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About Bertie Crewe - Theatre Architect

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Theatre Architecture, a Chat with Mr. Bertie Crewe

From the ERA, March 28th 1908

Bertie CreweMr. Bertie Crewe, the well-known architect, tells us that the idea of engaging in theatrical architecture occurred to him some twenty-three years ago, when he was a student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. There he met all the leading French designers of theatres, and from them gained much valuable knowledge. Returning to London in 1888, he was engaged by Mr. Walter Emden, to whose office there was at that time Mr. W. G. R. Sprague. A year later the latter gentleman and Mr. Crewe started in business for themselves as Crewe and Sprague. Several theatres were built by them before the Partnership was dissolved in 1895. On the first day of January, 1896, he started operations on his own account, and since then he has been responsible for the erection of thirty-five theatres and music halls.

In 1902 Mr. Crewe came in contact with Mr. Thomas Barrasford, who commissioned him to design the Hippodrome, Liverpool. Mr. Crewe considers that this establishment, which has seating accommodation for 3,000, was the means of revolutionising modern music hall building. From that time he has done all the work for Mr. Barrasford, whom he regards as the pioneer in introducing Continental novelties to English audiences.

Mr. Crewe is the only English architect who has built music halls on the Continent. He entirely reconstructed the Alhambra, Paris, in 1904, and the Alhambra, Brussels, last year; and at the present moment he is engaged upon five more variety theatres in towns on the Continent, three of which will be entirely new, and all of which are to be opened by Mr. Barrasford. For the same syndicate Mr. Crewe is preparing plans for eight new music halls in the English provinces, while for Mr. Walter de Frece's syndicate he has four halls in hand.

The Lyceum Theatre in 1903, shortly before its reconstruction by Bertie Crewe the following year - From 'The Lyceum and Henry Irving' by Austin Brereton, published in 1903.Asked for his opinion as to which playhouse in London most nearly approached an ideal, Mr. Crewe points to the Lyceum, the reconstruction of which was carried out according to his plans. The theatre has only two tiers, and therefore no one has to go very deep below the ground or very high up.

Right - The Lyceum Theatre in 1903, shortly before its reconstruction by Bertie Crewe the following year - From 'The Lyceum and Henry Irving' by Austin Brereton, published in 1903.

The auditorium is one of the largest ever designed, being 100ft. in depth from curtain-line to back wall, with a clear width of 92ft. The two circles are carried without any columns whatever, except one 5ft. from each wall, which do not interfere with the view from any seat in the house. The ground floor is divided into stalls and pit, there being fourteen rows of the former and sixteen rows of the latter. There are ten private boxes, approached by separate staircases, each box being no less than 12ft. in width - a distinct improvement on the small and cramped private boxes at so many other places of amusement. There is a deep circle of fifteen rows, and Mr. Crewe claims to be the pioneer of this system, which is, if anything, an improvement upon the old circle of six rows in that it affords a better sight-line for the promenade at the back.

Bertie Crewe's Lyceum Theatre's Auditorium today - Courtesy John Mann 08.

Above - Bertie Crewe's Lyceum Theatre's Auditorium today - Courtesy John Mann 08.

He points out that the two worst places from which to witness a performance are the end seats in the second row of the dress circle. In the case of the Lyceum Mr. Crewe has removed this difficulty, so that there is as perfect a view of the stage from these end seats as there is from the centre of the circle. In the gallery there are seventeen rows of seats, and the size of the auditorium can be computed from the fact, that this part of the house alone accommodates 1,500 people.

The Lyceum Theatre in 1938 during the run of 'Queen of Hearts.' The stage is one of the largest and most complete in the kingdom, being about 60ft. deep by 100ft. in width. The floor of the stage is of teak, and the framework and provision for traps, bridges, and cuts are all in steel. The grid is 60ft. above the stage, and the width between the steel flies is over 50ft. Special contrivances have been designed for working the scenery with a minimum of hand labour, and the most extensive and weighty sets can be flown with in the least possible space of time.

Left - The Lyceum Theatre in 1938 during the run of 'Queen of Hearts.'

The building is heated on the new Plenum System, the warm air being driven in at the back of every part of the house and extracted on the stage, thus ensuring freedom from draught. It is so arranged that an even temperature can be kept in winter and summer, either heaters or coolers being used to treat the air according to circumstances.

Faddists have brought against the theatre the charge that they are unhealthy places because of the difficulty of admitting sunlight and fresh air. In the case of the Lyceum, constructed by Mr. Bertie Crewe, such charges are quite disproven, as by means of the sliding roof both sunlight and air are freely admitted. In fact, in the middle of the day the Lyceum is as full of sunlight and air as the open street itself.

Among the theatres which have been designed by Mr. Crewe may be mentioned the following, the figure in parentheses indicating the seating capacity:– Empire, Croydon; Victoria Theatre, Manchester; Queen's, Poplar; Britannia Theatre, London; Hippodrome, Liverpool (3.000); Zoo Hippodrome, Glasgow; Pavilion, Glasgow (2.300); Palace, Glasgow (2,500); Alhambra, Paris; Hippodrome, Brighton; Hippodrome, Belfast (2,600); Hippodrome, Sheffield (2,700); Hippodrome, Portsmouth; Hippodrome, Oldham (1,600); Lyceum Theatre, London (3,100); Hippodrome, Southampton; Hippodrome, Nottingham (2,600); and Alhambra, Brussels.

Yachting is Mr. Crewe's only hobby. He keeps a couple of boats, is a member of three sailing clubs, and has won several prizes.

The above Article was first published in the ERA, March 28th 1908.

An Article on Bertie Crewe from the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre, London on the 27th of April 1928

Bertie CreweThe new Piccadilly Theatre, of which the precise location is the comer of Sherwood Street and Denman Street, W., has been completed from the designs of Mr. Bertie Crewe, in conjunction with Mr. Edward A. Stone, the most recently built of whose many places of entertainment is the Astoria Kinema and the new Palais de Dance in Charing Cross Road.

Mr. Bertie Crewe was born in Essex and educated at the Merchant Taylors School. He was articled to the late Mr. Clement Dowling, Architect, of Cloven Street, Strand, and on completion of his articles, went over to Paris for three years to complete his architectural training.

On returning to London he became chief draughtsman to the late Mr. Walter Emden, and after two years started in business in partnership with Mr. W. G. A. Sprague, from whom he separated at the end of 1895. Since then Mr. Crewe has been responsible for over eighty different places of entertainment, among them the following:-

The London Opera House, the Lyceum Theatre, the New Princes Theatre, the Tivoli Palace Kinema, and the Golder's Green Hippodrome, while in the country he has been responsible for the designing of the Pavilion, Glasgow; the Palace of Varieties, Manchester; the Hippodrome, Belfast; the Hippodrome, Sheffield; the Hippodrome, Nottingham, and the Coliseum, Dublin, and in Paris the Palace and Alhambra Theatres.

The above article on Bertie Crewe was first published in the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre, London on the 27th of April 1928 and is Courtesy Adam Harrison.

Bertie Crewe on English Theatre Architects

A Letter in the ERA, 11th March 1914

Bertie CreweDear Sir, - In reading your article on the National Theatre and interview with Mr. George Heyer, I notice that gentleman makes a statement that an eminent architect told him that "our English architects have had no experience in designing theatres."

Another theatrical architect and myself in London at present have designed over sixty theatres and other places of entertainment, each in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, which I think, in all probability, could not be equalled by any Continental architect.

I quite agree with what Mr. Heyer says that we have to fit our theatres on to, sometimes, inconvenient sites, because in this country theatres are not subsidised as they mostly are abroad, but are purely commercial undertakings.

I think on careful examination of the most important portion of a theatre, namely, the auditorium, it will be found that the English designed theatres are half a century ahead of those of any other country, both for absence of columns, line of sight, and acoustic properties, and these qualities, I presume, are not taken at all into account by the "eminent architect" who probably has visited foreign theatres and been delighted with the large and highly decorated foyers, staircases &c., which, although they are very fine and admirable, are not part of the income-producing portion of the theatre.

If there is a competition I sincerely trust that the gentleman I mentioned and myself will be asked to compete, and I venture to think that our designs will not be far behind those of our Continental rivals.

Yours very truly.
Bertie Crewe.
75-77. Shaftesbury-avenue, London, W.
March 6, 1914.

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