The Royal Albert Music Hall was situated on the corner of Barking Road and Victoria Dock Road in Canning Town, opposite the station, and originally opened as Relf's Music Hall in 1875 with a capacity of around 1,200 people. The Music Hall was later reconstructed and enlarged by Walter Emden, reopening as the Royal Albert Music hall in 1891. The Stage Newspaper reported on this in their September the 10th 1891 edition saying:- 'This hall, which originally held about 1,200 people, has just been doubled in length by the addition of ground at the back leading into Burnham-street. It is now capable of holding about 2,500 people, and the addition of the extra land has enabled Mr. Relf also to obtain a good stage of about 30 feet in depth.
The building has been practically rebuilt, a second gallery having been added. Each part of the building is accommodated with two exits, and is dominated by fire hydrants in the various tiers. The decorations are in gold and cream colour, picked out with various tints. The whole of the ceiling is arranged so that the perforation of the ornamentation forms a portion of the system of ventilation, and a cool air space is provided between the ceiling and the outer roof, through which a constant current of air can be kept up so as to exhaust the heated air from the auditorium. The lighting is electric as well as with gas. Promenades have been provided round each circle, and every accommodation for the comfort of the public. The new scenery has been painted by Mr. Richard Douglass, and all the stage arrangements have been under the care of Mr. Ward, Jun. Mr. Relf has been determined in making arrangements for his building that it shall be as comfortable and as commodious for his patrons as if it were a West-end establishment.
It is believed that the system of ventilation will accomplish the object for which so many systems have been tried, and failed, i.e., to thoroughly ventilate the building. It has the advantage of being extremely simple, and having no apparatus except the opening and shutting of certain specially-placed ventilators, which can be easily and immediately attended to.
The whole of the works have been carried out under the superintendence of Mr. Walter Emden.'
The ERA reported on the opening of the newly rebuilt Theatre in their 12th of September 1891 edition saying:- 'The intelligent stranger passing along the Victoria-Dock-road, Canning Town, early on Thursday evening, would, from the signs around him, have speedily come to the conclusion that a local event of considerable importance was about to happen, and he would have been perfectly correct in his surmise.
The opening of Mr Charles Relf's newly constructed hall is an event upon which the people of Canning Town and neighbourhood have every reason for congratulation. An exceedingly handsome and commodious building stands, on the site of the smaller structure which formerly existed, and the wonderful transformation that has taken place was, on the opening night, the subject of general comment. In spite of the fact that the place was packed from an early hour of the evening a deliciously cool atmosphere was maintained until the close.
The long, attractive, and varied programme was opened by Mr J. Dennison's Excelsior brass band, which performed a charming selection of music, specially written for the occasion; and shortly after seven o'clock a burst of applause announced the fact that Mr Walter Leaver, the popular chairman and manager, had taken his accustomed seat. Another approving cheer greeted the first sample that was revealed of the new scenery, which has been provided by Mr R. Douglass, the well-known scenic artist; and the applause was renewed upon the appearance of Miss Daisy Bush, a pleasing seriocomic, who sang about "A soldier bold." This lady was succeeded by Mr Pat O'Connor, who did well in an Irish song and dance. The comic songs of Mr Fred Langton and Mr Dan Helmore were favourably received; and Miss Lizzie Noble was successful with a descriptive essay entitled "The Pets of the Music Halls." Mr Arthur Ashley's "Drink, Boys," offered a suggestion which was hardly needed under the circumstances; Mr Harry Ford told how he "was the man to do it;" and Mr George Elliott scored with a topical ditty. Mr Robert Carroll sang an amusing parody; the heroine of Miss Jessie M`Nulty's song was a colleen known as "Sweet Norah Grady;" and Mr Fred Herbert, in some topical verses, alluded to the respected proprietor as "an unselfish elf who gave plenty for their pelf." Miss Violet Nelson, male impersonator, met with a good reception; the song and dance contributions of the Bohemian Quintette gave evident delight; Miss Jessie Phillips must be complimented upon an expressive rendering of "Somebody's Father; "the Sisters Western's skipping-rope dance was vociferously applauded; Mr Fred May sang "Nobody sooner than I;" the serpentine evolutions of a performer known as Mons. Hayho were watched with interest; Mr Carl Ostend was successful with a female impersonation and double-voiced song; a selection by the Black Swan trio gave manifest delight; Miss Daisy De'Roy sang in good style; and a clever exhibition of boxing was given by Messrs Clark, Wood, and Grant.
The next to do a "turn" was Mr Charles Relf himself, whose speech was brief and to the point. He thanked his friends and the audience generally for their attendance, and he hoped that the same generous support would not be wanting in the future, in return for which he promised that the entertainment provided at the Royal Albert should be of first-class quality. He also tendered his hearty thanks to the artists, to the staff, and, in fact, to all who had contributed to the success of the auspicious event which they were celebrating. Mr Relf then introduced the architect, Mr Walter Emden, who remarked that it would give him great pleasure to learn that the audience was pleased with the new building, to which a response was made that left no doubt on the point.
The programme was then proceeded with the following artists succeeding one another in rapid succession:- Jessie Prince, George Simpson, Maud Palmer, George Meldrum, Eva Dixon, Harry Vale, Charles Deane, Marie Kendall, the Paynes, Chas. Carson, and others.
During the evening the chair was occupied by Messrs J. H. Jennings (late of the Oxford Music Hall), Frank Cowdery, George Mills, Frank Estcourt (chairman at the Queen's, Poplar), W, Ellis, and J. Dennison. Amongst those present were Mr and Mrs J. L. Graydon, Mr M. Abrahams, Mr George English, Mr Gus Leach, Mr Sam Barnard, of Woolwich; Fred Marlow, of Bow; Fred Fordham, of Portsmouth; William Lusby, of the Foresters; J. A. Tresider, of the Paragon; the agents were represented by Messrs George Ware, E. De Vere, Sinclair, C. H. Houghton, Alf. Abrahams, and others. A word of praise is due to the augmented band, which worked loyally; while Mr J. H. Mitchell most efficiently discharged the onerous duties of stage-manages.'
In 1909 the Theatre was rebuilt again, this time to the designs of John Farmer, who fitted it out with the auditorium from the former Imperial Theatre in Westminster, which had been saved before that Theatre's demolition in 1907.
Right - The Auditorium, Stage, and Royal Box of the Imperial Theatre, Westminster, later to be reconstructed as the Imperial Palace of Varieties in Canning Town - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
After the fire the Theatre was rebuilt yet again, this time to the designs of the architect Charles Brett, reopening in 1934. However, this was not to last long either and it was rebuilt again in 1939, this time to the designs of George Coles, reopening as the Art Deco 'New Imperial Cinema' on the 15th of May 1939. The new Cinema still had a fully equipped stage and four dressing rooms for artistes.
The Theatre was taken over by the Essoldo Chain in January 1955 and renamed Essoldo, but was closed in September 1963 and converted for Bingo use. This was to end too when the Theatre was demolished in 1967 to make way for the construction of the Canning Town Flyover.
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Some of the archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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