Theatres and Halls in Southport, Merseyside
Early Theatres in Southport -The Southport Theatre - The Opera House / Southport Pavilion - The Garrick Theatre - Essoldo Cinema - Mecca Bingo - The Pavilion Concert Hall / Pavilion Theatre / Albert Hall Palace of Varieties / Empire Theatre / The West End / Scala Theatre - The Pier Pavilion Theatre - The Cambridge Hall / Arts Centre / The Atkinson - The Little Theatre
See also in this area - Manchester Theatres - Oldham Theatres - Stockport Theatres - Salford Theatres - Theatre Royal, Hyde - Leigh Theatres - Wigan Theatres - Glossop Theatres - Rochdale Theatres - Ormskirk Theatres
Very little detailed information exists on Southports earliest Theatres. What was possibly the earliest custom made building for theatrical use opened in late 1821. This Theatre was a wooden structure situated at the rear of a building that would later be replaced by the present Scarisbrick Hotel. Evidence of what the Theatre was like could be ascertained from the report of a similar wooden structure of a slightly later date in Leigh Lancashire.
Two playbills regarding this Theatre have come to light. The earliest, dated September 17th 1823, (shown right) and advertises the building as New Theatre Southport. A second rare surviving Bill (shown below) shows that the building, 12 months later on 13th September 1824, was known as Theatre Southport.
Right - A Bill for 'Mountaineers; or Love and Madness', 'Cupid in the Cake Shop', and 'Spoil'd Cild' at the New Theatre, Southport in September 1823 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Attached to the playbills, when found, was a printed address given by a Mr R W Ashworth on August 28th 1823. This in appreciation of an Amateur Production, for charity, at the New Southport Theatre (Shown below).
The management would eventually move out of the wooden building into a safer and more permanent one in Southports Assembly Rooms.
Other entertainment venues came into being after Theatre Southport among these was a Theatre opened by a Mr Butterworth in 1845, this was situated behind the Union Hotel, and in 1846 another venue called the Royal Albion Theatre followed. A Mr W Newby opened a museum in the town in 1863; five years later he converted the building into a music hall known as The Royal Music Hall.
Four years later Mr Newby obtained a theatrical licence and the building was renamed the Bijou Theatre. The Theatre changed hands two years later and under the management of Mr J Malvern was renamed yet again to become the Vaudeville Theatre. The building would cease to be used as a Theatre shortly after this, due to increasing competition from newer attractions in the town.
Above - A Bill for a Benefit for Mr. Ormond consisting of a production of 'Othello', 'The Merchant of Venice', and 'Is He Jealous?' at the Theatre, Southport in September 1824. And an Address given by Mr R W Ashworth on August 28th 1823 in appreciation of an Amateur Production, for charity, at the New Southport Theatre - Courtesy George Richmond.
This article on Southport's Early Theatres was written for this
site by George Richmond in 2013 - Some of the information is Courtesy
the Crosby Archive.
Architect Mr B R Andrews
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Southport Theatre and Conference Centre - Click to Interact
Built to become part of the pre-existing Floral Hall Complex, by Raikes Construction, Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, and designed by their in-house architect, for Southport Corporation. Construction started in November 1972 and was completed in six and a half months at a cost of £264,000. The original complex has undergone a comprehensive remodelling and updating in recent years and is now called the Southport Theatre and Conference Centre. This short article will deal with the Theatre as originally built.
Constructed of stone with sections of brick and laid out lengthways to the promenade the building was described as being eminently suited for the purpose for which it was designed, but with no notable external or internal architectural features. The main entrance with three pairs of doors leading to a carpeted foyer extending to the left and terminating at the booking office. Opposite the entrance a broad staircase descends to a spacious foyer with access to the Floral Hall immediately on the left. To the right is the licenced bar and beyond this a wide corridor, lined with brick leads to the stairways up to large area in the centre of the auditorium midway between the stage and the rear of the house, where steps and wooden partitions divide the front portion of the seating from those at the rear on a stepped floor.
As originally seated the auditorium had a capacity of 1,650, each seat with a clear view of the stage. The colour scheme was in cerise and lilac, these colours to be found in the seating and the pleated fabric covering the side walls.
The stage is versatile with flying capability and an apron to cover the orchestra pit when this was not required. Lighting was provided from overhead battens, perches and spotlights situated in the projection / lighting room at the rear of the auditorium. The building was constructed for use as a full time Theatre or Cinema or Conference Hall as required, the proscenium being 50ft wide and capable of accommodating a wide cinemascope screen, so popular at that time.
Southports new Theatre was opened on 23rd May 1973 when the opening ceremony was performed by Alderman Harold Barber who was Chairman of Publicity and Attractions. The first star attraction to grace the stage and a great coup for Mr Barber was Marlene Dietrich with full London Orchestra under the direction of William Blezard and arrangements by Burt Bacharach. The price of seats for this Star attraction was from £1.10s to £3.00 incredible by todays standards! The Theatre has gone on to provide the people of Southport and the surrounding areas with top class entertainment up to the present day.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
The above article on the Southport Theatre was written for this site by George Richmond in 2016 - Information used in this article was kindly supplied by the Crosby archive.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Formerly - The Southport Pavilion
Architect - Mr Frank Matcham
Above - An early photograph of the Opera House, Southport - Courtesy The Crosby Archive
From the Era 1st. February 1890 - At last the directors of the Southport Pavilion have moved in the right direction. At the suggestion of their energetic manager, Mr J. Long, they have been prevailed upon to erect a new Theatre, and the old make-shift pavilion is to become a thing of the past. Mr Matcham, the well-known architect, has been instructed to submit a design for an elegant temple of the drama, and it is certain he will produce a building worthy of his reputation. - The Era 1st. February 1890.
As can be been seen from the reports on this page, the Winter Garden Pavilion, under various names, would outlive the Opera House.
The Era, 10th. May 1890 - New Theatre, Southport - Mr Frank Matchams plans for the new Theatre to be erected by the Winter Garden Company, Southport, Have been approved by the trustees. The new Theatre will have a frontage of 140ft. to Lord Street, and will be set back from the pavement, so as to get a depth for six handsome shops with showrooms over, a space being reserved in the centre for the principal entrance to the Theatre. The roof over these shops will be fireproof, and it is intended to lay out this space with plants and flowers, the whole forming a grand promenade for the occupants of the dress circle and stalls of the Theatre. The stage is to be a large one, dressing room accommodation is ample, and provided with every convenience. The auditorium will be very fine and spacious, fitted up in a luxurious manner, and handsomely decorated and illuminated with electric light. It is expected that building will commence shortly. - The Era, 10th. May 1890.
The Era of the 5th September 1891 - On the opening of The New Opera house, 7th. September 1891 - On the site of the old skating rink, situated between the entrance to the Winter Gardens and the Cheshire Line Railway Station, the Southport Pavilion and Winter Garden Company have erected the new Southport Opera House. The principal entrance is in the centre of the block. The roof of this is flat, surrounded by an ornamental iron railing, and is laid out with flowers, so as to form a promenade for the use of patrons of the more expensive parts of the house. Along the frontage is erected an ornamental glass and iron veranda, with a hood over the new carriage-drive to the entrance.
The style is Flemish, and the design is carried out in dark red bricks, with light brick and stone ornamentations. The façade to Lord Street is flanked by quaint gables and minarets, which, combined with the introduction of graffeto work, gives this part of the building a continental appearance.
The architect is Mr Frank Matcham, under whose personal supervision the New Opera House has been erected. The interior of the Theatre is equally attractive and novel in design. Entering through handsomely carved mahogany doors into two small lobbies on either side of the pay-office, the grand vestibule is reached. It is luxuriously decorated, and has a panelled plaster ceiling. The floor is laid in mosaic, and the doorways are hung in rich plush draperies. The stalls are approached from this vestibule through a similarly decorated crush room, from which a wide corridor serves as an extra emergency exit into the Winter Gardens. The grand staircase, 8ft. in width, leads from this vestibule to a large crush room, from which, by two stone staircases, the dress and upper circles are attained. The private boxes are also approached from this crush room, and there is a large and handsome foyer, with domed ceiling and casement windows, opening on to a balcony. The grand staircase is divided in the centre by ornamental bronze railings, with a marble pedestal surmounted by a bronze figure. Marble balusters and scrolls are introduced at the sides of the stairs. A passage under the front portion of the stage behind the orchestra enables persons to reach their places without disturbing those already seated. Two openings have been arranged on either side of the proscenium to enable artists to take their calls.
In the entrances no moveable barriers will be required, as separate passages lead to the pay offices, so that no crushing can take place, and the whole width of the exit is always free and uninterrupted. These entrances to the pit and gallery are situated at the rear of the auditorium. At a single pay office money is taken for these parts of the house. The Theatre is open on all sides, and the architect has thus had an opportunity of making more than the usual number of exits. The ground floor has four straight exits at each corner, all within a few feet of the outer air. The dress circle and upper circle have two separate exits by easy staircases. The gallery has two wide fireproof staircases leading from the corners of the promenade. The Theatre is connected to the Winter Gardens by a bridge which allows the patrons of the best parts of the house to promenade in the fernery and other parts of the building.
There are seven rows of richly upholstered tip up chairs in the stalls, and the same number in the dress circle. The pit seats are covered in Utrecht velvet. The upper circle is similarly upholstered, and is divided with polished brass arms. The comfort of the gallery has not been forgotten. There are six private boxes on each side of the stage; these are handsomely draped with plush velvet. The decorations are Elizabethan in style. The proscenium border is rich in ornament, having marble slabs at the sides and a panelled frieze over it. The private boxes are divided by pilasters and columns carried up the sides of the upper circle, with deeply recessed arches. The flat portion of the ceiling is divided into three parts and filled in with panelling; the fronts of circles are rich in ornament, the prevailing colours being gold and cream. Figure paintings are placed over the proscenium and on the sides of the same. The Theatre is fitted with electric light, supplemented by gas, and the former has been introduced in a novel and decorative manner. The stage is 50ft. deep and about 80ft. wide, with large scene docks and property rooms on each side. The high to the gridiron is sufficient for the scenery and the act drop to be taken up without rolling. There is a fireproof asbestos curtain.
The dressing rooms are placed at the rear of the stage, the entrance to which is by a wide fireproof staircase. The comforts of the artists have received careful consideration, their rooms being fitted with dressing-tables and hot and cold water being laid on, the floors being covered with carpet. Balconies are provided for smoking and escape in case of fire. The whole building is warmed by hot water pipes and coils. The drop scene has been painted by Mr Hemsley. The opening is fixed for Monday, with The Dancing Girl by M Van Bienes Company including Miss Katie Vaughan direct from her success at the Haymarket as the attraction. - The ERA, 5th. September 1891.
The Opera House became part of the Southport Winter Gardens, a Victorian entertainment complex. The original scheme comprised of a Concert Hall seating 2,500, an aquarium, and conservatory promenades and halls situated under an iron and glass structure. The Winter Gardens opened on 16th September 1874, on what was then the sea front at Southport. The building is in the form of two pavilions connected by a covered promenade designed by Maxwell & Tuke of Manchester.
The opera house was built on part of the Winter Garden complex previously used as a roller skating rink. The Opera House was a great success and had many well-known performers there, including Ellen Terry, Matheson Lang, and Sir Henry Irving.
Sadly in December 1929 a fire raged through the building completely destroying it. Footage can be seen of the aftermath of the fire on the British Pathe Website here. A new Theatre called the Garrick Theatre was later built on the Opera House site in 1932, see below.
This article on the Southport Opera House was written for this site
by George Richmond in 2013.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later - The Essoldo Cinema / Essoldo Bingo / Lucky 7 / Ladbrokes / Top Rank / Mecca Bingo
Architect - George Edward Tong
Above - The Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst in Bingo use - Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
The Garrick Theatre was built in 1932, at the cost of around £120,000, on the site of Frank Matchams Opera House which was destroyed by fire in 1929. The Garrick was designed by the architect George Edward Tong. He designed the Towns largest and finest Cinemas and Theatres from 1911 to 1938. Originally he favoured the classical style but later became interested in the Art Deco movement.
Right - An early programme cover for the Garrick Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond.
Left - Architect of the Garrick Theatre, Southport, George Edward Tong - Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
The Theatre was commissioned by local businessman Mr George Rose and his partners who together formed the Southport Theatre Company which purchased the former Opera House site for the new Theatre. The clients' brief to Mr Tong was to create a building of exceptional beauty and quality to provide a home for live entertainment that would rival the new atmospheric cinemas then being built around the country to house the massively popular talkies.
The building, situated on the corner of Lord Street and Kingsway, could be accessed on all four elevations, the Lord Street front being the principal façade.
Above - The Stage House and main elevation of the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst in Bingo use - Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
The facades were executed in rustic brick with stone dressings. The two main fronts are connected not by a right-angle but by an elegant curve and the long windows on this curve are separated by art deco pilasters resembling in shape New Yorks Empire State Building. Contained behind this feature is a winding staircase giving access to some parts of the house, principally the back crush hall of the rear circle. Between the two three story elevations situated at each end of the Lord Street Façade, at second floor level, is an open loggia intended for the use of patrons, during the more clement months, to stroll and take their drinks before the performance and during the interval. A gesture perhaps by Mr Tong to a similar feature on Mr Matchams lost Opera House of 1891. Canopies were provided to shelter patrons whilst waiting to gain entrance, the one over the principal entrance being at a higher level than the rest and embellished with an art deco pediment.
Right - A programme cover for the Garrick Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond.
All the principal windows are in an art deco design and contribute greatly to the visual interest of the exterior. A number of the principal ones run through more than one floor.
Several shop units were provided at ground floor level on the Lord Street front.
A large entrance foyer provides access to the stalls and at the far end of the foyer a double staircase gives easy access to the circle levels. A small anti foyer houses the pay box.
Left - Art Deco Windows situated in one of the Garrick Theatre, Southport's staircases - Courtesy George Richmond.
Front of house provided a number of spaces for the comfort of patrons, chief amongst these were the Garrick Lounge for the use of all patrons and the Garrick Club. This was a special room close to the Star dressing rooms located on the Lord Street front where specially invited guests could meet the principal performers after the show.
Above - Members of the Cast and Audience of the Pantomime 'Dick Whittington' staged at the Garrick Theatre, Southport in the 1955, pose for a publicity photograph in the Theatre's foyer. The pantomime starred Richard Murdoch and Penny Nicholls - Image Courtesy Philip Hulm who can be seen standing second row from the front on the right of the picture wearing a tie and black jacket.
The auditorium, originally seating 1,600, consists of stalls, circle and eight stage boxes. The circle has two sections, front and rear, the rear doing duty as an upper circle with a deep crush hall at the back.
The only two support pillars visible in the auditorium are located here. These are used to support the Follow Spot room, cleverly hidden above the ceiling, with the outlook windows concealed in the rim of a shallow deco style dome.
Right - A photograph showing the Follow Spot Room and ceiling of the Garrick Theatre, Southport in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The 50ft. wide proscenium stage is over 40ft deep with ample flying capability and wing space. Dressing room accommodation is sufficient to provide for the largest company. The proscenium with its large splayed anti proscenium is flanked by eight boxes four on each side, the lower two above stalls level with exits beneath them.
Above - The auditorium and stage of the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst in Bingo use in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The entire circle level including the boxes is served by a wide corridor, giving access to exits and public spaces, completely surrounding the circle but situated outside the side walls of the auditorium.
The rear section of the corridor, linking both sides of the house, is located in the lower part of the circle void, additional access being provided to the circle by a staircase from the centre of this rear corridor.
Left - The Auditorium Boxes and Tiara Band at the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst in Bingo use in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Right - A detail from the Tiara Band at the Garrick Theatre, Southport in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
A small kitchen is located behind a door in a recess opposite this stair with a counter for the provision of coffee during intervals catering for patrons not wishing to avail themselves of the facilities provided by the Garrick Lounge. Ample retiring rooms are provided off this corridor in the upper part of the circle void.
The stalls are served in a similar way, these corridors running along the outside the walls of the auditorium but connecting to the main foyer to provide cross access. The décor of the auditorium is Art Deco in style with a most unusual Tiara band effect running over the ceiling in lieu of the usual dome, starting above the front exit doors of the circle and joining in the centre in a formalised starburst. This band, about 6 ft. in width, is also decorated with abstract designs and musical notation in low relief.
Left - The Procenium Arch and auditorium and stage at the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst in Bingo use in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The boxes are separated with three pilasters comprising of three grouped slender columns, with simple capitals on each individual column supporting a simple contoured entablature.
The proscenium arch consists of a triple concave frame with linking borders curved on the top corners. The widest concave section is decorated with low relief plaster work to compliment that already described above the circle.
The house lighting was all originally concealed trough lighting with the stalls having plaster panels with recessed lighting along the side walls, the only feature exposed light fitting being a deco chandelier suspended from the starburst in the centre of the tiara.
The original colour scheme was crème, greens, gold and black with green upholstery and green front of house tabs the whole looking very tired when seen in 1962 on attending a production of Billy Liar, by Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall, one of the last live shows to be seen in the Theatre.
Above - The rear circle of the auditorium of the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst the Theatre was in Bingo use in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Sale of the Garrick Theatre
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Garrick Theatre, Southport - Click to Interact
In early 1957 the Theatre was sold by the then owner Mr V. Sheridan to the Essoldo cinema circuit, a Newcastle based company. It was hoped at the time that the new owners would continue to book live shows into the Theatre. However this proved not to be the case and the Theatre was closed for conversion to full time use as a Cinema, the spotlight room being converted into a full time projection room. This was done with no visible damage to the original design in that area. The auditorium was re seated to provide a standardised seat in all parts of the house with a reduction in capacity to 1,500. All the stage facilities were however retained as was the Garrick name. At the end of the decade the building was given the company circuit name of Essoldo.
Right - One of the two supporting columns at the rear of the circle of the Garrick Theatre, Southport whilst the Theatre was in Bingo use in October 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
As a Cinema the Theatre was not a great success. Several large super cinemas were already well established along Lord Street and were very popular with distributers and public alike. Live shows were again booked into the Theatre to counter the lack of first run films, but by this time in the early 60s regional theatre was in serious decline. Lack of product as well as audience numbers would spell the end for the building's use as both Theatre and Cinema.
Bingo would move into the building from 1963 first using the Essoldo name, later to become Lucky 7, then Ladbrokes, Top Rank, and now Mecca. Under the present owners the building, especially the public areas have been kept in excellent condition. The backstage areas, whilst unused for over 50 years, are carefully sealed and should the opportunity present itself the Garrick Theatre could become a wonderful theatrical asset to the town once again.
The Garrick Theatre was Grade II Listed in 1999.
This article on the Garrick Theatre, Southport was written for this site by George Richmond in October 2013. Some of the information used in the article is courtesy the Crosby Archive.
Originally part of the Winter Garden Complex
See Also - The Pier Pavilion Theatre
Above - The Southport WinterGardens Seafront Elevation in 1874 - Courtesy The Crosby Archive
Before discussing the Pavilion in its seven metamorphoses, a short description of the elaborate complex of which it was originally part would be in order. The whole complex was designed by Maxwell & Tuke of Manchester.
The central part of the building was a promenade hall built to resemble a vast baronial hall 144 ft. long and 44ft in width with a pavilion at each end. The largest, made of glass and iron, was known as The Conservatory, 180 ft long and 80 ft. wide. This housed among other attractions a very large Aquarium at the basement level. The enterprise was not an outstanding success and the complex changed hands several times and in the process the Conservatory, was at various times, a ballroom, 1902, and later a roller skating rink. The entire complex, with the exception of the Pavilion, was demolished in 1933.
The Pavilion Concert Hall had a high arched ceiling supported by pierced steel girders. Below these, pairs of columns, one behind the other, rose from the floor of the auditorium through the gallery to support the roof structure, by way of a bridge joining the columns at the top, and thus adding visual interest to the whole. The auditorium was lit by round headed windows in groups of four creating a cyclorama effect above the gallery and behind the support columns. An elegant proscenium arch divided the stage from the flat floored auditorium which together with the gallery had a capacity for 2,500 patrons. Old programmes show that there were orchestral concerts twice daily and short dramatic productions on an almost daily basis.
Right - The Southport Pavilion Concert Hall From The Stage - Courtesy The Crosby Archive
Albert Hall Palace of Varieties
In 1905 a new management, under the name of The Southport Opera House and Winter Garden Co., took over the enterprise. One of the first acts of the new company was to put in hand the internal and to some extent the external reconstruction of the Pavilion to create a proper theatre auditorium and to build a stage house to better accommodate a greater variety of entertainment. The stalls and pit area was now raked, the former gallery was reconstructed and brought forward to create a proper balcony. The side galleries were converted into box fronts between the double columns, each with seating for four. The Theatre now had a capacity of 1,200. The former round headed windows were now blocked in. The new proscenium arch was 40ft. wide, and of sufficient height to take advantage of the lofty proportions of the original design. The new stage house provided a large stage, incorporating in its design ample dressing rooms. The Albert Hall Palace of Varieties opened on December 26th 1905 the lessee being Mr Charles Parker. In addition to Variety bills films were shown and proved to be a popular attraction.
Above - Two Southport Pavilion Concert Hall Programmes - Courtesy The Crosby Archive.
In 1910 the Theatre was renamed the Empire, once more under a new lessee, a Mr W S Cross. Under the new management the Theatre continued as a Cine/Variety Theatre until 1913 when the building was closed for renovation and the installation of a much improved projection room. When the building reopened it was as a full time cinema but the stage facilities were retained.
The name of the building would be changed to The West End coinciding with a refurbishment and conversion to sound in 1930.
Above - The former Southport Pavilion as the Scala Theatre - Courtesy The Crosby Archive.
Another name change, this time to that of the Scala, did not change the use of the building until 1951 when the building became a live Theatre again and for the next nine years would become the home of the Southport Repertory Co. and used exclusively for theatrical productions.
The building was demolished in 1961, never having been dark, but in continual use since its opening in 1874.
The Southport Repertory Company would move to the Pier Pavilion Theatre at this time and continue serving the people of Southport for the next seven years.
This article on the Southport Pavilion Concert Hall was written
for this site by George Richmond in 2013 - Some of the information is
Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later - The Casino
Architect Mr.R Knill Freeman FRIBA
Above - The Pier Pavilion Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond and the Crosby Archive
The building of this Theatre commenced in 1901 to replace the old pavilion destroyed by fire 4 years earlier. Included in the plans was improved pedestrian access and toll booth to the pier (one of the longest in the country), on the left hand side of the Theatre building. At a total cost of around £14,000 the new building was vastly superior to the previous one. The new design included an exterior surrounded by balconies that afforded views of the seafront, the promenade and the lake on either side. The location of the building at the start of the pier was somewhat unusual being dictated by the extreme length of the pier. The shell of the building was formed of steel and cast iron filled in with panelling and moulded framing of the lower part and glass in the upper with ornamental heads, whilst the main roof was finished with an ornamental iron railing and a weather vane at each end. An octagonal turret surmounted by a cupola and ornamental iron finial adorned the upper part of the four corners of the building.
In the centre of the frontage the principle entrance gave access to the Theatre by a pair of swing doors on each side of the ticket office beyond which were the entrances to the stalls and stairways to the gallery. The auditorium, 90ft., long and 53 ft., wide had recessed alcoves on each side, galleries on three sides, and a seating capacity of about 1,500 increasing to 2,000 when the promenade space was used behind the galleries. At both side of the well elevated stage were connecting dressing rooms and an emergency exit and stairway from the gallery. The gallery front, the proscenium and a portion of the ceiling were specially designed and finished in enriched fibrous plaster. The building was lit throughout by electric light with emergency lighting provided by gas. Heating was provided by individual gas stoves.
The Theatre was owned by the Southport pier Co.Ltd and was managed by Mr W H Scott. The Theatre was opened on New Years Day 1902 in the presence of local dignitaries the principle one being AldermanT P Griffiths. For the first public entertainment a Grand Concert was performed in front of 1,800 people for whom admission was front seats 2shillings, second seats 1 shilling, and balcony 6 pence.
Brass band and orchestral concerts formed the entertainment on offer until 1906 when the Theatre was leased to Mr Sam Berry for variety shows. In 1908 the MacNagthen Vaudeville circuit opened with a similar entertainment on May 11 when the bill included Raymonds Bio-Tableaux, and Matt Raymonds silent Pictures in the once nightly performance at 8pm.
The pavilion was principally a Live Theatre and during its 70 year run was a must for patrons who enjoyed the best in light entertainment, although serious drama was not neglected. Some of the household names who appeared there include Gracie Fields, both George Formbys, Charlie Chaplin George Roby, and it was at the pavilion that Flanagan and Allen first sang Underneath the Arches.
In 1931 the Theatre was refurbished and redecorated in pink cream and gold, new curtains were hung in red velvet and the floors re-carpeted. The building was reopened by the Mayer of Southport Councillor Alfred Peploe O.B.E.On the 23 of January 1931 a season of West End plays was presented by the eminent and distinguished actor, Henry Baynton and his Repertory players, commencing with Israel Zampwills drama The Melting Pot.
The Pavilion Remained in the ownership of the Southport pier company until 1936 when it was purchased by the corporation who renamed it the Casino and continued to present the best in light entertainment until 1963 when it was leased to the Southport Repertory Co. for stage plays following the companies nine years at the Scala Theatre which was closed and demolished in January 1962. Seven years later when the repertory companie's lease expired in 1970, the former Pavilion Theatre was condemned by the council as unsafe and demolished.
This article on the Southport Pier Pavilion Theatre was written
for this site by George Richmond in 2016 - The material and image used
to compile this article were kindly supplied to the writer by the Crosby
Architect Albert Schofield F.R.I.B.A.
Home of the Southport Drama Club
Above - A Google StreetView Image of Victoria House and the Little Theatre, Southport - Click to Interact
Though dating back to 1913 and presenting productions continuously since then in various Theatres around the town, the Southport Theatre Club did not have a permanent home until this Theatre was built at the rear of Victoria House Houghton Street. The foundation stone was laid by the club's president Sir Barry Jackson M.A.on the 24th October 1936. Funded and equipped by the 41 founder members. The Little Theatre opened on 2nd October 1937 with the S.D.Cs production of Dear Brutus By J M Barry.
Right - A Plan of the Little Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond and the Crosby Archive.
Access to the Theatre is by an entrance way on the right hand side of Victoria House leading directly to the building's main entrance and booking office. An elegant curving staircase on the left terminates in the crush hall leading into a large foyer both giving access to the rear of the auditorium. The original seating capacity was 430 with particular attention being made to providing an uninterrupted view of the stage. The seats in two blocks with centre and side gangways being spaced on a well raked floor. The original decorative treatment was described as both pleasing and restful.
The side walls create an illusion of added length being in broad horizontal bands of various colours terminating in the splayed walls that gently curve to the focal point of the proscenium opening. With a plain surround this is flanked on either side by three slender plaster columns. Behind the proscenium the stage is the full width of the auditorium and 25ft in depth with excellent flying capability above. Below the stage at ground floor level the space is utilised for dressing and storage rooms.
Above - The Auditorium of the Little Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond and the Crosby Archive.
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Little Theatre, Southport - Courtesy George Richmond and the Crosby Archive.
The building has been home to the Southport Drama Club up to the present day with only one interruption during the war when the building was hired by the Sheffield Repertory Company for the duration of the war. The S.D.C moved back in 1946 giving their first public production for over seven years with a production of Dodie Smiths Dear Octopus.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
The above article on the Little Theatre, Southport was written for this site by George Richmond in 2016 - Information used in this article, and its accompanying images, were kindly supplied by the Crosby archive.
Later - The Arts Centre (1974) / The Atkinson (2013)
Architect - Maxwell
& Tuke of Bury
Above - An early image of the Cambridge Hall, Southport, showing what would later become the Atkinson Gallery and Library - Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
The Cambridge Hall was designed by Maxwell and Tuke of Bury and built at a cost of £30,000. The Hall opened on Thursday the 6th of October 1874, the same year as the Pavilion in the Winter garden complex. Indeed the two auditoria followed a similar design with a gallery running around three sides facing a stage initially set up for concert performances, the plan in this case being rectangular. The gallery in the Cambridge Hall was also manufactured from cast iron, but partially of an early cantilevered design being supported on cast iron brackets set into the substantial masonry structure of the building along the side sections. The intention was to leave the flat floor of the main area unobstructed for a variety of intended uses including Balls.
Right - An original fireplace in the Cambridge Hall, Southport bearing the Hall's opening year of 1874, photographed in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The façade of the building facing Lord Street was supported on an arched colonnade. In the centre of this was a carriage porch projecting further forward on three matching arched columns. The roof of this provided a balcony accessible via French windows from the gallery within the Hall, for guests to take the air on a summer evening .The gallery also gave access to the supper rooms located at this level at the rear of the hall.
Left - An early image of the Cambridge Hall, Southport - Courtesy the Crosby Archive.
On entering the building a large foyer, containing an impressive stone fireplace, lead the visitor on through three internal archways to the fine wide staircase giving access to the Cambridge Hall Itself, situated as it was on the first floor and running through two floors. The auditorium was 120ft. in length, 50 ft. wide and 37ft. high, the ceiling carried over the stage area. No flying capability being provided, the stage height was five feet above the floor of the auditorium.
Over the years in this form the building was a venue for a variety of uses, concerts, lectures, dances, films, and theatrical performances. The first licence for theatrical use was granted in 1887, for a season of performances by the Dewhurst Theatrical Company. The halls popularity was sustained into the first half of the 20th century, after which time the building went into decline.
In 1972 Southport Council, with support from the then Arts Council, undertook a remodelling of the hall. This would entail the removal of the former balconies and blocking in the windows on the Lord Street façade but retaining the original appearance of the exterior of the building. Creating a steeply stepped and raked auditorium, the original 1,500 seating capacity was reduced to 490 modern tip up seats with excellent sightlines. A control room was created at the rear of the auditorium at the topmost level, and a refreshment room and bar was built in the void created by the newly stepped and raked auditorium. The stage was rebuilt and made deeper, a proscenium created and the void above the stage opened up to accommodate supports for lighting barrels, curtain tracks, borders etc. Due to the design of the Grade II Listed original structure, a fly tower was not possible.
Right - A Floor Plan of the later Atkinson Arts Centre in 2013, details below, courtesy the Crosby Archive.
The building reopened under its new name of The Arts Centre in September 1974. The new Theatre, after a slow start, became very successful showing a variety of live entertainment and film. A further partial closure for redecoration and refurbishment occurred in November 1987 with the Theatre reopening in March 1988. Provision for the Arts was further embellished in March 1990, with the opening of a fully equipped Studio Theatre built at the rear of the main complex. In this form the Arts Centre would continue serving the people of Southport and the surrounding area for a further 21 years, until the entire complex, including the adjoining Art Gallery and Library was closed down for a major reworking at the cost of several million pounds. This created a cultural hub for the region, comprising many activities, including theatre, film, music, exhibitions, workshops, library, and museum.
On reopening in the spring of 2013, after being dark for three years the Arts Centre would now be called The Atkinson, it being an integral part of the Atkinson complex. The Façade of the Cambridge Hall was embellished by a clock tower. The clock, contained in the tower, was the gift of a Southport philanthropist and benefactor, W. Atkinson Esq., after whom the adjoining former Atkinson Art Gallery was named. The entire building is now named after this generous benefactor to the town. The complex consists of the Atkinson Theatre, the Studio Theatre, Library, Museum, and Exhibition Hall with supporting amenities for the wellbeing, interests and comfort of all patrons.
The Theatre has undergone a number of improvements. The stage has been replaced and lowered, the roof void altered and the proscenium height adjusted to enable scenery to be flown for the first time. Wing space is limited but adequate in view of the new flying capability.
Left - The auditorium of the Atkinson Arts Centre in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The comprehensive in-house lighting rig and sound desk and projection equipment is operated from a dedicated room recessed behind an elegant arch at the rear of the auditorium.
The proscenium will be dressed to compliment the new front of house tabs, about to be delivered at the time of writing. The seating levels have been adjusted and reconfigured to accommodate the lowered stage level and to provide a more comfortable experience for patrons, reducing the capacity to 440, all seating being upholstered in a welcoming deep red.
Right - The Stage of the Atkinson Arts Centre in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Much of the original Victorian plasterwork has been revealed by the new decorative scheme. The side walls of the auditorium are comprised of deep arcading. The original fabrication remains on the inner wall and is recreated on the former window wall. The original complex roof brackets, comprising of a bracket, a stub column and an upper bracket, are picked out in cream against the stone colour of the walls. This colour scheme is repeated throughout the complex, being both elegant and unobtrusive, allowing the original design elements of the building to be appreciated.
A comprehensive programme of Music, Theatre, Comedy, Dance, Ballet and Film is already booked into The Atkinson well into the New Year, an encouraging omen for this rejuvenated performance space in the years ahead. You may like to visit the Atkinson's own website here.
The above article on the Southport Cambridge Hall / Arts Centre
/ Atkinson was written for this site by George Richmond in 2013 - Information
used in this article is courtesy of the Crosby archive and the management
and staff of The Atkinson.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: