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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

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The Wood Green Empire, High Road, Wood Green, N22

Also see - The Gaumont Palace, Wood Green

A Google StreetView Image of the former Wood Green Empire - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Wood Green Empire - Click to Interact.

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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. 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 a large capacity of nearly 2,000 people on three levels, Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circle.

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.

The Stage Newspaper reported on the new Theatre in their 29th of August 1912 edition saying:- 'For some inexplicable reason Wood Green has been sadly neglected by theatrical and music hall entrepreneurs. One would have thought that this large and flourishing suburb, with its huge and quickly increasing population, would have had its theatre or music hall long ago, but beyond the sporadic appearance of amateur operatic companies at the local Assembly Rooms, nothing was vouchsafed to enliven the neighbouring amusement seekers until the recent advent of several picture palaces, which have been rapidly gathering in a golden harvest.

Mr. Oswald Stoll, however, with his customary enterprise, has set to work, and the handsome hall which has sprung into being almost unnoticed behind the shops in High Road, Wood Green, is one of the most up-to-date and comfortable houses in the metropolis, and for this reason, apart from the array of talent which has been booked, will no doubt find a host of regular patrons.

As we have said before, the frontage to the main road is not very wide - about 30 ft. - but viewed from opposite it is certainly imposing, with its ornamental glass and iron awning and the high central tower with its revolving illuminated sign. A flight of marble steps leads to a spacious vestibule with a well-fitted box-office, and from thence we pass to a very handsome crushroom, which contains two fine mantelpieces and radiators with bevelled mirrors over, and is lighted by six electroliers of striking design.

A flight of stairs with ornamental balustrading leads to the manager's room and the offices of the staff, a few steps lead down to the stalls, and a wide staircase, carpeted in crimson, upwards to the circle. Handsome polished mahogany doors, with glass panels, keep the draughts out of the auditorium, and two pay-boxes flank the smaller staircase.

The Wood Green Empire - From a period Postcard.Gaining the interior, one is struck by the simplicity of the architecture, the beauty of the sight-line, which is so characteristic of Mr. Frank Matcham's theatres, the width of the proscenium opening, and the gracefulness of the domed roof. The colour scheme is white and gold, relieved by crimson draperies and carpets. There are eight roomy boxes and plenty of space for a numerous orchestra. The house is built on the two-tier cantilever principle, with a fine sweep to the grand circle, the upper circle being divided into a balcony and gallery. The twopenny seats in the latter place will be marvellous value for the money.

Left - A period postcard showing the Wood Green Empire in its early days.

Indeed, comfort is aimed at in every way, a capital installation of radiators warming the building thoroughly, whilst the cloakroom accommodation is on a liberal scale, and a dual system of lighting will prevent an awkward contretemps. The glass dome forms a sliding roof, and the ventilation is as perfect as science can make it. The ceiling contains two allegorical paintings representing Comedy and Music, and over the proscenium are eight well-designed-panels, which have an excellent effect. Eight electroliers depend from the ceiling and shed a brilliant light, whilst the front of each circle is illuminated with electric candelabra with lustres, which give a pretty appearance to the decorations. The spacious pit, with its tiled walls and luxurious seating, will, no doubt, be a popular part. There are two niches one each side of the richly carpeted fauteuils, which break the monotony of the walls, and on the O.P. side of the house are three dainty windows fitted with stained glass, which also lend variety to the view.

The proscenium opening is simple yet striking, and bears the line, "All the world's a stage," directly over it. A more than usually ornamental safety curtain has been fitted, and a pair of handsome and heavy plush tableau curtains are provided.

Variety Programme for the Wood Green Empire - Click to see the Entire Programme.The stage itself is replete with every modern convenience, and has a large tank underneath for the aquatic spectacles which are to be featured here. There is a well-fitted lighting gallery, and a large stock of new scenery. The stage measures about 35 ft. deep by 80 ft. wide, and there is a clear 50 ft. from stage to grid. Electric numbers are placed on each side, and the stage will be kept warm with hot-water pipes. There are eight large dressing-rooms, fitted with hot and cold water, and adequately lighted and furnished, whilst in an emergency four more rooms can be provided down stairs. The dressing-rooms are all on the stage level, with a stout brick wall between. The architect has certainly studied the artists as well as the public.

Right - A 1928 Variety Programme at the Wood Green Empire. Click to see the Entire Programme.

Prices will range from a twopenny gallery to an eighteenpenny fauteuil, with no booking fees, and seats will be Provided for over two thousand people. The Empire will open on Monday, September 9, with Mr. Albert Edward Bill as manager and Mr. H. E. Sawyer, late of the Ardwick Empire, as his assistant. The first programme will have as its "top-liner" Serene Nord. It may be mentioned that the Wood Green Empire is just outside the barring area of the Finsbury Park Empire.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, 29th of August 1912.

Above - A Selection of different styles of programme covers for the Wood Green Empire between the 1940s and 1950s - Courtesy Martin Clark.

A sketch of George Hoare at the Wood Green Empire - Courtesy his son Jeremy Hoare.The Wood Green Empire opened on the 9th of September 1912 and would go on to entertain the local people with over 40 years of music hall and variety productions. In 1918 however, a tragedy occurred at the Theatre 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. The Theatre manager at the Wood Green Empire in the 1940s and 50s was George Hoare, shown right, he would see the Theatre through its final years before going on to be manager at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1958.

Right - A sketch of George Hoare at the Wood Green Empire. George was manager of the Theatre from the late 1940s until May 1955, a few months after it was closed, 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 since its opening way back in 1912 the Empire had housed Music Hall and Variety and was always popular, but after the Pantomime season ended on the 29th of January 1955 the Theatre was closed down, 'Excessive Entertainment Tax' was quoted as the reason for the Theatre's closure. The Theatre was subsequently restructured for television use by the new television company ATV which was owned by Stoll Moss.

ATV enlarged the Theatre's 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.

A Report on the conversion of the Wood Green Empire into a TV Studio - From the Illustrated London News, July 16th 1955.

Above - A Report on the conversion of the Wood Green Empire into a TV Studio - From the Illustrated London News, July 16th 1955.

The Television Studio began broadcasting in September 1955, some 8 months after it had closed as a variety Theatre. The first broadcast from the re-purposed Theatre formed part of the grand opening night celebrations of the first independent and commercial TV station in Britain on the 22nd of September 1955 when a host of stars performed on its stage and in front of the cameras to an audience of two million people.

Conversion of the Wood Green Empire into a TV Studio - From the Stage Newspaper, July 14th 1955.

Above - Conversion of the Wood Green Empire into a TV Studio - From the Stage Newspaper, July 14th 1955.

A plan of the ATV Televison Theatre at the Wood Green Empire from 1955 to 1963 - From a document by Television Designer Richar Greenough Courtesy Roger Fox.The late TV designer Richard Greenough detailed some of the work involved in turning the Wood Green Empire into a Television studio in a document about his work kindly sent to me recently by Roger Fox who had been gifted the document by Greenough himself. In it Greenough says:- 'Our principal studio was Wood Green Empire, designed by the great theatre architect Frank Matcham and opened in 1912.

Right - A plan of the ATV Televison Theatre at the Wood Green Empire from 1955 to 1963 - From a document by Television Designer Richar Greenough Courtesy Roger Fox.

The stage was 37 feet deep and 75 feet wide wall to wall, with a proscenium 43 feet wide. We levelled the stage taking the floor into the auditorium over the stalls as far as under the front edge of the dress circle. This was an additional 44 feet making a total depth of 81 feet and 52 feet maximum wide in the auditorium. Within this area, on the right hand side was an orchestra pit 22 feet x 20 feet and about 4 feet deep. (For one show I filled it with water - but more anon). Under the dress circle the control room was built. At the back of the stage was a cyclorama, 45 feet wide, 14 feet deep and 18 feet high, filled gauze on a metal frame which could be flown out when not required or for bringing in the scenery.

The stage was at ground level so the "get in" was very easy, with large dock doors. Behind the stage was a large garage which we used to make and store some scenery and props. We later had a scenery store in Ossulton Street near St. Pancras station. When we took over Highbury Studios in October 1956 there was a carpenters' shop which gave us more space to make scenery.

I designed the first show out of Wood Green, a thirty minute variety show directed by Bill Ward, transmitted live at 8.00 p.m. on ITV's opening night, the 22nd September 1955, although Associated Rediffusion were responsible for that day as they had the franchise for the London area Monday to Friday and ATV had Saturday and Sunday. The Birmingham area was the next to go on air on the 17th February 1956, where we had Monday to Friday and ABC Television had Saturday and Sunday. We used Wood Green Empire until the 29th May 1963 after which it was demolished.

At Wood Green I designed a show for Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris. There was a sketch with them in a boat. For this we filled the orchestra pit with water. A plastic liner was made and this worked very well except I had designed steps to get down into the water but these were made of wood so they floated up! We also had an inverted periscope to get an underwater shot. This worked very well during the rehearsal but by the time of transmission the water had become very cloudy. As this had worked well we did it again in a later show but this time the plastic liner sprung a leak and the water began to get into all the electrical wires under the stage. Panic! Bob Craig, the stand-by carpenter, volunteered to go down into the water so I lent him my bathing trunks which were in my car. Somehow he managed to stem the flow and the show went out live. We did not repeat this mistake.'

The above text in quotes (edited) is from a document written by Richard Greenough on his work as a television designer in the 1950s and 60s kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by Roger Fox.

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.

By 1963 however, even the Empire's Television days were over and the building then 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.

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. - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

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.

The Wood Green Empire - From a period Postcard The Wood Green Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Stephen Thompson

 

Above - A Period Postcard depicting the Wood Green Empire. And The former Wood Green Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Stephen Thompson.

A signed postcard of Miss Marie Lloyd from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon. A visitor to this website, 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!).

Right - A signed postcard of Miss Marie Lloyd from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.

My own mother remembers her as a really jolly, kind person obviously mighty good with a needle!' - Tonia Capon.

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. 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.

 

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 - Information Courtesy Alan Chudley.

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. 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.

 

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.

A 1914 Postcard from the Wood Green Empire of The Hanlon Brothers - From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.

Above - A 1914 Postcard from the Wood Green Empire of The Hanlon Brothers - From the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.

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. 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.

 

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 1956

Wood Green

Nella Webb - from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.'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.

Right - Nella Webb - from the Rose Burlingham collection - Courtesy The estate of Bob Capon.

Variety Programme for the Wood Green Empire - Click to see the Entire Programme.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.

Left - A Variety Programme for the Wood Green Empire - Click to see the Entire Programme.

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.

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