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The Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Hanley, Stoke on Trent

Formerly - The Regent Cinema / Gaumont Cinema / Odeon

A Google StreetView Image showing the Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image showing the Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent - Click to Interact

The Regent Theatre is situated in Piccadilly, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, originally having frontages on Piccadilly, Cheapside, and Pall Mall. It was built by Provincial Cinematagraph Theatre in 1928, as a cinema with full stage facilities, and designed by W. E. Trent, architect. Although the site was purchased in 1920 it was not practicable to proceed until 1928. Building commenced in January 1928 taking 13 months to complete, with the grand opening by Alderman W.T. Leason J.P. on the 11th February 1929.

The opening film was ' The Last Command', starring Emil Jannings, Evelyn Brent and William Powell. There was also a variety show entitled 'Something Different' featuring the nine Regent Girls, Graham and Douglas, and Theresa Walters, with Mr E Felton Rapley playing the Wurlitzer 2 Manual /9 rank theatre organ. The live in Theatre Manager being Mr David Heugan.

The whole of the steelwork for the construction, comprising 490 tons, was fabricated and erected by H. Young & Co Ltd, of Nine Elms Ironworks, London.

The main entrance in Piccadilly, was set back from the street, decorated in white Burmantofts 'Marmo' faiance tiles (manufactured and supplied by The Leeds Fireclay Co Ltd of Wortley Leeds) with the masks of comedy and tragedy displayed and the word 'Regent' set high above. The frontage to Pall Mall, (really the rear wall of the stage), was in red brick and terracotta. The frontage on Cheapside was in red brick with cement pilasters and cornice. The foyer was decorated in Art Deco style with special frieze panels painted by Mr F. Barnes the subject depicted being 'Pottery in the East'. On the first floor was a large café open mornings from 11.0am through till 10.0pm at night. The decoration consisted of mirrored and decorated walls with a rich plaster ceiling. The café sat 300 people.

The Theatre auditorium is fan shaped, a special feature being the large domed ceiling. The plaster work being carried out by The Preston Fibrous Plaster Co Ltd. A spacious orchestra pit was provided in the centre of which was the console for the Wurlitzer organ mounted on an electric lift to rise upwards when played. The tip up chairs, linoleums, stage drapery and carpeting, were all provided by L.B. Lockwood & Co of Manchester Road, Bradford. The total seating capacity was 2,184 patrons. 1,372 in the stalls and 812 in the balcony, all with a clear view of the stage. The Theatre had 10 exits, and was fitted with an automatic sprinkler system and fire hydrants.

Over 15,000 electric lamps and 60 miles of electric wire were used in the installation. The lighting system was known as the 'Multicoloured System' by which the building could be flooded with a variety of colours fading in and out as required.

The Regent was the first cinema in the Potteries to show talkies, 'The Singing Fool' arriving in July 1929 for a two week run. Films that followed were 'Black Waters' on 1st August 1929 and in January 1930 'The Desert Song'.

The first 'live' organ broadcast took place on Friday 17th July 1931.

The cinema continued to prosper, but by September 1950 on the 23rd the Regent closed, to re-open the next day as the Gaumont.

In 1954 the Gaumont converted to Cinemascope showings with 'The Blackshield of Falworth'.

By 1960 the Theatre Royal had closed as a Theatre and re-opened as a Mecca Bingo Hall. The Gaumont realised that this left a void in the town for live stage shows, and so stepped into the breach by staging firstly one night stands, followed by full amateur stage show productions of the Stoke on Trent Amateur Operatic Society, whose first show at the Gaumont was 'The Most Happy Fella' in 1962. The amateurs in fact performed their subsequent annual productions there from 1962 till 1989.

During this period of the Theatre Royal closure the Gaumont took over the town's annual pantomime presentations. 'Babes in the Wood' starring Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963, 'Aladdin' with Lonnie Donnigan. 'Mother Goose with Hilda Baker in 1966 and 'Mother Goose' again in 1970 with Les Dawson and the Rocking Berries. During this period many stars appeared at the Gaumont, ie; Count Basie, Helen Shapiro, Roy Orbison, Shirley Bassey, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Cliff Richard.

The Gaumont was renamed the Odeon in 1980, but by 1989 the Odeon closed its door with a charity performance of 'The Sound of Music'.

The cinema now stood derelict and there were moves to try to reopen it. In 1993 there was a meeting with the Chief Executive and Treasurer of the Council when concern was expressed that such a fine building was left derelict. In 1994 the cinema was made a Grade II Listed building thus giving it some protection.

In July of 1994 the City Council commissioned an arts evaluation for the town, looking at the Victoria Hall, Theatre Royal, and Regent Cinema / Theatre. The outcome of which identified the Victoria Hall and the Regent to comprise 'The Cultural Quarter'. From then on the Council took over the project, and thanks to a Lottery grant, the Arts Council, European Redevelopment Fund, English Heritage, and the City Council themselves, the go-ahead was given to upgrade and renovate both the Vicoria Hall and The Regent Theatre.

A new large stage house and back stage facilities were built at the Regent making it large enough to be able stage full West End productions and the Ambassador Theatre Group put in charge of running the Theatre.

The Regent Theatre is now the number one Theatre for Staffordshire and the surrounding area, staging the latest musicals, plays, and pantomimes, ensuring that Stoke on Trent has the very best in theatrical entertainment.

The above article on the Regent Theatre , Hanley, Stoke on Trent was written for this site in 2013 and is © David Garratt.

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

 

The Theatre Royal, 40 - 41 Pall Mall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent

Formerly - The People's Hall / The Royal Pottery Theatre / Mecca Bingo / Liquid and Jumping Jacks Nightclub

A Google StreetView Image showing the former Theatre Royal, and Regent Theater, Hanley, Stoke - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image showing the former Theatre Royal, and Regent Theater, Hanley, Stoke - Click to Interact

A Programme for ' No No Nanette' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley under the management of Albert and Charles Butler in November 1925.The Theatre Royal is situated at 40-41 Pall Mall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent. The current building was built in 1951 after the previous building was destroyed by fire, alas today it is no longer in theatrical use, and has been converted into a nightclub.

Right - A Programme for ' No No Nanette' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley under the management of Albert and Charles Butler in November 1925.

Over the years there have been several Theatre's Royal in Hanley. It is thought that the first building, an old chapel, was built on the site of colliery winding house. There is a record in 1840 of alterations at a former Methodist Chapel converting it to a lecture hall known as 'The Peoples Hall.' By 1850/1 this hall was converted for theatre use.

An advert in the ERA newspaper dated 19th September 1858 states:- 'HANLEY. ROYAL POTTERY THEATRE. - Wanted, Immediately, Heavy Leading Man, Walking gentleman, second ditto and Utility, second Old Man and Prompter, Property man, to go on stage preferred.- Manager Mr James Rogers.'

The Hanley Royal Pottery Theatre was more commonly known as the Theatre Royal by May 1859, still under the Manager James Rogers. There is a record in 1857 of a modernisation of this building, and in 1871 the building was reconstructed and modernised yet again, the architect responsible being listed as either R. Twemlow or T. Hinde.

The Building News and Engineering Journal reported briefly on the proposed rebuild of the Theatre in their March 18th 1870 edition saying:- 'A new theatre is to be erected at Hanley during the coming summer. It will occupy the same site as the present building, which is a very inconvenient and inelegant structure, and will be more than twice as large. It will be 113ft. long, by 54ft. wide, with two tiers of boxes, gallery, and pit, seating 3200 persons. The stage will have a depth of 42ft., and a width of 54ft. and will be provided with an iron drop-curtain, as a precaution in case of fire. The dressing-rooms and green-room, will be on a level with the stage. Attached to the boxes and pit will be retiring-rooms. The street front will be in the Corinthian style, the materials used being red, black, and yellow bricks, with terra-cotta pillars, caps, pediment, and panels bearing medallion portraits of Massinger, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, and monograms of the proprietors. The scenery will move vertically, instead of horizontally, and spacious cellars will be left below the stage. The estimated cost of the new erection will be £4500, and the plans have been prepared by one of the proprietors, who is said to have given much study to the subject.' - The Building News and Engineering Journal, March 18th 1870.

 

Details from a Programme for ' No No Nanette' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley under the management of Albert and Charles Butler in November 1925.

Above - Details from a Programme for ' No No Nanette' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley under the management of Albert and Charles Butler in November 1925. In the cast were Maud Denny, Gladys Johnson, Frank Hector, Connie St. Clair, Gladys Cruikshanks, J. Roy Macnaghton, Hal Gordon, Ivy Stuart, and Dorothy Ewins.

The Theatre was redecorated again in 1873, however, by 1887 a complete rebuild was decided upon. The architects for this rebuild being C. J. Phipps and Frank Matcham, both eminent Victorian Theatre architects. This new Theatre Royal opened on the 8th August 1887, with a production of Charles Melville's 'Crimes of Paris' company under the direction of Mr E. Dotteridge. The ERA of 13th August 1887 states as follows:- 'New Theatre Royal – Lesee, Mr James H. Elphinstone; Acting- Manager, Mr Charles G. Elphinstone.- This place of amusement was reopened on Monday night after a closure of upwards of four months, during which time the theatre has undergone very extensive alterations and improvements. The auditorium is entirely new, and there is a capital view of the stage from any part of it. The architects who have planned the improvements are Messrs F. Matcham and C.J. Phipps, of London. The pit is provided with comfortable seats, and will accommodate 1,100 people. A refreshment-bar and ladies cloak-room have been erected. The circle contains four rows of easy chairs covered with crimson velvet, behind which is a promenade capable of accommodating 250 people. In the upper circle there are also five rows of upholstered seats, to hold 250; and the gallery will seat 1,000 persons. Refreshment rooms are provided for each place. The principal entrance will be from Pall-Mall, and the gallery entrance from Brunswick-street, as of yore. The decorations of the dome are especially picturesque, and the proscenium is lavishly and tastefully ornamented. Twelve new dressing-rooms have been built. The stage, which is 92 ft. wide and 46 ft. deep is laid in twenty sections. The act-drop is from the brush of Mr Edmund A. Swift, late of the Manchester and Sheffield Theatres, whose services have been permanently secured here. The theatre is now one of the handsomest in the provinces.'

The Theatre is listed as having a seating capacity for 3,700 people. Being lit by Electricity in 1894, and being centrally placed thus having steam trams and trains which after the performance transport patrons to the extreme ends of the district, Longton, Burslem, and Tunstall.

The ERA dated 20th February 1897 lists the various theatre companies to visit the Theatre as follows :- 'The Seasons bookings include the following No 1 companies:- 'Lady Slavey,' Carl Rosa, Three visits of D'Oyly Carte's Companies, Frank Benson company, 'Life of Pleasure,' 'Gentleman Joe,' Mr George Edwards No 1 'Geisha' Company, Henry Irving, 'Charley's Aunt', 'Sign of the Cross,' 'Two Little Vagabonds,' 'The Red Robe,' 'Prisoner of Zenda', 'Lord Tom Noddy,' with Little Titch, 'Night Out', the Kendals, 'Shop Girl', and others,'

 

A Programme for 'The Nerd' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley in 1985. The cast included Michael J Jackson, Julia Deakin, Marc Smith, Peter Schofield, Anna Cropper, Jason Grimwood, Gary Simmonds and Jasper Carrott.Like other Lyric theatres the Theatre continued to present the best of plays, opera, and musicals.

By 1934 there is a reference to a partial fire, with a rebuild and installation of a cine projection box.

By 1951 there was another fire which destroyed the Theatre, and although just after the second war when there was still austerity it was decided to rebuild yet again. This time the architects were Forshall and Greaves, whose Theatre design was in the Art Deco 1930's style.

The new Theatre had 17 straight rows of stalls, The Dress Circle had a flat 'U' shaped front with three boxes forming slips at gallery level. The new Theatre had a flat stage but very little wing space on stage left. The Art Deco recess sections (part of the auditorium design) took 360 individual light bulbs to illuminate. There were 6 Waterford Crystal Chandeliers, formerly from the German Embassy in London The proscenium arch had illuminated number frames on each side.

Right - A Programme for 'The Nerd' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley in 1985. The cast included Michael J Jackson, Julia Deakin, Marc Smith, Peter Schofield, Anna Cropper, Jason Grimwood, Gary Simmonds and Jasper Carrott.

By 1961 the Theatre was in the hands of Mecca as a Bingo Hall, but returned to theatrical use in the 1980s under the chairman Charles Deacon and Managing Director Paul Barnard, and again in 1997 when Mike Lloyd was the owner / manager. The Theatre struggled on but eventually ceased theatrical use altogether.

 

Details and Forthcoming Attractions from a Programme for 'The Nerd' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley in 1985

Above - Details and Forthcoming Attractions from a Programme for 'The Nerd' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley in 1985

The Theatre had imperfect sight lines from the upper levels, and a study commissioned by the City Council from Arts Business Ltd concluded that it had 'cramped facilities' making the Theatre impossible to stage large scale modern musicals and productions. This report favoured conversion of the near by Regent Cinema / Theatre to modern day standards thus facilitating large scale theatrical productions for the town.

There are some very good photographs of the stage and auditorium of the former Theatre Royal by Ian Grundy here, and here.

The old Theatre Royal has since been converted into a Nightclub called Liquid and Jumping Jacks, and so has ended the history of the various Theatre's Royal on this site in Hanley.

The above article on the Theatre Royal, Hanley, Stoke on Trent was written for this site in 2013 and is © David Garratt. An addition for the 1870/ 71 Theatre was made by M.L. in March 2017.

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

 

The Grand Theatre, Corner of Trinity Street and Foundry Street, Hanley, Stoke on Trent

Formerly - The New Grand Theatre - Later - Odeon Cinema / Chicago Rock Cafe / Revolution / The Base

An early postcard showing the Grand Theatre, Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent

Above - An early postcard showing the Grand Theatre, Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent

A programme for a production of the musical comedy 'Sunny' at the Grand Theatre, Hanley in September 1927. The Grand Theatre of Varieties was situated on the corner of Trinity Street and Foundry Street, Hanley. It was designed by the now famous Victorian Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, and built by local builder Thomas Godwin. The original cost being £25,000. This being £5,000 for the land, and the Theatre cost being £20,000. The Theatre opened on 22nd August 1898. The Proprietors were Charles G, and George F. Elphinstone. The General Manager being Mr Frank Allen, and the Acting Manager Mr Clem Fisher.

Right - A programme for a production of the musical comedy 'Sunny' at the Grand Theatre, Hanley in September 1927. In the cast were Walter Ashley, Rex Rodgers, Naylor Grimson, George Neil, Dorothy Fenwick, Thorp Devereux, Felice Lascelles, Max Kirby, Zoe Andrews, Kathleen Burgess, Willie Warde Junr, Henry Philips, Iris White, and Alfredo's "Sunny Band", and Tillers "The Sunny Girls". More details from this programme can be seen below.

The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the new Theatre in their 26th of August 1898 edition saying:- 'The new Grand Theatre, erected at the corner of Trinity-street and Foundry-street was opened on Monday. It has been built from plans by Mr. Frank Matcham, of London, and is in the Renaissance style, a dome surmounting the entrance facade, and a verandah being provided. Seating accommodation is provided for nearly 3,000 persons. Externally the building is of red brick with stone dressings, and has frontages of 30ft. and 128ft.

The auditorium is 75ft. wide, and 78ft. deep, the dimensions of the stage being 63ft. wide, and 44ft. deep, with a scene dock and property-room 40ft. by 16ft. The width of the proscenium can be increased to 41ft.

The inner hall has marble columns, the floors are laid with encaustic tiles, the ceiling decorated in colours and gold. The staircase is of stone, the walls being tiled shoulder high. This leads to the foyer and crush-room. The dress-circle has four rows of gilded chairs, upholstered in Utrecht velvet of old gold colour. Over the corridor surrounding the grand circle is the upper circle, which has seven rows of seats and a roomy promenade at the back, and above this is the gallery, which will seat nearly 900 persons. The pit finds seating accommodation for 750, besides which there are orchestra and pit stalls, which provide 340 seats. At the sides of the circle there are private boxes. The prevailing tone of the decorations is cream and gold.

Connection between the different parts of the house can be cut off by the closing of iron doors. The whole of the staircases are of fireproof construction, the joists are of steel, and the floors are formed of cement. The electric light has been installed, the heating is on the hot-water system, and the building is provided with a sliding roof.

The contractor was Mr. T. Goodwin, of Hanley. The site cost £5,000, and the estimated cost of the building, including furnishing, is £20,000. The architect has supervised the erection, with the assistance of Mr. J. F. Revill, as clerk of the works. The fibrous plaster decorations are by the Plastic Decoration Company, London, the ordinary decorations and upholstering by Messrs. J. H. Morton and Sons, Liverpool, the iron construction by Messrs Whitford and Co., London, the sanitary fittings by Messrs. Howson Brothers, Hanley ; the gas arrangements by Messrs. Jenkins, of Leeds; and the electric light fittings by Messrs. Lang, Wharton, and Co., London. The seating is by Mr. T. Cavanagh; Messrs. Dawson, Taylor, and Co., of Manchester, supplying the fire-extinguishing apparatus, and Messrs. Holroyd, of Leeds, the heating apparatus.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 26th of August 1898.

By 1908 the Theatre is listed as being under the Owner / Management of Hanley Theatres and Circus Company Limited who's Managing Director was Mr C. G. Elphinstone.

The Theatre was well served with public transport, the railway station being close by and tramcars passing every few minutes. The frontage on of the Theatre on Trinity Street was 30 feet wide, of red brick with stone dressings, that of Foundry Street being 182 feet in length. Built in the Renaissance style, with a dome surmounting the entrance façade, and having an iron and glass outside verandah to shelter waiting audiences. The main entrance was on the corner of Trinity street and Foundry street.

 

An early photograph of Frank Matcham's auditorium and stage at the Grand Theatre, Hanley - Courtesy William Neale.The Theatre had an unusual feature, in that the proscenium arch had a folding arrangement at each side of the proscenium, thus increasing the proscenium arch width from 36 feet to 41 feet, enabling an arena for circus performances to be provided by utilising part of the pit and the stage.

Left - An early photograph of Frank Matcham's auditorium and stage at the Grand Theatre, Hanley - Courtesy William Neale.

The entrance was an imposing one, the outer and inner vestibules being handsomely decorated. The inner one had marble columns and the floor was covered in encaustic tiles. The colour scheme being various colours and gold with a decorative cornice and frieze. A stone staircase led upwards to the lower crush room, and was carpeted with a Royal Axminster carpet. The walls of the staircase being tiled shoulder high. The crush room was decorated and upholstered in a lavish style.

The dress circle consisted of four rows of gilded chairs upholstered in old gold Utrecht velvet. At the sides of the grand Circle were six handsomely appointed private boxes, (three each side). Over the corridor surrounding the Grand Circle was the Upper Circle which had seven rows of seats with a roomy promenade at the back. Above the Upper Circle was the Gallery, consisting of 12 rows with a promenade supported on four columns, this sat 750 people. The ground floor consisted of the Orchestra and Pit stalls and accommodated 340 people.

The auditorium was 75 feet wide and 78 feet deep and was described as being exceedingly pretty with the decoration colour scheme being cream and gold. The ceiling and proscenium being elegant with elaborate plaster work. The proscenium featured busts of both Shakespeare and Goethe with some fine paint work by Signor Buccini. There was plenty of room for a promenade and refreshment, retirement rooms and lavatories being amply provided. The Theatre had plenty of exits in case of emergency, and precautions against fire were provided for on every floor. There were also iron connecting doors throughout the Theatre, which could cut off each section should fire break out. All staircases were of fireproof construction, the joists being of steel with cement flooring.

The Theatre's capacity is originally listed as 2,594 people plus 700 standing, and by 1912 the capacity is listed as 4,080 people.

The stage, which had a rake, was 44 feet deep and 63 feet wide.

The Theatre was fitted throughout with the new electricity and a hot water system heated the radiators. Special attention was paid to ventilation of the Theatre with a sliding roof fitted to facilitate a quick change of air between the houses.

The opening production featured, Miss Childie Stuart, comedienne and dancer; the Aglos Trio; the Sisters M'Nulty, duettists and dancers; the Two Franks, in a clever horizontal bar act; Mr Horace White, ventriloquist; Mr Harry Ford, eccentric comedian; Professor John Higgins, jumper; Miss Lillian Lea, ballad vocalist; the Valdares, trick cyclists; Messrs Francis and Melli, musical entertainers; and the Mayvilles, in a variety entertainment.

On the 3rd of September 1898 The ERA reported: - 'The programme, which is an excellent one, includes the names of Signor Pepi, a quick change artist, who gives a clever sketch entitled 'Love Always Victorious'; the Sisters Bonehill gladden by their singing and dancing; Master J. P. Adderley, boy contralto, gains great applause; Mr Burt Shepard, humorist, causes much laughter; Lumière’s Animated Pictures are highly appreciated; Hartz, conjurer, is very clever; Mr Geo.DePledge and Ruby Neilson in a clever musical comedy, 'Satan in Love', is heartily applauded; the O'Malleys are clever comedians; Alcide Capitaine, queen of the trapeze, goes through her performance excellently; Mr Frank Rooster's trained dogs and bantams are amusing; Miss Marie Tyler, comedienne, and Mr Walter Munroe, Irish comedian, contribute some good songs.' - The ERA, 3rd of September 1898.

As you can see from these cast lists the variety programmes were certainly very varied in content.

In 1919 the original Bioscope box was replaced with a newly built projection box.

Details from a programme for a production of the musical comedy 'Sunny' at the Grand Theatre, Hanley in September 1927.

Above - A programme for a production of the musical comedy 'Sunny' at the Grand Theatre, Hanley in September 1927.

 

The history of this Theatre is sparsely documented, but it became part of the Moss Empires circuit of Theatres until in 1932, when it became a cinema, after sound equipment was installed. The first talkie shown was Gracie Fields in 'Sally in our Alley'. Fire destroyed the auditorium a few months later, on the 11th May 1932.

A Google StreetView Image of the former Odeon Cinema, Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent, on the site of the former Grand Theatre - Click to Interact.The site was purchased by Oscar Deutch to build his new Odeon Cinema, which opened on the 13th February 1938 with the film 'Educated Evans'. The new Cinema had a smaller capacity than the Theatre it replaced, 1,580 instead of the Grand's 2,594. Odeon closed the Cinema in November 1975 and the auditorium was later stripped out and used for storage. A fire damaged much of the inside of the building in 1982 and it was left derelict until the Foyer area was used as a bar in 1999. The auditorium was later converted for use as a Chicago Rock Cafe in 2003, and then in 2008 the place became a nightclub called 'Revolution' with a bar in the former Foyer called 'The Base'.

Right - A Google StreetView Image of the former Odeon Cinema, Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent, on the site of the former Grand Theatre - Click to Interact.

The above article on the Grand Theatre, Hanley, Stoke on Trent was written for this site in 2013 and is © David Garratt. Details for the Odeon Cinema and later years were gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.

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


The Empire Varieties, New Street, Hanley, Stoke on Trent

Formerly - The Gaiety Music Hall

An early photograph of the Empire Theatre, Longton - Courtesy William Neale.

Above - An early photograph of the Empire Theatre, Longton - Courtesy William Neale.

The Empire Varieties was situated in New Street Hanley, and was built in 1891/2, on the site of the former Gaiety Music Hall. It Opened on the 14th March 1892 with a Variety programme. The proprietors were The Provincial Music Hall Company Limited, who employed Frank Matcham, the eminent Victorian Theatre architect to design the Music Hall.

The ERA newspaper of the 20th February 1892 describes the building as follows:- 'The frontage is in the Italian style, and is of bold and striking appearance. Over the principal entrance is an iron and coloured glass 'shelter.' The entrance is through polished wood doors into a vestibule adorned with encaustic tiles and panels, with a rich raised ornamental ceiling. To the left is the pay office, and to the right a broad staircase leads to the crush landing, on a level with the luxuriously furnished balcony. The foyer at the rear of the balcony, and slightly raised above it, forms a fine promenade, and runs nearly the whole width of the building. It is richly decorated, the walls being covered with Japanese paper. Mirrors are fitted in recesses. From the crush room the fauteuils are approached by corridors through a hexagon lounge, and thence by a wide staircase. Here also, mirrors are introduced in the recesses of the walls.' - The ERA 20th February 1892.

The Theatre had a frontage of 65 feet on New Street and was on three levels, consisting of the pit and fauteils (armchair seats) with large promenades at the side and rear. The first floor had a horseshoe shaped balcony consisted of three rows of balcony stalls, the sides of the balcony being divided into six handsomely draped private boxes (three each side). Above the balcony was the gallery, the first three rows of which were divided off as an amphitheatre.

A clear view was obtained from every seat in the house, there being no obstructing pillars. All entrances and exits were from the front, the gallery entrance being at the side of the pit. A wide fire proof staircase rose up to the top of the gallery promenade, and a similar staircase at the opposite end formed an additional means of exit. Cloak rooms and toilets were provided at each level.

The balcony and gallery fronts together with the private boxes were richly decorated with fibrous plasterwork decorated in cream and gold. The proscenium was framed with bold ornamental mouldings, inside which was a dark red marble border forming a frame for the beautiful arabesque act drop, especially painted by Mr Ryan. The proscenium opening was 18 feet, and a depth of 23 feet. The stage was built on piers and girders, the floor being made of concrete boarded over. At the sides of the stage were seven dressing rooms fitted with every convenience.

The auditorium ceiling featured a large dome in the centre and open ornamental panelling for ventilation at the sides. The arched entrances to the stalls were draped with plush velvet. The whole of Frank Matcham's design and decoration was in a rich 'Indian style,' the colouring and handsomely draped boxes and tableaux curtains added to the eastern appearance of his fine interior, being heated by hot water and fitted throughout with the new electricity.

The grand opening took place on Monday 14th March 1892, being a grand affair attended by the Aldermen of the town, County Councillors, and other officials from the various neighbouring towns of the Potteries. The opening Variety programme featured The Voltynes, who were grotesque and clever bar performers; Turner and Atkinson, who were tenor and baritone vocalists; Miss Carlotta Davis, who was a talented burlesque actress and skipping rope dancer; Percival and Breeze, who appeared in an amusing sketch entitled 'Sarah's Young Man'; Howlette's Marionettes, who were 'extremely diverting', and Mr Sam Jesson, who sang his songs.

The ERA of 19th March 1892 reported the following:- 'During the interval the courteous manager, Mr Gale, appeared before the curtain, and said the proprietors had determined that they should have in Hanley one of the best variety theatres that could be erected. Mr Frank Matcham, the architect, had been given carte blanche, and had spared no pains in bringing the Empire to a successful issue. It was intended to bring before their audiences some of the best talent it was possible to secure. No expense would be spared to attain this object. The entertainment they meant to bring before the Hanley public from, week to week was one to which any man might bring his wife, sister, or mother, without fear of being chastened on his return home. The management would make it their business to put down severely anything in any way objectionable.' - The ERA 19th March 1892.

It would seem that the Theatre at first prospered, but the ERA of 13th October 1894 advertised the following:- 'To Be Sold by Private Treaty, The Empire Music Hall Hanley, Freehold and free from chief Rent. Recently Erected from Plans by Eminent London Architect, F. Matcham, Esq. Complete Electric Plant and Fittings. Holding capacity upwards of 2000. Fully Licensed. Hanley is the centre of the Pottery District, which has a population of 350,000, and the above is the only Music Hall in the Potteries. For particulars apply, John Atkinson, Empire Bolton.' - The ERA 13th October 1894.

It would seem that the actual sale did not take place until later, as the ERA of 2nd March 1895 states:- 'On Tuesday afternoon Messrs Butters and Pointon auctioneers, of Hanley, offered for sale by public auction the Empire Music Hall, Hanley. Mr Gee started the bidding at £2000, but the auctioneer asked leave to double that amount and started at £4000, and asked for £500 bids. Eventually the property was declared sold for £6000 to Mr John Atkinson, one of the late proprietors. Mr Fred Gale, the Empire manager, held his benefit in the evening, and it was well attended.' - The ERA 2nd March 1895.

The ERA of 6th February 1897 states that the Empire Palace of Varieties Hanley was now owned by the Leeds and Hanley Theatres of Varieties Company (Limited), which had been formed for the purpose of acquiring the Princess's Palace of Varieties, Leeds and the Empire Palace of Varieties Hanley. It's directors were Messrs L. Ansted Browne, Harold Plowman, Joseph Fletcher, and Bertram Parkin Haigh.

The Empire continued to provide the town with variety. However, further information seems scant. There is a reference in 1901 to extensions being made to the building, but by 1925 the Theatre was converted to a cinema. Finally being demolished in 1956.

The above article on the Empire Varieties, Hanley, Stoke on Trent was written for this site in 2013 and is © David Garratt.

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

 

 

The Queens Theatre, Commerce Street, Longton, Stoke on Trent

Later - The Empire Theatre / Alpha Bingo Club / Tudor Bingo Club / Gala Bingo

The Queens Theatre was situated on Commerce Street, Longton, Staffordshire and would have several incarnations over the years. The first Theatre on the site was constructed on the site of an old factory and was designed by John Taylor, and built in 1887, opening on the 10th September 1888. The Owner / Manager was James Elphinstone Jr., who formed the Longton and District Theatre Company Ltd.

The Theatre was constructed by Jackson & Sons (of London) at a cost of £18,000. It was three stories high with a plain exterior, without ornamentation, and was built of red sandstone brick in free Renaissance style. John Turner, of the Grand Theatre, Leeds was responsible for the carpentry of the stage and stage traps.

By 1890 Edmund Tearle, the famous actor manager had taken over as owner management. He instigated extensive structural alterations. The decorations were by Smith & Co, with new plasterwork by Jackson & Sons, and a new Act Drop painted by W. T. Hemsley. The entrance vestibule, hall and staircase, were decorated in 'Pompeian style', the Theatre now seating 1,800 people.

At 7 o'clock on Friday 28th September 1893 fire was discovered by a youth who smelt smoke working in the factory next door, who ran and reported the fire to the police station close by. The fire Brigade came quickly with the new fire engine which had been tested on the Theatre only 7 days before. By this time the whole interior was ablaze, and the three tiers fell in one by one upon each other bringing down the roof by 8 o'clock. Three cylinders of oxyhydrogen, used for lime light exploded, which was heard 5 miles away. The fire then made rapid headway and by 9.30 the fire had just about burned itself out. The stage disappeared just leaving bare blackened walls, and the Theatre continued to smoulder throughout the day. The fire brigade had managed to save the facade and entrance vestibule but they were fire damaged.

The production playing the Theatre at the time of the fire was 'Uncle Toms Cabin' and all of its scenery costumes and musical instruments were lost. The damage was estimated at £17,000, which was only partially covered by insurance.

A meeting of the Theatre directors took place on the following Monday in Caroline street, when they resolved unanimously to rebuild and open early in the new year. To help the 'Uncle Toms Cabin' company benefit concerts were held in the Corporation Hall the following Saturday and Sunday, when songs, solo's and recitations were given by the company, with the Theatre orchestra under the baton of Mr R. J. Pike playing musical selections.

Frank Matcham the eminent Theatre Architect was employed to design the new Theatre, which was to house an audience of 2,500 people, and designed in the Neo-Classic style. The contractor being P. H. Bennion.

The new Theatre frontage was on Commerce street with the principal entrance to the dress circle, upper circle, and stalls. The Entrance Lobby and vestibule had richly decorated walls with raised leather paper and an anaglypta ceiling. The Pay Office having a new ornamental frontage. The old staircase at the side of the auditorium was taken away and a handsome new staircase which started from the centre of the vestibule led directly upward into a new large crush room at the rear of the dress circle. Doors opened each side to richly upholstered seating with the corners of the dress circle cleverly utilised by the formation of alcoves fitted with settee's with palms and ferns placed around the room. Adjacent to the crush room was the dress circle saloon and a separate smoking room.

The stalls were entered from the main vestibule via a corridor at the side of the pit. Just off this corridor was the stalls saloon and retirement rooms.

The grand staircase continued upwards to the upper circle which was completely divided from the gallery by a raised partition. All tiers were cantilevered for excellent sight lines, no pillars being in view.

The pit and gallery entrances were in Chancery Lane through two separate doors, but shared one side each of the same pay box. When entering through the pit pay box this led directly through a corridor to the pit, and also the saloon and retirement rooms, situated at the rear of the pit and under the grand vestibule. The building contained plenty of exits, the doors fitted with panic bolts, and could be cleared in a few minutes. The whole Theatre was heated by a hot water system with plenty of water hydrants placed around the building. It was lit entirely by electricity supplemented by gas as a back up.

The stage was very large being 64 feet in width and 48 feet deep, having a proscenium opening of 31 ft 6 inches, the stage was raked with the grid height being 60 feet above the stage. Under the stage was a large pit, 20 feet by 40 feet, where animals could be kept when appearing in variety or circus presentations. The building was fireproof throughout, the stage being separated from the auditorium by a fire resistant curtain, and all pass doors were of wrought iron. The dressing rooms ran underneath the stalls.

The auditorium contained 6 stage boxes, three each side of the proscenium arch, and is described as having decorations of 'boldness and beauty'. The ceiling was divided into panel and arches being richly decorated with curved mouldings. The draperies were in pink tints of terra cotta. Carpets and chair coverings corresponded in the same colours.

Matcham's new Queens Theatre opened on the 18th May 1896 with Miss Fortescue and her company. The Theatre's seating capacity is listed as being 3,000 people on its opening in 1896 but by 1912 this had been reduced to 2,670 people, and by 1957, 775 people. The Queens Theatre fared well, but by 1911 films were being shown as part of the bill.

In 1916 the Theatre was renamed the Empire Theatre, and in 1921 a projection box was built into the roof. On the 23rd of January 1922 it reopened as a cinema, with cine variety taking place, but films became more and more prevalent and stage shows eventually ceased altogether.

In 1925 the Theatre was taken over by the Regent circuit which later became Associated British Cinema's (ABC). At some time a false ceiling was inserted below the gallery level thus reducing the capacity to 796 seats. Films continued until the 2nd of April 1966 with the last film shown being Elvis Presley in 'Harem Holiday'. The Empire was then converted into the Alpha Bingo Club, which later became the Tudor Bingo Club. At this time the Theatre was given Grade II Listing, and continued with Bingo, operated by Gala Bingo, until 1991. Bingo then ceased and the Theatre became empty and boarded up.

On the 31st of December 1992, at tea time, the Theatre caught fire, which is believed to have been started deliberately by vandals. It became a raging inferno with 100 foot flames. Part of Longton was cordoned off by police as more than 100 fire fighters from all over Staffordshire fought the blaze.

At the height of the blaze water was jetted over the adjacent bus station to prevent the blaze spreading, and traffic had to be rerouted. The fire was so intense that heat could be felt 500 feet away. The roof crashed down and the fire raised pavements around the building. Fire fighters used three hydraulic platforms to fight the blaze which took four hours to bring under control.

This fire was not only a terrible blow to the town but the Stoke Repertory Theatre, who had been planning to buy the Empire Theatre and re-open as a repertory Theatre.

The Façade on Commerce street was saved and there was talk of rebuilding or even incorporating the façade into a new building, but all came to nought, and the façade was finally demolished in the Spring of 1997.

Thus ended one of Frank Matcham's 'sleeping beauties', and Longton lost it's beautiful Theatre which had been part of the entertainment scene for ninety six years, with many memories of good nights out at this lovely Theatre / Cinema.

The above article on the Queen's Theatre, Longton, Stoke on Trent was written for this site in 2013 and is © David Garratt.

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

This Theatre should not be confused with the Queens Theatre, in Wedgwood Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent which was originally built as a Town Hall in 1910 and is still open today. You may like to visit the Website of this Theatre here.

 

Mechanics Institute, Pall Mall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent

The Mechanics Institute was situated in Pall Mall, Hanley. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1867.

The Staffordshire Sentinel printed an add in their September 7th and 14th 1867 editions saying: 'Arthur Lloyd is to give his celebrated comic concert at the Mechanics Institute, Hanley on Friday evening 20th September between 8.00 and 10.15. He will be accompanied by Minnie Lloyd, Miss Lizzie Nelson and Robert Lloyd in their drawing room sketches and Louis Lindsay, an Ethiopian artist and instrumentalist. Also W.B. Alexander, ventriloquist from the London Polytechnic. Arthur Lloyd, author and composer of Constantinople, The Song of Songs, Wonderful how we do it, but we do etc. Reserved seats 2/-, unreserved 1/-, back seats 6d.','yellow')' The Sentinel also printed a review of the evening in their 21st of September edition which was pronounced: 'very good on all accounts. Mr Lloyd's songs never descend to coarseness or vulgarity and as he is a good actor as well as an excellent singer, his endeavours to amuse are always crowned with success.'

Arthur Lloyd's Brother Delarue also performed here, in 1871.

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.

 

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