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The Gaiety Theatre, Carrick Street, Ayr

Earlier - The Caledonian Theatre

A Google StreetView image of the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView image of the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr - Click to Interact

The Gaiety has reopened, in December 2012, with a pantomime after some five years of being dark while its owners, the local Ayrshire Council, thought about its future. Fortunately after much public pressure a new performing partnership has taken over its management.... The Ayr Gaiety Partnership Ltd.

The Gaiety originally opened in 1902 for Messrs Pierce and Bolton, to the designs of J. McHardy Young, who later became Burgh Architect. It was built on the site of the earlier 1895 wooden Caledonian Theatre. The Gaiety's plain exterior was finished in red brick and its elaborate interior, lit by gas, accommodated 1200, divided into pit, dress circle, upper gallery and four boxes. It had six dressing rooms. However its interior was largely destroyed by fire on 4th August 1903

 

The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in a photograph by the late Paul Iles - Courtesy Graeme SmithA year later it was reconstructed under the direction of Alexander Cullen, architect, (one of a number of theatres to be designed by Cullen, Lochhead & Brown, of Hamilton) with its auditorium remodelled in rococo style and the galleries taken down and re-erected in steel and concrete so that the auditorium became virtually fireproof.

Left - The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in a photograph by the late Paul Iles - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The walls were heightened by 11 feet, the number of boxes increased to eight, and an amphitheatre introduced. Exits were increased and improved. Under various owners it provided variety and cine-variety. It was remodelled again in 1935 with influences of Art Deco. After a fire in 1955 the accommodation was reduced to 570.

 

A programme for the 'Gaiety Whirl' at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in 1950 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The most successful operators and owners from 1925 onwards were Ben Popplewell and his family - who first ran entertainments in Bradford, and became owner of the Queens Palace Theatre, Shipley, and lessees of the new Ayr Pavilion. They presented major stars including Sir Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe and the Houston Sisters. The Popplewell maxim was "Run by a family for all families." Their first major summertime show was in 1929, The Gaiety Whirl, topped by Dave Willis who led it for six years until he was contracted by Howard & Wyndham to lead their new Half Past Eight shows in the King`s Theatre, Glasgow. The Gaiety Whirl shows continued until the 1990s.

Right - A programme for the 'Gaiety Whirl' at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in 1950 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A programme for the 'Gaiety Whirl' at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in 1998 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Whether in pantomime or in the Gaiety Whirl, audiences have enjoyed a long list of entertainers including Tommy Morgan, Jack Anthony, Robert Wilson, Chic Murray & Maidie, Kenneth McKellar, the Alexander Brothers, Jack Milroy, Rikki Fulton, Moira Anderson, Billy Rusk, Cormack & Sharp, Johnny Beattie and singer Anne Fields. Others include Alma Cogan, Danny La Rue, and Morecombe & Wise. One of the dancers was Lionel Blair who made his solo theatre dance debut in The Gaiety Whirl, 1949.

Repertory seasons and plays have been presented by the Citizens` Theatre Company, and the Scottish Theatre Company, and productions of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

Left - A programme for the 'Gaiety Whirl' at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr in 1998 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

When sons Eric and Leslie Popplewell finally retired the theatre was bought by Ayr Town Council in 1973 after much public campaigning, and it continued to stage some 220 performances a year. In the mid 1990s an extension to one side was made, housing offices, box office, cafe and dressing rooms.

This Article on the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by him in January 2013.

More about the Gaiety is in two books by the late John Moore, Ayr Gaiety: the theatre made famous by the Popplewells, published in 1976. And a sequel Ayr Gaiety 1902-2002 published in 2003.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Theatre Royal, Fort Street, Ayr

Also known as the New Theatre / Queen's Rooms

Includes information on Early Theatres in Ayr

A Google StreetView image of the Ayr Baptist Church, formerly the Theatre Royal - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView image of the Ayr Baptist Church, formerly the Theatre Royal - Click to Interact.

Late 18th century records for Ayr report an attempt by George Sutherland, actor/manager of a touring company, to build a theatre in the town.  He was unable to find a suitable location and moved to Dumfries where he helped to establish that town`s Theatre Royal in 1792.

In 1796, a company gave performances in Ayr in the old school room of the Mill Vennel near the Wallace Tower. Beaumont's company played there in 1802. This company included a very young Edmund Kean.

Beaumont moved in 1809 to the empty Gibb's soapworks beside the main gate of Dalblair House.  The next company who occupied the soap-work was managed by Montgomerie and Lacy. The well-known John Henry Alexander, of Glasgow Theatres, acted here about this time, as a lad, under the name of Master Middleton.

Edinburgh born Henry Erskine Johnston (1777-1845) became an actor/manager of renown in Dublin, but bankrupted himself, before coming to Ayr where he ran drama before moving to a hall in Content Street, a building which later became a brass foundry. The great tragedian, Edmund Kean appeared at these premises in 1811 and 1812, returning to Ayr for further engagements in later years. By 1812, there were plans for a new theatre and the Content Street hall was abandoned. Johnston also managed theatre in Aberdeen and Greenock.

A Bill advertising a performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' for a Benefit for Mr. Mason at the Theatre Royal, Ayr in December 1815 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In 1814 Johnston managed the Theatre Royal, Queen Street, Glasgow but his Irish creditors pursued him and had him jailed in Dundee. Later, Johnston became part-owner (with James Morris) and lessee of the new 'small but handsome' Ayr Theatre, which had a list of 40 founding subscribers.  It opened in Fort Street on 30th October 1815, with the 'admired comedy' of The Honeymoon and the farce of Raising the Wind'. Johnston’s company included players from Edinburgh, Newcastle and London.  Press notices indicate that Mrs Clarke and Mrs Garrick, both from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would appear for a few nights.

Right - A Bill advertising a performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' for a Benefit for Mr. Mason at the Theatre Royal, Ayr in December 1815 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

This theatre, variously known as the New Theatre or the Queen's Rooms (for concerts), as well as the Theatre Royal, accommodated 600. The Edinburgh Company of William Murray with Mrs Harriet Siddons and the Glasgow Company under Frank Seymour completed seasons at this theatre.

However the Post Office Directory for Ayr, published in 1830 relates that the Theatre '....was got up in the year 1812, under the supervision of Henry Erskine Johnston Esq. by a company of subscribers, consisting of forty-four, at twenty-five pounds each. The Theatre has never rewarded the enterprising zeal and exertions of the projectors, there being comparatively little encouragement in Ayr even for the first rate stars. The last lessee was Mr Seymour. The Theatre is lighted by gas, which through the excessive carelessness of the stage-managers is rendered perfectly intolerable. It is occasionally used as a place of worship, as a dancing and ball-room, and at times let out for the accommodation of lectures, magicians, and strolling adventurers.'

James Morris, part owner of the Theatre Royal (and of a theatre in Kilmarnock in the 1830s and 40s) – and a friend of Horatio and Arthur Lloyd - has left a record of many of the activities within the theatre between 1815 and its closure in the 1870's  He relates that Kean appeared at the Theatre Royal as Richard the Third, travelling from his home in Bute to Campbeltown and sailing on to Ayr for four appearances in that role. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in April 1862.

Other players known to have visited the Theatre Royal included Charles Mackay (the inimitable Baillie Nicol Jarvie), sometime resident in Ayr and the comedian Horatio Lloyd, famous for his comic walk. Other figures who appeared at the Theatre Royal, during those early years, include Macready, Miss Foote, Mr. and Mrs. Wood, Miss Helen Faucit, and Miss Stephens. Gustavus V Brooke was also in Ayr as an actor/manager.

 A Google StreetView image of the Ayr Baptist Church, formerly the Theatre Royal - Click to Interact.Over the years, the theatre provided a home for music. Both Braham and Templeton, noted tenors, appeared in the house. Other singers of note included John Sinclair, John Wilson and Gale. In 1832 Paganini played two concerts at the theatre.  Tickets were priced at 7s 6d, 5s, and 3s 6d.  Paganini was promised a fee of £100 for his appearance but it appears that the manager (Frank Seymour) decamped with the funds. Seymour was an expert in this tactic. Thereafter, Paganini always demanded a fee in advance, asserting that he would play better with the cash in his back pocket.

The building still stands at the top of Fort Street, and is now the Ayr Baptist Church. 

Right - A Google StreetView image of the Ayr Baptist Church, formerly the Theatre Royal - Click to Interact.

This Article on the Theatre Royal, Ayr, was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by him in January 2013.

Text sources include Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809, by James Morris, published by The Ayr Advertiser 1872. See also www.AyrshireArts.com for more images and newspaper reports.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Pavilion, Low Green, Ayr

The Pavilion, Ayr in the mid 1930s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - The Pavilion, Ayr in the mid 1930s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

An Ayr railway poster showing the Pavilion and beach in 1955 - Courtesy Graeme Smith. For a prime site on the Low Green facing over the Firth of Clyde the Corporation of Ayr held an architectural competition in 1904 to design a Pavilion which would express the prosperity of Ayr and its position as one of the main holiday resorts on the Clyde coast.

The winning architect was James Hunter Kennedy and the stylish Pavilion opened in 1911, complete with its long narrow auditorium and horseshoe gallery, seating 1200 in total (now some 600), and promenade accommodation for 1300 more, with refreshment and retiring rooms. Set in promenade gardens, with putting greens adjacent, it has tall elegant Italianate towers at each corner. A Winter Garden fronting it (but dismantled in the 1970s) provided lunches and teas, and a place to change after enjoying the Green or beach.

Right - An Ayr railway poster showing the Pavilion and beach in 1955 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Ben Popplewell took over the lease in 1913. He was a stockbroker who made money from running music hall entertainments in Bradford`s Frizinghall Pavilion, the name he gave to the former concert hall of the 1904 Bradford Exhibition, after dismantling and re-siting the building. In the Ayr Pavilion he presented a whole range of performers including Harry Lauder, Florrie Forde and Fred Karno. The theatre gained a reputation as the "house that rocks with laughter". 

In 1918 the lease was taken over by the Collins Variety Agencies of Glasgow until 1922 when they started developing their own circuit of theatres, most notably the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow, the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh and the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool. Fred Collins added a whole range of new artistes including a young Tommy Morgan and Dave Willis. Ben Popplewell came back to Ayr and by agreement with Collins resumed the lease. Three years later he bought the Gaiety and concentrated variety there, but continued the family`s interest in the Pavilion into the 1960`s.

 

The Ayr Pavilion, showing the fly tower - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - The Ayr Pavilion, showing the fly tower - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

For four seasons, starting in 1926, the Charlie Kemble's Entertainers were the summer residents.  During the 1930`s it served as a dance hall and concert venue. When America entered WWII the US Air Force took over Prestwick airport in 1943, making it their largest and busiest air base in Britain, and they brought a special wood from America to lay a new dance floor in the Pavilion. After the war ice skating seasons were introduced. Dances remained popular, including outdoors dancing. In the 1950s and 60s jazz bands from all over Britain entertained the dancers. To be followed by rock bands.

A Google StreetView image of the Pavilion, Ayr today - Click to Interact.In 1974 the scenery grid and stage were restored, and the balcony refurbished, by Ayr Intimate Opera, allowing their productions of opera, often with sets from Scottish Opera, over the next 10 years; and the classical Ayr Concert Series with visiting orchestras, instrumentalists and choirs. It was a venue for many events including the British Chess Championships. The Pavilion later became a discotheque and night club. Currently it is operated as Pirate Pete`s Adventure Play Centre for families.

Right - A Google StreetView image of the Pavilion, Ayr today - Click to Interact.

This Article on the Pavilion, Ayr, was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by him in January 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: