Blackpool’s oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal, has now gone, destroyed by fire in 2009: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/BlackpoolTheatres/TheatreRoyalBlackpool.htm.
In the late nineteenth century its lessee was Thomas Sergenson, who ran a stage-production of Ellen Wood’s East Lynne – “Dead! Dead! And never called me mother!” – for twenty-five summers.
He was a smart businessman and made enough money to purchase a plot of land in 1887 to build a Grand Theatre.
He initially erected a row of shops with a temporary circus building behind, until it became apparent that he held a prime site between the Winter Gardens and its new rival the Tower, which was started in 1891.
Accordingly, he commissioned Frank Matcham to complete the Grand Theatre auditorium at a cost of £20,000 and opened it on July 23rd 1894, two months after the Tower opened, with Hamlet, starring Wilson Barrett.
By 1901 Sergenson had bought out his business partners, and he sold the theatre to the Tower Company on December 23rd 1909 for £47,500.
Like so many Victorian theatres, the Grand was threatened with demolition: in 1972 it was planned to demolish it to make way for a department store. It was restored, after vociferous public protest, first as a bingo house, and then sold for a quarter of a million pounds to its present owners, the Grand Theatre Trust. It was reopened as a theatre by HRH the Prince of Wales on May 29th 1981.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces: the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.