Theatres in Blackburn, Lancashire
Thwaites Empire - The Palace Theatre - The Amphitheatre of Varieties - The New Star Theatre of Varieties / Prince's Theatre / Grand Theatre - The Royalty Theatre / Alhambra Music Hall - The Theatre Royal / Cinema Royal - The Olympia Theatre - The Exchange Hall - Lyceum Theatre - Ohmy's Circus
Formerly - The Empire Electric Theatre - The Electric Light Theatre / The Barn / The Empire / The Red Brick / Essoldo Ewood / Classic Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of Thwaites Empire, Blackburn - Click to Interact
Thwaites Empire Theatre is situated on the corner of Aqueduct Road and Bolton Road in Ewood, a district of Blackburn. It started it's life as a silent film cinema called the Empire Electric Theatre opening on the 23rd February 1910, with a 20 foot wide proscenium, and seating for 800 people.
To this day there is a board displayed in the Theatre entrance listing the workmen who built the 'New Cinematograph Hall' in Ewood stating: - Mason, Bricklayer and Joiner, William Edmundson; Flagger and Slater - M. Duckworth; Plumber and Glazer - Robert Davies; Plasterer - J. Russell & Son; Painter - C. Dixon; Heating Engineers - Merger Brothers; Ventilation Engineer - J. J.Crowther; Electrician, Steel Construction work - Redpath Brown and Co of Manchester; Architect - T. A. Duerden of 48 Victoria Street Blackburn.
In those days films were on several reels, and when the reel came to an end, to cover the change over to a new film reel, a variety act would appear on the stage to entertain the public, while the changeover took place.
The Cinema has been known by several different names throughout its long history; The Empire Electric Theatre, The Electric Light Theatre, The Barn, The Empire, The Red Brick, Essoldo Ewood, Classic Cinema, and finally Thwaites Empire Theatre.
It featured 'Talkies' when these came in, and in 1954 the Proscenium was widened to 24 feet to facilitate the installation of Cinemascope, showing a 24 foot wide picture.
In 1957 the Cinema ownership was taken over by the Newcastle Based cinema chain of Essoldo, and the cinema was renamed 'Essoldo Ewood'. In 1972 Classic Cinema's took over the Essoldo cinema chain and the cinema was renamed 'The Classic'.
The cinema was closed in September 1972 and regular films ceased, but it was then leased to the Asian community and operated as an Indian Cinema screening Bollywood films. In 1976 the cinema interior was modernised and the operation of films changed to Indian films shown on Thursdays and Saturdays, with regular films again projected on Sundays, and Wednesdays.
Eventually projection of films ceased altogether and the building stood empty. A group of enthusiasts then got together to raise the necessary money, through local donations and money raising efforts, to buy the old cinema and to change its use into a Theatre and Arts Centre for Blackburn, both to present amateur Theatre, and professional entertainment. In 1978 a group of local businessmen were able to buy the derelict cinema for £14,000 and set up a charity to fulfill their dream. In 1998 Michael Berry was appointed to the board, and from October 1997 to October 2005, through tireless efforts, the grand sum of £750,000 was raised. The Enthusiasts worked tirelessly to renovate and open the Theatre, which took place in October 2002.
Continual work on remodeling the Theatre eventually enabled them to install a Balcony with extra seating above the stalls area, opening in November 2005, now giving the Theatre a seating capacity of 320. On the 12th November 2005 Anthony Valentine, the famous local actor, agreed to become the Theatre's patron.
In February 2009 the Theatre was awarded a Heritage Lottery grant of £47,900, to mark the Theatre's centenary, and in 2010 a 'Raising the Roof' appeal was launched for £100,000 to repair the leaking roof and to build more rooms.
The Theatre is today a thriving place of entertainment and an arts centre. It has rehearsal space, and is a community venue for local amateurs, being the home to Blackburn Drama Club, Blackburn Musical Theatre Company, Blackburn Arts Club, and the local Gilbert & Sullivan Society.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
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Later - The Palace Cinema
Above - A Sketch of the New Palace Theatre, Blackburn - From the Building News and Engineering Journal of September the 30th 1898.
The New Palace Theatre, Blackburn, was built on a site at the meeting of Jubilee Street and Railway Road, opposite the Railway Station, having frontages on three sides. The Architects were Messrs J. T. Wimperis and Arber of Sackville Street, Piccadilly, London, with assistance from W. G. R. Sprague, the famous Theatre Architect.
The Theatre was built for the Livermore Brothers, and opened on Monday night the 11th December 1899, described by the newspaper the 'Weekly Standard' of 15/10/1898, as being a 'picturesque addition to the ornamental gardens and the new Esplanade.'
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday April 29th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
The New Palace Theatre had been built on the site of the former 'Old Dandy factory' which had a tall square brick chimney, being a local landmark. The factory having been built on the former 'Ainsworth's stables'.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the new Theatre, along with the sketch shown above, and plans shown below, in their September the 30th 1898 edition saying:- 'This building is just started on a fine open site in the Station-square facing the railway terminus; it has frontages on three sides, so that it is a model site for a theatre.
It will be built with local bricks and Accrington facings, and will form a picturesque addition to the ornamental gardens and the new esplanade which has been formed by tunnelling over the river.
The theatre is built of fireproof construction, and served with ample stairs and exits. There are two tiers with large stage-boxes, and a group of ten other boxes at the back of the grand circle leading off the foyer...
Above - A Plan of the New Palace Theatre, Blackburn - From the Building News and Engineering Journal of September the 30th 1898.
...The auditorium will seat over 2,000, and the plans have been passed by the licensing magistrates. Ample stage accommodation and dressing rooms are provided, with every modem contrivance, including a new patent "turn" clock of Mr. Arber's own invention. Mr. S. F. Davidson, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, is the builder, the ironwork being by Messrs. T. Drew-Bear and Co. The theatre is to be opened next summer. The architects are Messrs. J. T. Wimperis and Arber, of Sackville-street, Piccadilly, London, W.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, September the 30th 1898.
The New Palace Theatre had taken eighteen months to build, having met with difficulties at various stages of its construction. It appears that there was great difficulty in finding secure foundations for the immense building, as they had 'struck' the old river course at the entrance end of the Theatre, and had to sink many score tons of concrete before achieving a solid base, and at the stage end of the building there was a persistent inflow of water which necessitated in the raising of the heating apparatus. These obstacles caused much expense in time and money, resulting in an outlay of some £30,000. However, upon completion the Theatre was described as being handsome, spacious, well equipped, and 'One of the best in the Provinces'.
Above - Two Variety Bills for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday August 19th and Monday March 4th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
The Theatre was built of local red bricks with 'Accrington Facings'. The entrance foyer was very spacious and lofty and handsomely panelled. At ground floor level were the Fauteuils, (a few rows of luxurious arm chairs) at the front, with Stalls and Pit behind, part of the Pit being raised in the form of an amphitheatre. The 'Weekly Standard of the 15/10/1898 informed:- 'Entrance to the Fauteuils was by means of an electrically lighted corridor panelled with silvered plate glass, so that the occupants of the stalls are enabled to get right to their seats without trouble or annoyance to anyone.' Above the Stalls and Pit were two cantilevered tiers. The first being the Grand Circle with large stage boxes each side of the Proscenium arch, and featuring ten boxes at the rear of the Grand Circle leading off to the foyer. The Gallery tier being above the Grand Circle. Great attention had been paid to the positioning of these two tiers, thus giving everyone a good view of the stage, without any obstruction to one's view. Refreshment Saloons, Smoke rooms and lavatories were provided on each floor level. As the Theatre's site had roads on three sides, exits were many and gave quick access to the pavement. Seating capacity for the Theatre was quoted as being 2,000 people, a thousand of which were in the Gallery. Prices were sixpence (2.5 pence today) in the Pit, and threepence (1.5 pence today) in the Gallery.
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday October 28th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
The auditorium featured decorative plaster work and the predominant colour was 'Rose du Barri' shade. The Theatre and stage were lit by electricity and there was a novelty each side of the proscenium arch, invented and patented by Mr W. H. Arber, being illuminated 'turn clocks'. These were illuminated panels which indicated the number of the corresponding act (or turn) listed in the programme appearing on the stage at that moment. There was a massive plush stage curtain described at the time as being 'a handsome one', and much admired. Great attention had been paid to making the Theatre Fire resistant, and an Asbestos Safety curtain had been placed immediately behind the Proscenium arch and fitted with a sprinkler system.
Left - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday September 2nd 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
The Proscenium opening was 25 feet wide and the stage depth was 30 feet. On stage there were two spiral staircases, one at each side, and there was a bridge across the rear of the stage, at fly rail level, across the back wall. Backstage were 14 dressing rooms for the artists, and two toilets, one each side of the backstage area.
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday February 12th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
Special attention had been paid to the ventilation of the auditorium and the building was heated by a hot water system.
The Builders were Mr S. F. Davidson of Newcastle on Tyne. Ironwork was supplied by Messrs T. Drew-Bear & Co. Decoration was by Messrs Hooydonk of London. Furnishings by Messrs Snawden Brothers of Plymouth. Electrical lights and fittings supplied by Alliance Electrical Co., of Manchester. Heating by Messrs Vaux & Sons of Sunderland. Fire Hydrants by Messrs Tweddle and Co, of Newcastle. Stage equipment was supplied by Messrs Kelly, Wilkins and Co., of Liverpool.
Left - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday April 15th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
At the grand opening night of Monday December the 11th 1899, within a few minutes of the doors being opened, the whole Theatre was packed with all classes eagerly waiting for the curtain to rise.
The orchestra conducted by Mr Walker played the National Anthem, which the audience sang most heartily, and cheered vociferously at its conclusion, and then the Variety programme commenced, consisting of ten acts.
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday May 13th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
Miss Carrie Heaton sang songs, and was particularly liked. Dave Marion and Lillian Vedder evoked uproarious laughter with their eccentricities, with clever dancing by Lillian Vedder. The Meer Brothers appeared in their speciality 'The Endless Wire' displaying nerve and skill. The Bohemians made a musical contribution. George Arvey was next to appear, being an artistic juggler, and was highly appreciated. Reeves and Elton appeared next in 'Fun in the Canteen' which introduced many smart acrobatic feats. Ike Scott and Son, versatile comedians, were next on the bill, followed by Clarke and Glenny in a funny absurdity entitled 'The Haunted House'. Last to appear were William Lee and Company in a farcical comedy entitled 'The Q.C.' and were very successful.
Left - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday May 20th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
During the interval of the Variety programme, Messrs Livermore Brothers together with their fellow directors, Mr W. H. Arber (the architect), and several gentlemen concerned with the building's erection, appeared on stage. Mr Horace Livermore, being loudly cheered, welcomed the public to the new Theatre, saying 'the management wished it understood that the entertainments would be conducted on the strictest lines of refinement and without vulgarity'. Next to speak was Mr W. H. Arber, who 'expressed his gratification.' Next Mr Livermore introduced Mr J. Francis Scott, the Manager. He had been Messrs Livermore's representative for some 37 years, having had experience in theatrical, equestrian, and musical life both in front of, and behind the footlights, in management.
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday April 1st 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
Within months of the Theatre's opening, the Livermore Brothers went into liquidation, and the Palace was taken over by the Sheffield based, Frank MacNaughten Vauderville Circuit, from November the 10th 1900. Films were screened as part of the Variety bill and Gracie Fields, and Harry Houdini appeared at the Theatre. In 1902 at Houdini's appearance he challenged the public of Blackburn that he could escape from any lock they chose to manacle him up with. A certain William Hope Hodgeson (the Science fiction writer) ran a 'School of Physical Culture', and had knowledge of the human body and muscle structure. He chained Houdini up very tightly, and it took Houdini two hours to make his escape. Houdini was not amused to be made a fool of, and described Blackburn as being a 'Town of Hoodlums', vowing never to appear there again.
Above - Two Variety Bills for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday February 26th and Monday March 18th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
The Palace closed as a variety theatre in June 1922 and lay dormant for several years. It re-opened as the Palace Cinema on the 26th October 1936 still part of the MacNaughton circuit, but now sat 1,250 people.
Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Blackburn for Monday February 5th 1912 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.
MacNaughton closed the Palace Cinema and all their other Cinema's and Theatres in their chain on the 28th December 1957. The last film to be screened at the Palace being 'Last of the Badmen.'
The Cinema lay empty until 1960 when the Hutchinson chain, based in Burnley, took over and refurbished the building. Re-opening it as a 'Continental films' cinema. There were however occasional live show presented. By 1964 it was converted into a Bingo Club and the façade was covered over with metal sheeting, to give a 'modern look'.
In 1975 the building was 'twinned'. Having Bingo in the former stalls area, and a Cinema in the former circle area which first screened the film 'Sharks Treasure' on the 27th December 1975. It was advertised as being the largest Screen in Blackburn. The Cinema continued in operation until the 28th January 1984, the last screening being 'Educating Rita'. Bingo downstairs also closed on the same day.
The building again stood empty for a few years, and was finally demolished in December 1989 to make way for a car park to a new building housing the Telephone Exchange, built on the site of the old Grand Theatre, which had been situated behind the Palace Theatre. Some photos of the demolition of the Palace Theatre can be found here.
The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in 2014, with additions by M. L. in 2016. The article is © David Garratt 2014. The 1912 Posters were very kindly sent in for inclusion by D. Stevens of Horseheads, NY.
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The Amphitheatre of Varieties was built near to the Railway station in Blackburn. The ERA newspaper of the 11th April 1875 reports:- 'The Amphitheatre of Varieties is the name given to this magnificent wooden building lately erected near the Railway station by Mr Aspoden of this town. The Lessee is Mr Cooper, who comes from Bradford, with credentials of the highest order. The opening took place last week, and although the arrangements were incomplete there was a crowded and appreciative audience. The Management has now settled down to its work, and we have this week a company which would do credit to any Hall in the kingdom.'
Above - The Blackburn Station - From the Blackburn Standard, 14th of June 1848. The building is still there today.
The artists appearing that week were Mons Descombes (globe runner); Mr T. C. Everard (comic); Messrs Harold and Will White (duettists and dancers); Adelaide and Geovanni (acrobats); Miss Ada Lundberg (Character vocalist); Messrs Slocum, Wood and Haslem (Negro Comedians); Franlein Laura ('Queen of the lofty wire'); Dearlove and Wright (duettists); Brothers Avone (Clowns and horizontal bar artists); Mr R. W. Beauland was the leader of the excellent band, and the stage manager was Mr G. C. Hutton.
The Theatre continued to present Variety programmes until 1878. An advertisement appeared in the Blackburn Standard newspaper on the 2nd March 1878, placed by Messrs J. J. Mason and R. Bennett, announcing that this was their last night as Lessees of 'The Amphiteatre'. They announced that the programme that night was 'The Best Company that ever appeared in Blackburn''. Prices for that night only were, Boxes - 6d (2.5 new pence today), Balcony 4d (2 new pence), and Pit - 3d (1.5 new pence). They also announced that they had been compelled to give up possession of 'The Amphitheatre', and that it was to be demolished and replaced by them, with a new Theatre to be called 'The New Star Theatre of Varieties' which was already being built to open in May 1878 (see below).
It seems strange that this Theatre was built and then so quickly demolished only to be replaced by another Theatre, still constructed of wood, and after only three years of business, but perhaps it was deemed too small.
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Formerly - The New Star Theatre of Varieties / Trevanions Amphitheatre / The Prince's Theatre / The New Prince's Theatre
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Jubilee Street Telephone Exchange, built on the site of the Blackburn Grand Theatre. Blacburn Station can also be seen further up the street - Click to Interact.
The New Star Theatre of Varieties, which was built to replace the former Amphitheatre of Varieties, opened on the 20th May 1878 with a Grand Opening programme consisting of a Chorus of fifty instrumentalists and vocalists. It was announced as being the first real Music Hall that Blackburn had had, and was large, handsome, and comfortable. The building was 130 feet long by 60 feet wide and the height from floor to ceiling was 50 feet. It had a huge pit and a gallery which ran round three sides of the auditorium. Behind the gallery was a Promenade area which led to the refreshment bar, offices and the Theatre entrances. The stage was a large one, well stocked with scenery and lit by gas. The auditorium could accommodate between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Mr T. F. Wilson continued as the General Manager having moved with Messrs Mason and Bennett from their previous Theatre, The Amphitheatre of Varieties.
However, this new Theatre was soon destroyed by fire, on Sunday the 29th September 1878, just four months after opening. The Theatre had been used by the Evangelical Society during the afternoon and evening, closing a little before 9pm, and was reported to be in perfect order. A few minutes before midnight, a policeman going on his rounds detected nothing wrong, but in less than half an hour another policeman attracted by an unaccountable glare rushed to the spot. Flames were busy at the roof, and within one hour, despite gallant efforts by the Fire Brigade, nothing was left of the Theatre but a huge heap of charred wood. So powerful was the light that it could be seen from a good distance away, and cinders blew into the market square a quarter of a mile away. The building had been built entirely of wood with a pitch pine roof, covered with thick roofing felt and was well tarred over. The entire loss amounted to some £2,000 and was uninsured. As the building had only been open since the previous May, little if any capital had been returned to Messrs Mason and Bennett.
The loss to the Theatre company appearing that week amounted to a total loss of costumes of Bell, Juba and Hearn, well known black burlesque artists. Miss Constance (Mrs Bell), and Mr Pat Cashan also lost their entire costumes. Andy and Annie Hughes (American Irish comedians) were a little more lucky only having lost a portion of their wardrobe. Mr Wood, the leader of the band lost 12 years of accumulated sheet music. Mr Tyrrels prize drums burnt as did the double base and violin valued at £25. Messrs Clifford and Franks, who had been engaged for the following week, unfortunately had sent on ahead their 'performing bear', which also perished in the fire.
Mr Duval of the Theatre Royal placed his Theatre at Mr Masons command for a benefit night to raise some money, but Mr Mason arranged the benefit night for the following Friday in the Exchange Hall instead so that the company engaged at the Royal for that week should not be thrown out of work, which was highly commendable.
A new Theatre was soon built to replace the destroyed Star of Varieties, it was also situated on Jubilee Street, behind what was to become the Palace Theatre, and opened as Trevanion's Amphitheatre on the 23rd February 1880. The Theatre remained under this name until Mr Edward Trevanion was granted a licence to present stage plays there on the 31st October 1880, whereupon the Amphitheatre changed it's name to 'The Prince's Theatre' on the 5th December 1880. From December the 20th till the 24th 1880, one of the first tragedian actors to appear at the newly named Theatre was Mr T. C. King ( Arthur Lloyd's father in law) who starred in his well known roles of Othello, Ingomar, and Richelieu, ably supported by Mrs Lizzie Temple, Miss Agnes Stirling, Mr William Tallon, Mr G. Clarewood. Mr Albert Beddoe and others. The stage Manager being Mr W. S. Branson. John Pitt Hardacre was also Lessee of the Prince's Theatre for a time.
The Theatre's seating capacity was 1,089, with 520 in the orchestra stalls, 92 in the Pit Stalls, 277 in the Dress Circle, and 200 in the Gallery.
After a revamp the Theatre was renamed 'The New Prince's Theatre' in 1906 and now had a proscenium opening of 32 feet wide, and also possessed eight dressing rooms by this time.
In 1920 the Theatre changed ownership and was now operated by the owners of the Olympia Theatre, changing it's name again, this time to 'The Grand Theatre' in 1928. In the early 1930's the Grand Theatre became a full time Cinema, but this was short lived, and by 1933 was again in live theatre use under the management of the Murray Family whose head was Will Murray. The Grand Theatre then presented Music Hall, Variety, repertory, and each Christmas, a Pantomime.
Above - The Auditorium of the Grand Theatre - Courtesy Roy Cross and the Eccles Library
The programme offered for the week of April 29th 1935 was 'A Night in an Old Time Music Hall', featuring Dainty Daisy Dormer, Ida Barr, Harry Bedford, Steve Bartell, Arthur Reece, Nell Calvert and George Mozart, James Stewart and Dave O'Toole, Cedric Byre being the Chairman.
Pantomimes presented in the 1950's featured 'Mother Goose' starring Tommy Dixon, Nita Dene, Charlie O'Brien; 'Jack & Jill' starring Billy Merrick and Lynn Valantine; and 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' starring Braddy Shaw, Patricia Turner, Jack Brooks, Pat Dawson, Ivan and Yvonne (acrobats) June Ross, Fay Starr, Jack Denham, Breda Smith, The Manchester Mites, Davenport Oakes, and The Jackson Girls.
By 1950 the Grand Theatre's fare had been relegated to nude shows. On the week Commencing the 6th of November 1950 'Strippingly Saucy' was presented, featuring Pauline Penny, Wally Dunn, Bari and Chat, Gordon Glen, Jane Nichols, Jeanette, the Glamorous Parisian Peaches, Syd Beckett, Bluey Howlett, Joe Daphne Lunn, and Reg da Ponte.
Circus and The Continental Ballet were also presented in 1954.
The Grand Theatre eventually closed on the 22nd January 1956 with the last show consisting of a local cast of ventriloquists, singers, comedians, and square dancers in a show called 'Blackburn Takes a (Final) Bow'.
The Grand Theatre was demolished two years later in 1958. The new Jubilee Street Telephone Exchange was built on its site.
Formerly - The Theatre Royal and Opera House - Later The Theatre Royal Super Cinema / Cinema Royal
Above - The Theatre Royal, Blackburn - Image provided by the copyright holder for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project
The Theatre Royal and Opera House was situated in Railway Road Blackburn and first opened in 1818, the year after the anniversary of the Jubilee of King George the Third's accession. One of the first plays presented was 'The School for Scandal'. The following description of it's history shows that the Theatre was altered, renovated, and rebuilt several times, the first alteration taking place in 1851, when it was used as an early Music Hall still known as the Theatre Royal.
Right - An early photograph of the Theatre Royal, Blackburn - Image provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project.
In 1867 the Theatre was altered and improved. A report in the ERA newspaper of the 17th February 1867 states the following:- ''The old Theatre Royal, which has stood the storms of just half a century, has, at last, become numbered amongst the things of the past. It had long been felt to be an impediment rather than an impetus to dramatic entertainments, in as much as the uncomfortableness of the accommodation once felt, was almost sure to prevent a second visit.'' - The ERA 17th February 1867.
The Theatre's front was rebuilt of stone in the Italian style. The façade was extended and altered and covered with a coat of paint. There were three entrances at the front, to the Boxes, Pit and Gallery. The old front door had been left in situ but now opened outwards from the Pit.
The Interior was entirely new. The Boxes which before accommodated about 120 persons, had now been raised and enlarged to hold upwards of 200 persons with a Promenade installed. Seats were in three rows and a large central box installed with chairs in. The Pit had been enlarged to hold 500 people, seated all on one level, on hard benches without backs, with room for a further 100 persons standing. Their were plans to either fit backs to these benches, or some cushioning on the bench seats. The Gallery had been greatly improved and enlarged to now hold 600 people plus standing room. The old ceiling had been removed and a new one substituted just under the roof beams. Staircases and entrances had all been considerably widened and improved, doing away with the previous twisting and turnings, thus making them more direct. Cloakrooms had been added adjoining the Boxes. New dressing rooms had also been installed.
The decorations had been carried out by Mr Thomas Heath, the new resident theatre artist, and were carried out in white and gold. The box fronts and Gallery fronts had been decorated with 'neat imitation fretwork'. The ceiling of the auditorium was decorated in the same style with more fretwork in vivid colours, also panelled, containing choice designs.
The Proscenium was much enlarged with Pilasters each side, and an arch over the top. Unfortunately the stage had been constructed at the narrowest end of the building, which could not be widened. Giving no wing space. To alleviate this, Book Wings had been erected and the whole scenery made to work upwards. The whole designs taking advantage of perspective to gain every advantage when viewed from the auditorium. A new Act Drop had been painted by Mr Heath of a famous engraving entitled 'A Water Party in the time of Charles The Second.' All scenery was new, with most painted by Mr Thomas Heath, with some painted by Mr Samuel Baylis. There was room for a large orchestra.
The Theatre's ventilation had also been improved. The new alterations and improvements were all carried out to the designs of Mr Brierley of Blackburn. Joinery is credited to Mr Henry Aspden. Gas fittings by Mr Whittaker. Upholstery by Mr Samuel Chadwick, and the Manager was Mr Mills.
The New Theatre Royal opened on Friday the 15th February 1867 but it seems the Theatre was altered and enlarged soon after its opening, as there is a record in the Blackburn Standard newspaper dated 23rd December 1867 announcing an application for a licence for the New Theatre Royal by Mr F. G. Hindle solicitor. He produced plans before the bench stating that the new Theatre would seat between 1,500 and 1,800 people. Dimension of the building given at the time were:- auditorium measurements being 54 feet by 60 feet; the stage size being 44 feet by 36 feet (which was stated as being almost as big as the Princess Theatre Manchester's stage). The Chairman of the meeting asked about exits, having in mind a recent accident in New York. Mr Hindle informed the bench that the Theatre had 5 exits and it was claimed that everyone could exit in ten minutes should an emergency happen. The court decided to visit the Theatre after the day's business, which they duly did. They had a full tour of the building paying particular note of the exits. Fully satisfied they duly granted the licence.
Right - The Theatre Royal, Blackburn, closed down for reconstruction - Image provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project.
The front of the Theatre was brilliantly lit for its reopening with the Union Jack 'floating gaily' from the flagstaff. The house had been packed before the curtain rose. When the performance commenced the Band played 'God Save the Queen' with all the audience rising to sing it. A telegram was dispatched immediately to Balmoral, to her Majesty the Queen, stating:- ''Grand Opening New Theatre Royal Blackburn. Audience rising spontaneously to Nation Anthem. Great enthusiasm.'' To which her Majesty, through her private secretary, promptly replied, ''I am commanded to thank you for your loyal telegram.'' after which Mrs Edward Saker read the address which had been written by Mr Lloyd Clarence.
The opening play was ''My Sweetheart'' by Mr Wynn Miller's company. Between Acts 2 and 3 Mr Ellison spoke a few words of welcome to the many friends he saw before him. The old Theatre had been demolished and the new one built in 16 weeks. He gave his thanks to the architect, Mr Simpson, of Bolton, thanking also Messrs Higson and Sons, the contractors, the subcontractors and others, particularly mentioning Mr G West the clerk of works. He also thanked the magistrates for the licence and finally thanked the audience for their attendance and good wishes. The Lessee was Mrs C. H. Duval, who read certain telegrams from the nearly 100 received. These included Messrs J. L.Toole, Barry Sullivan, Augustus Harris, Wilson Barrett, Henry Irving and Company, and one from the joint staff at their Bolton Theatre. She then went on to thank Mr Henry Mapleson for painting the new Act Drop, Mr Arthur Honner, her secretary. Mr Trevalyon, the manager of Mr Wynn Miller's company, and the refreshment department under the direction of Mr John Almond.
The ERA newspaper of the 18th June 1887 reported the drama playing the Theatre Royal that week was called ''Main Hope'', produced by Miss Emma Rainbow and her company which had been presented every evening apart from Friday when ''East Lynn'' was substituted. It was then announced that after the performance that Saturday night the Theatre was closing for extensive alterations and improvements, this time by the well known Theatre Architect Mr Frank Matcham. This being only nine months after the new Theatre had opened.
The New Theatre Royal occupied the whole site of the former Theatre on Ainsworth Street, together with an extra 347 square yards of land which Mr Ellison had bought and incorporated (after demolition) into the new site. The whole site now covered 789 square yards. The Theatre's frontage was 83 feet wide and the Theatre itself was 127 feet in depth. The Building style was Renaissance, constructed of brick with dressings of stone and Edwards's Ruabon Terra Cotta. The front elevation was imposing and had an iron and glass verandah held up by seven ornamental iron columns, each surmounted by a large gas lamp.
The Pit was at street level and had a capacity of 1,000 persons, each with a good view of the stage. The Dress Circle, which sat 500 persons, and side boxes, were approached by a stone staircase being five feet in width. At Street level the entrance hall was spacious, having an outer hall divided from the inner vestibule by doors glazed with ornamental leaded lights. The floors of the halls were of marble mosaic.
Above the Dress Circle was the Gallery, the entrance of which was also at the front of the Theatre at the extreme end from the principal entrances, and was approached by another stone staircase five feet in width. The flight of steps being very short, averaging 7 to 8 steps to large and frequent landings. Each part of the Theatre had separate cloakrooms and retirement rooms, lavatories, and refreshment buffets. All these were sighted at the front of the Theatre together with the manager's offices, and others rooms.
It was a two tiered Theatre, the balconies constructed in a Horseshoe shape, and having a suitable inclination from the centre to the proscenium, thus giving largely an improved view. Each balcony front had elaborate plaster work decorated in gold and colour.
The Proscenium was 22 feet wide and 28 feet high. The stage was 47 feet deep with an average width of 38 feet, and from cellar to gridiron was 61 feet. The auditorium had a circular ceiling, 30 feet in diameter, with fibrous plaster work enriched and finished mainly in gold. At it's centre was a 5 foot diameter Sun burner containing 170 burners. Ventilation was good, fresh air being drawn from outside and foul air quickly exhumed through ventilators placed along the roof. The Dress Circle had patented 'tip up' upholstered chairs in crimson velvet and the side box seats were covered in crimson leather.
Backstage were ample dressing rooms, lavatories, and a retirement room for the orchestra. There was also a paint room, carpenters shop, wardrobe, and various store rooms. The stage and auditorium were fitted with hydrants and hose pipes and a 'Simplex' automatic sprinkler system fitted above and below the stage and in the carpenters shop. The house was heated by a low pressure hot water system, the apparatus being placed in a fire proof chamber.
The Theatre Royal continued to provide the Blackburn public with theatrical fare until 1909 when the Theatre was refurbished to the designs of the Theatre Architect Bertie Crewe. The programmes offered were 'Variety', which incorporated early films into the programme. At about this time, and before he was famous, a young Charlie Chaplain appeared live on stage.
The Theatre Royal continued with Variety until August 1931 when the Theatre was converted into a Super Cinema, now seating 1,500 people. However, this Super Cinema closed on the 3rd May 1937, when the interior was totally gutted and a new modern cinema constructed within the Theatre Royal's original shell. It was also now given a new modern façade. The architect was C. R. Roper, and the new Cinema opened on the 23rd May 1938, now known as the 'Cinema Royal'. The opening film was 'The Firefly' starring Jeanette McDonald. The seating capacity had been increased to 1,600 seats, and it had a 26 foot wide proscenium, the Cinema also featured a Café for it's patrons.
In October 1957 the Cinema Royal was taken over by the Essoldo chain of Cinema's, but retained it's name. The Cinema Royal finally closed on the 18th March 1967 due to a compulsory purchase order for it's demolition, to make way for a new town centre redevelopment.
Thus ended the 149 year tradition of providing theatrical and film entertainment on the same site to the general public of Blackburn.
Formerly - The Alhambra Music Hall
However, by 1882 the Music
Hall had failed. The ERA newspaper of 12th August
1882 reported a special session
of the Borough Magistrates Court, meeting to hear an application made
by Mr E. H. Page, for a dramatic licence for the 'New Royalty Theatre.'
The hearing took place in the Town Hall and the Mayor of Blackburn chaired
the meeting. There was strong objection made by Mr Duval the lessee
of the Theatre Royal Blackburn. After listening
to the application and objections, the Magistrates retired, to consider,
but returned within half an hour granting the Drama Licence. The New
Royalty Theatre opened for business on Monday 25th December 1882.
Mr E. H. Page being the lessee of the new Theatre.
The Theatre was stated as having good ventilation and in the centre of the auditorium ceiling was a large gas sun burner. On the front of the gallery balcony were a further six additional ornamental double gas brackets.
The Proscenium was 23 feet wide by 28 feet in height and the stage had five scenery grooves. The height of the grooves were 18 feet from the stage. The Grid was 40 feet from the stage floor. Under the stage was a cellar with a depth of 11 feet. On each side of the wings, was a side stage area of fifteen feet to allow for working flats, and sets. The Theatre owners also owned the property to the rear of the stage should it be felt that in future the stage needed to be enlarged. There was a plush House Curtain together with an Act drop and fine scenery, the Theatre possessing it's own scenic artist.
The Theatre had very good safety exits, as on each side of the Pit were two large doors opening directly onto the street, each 9 feet in width, together with all the usual exits.
Thus Blackburn now had two drama theatres, The New Theatre Royalty Theatre, and the Theatre Royal. So all forms of theatre were offered to the Blackburn public, both drama, and variety.
Formerly - The Cotton Exchange - Later - The Majestic / Essoldi / Classic / Apollo Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Exchange Hall, Blackburn - Click to Interact
The Exchange Hall is situated in King William Street, Blackburn and was originally built as a Cotton Exchange.
Right - An early postcard showing the Exchange Hall, Blackburn - Image provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project.
There were weekly meetings held in the 'Old Bull Inn' for the business of the Cotton Exchange, when a proposal was put forward to build a building specifically as a Cotton Exchange, and the proposed site was at the old market cross. However this proposal failed and so meetings moved to the vestibule of the Town Hall.
Eventually a building was proposed again, and this time the foundation stone was laid on March 10th 1863, opposite the Town Hall. The building's design was for a central two storey tower with two wings. However owing to the American Civil War, and a blockade on the exportation of raw American Cotton, which caused a cotton famine in the UK, only one wing and the tower were ever built. The design of the building is of 14th century Gothic. The Cotton Exchange opened in 1865, and consisted of a large Hall and anterooms, an assembly room and newsroom. Later it became a lecture and Concert Hall, and eventually a cinema.
It went under several different names during it's history namely:- The Exchange Hall, The Majestic, The Essoldi, The Classic, and the Apollo cinema. The building is today Grade II Listed.
Formerly - The Olympia Skating Rink - Later - The Locarno Ballroom / The Golden Palms Nightclub / Jupin Jax / Liquid & Envy Nightclub
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Olympia Theatre, Blackburn - Click to Interact
The Olympia opened as a roller skating rink on the 19th May 1909. This form of entertainment lasted for about two years, but it closed in November 1911. The building was then converted into a Music Hall / Variety Theatre and reopened as the Olympia Theatre in December 1911. The seating capacity is stated as being 2,000 people, mostly seated on wooden benches.
It had a very large stage, 32 feet wide at the proscenium, with a depth of 50 feet. It was not long however, before early films were presented as part of the Music Hall programme.
In 1922 the Olympia Theatre was again converted, this time into a Cinema, but still had Cine/variety acts as part of the bill. The seating was changed from hard benches of the previous Music Hall to Tip up seats, and the seating capacity now altered to a more comfortable 1,360 seats. During the 1940's the building also had a Café for patrons.
The building closed as a Cinema in 1957 and was then converted into the Locarno Ballroom two years later. Later still it was converted into a Nightclub called Golden Palms, which was later renamed Jumpin' Jax. In 2009 the building was reopened as the Nightclub Liquid & Envy.
Later - Never Never Land / Cest La Vie Cellar Club
The Theatre is recorded as being the first to screen early films in Blackburn on the 28th September 1896. The building received a plaque commemorating this fact upon it's centenary by the British Film Institute.
The Lyceum Theatre closed in 1902, but had various other uses over the years. The latest of which was in 2002 as a nightclub entitled 'Never Never Land' and then the 'Cest La Vie Cellar Club.'
The building was demolished approximately 2007.
Later - The New Central Hall Cinema / Central Cinema / Walkers Bingo Club / Riley's American Pool & Snooker Club / VIP Snooker Club
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the VIP Snooker Club in Blackburn, site of the former Ohmy's Circus - Click to Interact
Before 1900 on a site at the corner of 25 Mincing Lane and Mill Lane Blackburn was a building housing 'Ohmy's Circus'. However this building was demolished and by April 1900 'The Central Hall', a roller skating rink, had been built on its site. This usage lasted until November 1909, when the Skating rink was converted into a cinema named 'The Central Cinema', seating 1,000 people.
In 1923 the cinema was altered and enlarged, now holding 1,372 people and renamed the 'New Central Hall Cinema'. It had a proscenium width of 20 feet which was later enlarged to 22 foot.
In 1957 the cinema closed and the building then had various other unknown uses.
In 1974 it was renovated and converted into 'Walkers Bingo Club' which lasted until 1995 when it was converted into 'Riley's American Pool and Snooker Club'.
In November 2009 it was refurbished and reopened as the 'VIP Snooker Club'.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: