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The Station, Grand Theatre, and Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall in 1913 - Courtesy John Griffiths

Above - The Station, Grand Theatre, and Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall in 1913 - Courtesy John Griffiths

 

The Grand Theatre, Park Street, Walsall

Formerly - The Alexandra Concert Hall / The Alexandra Theatre / The Gaiety Theatre

A sketch of the Grand Theatre, Walsall - From the second anniversary programme for the Theatre in November 1892 - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks.

Above - A sketch of the Grand Theatre, Walsall - From the second anniversary programme for the Theatre in November 1892 - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks.

A variety programme, printed on silk to commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of the Grand Theatre, Walsall, on November the 17th, 1892 - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks.The Grand Theatre, on Park Street, Walsall was built on the site of an earlier Theatre. This started out as a beer and wine shop run by Charles Crooke. Crooke later converted the premises into a Concert Hall called the Alexandra Concert Hall and then in 1879 converted it into a variety Theatre called the Alexandra Theatre. In 1885 the Theatre was renamed the Gaiety Theatre, opening on May the 25th that year. This didn't last long though as in 1890 the Theatre was completely demolished to make way for a new Theatre to be built on the same site. This Theatre, the Grand Theatre, was designed by Daniel Arkell and built by Henry Wilcock. The Theatre opened on Monday the 17th of November 1890.

Right - A variety programme, printed on silk to commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of the Grand Theatre, Walsall, on November the 17th, 1892 - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks, whose Great Grandfather, John Husselbee, was a silver plater, had his own one man band, and then went on to be a bill
poster manager for an advertising company called Sheffield's.

The ERA published a review of the new Grand Theatre in their 15th of November 1890 edition saying: 'The finishing touches are now being put to a fine pile of buildings erected on the site of the old Gaiety theatre, Walsall, and which will henceforth be known as the Grand Theatre.

It will be opened on Monday next, the 17th inst., when the proprietor (Mr W. H. Westwood) has engaged Mr Chas. Wibrow's No. 1 Pal Jones company to commence the season.

The architect is Mr Daniel Arkell, of Birmingham, and The builder, Mr Henry Wilcock, of Wolverhampton. The principle elevation next Park-street, is an adaptation of the Romanesque style of architecture, and is remarkably original in treatment.

The centre window, with the flowing, moulded sash bars, which are gilded over the face has a very imposing effect. The turret at the corner, rising 40ft. above the building, is surmounted with a gilt figure blowing a trumpet. At the junction of the two streets is a panel, beautifully carved, representing the churchyard scene from Hamlet, in which are figures of Hamlet and the gravediggers with the church in the near distance, the castle in the background. In the centre pediment facing Park-street is a carved figure, standing on a base cut off a palm tree, symbolical of music, playing on a reed instrument. The carved panels, representing masked heads intertwined with foliated carving, are very grotesque. The building is of brick throughout, with facings of pressed red bricks and Bath and Codsa stone-dressiugs, the colours of which are in contrast.

A variety programme, printed on silk to commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of the Grand Theatre, Walsall, on November the 17th, 1892 - Courtesy Nick RatnieksThe entrance to the pit and gallery is from Park-street and by the special arrangements which have been made, in the way of swinging emergency doors, the entire auditory will be able to leave their seats and the street in three minutes; and this is saying much, when it is borne in mind that new house will accommodate an audience of about 2,000. Each level will have exits on both sides of the theatre and all the staircases are free from winders or dangerous curves. Throughout the building is as near fireproof as possible. The staircases on both sides of the house leading from the ground floor to the gallery are formed of Victoria stone, and built in the walls, so that in case of fire - which, however, owing to the safeguards provided is almost an impossibility - these would remain intact after the conflagration was over.

Left - A variety programme, printed on silk to commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of the Grand Theatre, Walsall, on November the 17th, 1892 - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks - The cast included Arthur Combes, Pat Rafferty, George Lashwood. Ada Rippon, Harry Anderson, J. P. Curlett, The 3 Macs, Matt . J. Brown, Lillie Hall, The Police Band, Fred W. Millis, Lilly Wilford, Olympian Troup, Tom Graham, E. Townsend, Mdlle Josephine, Mdlle Lucretia, Hope Neresford, Lizzie Ramsden, and the Brothers Stelling.

The dress-circle and gallery are formed at a very flat pitch, and so graduated as to avoid that feeling of pitching forward which is experienced in many of the theatres. The view of the stage is quite uninterrupted, and the seating has been so arranged that an excellent view of the stage is obtained by those seated in the remotest part of the house. The view of the interior of the house, looking at it from the stage, is exceedingly pretty. The fronts of the gallery and dress-circle are of raised "carton Pierre, and are decorated in soft tints of green, crimson, and gold.

The front of the proscenium is carried out in a similar manner, in the Oriental style. The galleries have a very graceful curve, and are so arranged that each seat is set back a little, to avoid one person siting in front obstructing the view of anyone behind, which makes sight line so much better. There is a spacious promenade at the back of the dress-circle for persons wishing to stand during the performance. Four private boxes are formed - one on each side of the proscenium in the dress-circle, and one on each side of the orchestra stalls. These are capable of holding eight persons each, and are luxuriously upholstered. The front of the boxes has a very pleasing effect, with carved columns and ornamental Oriental enrichment, and are draped with crimson plush curtains and old gold fringe, with Turkish tassels. All these boxes are approached directly from the street, so as to be quite private.

A card depicting the Horwath's Midgets Company - Courtesy Nick RatnieksThe ceiling over the auditorium is of a convex form and so forms a collector of sound, and is beautifully treated with raised moulded ribs with medallions and patterns on a bold cornice at the bottom, and decorated with hand-painted foliated panels, enriched with gold and in colours harmonising with the other decorations. In the centre of the proscenium is the bear and ragged staff, being the coat-of-arms of the town. This is gilded, and stands out as a special feature. Over the proscenium is painted "All the world's a stage." The auditorium is nearly 70ft. wide and about 40ft. deep, the stage being nearly the same width. The proscenium is 27 ft, wide, and separated from the auditorium by an asbestos curtain.

Above right - A card depicting the Horwath's Midgets Company - Courtesy Nick Ratnieks, whose Great Grandfather, John Husselbee, was a silver plater, had his own one man band, and then went on to be a bill poster manager for an advertising company called Sheffield's. Nick thinks that this card depicts them when they played the Grand, Walsall. The slogan on the card which reads 'Rast Ich So Rost Ich' translates to 'When I Rest, I Rust.'

To allow of the better staging of dramas everything behind the curtain has been fitted with the latest improvements, not only for the efficient working of the scenery, but also for allowing quick changes to he made. On a level with the stage, but entirely cut off from the main building, are provided eight dressing-rooms, with two additional rooms which are for the "star actors." These are so arranged that in case of fire a staircase is provided for the egress of the actors and actresses at the rear of the building.

The gallery is seated to hold 900; the pit, 700; the dress-circle, 200, and the stalls, 200. The stalls and dress-circle are fitted up with crimson plush, with lifting seats, The lighting is by means of a sunlight, with fifty-seven burners in seven clusters, in addition to the ordinary brackets round the theatre. The seats in the pit are of iron, with the back and seat covered with Brussels carpeting; while the comfortable seats in the gallery are each provided with foot-rests. On the ground floor are the smokerooms and lounges. That for the circle and stalls is a magnificent room, being 16ft. by 35ft., and is furnished with walnut framing, covered with velvet pile, with mirror panelling above; at tile farthest end is a very handsome walnut bar and fittings. The smokeroom for the gallery adjoins the front vault, but is approached by a separate entrance out of the corridor. The entrance to the gallery is very picturesque, having glazed tiles to the walls, with best red brick facing above. The ceiling is deeply panelled, and moulded pendants and trusses under each end of the lower members. The floor is laid with wood-block paving to avoid noise. The entrance to the boxes is from the street; the walls are plastered, and have a bold moulded cornice and encaustic-tile floor. The decorated balustrades have mahogany polished tops. Altogether the wants of both the public and the actors have been carefully thought over and duly provided for.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, November 15th 1890.

The Station, Grand Theatre, and Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall in 1930 - Courtesy John Griffiths

Above - The Station, Grand Theatre, and Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall in 1930 - Courtesy John Griffiths

The Grand Theatre was altered and renamed the Grand Theatre of Varieties in 1899 and the ERA reported on the changes in their 9th of September edition saying: 'The chief structural changes in the Grand Theatre of Varieties, Walsall, have been the construction of new staircases and exits, each part of the house now having its own ingress and egress. The partition behind the dress circle has been removed, and small, though convenient, refreshment buffets have replaced the bars which previously existed. One row of seats has been removed from the dress-circle, which has been improved. It and the orchestra stalls are upholstered in crimson velvet, the chairs having turn-up seats and gilt supports. The staircases and other parts are handsomely carpeted, and the decorations in every way are rich and suitable. On burnished brass rods hang crimson velvet curtains, and the proscenium is richly frescoed. The walls of the chief staircases are covered with Japanese paper of elegant designs, while the dadoes and ceilings are in lincrusta of colours to tone with the prevailing tints of the scheme of decoration. The building seats about 1,500. It is heated throughout with hot water, and the electric lighting installation has been much extended, The rich upholstery and chaste decorations have been carried out by Messrs A. R. Dean, Limited, Birmingham.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, September 9th, 1899.

The Grand Theatre was was converted for Cinema use in 1931 but sadly it was destroyed by fire in 1939 and subsequently demolished.

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

 

Her Majesty's Theatre, Park Street, Walsall

Later - The Savoy Cinema / ABC / Canon

A sketch of Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall - From the ERA 31st March 1900 - To see more of these Sketches click here.

Above - A sketch of Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall - From the ERA 31st March 1900 - To see more of these Sketches click here.

Her Majesty's Theatre, Park Street, Walsall, was built by Whittaker and Co., of Dudley, for the Walsall Theatres Company in 1899, and designed in the French Renaissance style by the architects Owen and Ward, of Birmingham, who also designed the Opera House, Kidderminster, the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, and the Hippodrome, Poplar. The Theatre opened on Saturday the 24th of March 1900 with a production of 'The Belle of New York' by the Ben Greet company.

Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall during the run of 'Betty' with Macdonald and Young in 1920 - Courtesy John Griffiths

Above - Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall during the run of 'Betty' with Macdonald and Young in 1920 - Courtesy John Griffiths

The ERA reported on the new Theatre and its opening production in their 31st of March, 1900 edition saying: 'The Mayor of Walsall, on Saturday afternoon last, opened Her Majesty's Theatre, the new building which has been erected in Park-street, Walsall, for the Walsall Theatres Company by the architects, Messrs Owen and Ward, of Birmingham. The building is in French Renaissance style, and is of red Ruabon bricks and stone dressings. The front elevation to Park-street is a commanding one, and is surmounted by a stately dome of copper, which stands over 70ft. from the street level. Over the front entrance is a life-size gilt heraldic figure. The main entrance, for the stalls, circle, and balcony, opens into a handsome and spacious hall, in which are cloak rooms, pay offices, &c. The paving is of tesselated mosaic work, and the walls are artistically decorated. The staircases leading from this are ample in capacity and most lavishly treated.

A period postcard depicting Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall

Above - A period postcard depicting Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall

On the circle floor a handsome lounge is provided and approached either from the foyer or refreshment saloon, and the lounge has communication with an outside promenade. The interior decorations are of a most ornate character. The fronts of the dress-circle and gallery and the ceiling of the auditorium are principally in fibrous plaster, highly decorated and gilded in Louis XVI. style, the prevailing colours being Cambridge blue, cream, and gold; whilst the dome is a masterpiece of the painter's art, the various pictures, representative of Venetian, Grecian, musical, and Terpsichorean figures, in oils on canvas, being rich in colour, yet delicate and exquisitely blended and finished. In the centre is an electrolier.

The auditorium is 69ft. long and 60ft. wide, the cantilever principle being adopted. Tip-up chairs, cushioned in scarlet. furnish the principal seats in the house. The stage is an exceptionally large one. The gridiron is 52ft. above the stage level, and the scenery has been painted by Mr Leolyn Hart. The subject of the drop scene is allegorical, cupids circling over a garlanded queen enthroned on a dais of masonry. This pretty picture is enveloped by luxurious curtains in old gold, within outer hangings of rich deep blue plush. The building is lighted throughout by electricity; and the dressing-rooms and bars are the acme of comfort and convenience. A fireproof curtain has been hung. The builders of the theatre are Messrs Whittaker and Co., of Dudley...

A period postcard depicting Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall

Above - A period postcard depicting Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall

...The Ben Greet company, under the direction of Mr J. Bannister Howard, has been playing at the new theatre to crowded houses every night in The Belle of New York. Mr Arthur Ricketts evokes hearty laughter by his thoroughly amusing impersonation of Ichabod Bronson. Mr John Doran sings and acts with skill and judgement as Harry Bronson. Mr Sam T. Pearce convulses the audience as Karl Von Pumperknick. Mr Jos. R. Tate bears himself with appropriate pomposity as "Doc" Snifkins. Mr W. R. Riley is a capital Blinky Bill, and scores with his whistling solo. Mr Walter Uridge as Kenneth Mugg hits off in humorous fashion the conventional type of low comedian. The Counts Ratsi and Patsi are rendered thoroughly diverting by Mr Tom Graves and Mr Maurice Carlton. Miss Empsie Bowman as Violet Gray charms by her dainty acting, and her pleasing voice is heard to advantage. Miss Maud Darling is vivacious and chic as Fifi Fricot. Miss Millicent Marsden is engagingly attractive as Cora Angelique. Miss Maggie Bowman acts and dances with appropriate energy as Mamie Clancy. The choruses are efficiently rendered, and the costumes are rich and pretty.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 31st March, 1900.

Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall during the run of Frank Fortescue's Review 'Golden Moments' in the 1930s - Courtesy John Griffiths.

Above - Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall during the run of Frank Fortescue's Review 'Golden Moments' in the 1930s - Courtesy John Griffiths.

Her Majesty's Theatre ran as a live Theatre until 1936 but was then used as a Cinema for its final year whilst under the ownership of Associated British Cinemas, ABC. The Theatre was then demolished in 1937 and a new purpose built Cinema was built on the site, called the Savoy Cinema. This had an Art Deco auditorium on two levels with a capacity of 2,169 and opened on the 3rd of October 1938 with the film 'A Yank at Oxford.'

The Savoy was renamed ABC in the later part of the 1960s and in 1973 the Cinema was tripled, reopening on the 20th of September 1973. Canon took over the building in the mid 1980s and it was renamed Canon, and remained so even after MGM had taken over operations in its final years. The Cinema closed on the 18th of November 1993 and was demolished two years later in April 1995 to make way for a Woolworth's store which was built in a similar style to the original Her Majesty's Theatre. After Woolworth's closed it was taken over by a nationwide chain called T. J. Hughes, but during the recession in 2011 they ceased trading and the building was vacated.

Some of the information on the Savoy Cinema was 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 Imperial Theatre, Darwall Street, Walsall

Formerly - The Agricultural Hall / Theatre Royal / St George’s Hall and Theatre

The Imperial Theatre on Darwell Street, Walsall began life as the Agricultural Hall, which was built by G. B. Nichols of West Bromwich in 1868 and opened in April 1869. The Hall was used for many purposes but was more often home to theatrical performances so it was no surprise when it was eventually converted for full time theatrical use in 1880. The ERA reported on the reconstruction of the Hall in their 25th of April edition saying: 'This Hall, which was recently reopened with every prospect of success, has as we have stated, undergone many alterations and improvements with a view to the more complete provision of theatrical and other entertainments. The interior of the Hall has been completely remodelled and infinitely improved. Additional entrances have been made at the side and also in front, and what used to be an unsightly and useless balcony (calling it that for want of a better term) has been made into a very commodious room, which will serve many useful purposes.

A horse-shoe gallery has been arranged at the end and about two-thirds down the sides of the Hall, which is calculated to seat very comfortably 400 spectators. It is supported in front by light and elegant pillars, and is remarkable for its graceful sweep and general beauty of design. The seats on the floor have also been altered and made more comfortable, the front rows being provided with cushions. The stage itself has been completely metamorphosed, and is now one of the finest and most perfect in arrangement to be found in any town in England of the size of Walsall. The heavy arch, which was such an effective obstacle to the passage of sound from the stage into the Hall, has been removed, and in its place a very handsome proscenium has been constructed.. This has Corinthian columns and pilasters, and is spanned by a leaping arch, panelled and enriched in a thoroughly artistic and very beautiful manner. The stage itself has been enlarged to the utmost limits of which the building would admit., and is lighted and arranged on the latest improved systems. The scenery which has been provided by the Company is worthy of the highest praise. It is from the brush of Mr H. Mapleson, whose work at the Holte Theatre, Aston, is no doubt known to many of our readers. Acoustically, so far as can be judged, the Hall is perfect, and will, it is said, not only be one in which every one present can hear, but will also be one in which every singer can sing and every speaker can speak with thorough case and comfort. On this Mr Loxton must be highly congratulated, for if there was one defect more glaring than another in the old Hall it was the immense disadvantage speakers or singers laboured under in their attempts to make themselves intelligible to their audiences.

The warming is by one of Mr Blakemore's (of Wednesbury) patent hot-water apparatus, which have proved so successful wherever adopted; and ventilation is secured by grates in the pannelled ceiling, with moulded and enriched rings. Provision is made for further ventilation if necessary by the windows in the lantern lights, which, by-the-by, are fitted with shutters also, so that perfect darkness can be secured if desired even in broad daylight. The artificial lighting of the body of the Hall is by eight star-lights, which, if anything, have the perhaps easily forgivable fault of being unnecessarily bright for ordinary purposes, especially as there are also a number of brackets under the gallery. The gas-fitting contract was intrusted to Mr Chesterton (formerly Brown and Chesterton), Station-street, Walsall. The contract for the alterations was with the executors of Mr Milward, Dudley, who have certainly fulfilled their engagement in a most workmanlike manner. The whole of the material used has been of the finest quality, and the workmanship is fully equal to it.

Both professional and amateur players will be sure of finding every convenience in their particular line. Behind and under the stage additional rooms have been made, which will be found to supply every want in the shape of dressing, retiring, or cloak-rooms on all occasions. In front of the stage an orchestra has been made, to which the musicians enter from under the stage, obviating the great annoyance of having them trooping through the Hall. This orchestra is removable, and a false floor can he put in its place, thus restoring the dancing space for balls and soiries to the original area. For concerts with large choruses a movable stage is arranged to come out a short distance into the body of the Hall, and so provide what additional accommodation may be needed.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 25 April, 1880.

During its life the building underwent a series of name changes, becoming known variously as the Agricultural Hall, Theatre Royal, St. George's Hall, St. George's Hall and Theatre, and St. George's Theatre, but its final incarnation for theatrical use was as the Imperial Theatre which it became in 1899.

The Imperial Theatre would later become Walsall's first Cinema, opening in 1908 and running as such for 50 years until its eventual closure in 1968. The building was then converted for Bingo use which operated for a number of years until in 1997 it was converted into a public house by Wetherspoon’s and is known today as the Imperial, Walsall.

The Theatres Trust says that the building's exterior entrance today 'appears to be that of the 1869 Agricultural Hall' and that the interior 'is that of a cinema, presumably dating from conversion about 1915. It is a rectangular room with a raked floor and a slightly curved end balcony. The side walls are panelled between piers, from which spring shallow arched beams. Square proscenium, behind which an earlier proscenium arch can still be traced.'

(Although the Imperial was the first Cinema in Walsall, the first purpose built cinema was actually the Electric Picture Palace which opened in 1910).

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

 

The Picture House, Lower Bridge Street, Walsall

Later - The Gaumont / The Odeon

The Picture House in Lower Bridge Street, Walsall was built in the Neo-Classical, Tudor Revival style for the Associated Provincial Picture House chain and designed by Percy Lindsay Browne. The Theatre opened in July 1920 with the film 'Woman' with Florence Billings.

Sadly only 3 years later the building was destroyed by fire on the 1st of September 1923 but was then rebuilt by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, PCT, and reopened on the 26th of December the following year, 1924.

The Theatre is noted as being the first to have a Wurlitzer Cinema Organ installed in the UK. It also had a cafe and restaurant which remained open throughout its life.

Gaumont took over PCT in 1929 but the Theatre wasn't renamed until 1948. In October 1965 it was renamed Odeon and in 1967 the Foyer and Auditorium were modernised.

Sadly the Theatre was to be destroyed by fire again on the 2nd of March 1971 in an arson attack, and then remained boarded up for a number of years until it was demolished and a Tesco Metro was built on the site.

Some of this information on the Walsall Picture House was 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.

 

Music Halls in Walsall

There were a number of Music Halls operating in Walsall in the mid 1800s including the Alexandra Music Hall, Faulconbridge's Peoples' Music Hall, and the Three Cups Music Hall which were all operating in 1866, and the Princess's Music Hall which was operating in 1867.

If you have any more information or images for these Music Halls 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.