlier.
Henry Powell's tenure of the Theatre Royal took the Theatre back to its earlier style by putting on songs and dances between the plays and sketches, and the productions were generally less serious than in Roxby's time. Pantomimes were even introduced at Christmas time and a few years later Lime Lights were used to illuminate the stage for the first time. One dignitary of the stage did appear at the Theatre during this period though, Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, the eminent Irish Shakespearean actor, who played there for a week at the end of April 1862. Brooke had just returned from a tour of Australia and a season at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the people of North Shields were in awe of having this great actor in their midst. Sadly he was to die a few years later on a return journey to Australia on the S.S. London when it sank on the 11th of January 1866.
In October 1864 Charles Harrison took over the lease and management of the Theatre Royal and presented a mixture of plays, songs, and so forth, with a daytime pantomime during Christmas, 'Robin Hood', which shared the Bill with a drama or comedy in the evenings.
Management of the Theatre Royal then passed to Frank Hall in 1865 but the following year George Stanley took over, opening on March the 31st 1866. The first touring Company to visit the Theatre was 'The Grand English Opera Company', in June 1866. They presented seven operas over six nights, quite a feat for the time. And the first visit to North Shields by a Ballet Company occurred shortly before the end of the 1866 / 1867 season when the 'Grand London Corps de Ballet' from Her Majesty's Theatre, London visited the Theatre Royal.
Charles Harrison took over the Royal again in September 1867 for a short season until December, and then Thomas William Richardson reopened the Theatre form March to April 1868. The Theatre was changing management frequently by this time and seems to have been less than profitable, and on the 14th of December the Theatre reopened as a Music hall with a great many well known names on the Bill, but this too was a failure and it closed three weeks later. Various managers then came and went, putting on a variety of plays and dramas. Music Hall was tried again in August 1870 and then a succession of lessees and managers tried to make the place work but its end was near. The Theatre was put up for sale by Auction in April 1876 and it was sold to Joseph Elliot, a contractor and builder, for £3,600, the writing was on the wall!
The last production at the Howard Street Theatre Royal was for one night only on the 27th of June 1876 when George Goddard Whyatt appeared in 'The Sledge Bells'. The Theatre was then closed and demolished shortly afterwards and the Royal Assembly Rooms was constructed on its site. This was not a success though and was eventually converted into a factory.
Much of the above information on North Shield's early Theatres was gleaned from Robert King's informative little book 'North Shields Theatres' published in 1947.
Formerly - The Grand Theatre of Varieties
Above - An early photograph of the Theatre Royal, Prudhoe Street, North Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music Hall Society.
The Theatre Royal Prudhoe Street originally opened as the Grand Theatre of Varieties on December the 22nd 1879, just over three years after the former Howard Street Theatre Royal had been demolished. The Prudhoe Street Theatre was built by Samuel Robertson Chisholm who had been previously been running the nearby Northumberland Music Hall until it had collapsed in 1878.
Probably because of his experience with the Music Hall Chisholm opened his new Theatre in Prudhoe Street as a Variety Theatre but he had also applied for a theatrical license for the Theatre before it opened and was granted a preliminary one for the first three months.
The opening night of the new Theatre was a grand affair, the Tynemouth Brass Band greeted its patrons by playing music from the Theatre's Balcony on the front of the building as they arrived. Before the performance began John Robson gave an address by Samuel Chisholm, which was applauded, and then the entertainment began. On the Bill amongst other variety artistes of the day was the popular comedian Rowley Harrison.
The Theatre very nearly didn't open at all though as on the afternoon of its opening the building had been rocked by a large gas explosion when gas had accumulated in the space between the dress circle floor and the ceiling of the ticket office beneath it. The seats and flooring of the dress circle were damaged along with the wooden ceiling beneath the gallery, and the hand painted panels in the roof of the building were said to have been 'blown down'. Two people working in the Theatre were injured. But despite all this workmen quickly repaired the damage and remarkably the Theatre opened the same evening.
The Theatre itself was a brick building but designed in the style of an old theatrical booth. It had a platform in front of the main entrance where the proprietor could stand and announce the coming attractions and the artistes would parade about in costume before the performance. The auditorium consisted of Boxes, Circle, and Pit.
The first pantomime of the season opened at the Theatre on the 29th of December, a week after the grand opening, and was a production of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. This ran until January 12th the following year, 1880, and then the Theatre carried on with Music Hall and Variety entertainments which were said to have been very popular, although this may not have actually been the case as very few notices can be found in the press of the day who normally would be carrying notices enthusiastically portraying a Theatre's large attendances.
In February 1880 press announcements for the Theatre were describing it as 'Chisholm's New Theatre Royal' but despite the grand name it was still just in business as a Music Hall.
In June 1881 Samuel Chisholm put the Theatre up for sale by Auction, due, it was said at the time, to 'declining audiences'. However, the Theatre didn't sell so he reopened it in October and it carried on as a Music Hall regardless. The Theatre's exterior was altered some time after this and the steps and the promenade in front of the building were removed and a brick porch was added to the entrance to replace it, which was more in keeping with Chisholm's theatrical intentions for the building. In May 1882 an announcement in the Stage Newspaper stated that:- 'Extensive improvements will shortly be made in the Theatre Royal, North Shields, affecting principally the stage dressing-rooms, as well as the auditorium'.
In the later part of 1882 the Theatre went over to 'Legitimate' theatre, and variety and music hall was finally abandoned. This turned out to be a shrewd move and attendances grew as a result. The entertainments for the following years were plays, burlesques, comic opera and drama, including some of Shakespeare's Canon.
In 1884 the Theatre was closed for 'extensive alterations' which consisted of removing the Theatre's porch and bringing the front wall of the Theatre forward to the edge of the street and adding windows and shops to its frontage; adding a new massive cornice to the top of the building with the words 'Theatre Royal' in ornamental lettering; and altering the auditorium, described at the time as being a 'complete internal metamorphis'. The Theatre reopened on September the 1st 1884 with productions of 'She Stoops to Conquer' and 'The Taming of the Shrew'.
It seems that the alterations to the Theatre and the change of programming rejuvenated Chisholm's Theatre and it now prospered. His brother Alexandra Chisholm became the Theatre's scenic artist, painting all the sets and scenery, which were held in high regard, and his son became the stage manager.
In 1885 the celebrated Tearle Brothers appeared at the Theatre with a 'powerful company' for the first time, and successive plays featured many prominent actors of the period. Edmund Tearle and his wife Kate Clinton would become a regular feature at the Theatre for many years afterwards. In November the same year it was reported that Oscar Wilde gave a lecture at the Theatre to a large audience.
In June 1886 the Theatre was closed for alterations and the following year the Theatre started to lose money again, a Benefit for Chisholm in December 1887 helped a little but the seasons became shorter, although he struggled on and did have some successes. On the 30th of April 1888 Arthur Lloyd's Touring Company began a tour of the Provinces at the Theatre Royal , North Shields, performing Lloyd's own plays 'Ballyvogan' and 'Nobs'. Mr. C. D. McFayden was engaged as the Principle Comedian instead of Arthur Lloyd, who usually took the part, as Arthur himself had begun his own tour of the Country the previous month.
In July 1888 the Theatre was redecorated and the Stage Newspaper reported on the fact in their July 6th edition saying:- 'When the decorations now in progress at the T.R., North Shields, are fully completed, the town can then boast of having one of the prettiest as well as one of the most comfortable places of amusement in the North. Still better, the worthy proprietor seems determined to provide his patrons with the best available talent during the ensuing season, if we may judge from his programme of prospective engagements.' - The Stage, July 6th, 1888.
In 1890 Arthur Jefferson's Company came to the Theatre Royal twice in the plays 'The Dawn of Hope' and 'The World's Verdict'. Jefferson himself didn't perform in the plays but he had written them. Arthur Jefferson would later go on to run the Theatre himself and become a huge success there, he would also go on to run the Boro' Circus in North Shields in 1901, and later had his own circuit of Theatres. He is well known today as the father of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame. More on Jefferson later.
In July 1891 the Theatre was closed for a month whilst it was redecorated and reupholstered, in the recherche style, and at the same time new ventilation was installed. The following seasons put the Theatre back on the map again and its fortunes were revived.
In 1894 Arthur Jefferson performed at the Theatre Royal with his wife Madge Metcalf in Jefferson's play 'The World's Verdict' which had also played the Theatre a few years earlier. Jefferson was now billed in the press as being of 'The Blyth and Bishop Auckland Theatres'.
This was to be Samuel Chisholm's final season running the Theatre and the last performance under his management was in August 1894 when he retired due to ill health. He died at the age of 67 on November the 20th 1900 and an obituary for him in the Stage Newspaper can be seen to the right.
After retiring from the Theatre he had built so many years previously Chisholm leased the Theatre to Arthur Jefferson who reopened the Theatre on August the 19th 1895 with Edmund Earl's Company in a repertory season of Shakespeare's plays. Tearle and his Company appeared at the Theatre regularly every year for years afterwards and always brought a little more gravitas to the Theatre than it's regular fair.
In December the same year, 1895, Jefferson put on his own melodrama at the Theatre entitled 'The Orphan Heiress' in which he played the part of Ginger. He was apparently an excellent comedian and must have been the inspiration for his son's exceptional success some years later. His son was of course Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, whose real name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson.
The Theatre Royal continued with melodramas and musical comedies for the next few years and these usually involved elaborate scenery and special effects such as bridges being blown to pieces, actors diving from horseback, and 40 mile an hour trains picking up mail and so forth. How these were achieved is anyone's guess but they proved very popular.
In 1897 early films were shown at the Theatre for the first time, described at the time as 'animated pictures' and later billed as the 'New American Bioscope'.
Arthur Jefferson's Lease on the Theatre Royal expired in 1902 and as he wasn't able to renew it on 'agreeable terms' he decided to move his operations to the Boro Circus nearby on Lower Rudyard Street, which he also owned. He had the building rebuilt on a larger scale and reopened it as the Borough Theatre on Monday the 4th of August 1902 with a production of the play 'Queen of the Night'.
The Theatre Royal was closed for several weeks but reopened under new management on August the 28th 1902. The Theatre was now run by the 'North Shields Theatre Royal Company' under the Directorship of L. M. Snowdon. The two Theatres, the Borough and the Royal, were now in direct competition and carried much the same fair, although Jefferson had the advantage of already being a popular manager and still had the Tearle Brothers on his books who performed at his new Borough Theatre on regular occasions.
Meanwhile in November the Theatre Royal's owners announced that the Theatre's stage would now be lit by electricity, something the Borough Theatre had already been doing incidentally so it wasn't much of a claim. In June 1903 the Royal was closed for a few weeks for refurbishment and when it reopened on the 24th of August it was announced that it was to be run in conjunction with the Theatre Royal, South Shields and other Theatres in Stockton, West Hartlepool, Gateshead and Heaton.
In February 1904 the press were announcing that Arthur Jefferson was to retake the lease of the Theatre Royal but this didn't happen in the end and it was taken up by J. and F. Coulson instead. The rivalry between the two Theatres continued until Jefferson was finally able to retake the Theatre Royal's lease and reopen the Theatre on September the 5th 1904. At the same time he announced that his Borough Theatre would now become a Variety Theatre.
In December the Tearle's Shakespearean Company were back at the Royal and normality had returned to the Theatre. Jefferson then continued to run it as before until he left in 1907 even though his lease had not yet expired. He let the Theatre to Stanley Rogers who would renew the lease later when it did expire.
It seems that by this time the Theatre had not been doing so well and that the new Cinemas in the town were taking away the business. Jefferson had turned his Borough Theatre over to Cinema himself and renamed it the 'Picture Hall' although it would later be rebuilt as a Cine/Variety Theatre in 1910.
Stanley Rogers ran the Royal as a playhouse for Drama and the like and was reasonably successful, and Edmund Tearle made two final visits to the Theatre in 1909 despite the fact that Jefferson was no longer in control. Rogers formed a Stock Company in 1910, headed by the actor Albert Sember, and they would play the Royal for the summer seasons for several successful years.
Melodramas were the usual fair at the Royal for the ensuing years but when the outbreak of war happened in 1914 a series of 'war plays' were produced which kept the Theatre open despite the chaos. Later during the war the Theatre went over to revues which were very popular and uplifting during the troubles and the Theatre was well attended.
After the war, in 1919, a play called 'Reported Missing' was put on at the Theatre but people were tired of the war by then and revues and melodramas soon replaced it.
In 1921 the Theatre's lease was taken up by Horace Lee and his new Company the 'Theatre Royal (North Shields) Limited'. Lee had been acting manager for Arthur Jefferson and later Stanley Rogers so knew what he was about. He put on reviews, plays, and variety shows at the Theatre. Although Rogers' Stock Company was reformed and played the Royal for a year from March 1923 to March 1924 with more serious fair, the writing was on the wall for the Theatre Royal as Cinema was gaining a strong foothold all around the Country by then.
Left - An advertisement in the Stage Newspaper of the 9th of August 1928 announces that the Theatre Royal, North Shields was 'Unexpectedly Vacant'.
The Theatre Royal finally closed on March the 12th 1932 when it was sold to a Cinema proprietor. Despite, or perhaps because, of this the Theatre never reopened, either as a Theatre or a Cinema, and was demolished in 1939. It was the last of the North Shields Theatres to close and left the town with nothing but Cinemas for the foreseeable future.
Much of the above information on the Theatre Royal, Prudhoe Street, was gleaned from Robert King's informative little book 'North Shields Theatres' published in 1947.
The Northumberland Music Hall was situated on the west side of Borough Road, North Shields, and was a wooden building probably constructed during the early 1860s. It was certainly in business by 1869. In 1874 Samuel Robertson Chisholm took over the Hall and reopened it as a Music Hall on the 21st of September the same year.
Chisholm applied for a theatrical license in 1876 but it was declined due to the building's structural condition. Consequently he carried on with music hall there until December the 9th 1878 when irreparable damage was caused to the building when the roof collapsed due to a heave snow fall.
Chisholm would then go on to build his own Theatre in Prudhoe Street, North Shields, which opened as the Grand Theatre of Varieties on December the 22nd 1879. This would later become the Theatre Royal.
If you have any more information or images for the Northumberland Music Hall that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Siddall's Concert Hall was situated on King Street, North Shields and opened on Monday the 18th of September 1876. The Hall was built for Mr. S. B. Siddall who also owned the South Shields Alhambra and Ampitheatre at the time.
The ERA reported on the opening of the Hall in their 24th of September 1876 edition saying:- 'On Monday Mr Siddall opened the above place of amusement, which was tastefully decorated. There was a crowded audience testifying appreciation of the entertainment by frequent applause. The Proprietor was received with immense cheering, and he stated that it would be his study to secure the very best of talent. The company on the opening night comprised the artists engaged at Mr Siddall's Hall at South Shields, with Messrs Webb and Wallace (comedians). The orchestra performed some excellent music, under the able direction of Mr J. Eccles.' - The ERA, 24th of September 1876.
If you have any more information or images for this Music Hall that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Some of the archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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