The Philharmonic Hall, 40 Islington High Street, London
Later - The Philharmonic Theatre / Grand Theatre / Islington Empire
The Philharmonic Hall was the first of many places of entertainment that would be built on this site on the Islington High Street over the years, from its early begining in 1860 and culminating in the Islington Empire of 1908. Most of the buildings on the site were plagued with fire and the Theatre was rebuilt time and time again, but more on this later.
The Philharmonic Hall itself was built as a Music Hall for Sanders and Lacy, and designed by the architects Finch Hill and Paraire at the not inconsiderable cost for the time of £10,000. Finch, Hill and Paraire were also responsible for Weston's Music Hall, The Theatre Royal, Holborn, The Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, The Sun Music Hall, The Royal Cambridge Music Hall, Shoreditch, Evans's Supper Rooms in Covent Garden, and the original Oxford Music Hall of 1861, the year after the Philharmonic opened in 1860.
Right - An undated Balcony Entrance Token for the Philharmonic Hall, made of zinc and 30mm across - Courtesy Alan Judd.
The Philharmonic Hall was constructed by the contractors Holland and Hannen and built on the site of some former tenements, which had fallen into a dilapidated state.
The Philharmonic opened with an inauguration banquet on
Wednesday the 7th of November 1860
and the ERA reported on the occasion in their
11th of November edition saying: - 'This is, indeed, the age of progress,
as every day's experience
The man that hath no music in himself,
We are enabled to give the following description of the building, which will, we feel assured, interest our readers:
The building presents a bold and imposing classic front, Corinthian columns, supporting a projecting entablature and pediment, forms the leading feature, which, with statues, vases, and other architectural decorations, tastefully combined, produce a striking facade.
The principal entrance leading to the great hall is wide and commodious, and 40 feet long, at the end of which is the grand staircase, consisting of three flights, the centre leading down to the area of the hall - the two others lead to the balcony - the arrangement is well studied, and the proportions are pleasing. Descending the centre stairs we reach the corridor, which is 100 feet long and 13 feet wide; it is divided into four bays by projecting columns supporting semi-circular arches. On the left of the passage are the billiard-rooms and American bowling-alleys, on the right is the music hall, a well-proportioned room, measuring 100 feet long by 43 feet wide and 40 feet high; the balcony at the sides of the hall is arranged for two, and at the ends for five rows of seats, with a promenade behind; above the form of the orchestra are private boxes, eight in number; the walls of the hall are divided into bays by pilasters, on the face of which are life-size cariatides, supporting square blocks, round which breaks the entablatore; the ceiling is divided into panels by bands formed by an open fret-work, which affords a ready escape for the heated air; the orchestra is of a semicircular form, and is enriched by sculpture-gilding and other decorations.
The building is carried out from the designs and under the superintendence of Messrs. Finch Hill and Paraire. Messrs. Holland and Hannen are the contractors; the decorations from the architect's designs are carried out by Mr Homann: the gaseliers by Messrs. Jones, of Bow-street; and the ironwork is by Mr George Barrett.'
The ERA went on to report on all the opening speeches which I won't transcribe here but they did also mention the opening entertainment and the banquet itself saying: - 'The musical arrangements were on a very extensive scale, under the direction of Mr. Charles Braid, assisted by Mesdames Grosvenor, Lizzie Harris, Henriette Gordon, Annie Morden, Mowbray, E. and M. Stephens, Madame Morelli, Mrs. Brian, Mrs. F. Hall, Messrs. George Tedder, H. Vernon, R. Edmonds, F. Hyett, F. Hatton, Holmes, H. Percy, G. Allen, H. Harris, Sam Collins, G. J. Hartley, and Frank Hall; Serenaders, Warden, West, and Farrenberg; Comique, Brian and Conly. Instrumentalists - Violin, Herr Sarkosy; Cornet, Shapcott; Grand Pianoforte, J. Caulfield; Harmonium, H. De Solla; Kettle and Side Drums, Master Jarvis.
The banquet was of a recherche character, and gave much satisfaction to the guests, Mr. Withers, of Baker street, was the caterer, and the wines provided by the proprietors were of excellent quality. Grace having been sung, the Chairman gave the usual loyal toasts, which were heartily received...' - The ERA, 11th November 1860.
Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Philharmonic Hall on many occasions including during his first year in London in 1862, and then whenever he returned to the City, most notably in 1863, 1864, 1867, 1871, and 1880.
In 1870 the Philharmonic Hall was partially rebuilt with a new stage and it also had a new promenade added at the same time.
The Hall was then redecorated 4 years later in 1874 and this time the building was also renamed the Philharmonic Theatre, (see details below).
The Philharmonic Theatre, Islington, 1874
In 1874 the old Philharmonic Hall was given a new lease of life when it was redecorated and renamed the Philharmonic Theatre with a seating capacity for some 758 people. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported briefly on this in their September 18th 1874 edition saying:- 'The Philharmonic Theatre, Islington, has during the last few months been entirely redecorated by Mr. E. Bell, under the direction of Mr. C. J. Phipps, F.S.A., architect to the new company, and will open again on the 26th inst.' - The Building News and Engineering Journal September 18th 1874.
The Theatre then ran as the Philharmonic Theatre for another 8 years until was destroyed by fire in September 1882. The site of the Theatre was soon cleared however, and by October the ERA was already carrying a report about the new Theatre which was soon to be erected on the site, saying: - 'The site of the old Philharmonic Theatre, which was recently destroyed by fire, is being rapidly cleared for the erection of another theatre, to be named "the Grand," and which, according to the plans prepared by Mr Frank Matcham, of Rugby-chambers, Bedford-row, is to be considerably larger than the old building. The total accommodation will be for 3,000 people, and the cost £10,000, the entire work to be completed. by March, 1883. To allow of this extra accommodation the space occupied by the billiard-rooms, the old bowling-seloon, and the side refreshment-bars will be utilised; whilst the elevation will afford greater box, balcony, and gallery room. The proposed dimensions are - from pit to ceiling, 75ft, ; from extremity of stage to outer wall of pit, 120ft. There will be orchestra stalls, pit stalls, and a pit measuring 54ft. by 68ft. The stage dimensions will be 52ft. by 51ft., and in the open portion 30ft. by 32ft. There will also be three tiers of stage boxes, and balcony, dress circle, and gallery; the refreshment saloons, smoking rooms, promenade, and necessary conveniences being on a level with the balcony. The total number of exits will be nine - five ordinary and four to be used is case of fire - whilst a recurrence of a disaster such as that which destroyed the Philharmonic will be guarded against by having staircases and floors of fire-proof concrete. There will be no wood flooring whatever. The front of the old building, facing High-street, which remained intact after the fire, will not be pulled down, but some extra embellishments are to be added. Mr Toms, builder, of Wellington-street, Camden-town, holds the contract, and there is little doubt but that Mr Charles Head, the freeholder of the old Philharmonic, who is responsible for the work, will see much greater success with a building of increased accommodation for stage effect and so large an auditorium.' - The ERA, 21st of October 1882.
As it turned out this would not be the first fire in a Theatre on this site, or the first rebuild, as each successive Theatre built on the site, except the last, would be destroyed by fire and then replaced by another. Altogether there would be three new 'Grand Theatres' built on the site and all three are now described in chronological order below.
The First Grand Theatre, High Street, Islington, 1883
The Grand Theatre, Islington, was built on the site of the former Philharmonic Hall, later the Philharmonic Theatre, and was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham. The Theatre opened on Saturday the 4th of August 1883, with a production of 'The Bright Future' by Sefton Parry.
Right - A programme for the play 'Jane Shore' by J. W. Boulding and R. Palgrave at the Grand Theatre, Islington on March the 15th, 1886, just 3 years after the Theatre first opened.
The ERA carried a report on the Theatre shortly before it opened, in their 28th of July 1883 edition saying: - 'This elegant new house, now near completion, has been' erected by Mr Charles Head, at a cost of nearly £15,000, upon the site of the old "Philharmonic," which was destroyed by fire, as our readers will remember, in September last. The theatre has been built from the designs of Mr Frank Matcham, the architect of the Royalty, Glasgow, the Elephant and Castle, London, and other well-known theatres; and the whole of the works in connection have been executed, under his personal superintendence, by Mr Toms, contractor, of Camden Town.
The building occupies the whole of the very extensive site, of which the old "Phil." only covered a part, the axis of the house being, reversed, and those portions of the site formerly appropriated by billiard-rooms, bowling saloons, refreshment bars, &c., being now absorbed into the very imposing and spacious house, of which both the owner and the lessees (Messrs Holt and Wilmot) may well be proud.
The house is entered, as before, from the High-street; but in place of the old, narrow, and inconvenient approaches, we find wide and handsome vestibules and corridors, and we note especially the crush-room and grand staircase forming the approach to the stalls, boxes, and first circle, with their convenient retiring-rooms and spacious refreshment saloons in immediate connection. We may also note the provision of a large and well-fitted smoking saloon, occupying the whole frontage on the first floor towards High-street, and in immediate connection with the refreshment saloon aforesaid. The creation of such wide approaches to the body of the house has necessarily called for the sacrifice of valuable space in other directions, and this call has been met by the absorption of a considerable portion of the space formerly occupied by the Swan public-house, now in course of re-erection from plans by the same architect.
The auditorium (which, it is said, will accommodate 3,000 persons) covers an area of about 70 ft. by 68 ft., and (independently of private boxes, of which there are six) comprises stalls, pit stalls, and a most ample pit on the ground floor or street level; a first tier consisting of dress circle and balcony, with a promenade in the rear; and a second tier, consisting of amphitheatre and a spacious gallery. A novel and most excellent improvement has been introduced into this theatre by the architect in the creation of a subway from one side of the house to the other under the stalls, so that the occupants of the stalls, boxes, and dress circle can pass from one side of the house to the other without disturbance or discomfort.
Left - The auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Islington - From a programme for the play 'Jane Shore' at the Theatre on March the 15th, 1886, just 3 years after the Theatre first opened.
We have already alluded to the refreshment and smoking saloons, retiring rooms, &c., appropriated for the use of the more expensive parts of the house, and need only note that every part of the theatre is adequately provided with similar accommodation, the pit in particular being specially well served by a very large saloon in immediate connection.
The auditorium has evidently been planned with the idea of giving every occupant thereof a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage, and we know from experience that this cannot be said of all our theatres. But what many will consider of more importance than this is the special care which has been devoted to the construction of the building as regards its ability to resist fire and to the equally important question of exits. Fortunately the architect has been able to avail himself of streets and rights of way on both sides of the building, and has therefore provided such direct outlets from the building as few theatres possess, and such as would suffice to clear the house of its audience, and the stage and property rooms, &c., of their occupants in a very short space of time. The staircases and landings are executed in solid concrete, and are enclosed with brick walls, the doors either open outwards or swing both ways as required, and we are assured and can see that no pains have been spared on the part of the architect, or cost on the part of Mr Head, to make the house a model one in all respects.
The decoration of the theatre, and the fibrous plaster work in the ceilings and box and circle fronts &c., have been executed by Mr Boekbinder from the architect's designs, and under his supervision.
The ceiling, in the form of an octagon, has a dome in the centre round which a large enriched moulding runs, ingeniously divided into sixteen lozenge-shaped openings, from which as many small incandescent lights are suspended. These will materially aid to illuminate the eight large painted panels with subjects from the Muses, and illustrative of music, dance, astronomy, drama, poetry, tragedy, and history. The smaller triangular panels between these paintings are exquisitely designed and modelled in relief, and on these are painted the names of eight English authors and composers, viz., Sheridan, Bishop, Goldsmith, Balfe, Bulwer, Wallace, Byron, and Bennett. The whole of this work is bordered by a handsome enriched frame, forming four spandrels with flowers, from which electric lights again are suspended.
Right - Details from a programme for the play 'Jane Shore' by J. W. Boulding and R. Palgrave at the Grand Theatre, Islington on March the 15th, 1886, just 3 years after the Theatre first opened.
The smaller ceiling over the auditorium consists of three beautifully painted subjects, between which two electric lights are shown. This novel way of distributing the light over the house is very successfully shown in the gallery and balcony fronts, which are very rich, and have been specially designed to contain the incandescent lamps.
The proscenium part of the house is divided in the two sets of boxes by a large column, on the top of which stands a figure, 8ft. in height, with outspread wings, supporting the soffite dividing the two ceilings. The prevailing tone is cream and gold.
The staircases, landings, and fireproof floors, &c., have been executed by Messrs Drake and Co., concrete builders, who have also erected the very handsome solid concrete framing to the proscenium opening. This is a very novel feature, its great merit being its absolutely fireproof character, forming, as it does, a continuous and solid border round the opening, with nothing for fire to obtain a hold upon, and presenting an impassible barrier between the stage and the decorative features of the auditorium.
The stage is a large one, exceeding in area those of most of even the largest of the London houses; and has been most thoroughly fitted up with all its machinery and accessories and the latest improvements.
We can see that no expense has been spared to render it perfect, and to enable the enterprising lessees to place plays and spectacles upon the stage in such a manner as to satisfy the most fastidious; whilst the artists engaged have been studied in the ample accommodation made for their comfort, each of the spacious dressing-rooms and the ballet-room being provided with an ample supply of water.
Left - Details from a programme for the play 'Jane Shore' by J. W. Boulding and R. Palgrave at the Grand Theatre, Islington on March the 15th, 1886, just 3 years after the Theatre first opened.
The house, as we have said, is lighted in part by electricity, by the Hammond company, gas being utilised for the sunlights and stage purposes, &c. The gas work has been executed by Messrs Z. D. Berry and Sons.
Ample provision has been made for the extinction of fire, the hydrants, &c., having been provided by Messrs Merryweather. Efficient ventilation for all parts of the house has been provided, Messrs Boyle's ventilators being utilised for the extraction of foul air, and special air-conduits have been laid down for the introduction of fresh air to every part of the auditorium.
The furnishing and upholstery of the interior have been intrusted to Messrs Maple, of Tottenham court road, who have executed the Work in a very satisfactory manner from the architect's directions, the result being such a combination of elegance and comfort as reflects credit upon all concerned; and we may congratulate Messrs Holt and Wilmot upon having one of the finest theatres in the country.
Right - The back page of a programme for the play 'Jane Shore' by J. W. Boulding and R. Palgrave at the Grand Theatre, Islington on March the 15th, 1886, just 3 years after the Theatre first opened.
As already stated the house will be opened on Saturday next with the happily-named piece The Bright Future, from the pen of Mr Sefton Parry; and in September Miss Minnie Palmer will appear in My Sweetheart, in which just now she is meeting with such great favour in the provinces. After that the managers promise an Irish drama by Mr G. F. Rowe, entitled The Donagh; a powerful drama by Mr A. C. Calmour; and a piece called Racing - in Eight Furlongs, by Mr G. H. Mackdermott.
The managers have arranged with G. H. Tipper, of the Golden Fleece, Queen-street, Cheapside, late manager of the Criterion, Piccadilly, and late proprietor of the Café de Paris and Haymarket Theatre, Melbourne, to take the whole of the handsome and commodious saloons, smoking lounges, and refreshment rooms, which will be under his personal supervision.' - The ERA, July 28th, 1883.
This first Grand Theatre, Islington opened on Saturday the 4th of August 1883, but like its predecessor, the Philharmonic Theatre, formerly the Philharomic Hall, the Grand Theatre was destroyed by fire, and this time only 4 years after being built. The fire occurred on the morning of Thursday the 29th of December 1887 after the evening performance of the packed out Christmas pantomime on the Wednesday night. The pantomime had been produced at a considerable cost, £6,000, and had been scheduled to run for at least 9 weeks. Mr. Wilmot, the manager of the Theatre, and his wife and 3 children were staying in the Theatre when the fire broke out but luckily were rescued in time. Such was the fierceness of the fire though that the back wall of the Theatre eventually collapsed and crashed down on the stables of the London General Omnibus Company which was situated behind the Theatre. The stableman, Henry Fairclough, was badly hurt by the collapse and eventually had to have one of his legs amputated in hospital. Many horses were also injured and several were killed by the collapsing Theatre. A relief fund was very quickly set up by the pantomime's author, Charles Townley, otherwise known as Geoffrey Thorn, to aid the 240 people working on the production whose employment had been so suddenly cut off, but how the Omnibus Company and its stableman, and several other property owners affected by the fire faired financially is not so clearly stated in the press of the time.
The Second Grand Theatre, Islington, 1888
Above - A sketch of the facade of the Grand Theatre, Islington in 1888.
Undeterred by the destruction of the first Grand Theatre, the Theatre's owners, Holt and Wilmot, who had run the previous one since its opening in 1883, immediately set about rebuilding the Theatre again. Frank Matcham was drafted in again to do the redesign and the Grand Theatre reopened a year later on the 1st of December 1888 with a production from the Princess's Theatre in Oxford Street, of 'The Still Alarm'.
The ERA reported on the newly built Grand Theatre in their 1st of December 1888 edition saying: - 'The new Grand Theatre, Islington, which reopens to-night with a performance by the company from the Princess's Theatre of The Still Alarm, is one of the best-planned houses in London, the arrangements both before and behind the curtain being thoroughly practical and convenient. On Thursday the decorations of the interior were sufficiently completed to allow of invitations being issued for a private view of the house.
The auditorium is of a broad lyre-shape, There is an ample pit, a good dress circle, and a large gallery and amphitheatre, the house being constructed to seat about 3,000. The prevailing tints are duck's-egg green, cream, and terra cotta, with heavy gilt mouldings and reliefs, the upholstery being of crimson velvet. The proscenium is composed of a frame of polished marble of a creamy brown colour, with gold shields at the upper corners. Standing on the stage and facing the auditorium, the large skylight above the gallery cannot be overlooked. It is used for lighting the auditorium during the day, and for ventilation in the evening, having, in it, eight opening frames. In case of a fire, this large space above the gallery would greatly diminish the risk of that suffocation with carbonic acid gas to which has been attributed the loss of so many lives.
The dome is strikingly handsome, eight graceful pilasters in gold rising to the angles of a richly-ornamented square containing the circle of stained glass described by us last week, with the sunlight in its centre. Between the private boxes on each side of the house rises a fine column, with a capital on the level of the upper tier, above which another capital, handsome and deeply moulded, is supported by a white half-length figure. Three Cupids in a group stand at the base of each of these columns, between dress circle and private boxes. There is a large plate-glass mirror in a scrolled frame at either end of the dress circle. The amphitheatre and pit-stalls, as well as the stalls themselves, are upholstered in marone velvet. The ceiling and the front of the balconies are studded with electric lights in ground globes. The design of the ceiling includes scrolls bearing in letters of gold the names of dramatists and musicians.
The stage, which is much more capacious than that of the late house, is very lofty, the "gridiron " being one of the largest in London. It is fitted with all modern appliances. Over the proscenium are three lunettes of classic groups. In the centre Thalia and Melpomene illustrate the drama; Clio and Euterpe stand for music; and Erato and Terpsichore for dancing. The whole of the decorations are in the Louis XV. style. The curtain, like the draperies of the boxes, is of crimson velvet, and the act-drop, painted by Mr Richard Douglass, represents Actaeon discovering Diana at her bath, and fleeing, partly transformed to a stag, pursued by his dogs. The main entrance leads to a crush-room decorated in the Singalese style, and from thence a handsome staircase leads to the dress circle tiers. The exits are very numerous, and there are capacious dressing-rooms and a fine green-room. - The ERA, 1st of December 1888.
This newly rebuilt Grand Theatre opened a year after the former had been destroyed by fire, on the 1st of December 1888 with a production from the Princess's Theatre in Oxford Street, of 'The Still Alarm'. However, despite Matcham's revised plans for the new Grand Theatre, which included constructing every availiable surface out of concrete, this Theatre too, like all its predecessors, would also be devastated by fire, this time on Monday the 26th of February 1900.
The fire broke out on the Monday morning and the Theatre, which had been staging the Drury Lane drama 'Hearts are Trumps' the previous week, was being prepared for the evening's performance. This play had an avalanche scene which had lighting effects which required gas battens to be used above the stage. It was when these battens were relit in the morning that the fire broke out after escaped gas suddenly exploded. The stage was quickly engulfed by fire which soon spread throughout the Theatre. By the time the fire had been put out the stage and band room beneath had been completely gutted, as were the property docks, and paint rooms. The dressing rooms survived but were damaged by heat and smoke. The auditorium seating was destroyed and its decorations blackened although the structure of the circles survived, as did the bars and offices which were only smoke and water damaged.
The Third Grand Theatre, Islington, 1900
Above - A Postcard depicting the third
Grand Theatre, Islington in 1903
You might think after all the previous fires on this site that the owners would have been deterred from yet another rebuild but fires were common in Theatres in those days and the owners had soon re-engaged Frank Matcham again to redesign the Theatre once more. This as it turned out would not be the last fire in the Grand, Islington, but it would be the last major rebuild of the Theatre.
The new Grand Theatre was opened by the end of the year on Boxing Day, the 26th of December 1900 with a production of the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe', and the ERA were on hand yet again to report on the building in their 22nd of December 1900 edition saying: - 'The rebuilding of this theatre after the fire in February last is now accomplished, and in its new form will be opened on Boxing Day, with the pantomime of Robinson Crusoe. The work has been carried out from the plans and under the supervision of Mr Frank Matcham, the well-known theatrical architect, who also designed the original Grand.
The principal features of the new building are the increased facilities for exits. The old Grand was already well supplied, but to comply with the wishes of the County Council, these have been considerably augmented, and, in fact, almost doubled, and there is no doubt that the last edition of the Grand Theatre stands unrivalled in the question of egress. The whole frontage to Torrens-buildings has been pulled down, and no less than four new staircases and exits built from different parts of the auditorium, and, in addition, entirely new exits from the dressing-rooms and stage have been provided.
The auditorium, which already possessed the very best sight lines, has been reconstructed much on the old plan, with the exception that the upper part of the private boxes has been removed, and the space thrown into the amphitheatre, giving extra seating accommodation. The whole of the seating on the ground floor has been rearranged, and is now set out in curves eo that everyone directly faces the stage. There are five rows of luxurious tip-up seats in the orchestra stalls, and seven rows of pit stall seats upholstered in velvet, and twelve rows of comfortable pit seats. There are six handsomely furnished and draped private boxes on the sides of the proscenium, and the latter is fitted up with copper plush tableau curtains and valence to match the box draperies. The whole of the stalls and dress circle are handsomely carpeted, and the floors of the upper circle and pit stalls are covered with thick warm cork carpet, the prevailing colour being a warm terra-cotta. Additional retiring rooms, fitted with every convenience, are provided for all parts of the house. Additional hydrants are fully equipped, and an asbestos fireproof curtain now separates the stage from the auditorium.
The stage remains as before, the dressing-rooms have been rearranged and improved, and the large scene dock and scenery store, and painting-rooms, at the side of the stage, which were completely burnt out, have been re-erected, but of concrete and iron construction, and certainly the word "safety " occurs to anyone that inspects this practically new building.
The stage has been relaid and the mechanism renewed, it is fitted up with all the latest improvements, and is certainly second to none in perfection. The whole of the stage, dressing-rooms, and auditorium is entirely lighted by electricity, supplemented with gas. The theatre is heated by hot-water pipes and coils, in fact, the comfort of the audience has been considered in every particular.
The auditorium has been entirely re-decorated from the
architect's bold and striking designs, the
ceiling being pannelled and filled with artistically hand-painted pictures
after the period of Louis XIV., and is one of the handsomest in London;
artistic paintings have also been introduced in the panel over the proscenium
and sides of the dress circle. The contract for the rebuilding has been
carried out by Messrs Dearing and Sons, whilst the decorations have
been executed by Messrs F. De Jong and Co. The upholstery, draperies,
&c., have been carried out by Messrs Lazarus and Sons, and the electric
lighting by Messrs Taylor and Co., the gas by Messrs Vaughan and Brown,
the hydrants and the new fireproof curtains and hot water-heating have
been carried out by Messrs Oldroyd and Co., of Leeds,
and Mr Phillipps has acted as clerk of works. Robinson Crusoe; or,
Harlequin Man Friday, Gal Topsy, and Pretty Polly Hopkins is the
title of the Grand pantomime. The book is
from the pen of Mr Geoffrey Thorn, that able and prolific author of
popular pantomime words; and, under the personal supervision of Mr Thorn,
Mr J. M. Jones (who will be the clown of the show) has arranged most
of the details; whilst Mr W. T. Glidden is responsible for the music.
- The ERA, 22nd of December 1900.
This third Grand Theatre, Islington opened on Boxing Day, the 26th of December 1900 with a production of the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe' but would yet again be cursed by fire on its very first opening day. The event would be neatly summed up by the Huddersfield Daily when they reported on the fire the following day, saying: - 'Nearing the end of the first performance of "Robinson Crusoe" at the Grand Theatre, Islington, on Wednesday, a fire broke out. From all parts of the house an alarm was raised. All present rose to their feet as large pieces of inflammable material were seen dropping from flies. The fire-proof curtain was promptly lowered, and the band struck up the National Anthem. The actors and actresses crowded into the stage boxes. Mr. Jones, playing "Friday," clambered on to the stage from the front and appealed to the audience not to rush for the doors as there was no danger. Then Mr. Charles Townley, the author, came forward explaining that the management, owing to the electric installations not being completed, had used gas batten, and one of the sky borders had unfortunately caught fire. The officials had shown their efficiency by the celerity with which the fire had been extinguished. This is the fourth fire that has occurred at this theatre, and Wednesday's was the first performance given since the building was gutted some few months back. - The Huddersfield Daily, 27th December 1900.
Thankfully the fire was quickly put out and the performance continued, and the Theatre would go on to stage pantomime, drama, and variety productions until it was renamed the Islington Empire in 1908.
The Islington Empire, 1908
Also known as - The Islington Palace / Islington Empire Cinema
Above - The Islington Empire decked out with bunting and flags to celebrate the coronation of George VI in May 1937 - Showing at the Theatre at the time was the 1936 film 'The Case of the Black Cat' - Photo Courtesy Alan Towill whose father, Albert C. Towill, worked as a Maintenance Man at the Theatre at the time.
In 1912 the Theatre was renamed again, this time to the Islington Palace, run by Charles Guliver. The Theatre was however later renamed back to the Islington Empire again.
Right - The Islington Empire decked out with bunting and flags to celebrate the coronation of George VI in May 1937 - Courtesy Alan Towill whose father, Albert C. Towill, worked as a Maintenance Man at the Theatre at the time.
The Empire later became a Cine Variety Theatre, still with the Islington Empire name, and then in 1932 it was turned over to full time Cinema use and was taken over by the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain in 1938.
Above - The Islington Empire is decked out with bunting and flags to celebrate the coronation of George VI in May 1937 - Courtesy Alan Towill whose father, Albert C. Towill, worked as a Maintenance Man at the Theatre at the time and is pictured up the flag pole in these photographs.
Above - Taking a break from decking out the Islington Empire with bunting and flags for the coronation of George VI in May 1937 - Courtesy Alan Towill whose father, Albert C. Towill, worked as a Maintenance Man at the Theatre at the time and is shown (right) in the photograph.
Above - The Theatre Managers at entrance to the Islington Empire in the 1930s - Courtesy Alan Towill
ABC closed the Cinema after the last showing of the films 'Spinster' and 'A Matter of Who' on the 10th of March 1962. The Auditorium was then quickly demolished and the site used as a car park, leaving only some of the exterior walls and facade still standing. Indeed the entrance of the former Theatre became the entrance to the car park, and the rear wall of the stage could still be seen at the back of the car park.
Above - The Islington Empire, in 1962 having closed after being used as a cinema for a number of years. The Theatre was demolished shortly after this photo was taken - Photo courtesy Peter Charlton.
The facade of the Theatre was finally demolished in 1981 so that a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland could be built on the site, and so ended the long history of entertainment on this site, beginning with the Philharmonic Hall way back in 1860.
Right - A Google Streetview image of the site of the former Islington Empire today - Click to Interact.
Some of the information on the final years of the Empire was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website. Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.
If you have any more information or images for any of the Theatres mentioned on this page that you are willing to share please Contact me.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: