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Decorations of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth

From the Builder, 3rd of June 1899 and other sources

An article on the decorations of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth - From the Western Daily Mercury, 2nd of November 1897 - Courtesy Adrain Bridgman.An article on the decorations of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth - From the Western Daily Mercury, 2nd of November 1897 - Courtesy Adrain Bridgman.Though these interesting examples of modern theatre decoration were quite recently executed, they are now no more, the new Palace Theatre at Plymouth, designed by Messrs. Wimperis and Arber, in which they were painted, having been destroyed by fire in December last. As the designs represent a very meritorious effort to give special point and interest to the decorations of a theatre, in connexion with the associations of the locality, we are glad to have an opportunity of preserving a record of them in our illustration pages.

Right - An article on the decorations of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth - From the Western Daily Mercury, 2nd of November 1897 - Courtesy Adrain Bridgman.

The artist is Mr. H. C. Brewer, the son of Mr. H. W. Brewer, whose architectural drawings and conceptions are so well known to our readers. The following is Mr. Brewer's description of the work :—

"These decorations were carried out to attract a local audience, whose interest was mainly connected with the British Navy. The four larger panels in the dome (Shown Below) represent the chief battles of the Navy. Facing the audience was ' The Destruction of the Spanish Armada;' on either side of it-' Lord-Howe's Victory of the First of June' and 'The Battle of Trafalgar ;' and 'Blake's Victory over Van Tromp' filled the fourth panel. The smaller panels represented 'The Great Harry,' first great battleship of the Navy ; 'The Victory, most famous ship of the Navy ; ' The Majestic,' one of the latest ironclads ; and. ' The Sancta Maria,' the ship in which Columbus discovered America...

The Dome of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth, when it first opened in September 1898 - From The Builder, 3rd June 1899.

Above - The Dome of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth, when it first opened in September 1898 - From The Builder, 3rd June 1899.

The frieze above the proscenium of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth, when it first opened in September 1898 - Ffrom The Builder, 3rd June 1899.

Above - The frieze above the proscenium of the Palace Theatre, Plymouth, when it first opened in September 1898 - Ffrom The Builder, 3rd June 1899.

The frieze above the proscenium arch (Shown Above) represents Queen Elizabeth knighting Drake, surrounded by the chief military and literary men of the period. Two Elizabethan ships filled the panels at either end of the frieze. These panels were carefully studied from an antiquarian point of view. They were executed on canvas prepared with an absorbent ground of zinc white, and were painted with a medium composed of copal, spirit, and wax. This medium gave them an absolutely smooth surface on which the dust could not settle, and which was capable of being repeatedly washed. The canvas was fixed on a surface of white lead mixed with varnish, which protected it from any injurious effect of the plaster. It had to be fixed immediately the plaster was set. The effect of the dome was greatly added to by the absence of the usual centre chandelier, the light being obtained by a row of electric lights placed on the ledge of the cornice, thus brilliantly lighting the dome without the source of light being visible."

The above information and Dome and Frieze images were first published in The Builder, 3rd of June 1899, and were kindly sent in for inclusion on the site by Adrian Bridgman.

Adrian Bridgman, who sent in the images and information on this page and worked backstage at the Plymouth Palace between 1979 and 1983, writes:- 'The decorative scheme seems to have been modified during the construction period. For example the three paintings intended for the arches (presumably above the main staircase) were used for three of the smaller panels in the dome above the auditorium. A drawing by Raffles Davison and a photo from 1899 in the William Gilhen collection, (image 12 here) suggest that the painting of the Black Prince at Crecy was originally displayed on the half landing of the main staircase.

A later photo confirms that this was replaced at some time by the Wellington meeting Blucher painting in the William Gilhen collection (Image 44 here) shows part of the "allegorical" painting above the proscenium which replaced the Drake frieze after the fire of 1898.' - Adrian Bridgman.