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The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Empire Theatre, Great Horton Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Formerly - The Empire Music Hall / Empire Theatre & Opera House - Later - The Empire Cinema

Bradford Index

 An early photograph of the Bradford Empire

Above - An early photograph of the Bradford Empire

A Poster for a Variety show at the Bradford Empire in May 1903 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.The Empire Theatre, Bradford was designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and opened as the Empire Music Hall on Monday the 30th of January 1899. The Theatre was situated just across the road from the site where the later Alhambra Theatre would be constructed in 1914. The Empire itself was built in 1898 99 by Messrs Howe of West Hartlepool, and was actually constructed within part of the Alexandra Hotel. It had an auditorium built on three levels, Stalls, Circle, and Balcony accommodating upwards of 2,000 people in some comfort.

Right - A Poster for a Variety show at the Bradford Empire in May 1903 - Courtesy D Stevens, Horseheads, NY.

Two days before its opening the ERA reported on the new Empire Theatre in their 28th of January 1899 edition saying:- 'The new Empire Theatre in Great Horton-road - the latest addition to the places of entertainment in Bradford - will be opened for the first time next Monday night. The music hall stands at the back of the Alexandra Hotel, but the hotel has been so adapted and rearranged that its front now forms the main entrance to the hall.

The whole work has been carried out from the plans of Mr W. G. R. Sprague, of London, who has designed a number of the leading theatres and music halls in the country. It may at once be said that the new Bradford Empire Theatre will compare favourably as to the convenience of its structural arrangements, the luxurious character of its furniture and fittings, and the elegance of its decorations with the leading places of a similar kind in and out of London.

The general style of decoration used throughout is Arabesque, and the colours employed are a delicate light blue, red, and gold. The steps from Great Horton-road lead into a vestibule, handsomely ornamented on this principle, and with the vestibule is connected a foyer, 40ft. square, which was formerly the central hall of the hotel. In this foyer there are ninety arches, supported by thirty-two pillars. In numerous places appear the Arabic words for "Behold the Temple of the Gods." An illumination is by twenty Oriental electric lamps, lounges and other accessories are provided, and as a foyer or "crush-room " it will be a very handsome and spacious apartment. Leading out of it are various retiring-rooms and the entrances to nearly all parts of the music hall. From the side opposite to the vestibule a marble staircase, with ferneries, ascends to the grand circle, and on either side of this are the entrances to the stalls and private boxes.

The decoration of the auditorium, like the other parts of the building, is Arabesque, and the colours, of delicate light blue, red, and gold, are charmingly blended, especially in the roof, which is on the telescopic principle, and is lighted with huge Oriental electric lamps, glazed with amber Muranese. The design of the auditorium is one more familiar to London than to provincial theatre-goers. There are no pillars in the building, and the grand circle and balcony come forward so as to completely cover the pit and part of the stalls. In the area next to the orchestra are six rows of orchestra stalls, admission to which will be 2s. 6d; behind these are six rows of pit stalls at ls. 6d.; and then at the back are nine pit rows at 9d. Through the absence of pillars the occupants of the pit will have a clear view of the stage, and it may be noted, as an indication of how the comfort of the public has been studied, that the pit benches are all padded, and cork carpeting has been laid down. It may be also noted here that in the stalls, grand circle, and balcony there is Brussels carpeting, and turn-up chairs are provided, handsomely treated in blue plush. Above the pit and part of the stalls is a grand circle, with nine rows of 2s. chairs, and fourteen private boxes; and above the grand circle is the balcony, with six rows of 1s. chairs, and behind is the gallery with nine rows. The total seating accomodation is for 2,000 persons.

A Review for Arthur Lloyd at the Empire Bradford in March 1902 The stage is 60ft. wide and 40ft. deep, with a proscenium of 30ft. It is laid with all kinds of trap work for pantomime and other performances if required. Fourteen dressing-rooms are attached. There is a fireproof curtain, and throughout the building the amplest provision is made, in the form of exits and other precautions, to secure the safety of the public and of the artists in case of fire.

The acting and resident manager of the music-hall is Mr P. A. Lennon, who has been for some time in the service of the proprietors, the Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, and Bradford Empire Palaces, Limited, the managing director of which company is Mr H. E. Moss.

Left - Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Bradford Empire in March 1902.

The contractors who have been engaged are:—Builders, Messrs Howe, West Hartlepool; plastic decoration and artists' work, Messrs De Jong, London; furnishing and upholstery, Messrs Cranston and Elliott, Edinburgh; steel construction, Messrs Bladen and Co., Glasgow; electric lighting, Messrs Sax Slatter, London; gas arrangements and heating, Messrs Vaughan and Brown, London; fire curtain, hydrants, &c., Messrs Shand and Mason, London; and stage, Mr Wood, London; while Mr Swain has acted throughout as clerk of works.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA , 28th of January 1899.

Harry Houdini is known to have performed at the Bradford Empire in 1911, a visitor to the site, Harvey Howes, has sent in details of his Grandfather, H. Howes, who lived at Salt Street, Bradford at the time. Howe's stage name was Carleete and Harvey says that he tried to hand-cuff Houdini on stage. A Telegram sent to Howes on the 27th of January 1911 is shown above and reads: "My dear H Howes, will you kindly call at the Empire this evening if possible, would like to see you before I leave charming Bradford. Yours etc. Houdini." Harvey says that Houdini once came to his grandfather's house for tea and a chat and even attempted to hand-cuff his uncle. He also took the time to have a look at his grandfather's water barrel, possibly with the idea of using it in his act.

A Telegram sent by the famous escapologist Houdini on the 27th of January 1911 reads: My dear H Howes, will you kindly call at the Empire this evening if possible, would like to see you before I leave charming Bradford. Yours etc. Houdini. - Courtesy Harvey Howes.

Above - A Telegram sent by the famous escapologist Houdini on the 27th of January 1911 reads: My dear H Howes, will you kindly call at the Empire this evening if possible, would like to see you before I leave charming Bradford. Yours etc. Houdini. - Courtesy Harvey Howes.

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Wrake.During the early years of the First World War the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre distributed Tobacco Tins to its audience members with cards inside saying 'Souvenir of the Great European War 1914- 15'. Little did they know then just how long the war would last. The Tins are inscribed on the lid with the following:- 'In Honour Of Bradford Pals 16 Sep. B. W. Y. Reg' which I'm told stood for the 16th & 18th Battalion West Yorks Regiment.

Right - A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Wrake.

Amazingly two of these tins have come to light in the same month recently and are displayed Below with the kind permission of Tony Wrake and Tony Larvin.

The building of the Alhambra Theatre across the road from the Empire in 1914 was a serious blow for the Empire and in April 1916 the Theatre closed down. It was then reconfigured and reopened in August the same year as the Empire Theatre & Opera House. Unfortunately a serious fire the following year resulted in the stage being destroyed and its Theatre days were over.

In February 1918 the Empire reopened as a Cinema, the Empire Cinema, and ran successfully for many years under various different managements and names but on the 25th of January 1952 a fire broke out after the Cinema had closed for the night doing a great deal of damage to the building and it was never to reopen.

The entrance of the Empire was converted into a restaurant for the adjoining Alexandra Hotel and other areas were also taken over by the hotel until eventually the whole building was demolished in the early 1980s and the hotel itself was demolished in 1993.

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

Bradford Empire World War One Tobacco Tins

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Wrake.

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Wrake.

Above - A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Wrake.

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Larvin

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Larvin

A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Larvin

Above - A World War One Tobacco Tin presented by the management of the Bradford Empire Theatre - Courtesy Tony Larvin (See note below.)

A portrait of Lawrence Rice in army uniform - Courtesy Tony LarvinTony Larvin who sent in one of the Tins for inclusion on the site and shown above says:- ' I recently acquired this small tobacco tin complete with liner, denoting it as one presented as a good luck gift to the Bradford Pals (16th & 18th Battalion West Yorks) by the management of the Empire Theatre, Bradford. Interestingly, it notes the Great European War as taking place between 1914-15... sadly misplaced optimism.

Greater sadness, however, is that it came into my possession with a picture of its recipient, one Lawrence Rice, (Shown Right) a local lad who lived at 594 Little Horton Lane. Sadly, Lawrence was killed on July 1st 1916 along with 1770 other 'Pals' in an ill-fated attack on the village of Serre. The majority of them actually died within the first hour of a curtain raiser for the Battle of the Somme.'

Right - A portrait of Lawrence Rice in army uniform - Courtesy Tony Larvin.

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

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.