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The London Trocadero, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus

Formerly - The Palace of Varieties / The New Private Subscription Theatre / The Royal Albion Theatre / The New Queen's Theatre / The Theatre of Arts / The Argyll Subscription Rooms / The Trocadero Music Hall / The Royal Trocadero Music Hall / The Eden Theatre / The Trocadero Restaurant

The London Trocadero in February 2010, shortly before the building's proposed conversion into an Hotel -Photo M.L.

Above - The London Trocadero in February 2010, shortly before the building's proposed conversion into an Hotel

 

A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the 1920s Lyon's Trocadero Restaurant.See Theatreland MapsThe London Trocadero today is a complex of buildings which is situated mostly on Coventry Street between London's Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, with the back elevations running along Shaftesbury Avenue, and for some years also included the former London Pavilion.

Right - A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the 1920s Lyon's Trocadero Restaurant.

The site of the main Trocadero building was previously a Tennis Court and Vaults which were constructed in 1744 by Thomas Higginson. Whilst the building of these was nearing completion Higginson was granted and extra plot of land, some 49 by 116 feet, by John Cartwright of the parish of St. James's, which had previously been the site of six small cottages. Higginson then remained in possession of the site until 1761 when a series of other tenants took over.

By the 1820s the Tennis Court and Vaults were being used for various entertainments including circus, theatre, exhibitions, horsemanship and even rope dancing. By 1829 it is recorded that the building consisted of a house, a tennis court, and a billiard room, and by 1830 part of the building was converted into a theatre called the New Private Subscription Theatre where Coock's Royal Circus performed in 1831.

By 1832 the Theatre had been renamed the Royal Albion Theatre but was still classed as a subscription Theatre in order to evade the Licensing Laws of the time. Performances here were mostly dramas, burlettas, and farces. When W. Elliot took over in 1833 the building was renamed again, this time to the New Queen's Theatre. Elliot had formerly been the proprietor of the Queen's Theatre in Tottenham Street but had been forced to leave and so took the name with him. The name would then be changed several more times during the following two years, sometimes to the Albion Theatre, sometimes the New Queen's, and at one point in 1834, to the Theatre of Arts. However, none of these changes helped the Theatre very much and very little is reported on the actual productions that took place. Eventually the Theatre was closed down by the local Magistrates when an informer alerted them to the fact that Sarah Booth of the then Covent Garden Theatre had been performing there for a season, something which was not allowed in a subscription Theatre. After it closed Cooke's Circus took over the building again for a while. After this the building was used for Boxing and Sparing at 3 shillings entrance.

The interior of the Theatre is thought to have been dismantled around 1836 and for the next ten years all manor of exhibitions were held there including mechanical waxworks and even a centrifugal railway. In 1849 the place was leased to Robert Bignell who was a wine merchant, he stored his wine in the old vaults and, along with his partners George Bryer and Charles Laurent, reconstructed and redecorated the rest of the building and reopened it as an Assembley Rooms called the Argyle Subscription Rooms.

Piccadilly Circus, from Coventry Street in 1875 - From 'Old & New London'  - Published 1897The Argyle Subscription Rooms, which should not be confused with the Argyle Rooms in Argyle Street (later the site of the London Palladium), went on to gain a rather dubious reputation. Although it was tastefully decorated, at one time by Dellicort of Paris, and furthur rooms were added with handsome furniture, carpeting and chandeliers, it soon became known as a place more commonly associated with prostitutes and their customers. Despite this the building had a long and successful time under the name of the Argyle Rooms until it was raided by the police in October 1878 and then closed down completely on the 30th of November the same year.

Left - Piccadilly Circus, from Coventry Street in 1875 - From 'Old & New London' - Published 1897.

However, despite the fact that Robert Bignell had lost his license for the Argyle Rooms in 1878 by 1882 he was back in business again, this time converting the Rooms into a Music Hall called the Trocadero Palace of Varieties. The Hall could accommodate some 600 people and it was the first time that the name Trocadero was applied to the site.

The ERA reported on the building in their 30th of September 1882 edition saying: 'The famous Argyll Rooms have been completely metamorphosed into a charming concert hall. A stage has been erected at the end of the room, the galleries have been enlarged, and the entrances and staircases reconstructed, according to the latest requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The door of the Hall—which, by the way, is entirely fireproof—has been comfortably seated, and divided into stalls and area. Very handsome saloons and retiring rooms are provided on the different levels, and everything has been done for the comfort and convenience of the public which experience could suggest. The alterations have been excellently carried out by Mr Ball, and under the careful supervision of Mr Price, from the designs of Mr Thomas Verity. The act-drop and scene have been furnished by Messrs Holt and Wilmot, and the general decorations have been executed by Mr Ball. It is to be hoped that the opposition which has for so many years attended this once favourite resort will at length be withdrawn, and that Mr Bignell will obtain the reward of his perseverance in the granting of his licence at the forthcoming meeting of Middlesex magistrates at Clerkenwell.' The ERA, 30th of September 1882.

The opening of the Trocadero Music Hall gained glowing reviews and so did the building but it was never very successful despite several different owners and changes of name, although it did gain some notoriety when Charles Coburn sang 'Two Lovely Black Eyes' there in 1886 which he continued to do for some 14 months to a delighted audience.

A programme for 'A Grand variety Entertainment' at the Royal Trocadero Music Hall with Arthur Lloyd on the Bill on the 24th of June 1890 - Courtesy Peter Charlton - Click to see the whole programme.At this time there was major construction going on in the area. Regent Circus was turned into Piccadilly Circus when the Haymarket was extended into the former Tichbourne Street and a new major street called Shaftesbury Avenue was created. The original London Pavilion was demolished at this time and a new one built facing onto the new Piccadilly Circus. The Trocadero, which had previously fronted onto the lower end of Great Windmill Street now found itself facing the side elevation of the London Pavilion.

Robert Bignell died in 1888 and Sam Adams took over the Music Hall, he had formerly been running the London Pavilion and he was more successful at the Trocadero than Bignell had been. During this time the Hall was renamed the Royal Trocadero Music Hall, Arthur Lloyd performed there on the 24th of June 1890 and the programme for this event can be seen in full here.

Right - A programme for 'A Grand variety Entertainment' at the Royal Trocadero Music Hall with Arthur Lloyd on the Bill on the 24th of June 1890 - Courtesy Peter Charlton - Click to see the whole programme.

The following year Sam Adams had the building redecorated by J. McLachlan & Sons and reopened it on Wednesday the 18th of February 1891 with a 'Grand Inaugural Night'. The silk programme for this event can be seen below. Many of the top Music Hall stars of the day appeared at this event including Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd, Albert Chevalier, G. H. Macdermott, G. W. Hunter, Jolly John Nash, and Arthur Lloyd.

 

A Silk Programme for a 'Grand Inaugural Night' at the Royal Trocadero, Shaftesbury Avenue on Wednesday the 18th of February 1891 - Courtesy James Burling.

Above - A Silk Programme for a 'Grand Inaugural Night' at the Royal Trocadero, Shaftesbury Avenue on Wednesday the 18th of February 1891 - Courtesy James Burling, whose ancestor Sadie Grossmith is listed top of the Bill along with some very big names of the day including Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd, Albert Chevalier, G. H. Macdermott, G. W. Hunter, Jolly John Nash, and Arthur Lloyd. - James Burling would be pleased to hear from you if you have any more information on Sadie Grossmith via my Contact page.

Later the building was again renamed, this time to the Eden Theatre. Sam Adams died in 1893 and Albert Chevalier then took over, along with his partner Hugh Didcott but they went bankrupt in 1894 and the Hall was closed on the 24th of February that year.

This was to be the end of the Trocadero Music Hall and the following year, 1895, it was sold by Bignell's daughter on a 99 year lease to J. Lyons & Co who converted the building into a restaurant called the Trocadero Restaurant.

 

An early postcard of the Coventry Street facade of the Trocadero Restaurant.

Above - An early postcard of the Coventry Street facade of the Trocadero Restaurant

Lyons went on to acquire the lease of various adjoining properties on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and then a whole block called Avenue Mansions, which ran along Shaftesbury Avenue, so that they could remove the party wall of the old Music Hall and create one vast building for their Restaurant whose main entrance, by 1902 when it was complete, was on Shaftesbury Avenue. The former Music Hall's facade was reconstructed at this time to match the rest of the building.

 A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the Lyon's Trocadero Restaurant

Above - A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the Lyon's Trocadero Restaurant

 

The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Vestibule - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.The Trocadero Restaurant went on in this form for many years and by the 1920s Lyons introduced the novelty of entertainment during the meals. This was so successful that in 1924 they employed Charles Cochran to run Cabarets in the Grill Room of the Restaurant, ironically the Grill Room took up the space which had formerly been the Music Hall. Cochran's revues at the Trocadero were a great success and he continued at the helm off and on until 1946.

Right - The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Vestibule - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

In 1930 the Grill Room and its vestibule were reconstructed and redecorated, the Architect & Building News reported on the changes in their May 2nd edition saying: 'Mr. F. J. Wills, F.R.I.B.A., and Mr. Oliver Bernard have produced at the Trocadero two remarkable rooms. They may alternatively be called one room, since the partition between them, 67 ft. by 13 ft., can be made to disappear into the floor. This "vanishing wall," which is in fact a variety of electric lift weighing ten tons, is complete with all decorations, wall lights and hangings. So skillfully have the construction and decoration been carried out that there is nothing the least odd about the appearance of the partition, whether it be up or down. In construction it is a lattice girder and has been sound-proofed by lining with cork sheets and packing with fibre. It carries on the top member a section of sprung dance floor which fits exactly into the floors (also sprung) of the two rooms.

Mr. Bernard's decorations are both novel and charming. The colours, in particular, harmonise well. The walls are painted a warm cream, the joinery is polished sycamore, the hangings are tones of green and fawn, and the carpet, designed by Mr. Bernard, is an interesting pattern in green, brown and grey. The glazed panels are of "peach" glass, both mirrors and clear panes; this is a subtly warm toned glass which obtains its colour by mixing gold with the "metal" in manufacture.

 

The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Grill Room Entrance Screen - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

Above - The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Grill Room Entrance Screen - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

Artificial light is obtained from two sources. On the architraves are tassels formed of glass tubes, each tassel containing a light. The ceiling lights are, however, a still newer idea. Similar pink glass tubes, ¼-in. in diameter, are slung horizontally in frames. Above is a row of single bulbs, the light from which takes the form of rays across the lines of the tubes. The effect is charming and the lighting restful.

The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Grill Room Disappearing Wall - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

Above - The 1930s redecorated Trocadero Grill Room Disappearing Wall - From the Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

A complete system of air-conditioning has been installed. Washed air is brought in through gilt ceiling gratings and extracted through gilded bronze grilles under the windows. Behind this decoration is some surprising construction which has been carried on while the building is in use. In the grill room eight stanchions were removed in one night and the use of the room was not interrupted. On the upper floors is one of the largest girders in England, it is 70 ft. long, 14 ft. 6 in deep, and weights 62 tons. A large part of the building from the fourth floor to the roof is carried by this girder. Entrance to the kitchens on the fourth floor is actually obtained through the web of the girder. The cabaret stage in the grill room was enlarged and moved forward; this was done without cancelling a single performance.' Architect & Building News May 2nd 1930.

 

A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the Lyon's Trocadero RestaurantBy the 1950s Londoners' appetite for the Trocadero Restaurant had waned and Lyons sold the building to Mecca Ltd who reopened it in July 1965 as a Dance Hall and restaurant called Tiffany's, which was billed as 'The most excitingly romantic place in town.' Despite this the old Lyons Grill Room, formerly the Trocadero Music Hall, was later converted into a bowling alley and a Casino was also added in to the mix.

Left - A period postcard showing the entrance foyer of the Lyon's Trocadero Restaurant.

For a fascinating read on The London Trocadero, after it had been taken over and converted by J. Lyons & Co, the Web Site of the Bennett Family's Trocadero Banqueting Book may be of interest. They say: 'When we acquired the Trocadero Banquet Book, we really didn't know what it was. It was described at auction as a 'Menu Book'. Despite the years of work which had gone into its writing, there was little interest and bidding - perhaps because from the outside it looked simply like a tatty old book, and little else.

The covers of the book were all torn and peeling off, the spine had disappeared long ago, and there was evidence of water damage. However it was clear from looking at the inside of the book that it was something special. On four hundred pages there were nearly one thousand hand-written descriptions of banquets and other meals, written in exquisite writing, and clearly with a great deal of care and attention. The book itself is also impressive - it measures 14" by 13" and weights in at over 10lbs. (35cmx32cmx3.5kg)'. Visit the Trocadero Banqueting Book site here.

A period postcard depicting the J. Lyons & Co. Ltd Trocadero Restaurant

Above - A period postcard depicting the J. Lyons & Co. Ltd Trocadero Restaurant

A drawing entitled 'Table D'Hote at the Trocadero' - From 'Living London' 1902.Over the following half century since the Mecca conversion the building has been used for all manner of entertainments, and has been altered so much that virtually nothing of its interior remains. In the 1990s an underground passage was created between the original building and the former London Pavilion and the whole complex was branded The Trocadero. Here various Shops, Cinemas, Arcades, Restaurants such as the rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood, and Experiences including Ripley's Believe it or Not, and Madam Tussauds' Rock Circus have been constructed inside the buildings.

Right - A drawing entitled 'Table D'Hote at the Trocadero' - From 'Living London' 1902.

In 2010 work began on cleaning the exterior of the Coventry Street facade of the old Trocadero buildings and the interior of the Trocadero was to be converted into a 495 bed Hotel although this seems to have stalled for the time being. For more information on this click here.

You may like to visit the website of the London Trocadero here.

Some of the above information was gleaned from the excellent book 'The Theatres Of London' by Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, 1975.

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

 

No Complaints, by O. B. Clarence

On meeting Arthur Lloyd at the Trocadero Music Hall

Below is an extract from the book 'No Complaints' by O. B. Clarence, published in 1947, about his unexpected meeting with Arthur Lloyd at the Trocadero and his subsequent employment there.

'...Shortly after this, through some impish freak of fate, I came across an actor in search of someone to take his place in a music-hall sketch. He was asked to join a company on tour and his present manager was willing to release him if he could find a substitute. My new acquaintance was perhaps too anxious about his next engagement to inquire too deeply into my qualifications, but, with the assurance of youth, I easily persuaded him I was the man. I was taken to see the manager in question that evening, and he turned out to be no less a person than the great Arthur Lloyd, almost the last 'lion comique' then living. He was appearing in a sketch called An Unfortunate Man. I sat in front and saw it through at the Trocadero Music Hall - which stood then where the Trocadero Restaurant now is - and was taken to see Arthur Lloyd afterwards and handed the part. There was a rehearsal on Monday morning. I had to sing the verse of a song, and Mr. Eaton, the conductor of the Trocadero orchestra, had forgotten the key of the piano and hummed the tune to me. I got through the performance in the evening, a feat which, to this day, amazes me. Everyone must have been too good natured to tell me how terrible I was.

I had never done any amateur work and had never made myself up. I had purchased a moustache of the wrong colour and too large for my small features and wore an eyeglass which I had some difficulty in keeping in place. There was no stage door at the Troc; performers passed out through the audience when they had finished, but I used to sit down and watch the performances. There was a long bar running down one side from which a lot of noise came which the performers had to play against. On Saturday night I saw Arthur Lloyd there. With the fifteen shillings I had just earned in my pocket, I went up to him and asked him to have a drink. A large smile spread over his kindly features as he surveyed me: 'You put your money in your pocket,' he said, 'and get home.' I am very proud to have appeared with Arthur Lloyd. I met the dear old man a good while after this in the Isle of Man and I asked him what I was like in his sketch. He replied in his deep rumble, 'I didn't think you'd had very much experience'.'

The above text in quotes was first published in 'No Complaints' by O. B. Clarence, 1947.

 

The London Trocadero in February 2010, shortly before the building's proposed conversion into an Hotel

Above - The London Trocadero in February 2010, shortly before the building's proposed conversion into an Hotel