The Royal Court Theatre, Rochdale Road, Bacup, Lancashire
Also known as the Empire Theatre in the 1900s
Above - A Google Streetview image of the Royal Court Theatre, Bacup - Click to interact
The Royal Court Theatre building was originally constructed as the Henrietta Street Iron Foundry in 1850. In 1886 the building was gutted by fire and subsequently bought and reconstructed as a Theatre for the Lessees J. Walters, and Love. The Theatre itself incorporated some of the external walls of the original Iron Works and opened on Monday the 18th of September 1893 with a Grand Opening Night production of 'Fast Mail'.
The ERA published a report on the new Theatre in their 17th of December 1892 edition saying: 'Owing to the great success of the Rossendale Theatre, which has been temporarily located in the Public Hall, Bacup, for the last three months, the lessee, Mr J. Walters, and Mr Love, have decided to fit up a new theatre, with a stage sufficiently large to meet the requirements of the best companies going.
After looking round for a suitable site, the promoters came across the building in Henrietta-street, between the river and Rochdale-road, formerly used by Messrs Barker and Sons as a foundry. On examination, the site was found to be admirably suited for the purpose, and it was at once purchased. It is proposed to pull down the old brick foundry, near to the new steps, and have the space laid out as a garden, with suitable conveniences.
In the newer building it is proposed to strip all the floors, and the old roof will be taken off and replaced by a new one with a single span, so as to do away with any pillars which would obstruct the view of the audience. The main entrance will be in Rochdale-road, from whence the gallery and circles will be reached, and also, if necessary, the orchestra stalls. The entrance to the circle is through handsomely coloured glass doors, leading into a large vestibule 31ft. by 18ft. On the right side on entering are ladies and gentlemen's cloak-rooms, fitted with the necessary conveniences. On this floor is also the manager's office. The upper circle and gallery are both on the upper tier, and on a level with Rochdale-road, the gallery seating 500, and the upper circle 200.
A flight of stone stairs, 6ft. wide, leads to the circle and stalls. Coming down the circle stairs a vestibule is approached leading to a large smoking lounge and refreshment-bar, handsomely fitted up, in the centre of which is a large fountain. Entering by two coloured glass doors the circle is reached, and, from the description, it promises to be one of the most handsomely appointed circles in any of the minor towns of Lancashire or Yorkshire.
The dress-circle, in front, will accommodate 102 people, and the family circle, behind, 204, and will be fitted with the latest pattern velvet tilt chairs. Running round is a promenade over 9Oft. in length, and averaging over 6ft. in width. On the same tier, one on each side of the stage, are two private boxes, 6ft. by 10ft., fitted up with tables, &c., and divided by curtains.
Above - The auditorium of the Royal Court Theatre, Bacup - Photograph Victoria Christina - Courtesy Simon Parker, Bacup Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
On each side of the circle are two exit staircases, running down to the pit entrance, one of which will be made available for entrance to the stalls, of which there will be two rows, twenty in each, fitted with velvet chairs similar to the circle, and carpeted. Behind the stalls is the pit, seating 430 persons, allowing for each person the space of 16in. by 2ft. 4in., making one of the most roomy pits in the kingdom. To the right of the pit are sundry conveniences for the use of the audience, and refreshment bar. On this floor is also the heating apparatus room, and a room for the electric light plant, it being proposed shortly to have the theatre lighted by electricity.
The theatre will be remarkable for its great height, being over 42ft. from floor to ceiling. The shape of the circles is practically horse-shoe, but an improvement on that, being of the latest pattern, similar to the New Opera House at Southport. The decorations of the circle and gallery fronts will be very handsome, in velvet arm rests and plastic mouldings, inlaid with rich satin upholstery.
The proscenium front, which is almost equal in size to any of the Manchester theatres, being 26ft. broad by 30ft. high, will be handsomely decorated and richly gilded. The orchestra is sunk so as to hide the musicians from the audience. The stage is separated from the auditorium by a fireproof brick wall 14in. thick, and going 4ft, above the roof, with fire-proof asbestos curtain, guaranteed by the makers to resist the action of the fiercest flames for over half an hour, thus dividing the theatre into two perfect fire-proof compartments. The fireproof curtain will be used every night, so as to keep it in perfect order.
The floor of the stage will be rather larger than the whole of the present theatre (gallery excepted), being 32ft. by 53ft., and will be 48ft. in height to the gridiron or level, as compared with 16ft. at the Public Hall. It is proposed to make it one of the most elaborately-fitted stages in the provinces, and it will be capable of receiving any production on the road, no matter how big. It will be fitted throughout with the latest pattern flash gas fittings, limelight apparatus, &c. On the left hand side of the stage will be built an entirely new portion, containing five dressing-rooms, fitted with hot and cold water, and separated by fireproof doors from the main building. There will be three doors leading to the pit from the proposed garden on the site of the present old foundry, one of the doors being used as an entrance, and all three as exits. The building will be fitted with fire hydrants throughout. The plans are already deposited, and will come before the next meeting of the General Works Committee, and if sanctioned by the Council it is hoped to open the new theatre next Easter Monday.'
As it turned out the Theatre took longer to build than originally expected and didn't open until Monday the 18th of September 1893 with a Grand Opening Night production of 'Fast Mail'.
The Theatre was known as the Empire in the 1900s and although the auditorium originally had two balconies the upper circle was removed in 1948.
Right - The auditorium of the Empire / Royal Court Theatre, Bacup in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.
The Theatre has gone through many changes over the years and like so many others has had a period in use as a Bingo Hall, and less usually even a church. Happily the Theatre, now called the Royal Court once more, is today still running as a Theatre and is owned and run by the Bacup Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society. Simon Parker, Vice Chairman of BAODS, Treasurer, and Director of Education at the Theatre, says: 'The Royal Court Theatre is still owned and run by Bacup Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and continues to offer a diverse range of productions throughout the year, such as Joe Longthorne, Lena Martell and a Dame Shirley Bassey Tribute. The Theatre also produces their own shows with a Pantomime, a musical, a play and a thrilling Youth Theatre Production, funded only by ticket sales, the Royal Court Theatre is still going!' - Simon Parker 2011.
Above - The stage of the Royal Court Theatre, Bacup
set up for a pantomime - Photograph Victoria Christina - Courtesy
Simon Parker, Bacup
Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
You may like to visit the Bacup Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society's own Website here.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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