Later - The Hippodrome Theatre / Regal Cinema / ABC / Flamingoes Nightclub / Fusion / N-tyce
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Woolwich Grand and Town Hall today - Click to Interact
The Theatre which stands adjacent to the Town Hall in Wellington Street, Woolwich today opened as the Regal Cinema on the 19th of September 1955 with a showing of the film 'The Dam Busters.'
The Theatre was built on the site of the earlier Grand Theatre and Opera House which had first opened on Tuesday the 30th of October 1900 with a production of the opera 'A Greek Slave.' The Theatre was to have opened on the Monday but the licence didn't arrive on time so the opening had to be delayed.
Right - The original Grand Theatre and the Town Hall, Woolwich - From a Postcard posted in 1913
The original Theatre was built by Messrs W. Johnson & Co to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect, Bertie Crewe, and opened as the Grand Theatre and Opera House under the management of Clarence Sounes. The Theatre had a capacity of 1,680 in an auditorium which was built on three levels; stalls and pit; circle; grand circle; and boxes.
A short while before the Theatre opened to the public the ERA published a review of Woolwich's new Grand Theatre in their 20th of October 1900 edition saying:- 'Sir Henry Irving visited Woolwich on Thursday afternoon for the purpose of affixing a memorial tablet in the vestibule of the New Grand Theatre and Opera House. The building has been erected in one of the most commanding and important sites in the place, in the broad main thoroughfare known as Wellington street, at its junction with Lower Market-street. It has been built for the well-known theatre proprietor, Mr Clarence sounes, from the designs of the, eminent theatrical architect, Mr Bertie Crewe, and will be as nearly perfect and complete as skill and the most Modern arrangements can make it.
Right - Sir Henry Irving, click for more information on this iconic Actor.
The main frontage to Wellington-street is 80ft., with a depth to Lower Market-street of 150ft. The elevation has been treated very simply in free classic, the main expenditure being devoted to making the theatre as finished inside as possible. It is of red brick with Bath stone pilasters and dressings, side turrets, and a central domed roof, with handsome iron corona. On the front are four Powerful arc lamps, and the appearance of the elevation will be greatly improved by numerous plate and stained glass windows.
The main entrance to private boxes, stalls, and dress circle is raised by a low flight of easy steps from the street level. Through the entrance doors is the spacious entrance hall, with its delicately painted ceiling, finely decorated and paneled in fibrous plaster with ornamental Watteau panels, marble mosaic floor, and handsome brass hand-railing. In this hall is the box-office, so arranged that in the one room are no less than four pay doors for stalls and circle, balcony, pit stalls, pit and gallery respectively. Opposite the box office is a commodious suite of offices for Mr Sounes consisting of clerk's office, private office, lavatory, and dressing-room. Passing through the entrance hall, the foyer is reached, a handsome semi-circular apartment with similar treatment to the entrance hall. Broad and easy corridors lead from hence to the stalls and dress circle. Handsome and commodious saloons are provided for every part of the house, a special feature being a saloon for the stalls on their level, obviating a tedious climb from stalls up to a saloon far above the entrance level. The artistes are not forgotten, as they too have a cosy little saloon for their own use...
...The auditorium is probably the largest of any suburban theatre, having a clear width of 62ft. by a depth of 75ft. On the ground floor are the orchestral stalls, pit stalls, and pit, with an unusually heavy rake which ensures a view of the stage to everyone. Over this is the first tier with four rows of dress circle and seven rows of balcony. There are six private boxes three on each side of proscenium, so skillfully arranged that they are all entered from their own little staircase without entering the auditorium at all. Above the first tier is the enormous gallery, one of the largest in London, with its fourteen rows of excellent seating. In spite of the great width of the auditorium, the circles are entirely constructed on the latest suspensory principle, with no column or obstruction to sight of any kind, and the lines of the circles are a departure from the old horse-shoe shape, being composed of sweeping segmental lines of different curves, ensuring a good view from every side seat.
The decoration of the auditorium is in the style of the First Empire, which it is believed has not been used in a London playhouse before. The box elevations are particularly rich, and the highly decorated private boxes at different levels have a particularly pleasing effect. The gold mouldings and biscuit china and Rose du Barri tints, set off by the ruby plush hangings and upholstery, form peculiarly happy combination.
The building is lighted throughout by electricity, with gas and oil lamps as a secondary supply. The size of the installation can be judged from the fact that there are no less than 1,300 lights used. All the electric and gas fittings in the best parts have been specially designed in character with the decorations.
The stage is one of the finest in the kingdom, with a depth of 42ft. by 80ft. wide, with a height stage to grid of 56ft. There are fifteen good dressing-rooms, well-lighted and ventilated, and all with hot and cold water laid on. Every precaution against fire has been taken, the entire building being constructed of concrete and steel, and a complete system of hydrants dominates all parts. The stage is cut off when necessary by an automatic steel-framed asbestos curtain, and the very complete heating system is of the low pressure hot water type.
The building will be opened for the first performance on Monday the 29th inst., when A Greek Slave will be played.
Left - A Postcard for the Woolwich Hippodrome, formerly the Grand Theatre, whilst showing Twice Nightly Variety.
Sir Henry Irving, upon arrival, was conducted to the stage, where he was joined by Colonel Hughes, M.P., by Mr Sounes, and others. Colonel Hughes acted as chairman and formally introduced the great actor to the large and distinguished assemblage of ladies and gentlemen.
Sir Henry Irving, who on rising was warmly greeted, said: - I fear this meeting is of a somewhat less animated kind than the meetings which have been rather common lately all over the country. The candidate on whose behalf I address you has already won your suffrages, for I take it that amongst the entertainments provided in Woolwich the drama is easily at the head of the poll, and therefore our friend, Mr Clarence Sounes, whose handsome theatre we salute to-day, is sure of election to your enduring esteem. This is not Mr Sounes's single effort in this line of enterprise. He has a passion for building and owning, and managing theatres. This is the fourth of them, and what is still more striking, he gratifies this passion with a success that does not always attend the management of play houses. So I am beginning to regard Mr Sounes has a kind of Mr Wemmick, who walks through a town and suddenly exclaims, here is a nice bit of ground, let's build a theatre! Long may he have this inspiring mission, and may good fortune always befriend him.
I have never ceased to maintain that a well-conducted theatre is a necessary adjunct to your true civic life. You must have some satisfaction in the dramatic instinct that is in all, or in most of us, for I expect sometimes that certain censor of the stage are unhappily born even without it. That is a grave misfortune. But you who have the dramatic instinct cannot nourish it upon the ordinary incidents of your daily lives. You cannot have general elections every week. I am told that the declaration of the poll is a very dramatic moment. Colonel Hughes must have enjoyed it very much. But YOU may not have a poll more than once in five years, and how is your appetite for drama to subsist on that ? It is the function of the theatre to keep you from starvation. The acted drama holds the mirror up to nature. I say the acted drama, because Shakespeare, when he talks of showing the very age and body of the time, its form and pressure, obviously means this to be done through the medium of the stage. Well there is a great variety of drama and you constantly bear that this or that play is good, bad, or indifferent, and sometimes a legislator rises in the House of Commons and implores that body or the Government or both to intervene to save the playgoing public from some terrible corruption on the stage. People will dispute till doomsday about the moral influences of the drama, because any representation of human nature is sure to be the signal for alarm to everybody who thinks that men and women ought to be trained without any knowledge of life. Dangers there are, of course, in all exerscises of the imagination. A great novelist has written a book to show the vicious influence of music. In the infancy of painting it was the firm belief of religious teachers that art would corrupt the world if it were not severely limited to sacred subjects. You remember the scandal that befell the painter in Browning's poem when he turned away from painting angels, and produced lifelike portraits of the monks. They were greatly delighted at first - at least some of them were - and then it was decided that this gift of portraiture was dangerous, and Fra Lippo Lippi was hidden to return to the angels. Well the dramatist cannot always be drawing angels and the actor cannot always be playing them. Public opinion, in regard to the stage is governed on the whole, I believe, by a robust common sense, which rejects the notion that the theatre, if allowed to exist at all, shall be a place where human nature must not be exhibited. No doubt there is a point where freedom becomes license, but I think you will find that it is not the license of the Lord Chamberlain. The theatre to-day does so much to brighten the lives of the people that it is entitled to the support of all the elements of sound citizenship, and it is because I see those elements so strongly represented in this gathering that I confidently predict for this playhouse in which we stand the success that the energy and capacity of its founder so richly deserve.
Mr Clarence Sounes, in thanking Sir Henry for having attended to perform the ceremony at some inconvenience, promised to deserve alike his support and that of the dramatic public. He also mentioned that amongst the companies coming to the theatre was that of Sir Henry Irving himself, a fact which at once showed that the standard of excellence in dramatic art, of which Sir Henry was himself so eloquent and weighty an exponent, would be kept up.
The company then proceeded to the vestibule, where Sir Henry, having been presented with a silver trowel and a mallet of ebony and ivory, fixed a marble tablet bearing the following inscription: - "This stone was laid by Sir Henry Irving, Oct. 18th, 1900. Clarence Sounes, proprietor; Bertie Crewe, architect; William Johnson and Co. (Limited), contractors."
Leaving the theatre the distinguished actor was cordially greeted, as on his arrival, by a crowd of several thousand persons, most of whom who had patiently waited outside the house during the two hours he spent in it.'
The ERA published another article on the Woolwich Grand Theatre, this time in their 3rd of November 1900 edition, saying:- 'The new and handsome theatre which by the enterprise of Mr Clarence Sounes has been constructed on an advantageous site in Wellington-street, Woolwich, was opened to the public on Tuesday evening. The first performance was announced for Monday evening, but, owing to the licence of the County Council not arriving in time, a postponement until the following evening was inevitable. The numbers and enthusiasm of the audience on Tuesday must, however, have dissipated any feeling of disappointment engendered by the mishap of Monday and Mr Sounes must have been gratified by the warmth of the applause with which he was greeted.
Right - The Town Hall and Theatre, Woolwich - From a postcard.
The scene in the handsome building on the first night was striking and imposing. There was an audience of close upon 3,000 a large number of whom had waited patiently outside for a considerable time. Inside the effect produced by the brilliant display of electric lighting and the rich ruby plush hangings and upholstery was brilliant and striking. The arrangements for the accommodation of the vast audience seemed to give thorough satisfaction.
The combination chosen to supply the opening performance was Messrs Morell and Mouillot's No. 1 A Greek Slave company. The quips and oddities of Mr Greene Taylor as Heliodorus kept the house highly amused. Miss Mildred Drake played Maia charmingly, and her singing was keenly appreciated. Antonia was admirably represented by Miss Grace Taylor. Miss Jeannie M'Donald as Iris was charming, her acting, singing, and dancing being clever. Miss Watt Tanner was successful as Melanope. Mr Alfred Sandoe as Marcus Pomponius was humorous, and Diomed and Archias were capably represented by Messrs Frank H. Morton and L. Luscombe, the former being heard to great advantage in his song in the love scene with Maia. The scene of the first act, the Villa of Heliodorus, testified to the talent of Mr F. Leslie Moreton, under whose direction the opera was produced, and the second scene, Antonia's Villa at Baiac, was a triumph of artistic skill. Mr Frank E. Tours is to be congratulated upon the ability with which he conducted the large chorus and orchestra, and praise is due to the acting-manager for Mr Clam Bounce;, Mr E. Bolingbroke Cooper, for his excellent arrangements.
In the course of the evening Mr Saunas appeared on the stage, and in a neat speech thanked the audience for their attendance, remarking that he felt an apology was due for an event of the previous evening, which was entirely unavoidable on his part. It was C.I.V. Day In London, and something went a little wrong at the London County Council, so that when he went for his licence he could not get it. He had, therefore, simply to choose between opening without a licence or to wait until that day. He decided that it would be the best thing to close on Monday evening. He mentioned that the licence he had been granted was only a temporary one, to last till Nov. 9th. without permission to supply refreshments. There was some slight opposition. Until the Council had heard the objections they could not give him a full licence. The hearing would take place on Nov. 9th, and he hoped those present would support him by signing the petitions which were being drawn up. The opposition was only a little one, still the authorities had to consider it, and it was for him to meet it, and crush it if he could. Mr Sounes then expressed the hope that the audience liked his new theatre, an appeal which was answered by an outburst of applause. He remarked that it was their own theatre, and they alone could keep it going. Their arrangements were not then quite complete, but he hoped they would be before the end of the week. He paid tribute to the work of Mr Bertie Crewe, the architect, and said their thanks were also due to the builders, Messrs W. Johnson and Co. He announced that he had received congratulatory telegrams from some of the best people in the profession. His Christmas pantomime, he said, would equal anything seen in the neighbourhood before. He called attention to the matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays, and concluded by saying that, though it was not in mortale to command success, he would do his best to deserve it.'
The stage carpenter and resident stage manager at the former Woolwich Grand from when it first opened in 1900 was Percy Court, (Shown Left) who worked there for 7 years. After he retired from working in theatre he wrote down his memories of his long career from the late 1800s in an article entitled 'Memories Of Show-Business' and this is now availiable to read on the site here...
Right - Percy G Court, the stage carpenter of the Woolwich Grand Theatre when it opened, and for the next seven years. To read Percy's personal remenicenses of his time at the Grand, and the rest of his career click here.
By 1924 the Theatre was in use as a full time cinema and this was so successful that in 1939 the Theatre was demolished and building work was begun on a new purpose built Cinema on the same site for ABC and called the Regal Cinema, designed in the Art Deco style by ABCs in house architect William R. Glen. However, due to the outbreak of war, building work was stopped soon afterwards and not begun again until the early 1950s.
The renewed work on the construction of the Regal was begun in the 1950s under revised plans by the architect C. J. Foster and assisted by S. E. Woodyear, G. MacFarlane and P. Turner. Sadly the original Art Deco style for the building was abandoned in favour of a 1950s style instead.
The Regal was finally completed in 1955, opening on the 19th of September that year with a showing of the film 'The Dam Busters.'
In 1963 the Cinema was renamed ABC and it ran under this name until its closure on the 20th of November 1982 with a final showing of 'Who Dares Wins.'
The building then stood abandoned and derelict until it was converted for use as a nightclub called Flamingoes, later renamed Fusion and N-tyce. When N-tyce closed down it looked like the building would be demolished but the building's lease was then taken over by a Pentecostal church called the Christ Apostolic Church who aimed to use it as place of worship for their activities.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Woolwich Grand today - Click to Interact.
However an Arts group, run by Adrian Green, has now been
formed to try and restore the building to use as a full time Cinema,
Theatre, and Music Venue, and they have recently begun showing full
screen presentations on its giant 37 foot by 16 foot screen. They are
also holding a fund raising ball on December 15th 2012. More details
about all this can be found on their own website here.
If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
The New Portable Theatre, Woolwich / West Kent Theatre / Duchess of Kent's Theatre / Barnard's Theatre / Woolwich Theatre Royal
Above - Real Photograph of the Woolwich Empire Theatre in the mid 1950s - Courtesy John Earl - Click for more information on the Woolwich Empire.
The Empire Theatre in Beresford Street, Woolwich was built by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham in 1899 and originally opened as Barnard's Theatre Royal. However, this Theatre was built on the site of a series of previous Theatres.
Originally on the site there was the New Portable Theatre which opened in 1834. This was replaced by a permanent structure in 1835 called the West Kent Theatre. The Theatre was renamed the Duchess of Kent's Theatre in 1837 and renamed again in 1892 to Barnard's Theatre. After this it was also sometimes known as the Theatre Royal.
Finally the Theatre was renamed the Woolwich Empire in the 1920s and this building, with a capacity of 1,450, remained until it was demolished in 1960.
Above - Postcard of the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich. The Royal Artillery Theatre can be seen to the right of the picture, with ventilators visible on the roof above the auditorium. - Courtesy the Val Earl Collection.
The Royal Artillery Recreation Rooms were a conversion, in 1863, of a former multi-purpose hall situated in the eastern end of the vast frontage of the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London.
The recreation rooms were later altered for theatrical use and renamed the Royal Artillery Theatre. However, the interior was destroyed by fire on the 18th of November 1903 and then a new Royal Artillery Theatre was built into the shell of the old, opening on the 21st of December 1905.
Above - The Granada Cinema, Woolwich in use as a Gala Bingo Hall in 2008 - Photo M.L.
The Granada Cinema in Powis Street, Woolwich, opposite the Odeon Cinema which is now a Church, was built in 1937 by Cecil Masey, (who also designed Wimbledon Theatre), and Slater and Uren, with a spectacular Venetian Gothic interior created by the Russian set designer Theodore Komisarjevsky who also created the similarly lavish interior of the Tooting Granada. The Cinema opened on the 20th of April 1937 with an immense capacity of around 3,000 people.
Right - The Souvenir Brochure which was produced for the opening of the Woolwich Granada in 1937 - Click to see the whole programme with an article by Theodore Komisarjevsky.
Although built as a Cinema it was also built with theatrical performance in mind and housed a stage of 28' deep by 48' feet wide with a 30' high proscenium. There was also a fully equipped fly tower, orchestra pit, and Wurlitzer organ, played by Reginald Dixon on the Theatre's opening, and then later that year by Lloyd Thomas.
Left - Theodore Komisarjevsky's fabulous Auditorium at the Woolwich Granada from the contemporary 'Decorator' magazine - Courtesy John Earl - Click to enlarge.
The Theatre was converted for full time Bingo use by Granada Bingo in 1966 and reopened on the 30th of October.
Right - The Auditorium of the Woolwich Granada from a Souvenir Brochure produced for the opening of the Theatre in 1937 - Click to see the whole programme with an article by Theodore Komisarjevsky.
The Theatre continues to house Bingo today and is currently run by Gala Bingo.
An article by the Woolwich Granada's interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and many images of the Theatre, can be seen on this page featuring the Theatre's opening programme.
Later - The Odeon Cinema - The Coronet Cinema - New Wine Church
Above - The former Odeon Cinema, Woolwich, now renamed Gateway House and in use by the New Wine Church - Photo M.L. 2008
The Odeon Theatre, Woolwich, opposite the former Granada Cinema, was built in the Art Deco style by the architect George Coles for the Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatre chain and opened on the 25th of October 1937. The auditorium was built on two levels, Stalls and Balcony, with a capacity of 1,178.
Above - The Woolwich Odeon in 1970 - Courtesy John King
The Theatre was modernised in 1964 and the auditorium lost all of its original plasterwork and decorations in the process.
By 1981 the Theatre had closed down and was to remain closed for nearly two years.
Right - The Odeon, Woolwich in a photograph taken in the early 1980s - Courtesy Ed from Australia.
The Cinema was reopened as the Coronet in July 1983 under the management of Panton Films but was split into two Cinemas in 1990.
The Coronet closed in 1999 and was converted into a church by the New Wine Church and the building was renamed Gateway House.
Despite its checkered history the Theatre is Grade II listed.
Above - The former Odeon Cinema, Woolwich, now renamed Gateway House and in use by the New Wine Church - Photo M.L. 2008
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.