The Wood Green Empire, High Road, Wood Green, N22
Above Left - A period Postcard depicting the Wood Green Empire - And Right - The former Wood Green Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Stephen Thompson.
The Wood Green Empire was built for Oswald Stoll and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham. The Theatre opened on the 9th of September 1912 with the reasonably large capacity of 1,840 on three levels, Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circle. The stage was 35' Deep by 75' Wide between the walls.
Right - A poster for a Music Hall Bill featuring 'A Grand Patriotic Spectacle, Britannia's Honour in Seven Tableaux' at the Wood Green Empire on Monday the 7th of December 1914 - Courtesy Peter Burrows. - Also on the Bill were George Lashwood, Romaine and Dainton, The Sisters Gaye, J. Milton Hayes, Lockhart's Elephants, Daisy Dormer, and the War in Pictures. Prices were reduced for Sailors and Soldiers in Uniform.
In 1918 a tragedy occurred at the Empire when the famous American stage magician Chung Ling Soo was shot in the chest during his 'Condemned to Death by the Boxers' trick. The trick had gone horribly wrong and after being taken to hospital he died the next day. There is much information about Chung Ling Soo here.
Above - A sketch of George Hoare at the Wood Green Empire. George was manager of the Theatre from the late 1940s, and would later go on to become General Manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from 1958 to 1982 when he retired - Courtesy his son Jeremy Hoare.
For many years the Empire housed Music Hall and Variety but in January 1955 the Theatre closed and was restructured for television use by the new television company; ATV which was owned by Stoll Moss.
ATV enlarged the stage area considerably, firstly by extending forward into the stalls, and eventually by extended part of the stage all the way to the back wall of the stalls, leaving only a small seating area on the stage-left side with control rooms behind, and under the dress circle. During this time the front of the Theatre was converted into shops leaving no sign that there was a Theatre behind them.
The Morecambe and Wise Show, so popular in Britain from the 1960s onwards, was first broadcast live from the Wood Green Empire, and a host of others including Val Parnell's Saturday Spectacular, The Sid James Show, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, and many children's TV productions.
Left - A 1928 Variety Programme at the Wood Green Empire.
Above - G. F. Humphreys, manager of the Ionic Cinema, Golder's Green, sitting in the Grand Circle of the Wood Green Empire in November 1968, some years after it had closed. Note the pillars supporting the gallery above, quite unusual in a Theatre of this period. The arch at the back led to the bar and the curtained doorway to its right was the circle entrance. The seats with their wooden arms appear to be the originals. The Gallery seating still consisted of benches right up to the Theatre's end, with a separate pay box half way up the entrance stairs. The Gallery's entrance was in Lymington Avenue - Photo and caption information courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.
By 1962 the Empire's Television days were over and the building stood empty and unused for a number of years until most of it was demolished to make way for a multi storey car park and shops.
The frontage remained but was almost unrecognisable with shop fronts cluttering up the facade, and so it remains to this day.
Right - A period postcard showing the Wood Green Empire in its early days.
A recent visitor to the site, Tonia Capon, has very kindly sent in some signed Postcards of various artistes that had all performed at the Wood Green Empire and been saved by her Great Grandmother ever since she had worked there as a Dresser in the early 1900s. Tonia writes:
'My great-grandma was Rose Burlingham and she was a dresser for the Oswald Stoll music halls and the Moss Empires. Her husband was a stage hand. She met him at Alexandra Palace Roman Garden where he was dressed as a gladiator and stole her heart (much to the dismay of her mother who considered she had married beneath herself!). My own mother remembers her as a really jolly, kind person obviously mighty good with a needle!' - Tonia Capon.
Left - A signed postcard of Miss Marie Lloyd from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
Above - Two 1913 signed Postcards from the Wood Green Empire of The Aberdare Girls, and Clarice Mayne - From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
Clarice Mayne was a well known act supported by her
husband Mr Tate a director of the firm of Wylie & Tate, he was also
a song writer who wrote many of his wife's numbers including "Broken
Doll." They appeared in Variety as 'Clarice
Mayne & That.' She was appearing in a London Palladium pantomime
with George Robey when her husband James Tate died in Manchester from
pneumonia, her place was taken by Dorothy Ward. During the last war,
Clarice Mayne lived in retirement in Angmering in Sussex and was a near
neighbour of George Black of the London
Palladium. She could often been seen sitting in the stalls of the
Plaza cinema in Worthing during the afternoons.
Above - Two Postcards from the Wood Green Empire of Captain Fred Woodward (1913) and Jean and Josie (Signed To the dear Dresser) - From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
Captain Woolward presented an act with performing Sea lions and claimed during World War One that the Sea Lions used in his act would be able to detect submarines, he tried to interest the Royal Navy in this, tests were carried out, but nothing became of this claim. - Information Courtesy Alan Chudley.
Above - A 1914 Postcard from the Wood Green Empire of The Hanlon Brothers - From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
Above - Two Postcards from the Wood Green Empire of Marjory Dawson (1913) and The Mikado Family (1916)- From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
The Mikado Family were an acrobatic act. Sadly a
few months before this image dated 1916. one of the family, Ishiao Ishimura
was fatally injured on the stage of the Royalty Theatre Chester in December
1915 when he fell during a somersault and broke his neck. His grave
can still be seen in Overliegh Cemetery bearing the inscription in both
English and Japanese; " Far from the bones of his ancestors"
- Information Courtesy Alan Chudley.
|A visitor to the site, Frances Berry,
writes : "Who knew that paradise lived at the bottom of my street?
At the end of Pelham Road lived the Wood Green Empire. Every Christmas,
my mother would take us kids to the pantomime at the Empire. Our family
couldn't afford the pricey seats, so were always way, way up in the gallery.
We totally appreciated when the performers would toss sweeties our way,
and invite the upper stall kids onto the stage. My sister Margaret was
always first onto the stage.
I lived round the corner on Pelham Road, and my friend, Tommy, and I used to set up our Guy Fawkes dummy right outside the Empire. My father and Tommy's father never knew that we stole their old clothes to dress up Guy Fawkes. The leggy dancers were the most generous with contributions to our funds for fireworks. Occasionally, other young entrepreneurs would try to occupy our spaces. However, Tommy was very handy with his fists and we would reclaim our valuable spots.
Later, when it became a television studio, we still hit up the performers each November. Some were generous but others were total meanies. My lips are sealed about who were stingy. Morecambe and Wise were great to us kids and I'll always remember their cheerful smiles and generous hands. We always had superior firework displays at our respective houses."
Above text in quotes courtesy Frances Berry 2008.
The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn
'We now turn into Green Lanes which leads down past Finsbury Park to the busy shopping centre of Harringay. On the east side we pass the huge Harringay Arena, famous for dog-racing and championship boxing contests, and shortly reach Wood Green. Duckett's Common on the west side of Green Lanes is an open space of six acres which is so named from a farmer of that name who lived in this vicinity. The High Road is a smart shopping street with two large departmental stores, namely Messrs A. Barton & Company Limited and the London Co-operative Society, and also the Wood Green Empire Theatre of Varieties on the east side. At the corner of Bounds Road is the handsome church of St Michael and All Angels forming a bold landmark and crowned with a lofty spire.
Far Right - Nella Webb - from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.
Wood Green is a new borough centred round Green Lanes and Wood Green High Road which received its Charter from Sir Percy Greenaway, the Lord Mayor of London, on 20 September 1933. It was separated from Tottenharn in 1888 not being on very friendly terms and in 1994 became an Urban District. The Town Hall, formerly Earlham Grove House, was purchased by the Council in 1893 together with its grounds of eleven acres for £12,000. It faces the High Road and the grounds include a bowling green, a bandstand and a pavilion.'
Text in quotes from 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.