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The Theatre Royal, Corporation Street, St. Helens

Formerly - The Theatre Royal and Opera House

A Google StreetView Image of the Theatre Royal, St. Helens - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Theatre Royal, St. Helens - Click to Interact

A postcard showing how the Theatre Royal, St. Helens looked before its 1964 reconstruction.The Theatre Royal which stands on Corporation Street, St. Helens today opened on the 20th of May 1901 with Ben Greet's production of the play 'With Flying Colours'.

However, the Theatre today bears little resemblance to its original Frank Matcham design as it was gutted and reconstructed in 1964.

Right - A postcard showing how the Theatre Royal, St. Helens looked before its 1964 reconstruction. Note the building to the Theatre's left still stands today.

This is also the second Theatre to have been constructed on this site, the first Theatre, also designed by Matcham, was originally opened by Wallace Revill as the Theatre Royal and Opera House on the 4th of August 1890.

 

A notice in the ERA of the 15th of March 1890 on the building of the first Theatre Royal, St. Helens.This first Theatre Royal, designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, and constructed at a cost of around £10,000, had a very short life as it was destroyed by a major fire on Friday morning, the 13th of October 1899. S. F. Cody's 'Klondyke Nugget' company were performing at the Theatre that week and were reported to have lost all their properties and mechanical effects, and most of their scenery, in the fire.

Left - A notice published in the ERA of the 15th of March 1890 on the building of the first Theatre Royal, St. Helens.

Unfortunately Wallace Revill would pass away soon after but a company of local businessmen then bought the site from Revill's trustees and brought in Frank Matcham again to design the Theatre's replacement. This he did with great speed and the new replacement Theatre Royal, which still stands today, albeit much altered, was opened 18 months later on Monday the 20th of May 1901. The Stage newspaper reported on the reopening of the Theatre in their 23rd of May 1901 edition saying:- 'This theatre, which, it will be remembered, was completely destroyed by fire some eighteen months ago, having been now rebuilt, was reopened on Monday night.

Alter the destruction of the old theatre a party of local gentlemen purchased the old building from the trustees of the late Mr. Wallace Revill, and called in the services of Mr. Frank Matcham, the well- known architect, who was responsible for the design of the old theatre. Mr. Matcham, while retaining the old lines, has made several improvements in both the construction and the general arrangements, bringing the building up to date in every way. The seating accommodation has been increased, extra retiring rooms have been added, and the whole building is decorated with much elegance. The cost of the new building has been about £17,000.

In the dress circle and orchestra stalls the seats are upholstered in red plush, harmonising with the general colour of the decorations, which are done in prevailing tints of pale terracotta, enriched with cream and gold linen in a beautiful manner. The general design of decoration is in the style of the Louts XIV and Louis XV periods, and is ornate without being gorgeous. The vestibule is adorned in a rich Oriental manner. The ceiling of the auditorium has been altered very much, and features of the roof decorations are four panel groups of figures representing Science, Music, Literature, and Sculpture. The sides of the proscenium are of marble, and above is the borough coat of arms. Statuary and mirrors are placed wherever they will help the general effect. A very fine act-drop based on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream has been painted by Mr. W. T. Homsley.

Perhaps the swiftest improvement to the building is the installation of the electric light, which, both before and behind the curtain, is to be the sole illuminant. The structure of the auditorium is of concrete and iron, and all staircases and passages are fireproof. The stage is a large and well-equipped one, a principle feature being that all the lighting will be electric, even for the footlights which, by an ingenious arrangement, on the principle of liquid resistance, can be raised or lowered so as to brighten or darken the stage. Above the stage are five adjustable rows of electric lights, which are a novelty, as red, white, and blue lights alternate, and the different colours can be used for stage effects of sunrise and sunset, etc.

A complete set of dressing rooms lit by electric light, carpeted, warmed, and fitted with mirrors and all conveniences, have been constructed for the artists. The contractor for the building has been Mr. Peter Tickle, of St. Helens. The decorations are by De Jong, of London; Messrs Taylor, of London, have put in the electric light. The upholstery, furniture, and carpets, are by Turner, Son, and Walker, of Liverpool; the stalls and dress circle seating by Messrs. Lazarus, of London; the hot water apparatus, fire-proof curtains, and the hydrants by Messrs. Holroyd, of Leeds; and the stage has been laid by Cawdrey, of London.

It seemed an appropriate selection that the first play to be performed in the new theatre should be entitled With Flying Colours, which was given with great success by Mr. Ben Greet's Co. before a brilliant audience. Special mention must be made of Mr. Robert Pateman for his extremely powerful acting as Lotan Hackett, his original part at the Adelphi. Good as Mr. Bateman always is, be has never done anything finer here. Mr. Richard Hoodless as James Strangeways merits praise for a fine portrayal, as also do Miss V. St. Lawrence as Mrs. Hackett and Miss Lillian Stennis as Mary Derrick. Mr. W. J. Robertson is an able Sir John Derrick.

During the evening Mr. McLeod Loader, who has been appointed manager of the theatre, appeared before the curtain and in a neat speech thanked the directors for appointing him as manager of "one of the finest theatres in the kingdom." He also announced that among the engagements already entered into were The Dandy Fifth, La Poupee, Les Cloches de Corneville, Sun Toy, The Second in Command, and other equally-known plays. Mr. Loader thanked the various contractors for making the theatre what it was - a credit to the Thespian art - and also the Co. for appearing that evening for so gallantly helping to get through the difficulties of a first night in a new theatre.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Stage newspaper, 23rd of May 1901.

The Theatre Royal opened on the 20th of May 1901 and has been in business ever since, although the decline of Theatres all over the Country in the 1950s effected the Royal too. In Donald Auty's Twilight of the Touring Review, which you can read in full here, he mentions working at the Theatre Royal, St. Helens in the 1950s, saying:- 'For the last week at St. Helens Theatre Royal the show was called 'Memories of Old Ireland.' This was before the theatre was rebuilt and it was old, shabby, and filthy. The stage manager and crew were drunk most of the time. There was an old stage door keeper there who was always dressed in a dirty overcoat and an even dirtier Homburg hat. He would sit on a hard backed chair on the side of the stage and point to the scenery as it fell over saying, 'There it goes again.' One night the drummer turned up without an evening dress shirt and sat in the orchestra pit wearing a dinner jacket and a filthy brown zip up shirt that he worked in at the local glass works. I loaned him one of my white shirts for the evening. The week ended very sadly... The theatre managers and stage managers [then] were mostly men in their mid fifties who had worked at the theatres for many years and loved the places passionately. They did not know what had hit them when the business declined, and many of them never worked again and died shortly after the theatres closed. This period was the 'Somme' of the Variety Theatre.' - Donald Auty.

The Theatre closed in the 60s and was bought by Pilkington Brothers, the St. Helens Glass Manufacturers. They rebuilt it in 1964, showing off their plate glass in the process. Pilks was a fairly altruistic firm and was determined to keep the Theatre in St. Helens. The Theatres Trust says of the Theatre today that:- 'all that survives of Matcham's building today are the outside walls and stage... in 1964 the theatre was gutted and rebuilt with a glass façe. The entrance incorporates a lofty foyer, auditorium with a single balcony. The auditorium walls are panelled in pine-colour wood, and the house is warmer than the plain glass exterior might lead one to expect - but a sad fate for a Matcham theatre. The original stage area is large enough today to accommodate many touring shows.' - The Theatres Trust.

You may like to visit the Theatre Royal's own Website here, and The Theatre Royal Trust's Website here.

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

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, Corporation Street, St. Helens

Formerly - The Empire Theatre of Varieties - Later The New Hippodrome Cinema / Hippodrome Bingo

The St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

A poster advertising a Twice Nightly variety show at the St. Helens Hippodrome for May the 23rd, 1921 - Courtesy Stephen WischhusenThe Hippodrome Theatre, which is situated on Corporation Street at the corner of Shaw Street, originally opened as the Empire Theatre of Varieties on the 1st of June 1903, and was designed by the local architect J. A. Barron.

Right - A poster advertising a Twice Nightly variety show at the St. Helens Hippodrome for May the 23rd, 1921 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen - On the Bill were Hazel Elliot and her Candles, Boy Ronald, Elizabeth Hyde, Rediculous Recco, Teddy Stream, Joyce Lynn, Barker & Wynne, and Brown's Royal Bioscope.

The Theatre was built on the site of an earlier wooden and corrugated iron Music Hall called the People's Palace, which had first opened on the 3rd of April 1893.

A Notice published in the ERA in march 1893 advertising the New People's Palace St. Helens is to open on the 3rd of April.

Above - A Notice published in the ERA in march 1893 advertising the New People's Palace St. Helens is to open on the 3rd of April.

The ERA also printed a review of the new Music Hall in their 8th of April 1893 edition saying:- 'This building, which was opened under the management of Mr Fred Lucas on Monday, is of strong corrugated iron, lined internally with seasoned timber. It accomodates about 2,000 persons. The pit is furnished with very comfortable seats, supported by iron standards; the side balconies are upholstered in bright colours, with padded supports for the back; the centre balcony and orchestra stalls have tip-up seats, upholstered in red velvet. It is calculated that the building can be emptied in less than two minutes. The Palace has been erected from the designs of Mr William Hesketh, architect, of Liverpool, and the work has been done by Messrs David Rowell and Co., of Victoria Street, Westminster. The scenery has been painted by Mr Fred Lucas [who] for some years was the lessee, under Mr Revill, of the Circus, North Road.' - The ERA 8th of April 1893.

There was some opposition to the granting of a music hall licence for the People's Palace by the then proprietor of the Theatre Royal, St. Helens, Wallace Revill, on the grounds that it was not a brick and stone fireproof building. The Music Hall Licence was refused but when the People's Palace opened that evening amid a large crowd of eager spectators two of the magistrates who had made the decision were seen to enter the building for the evening's entertainment.

 

The People's Palace Music Hall, St. Helens - Courtesy St Helens Library and Roy Cross

Above - The People's Palace Music Hall, St. Helens - Courtesy St. Helens Library and Roy Cross

Cutting from the Stage Newspaper of the 10th of January 1901The opening entertainment began with a singing of the National Anthem by the Orpheus Glee Union which was followed by a variety programme which was 'gone through with much acceptance.' In the interval Mr Lucas made a speech saying:- '...he wished them to understand that the place was not opened with any ill-feeling towards the magistrates or anyone else. The place was opened because he had engaged £100 worth of talent, and he could not afford to pay them and send them out of the town. He felt therefore, it was his duty to open, and pay the people whom the company had engaged. That [the] building was not opened in opposition to the Theatre. St. Helens was the only town in Lancashire of its size that did not possess a music hall. If the magistrates would not grant a licence in St. Helens, they would go to the Quarter Sessions and get it there.' - The ERA 8th of April 1893.

In the end Two summonses were issued against Lucas for opening the People's Palace without a Licence but the place stayed open anyway for several years. The cutting from the Stage Newspaper of the 10th of January 1901 (shown above right) shows that by then the People's Palace was in use for drama and variety productions.

 

The People's Palace had a short life and by 1903 it had been demolished and a new Theatre, which this time was built from brick and stone, was erected on its site. The Theatre was designed by local architect J. A. Baron and opened on the 1st of June 1903 as the Empire Theatre of Varieties. The Theatre didn't retain this name for long however, for when Thomas Barrasford bought the building a few months later to add to his chain of Theatres he renamed it the Hippodrome. Barrasford ran the Theatre on the twice nightly variety system and he was more successful.

The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome in 1937, shortly before it was converted for Cinema use - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome in 1937, shortly before it was converted for Cinema use - Courtesy K.R.

Of course Films were soon being shown as part of the entertainment too, and consequently in 1937 the Theatre was closed and then converted for full time Cinema use. This included a major remodeling of the auditorium and the removing of one of the two former balconies, which reduced the capacity to 900. The building reopened as the New Hippodrome with a showing of the film 'Victoria the Great' on the 8th of August 1938.

The remodeled auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome in 1955 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The remodeled auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome in 1955 - Courtesy K.R.

 

A Google StreetView image of the St. Helens Hippodrome - Click to Interact.In 1956 a Cinemascope screen was installed, reducing the capacity to 700. Perhaps surprisingly during all these conversions the Theatre's original domed plasterwork ceiling was retained and still remains today.

After several changes of ownership including the Empire Cinema Wigan Ltd., and KYBs, the Cinema finally closed completely on August the 31st 1963 and was then converted for Bingo use, reopening on the 1st of September 1963.

Right - A Google StreetView image of the St. Helens Hippodrome - Click to Interact.

The Theatre is still operating Bingo at the time of writing in July 2013 and some images of the Theatre in March 2010, kindly sent in by K.R., can be seen below.

 

The auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium balcony of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium balcony of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The still extant 1903 domed ceiling of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The still extant 1903 domed ceiling of the St. Helens Hippodrome during Bingo use in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The former projection room of the St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The former projection room of the St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

The former projection room of the St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The former projection room of the St. Helens Hippodrome in March 2010 - Courtesy K.R.

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

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: