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Theatres and Halls in South Shields

Theatre Royal - Empire Palace Theatre / Thornton's Theatre of Varieties - Royal Assembly Hall / The Scala / Gaumont Cinema - Palace Theatre - Grand Electric Theatre - Queen's Theatre - Royal Alhambra Music Hall

 

The Theatre Royal, 14 King Street, South Shields

A period postcard showing the High Street, South Shields, with the Theatre Royal and Empire Theatre to the right - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - A period postcard showing the High Street, South Shields, with the Theatre Royal and Empire Theatre to the right - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Photograph showing what remains of the Frontage of the Theatre Royal, South Shields (above Marks & Spencer) and the Empire Palace (above Shoefare) in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.There were two Theatres constructed next to each other on King Street, South Shields in the late 1800s. The first to be built was the Theatre Royal which opened on Monday the 21st of May 1866 with a production of the comedy 'Extremes'. The second was the Empire Palace which opened in February 1899. Both Theatres have since been gutted internally and converted into shops although their Front Elevations and parts of the rear of each building do still exist externally.

Right - A Photograph showing what remains of the Frontage of the Theatre Royal, South Shields (above Marks & Spencer) and the Empire Palace (above Shoefare) in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.

The Theatre Royal was designed by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps with T. M. Clemence of South Shields who had won a competition to build the new Theatre, which opened on Monday the 21st of May 1866. The ERA reported on the opening in their 24th of May 1866 edition saying:- 'The new Theatre of South Shields was opened last Monday, and formally devoted to the service of the Dramatic Muse. When the green curtain was drawn up, and the full brightness of the sunlight poured down, revealing the minuteness and beauty of the decorations, and the absolute loveliness of the drop-scene, there was a general burst of applause from all parts of the house.

Of the decorations we have already spoken, and would only say further here that they far more than merit any praise they have received. But the drop-scene we cannot pass without adding a word of hearty commendation. It is no mere piece of scenic painting; it is a real picture, and displays some of the highest qualities of artistic power. Though of the stage; it is not at all stagey; there is no fierce glare of colour, no straining after effect, and yet, though quiet and simple, it is withal a most effective piece of workmanship. Nor is it only so at a distance; it will bear a minute inspection, and a closer knowledge of it only heightens the admiration for its excellence. We have seen many such scenes, but never one to surpass it. In connection with this we may notice the scenery, which has been painted in the Theatre by Messrs. Horn and Wood, the scenic artists. In speaking of this we are sure we are but echoing the opinion of all who were present on Monday night in saying that it is deserving of very great praise for the tastefulness of its execution and its admirable finish.

Altogether the house gave the utmost satisfaction, and fully warranted all that had been said in its favour. But it is time we were noticing the proceedings of the evening. The doors were opened a little before the appointed time, and, though there was no rush for places, the visitors came dropping in pretty steadily till the house was well filled, more particularly in the dress circle. The piece selected for the opening night was the comedy, Extremes, supported by the following cast: - Frank Hawthorne, Mr. W. Reeve; Hon. Angustus Adolphus, Mr. Conway; Dr. Playfair; Mr. C. Morgan; Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Downes; Robin Wildbriar, Mr. Mark Moss Mellor; Adolphus, Mr. C. Pierce; James, Mr. Bernard; Mrs. Vavasour, Miss M Montague; Mrs. Wildbriar, Miss Thomassin; Jenny Wildbriar, Miss Clara Wood; Miss Euphemia, Miss A. Norman. The piece was exceedingly well put upon the stage, and was most favourably received. Amongst the successful debuts of the night were those of Miss Montague, Miss Wood, and Miss Thomassin, whilst Mr. Reeve and Mr. Mellor fairly carried off the honours among the gentlemen.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the ERA, 24th May 1866.

The Theatre opened on Monday the 21st of May 1866 and on its opening could accommodate 1,560. The stage dimensions in 1866 were stated as being 31 feet deep by 54 feet wide.

In 1887 the Theatre was refurbished for its then Lessee Thomas Appleby, and reopened on Monday the 29th of August with a production of W. S. Gilbert's 'Pygmalion and Galatea', and rounded off with the comedy-drama 'The Spitalfield's Weaver' with Thomas Appleby in the title role. The Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph reported on the changes in their 30th of August 1887 edition saying:- 'Under most auspicious circumstances the Theatre Royal, South Shields, was re-opened last night. During the past three months it has been closed for cleaning and redecoration. That the various firms entrusted with this work have employed their time profitably is evident, for every part of the building bears a bright and clean aspect. The staicases have been re-papered and painted while that leading to the dress circle has been transformed from a dingy passage into a dramatic picture gallery. Speaking portraits of Henry Irving, J. L. Toole, Charles Wyndham, W. Calder, our own lamented Younge, and a host of other stars of the theatrical profession hang upon the walls. These are surrounded by photographs of the new lessee in his chief characters.

On entering the theatre proper an artistic scene presents itself. The front of the gallery and dress circle has been painted in French grey, picked out with vermilion and gold, while the velvet cushions running along the top of the latter have been partially hidden from view by deep lace. The private boxes have been painted and the brass work relaquered. These improvements, together with the new curtains, give them a charming appearance.

Descending to the pit we find that the comfort at the "gods" has not been overlooked. Instead of the old forms, with stalls in front, the whole has been refitted with backed seats, a much-needed and too-long-delayed improvement. It may here be mentioned that the upholstery work has been done by Mr Walter Ross, the painting and paper-hanging by Mr B. Moss, and the plumbing by Messrs J. L. Hall and Sons, while Mr and Mrs Appleby have superintended the whole.

Turning to the stage, a beautiful new act drop meets the eye. It is by Mr C. H. Maltby and represents a view in the New Zealand lake district. The stage scenery we shall refer to in another place. Suffice is to say that it has been painted by Messrs Maltby, Lockett, and Hillyard, and is of the highest order. The orchestra is under the direction of Mr J. Lake, and Mr H. H. Harold is stage manager.'

The rear of the South Shields Theatre Royal in 2008 - Courtesy John West.The above text in quotes was first published in the Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph, 30th August 1887 - Kindly sent in by Trevor Dudley.

The Theatre Royal, South Shields ceased as an entertainment venue in 1933 and nothing but the facade and parts of the exterior appears to remain today, however, the Theatre's remaining Facade was Grade II Listed in 1983.

Right - The rear of the South Shields Theatre Royal and Empire Theatre in 2008 - Courtesy John West who writes: 'The roof line adjacent to the left is almost certainly the gallery roof line of the old Theatre Royal. According to the Theatres Trust no-one has investigated to see if any theatrical remains are in evidence.'

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Empire Theatre, King Street, South Shields

Formerly - Thornton's Theatre of Varieties - Later - The Empire Palace / Empire Theatre of Varieties / Black’s Regal Cinema / Odeon Cinema

A period postcard showing the High Street, South Shields, with the Theatre Royal and Empire Theatre to the right - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - A period postcard showing the High Street, South Shields, with the Theatre Royal and Empire Theatre to the right - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Programme for 'Paddy The Next Best Thing' at the South Shields Empire on Monday, March the 20th, 1922. The South Shields Empire Theatre was built by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, in association with William and T. R. Milburn, and opened with a variety show on Monday the 13th of February 1899. The Theatre was constructed next door to the earlier, 1866, Theatre Royal on King Street, and built on the site of the former Thornton's Theatre of Varieties, which was originally constructed in 1892 by John Biddick. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at Thornton's Theatre of Varieties on May the 12th 1892.

Right - Programme for 'Paddy The Next Best Thing' at the South Shields Empire on Monday, March the 20th, 1922.

The remaining Facade of the South Shields Empire in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.The new Empire's layout was quite unusual in that the Entrance and Foyer were situated on King Street but the auditorium, which originally accommodated 3,000 people, and the stage, were in another block separated by a narrow street. The Stalls of the Theatre was thus reached by a tunnel from the Foyer, and the Balcony, which was situated on the first floor, was reached by a bridge from the King Street Entrance. However, the Gallery was reached from its own entrance at the rear of the building.

Left - The remaining Facade of the South Shields Empire in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.

The ERA reported on the New Empire Theatre in their 4th of February 1899 edition saying:- 'The work in connection with the above building is now almost complete, and on Monday week it will be opened with a capital variety company, when it will be seen that Mr Richard Thornton has provided the public of South Shields with one of the best up-to-date theatres in the country. It has been erected on the site of the old Variety Theatre in Union-alley, from designs prepared by Mr Frank Matcham, theatrical architect, London. The old public-house at the side of the hail has been removed, and a great portion of the ground included in the auditorium of the new theatre. A new public-house of modern design has been erected at the corner of the site.

The greatest improvement in the new scheme is the new entrance to the building from King-street. Mr Thornton, acting on the advice of Mr Matcham, acquired shop premises in the High-street, which continued back into Union-alley, and immediately opposite the old theatre. These premises have been entirely pulled down, and on the site a new entrance has been formed with a fine, boldly designed façade to King-street. A grand vestibule is a feature of the entrance, and from it two marble stair-cases ascend to a large crush room, from which another very wide marble staircase gives access to a foyer, which is in reality a wide bridge, spanning the alley at the back, and leading direct into the rear of the dress-circle. This bridge forms a shelter to the patrons of the pit, who enter immediately under it.

Over the grand entrances from King-street is a large buffet - a very handsome apartment, with a tall domed ornamental ceiling. The panels are filled with paintings, the walls richly papered, the floor is polished, and the room is fitted with luxurious settees, and lighted by a large mahogany-framed bay window, opening on to a balcony over the frontage. The offices that adjoin this room are approached from a separate staircase on the right, where a large pay-office is placed. The whole of this entrance is boldly treated, richly decorated, brilliantly illuminated with the electric light, which, with three large arc lamps in the front, will give a bright and attractive effect at night...

John West's Conjectural drawings of the King Street Entrance Elevation of the South Shields Empire Theatre - Courtesy John West September 2008.

Above - John West's Conjectural drawings of the King Street Entrance Elevation of the South Shields Empire Theatre - Courtesy John West, September 2008, who writes: ' Here is my conjectural drawing of Frank Matcham's South Shields
Empire as it may have looked when opened in 1899. It would have looked better than the shop there today. After its cinema conversion a contemporary picture shows a ticket office projecting into the street, where the centre pair of doors are drawn.

...It will thus be seen that Mr Thornton intends to cater well, not only for his old pit and gallery patrons, but for an increase of the higher price-paying public, and for this purpose a fine grand circle and orchestra stalls have been provided in the auditorium, fitted up with luxurious tip-up seats and carpeted. There are only four private boxes on the circle level, with a capital view of the stage, in fact, not only here, but also in the pit (which has a splendid rake) and the gallery, the public will have a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage, owing to the absence of the usual columns, the tiers being constructed on the cantilever principle.

The rear of the South Shields Empire Theatre in 2008 - Courtesy  John West.The ground floor is divided into pit and pit stalls, and orchestra stalls. There is a good promenade space here, and a raised lounge at the back. At the side of the stalls a small but prettily designed bar is provided. The pit bar is in the basement, approached by a wide staircase. At the rear of the grand circle, behind the promenade, is a large raised lounge, fitted as a buffet, and from here an excellent view of the stage is gained. The gallery is a large one, and is formed over the circle. A good bar is formed at the rear, and cloak rooms here, as in other parts, have been provided and fitted up with every convenience.

Left - The rear of the South Shields Empire Theatre in 2008 - Courtesy John West.

The safety of the audience has had every consideration, as on no floor do less than two exits occur, and these, owing to the peculiar levels of the ground, permit the circle and gallery audience to exit immediately on a level with their seats. There is a good stage and comfortable dressing-rooms, all well lighted and ventilated; in fact, the whole building is fitted with hot-water pipes and coils. A fireproof curtain separates the stage from the auditorium, both of which are provided with hydrants fully equipped for extinguishing an outbreak of fire. Patent panic bolts are fixed to all doors, and everything that experience can suggest has been provided to give South Shields a safety theatre. The decorations are rich in moulded work, and colours and gold, and of an Oriental character, being from Mr Matcham's own designs. The furnishing, carpets, and upholstery are on an unusually lavish scale, and Mr Thornton, with whom Mr Frank Allen is associated in the building, will, no doubt, have cause for congratulation on the completion of the undertaking.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 4th February 1899.

 

The remaining Facades of the Empire Palace (left) and the Theatre Royal (right), South Shields in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.The Empire Theatre opened with a variety show on Monday the 13th of February 1899.

By 1912 the Empire Theatre is stated as being able to accommodate 2,000 people, and the Stage dimensions by 1920 were stated as being 25 feet deep by 49 feet wide, with a proscenium width of 27 foot 6 inches.

In the 1930s the Empire Theatre was radically altered for Cinema use, as Black’s Regal Cinema, and only sections of the exterior walls were retained. The Cinema later became an Odeon and later still Bingo was introduced at the Theatre but this ceased in the 1970s.

Although parts of the structure still exist the site is now used for retail shops.

Right - The remaining Facades of the Empire Palace (left) and the Theatre Royal (right), South Shields in 2004 - Courtesy Gareth Price.

The Empire Theatre's remaining Facade has been Grade II Listed.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Royal Assembly Hall, Ocean Road and Mile End Road, South Shields

Later - The Scala Cinema / Gaumont Cinema / The Venue / Masons / Coyote Wild / Vibe

A period postcard showing Ocean Road, South Shields, with the Scala Cinema mid left - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - A period postcard showing Ocean Road, South Shields, with the Scala Cinema mid left - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

The Royal Assembly Hall / Scala / Gaumont tower which was part of the original stage block of the building.This building has had many structural changes over the years, and many name changes to go with it. The Building originally opened as a concert hall called the Royal Assembly Halls in 1889.

Like the Empire Theatre in King's Street, the Concert Hall also had a bridge over a minor road that led to its auditorium and stage block.

The back of the original South Shields Royal Assembly Hall entrance block in 2008, showing the bricked up scar where the bridge to the auditorium block used to be - Courtesy John West.Right - The Royal Assembly Hall / Scala / Gaumont tower which was part of the original auditorium and stage block of the building.

The original entrance to the Hall was the brick gabled building with the round arched window on Ocean Road that can be seen in the photograph below. The entrance was later changed when a new wider entrance block covered in fiancé tiles was built next door to the former entrance in 1938 when the building was converted into a Cinema called The Scala. The original entrance was then converted for retail use. Ironically the original entrance building still stands but the newer one has since been demolished and the site is now a retail Store.

Both entrances had a bridge to the auditorium block on the other side of a narrow alleyway but both have since been removed.

Left - The back of the original South Shields Royal Assembly Hall entrance block in 2008, showing the bricked up scar where the bridge to the auditorium block used to be - Courtesy John West.

 

The auditorium of the Scala, Ocean Road, South Shields after the circle had been added to the original concert hall - Courtesy John West.Right - The auditorium of the Scala, Ocean Road, South Shields after the circle had been added to the original concert hall - Courtesy John West, who says:-

'The projection room at the back was precariously bracketed off the back wall and has since been demolished.

The circle structure in the photograph looks to be early 2oth century concrete with plaster facings.

The original entrance was through a bridge to the right of the photograph. Later this was demolished and the circle was entered through the slips to the right of the screen.

The new foyer presumably, being in the position of the original concert platform/stage area.' - John West.

There is also an interesting engraving of the Assembly Hall here.

 

The back of the former South Shields Scala / Gaumont newer entrance block in 2008 showing the bricked up scar where the bridge to the Auditorium used to be - Courtesy John West.The Theatre was later renamed the Gaumont Cinema. An early postcard showing the Theatre as the Gaumont Cinema can be seen below.

The auditorium was later in use as a nightclub called The Venue, then Masons, then Coyote Wild, and is currently called Vibe.

Left - The back of the former South Shields Scala / Gaumont newer entrance block in 2008 showing the bricked up scar where the bridge to the Auditorium used to be - Courtesy John West.

 

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

 

A period postcard showing the Gaumont Cinema, South Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - A period postcard showing the Gaumont Cinema, South Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

The site of the original and later entrance to the Royal Assembly Hall, later the Scala / Gaumont Cinemas, South Shields in 2008 - Courtesy John West

Above - The site of the original and later entrance to the Royal Assembly Hall, later the Scala / Gaumont Cinemas, South Shields in 2008 - Courtesy John West - The original entrance was the red brick building with the arched window, and the later entrance was in the position that the Leveys store is in the photograph. A period photo of which can be found here.

 

The Queen's Theatre, South Shields

The Queen's Theatre, South Shields - Courtesy Alan Chudley

Above - The Queen's Theatre, South Shields - Courtesy Alan Chudley

The Queen's Theatre, South Shields was built in 1913 by W. T. Weir to the designs of Gibson & Stienlet and opened on the 4th of August that year. The Theatre was originally intended to be a playhouse called the Borough Theatre but the plans were changed and it was eventually built as a Cine-Variety Theatre called the Queen's with a large stage of 40 foot square and an auditorium capable of seating some 2,400 people.

An early photograph of Kitty McShane signed and dedicated to Fred Midley - Courtesy Roy StockdillThe Theatre was destroyed by bombs on the night of the 9th of April 1941 after a performance of 'Laughter After Dark' and was subsequently demolished.

Alan Chudley writes on Kitty McShane Productions; 'Having narrowly missed having their scenery and costumes destroyed during the war at the Palace Plymouth, and at the Metropole Bootle, they were to lose them here a few weeks later when the Queens was bombed. If that was not enough ill luck, they lost more scenery and costumes in a fire at the Bristol Hippodrome in 1948.' Alan Chudley.

Right - An early photograph of Kitty McShane signed and dedicated to Fred Midley - Courtesy Roy Stockdill who says: 'The dedication reads "To Freddie With Best Wishes, Kitty McShane, Mrs Lucan". You cannot make it out in the photo but when examined with a flashlight and a magnifying glass an imprint of a Liverpool photographer appears in the bottom right-hand corner where she has written over it. There is a date which appears to be 1926 and at that time my grandfather would still have been playing at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, though of course the photo could be one that Kitty had had taken in Liverpool previously for publicity purposes.'

There is more information and many images for the Queen's Theatre here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Palace Theatre, Frederick Street, South Shields

A period photograph showing the Palace Theatre, South Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - A period photograph showing the Palace Theatre, South Shields - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

The Palace Theatre in Frederick Street, South Shields was built in 1911.

The Theatre closed in 1961 and was subsequently demolished.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Grand Electric Theatre, Ocean Road, South Shields

The Grand Electric Theatre on Ocean Road, South Shields was built in 1910 as a Cinema, and is claimed to be South Shields' first purpose built Cinema. The name was changed to The Grand in 1931 but the following year the Theatre was destroyed by fire and subsequently demolished.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Royal Alhambra Music Hall, Coronation Street, South Shields

The Royal Alhambra Music Hall in South Shield's Coronation Street was a simple wooden building which was built between 1866 and 1868. The Hall was destroyed by fire ten years later in 1878, and the ERA reported on the event briefly in their 5th of May 1878 edition saying:- 'A Music Hall destroyed by fire – The Alhambra Music Hall and Amphitheatre at Milldam, South Shields, was last Saturday morning totally destroyed by fire, which broke out soon after the close of performance. The Alhambra is a large building and belongs to Mrs Siddall.' - The ERA, 5th of May 1878.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed in South Shields in 1892 and 1902.

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