Theatres and Halls in Oldham, Greater Manchester
Coliseum - Grand Theatre - Hippodrome - Adelphi Music Hall - Gaiety - Princes - Theatre Royal - Empire Theatre - Palace Theatre of Varieties - Palladium - Royal Court - Vento's / People's Palace of Varieties - The Eagle Theatre - Dreamland Picture House
Formerly - Myers's Grand Circus, Henshaw Street / The Colosseum Fairbottom Street
Above - The Oldham Coliseum - From the Picture Post of 1946
The Coliseum Theatre in Fairbottom Street, Oldham has an interesting history. The building was originally constructed as a wooden Circus building in a different location on Henshaw Street and first opened as Myers's Grand Circus in 1885. This Circus Building had been constructed by Thomas Whittaker for the Grand American Hippodrome Circus owner Mr. Myers, however on the building's completion Myers found himself unable to pay for it so Thomas Whittaker himself took over its ownership.
On its original site in Henshaw Street the building opened with a Chinese Fair but when a new Market Hall was proposed for the site the building was taken apart and then rebuilt on a new site in Fairbottom Street, which backed onto the Theatre Royal in Horsedge Street. The building reopened on its new site as the Colosseum (Note spelling) in June 1887.
The ERA reported on the opening of the Colosseum in its new location on Fairbottom Street in their 25th of June 1887 edition saying:- 'The event of the Jubilee week has been the opening of this new place of amusement. Mr Culeen, of circus renown, has been the entrepreneur selected by the licensee (Mr Whittaker) to open the hall for a brief season; and during the week the Colosseum has been fairly well patronised.
From a general survey of the building (a wooden one) it is evident no expense has been spared to make the interior comfortable and convenient, and the erection is fireproof. The handsome front faces Fairbottom-street, and is adorned with a projecting balcony, supported by pillars with arches, and extending along the whole breadth of the building, 76ft. There are two pay entrances, the doors of which are fitted with hinges of a peculiar character, the invention of Mr Whittaker himself, and work either inwards or outwards. Every bit of the woodwork has been coated several times with fireproof paint, and the lighting arrangements have been carefully guarded.
The exits are so wide that it is estimated that an audience of 5,000 or 6,000 people could get out in the short space of two minutes. The first door is to the pit and side circle, and is arranged so as to avoid the "mixing" of the patrons of these parts of the house, the other entrance is to the side and central circles. There is a separate lobby leading to this from the top of the staircase; two cloakrooms have been provided - one for ladies and one for gentlemen - and there is a separate entrance to the refreshment bar, which has two counters, one for the patrons of the side circle and the other for the centre. There is also a bar for the pittites directly underneath the one referred to, and on a level with the pit itself.
The staircases approaching the side and centre circles are very wide and easy of ascent. The centre circle contains eighty-four chairs upholstered in crimson Utrecht velvet, and the space between each row is wide enough to enable a visitor to pass in or out without putting his neighbour to the slightest inconvenience. The side circle seats have walnut-wood backs, and are handsomely upholstered, and, like the centre ones, rise gradually from the front.
There is a capital view of the stage from all parts of the building. Directly over the centre circle is the upper one, approached by two staircases, one on either side. Both equestrian and dramatic entertainments can be given, and the floor of the building can be altered so as to transform it into a vast ballroom. At present the pit floor is on a level with the stage, within which is half of the "ring," the other half projecting into the auditorium.
At the back of the stage, near the ring, is the gallery, under which the horses pass to the stables, which are made of bricks and mortar, and, though distinct from the main building, are connected therewith by a covered passage. The stage is one of the largest in the United Kingdom. The dressing-rooms are on either side of it, and rise one above another. The stage itself is 42ft. wide, and has a very large proscenium opening. A water motor, through which the outer air passes, rids it of its impurities, and it is then forced through pipes, which run up the main pillars to a suitable height and diffuse it throughout the interior. Either cold, heated, or perfumed air can thus be supplied. The vitiated air passes out through a ventilator in the centre of the roof.
The New Colosseum is a fine building, and Mr Culeen is fortunate in renewing his acquaintance with us under conditions so favourable.'
Not long after the building opened it was relicenced and reopened for dramatic performances on Monday the 29h of August 1887 with a production of 'Two Orphans' with Charles Dornton.
In 1903 the building was bought by Peter Yates of "Yates' Wine Lodges" and converted for Music Hall use.
In 1931 the Facade of the building was altered and the old stage house was removed, and a projection box was added for the showing of films in the building.
The building was altered again in 1938 when it was transformed into a Theatre Club by dividing the old Circus auditorium and reinstating a stage area. New dressing rooms were built at this time, on the site of the original circus stables, and the facade was simplified by the architects Mr Armitage & James Fazakerly. The building reopened as the Oldham Repertory Theatre under the direction of Douglas Emery.
By 1946 the capacity of the Theatre had been reduced to 660 and the stage was just 22ft wide. And in the 1960s all of the remaining wooden parts of the building were replaced with masonry and a new proscenium was added and safety curtain fitted, at this time the exterior was also rebuilt and the 1930s projection box removed. In 1974 a new and enlarged stage house was built and a new fly tower was added, and an orchestra pit for 16 musicians had been added too.
The Oldham Repertory Theatre carried on in this form until 1978 when the building was reopened as a touring house under its new name of the Coliseum Theatre (Note Spelling).
The present auditorium has a capacity of 580 and still carries the shape of the 1903 Music Hall with its balcony and gallery still supported by pillars.
You may like to visit the Coliseum's own website here.
If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later The Royal Theatre of Varieties
Above - The Theatre Royal, Oldham - Courtesy Alex Balmforth
The first Theatre Royal in Oldham was originally built as an exhibition hall and then later converted into a Theatre in 1849. The ERA reported on its reopening in their 14th of October 1849 edition saying:- 'The theatre opens on the 13th inst., and has been entirely re-embellished. A talented and well selected company is secured, among which are several favourites of the Oldham public, Mr. and Mrs. A. Rayner, Messrs. J. Lyons, W. Elliott, Crowther, J. Williams, Craig, Wright, C. Sennet, Seymour, Miss A. Montague, Mrs. Longmore, Mrs. Williams, Mr. and Mrs. E. Tannet, Miss Lane, Miss Seymour, Mon. Pascal, the celebrated dancer and performer on the globe roulant; Mr. G. V. Brooke, Mrs. G. V. Brooke, and Mr. J. Daly the Irish comedian, appear shortly, and engagements are pending with some of the first stars of the day. The pieces on the opening night being Don Ceasar de Bazan, and the sterling farce of Animal Magnetism.'
Although information on this first Theatre Royal is hard to come by the following advertisements from the ERA do show something of what was going on in the Theatre in its early years.
Above Right, an advertisement in the ERA of the 9th of January 1853 states: 'WANTED, for the THEATRE ROYAL, OLDHAM, a Gentleman to lead The Business - a Lady fully competent to undertake the Juvenile lead - Ladies well acquainted with general Ballet Business - a Flute Player - and persons acquainted with the Theatrical Profession, will meet with immediate attention to their applications. Direct to the Manager, Theatre Royal, Oldham.'
On the 16th of January the same year the ERA printed the following report on the new manager of the Theatre saying: 'The new manager here (Mr. S. Harrison) has amply redeemed his promise, and has opened the handsomest "Temple of Muses" yet in Oldham, with an efficient company, the result has been overflowing and delighted audiences. Various dramas have been selected and acted, suited to the festive season, supported by Mr. and Mrs. C. Horsman, Mrs. F. Raymond, Mr. S. Reid, Mr. Lee, Mrs. Morton, Miss S. Boyce, and Mrs. Wright. The comic Pantomime, Harlequin Cinderella, was most triumphantly successful. The appointments are excellent; the scenery, by Mr. E. Morris, beautifully appropriate; the machinery reflects the greatest credit on Mr. T. Casson; the music very pretty, the tricks numerous and good; the dresses (by Gardener) excellent, and the whole went without "a hitch." It has been repeated every evening since. The Clown (Mr. J. Wright) well deserves the plaudits and roars of laughter he elicits. The Columbine and Harlequin of Mrs. Wright and Mr. Garner are all we can wish, while Pantaloon loses nothing in the hands of Signor Leoni.
By December of that year a Mr. George Webster had taken over the managerial reigns and the ERA carried the following in their 11th of November 1855 edition: 'Theatre Royal, Oldham, will open on Saturday December 1st, under the Management of Mr. George A. Webster (late manager of Sadler's Wells and other Theatres) and Mr. John Chester (of the Royal Princess's Theatre, London). An entire company will be required, including a Leader of the Band, a Premiere Danseuse, Ladies of the Ballet, Clown, Harlequin, and Pantaloon.
In their 2nd of March 1856
edition the ERA states: 'WANTED, for the THEATRE ROYAL, OLDHAM, to open
on the 22nd of March, the following Ladies and Gentlemen; - A First-class
Leading Gentleman, Ditto for Juvenile Tragedy, combining Light Comedy;
Ditto for the Heavy Business, a Walking Gentleman, Low Comedian, with
Comic Singing; and several useful Utility People; a Leading Lady, Walking
Lady, Singing Chambermaid, and Utility Ladies; a good Stage Carpenter,
Property Man, Scenic Artist, and Wardrobe-keeper. None need apply but
those who have held the same position is first class Theatres.
The Theatre seems to have gone on in much the same vain for years, another advertisement carried in the ERA, this time in their 26th of January 1873 edition, is a plea from one of the Theatre's artistes who has come to the end of her engagement at the Oldham Theatre and is looking for work elsewhere, saying: 'THEATRE ROYAL, OLDHAM. MISS LIZZIE GILBERT would be happy to join a Dramatic Company on Tour With Eight or Twelve of her Talented Juvenile Ballet Troupe. Good Dresses, Properties and Music. Twelve Nights vacant 3d Feb. Hull, Blackburn, and St. Helens to follow. At Liberty 17th March.'
But by this time the Theatre's days were numbered and only 5 years later the Theatre Royal was completely gutted by fire on the 6th of April 1878. The ERA printed a report of the fire on the same day, in their 6th of April 1878 edition saying:-
'Destruction of the Theatre Royal, Oldham. About half-past seven o'clock on the morning of the 6th inst, the fire brigade at the Central Station, Oldham, received information that the Theatre Royal was on fire. Superintendent Adamson immediately got two steam fire engines ready, and with these he proceeded to the scene of the disaster. When the Brigade arrived at the Theatre they found that the fire had taken a firm hold of the building. The roof had almost given way, and flames were issuing in great volume from the top windows.
Left - The second Theatre Royal, Oldham - From the Chronicle - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The two fire engines were placed in the Holebottom Colliery yard, where they obtained a good supply of water front the lodge ; but it was with great difficulty, owing to the distance from the fire, that the water could be used effectually. A fire escape was brought into requisition, and did good service, but it was seen from the arrival or the brigade that it was scarcely possible that much could be saved. They, however, worked with a will, but to no purpose. The inflammable material about the stage, dresses, scenery, &.co burned with great violence, and soon spread destruction around. The seat of the fire was the stage, and from thence it speedily rose amongst the scenery, thence to the roof, and travelled round the galleries, which were speedily destroyed. After toiling about half-an-hour it was found useless to contend further with the hope of saving any material portion of the building; at least, of the interior. About nine o'clock the Theatre was a complete wreck - the inside was demolished, and the roof had collapsed, nothing remaining but the bare walls.
The interior, after the flames had been subdued, presented a scene of desolation. How the fire originated is not known, What makes the fire all the more calamitous is that the ladies wardrobe has fallen a prey to the devouring element, and the instruments of the orchestra, have all been destroyed. These, of course, are not insured, and the loss will, therefore, be will be very heavy upon the members of the dramatic company.
The Working Man's Hall, which for a number of years has been leased for the purpose of a Theatre, was the property of a joint stock company, the shares being £1 each. For a length of time it was so far unremunerative that the shares were considerable below par but as they came more and more into the hands of fewer holders the commercial fortunes of the undertaking mended, and of late years they have only been obtainable at advancing premiums. The present Lessee is Mr. George Spencer, who has had the lease for some years, and the night of Saturday was to have been the last of the dramatic season. The building with its belongings was insured by the directors on behalf of the company, but it is a question whether the amount at which it is insured will cover the whole of the loss.
After the fire a new Theatre Theatre Royal was built on the site of the first and the foundation stone was laid on Monday the 30th of September 1878. The Theatre would take some time to rebuild but when it was nearing completion the Era carried an advertisement in their 8th of June 1879 edition saying: 'Wanted, a practical, working stage Carpenter, to superintend the construction of Stage for the New Theatre Royal Oldham. Address stating wages required and enclosing reference, to William H. Cooke, Architect, Oldham. The ERA 8th June 1879.
Right - The auditorium of the second Theatre Royal, Oldham - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The new Theatre Royal was designed by the architect William H Cook and the Theatre eventually opened on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December 1879 with a mass singing of the National Anthem, a performance of a new humorous playlet the Lone House Down Bottom oth Moor, and a presentation of Faust and Marguerite, with chorus and conventional and military bands.
There now follows a detailed description of the Theatre Royal, Oldham, written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site, by Alex Balmforth.
The Theatre Royal, Oldham by Alex Balmforth
Description - Facade
1878 (Rebuilt) Theatre
The Theatre Royal was situated on Horsedge Street, Oldham and was broadly back to back with the present Coliseum Theatre. The main entrance was approximately 50 metres from the towns main thoroughfare, Yorkshire Street. Facing the theatre was a public house, the Shakespeare which was built in the last decade of the 19th century.
Right - A Programme for 'Aren't We All?' at the Oldham Theatre Royal in October 1936 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The Theatre Royal was constructed on a steep hillside (1 : 10) and although classical in inspiration was by its geography, asymmetrical. Built over four stories from undressed carboniferous sandstone (Millstone Grit *). The Architect engaged for the rebuilding was William H Cook of Clegg Street, Oldham, and the foundation stone was laid with befitting ceremony on Monday, September 30th 1878 by Mr J Hargreaves, the Chairman of Directors.
The site was excavated by Clough Bros of Werneth, brick, stone and
ironwork by William Dodd, Featherstall Rd., Oldham, carpentry and joinery
by C Schofield, Lees Rd., Oldham, slating and plastering by David Jackson,
Clegg St., Oldham, plumbing, glazing and painting, Sharples, Buckley
and Co., Greenacres Rd., Oldham.
The rusticated, pilastered central door formed the entrance to the Grand and Upper Circles, and in the door's keystone was a bust of Shakespeare. (probably carved at Greenacres) The segmentally pedemented door to the right of the Circle entrance led to the Gallery, to the left the door led to the pit. The door at the extreme left was the exit to the Pit and to the extreme right the Circle exit. The Circle Bar was at the first level and was illuminated by a large tripartite window which was flanked by two pairs of smaller square headed windows. At the third level a smaller central tripartite window was framed by four larger stone, segmentally headed windows. Within the Theatres main pediment was a blind segmental Venetian window, which was later opened up to accommodate a cinema projection suite.
Above - A Programme for 'Aren't We All?' at the Oldham Theatre Royal in October 1936 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
Description - Internal
The theatre was of Italianate style with three horse-shoe shaped galleries supported on ten ornamental (Corinthian) columns. It would be illuminated by gas and would be heated by hot water.
The Italianate theme was retained by a large chandelier suspended from
the theatre roof, over a large proscenium arch. The Dress Circle was
lavish. Above the Dress Circle, at the third level was the Upper Circle,
more modestly furnished with upholstered seating. At the fourth level
was a Gallery of four or five wooden steps, on which the audience stood,
no seating being provided. The Pit was furnished in the manner of the
upper circle. The Orchestra Stalls were the most coveted and were richly
upholstered and carpeted. There were no boxes.
Orchestra Stalls - 1/9d (9 P)
Above - A Programme for 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' at the Oldham Theatre Royal in October 1937 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The first Royal Theatre was originally the Working Mans Hall a dedicated exhibition hall which became the Theatre Royal circa 1848 and was then owned by T S Kinnear.
Come the 6th of April 1878 the Theatre was gutted by fire and rebuilding a new Theatre Royal commenced. The building of the new Theatre took a little over eighteen months and the Grand Opening was fixed for the 24th December 1879. The Royal opened with a mass singing of the National Anthem a performance of a new humorous playlet the Lone House Down Bottom oth Moor, which was followed by an extravagant presentation of Faust and Marguerite, with chorus, conventional and military bands; the whole presentation stage managed by Mr Frank Clark.
Left - A photograph of the rebuilt Theatre Royal, Oldham around 1900 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The following Christmas day a performance of Messiah was staged.
Management quickly morphed into the Oldham Theatrical and Entertainment Company Ltd., with Henry Pemberton invested as Manager.
1889 / 90 Otto Culling was appointed manager and there follows what seems to be confusion - in precisely who owned/ or managed just what however it seems that in 1895 Lindo Courtnay was appointed manager until the Theatre was leased to Frank Harvey who became sole lessee. At around 1903 there was a cosmetic change of name and the Theatre Royal became, the Royal Theatre of Varieties
1909 and the new craze for films had the Theatre install projecting equipment and alongside drama came films.
Perhaps the Theatres heyday was between the wars when all manner of Variety, Drama and Cinema was shown, with many big names appearing, including, Florrie Foord, George Formby, Frank Randle, alongside well known actor managers including, Henry Irving, George Lashwood. Noted actors, Nellie Wallace, Harry Randall all plied their trade at the Royal.
In the early decades of the 20th century Arthur Denville** became for a time resident Repertory Manager, and gained some notoriety for his populous plays; Maria Marten, Face at the Window, and Sweeney Todd being regular fare.
The Royal presented every facet of entertainment, from serious drama, grand and comic opera/etta, musicals, variety, exhibitions, even on occasion strip-tease. The politicians W E Gladstone and John Bright addressed the faithful from its stage.
In January 1955 Frank Randle for reasons unclear*** walked out of a performance of Aladdin. This proved the death knell for the Royal for although several attempts were made to revive the old theatre it remained dark and was demolished on the 24th of April 1967.
*** There is a full report about the whole fiasco in a biography of Frank Randle called 'Wired to the Moon, Frank Randle a Life' by Philip Martin Williams & David L. Williams. Details here.
The Theatre Royal, Oldham stood empty and unused for nine years before it was eventually demolished on the 24th of April 1967, (see images below.)
Above - Demolition of the Oldham Theatre Royal in April 1967 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
Above - Demolition of the Oldham Theatre Royal in April 1967 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
In the local studies library at Oldham there is a letter about the Theatre Royal written by the much loved actor Derek Nimmo who passed away on Wednesday, February 24, 1999. Derek wrote:
"I was a member of Ivor Burgoyne's company which must be, I suppose now, more than 32 years ago. The whole venture was run on a rather minor shoestring and I suspect that the Theatre Royal was something of a disaster area. I played in about eight productions (it was a weekly rep.) and the main assistant to Ivor Burgoyne was a wonderful old pro called Rex Deering. It actually left a particular imprint on my mind, as Oldham Theatre Royal is the only theatre from which I have actually received the sack! In the photograph (shown right) I am the rather sinister fellow with the beard and the revolver and dear Rex Deering is the chap in the centre of the snap. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the play, but as you will observe from the painting of the scenery, everything was more than slightly makeshift, as it had to be with a limited budget and weekly repertory. I still have a great affection for Oldham and when I meet people such as Bernard Cribbins and Dora Bryan, who were at the Colosseum, which we always regarded as the 'posh' theatre, I am still filled with awe"
The above text in quotes was written by Derek Nimmo and is held at the local studies library, Oldham - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
Formerly - The Adelphi Music Hall / New Adelphi Temperance Theatre of Varieties / Adelphi Theatre / Princes Theatre / Gaiety Theatre of Varieties / Victory Cinema / Continental
Above - The Architects' drawing of the Adelphi Theatre, Oldham in 1860 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The Oldham Hippodrome had many changes of name over the years. It was first built as a Music Hall in 1868 and was designed by a local Barber who ran a shop in Manchester Street. The building was a conversion from a former Cotton Mill, and originally opened as the Adelphi Music Hall on Monday December the 21st 1868. It had an auditorium on two levels, stalls and one circle plus some private boxes and could accommodate some 1,000 people.
There was some structural damage to the music hall in the mid 1870s when a wall collapsed due to subsidence after a road building scheme was started outside. By floating 4,000 shares for the building at £1 each the owners of the building, the Adelphi Music Hall and Entertainment Company, were eventually able to demolish the old building and build a brand new one on the same site. Work began in 1875 and the New Adelphi opened as a variety Theatre that August. The new Theatre was a much grander building than the previous music hall, with many private boxes both at the side and centre of the auditorium, and a pit and stalls with a side and upper balcony.
The Theatre was a successful venue for many years and although it dabbled with plays for a time in 1880, and had many different owners and changes of name, its main fair was always variety. Up until 1881 the Theatre had been variously known as the New Adelphi Theatre of Varieties, the Adelphi Theatre & Opera House, the Opera House, Oldham, the Adelphi Music Hall, the Adelphi Opera House, the New Adelphi Temperance Theatre of Varieties, the Adelphi Hall, the Prince's Theatre, and the Prince's Varieties. In 1881 the name was changed to the Gaiety and under this name many of the famous names in Music Hall and Variety appeared on its stage including the Lupino family, Lillie Langtry, Fred Karno's Circus, Dan Leno, Vesta Tilley , Harry Lauder, and Arthur Lloyd who personally performed at the Gaiety in 1890, 1892, and 1903. In 1905 the name was changed yet again, this time to the Hippodrome, which is the name it carried when it finally closed as a live Theatre in 1909. The Theatre then reopened as a Cinema but still with the name Hippodrome.
Above - The architect's drawings for the Victory Cinema which were approved on the 6th of June and the 11th of September 1919 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
In 1919 the Hippodrome closed for the last time and the building was then converted into a Cinema proper by the architects Roberts & Taylor who reopened the building in 1920 as the Victory Cinema. (See Plan above.)
I'm told that the entrance to the upper circle in 1950 was round the back of the building.
In 1970 the building was converted for Bingo use, and then in 1978 it was converted into an amusement arcade.
The Theatre has since been demolished and a block of flats has recently been built on the site.
In August 2009 Alex Balmforth says: 'You mention the Victory, I had
the dubious pleasure of viewing the auditorium before it was demolished.
It was a small theatre in the manner of the Coliseum,
with a circle and upper circle. Entry was via a small booking office
which opened up into a long room at the end of which was a bar and the
staircases to the circle. The Upper Circle was never used as it was
regarded as unsafe. The theatre was on a hillside and the Theatre's
far wall was around 9 metres underground. Recently a luxury flat complex
(how I loathe that word) has been built on the site. Presently only
two of which have been sold.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later the Grand Theatre / Astoria / Gaumont Cinema
Above - A Postcard depicting King Street and the Grand Theatre, Oldham - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The Grand Theatre in Union Street, Oldham was built facing the Starr Inn and opened a month after the Palace Theatre in December 1908. The Theatre was designed by the London architects Thomas Taylor and Ernest Simister who also designed the Chadderton Town Hall. The exterior was of brick and terra cotta and the interior is said to have been 'elaborate' and consisted of several levels with boxes. The stage was 45 foot wide with a proscenium opening of 32ft 6in and was equipped with an orchestra pit.
The Theatre was radically altered in 1937 by Gaumont Super Cinemas when the auditorium was gutted and transformed into a much simpler space of just Stalls and one Circle seating in total 1,842. Only the outer walls of the building were retained. Gaumont took over the bulding completely in 1944.
Above - A period postcard depicting the Grand Theatre, Oldham
The Beatles appeared here on several occasions when it was (briefly) trading as the Astoria Theatre, but then in 1962 it was altered for conversion into a Bowling Alley and its live theatre days were well and truly over, although it did find a use as a ballroom for a short period. Further humiliation for this building happened in 1973 when it was again converted, this time into a Nightclub.
After the houses facing the Theatre had been removed, the area outside the Theatre was often used for sideshows, with motorbike 'Wall of Death' being a favourite.
The old Grand Theatre has been empty for years now and although it still stands, albeit in a dilapidated condition, demolition would seem to be its final fate.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Above - The Oldham Empire Theatre - Courtesy Alex Balmforth
The Empire Theatre in Waterloo Street, Oldham was built in 1897 on the site of the former Retiro House and had an auditorium on three levels, stalls and two circles and could accommodate around 1,600 people.
The Theatre was equipped with a large sunburner in the auditorium with 96 lights and the whole building including dressing rooms was heated by hot water and lit by electricity.
Right - A programme for 'Mother Goose' at the Oldham Empire in January 1968 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
An unusual occurrence took place at the Empire in September 1904 when, during a performance of the musical comedy 'In Dahomey', a wedding was held live on stage for two members of its cast who had met during the run. The Rev. James Boswell conducted the ceremony but what the audience thought of the proceedings is unknown.
The Empire was home to a variety of productions during its life including Music Hall, Variety, Pantomime, Concerts, and Plays, and was the first building in Oldham to show silent films, in 1911, and the first to show a 'talkie', in 1929.
In 1953 Percy G Court wrote about working at the Empire in his 'Memories of Show Business' saying:-
'Oldham was our next town - the town of clogs and shawls. The theatre was The New Empire in Waterloo Street. It had just been built and was the most modern in England - holding capacity about sixteen hundred people, it was of two tiers, and no piers - or pillar supports. It was called the cantilever system - shortly afterwards every new theatre was of the same construction. Whilst at this theatre, I was given small parts to play, although I had to work at carpentry during the mornings of each day. We were constantly adding new scenery and properties to each production.
Now here I would point out that there was another carpenter engaged, a Mr Dick Clarke, and although he was a very industrious man, he was not capable of bench work. Therefore he was limited to look after the settings.
Left - A ticket stub for the production of 'The Sound of Music' at the Oldham Empire - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The proprietor Mr Harry Bruce seemed to find fault with Dick's work. Then at the end of the second week he gave him notice of discharge, which would take effect at the close of the third week at Oldham. I never knew that Mr Clarke had to go: he had been with this company over two years - well I was amazed, when the proprietor gave me a few extra shillings, with a note in my packet informing me - from such a date - I was to take Mr Clarke's place and that he was pleased with my advancement. Well this was not quite the sort of promotion that I anticipated, and I took sides with Mr Clarke. He was a married man, so I told Mr Bruce that if Mr Clarke is sacked I would go too; and without saying any more I quit, and took the early train, on the following morning from Mumps Station, Oldham. So after twelve weeks I arrived back at Woolwich Arsenal Station about eight in the evening. July 1897.'
The above text in quotes is from Memories of Show Business by Percy G Court, 1953, to read the whole article click here.
Right and Below - A Programme for Old Mother Riley and her Daughter Kitty at the Oldham Empire in May 1944 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
Above - Details from a programme for Old Mother Riley and her Daughter Kitty at the Oldham Empire in May 1944 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
Above - The auditorium of the Oldham Empire after it had been repainted by Heywoods. In the ceiling's centre can be seen a gas burner and fog remover - Image Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
By 1955 the Empire had converted to almost full time Cinema use, although it was host to the occasional Sunday show when a notable name was in town. Cliff Richard and the Drifters performed there in 1959 for instance.
A visitor to this site, Ken Smith, says:- 'I remember going to the Empire between 1963 and 66 to see Cilla Black, you had to go down stairs to sit in the stalls.' - Ken Smith.
The Empire closed for good after the last performance of the film 'Tender
is the Night' in 1969 and was demolished in 1981.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later the Odeon Cinema
Above - The Palace Theatre, Oldham in a photograph taken in 1990, several years after the Theatre had closed and two years before it was demolished - Courtesy Eric Krieger
This Theatre originally opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties and opened on the 9th of November 1908. The Theatre was designed by the respected Theatre architect Bertie Crewe and had an auditorium on three levels, stalls and pit, dress circle, and gallery and several boxes, and was capable of seating 2,380.
The Theatre was home to music hall and variety productions for many years but eventually closed on the 25th of October 1935 with a last variety show including Burton Brown on the top of the bill.
Right - A seating plan for the Palace Theatre, Oldham - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
Now owned by the Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Theatres Ltd the Theatre was gutted and a new cinema auditorium was built within the shell of the old, designed by Harry Weedon in the Art Deco style. The exterior of the building was retained although a new canopy was added. The new auditorium, on two levels, stalls and circle, could hold 1,707 people in some comfort.
The Odeon Theatre, as it was now called, opened on the 19th of August 1936 with the films 'Baxter's Millions' and 'His Night Out' and continued in this form until 1974 when the auditorium was trippled. The three screen Odeon ran until July 1974 but closed after the last showing of the films 'Psycho II', 'Educating Rita', and Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life.'
Sadly the Cinema then remained closed and empty for nine years and was subsequently demolished in 1992. A Local Council social services building was erected on the site.
Above - An architect's drawing of the Palace Theatre, Oldham in 1906 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
A visitor to the site, Brian Millward, has recently
sent in the following information about his ancestors working at the
Oldham Palace Theatre. Brian says: 'I have anecdotal evidence which
may or may not be true. My Grandmother was a dresser to Nellie Wallace
and G.H Elliot. She is reputed to have been given a white jacket for
my father (one of thirteen) which was then dyed brown. My Grandfather
Frederick William Millward was a Limelight
operator, as was my Uncle George Millward and my father James Millward.
Above - A photograph of the Eagle Theatre, Oldham just prior to its demolition - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The Eagle Theatre is thought to have been the earliest legitimate Theatre built in Oldham. The Theatre opened in 1810 with a performance by the actress Mrs. Jordon, who was also the mistress of the Duke of Clarence. Unusually for the period, where most Music Halls were entered free of charge, the Eagle Theatre had an admission by ticket only policy although seats couldn't be reserved. The entrance was guarded by policemen and although the doors were opened at 5.30 pm the performance didn't start until 7.30 pm.
A year after the Theatre opened tragedy struck when the stage collapsed and the Theatre had to close. It was subsequently repaired and reopened but the Theatre's fortunes were sealed and by 1815 the Theatre had closed for good. It was subsequently converted into a school, and then later became a tallow chandler's workshop.
The Eagle Theatre was demolished many years ago and Eagle Street itself now no longer exists either.
Also known as the Vento's Palace of Varieties
Above - A sketch from a poster for the People's Palace Music Hall in 1894 - Courtesy Alex Balmforth.
The People's Palace is thought to have opened in 1872 and was probably a conversion from a former Mill building.
The Music Hall was also known at different times as the People's Hall of Varieties and Vento's Palace of Varieties, but it was always known to to the people of Oldham as 'The Peeps.'
The last known performance as a Music Hall was in 1896
and then the building was used as an exhibition hall, and for various
other single events.
The Theatre has long since been demolished.
Later The ABC Cinema / Circle Cinema
The Oldham Palladium was built in 1913 and designed by the architect Thomas Hilton.
By 1935 the building was owned by Associated British Cinemas, Ltd and was in use as a Cinema with a capacity of 1,918 which was later reduced to 1,841.
The Theatre closed in 1958 and was then reconstructed and reopened in 1959 with a capacity of 1,456.
The Theatre closed again on the 1st of October 1977 and was converted for Bingo use.
However, in December 1985 the Theatre reopened as a Cinema called the Circle with a capacity of just 420. This incarnation was short lived though and the Cinema closed again on the 5th of June the following year and was soon back in use as a Bingo house again.
A few years of Bingo remained but this was terminated when the old Palladium Theatre was finally demolished in December 1990.
The Theatre was subsequently rebuilt to the designs of the architect Turner, and reopened in 1907.
The Theatre closed in 1960 and was demolished in 1966.
The Dreamland Picture House in Mumps, Oldham was the first purpose built Cinema in Oldham.
The Cinema closed many years ago and was then put to use as a carpet store and shop by Northern Carpet Supplies
In August 2009 the old Cinema still stands at the end of the Grade II Listed NatWest building, however, the NatWest building could soon be transformed into housing, offices, or an hotel, and if this goes ahead the plans are for the ex Cinema to be demolished. Both buildings have sat partly demolished and surrounded by hoardings since a £5m scheme for luxury flats on the site fell through in June 2008.
Much of the information, and many of the images, on this page were very kindly sent in by Alex Balmforth, who would like to thank The Oldham Local Studies Library and The Oldham Chronicle for their kind and valuable assistance with his research into Oldham's Theatres and music Halls in 2009.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.