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

 

Theatres and Halls in Canterbury, Kent

The New Marlowe Theatre - The First Marlowe Theatre / Empire Theatre / Central Picture Theatre / ABC Cinema - The Second Marlowe Theatre / The Friars / Odeon Cinema - The New Theatre / Theatre Royal Orange Street - The Theatre Royal, Guildhall Street - The Electric Theatre - The Alexandra Music Hall / Penny Theatre

The First Marlowe Theatre, 8, St Margaret's Street, Canterbury

Formerly - The Empire Theatre - Later - The Central Picture Theatre / ABC Cinema

The First Marlowe Theatre in the 1960s - Courtesy Rosemarie Sheridan, who was in the Company there at the time, and Stephen Wischhusen

Above - The First Marlowe Theatre in the 1960s - Courtesy Rosemarie Sheridan, who was in the Company there at the time, and Stephen Wischhusen


The first Marlowe Theatre, in St Margaret's Street, Canterbury, was named after the playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe who was born in Canterbury in the late 1500s. The Theatre was originally built just before the First World War and is thought to have opened as the Empire Theatre. This small Theatre was later converted to a Cinema called the Central Picture Theatre in 1927.

The Central Picture Theatre was equipped with Western Electric sound and had seating for 719 people. The Cinema was later run by ABC and suffered two bouts of war damage during World War II. A visitor to the site, Hugh Clark says: 'The Central Picture Theatre, located in St. Margaret's Street, which became the first Marlowe Theatre, was a dive known locally as the fleapit, my grandfather Henry Charles Clark was projectionist there after WW1, he tragically died of a freak accident when he ran into a scaffold pole in St. Margaret's and died of septicemia. My father Fred Clark became the projectionist of the Regal cinema before being called up for WW2' - Hugh Clarke.

ABC closed the Cinema in 1949 and it was then converted back to a live Theatre, this time called the Marlowe Theatre.

This first Marlowe Theatre opened in 1950 but was demolished in 1984 when a new second Marlowe Theatre was opened in The Friars.

The site of the first Marlowe Theatre / Central Picture Theatre, is now occupied by the Marlowe Arcade.

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

The Second Marlowe Theatre, The Friars, Canterbury

Formerly The Friars Cinema / Odeon Cinema

A postcard depicting the Friars Cinema, Canterbury when it first opened and during the run of the 1933 film 'I Lived With You' with Ivor Novello - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society

Above - A postcard depicting the Friars Cinema, Canterbury when it first opened and during the run of the 1933 film 'I Lived With You' with Ivor Novello - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society

The second Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, formerly the Odeon Cinema, in February 2007 - Courtesy Roger Fox.The second Marlowe Theatre, in The Friars, Canterbury, was originally built as a Cinema called The Friars in 1933, but was renamed the Odeon Cinema in 1946. The Odeon Cinema was then converted by Canterbury City Council into a Concert Hall and Theatre in 1984 when the first Marlowe Theatre was demolished to make way for the Marlowe Arcade.

Right - The second Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, formerly the Friars / Odeon Cinema, in February 2007 - Courtesy Roger Fox.

The alterations to the Odeon included redesigning the stalls with a steep rake reaching up to the former balcony of the Cinema, adding new access corridors to the side of the old auditorium, new dressing rooms under the stage, and totally rebuilding the stage house with a new 13 by 11.5 metre stage and an orchestra pit capable of housing 48 musicians. The Theatre has a seating capacity of 1,000.

In 2008 the Foyer and frontage of the building still remained pretty much unchanged from its former incarnation as the Odeon Cinema, although the new glazed elevations to the side of the auditorium were clearly visible and looked out of place on this 1930s building.

Although this second Marlowe Theatre had run successfully since its opening the building itself was thought of as something of a blot on the landscape, and less than functional, and proposals to demolish it and build a new, third, Marlowe Theatre in its place were soon being worked on.

Plans were finalised and permission granted in 2008 and the Marlowe Theatre closed on the 22nd of March 2009 and was then demolished the followng month, in April.

The Third and present Marlowe Theatre, The Friars, Canterbury

The new Marlowe Theatre in August 2012 - Courtesy Maria McArdle

Above - The new Marlowe Theatre in August 2012 - Courtesy Maria McArdle

The present Marlowe Theatre was constructed on the site of the second one, which was demolished in April 2009, and is actually the third incarnation of a Theatre with this name to be built in the City since 1950. This new Marlowe Theatre, which was constructed over two years at a cost of £26.5m, and designed by Keith Williams, opened on the 4th of October 2011 with a grand Gala Performance.

The Theatre, which is run by Canterbury City Council has two auditoriums, the main one being built on three levels, with seating for 1,200. The second smaller studio auditorium can seat 150.

You may like to visit the Theatres own website here.

The Theatre Royal, Orange Street, Canterbury

Formerly - The New Theatre - Also known as the Prince of Orange Theatre

A Google StreetView Image of the former New Theatre / Theatre Royal, Canterbury - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former New Theatre / Theatre Royal, Canterbury - Click to Interact

A Poster for the Theatre Royal, Canterbury for the evening of the 15th of August 1851 - Courtesy Mike Tillman. The New Theatre, which originally backed onto Canterbury's Orange Street but had its main entrance in the yard of a dancing school, was built for Mrs Sarah Baker in 1790 and was a conversion of an earlier building. Sarah Baker had been running 'theatrical events' around Canterbury for many years but when her principle establishment, Buttermarket House, was demolished she was inspired to build her own Theatre. She financed the construction herself and the opening season began in November 1790, and continued into February the following year. Baker ran the New Theatre for 25 years and was very successful there.

Right - A Poster for the Theatre Royal, Canterbury for the evening of the 15th of August 1851 - Courtesy Mike Tillman. The evening was Billed as 'Cricket Week, 1851, Last Night of the Tenth Season', and on the Bill were Amateur Productions of ' Not a Bad Judge', The Lottery Ticket', 'A Nabob for an Hour', and an 'Original Epilogue'. Boxes and Stalls were 5s, Upper Boxes 2s, and Gallery 1s.

After Sarah Baker's death in 1816 the Theatre was passed to her son in law, William Dowton, 1764-1851, along with her other Theatres in Rochester, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Folkestone, Hastings and Faversham. Dowton then reconstructed the New Theatre with a Roman Portico for its main entrance, now in Orange Street, and windows in the Egyptian style, indeed the Theatre is said to have resembled the character of the Egyptian Hall in London.

Newspaper reports for the Theatre in 1838 stated that 'It had for its entrance a portico in the Grecian Doric taste above which was a niche intended for a statue of Shakespeare. The interior had a ceiling with black cornice. In the centre was an emblematic painting of Aurora, or the morning breaking forth. The fronts of the boxes were in green ground with medallions of Camaieus painted, relieved with gold mouldings. The stage boxes had brass trellis work and were lined with red cloth. The Proscenium was red and had an extremely rich appearance.' Another report in 1847 said that it was 'a neat building of moderate dimensions, the windows of which were in the Egyptian style surmounted by ornamental tablets. The interior had a pleasing appearance.'

By 1851 the new Theatre was bearing the name Theatre Royal and was being run by a Mr. Cannon. Details of the Theatre for this period are sketchy but an advertisement for it in the ERA of the 28th of November 1852 states that the Theatre could be let for a night, a week or a month.

A Programme, printed on silk, for an Amateur Performance by Officers of the Garrison at the Orange Street Theatre Royal, Canterbury, playing in 'Exchange No Robbery', 'The Married Rake', and 'Used Up', on the evening of Monday the 22nd of December 1851 - Kindly Donated by Neill O'Connor.The text at the bottom of the 1851 programme (shown left) shows how the auditorium of this early Theatre Royal was configured, it reads: 'The Box Plan may be seen, and Tickets had at H. U. WARD'S Library, 8, Mercery Lane. Prices of Admission - Boxes and Stalls, 'IL - Upper Boxes and Pit, 2s - Gallery, 18. - No HaIf-Price. The Doors will be Opened at Half-past Six, and the Performance commence at Half-past Seven precisely. Carriages to set down and take up with the Horses heads towards Palace- street.'

Left - A Programme, printed on silk, for an Amateur Performance, by Officers of the Garrison, at the Orange Street Theatre Royal, Canterbury, playing in 'Exchange No Robbery', 'The Married Rake', and 'Used Up', on the evening of Monday the 22nd of December 1851 - Kindly Donated by Neill O'Connor.

The Times Newspaper carried an advertisement for the sale by auction of the Theatre Royal, Canterbury in its 23rd of March 1854 edition which also gives some details of the building saying: 'The Canterbury Theatre - To be sold by auction, without reserve, and with immediate possesion, by Messrs. Goulden and Son, at the Rose Hotel, Canterbury, on Monday, April 3, at 2 for 3 o'clock in the afternoon, all that brick building, with an ornamental stucco front, known as the Theatre Royal, Canterbury, containing machinery, scenery, and every requisite for dramatic performance; it has a frontage of 45 feet, and contains in depth 71 feet 6 inches. The above freehold estate, if not required as a theatre, might be easily converted into an extensive stowage for hops, wool, cord, &c., the situation being central and the approaches good.'

Whether the Theatre was sold or not is not clear, but it did continue in use as a Theatre rather than a store for a few more years. Tom Taylor, the literary and dramatic writer, had one of his plays; 'Barefaced Imposters', produced there on the 15th of August 1854. However, by 1858 it had been all but abandoned.

The Theatre closed in 1859 due to it being condemned as unsafe, and was subsequently converted into a warehouse which it remained until 1960. After this the interior was gutted and converted into offices. Dowton's Orange Street Facade still partly survives today and the building which currently houses the shop 'Merchant Chandler' is known as Theatre House.

A new Theatre Royal on Guildhall Street would soon replace the old one, opening in 1861, details below.

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

The Theatre Royal, Guildhall Street, Canterbury

Formerly - The Assembly Rooms

A Google Streetview image of Guildhall Street, Canterbury, the site of the former Theatre Royal can be seen to the right - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google Streetview image of Guildhall Street, Canterbury, the site of the former Theatre Royal can be seen to the right - Click to Interact.

The Theatre Royal in Orange Street was closed in 1859 but a new Theatre Royal for Canterbury was soon in the works. Keneth J. Westwood takes up the story in his book on the painter Thomas Sidney Cooper, pasages of which are reproduced here with the kind permission of the author and publishers: - 'In 1856 Cooper bought a block of property in the centre of High St Canterbury opposite the Guildhall which included the Assembly Rooms. He was persuaded first in 1860 to do up the Assembly Rooms and allow them to be used as a theatre by the "Old Stagers" a group of amateurs who were the mainspring of the popular annual cricket week. Surprisingly these influential well connected people were the driving force for the building of the Theatre Royal (technically probably had no right to be called Royal). Cooper writes "if no theatre no cricket week".

Cooper had plans drawn up for the building of a permanent theatre on the site of the Assembly Rooms to be opened for the cricket week in 1861. He laid the foundation stone on 23rd October 1860. He painted scenery for the theatre as late as 1891. Although the building, with interesting decoration designed by Cooper, was not complete ("finished in two or three years"), it opened for the Old Stagers in August 1861, reportedly costing about £5,000. It officially opened as a commercial theatre under management of W.E. Mills on 9th September 1861... Charles Dickens praised its acoustics on a visit in 1861. There was a "Madrigal Room" / Concert hall adjoining the theatre...' - Keneth J. Westwood.

Thomas Sidney Cooper was a benefactor of the town of Canterbury. He was born in St. Peter's Street, Canterbury in 1803, and he is known to have helped Mr. Doyle with the painting of scenery for the earlier Orange Street Theatre when he was just a young lad. He is also known to have been a scenery painter at the Theatre in Hastings in the very early 1820s. Apparently Edmund Kean met him whilst he was painting scenery on the beach there, and thus began a friendship between them that lasted until Kean’s death in 1833.

In 1865 the Theatre Royal had a narrow escape when a major fire in Canterbury threatened to destroy it but it survived unscathed and carried on for many years afterwards, although it was never the success that Thomas Cooper had envisioned, often playing to under capacity audiences, although during the cricket weeks it fared better.

Keneth J. Westwood continues: - 'In 1864 Cooper added a bust of Shakespeare to the frontage. Cooper still owned the theatre but it constantly lost money and deteriorated. In 1886 it was refused a licence and Cooper threatened to demolish it, but was persuaded to build a new staircase so that it complied with the safety regulations. It also survived an attempt by the owner of the Music Hall to stage plays in 1889, this being refused by the Council.' - Keneth J. Westwood.

Arthur Hampden Claris managed the Theatre Royal in the early 1890s until his death in 1892. The actor manager A. H. Pilcher then took over for a while, and in January 1893 the Theatre Royal came under the management of the actor Edward Graham-Falcon who appears to have first performed there in September 1891, whilst it was still under the management of Arthur Hampden. Falcon also managed other Theatres including the County Theatre, Bedford. He had his own company of players and regularly toured the provinces.

Keneth J. Westwood continues: - 'On Cooper's death in 1902 the theatre passed with his estate to his widow and was administered by their son Nevill who states he lost £10,000 from when he took over until 1926.' - Keneth J. Westwood.

The Theatre Royal's end came when it was closed on the 30th of January 1926 and the site was then sold to become a Lefevre Department store. Today it is a branch of Debenhams. A plaque on the exterior of the building today says: 'Here stood the Theatre Royal where Canterbury’s first film show took place 16th November 1896.'

References: -Some of the above information on the two Theatres Royal, Canterbury, was kindly sent in by Stephen Wischhusen and N. Desmond Morley. Archive newspaper reports were collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F. Thanks also to Helen Smith for finding and sending along the Thomas Sidney Cooper book extracts, and to Keneth J. Westwood, and his publishers, for allowing me to use some of these extracts, which are reproduced here with kind permission - Westwood, Keneth J. from his book ‘Thomas Sidney Cooper. His Life and Work’. 2 vols. David Leathers Publishing, 2011 - ISBN 978-0-9568677-0-4.

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

The Electric Theatre, 49, St Peter's Street, Canterbury

Later - The Odeon Concert Hall and Spring Dance Floor / The Canterbury Repertory Theatre

The Electric Theatre, St. Peter's Street, Canterbury around 1912-1918 - Courtesy Jenny Glover

Above - The Electric Theatre, St. Peter's Street, Canterbury around 1912-1918 - Courtesy Jenny Glover

The Electric Theatre was built in the 1910s at 49, St Peter's Street, Canterbury. The facade of the building still stands today although the building is currently being used as a Brasserie, see image below.

The photograph above of the Electric Theatre was sent in by Jenny Glover who says 'The sign advertises "Pathe's Animated Gazette" - which appears to have been shown here from June 1910 until 1918 when it was shortened to "Pathe Gazette". Below that is written "Gallant Little Wales" and a book of that name (sketches of its People, Places & Customs) was printed in Boston New York in 1912. The author was Jeanette Augustus Marks (1875-1964) ... so the photo probably dates c1912-18.'

A Google Streetview image of the former Electric Theatre building today - Click to Interact. Jenny's husband, Mick, says that 'the Electric Theatre started in the 1910's combining silent films with theatre shows. By the 1930's it was known as the Odeon Concert Hall and spring dance floor (Tel 419). By 1940 it was called the Canterbury Repertory Theatre (manager Capt Julian Bainbridge).

Right - A Google Streetview image of the former Electric Theatre building today - Click to Interact.

No. 48 St Peter's Street ( Now a Subway Restaurant) was The Kings Head public house up until the 1930's, but had closed by 1940. No. 50 was a bakery showing as G. Saunders in the 1930's & owned by Albert Bowkett by 1940.' Text and top photograph courtesy Jenny and Mick Glover.

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

The Alexandra Music Hall, 30/ 31 Northgate, Canterbury

Also known as The Princess Alexandra Theatre / Canterbury Music Hall / Regency Theatre / Royal George / The Cannon / Princess Alexandra Music Hall / Penny Theatre

The Alexandra Music Hall in Northgate, Canterbury was built in 1850 and was converted from an older seventeenth century house by adding an auditorium to the rear of the building. The whole Theatre was only 18 foot wide by 35 foot long, and had an un-raked ground floor with a three sided balcony capable of housing only one row of seats. The balcony was a later addition, probably added in 1860, and has simple paper panels decorating its frontage which are thought to have come from an earlier pleasure garden. The stage has a small proscenium with what is probably a more modern stage house.

The Theatre is thought to have ceased business in 1898 and had been in use as shops and storage premises until it was later converted into a restaurant and variety hall, which closed in 1989. Since then it has been converted into a public house called the Penny Theatre which sometimes presents music and comedy. The building is now Grade II Listed.

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

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed in Canterbury in 1863 and 1871