The Theatre Royal, Gordon Road, Aldershot
Later - The County Theatre
The Theatre Royal on Gordon Road, Aldershot was first designed by the well known Theatre Architects Bertie Crewe and W. G. R. Sprague, and opened on the 16th of February 1891. The Theatre was built to replace the earlier Theatre Royal which had stood on the northern corner of Union Street and Grovesnor Road from 1856 until it was destroyed by a fire on the 8th of February 1889.
The Gordon Road Theatre Royal first opened in 1891, Arthur Lloyd is known to have taken his tour of Ballyvogan there that year. However, the Theatre was reconstructed only nine years later and was reopened on the 15th of October 1900 by Clarence Sounes, who had been running this and the earlier Theatre since December 1887.
The New Theatre Royal, as it was then named, reopened on the Monday the 15th of October 1900 with a production of 'The Private Secretary'. The ERA reported on the rebuilt Theatre in their 20th of October 1900 editions saying:- 'The play going community of Aldershot, as well as the large body of touring managers themselves who make their bookings there, have much indeed to thank Mr Clarence Sounes for. Everything is said to come to those who wait. The public of Aldershot have waited long for a building worthy of being called a theatre.
Right - A Programme for 'Pygmalion' at the Theatre Royal, Aldershot in 1950 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.
Thanks to the enterprise and indomitable pluck of Mr Sounes, that building has now lost all its former ugliness, and has been changed by Mr sounes's architects into a very pretty provincial theatre. The whole place was dismantled and remodelled, and will henceforth be known as the New Theatre Royal, Aldershot. Mr Sounes has his hands full of business just now, for not only is he lessee and manager of the Queen's Theatre, Birmingham, the proprietor and manager of the Lyceum, Newport, Mon , but on Thursday his friend, Sir Henry Irving, laid the commemoration stone at the opening of his New Grand Theatre, Woolwich.
The new theatre has a fine depth from the stage to the
topmost seat in the gallery. The eye takes in with pleasure the many
marked improvements which have been made. The new private boxes on either
side, with their chaste and beautiful fittings and draperies, at once
with the hand-some horseshoe dress-circle, are also to he admired. There
are an amphitheatre and galleries with separate entrances, the whole
being upholstered in recherche style, plush tip-up seats being used,
and the softest of carpets laid everywhere. New bars have been fitted
up both upstairs and down, there are crush-rooms and cloakrooms, smoking
saloons and corridors - in fact, every arrangement that was possible
for the comfort and convenience of the patrons of the house. The decorative
work is chaste and beautiful, the freehand paintings upon the ceiling
are worthy of high praise, as is also the handiwork over the proscenium.
The scenery is elegant,
and is the result of special orders placed in the hands of Mr W. E.
Rickards, scenic artist to the theatre.' - The ERA,
20th October 1900.
The Theatre Royal was later known for a while as the County Theatre and during the 1930s it was owned by Town & Country Theatres who also owned the Duchess Theatre in London.
The Theatre went bankrupt in the 1930s but was reopened as a Variety Theatre by Ben Garcia in 1940, and operated throughout the war years as a number two Variety House. In 1946 Variety ceased and was replaced for two years by Harry Hanson's Court Players. In 1948 Ben Garcia leased the Theatre to another management who formed the "Aldershot Repertory Company" who played with various degrees of success until the pantomime; "Aladdin" in December 1952.
After this there was a week of Ballet and then a short season of Repertory by the Arthur Brough Players from Folkestone but the Theatre again went bankrupt and was closed for the last time. The Theatre was demolished after a fire backstage in 1959.
There is more on the Theatre Royal below:
"Reds, Blues and Full up Finish" by Alan Chudley
The Theatre Royal stood in Gordon Road between Birchett Road and Elms Road and was opened in 1891 to replace an earlier Theatre Royal, which stood on the northern corner of Union Street and Grovesnor Road. That Theatre Royal, opened in 1856 and was destroyed by fire in 1889, during a performance of:" Monte Cristo & Co."
The Theatre Royal passed into the hands of Clarence Sounes in 1898, who controlled at various times, theatres in Newport South Wales, Poplar, Woolwich, Kingston upon Thames and elsewhere. I know little of the early history of this theatre apart from some playbills that I was shown from the late 1920s and early 1930s when there was a series of touring plays including:" White Cargo", "Blackmail" and "Rasputin the Rascal Monk", this came in 1931 and in which the film star James Mason made his professional debut.
When I fist saw the Theatre Royal in January 1940 the Theatre was closed and up for sale, having gone bankrupt just before the war. Soon after it was reopened by Ben Garcia and operated throughout the war years as a number two Variety House. In 1946 with Aldershot's war time Garrison gone, Variety ceased and was replaced for two years by Harry Hanson's Court Players, they played once nightly, whereas Variety played Non stop from 5.45 until 10 on weekdays and 3.00 until 10 on Saturdays. In 1948 Ben Garcia leased the theatre to another management who formed the; "Aldershot Repertory Company" who played with various degrees of success until the pantomime; "Aladdin" in December 1952. After the pantomime there was a week of Ballet and then a short season of Repertory by the Arthur Brough Players from Folkestone. During this season the Theatre Royal again went bankrupt and closed. It stood empty and unloved until 1957 when some gentlemen of the road who used the backstage area as a doss house lit a fire which got out of hand and destroyed the back stage area. In 1959 Aldershot Council demanded its demolition on the grounds of safety; Brian Pickford and his demolition men moved in and razed the once proud theatre to the ground. These Theatrical undertakers were soon to demolish many other theatres including the New theatre Northampton.
The Theatre Royal was a small theatre on a very tight site with very restricted space in the front of house and in its bars. The house seated around 700, in stalls, pit, dress circle, gallery at the rear of the dress circle with its own entrance from Gordon Street there were two boxes each side at Dress Circle level, with elaborate plasterwork on the dress circle and box fronts.
When I knew the Theatre Royal all seats were tip up with very good site lines from all parts. The proscenium opening was 25 feet wide and the stage a little over 30feet deep to the centre of a sloped back wall; the grid was about 35 feet high and had 27 hemp sets of lines. There were six dressing rooms, three were three colour footlights and three, battens each with three colours. These were connected to dimmers, and one 1,OOO watt floodlights (Strand patt 49) each side these were switched. There was a carbon arc follow spot (Strand Patt 42) in a projection box at the rear of the gallery, and a 1,OOO watt spotlight (Strand Patt 43) on stands at each side of the Circle. The Stage Manager was Ernie Colston who had a young 'Day Man,' George. The rest of the stage crew were casuals.
While still at school in early 1944, I used to go almost every week to the Variety shows, which often were Girly revues. There were Pantomimes and strait Variety bills also, Billy Reid and his accordion band, with the young Dorothy Squires as his vocalist came at this time, and Phyllis Dixey the renowned strip tease artist often came with a revue; "Peek A Boo" By way of a change, Todd Slaughter came with his melodrama; "Jack the Ripper."
I enjoyed my visits to the Theatre Royal where a good seat in the Gallery could be had for a shilling. Far and Large Ben Garcia gave value for money. When the Court Payers were in residence, I was able to see some of their plays at the mid week matinee; much to the chagrin of my boss Freddy Brown who was the Hippodrome's electrician; I was his assistant; "What do you want to go to the Theatre for, that's opposition" After I came out of National service I sometimes went to see the plays presented by the Aldershot Repertory Company.
Text kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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