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The Theatre Royal, Rolfe Street, Smethwick, Birmingham

Birmingham Index

The Theatre Royal was situated on Rolfe Street, Smethwick, Birmingham and opened on Monday September the 20th 1897 with a production of Max Goldberg's Oriental Drama 'The Secrets of the Harem'. This huge 3,200 seat Theatre cost £20,000 to build and was designed by the Birmingham based architects Owen and Ward, who also designed several other Theatres in and around the City.

The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the erection of the Theatre when it was first begun in their 15th of January 1897 edition saying:- 'A new popular theatre is being erected in Rolfe-street, Smethwick, near Birmingham, for Mr. Charles Barnard at a cost of about £8,000. The buildings cover a site of 1,500 square yards, situate in the principal thoroughfare, and almost opposite to the L. and N.W. railway station.

The auditorium is 88ft. long by 52ft. wide, and consists of a pit, pit-stalls, orchestra stalls, circle, six private boxes, and an immense gallery, and provides sitting accommodation for 2,300 persons. There are convenient and spacious refreshment saloons to all parts, as also complete lavatory accommodation.

The principal entrances are in Rolfe-street, whilst the gallery is approached from a side road. There are two distinct exits from all parts of the house, the gallery having an outside iron escape staircase on either side the building, which may be used in case of panic; there are four staircases in all from the gallery.

The sight-lines in the auditorium are skilfully arranged, so that every person will have a good and uninterrupted view of the stage. The stage will be 63ft. by 44ft. and 50ft. high to the gridiron, and will be constructed on the most modern principles. There is a large property-room and scene dock immediately adjoining the stage, also two star dressing-rooms. There are eight good dressing-rooms for artists divided from the stage by a wall and corridor, and a large chorus dressing-room in basement. Each dressing-room will be fitted with lavatory conveniences. The entrance to the stage and dressing-rooms is quite distinct from any other part of the building, and is approached from a 25ft. carriage-way at the side.

The whole structure will be as nearly fireproof as possible, and will be fitted with fire-hydrants throughout stage and auditorium, and will be heated by hot water on the radiator principle. It is intended to light the building by electricity.

The front elevation is of a suitable character in the Classic style, and will be executed with Ruabon bricks with Doulting stone dressings. An ornamental iron verandah extends over the footpath the whole length of the building, to a height of 12ft. from pavement. The elevation will be faced with ornamental glazed tiles in parti-colours, and arranged in panels and devices illustrative of Music, Art, and the Drama.

The internal decorations will be of an ornate character; tiled dadoes will line the walls of all passages, corridors, entrance, and refreshment aloons throughout.

This building, when completed, will undoubtedly be one of the most convenient and capacious of the many provincial theatres recently erected. Messrs. Owen and Ward, of Colmore-row, Birmingham, are the architects, and Messrs. J. Harley and Son, of Smethwick, the contractors.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, January 15th 1897.

The ERA reported on the Theatre Royal shortly before it opened in their 18th of September 1897 edition saying:- 'With the large population contained in the township of Smethwick, combined with the numerous residents of adjoining parishes, it has long been a source of grievance to the dwellers in the locality who possess a liking for theatrical performances that no properly appointed theatre existed nearer than Birmingham; or, in other words, at least four miles away, even to the most favourably situated.

Now Mr Charles Barnard, proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Aston, and managing director of the Gaiety, Birmingham, has erected a theatre, possessing a central position, spacious dimensions, comfortable arrangements and fittings, artistic decorations, and appliances of the latest and best description, both before and behind the curtain.

It is situated at the principal end of Rolfe-street, in the very centre of the township, and opposite the station of the London and North Western Railway. Trams run within a few yards of its doors. The exterior of the building is a pleasing admixture, of white stone and red brick, with an ornamental portico of fancy ironwork and glass. Three large statues, placed respectively at the centre and each end of the front wall, add greatly to the general effect.

Inside, neither money, energy, nor skill have been spared. The building, which is constructed to seat about 4,000 spectators, is of horseshoe formation, and has boxes, circle, stalls, second circle, pit, and gallery. The upholstery consists of dark red velvet plush, which forms a fine contrast with the tints employed in the general decorations, which consist for the most part of a very pale blue and a delicate rose pink, with a lavish admixture of gold. The whole of the woodwork is covered by most artistically wrought plastic decorations.

Messrs A. R. Dean, Limited, Birmingham, are responsible for this important item, and competent judges, who have seen most of the work which has won for the firm so high a place among theatrical architects and builders, pronounce their efforts at Smethwick to be superior to anything they have hitherto produced in this direction. The same firm has also supplied the choice upholstery in its entirety.

The stage is nearly 80ft. wide and 60ft. deep. These dimensions will be sufficient to provide ample room for the proper putting on of spectacular pieces, pantomimes, &a., where plenty of stage room is a desideratum. Another feature is that underneath the stage is a vast cellar, with excellent store rooms. Professional ladies and gentlemen will be glad to learn that eight first-class dressing-rooms and a green-room have been erected, and no pains spared to make them thoroughly comfortable, lavatories and sanitary arrangements being plentifully supplied.

With a view to safety, an asbestos fireproof curtain is hung, and, as an additional protection in case of panic, extra exits exist from all parts of theatre. There is a subway underneath the stage from one side of the stalls to the other, and one between the upper and lower circles. These passages will be of great convenience to visitors, as they will afford ready means of passing from one side of the house to the other. The walls and floors of these subways are adorned with tiles and mosaic work.

The lighting is chiefly electric, but gas is also utilised, electric light being used for the footlights. Four spacious, handsome bars are provided, fitted with every modern appliance. The drop-curtain and proscenium borders are by Mr Francis H. Bull. Messrs J. Harley and Son, Rolfe street, Smethwick, are the builders, from the designs of Messrs Owen and Ward, architects, of Birmingham. By his enterprise and unstinted expenditure Mr Barnard has obtained a theatre of which any proprietor, any manager, or any town might be proud. He has secured as his general manager Mr E. Hewitson. The stage-management will be under the direction of Mr J. Greenwood, and the band under the conductorship of Mr Walter Denton.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 18th of September 1897.

The Theatre Royal opened on Monday the 20th of September 1897 with a production of Max Goldberg's Oriental Drama 'The Secrets of the Harem' with John F. Preston and his Company but went on to have a pretty short life considering the expense of building it and the size of its auditorium and stage. It had opened in 1897 but was closed in 1932, after its proprietors had gone bankrupt. The Theatre did reopen again for short time after this, housing boxing matches, but it was soon closed again and subsequently demolished.

A Plaque marking the Theatre Royal is today placed on the Smethwick Rolfe Street Station near the site of the Theatre, and reads:- 'In Rolfe Street stood the Theatre Royal One of the largest provincial theatres in the country. Opened 1897 Closed 1932.'

A photograph of the Theatre can be seen here.

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