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The Opera House, Pow Street, Workington, Cumbria

Formerly The Queen’s Jubilee Hall & Opera House / Queen's Opera House

The stage and part of the auditorium of the original Queen's Jubilee Hall and Opera House - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

Above - The stage and part of the auditorium of the original Queen's Jubilee Hall and Opera House - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

The Opera House in Workington, Cumbria originally opened as the Queen's Jubilee Hall and Opera House in 1888. The Theatre was designed by Thomas L. Banks and Charles Harrison Townsend and had a small auditorium with two balconies accommodating 1,130 people. The Theatre was also equipped with a small stage with a proscenium width of 11 metres, a depth of 9.14 metres and a grid height of 14 metres. An orchestra pit for 16 musicians was also included.

By 1891 the Theatre was being called the Queen's Opera House in news reports and advertisements. One such was the ERA of November the 7th that year who said: 'The Theatre Royal, Whitehaven, has just been leased for a long term of years by the enterprising managers of the Queen's Opera House, Workington, Messrs Clark and Wood. These gentlemen were selected from no less a number than fifty-three. It is their intention to try to secure the best companies travelling by booking three nights at each town, only a six miles' journey apart.' The ERA, November 7th 1891.

 

The auditorium of the original Queen's Jubilee Hall and Opera House - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

Above - The auditorium of the original Queen's Jubilee Hall and Opera House - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

An incident at the Theatre on Friday the 8th of October 1897 involving an explosion in the basement was reported in the ERA the following week in their 16th of October edition saying: 'During a performance at the Queen's Opera House, Workington, by Messrs Abbey and Thompson's New York entertainment company on Friday, the 8th, two large gas reservoirs used for limelight exploded.

The Fly Floor of the Workington Opera House in 2010 - Courtesy KR.The curtain had just been lowered at the conclusion of Mr Robert Pearson's ventriloquial turn, Mr Abbey was standing on the stage over the tanks, which were in the basement under the stage, directing the next scene, when the explosion occurred, tearing up the floor and blowing him up in the air.

The stage was filled with dust and smoke, the audience rushed pell-mell for the exits, and the band scampered away. Mr Abbey, however, with remarkable presence of mind, stepped in front of the curtain and stayed the panic. He got the musicians back to their places, and had the next turn on with but slight delay.

Left - The Fly Floor of the Workington Opera House in 2010 - Courtesy KR.

The effects of the explosion were quite serious, however, and at least two of the company had a very narrow escape. Mr W. H. Smart and Mr Jimmie Ferguson occupied a dressing-room with a plank partition separating them from the gas tanks, and Mr Ferguson was "making up," while Mr Smart was fondling a little pet Java monkey belonging to Miss Abbott, "the Georgia magnet." The monkey spied Mr Foley with a bald wig just outside the door, and went for him hammer and tongs, Mr Ferguson and Mr Smart had just stepped out with it to see the sport when the explosion occurred, literally blowing their dressing-room to pieces. Had the explosion occurred a second earlier both would have been killed. Lights were extinguished, people were blown down, windows shattered, plaster knocked off, walls shivered to pieces, floors torn up, and great havoc and confusion resulted, but fortunately, miraculously, no one was hurt. Messrs Smart and Ferguson sustained considerable damage to their wardrobe and Part of the stage house of the Workington Opera House in 2010 - Courtesy KR.properties. Mr Clark, the proprietor of the Queen's, estimates his damage at about £60. The tanks were some seven or eight feet in height, by three feet in diameter. One is oxygen, it is yet a mystery what caused the explosion. The comedians have applied for a Victoria Cross for the monkey.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 16th October 1897.

Right - Part of the stage house of the Workington Opera House in 2010 - Courtesy KR.

Despite this narrow escape in 1897, some thirty years later the Theatre was to encounter destruction again, this time in 1927 when the building was all but destroyed by fire on the 1st of November, leaving only the walls remaining. Undeterred though the owners had the Theatre completely rebuilt, this time as a cine variety Theatre. One of the structural walls of the old Theatre was retained but the rest of the building was completely new.

 

The auditorium of the 1927 Opera House, Workington - Photo Joe Moody - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

Above - The auditorium of the 1927 Opera House, Workington - Photo Joe Moody - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

The new Theatre had a large stage and wide auditorium with one balcony and an ornamental ceiling with a sunburst and mask. In 1963 the Facade of the Theatre was rebuilt, but despite this the Theatre, like so many others around the Country, eventually found itself home to Bingo. A bar was fitted into the basement with an entrance to it through the former orchestra pit, the stage was used for the bingo machines, and the rest of the house was used for an audience of hopeful winners.

The stage of the 1927 Opera House, Workington whilst in its Bingo guise, note the entrance through the Orchestra Pit to the bar in the basement - Photo Joe Moody - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

Above - The stage of the 1927 Opera House, Workington whilst in its Bingo guise, note the entrance through the Orchestra Pit to the bar in the basement - Photo Joe Moody - Courtesy Andrew Williamson.

 

The Workington Opera House in 2010

The Workington Opera House in 2010

The Workington Opera House in 2010

The Workington Opera House in 2010

Above - Three photographs of the Workington Opera House in 2010 - Courtesy KR.

In March 2010 a planning application was received for the Theatre to be demolished, along with several buildings beside it. However local opinion was that the Theatre should be saved and a Campaign to save the Theatre is now in full swing. You may like to visit the website of the 'Save Workington Opera House and sign the petition here.

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