Category Archives: Fun Palaces (theatres)

Bijou opera house

Wakefield Theatre Royal & Opera House, West Yorkshire

Ken Dodd used to say that you could immediately tell a Frank Matcham theatre simply by walking on to the stage and speaking quietly.  You’d be audible at the back of the gallery without difficulty.

Frank Matcham’s smallest surviving theatre is the Wakefield Theatre Royal & Opera House, for many years known as the Opera House and now as the Theatre Royal.

It stands on the site of an earlier Theatre Royal, which had been built in 1776 for the actor-manager Tate Wilkinson (1739-1803). 

Under his management John Kemble performed in Wakefield in 1778 and 1788 and Sarah Siddons in 1786; in the following generation Charles Kemble acted at the Theatre Royal in 1807 and Edmund Kean in 1819.

The old theatre went into gradual decline through the middle of the nineteenth century, and in 1871 became a beer house and music hall, licensed by John Brooke, the landlord of the Black Horse pub. 

In 1883 it was revived as the Royal Opera House by Benjamin Sherwood, but was denied a licence nine years later because of the condition of the building.

The replacement theatre was built in 1894 in nine months flat at a cost of £13,000 to Matcham’s designs and opened on October 15th that year. 

After the failure of Benjamin Sherwood’s marriage in 1900 his wife Fanny and their children took over the theatre as Sherwood & Co. 

In the early 1950s their family sold it for £20,000 to Solomon Sheckman, owner of the Essoldo chain of cinemas.  He installed a wide screen for Cinemascope in 1954 and operated it solely as a cinema until he leased it as a bingo hall in 1966. 

It passed to Ladbrokes and was listed Grade II in 1979.  

When Ladbrokes announced its closure in 1980 the Wakefield Theatre Trust, led by Rodney (latterly Sir Rodney) Walker, began a campaign to bring live theatre back to the town.

The restoration involved –

  • renewing the stage house
  • strengthening the grid and installing a new counterweight system for flying
  • re-raking the stalls and lower circle floors
  • reinstating the front-of-house canopy
  • removing the projection box

The building is Grade II* listed, largely on the strength of the quality of the auditorium decoration by De Jong of London – bombé balcony fronts, foliage, fruit and flowers on the lower balcony and paired dolphins in waves on the upper circle.  The original colour-scheme was gold and blue.  The proscenium is intact, and the ceiling has eight decorative medallions of the Muses, reinstated by Kate Lyons, who placed the ninth muse in the central panel of the dress circle front. 

It reopened with a gala show on March 16th 1986.  Arthur Starkie, who co-ordinated the theatre’s centenary celebrations, founded the Frank Matcham Society at the Theatre Royal in 1994.

The Trust acquired the adjacent street-corner site to create a new entrance and bar.  Further grants in 1995, 2002 and 2012 enabled improvements to the auditorium.

The theatre has gained prestige from the appointment as creative director of the playwright John Godber in 2011.  He was born locally, at Upton, and taught drama at the nearby Bretton Hall College.  His breakthrough play, Bouncers (1977) has become a perennial favourite, and his John Godber Company is resident at the Theatre Royal.

I first saw Bouncers at the Wakefield Theatre Royal.  The play is performed by four male actors in black tie, who play the bouncers, the stroppy youths who have to be chucked out and the girls dancing round their handbags.  John Godber portrays the bitter-sweet lives of the men who spend their Saturday nights dealing with the clients who create so much noise, aggression and vomit.

At the end of the night, walking out of the theatre on to Westgate was like stepping into the play.

Castello con un teatro annesso

Castello di Meleto, Tuscany, Italy: theatre

One of the delights of my Great Rail Journeys ‘Highlights of Tuscany’ holiday [https://www.greatrail.com/tours/highlights-of-tuscany] was a life-enhancing visit to the Castello di Meleto [http://www.castellomeleto.it/eng/castle/castle.php].

This is an intriguing place, a medieval hill-top castle documented from 1256 and for centuries owned by the Ricasoli-Firidolfi family, who sold up only in 1968.  The interiors, on the ground floor at least, are entirely baroque, with an unrestored patina of faded splendour.

We were treated to a cookery demonstration by the chef, Elena, who spoke only Italian, translated (or perhaps explicated) by the hostess Geraldine, who extolled the quality of the Castle’s extra virgin olive oil, which we were invited to smell and taste.

We were shown how to make an Italian stew, which seemed to me exactly how I would make an English stew with Italian ingredients. 

The pasta-making demonstration was more entertaining, and a great deal of pasta was passed hand to hand around the group. 

We were invited out for antipasti on the terrace, where a classical wing of the house (with a medieval turret on the end) faces a flat lawn and a wall, from where expanses of hillside vineyards are visible. 

No sooner had we wandered outside than a misty rain began to fall, and within ten minutes the waitresses shifted the antipasti back into the castle and a loud clap of thunder heralded a downpour that lasted no more than half an hour.

We tucked into the antipasti indoors while Geraldine gave lectures first on the Castle’s white wine and then on the rosé, all the time pouring wine into everyone’s glasses and interrupting her flow with “I’ll fetch another bottle.”  There was no sniffing or spitting.  This was a straightforward invitation to get trollied.

We weren’t formally shown the downstairs rooms, but instead trotted off to the cellars which are tricked out with barrels and racks of bottles.

Geraldine took us from the cellars to a surprise – a tiny, intact private theatre, dated 1741, complete with perspective scenery and a balcony.  I can find nothing of any significance about it online, and I’ve never come across it in the theatre-history literature. 

Indeed, I wonder if its provenance and history have been seriously researched.  It is at any rate a great rarity. 

A three-course dinner followed, liberally lubricated with red chianti and a dessert wine.  I sat back from the conversation and watched the sunset through the trees outside the window. 

Then predictably, “pat,…like the catastrophe in the old comedy”, came the buying opportunity.  My fellow guests queued up to buy bottles of wine and olive oil, while I sat in an armchair and watched.

Eventually we began the journey back, of which the first seventy minutes were simply a succession of hairpin bends and a few small villages.  We joined the motorway south of Florence, and it took another three-quarters of an hour to reach our hotel in Montecatini Terme.

I reflected on the considerable appeal of the Castillo di Meleto.  It’s now owned by a joint-stock company and you can stay there, at rates which are high but not outrageous.  However, it’s so remote that it would be impractical to go anywhere:  it’s simply a place to enjoy, with extensive gardens, an infinity pool and a restaurant down the drive for lunch and dinner:   https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=it&u=http://www.castellomeleto.it/&prev=search.

Organ transplant

Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield: fly-tower (2017)

Before Christmas I was the live act at the launch of photographer Darren O’Brien’s new book about the Sharrow Vale area of Sheffield:  https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/people/new-book-uncovers-hidden-charms-sheffields-sharrow-vale-community-1325708.

The launch took place in the fly tower of the Abbeydale Picture House, and Darren asked me to explain to his guests the history of this unique piece of cinema heritage.

The Grade II listed Abbeydale Picture House was always a gem among Sheffield’s suburban cinemas, and thanks to a succession of sympathetic owners it’s survived to entertain new generations of patrons nearly a hundred years after its opening.

One of six Sheffield cinemas to open in 1920, its original proprietors were local businessmen, led by a professional cinema exhibitor, seeking to capitalise on the demand for entertainment after the First World War.

They hedged their bets by instructing the architect, Pascal J Steinlet, to build a full-scale theatre fly tower, enabling the cinema screen to be flown out of the way of stage performances, and to use the sloping site to include a ballroom and billiard hall beneath the auditorium and stage, with a café to serve cinema patrons.

The directors considered that moving pictures alone might not generate enough trade, and when post-war inflation ate into their original budget of £50,000 they changed plans and installed an organ by the Sheffield firm Brindley & Co.

Because Pascal Steinlet had not been briefed to include an organ chamber, the instrument stood immediately behind the screen, centre stage, making it impossible to use the stage and dressing rooms for performances.

Anxious to generate income, they opened the cinema as soon as they could, on December 20th 1920.  The Lord Mayor, Alderman Wardley, attended the first film-performance, a costume romance, The Call of the Road, starring Victor McLaglen.

Their fear that film alone would not support the company proved correct.  In June 1921 the original board was replaced by the directors of the Star Cinema, Ecclesall Road, who quickly took out debentures to complete the café, ballroom and billiard hall before the end of the year.

In 1928, probably as a response to the imminent arrival of talking pictures, the organ was moved to the back of the stage, where it was barely audible, to make way for cine-variety performances, which continued until the first sound film, Janet Gaynor in Sunny Side Up, played on March 10th 1930.

The organ continued in use until 1940, and the last organist, Douglas Scott, complained that “the volume was poor, due to the fact that the organ chambers were placed as far back as possible on the stage and…at least 20% of the sound went through the stage roof.  The screen and tabs took their toll of sound and when the safety curtain was lowered nothing could be heard in the theatre.”

There’s evidence for this on the back wall of the fly tower, where two rows of holes for the joists of the stage floor are visible, the higher row showing a clear gap where after 1928 the organ would have stood on the original stage floor.  The position of the organ meant that only the downstage half of the stage was usable, so presumably the rake was increased to maintain the sight-lines Pascal Steinlet had intended.

I hope that when the building is comprehensively restored the stage floor will be reinstated so that it can be used for performances.

But I’d think twice about reinstating an organ.

Darren O’Brien’s book Sharrow Vale and the Antiques Quarter (History Press 2019) is available from https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/sharrow-vale-and-the-antiques-quarter/9780750989329.

Park Palace Ponies

Park Palace Ponies (the former Park Palace Cinema), Dingle, Liverpool

The Park Palace Theatre in Toxteth was built for James Kiernan, a Liverpool theatre proprietor and designed by J H Havelock-Sutton, a Liverpool architect.

The auditorium is a simple rectangle, with the balcony (now removed) around three sides.  There were two boxes (also now gone), decorated with tall oval bevelled mirrors and lit with brass gas brackets.  Corinthian pilasters with acanthus-leaf bases flank the proscenium and support a broken pediment.  The proscenium is thirty feet wide.  Backstage there were four dressing rooms but no fly-tower.

Some accounts mention a gallery, and the Royal Arms mounted above the proscenium following a visit by King Edward VII in 1903, but there is no present-day evidence of either.

The original audience capacity was 1,100 (600 in the pit and stalls, 500 in the balcony) and it opened on December 4th 1893 as a variety theatre.

Though it retained its music-hall licence, the building was used as a cinema from 1905.  For a time the Sheffield cinema impresario Jasper Redfern ran it, and the Weisker Brothers took it over and renamed it the Kinematodrome in 1910.  

In 1911, Peter Dunn acquired it and ran it as cine-variety for nearly twenty years.  During the 1920s there was a seven-piece orchestra.  The variety acts and the orchestra ceased abruptly with the introduction of sound movies on January 8th 1930.  By then the capacity had reduced to 961. 

After Peter Dunn’s death in 1934, the proprietor was Miss Sheila Dunn, presumably his daughter.

The final film show – Russ Tamblyn in The Young Guns and John Payne in Hold Back the Night – took place on March 11th 1959. 

After its demise as a cinema the Park Palace was successively used as a factory, a chemist’s shop and a store for motor-vehicle spares.  For a period from 1984 it became the Mill Street Chapel. 

Subsequently the building was largely left to deteriorate. 

It was briefly revived as a performance space in 2008, and was once used as a location for the Channel 4 soap-opera Hollyoaks, but from 2010 onwards it was advertised to let. 

It remained unused until 2017, when Keith Hackett and his daughter, Bridget Griffin, set up Park Palace Ponies, to provide a riding school aimed at local children under ten, bringing them the benefits of spending time with horses and the perception that horse-riding isn’t only for the affluent.  Hundreds of children from south-central Liverpool (defined as postcodes L8, L17 and L18) have since taken part in riding lessons at the Palace:  http://www.parkpalaceponies.com

The community benefits of this scheme are palpable, and not confined to the children and their families.  The horses graze at the local allotments, where their manure is much appreciated.

Park Palace Ponies is included in the itinerary of the rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022).  For further details of the tour, please click here.

Opera on tap

Opera House, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Tunbridge Wells was a staid and respectable spa town, not over-supplied with theatres in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Mrs Sarah Baker’s Tunbridge Wells Theatre, opened in the Pantiles in 1802, was used as a theatre for about fifty years and then converted into a Corn Exchange which still exists.

In the decade when the borough became Royal Tunbridge Wells, thanks to the merry monarch, King Edward VII, the Opera House was promoted by Mr J Jarvis and opened in 1902.

It was designed by John Priestly Briggs (1869-1944) who among much else built the Grand Theatre, Doncaster (1899, with J W Chapman).

The splendid Baroque exterior includes a range of shops on three sides and a balcony above the entrance leading out of the dress circle bar.  The central dome was originally surmounted by a nude statue of Mercury which was removed after the First World War.

The intimate auditorium, originally seating 1,100, is lavishly decorated with a dress circle and  balcony , and a central saucer dome above the stalls.

The proscenium is 28 feet wide and the stage is 32 feet deep, with a grid 44 feet high.  The proscenium arch has brackets in the upper corners and is surmounted by relief figures representing Music and Drama.

The eccentric local landowner John Christie (1882-1962) reopened the Opera House as a cinema in 1925.  He had taken over the organ-builder William Hill & Son & Norman & Beard Ltd in 1923, and installed an ambitious five-manual organ with pipework located on stage and the console in the enlarged orchestra pit.

He produced a wide range of shows, including musical comedy and Gilbert & Sullivan, before he set up his own celebrated opera house on his nearby estate at Glyndebourne:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/glyndebourne-the-love-story-that-started-it-all.

The organ was sold to a New Zealand buyer in 1929 but the stage remained in use for annual amateur operatic performances from 1932 to 1966.

The history of the building after John Christie’s time is conventional – refurbished in 1931, bomb-damaged but repaired and reopened in 1949, taken over by Essoldo in 1954.

In 1966 the local council refused a bingo licence and listed it Grade II.  After a couple of years of controversy, the final film-show (Paul Schofield in A Man for All Seasons) took place on February 3rd 1968, and the Opera House reopened as a bingo club in July the same year.

The bingo club, successively operated by Essoldo, Ladbrokes, Top Rank and Cascade, eventually closed in 1995, and after a public campaign to prevent demolition, the Opera House was taken over by the J D Wetherspoon chain in 1996 and adapted as a public house that can be used for opera one day each year.

J D Wetherspoon has an outstanding reputation for transforming redundant historic buildings into enjoyable places to eat and drink.  By combining business acumen with sensitivity to the localities in which it trades, the company enables heritage structures to earn their keep and bring enjoyment to customers.

At the Tunbridge Wells Opera House the seating remains in the dress circle and, unused, in the gallery.  The boxes are practical but cramped, and the stained glass panels in the doors to each box and the vestibule at the back of the dress circle are restored.  The stage house retains its fly floors and bridge, and the original lighting board and the counterweights for the house tabs remain in situ.

Though there’s nothing scheduled in the calendar at the time of writing, it’s easy to set up an alert for the next Tunbridge Wells opera experience:  https://www.ents24.com/tunbridge-wells-events/wetherspoon-opera-house-pub.

And in the meantime, any day of the week, breakfast to suppertime, anyone can walk in and enjoy a complete Edwardian auditorium with good pub food, beverages and a wide range of drinks at very reasonable prices.

Baby Grand

Grand Theatre Doncaster (1984)

Grand Theatre Doncaster (1984)

I’ve never been able to understand why the borough of Doncaster has ignored its dark, neglected but intact Grand Theatre.

Built in 1899 within sight of Doncaster railway station to the designs of John Priestley Briggs (1869–1944), a pupil of Frank Matcham’s, it’s bolted on to the overwhelming Frenchgate Centre (built as the Arndale Centre, 1967), with the dual-carriageway inner relief road clipping the corner of its stage tower.

Most sources credit as joint architect Mr J W Chapman, the owner and lessee of the Old Theatre on Doncaster Market Place, who according to The ERA of April 1st 1899 “designed the whole of the arrangements, and personally drew the plans, which were passed by the Doncaster Corporation”.

Chapman’s specification made the Grand a thoroughly modern theatre, electrically lit using its own generator, heated by a low-pressure hot water system, with a sprinkler system for firefighting. All eight dressing rooms were fitted with hot and cold running water.

The auditorium has three levels, originally the orchestra stalls and pit, the dress circle and above that a balcony and gallery. The two boxes face into the auditorium and are not practical.

The original terra-cotta, cream and gold decorative scheme was executed by Deans of Birmingham.

The 26-foot proscenium is squarely proportioned, with brackets in the upper corners. The stage itself is 70ft wide, 32ft deep and 50ft high.

The roll-call of performers at the Grand runs from Charlie Chaplin to Ken Dodd and Morecambe & Wise, and includes such Yorkshire favourites as Albert Modley, Sandy Powell and Frank Randle.

It was where Julie Andrews’ debut took place when Ted and Barbara Andrews played in the December 1935 pantomime and carried their two-month-old daughter Julie onstage.

The Doncaster Grand was one of the variety theatres featured in BBC broadcasts in 1930s. Live theatre timing was not as tight as broadcasting schedules, so the outside-broadcast unit had to carry whatever came on while they were live on air: at Doncaster they got Florrie Forde, a paper-tearing act – and a troupe of jugglers.

The Grand was taken over by the Essoldo cinema chain in 1944 and it eventually closed in 1958. It operated as a Mecca bingo club from 1961 to 1990. In 1994, while under threat of demolition, it was listed Grade II.

The Friends of the Doncaster Grand Theatre have campaigned ever since for the restoration of the building, which now belongs to Lambert Smith Hampton, the owner of the adjacent Frenchgate Shopping Centre.

Doncaster Borough Council, meanwhile, has opened Cast, its performance venue “where you can watch incredible shows, share creative ideas and be inspired” – “a key driver for the creative industries and evening economy”: http://castindoncaster.com.  It takes a moment to work out why it’s called Cast.

Faced with an intransigent owner and a council facing in a different direction, it must be difficult for the Friends to maintain momentum in their campaign to find the Grand a place in the town’s creative industries: http://friendsofthegrandtheatre.co.uk.

There are urban-explorer reports on the Grand at http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/showthread.php/66786-The-Grand-Theatre-Doncaster-Nov-2011 and http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/showthread.php/66941-Grand-Theatre-Doncaster-December-2011.

Wetherspoon’s historic buildings: Palladium Theatre, Llandudno

Palladium Theatre, Llandudno

Palladium Theatre, Llandudno

J D Wetherspoon is a pub-chain which specialises in cheap food and drink in warm but often cavernous surroundings.  Its pubs are open from early morning to late at night:  you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner there, and it won’t cost an arm and a leg.

The company was founded by a New Zealand-educated entrepreneur called Tim Martin, who named it after a teacher who said he’d never be a success.

This highly successful enterprise has a fine record in rescuing buildings in distress, one of which is the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno, a 1920 cine-variety theatre by Arthur Hewitt of Great Yarmouth.

According to the Theatres Trust it was probably designed before the First World War soon after Hewitt’s surviving Great Yarmouth buildings, the Gem Cinema (1908, latterly the Windmill Cinema) and the Empire Theatre (1911).

The Llandudno Palladium has an imposing classical façade with twin domed towers and an elaborate thousand-seat interior with two balconies, four boxes beside the proscenium and a further three at the rear of the dress circle.  The stage area covers a width of 55 feet and a depth of 32 feet behind a 31-foot-wide proscenium.  There were eight dressing rooms for artistes and a café with a 25-foot-diameter circular foyer for patrons.

Almost all of this survived conversion to cinema use, twinning to accommodate bingo in the stalls in 1972, several subsequent changes of ownership and eventual closure in 1999.

In 2001 J D Wetherspoon took it over and converted it into a sumptuous pub venue, restoring the auditorium and filling the commodious stage area with a viewing gallery, from where you can admire the theatricality of it all on your way to the loo.

Semi-detached theatre

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

The classical portico of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal has dominated the streetscape since it was built in 1865:  http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/514-theatre-royal-nottingham.

Originally designed by the prolific and prestigious Victorian theatre-architect Charles John Phipps (1835-1897), it was modernised in 1896-7 by the more famous Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who at the same time built the new Empire Palace Theatre for what shortly after became Moss Empires partly on what had been the site of the Theatre Royal dressing-rooms.

There are stories of artistes straying into the wrong backstage-area, particularly after Moss Empires took over the Theatre Royal in 1924.

The Empire was also the site of Ken Dodd’s stage debut, as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, “Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter”, in 1954.

The Empire closed in 1958 and was demolished eleven years later for road-widening.  At a time when Nottingham City Council were planning and building the ultra-modern Playhouse as a repertory theatre, there was talk of demolishing the Theatre Royal also and building a replacement touring house elsewhere.

In fact, the Theatre Royal lingered on, becoming so decrepit that eventually the D’Oyly Carte company refused to appear because of the state of the backstage areas.

In 1977 the City Council purchased the County Hotel, on the opposite side of the Theatre Royal building to the former Empire, and commissioned Renton Howard Wood Levin to restore Matcham’s design, except for the proscenium arch and adjacent boxes, within Phipps’ auditorium envelope.

Subsequently, in 1980, Renton Howard Wood Levin built from scratch the magnificent Royal Concert Hall behind the Theatre Royal.  The two auditoria work in tandem [http://www.trch.co.uk], with the Playhouse operating at the other side of the city centre:  http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on.

Nottingham has a proud claim to have been at the forefront of the late twentieth-century revival of live performances in provincial towns and cities.

Theatre for heroes

Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire:  theatre wing

Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire: theatre wing

The Stanford Hall estate on the Nottinghamshire-Leicestershire border has been in limbo ever since the Co-operative College moved out in 2001.  Two developers have successively raised schemes to finance the restoration of the hall and its grounds by constructing houses and apartments in the park, and both have come to nothing.

Its long history is both complex and sensitive – owned by two successive gentry families, a Burton brewer, the eccentric furniture millionaire Sir Julien Cahn and latterly the College.  In particular, Sir Julien’s external additions – various sporting facilities and a fully-equipped private theatre – have been greatly valued by the local community during the years that the College ran the place.

In 2011 the Duke of Westminster bought the Stanford Hall estate as a future base for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, which supports members of the armed services and civilians as they recover from traumatic injuries.

This work currently takes place at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Epsom, Surrey, but this facility is no longer capable of expansion, though the need continues to grow:  casualties now survive injuries which would have been beyond recovery even ten years ago.

Stanford Hall is considered ideal for this new purpose because of its Midlands location, its tranquil environment and the space for magnificent new facilities which need not overpower the historic landscape.

Members of the local community have expressed concern about the future of the Stanford Hall Theatre, which Sir Julien built in 1937 as a venue for his private conjuring shows.

There’s a potential conflict between the desire of local groups for access to the theatre such as they enjoyed in the days of the Co-operative College and the needs of the Defence and Rehabilitation Centre, which will make active use of the theatre and requires higher levels of security than were ever needed by the College.

The proposed physical alterations to the Theatre, primarily to provide level access for wheelchairs, seem relatively benign:  a wrap-around block will provide much better access to the auditorium, and Sir Julien’s top-floor bedroom suite for his private cricket team will be stripped out to reduce loading on the outer walls.  I can find no mention in the planning application of the bomb shelter beneath the auditorium rake.

The plans don’t appear to stretch to a full restoration of the theatre facilities and the Wurlitzer organ, and this has exercised a consortium of local amateur-dramatic societies:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/news/dukes-scheme-rings-down-the-curtain-8449399.html.

Let’s hope that the heroes and the thespians can live amicably together.

Morecambe’s forgotten music hall

Former Devonshire Hall music hall, Morecambe, Lancashire

Former Devonshire Hall music hall, Morecambe, Lancashire

In the back streets of Morecambe’s West End, usefully employed as a specialist community centre, lies a long-forgotten music hall.

The Devonshire Hall was built in 1899, seating eight hundred people, two hundred of them in the balcony.

It consists of a ground-floor that must always have been shops, and at first-floor level a flat-floored auditorium.

Dangerfield’s General Entertainment Guide (1901) informs potential letting clients of “Has no dramatic license [sic];…  Platform permanent 14 by 12 deep with electric footlights;  Terms one night 40s, a reduction made for a longer period;  Extras electric light per meter;  Has dressing rooms”.

The building was divided in the 1930s, the upper floor used a snooker hall while the ground floor became a paint factory.

In 1996 it became a music centre and rehearsal space, The Hothouse, for More Music, a community music and education charity founded in 1993:  http://www.moremusic.org.uk.

The first phase of renovation by seven architecture [sic] [http://www.sevenarchitecture.co.uk/projects/category/id/1/project/2] was completed in 2011.  The fine original timber and steel roof remains in situ but is invisible and inaccessible above a suspended ceiling.

The not-for-profit occupiers have put the building to excellent purpose – http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/morecambe-and-district-news/more-music-announced-as-chosen-charity-1-5471446 – and given it a better chance of survival than most of Morecambe’s entertainment heritage has had.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, 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 £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.