Theatres and Halls in Croydon
The Grand Theatre - The Davis Theatre - The Fairfield Halls / Ahscroft Theatre - The Theatre / Theatre Royal / Empire Theatre / New Theatre Royal / Croydon Hippodrome / Hippodrome Picture Theatre - The Civic Hall - The National Palace of Varieties / Palace Theatre - The Empire Theatre of Varieties / The Eros Cinema
Incorporating the Ashcroft Theatre and Concert Hall
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Fairfield Halls, Croydon - Click to Interact
The Fairfield Halls is a complex of entertainment and conference spaces including a large Concert Hall with a capacity of 1,998, the Arnhem Gallery, a Civic Hall, the Ashcroft Theatre with a capacity of 763, and a Restaurant. The building was designed by Robert Atkinson & Partners and was opened in 1962.
Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for the Fairfield Hall's Concert Hall
Above - An orchestra and choir perform in the Concert Hall of the Fairfield Halls in 1963 - Photographed by Archie Handford Ltd - Courtesy Gavin Wood.
The Ashcroft Theatre's auditorium was built on two levels and has a false proscenium and a hydraulic Orchestra Pit. The stage is equipped with a fly tower with 30 single purchase counterweights. The opening production at the Ashcroft Theatre was Herman Gressieker's play 'Royal Gambit', staring Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray on the 5th of November 1962. This was followed on November 19th by Ibsen's The Master Builder, with Andrew Cruickshank in the title-role. There is more on the Ashcroft Theatre below:
Right - A Postcard depicting the Fairfield Halls, Croydon in 1975.
You may like to visit the Fairfield Hall's own website here.
The Ashcroft Theatre
From Theatre World, December 1962.
Above - The attractive interior of Croydon's new
chic playhouse, the Ashcroft Theatre, which Dame Peggy Ashcroft
Fireworks did not interest the people of Croydon on Guy Fawkes Night as much as the opening of their new civic playhouse, called the Ashcroft Theatre after Peggy Ashcroft, who was born in the borough.
Dame Peggy went to Croydon to ring up the first curtain of this intimate 700-seater theatre which is part of Croydon's new £1,250,000 cultural centre, the Fairfield Halls, which also includes a magnificent concert hall and an art gallery.
For the occasion John Betjeman wrote a Prologue, humorously described by Dame Peggy as a short recitation. Proudly aware of being the first woman to speak on the boards of the new stage, she was also proud to observe that Croydon has stolen a march on London by opening three halls under one roof, to provide our eternal need for drama, music and painting. Neither the City of London nor the City of Westminster has anything to match Croydon's cultural centre.
To Andrew Cruickshank fell the honour of speaking the first words on the Ashcroft stage when he was invited to introduce Dame Peggy to the first audience assembled under the roof of her own theatre. Mr. Cruickshank is a popular figure in Croydon where he helped to pioneer Theatre in the Round at the Pembroke, and his performances in Inherit the Wind and Look Homeward, Angel will not easily be forgotten.
Thirty years ago this actor was walking-on at the Savoy in a production of Othello with Paul Robeson in the name-part, Sybil Thorndike as Emilia, Maurice Browne as Iago and Dame Peggy as Desdemona. Much has happened in the theatre since then and Mr. Cruickshank was happy to observe that citizens are now becoming aware of their responsibility to the theatre and so we find delightful playhouses, such as the Ashcroft, being built by the private effort of the people themselves.
Paris has named a theatre after Sarah Bernhardt, New York has her Ethel Barry-more and her Helen Hayes Theatres - and now Greater London has her Ashcroft Theatre - proudly bearing the name of an illustrious actress still at the height of her power and popularity.
Dame Peggy was both grateful and astonished when she was asked if the new civic theatre could be named after her. "I must admit to a thrill of pride," she confesses, "every time I'm in a train that passes through East Croydon and I see my name on the building. My gratitude to the Croydon Borough Council for paying me this tribute is only exceeded by my rejoicing that they should have set such an example in their ambitious project of the Fairfield Halls - concert hall, art gallery and theatre in one building."
For some time Croydon has known what it is like to be quite theatreless. In the good old days they had the gigantic Davis Theatre, the friendly Empire and the Grand, where repertory flourished for so many years and gave early chances to such popular players as Leslie Phillips, Alec McCowen, Ian Wallace, Jill Bennett and Lyndon Brook. For various reasons, all these theatres closed their doors. Theatre-in-the-Round was pioneered at the Pembroke, where stars of the calibre of Fay Compton and Athene Seyler were tempted to try their hand at playing in the new medium, but since that venture came to an end about the middle of this year, there has been no theatre of any shape or kind in the entire borough.
The decor of the new playhouse with its plain wood walls, cigar brown upholstery and bronze velvet curtains has been devised to create an atmosphere of relaxation for the enjoyment of patrons. No one could hope to appreciate a play under more congenial conditions.
There are seats for more than 700 in the steeply-raked, stalls and the cosy single circle. At times, when a solo artist, a diseuse, a folk singer or a poet reading his own lines, desires an even more intimate auditorium, the back half of the stalls can be cut off by means of folding doors, which disappear into the side walls when not required.
The stage is large enough to accommodate all types of production within reason and it is fitted with an apron stage, which is raised or lowered by hydraulic lifts. Plays can therefore be presented in a picture-frame or on an open stage reminiscent of an Elizabethan playhouse. When the forestage sinks below the level of the stalls, an orchestra pit is automatically created.
Back-stage the comfort of the artists has been given every consideration in the dressing-rooms, fitted with white tables and well-lit make-up mirrors. Capacious cupboards have been built to store the most voluminous of period costumes. Electric razor power plugs have been installed for the convenience of actors who shave just before a performance.
The players are called from their rooms by loud speakers and those on the upper floors are conveyed to stage level by lift, which is sufficiently silent to be used while a play is in performance. A Green Room is at the disposal of artists wishing to escape from their dressing room between shows, yet not wanting to leave the building.
The opening production at the Ashcroft Theatre was Herman Gressieker's play Royal Gambit, staring Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray, and this was followed on November 19th by Ibsen's The Master Builder, with Andrew Cruickshank in the title-role. Over Christmas Cyril Fletcher will appear as the Dame in his own production of The Sleeping Beauty, and will be partnered by his wife, Betty Anstell.
The above text on the Ashcroft Theatre was first published in 'Theatre World', December,1962 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.
Formerly - The Grand Theatre and Opera House
Above - An early programme cover for the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Croydon, showing the Theatre in its original form and its owners; Messrs Batley and Linfoot, and the manager Tom Cairn - Courtesy Chris Webster.
The Grand Theatre, Croydon was designed by Mr. Brough and was opened on Monday the 6th April 1896 by Herbert Beerbohm Tree under the ownership of Messrs Batley and Linfoot who can be seen in the programme above.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported briefly on the new Grand Theatre in their 3rd of April 1896 edition saying:- 'A new Grand Theatre and Opera-House has just been erected by Messrs. Batley and Linfoot in the High-street, Croydon, and will be opened on Monday.
Right - The main lobby and entrance of the Grand Theatre, Croydon - From a Postcard.
The building, with some property in the rear and the freehold, has cost nearly £45,000. It is situated near the new municipal buildings, which are to to be opened by the Prince of Wales in May next.
The designs of the theatre were executed by Mr. Brough, from the ideas of the proprietors and Mr. Craven, the style being French Renaissance. There is seating accommodation for 2,000 persons.
The stage measures 50ft. by 55ft., and from the floor to the grid is 102ft. There is an iron and asbestos curtain, weighing 6½ tons, a tableau curtain, and an act-drop, painted by Mr. Ryder Noble. There is a double instillation of the electric light. The upholstery, which has been carried out by a Brighton firm, is in peacock-blue and old gold.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal April 3rd 1896.
Left - The Auditorium and stage of the Grand Theatre, Croydon - From an early programme for 'The Country Girl'
The Theatre was originally used for Plays and Melodrama but by the 1920s it became a touring house. The Grand closed in the early part of the war when Croydon was extensively bombed, but reopened in the latter part of 1942.
Above - The Grand Theatre, formerly the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Croydon - From a postcard. In the far distance can also be seen the Davis Theatre, and to the right centre can be seen the clock tower of the old Town Hall which has since been rebuilt and renamed 'The Clock Tower' which now incorporates a library, cafe, museum, and the David Lean Theatre / Cinema.
After the war the Theatre continued with repertory (see programmes below) and also housed an annual Pantomime. Sadly the Grand Theatre closed in April 1959 after the final performance of 'No Chance for Davies' and despite a petition signed by 100,000 people who had battled to save it the Theatre was demolished and an office block and shops were built on the site.
There now follows an article on Croydon from 'The Face of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956, illustrated with programmes and images for the Grand Theatre from my own collection.
Branching south-west from the pond at Thornton Heath is the Croydon by-pass road, which skirts the west side of the town at the top of the valley and rejoins the main Brighton Road at Purley. Much building has taken place on this new road since the construction of the Croydon Airport, formerly the terminal station of the Continental air-services, which is situated on the west side, about mid-way between Thornton Heath and Purley. The old aerodrome at Waddon having become too small for the ever-increasing air traffic, the present commodious buildings were erected in 1927.
Right - Early Croydon Grand Programme for 'A Country Girl' which seems to be a corrected proof for a proposed later programme.
On 15 August 1940, during the Battle of Britain, the Germans made a great mass attack, employing over a thousand aeroplanes as compared with the five hundred to six hundred used on previous days. In the evening, between twenty and thirty dive-bombers made a sudden attack on Croydon aerodrome dropping a number of bombs on and around the target. One aerodrome building was demolished and a number of people buried in the debris. Bombs also fell on an adjoining housing estate, a number of people were killed in this raid, but it was a sad day for the Luftwaffe for of the German bombers taking part in the attack on Croydon and for whom the Luftwaffe had prepared a banquet to celebrate their triumphant homecoming, it is doubtful if one ever returned to its base.
Left - Programme for 'The Real Little Lord Fauntleroy'
at the Croydon Grand Theatre on Monday the 4th April (Year unknown).
Also on the bill was a 'Programme of Music' under the direction of a
Herr Gustav Howig and a musical four-hander play called 'His Masterpiece'
by Sutton Vane and Edward Jones. - Courtesy Chris Webster.
From Thornton Heath pond a journey of about a mile along the London Road through a busy suburban area will bring us to West Croydon station and the central portion of the town.
On the east side of London Road is the handsome Congregational Church crowned by a tall spire. Croydon originally consisted of two parts, namely, the old and the new towns, each of which was about one mile in length. The old town is situated on a low plain near the source of the River Wandle, and contains the parish church of St-John-the-Baptist, a fine modern building of stone and flint with a lofty square tower designed by G. G. Scott and erected on the site of the old one destroyed by fire in 1867 except the tower which has been preserved.
Right - Programme for the Anglo Polish Ballet performing at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Croydon on Monday the 7th of September 1942 for two weeks.
The town formerly had a close connexion with the Archbishops of Canterbury, and the existing part of their old palace situated near the church was sold in 1780 and used as a bleaching factory until 1887. It now belongs to the Sisters of the Church and is used for a girls' school; it includes a chapel, banqueting hall, gallery, and guard room.
After giving up this building in 1758 the archbishops had a residence at Addington until about 1890. The former Bishop's Palace is now a golf club-house. Near the church is Wandle Park through which the River Wandle flows into the Thames but passes underground for a short distance through the town.
Left - Programme for 'The Happy Family' at the Croydon Grand Theatre August 20th 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
The modern town is centred round the High Street, which was originally nothing more than a bridle-path over the fields. Being situated on higher ground and on a more direct course than the old road, it became the main road to Brighton and the south, and the surrounding district was rapidly built over. Here are located the Whitgift Hospital and the finest streets and shops in the town. In 1811 the population of the parish was 7,900 and the number of houses 1,480, but in Croydon town itself there were only 6,000 inhabitants and 900 houses.
Right - Programme for 'The Holley and the Ivy' at the Croydon Grand Theatre March 3rd 1952 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
By 1881 the population had risen to 78,947, and in the following thirty years it more than doubled itself, the population in 1911 having been 169,551 and in 1931 was 233,115. In 1949 it was estimated at 250,040. Croydon was not made a borough until 1883, and became a country borough in 1888 within its municipal area are included the suburbs of Norbury, Upper and South Norwood, Addiscombe, Waddon, Selhurst, and Thornton Heath.
Left - Programme for 'Dick Whittington' at the Croydon Grand Theatre 1950s - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
During the latter part of the second World War Croydon became the worst-bombed area in the kingdom. No less thin forty-five thousand houses were damaged by 141 flying-bombs that hit the town.
Right - Programme for 'Charley's Aunt' at the Croydon Grand Theatre October 8th 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
When seen from the air Croydon presents a patchwork of bright terra-cotta formed by the replaced roofs of the damaged houses. The work was carried out with such rapidity that by the end of 1945 over £4,500,000 had been spent in bringing tolerable comfort to the householders, thus providing a heartening picture of how quickly Britain was recovering from her wounds. The damage was mainly confined to residential quarters, and the side streets. Croydon's main thoroughfares, including North End, the High Street and George Street escaped almost undamaged.
Although now joined to London, and as metropolitan as Kensington, Croydon still prefers to regard itself as a detached town outside the metrpolitan area. Forty years ago the centre of the town from West Croydon Station to South Croydon was still one long narrow street, except a portion of the High Street, which had been widened on the west side in 1895. Since then North End has been widened between West Croydon Station and the Whitgift Hospital, and an extensive widening of the southern end of the High Street ending at the Swan and Sugar Loaf Hotel has also been carried out. George Street, leading from the High Street to East Croydon Station, has also been widened, but the Whitgift Hospital, which stands at the corner of George Street and North End, forms an obstacle to the complete widening of these two streets.
Left - Programme for 'Blithe Spirit' at the Croydon Grand Theatre September 17th 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
Some twenty-five years ago the Croydon Corporation intended to demolish the Whitgift Hospital for very necessary street improvements, but were prevented from so doing, partly through local opposition, but principally because the scheme has been vetoed by Parliament. The Whitgift Hospital was erected and endowed between the years 1596 and 1599 by Archbishop Whitgift as a home for maimed poor or impotent individuals, preference being given to the inhabitants of Croydon and Lambeth. A schoolmaster was also appointed at a salary of £20 per annum to teach the children of the poor of Croydon gratis. The Archbishop's gift increased greatly in value, and in 1881 the trust was reconstituted and another school founded, but the old hospital is still an almshouse. The new school is handsome building of red brick with stone dressings and a square clock-tower. The entrance is in North End through a garden with a private road.
Right - Programme for 'Arsenic and old Lace' at the Croydon Grand Theatre November 19th 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
A widening of Crown Hill from the south side has been commenced by rounding off the building line at the corner of the High Street and a handsome new building has been erected on this site. A more urgently-needed widening on the north corner of Crown Hill opposite the Whitgift Hospital however has not yet been dealt with by the Croydon Corporation. The Town Hall in Katherine Street is a noble block of buildings faced with red brick and stone in the Renaissance style, erected in 1893-94 at a cost of £90,000, and is crowned, in the centre by a lofty clock-tower. It replaced the old Town Hall in the High Street built in 1808, which itself replaced an ancient structure built in 1600.
Left - Programme for 'The Third Visitor' at the Croydon Grand Theatre August 27th 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage.
Croydon, in addition to being a great residential town for Londoners, possesses a number of manufactures, amongst others the making of clocks and also engineering works, as well as important markets for corn and cattle.
Some of the largest shops, including the two departmental stores of Messrs Kennard's and Messrs Allder's, are situated in North End, but that of Messrs Grant Brothers is on the west side of the High Street. North End, which is half a mile long, is a handsome shopping street and on a Saturday afternoon when it is crowded with shoppers it presents a scene of life and animation unexcelled even by that of Oxford Street in its busiest hours. So large and varied are its shops that no Croydon resident need ever go to the West End of London to find anything he may require. A short distance farther south on the opposite side of the High Street is the Davis Picture Theatre, erected in 1928 and said to be one of the largest in Europe, and having accommodation for four thousand people. A handsome lounge and cafe is attached to the theatre, and a considerable widening has been recently carried out in this part of the High Street. Farther down is the Grand Opera House. The finest residential quarters are situated on the east side of the town at Park Hill and at Addiscombe. Incidentally Croydon is the healthiest large town in the kingdom, this being partly due to its sanitation, subsoil, and the pure air of the North Downs.
From 'The Face of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.
Above - The Davis Theatre and High Street, Croydon - From a contemporary Postcard, Courtesy Gavin Wood, whose father worked in Barrons the Chemist to the side of the Davis Theatre. He fire watched on top of the Davis during the bombing and put out many incendiary bombs. With the permission of one of the Davis brothers he also played the organ in the cinema when he was on fire duty.
The Davis Theatre was built in 1928 by Grace & Marsh of Waddon, and was designed by the well known Cinema and Theatre Architect Robert Cromie. The Theatre opened on Tuesday the 18th of December 1928 with Emil James in the British Premier of the Film 'The Last Command' and was accompanied by Alex Taylor at the Organ, Gaumont Graphic Pictures, the Davis Theatre Symphony Orchestra, and the Marronne and Lacosta Dancers and Company live on the Theatre's Stage.
Right - The cover of the opening souvenir programme for the Davis Theatre, Croydon,18th of December 1928. Click to see a page featuring the entire Opening Programme.
The Davis Theatre's Italian Renaissance auditorium had an enormous capacity of over 3,700 people and it was the largest Cinema to be built in England until the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn superseded it in 1937. The Davis Theatre was primarily built as a Cinema but it also had a large fully equipped stage, dressing rooms, and orchestra pit. It was also equipped with the largest 4 Manuals / 22 Ranks Compton Organ ever built, played by Alex Taylor on the opening night. There was also a Cafe and Restaurant, equipped with its own dance floor.
The Theatre was built for, and operated by, the Davis Family with Israel Davis as its head, and it was the tenth Theatre to be built by the family, the most famous of which being the Electric Pavilion at Brixton, and the Marble Arch Pavilion and Shepherd's Bush Pavilion.
My mother's first Husband, Ray Best, who died in 1950 only a year after their marriage, worked on the building of the Davis Theatre as an electrician responsible for the installation of the electrical equipment and wiring in the building.
Above - The Auditorium of the Davis Theatre, Croydon - From the opening souvenir programme for the Theatre, 18th of December 1928.
From its opening the Theatre featured mostly Gaumont British film releases but was also home to many notable stage productions over the years including the inaugural performance of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on the 15th of September 1946 conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The Boshoi Ballet also famously appeared there in 1956.
Left - A Programme for 'The Festival Ballet Season' at the Davis Theatre, Croydon September in 1951 - Courtesy Jean Lloyd - Part of a collection of programmes from my parents' Theatre visits in their first years of marriage. Click to see entire Programme.
During the war in 1944 a bomb fell on the Theatre, on the evening of the 14th of January, killing 6 people, but mercifully it didn't explode and although the 2,000 members of the audience were given a terrific scare the Theatre itself suffered little damage and was soon repaired and reopened.
After a surprisingly short but successful life, in December 1958 it was announced that the Davis Theatre would be closing. This was at the time that the new Fairfield Halls was being planned for Croydon. It was hoped that the Council would buy the Davis Theatre and turn it into a Concert Hall instead of building a new one but this was never seriously considered and sadly the Davis Theatre's days were about to come to an end.
The final live stage production at the Theatre was 'Jazz at the Philharmonic' with the late great Ella Fitzgerald staring along with the Gene Kupra Quartet on the 10th of May 1959. The last Films to be shown at the Theatre were 'Tom Thumb' and 'Andy Hardy Comes Home' on the 23rd of May 1959.
The Davis Theatre's contents were then auctioned off and the Theatre was demolished in late 1959 for the building of an Office Block, named Davis House in homage to the previous occupant of the site.
There is a great deal more information, and many images of the Davis Theatre, from the Theatre's opening Souvenir programme here.
Above - The Davis Theatre, Croydon - From a Postcard
A visitor to the site, Joan Harper, has recently sent in some memories of her time spent working at the Davis Theatre as a teenager in the 1930s, Joan says:- 'My name was Joan Harper and I was born and lived in Waddon New Road, Croydon. I was 16 years old when I went to work at the Rotunda Cafe above the cinema of the Davis theatre. I was employed as assistant cashier and I had to help on Saturday afternoons for children's birthday parties on the mezzanine floor. I worked from 12pm until 9pm. I also sat at the second cash point to stop people leaving without paying. We had matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays with afternoon tea on the mezzanine floor. We had cinema teas consisting of sandwiches and cakes for 1s 3p only if you arrived before 1.30pm. All meals were 'silver service.' I had to work alternate Sundays on my own, I received 17s 6p per week and 2 free passes for the cinema. Captain Davis owned the cinema and his sister Miss Davis was the manager of the cafe. Mr Addie ran the 3 piece band on matinee days.' - Joan Harper, Courtesy her daughter Jean Ryder.
Unveiling of the Davis' Theatre Plaque.
This is the second illustrative plaque to be commissioned by the CTA to mark the heritage of our lost cinema-theatre buildings. The CTA's first plaque was for the Regent Brighton, unveiled in May 2001. The location of the latest plaque is immediately adjacent to the site of the former Davis Theatre on a building that was built at the same time and situated on the right hand side corner of the Theatre. This is at the junction of the High Street and Robert Street, Croydon.
The event went very successfully, even the drizzle held off. The plaque was mounted about 7ft from the ground and was concealed by an attractive pair of red velvet curtains with the initials CTA stitched on, giving the event a splash of theatricality. A crowd of invited guests included the Mayor of Croydon, members of the Davis family (related to the cinema pioneer, Israel Davis), CTA members who had personally made donations towards the cost of the plaque and other interested persons and the press. The overall size of the group was estimated to be about 70-80 persons. The occasion was tinged with sadness as our President, Tony Moss, was to have carried out the unveiling. The ceremony was thus even more poignant as the plaque would also be a memorial to Tony; his name having been engraved on the plaque as its sponsor. The Mayor arrived just before 3:00pm to meet the assembled group.
Richard Gray gave an introductory speech: "Madam Mayor, Councillor Brenda Kirby, members of the Davis family, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to this occasion when we unveil the commemorative plaque to the Davis' Theatre. When opened in 1928, the Davis was the largest cinema-theatre in England. It was a miracle of the Art Deco style and provided entertainment for the town for 31 years. This beautiful building was unique and its demolition in 1959 is possibly the greatest architectural loss Croydon has sustained...
Edited from the CTA
Bulletin vol 39 No 2 March/April 2005
The CTA are to be congratulated for their work in recognising this Theatre by the mounting of a plaque on the site. M.L.
Formerly - The Theatre / The Theatre
Royal / The Empire Theatre of Varieties / The New Theatre Royal
The Theatre in Crown Hill, Croydon which some people may still remember today as the Croydon Hippodrome had a long and involved history stretching right back to 1849 when a new Theatre was built on the site, called simply 'The Theatre'. This Theatre, whose main entrance was on Church Street was built for Nelson Lee and Johnson, who had also recently been running two other Theatres in Shoreditch.
The Theatre, Croydon opened on Monday the 23rd of April 1849 with a short season starting with a production of the play 'The Stranger'. This was followed during the opening week with 'The Merchant of Venice', 'The Honeymoon', and 'A Roland for an Oliver'. All of which were well attended. The principle cast members for these productions were Messrs Maynard, Melville, Seaman, Wyatt, Warren; Mrs. H. Cambell, Mrs. R. Barnett, and Mrs. Warren.
Right - A silk Bill for 'The Bottle' and 'Blue Beard' at the Theatre, Croydon during its opening season on May 16th 1849 - Courtesy Patricia Smith and Albert Seaman, whose great-great grandfather was William Seaman, actor and playwright, who played Edmund in this production of 'The Bottle'.
The day after the production of 'The Bottle' and 'Blue Beard', shown in the poster right, the first season at the Theatre came to an end with a production entitled 'Grand Night of the Season' on the 17th of May 1849, advertised as 'a most novel and varied round of superior entertainments' and produced as a benefit for Nelson Lee, the Acting Manager.
The original Theatre would function as a playhouse for many years but was eventually rebuilt and reopened on Saturday the 29th of August 1868 as the Theatre Royal, see below.
Rebuilt as The Theatre Royal, 1868
The Penny Illustrated reported on the new Theatre on its opening day, 29th of August 1868, saying: 'At Croydon, one of the handsomest, most compact, and comfortable theatres of which the provinces can boast is announced to be opened to-day, the 29th inst. Built after the style of the elegant Amphitheatre in Holborn, it is light, neat, and commodious, and by an admirable arrangement will afford every facility for any kind of entertainment - dramatic, hippo-dramatic, or operatic, the stage being so arranged that it can be used for either purpose, as opportunity and circumstances may require. For the opening season, the proprietor, Mr. Solomon, has made arrangements with Messrs. M'Collum and Charman, of the Royal Amphitheatre and Circus, London, through whom has been secured a company of artists selected from all the principal English, Continental; and American Cirques, each one having some distinctive specialty new to English audiences.' - The Penny Illustrated, 29th August 1868.
Redecoration of the Theatre Royal, 1883
In 1883 the Theatre Royal closed for two months when it was the subject of major redecoration, the ERA reported on this and the Theatre's reopening in their August 1883 edition saying: 'After having been closed for about two mouths, Messrs Roberts, Archer, and Bartlett reopened this theatre with much éclat on Saturday evening last. During the interim the new lessees have made a thorough change throughout the interior of the house, and habitues will scarcely recognise in the apparently new building the place of amusement in which they previously met.
The theatre, it may be safely asserted, is now one of the most artistically decorated, as well as comfortable and convenient buildings of its kind, in the provinces. The lessees have made a bold bid for popular support, and we wish them every success in their enterprising endeavours to secure it. On first entering the house the most conspicuous improvement is in the approach to the dress-circle and stalls. The latter have been thoroughly repaired and upholstered, and covered with crimson velvet. The dress-circle front and the gallery front have been decorated in green and gold, with an aesthetic pattern, relieved by white cornices, and a broad gold line beneath; the whole being surmounted by crimson velvet. Over the circle suspended from the gallery front is an elegant valence in pale blue satin. The private boxer, of which there are eight, are papered and upholstered in crimson, with elegant pale blue curtains to match the valence already referred to. The dress-circle acoustic arrangements have been vastly improved by the removal of partitions which used to enclose the centre-circle to within a reasonable distance of the floor. The seating in the centre circle is now by means of handsome and commodious chairs, while the entire floor has been carpeted, and the side circle seats all re-covered. Much attention has been devoted to the pit and gallery, while the exits from all parts of the house are so numerous that the largest audience could leave the house in lees than three minutes. The proscenium front has a tasteful appearance, far in advance of anything which has been seen at this theatre in days gone by.
Proceedings commenced on Saturday evening by the whole of the company singing the National Anthem. The performance of The Corsican Brothers fully evinced the fact that the lessees have brought together a thoroughly capable company, while the mounting of the piece was simply perfect. After playing for about a fortnight the company go out on tour, and the boards are to be occupied by some of the leading traveling companies.' - The ERA, August 1883.
The following year, in august 1884, Arthur Lloyd began a tour of his musical farcical comedy 'Our Party' at the Theatre Royal, Croydon. The play was written by himself and also featured his wife, Katty King, and John Barnum in the principal parts. The acting manager for the tour was W. R. Pope, formerly of the Surrey Theatre. And not long after this, in November 1890, Arthur Lloyd and his Ballyvogan Company ended a three month tour of the provinces by performing this play with music at the Theatre Royal, Croydon.
In 1897 the Theatre was altered and redecorated in the Louis XV style by the contractor George Veale to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect Bertie Crewe. The Theatre reopened with a variety show on Monday the 20th of September 1897 as the Croydon Empire. This Empire Theatre should not be confused with the later 1906 Empire in North End, Croydon.
The ERA published a review of the new Croydon Empire, and the opening night production, in their 25th of September 1897 edition saying: 'Of late years music halls have made great strides in popular favour. New houses devoted to variety entertainments are rearing their heads on all sides, and other buildings originally devoted to different purposes are being converted to the uses of the comedian and the serio, the acrobat and the sketch artist. Among these latter the latest instance is the old Theatre Royal at Croydon, which, after being altered and thoroughly cleaned and redecorated, threw open its doors on Monday night as The Empire, Croydon (Limited), Theatre of varieties.
The place looks exceedingly fresh and bright in its new dress, and admiration and surprise were freely expressed at the great transformation effected since the last dramatic entertainment was given in the building. Cream and gold are the prevailing colours used in the scheme of redecoration, which is in the Louis XV style, whilst the ceiling is picked out with green panels on which are inscribed the names of Prominent men in letters and music. By the abolition of certain small rooms additional bar accommodation has been secured on the circle level. The alterations have been carried out under the supervision of the architect, Mr. Bertie Crewe; Mr A. C. Ebbutt is responsible for he upholstery, which is in crimson plush, Mr George Veale has done the general contracting, and the lighting, both gas and electric, has been arranged by Messrs Vaughan and Brown. The result of the efforts of all these experts, is a cosy establishment that should become a favourite resort.
The building is admirably adapted to its new purpose, the performers seeming able to at once get in touch with those in front, and the opinion of those who should know is that the Empire, Croydon, is going to be a big success. At any rate it will not suffer in its management, for the directorate have been fortunate in securing the services of Mr Will Sergeant, whose long and varied experience both as manager and performer should stand him in good stead. Mr Sergeant is popular with artistes and the public alike, and striking proof of this was furnished by the large number of congratulatory telegrams he received during the course of the evening, and by the crowd of well known people who came to wish the new venture good fortune. Among these may be mentioned Mr Edward Swanborough (Royal), Mr and Mrs Sparrow (Grand, Clapham, and National, Croydon), Mr Tom Linsley (Gatti's, Road), Mr Ben Baker (Gatti's, Cross), Mr W. Nutt (Mr Sergeant's old lieutenant at the Washington), Mr George Barclay, Mr Walter Norman, Mr G. D. Brown, Mr Orlando Powel, Mr R. D. Lincoln, Mr Fred Law (Royal Standard), Mr Fred Holden and Mr Peter Conroy (Canterbury), Mr William Bex, Mr.R. Voss, Major-General Bedford, Mr E. G. Pratt, and Mr H. S. Parker.
Huge crowds awaited the opening of the doors, and long before the curtain went up there was not a vacant seat to be seen in any part of the house. Uncomfortably packed as they were, however, the audience were wonderfully good tempered, and applauded their favourites with great heartiness. Mr Walter Munroe, whose sketches of Hibernian character are always impregnated with that cheerful humour that seems part and parcel of the Irish nature, had an uproarious greeting, and justified his admirers' enthusiasm by his capital rendering of a couple of songs, "Patsy's Paradise" and "Mike," and a splendidly executed top-boot dance. Miss Chummie La Mara, too, had the sympathies of the packed house with her, and nothing less than three ditties would satisfy those in front. "What has become of Mary? " and "Mary Ellen " were rendered with great vivacity and that clearness of articulation that is one of Miss La Mara's chief charms. Looking extremely handsome in a beautiful principal boy's costume, she with rare spirit gave a drinking song, "Here's to the health." A big hit was made by Johnny Gilmore, the quaint Australian comedian, whose droll business in "My Bosom " evoked roars of laughter. Mr Gilmore had twice to bow his acknowledgments. A splendid exhibition of pluck and skill was given by the Villion troupe of cyclists, who introduced a welcome leaven of fun into their act. They did some startling feats on all sorts of wheelsin fact, anything at all approaching the spherical is good enough for themand richly deserved the enthusiastic cheers that greeted them at the conclusion of their turn, Mr Harry Lester had the house in merry mood with a ditty concerning a rooster and in the first few verses of "Where are you going to?" In the later lines of this song he showed his ability to extract sympathy as well as laughter. Messrs Newham and Latirnar, who have been popular public servants for many a year, had never a stronger hold on variety audiences than they have at the present time. On Monday they were soon on the best of terms with the audience, who were hugely entertained with the clever couple's impersonations of "The Potman the Barmaid " and " Bertie and Gertie, the Gaiety Girl.' The Percys, Miss Annie Howe, the Gazelles, who contributed a well-executed dance; Miss Bessie Hinton who roused the "gods " to emulation of her whistling in "My Bill ;" and Munro and O'Toole also entertained, and the programme was brought to a conclusion by Messrs Harrison and Howard's Combination in a condensed version of Douglas Jerrold's famous naval drams Black-Eyed Susan. Mr Adderley Howard repeated his fine impersonation of the bold William, Mr E. James was sufficiently villainous as Doggrass, Mr F. Monti created much amusement as Jacob Twigg, Susan was sympathetically enacted by Miss Zoe Elsworthy, and the rest of the cast was as follows: Captain Cross tree, Mr F. H. Neville; Admiral Bargoyne, Mr E Harrison; Seward, Mr L. Bennett; and Polly May flower, Miss D. Howard. The sketch was capitally mounted, and the development of the story was watched with great interest. Mr J. Reillie and his orchestra got through their arduous tasks in capital fashion, and M J. Gates looked after the stage in the latter part of the evening.
Altogether the opening night of the Croydon Empire was a great success, and under the skillful and experienced guidance of Mr Will Sergeant,who, - by the way, has been none too well lately - there is no reason why this latest acquisition to our palaces of smoke and song should not be as successful as any of its compeers.'
The Empire Theatre was opened on Monday the 20th of September 1897 but would have a very short life because the Company soon went into liquidation and were forced to close the Theatre in April 1898, although there was one last benefit performance of 'Hamlet' at the Theatre on the 30th of July 1898, in aid of Messrs Bartlett and Archer, former lessees and managers of the Theatre in its earlier guise as the Theatre Royal. The Theatre was then put up for public auction but failed to sell, and it was subsequently bought by Ronald Graham who planned to reopen it under its old name as the New Theatre Royal.
This Empire Theatre should not be confused with the later 1906 Empire in North End, Croydon.
Rebuilding as The New Theatre Royal, 1899
The Theatre was then remodeled and redecorated in the Italian Renaissance style and reopened as the New Theatre Royal on Monday the 30th of July 1899 with Lester Collingwood's Company in a production of the play 'When London Sleeps'. The Penny Illustrated printed a review of the new Theatre in their 29th of July 1899 edition saying: 'Croydon is rapidly becoming a most important suburb of London, and it has shown greater powers of development than most. Surely such a borough is big enough to support two good-class theatres, and there should be, therefore, plenty of patronage for the Theatre Royal, which was privately viewed on Wednesday by the press and a number of the new proprietor's friends. It has been converted by Mr Ronald Grahame, who, by the magic wand of enterprise, has changed the old and ill-conditioned house into a bright and well-appointed temple of the drama. Deeming that the condition of the place did not accord with its prospects under the direction of an energetic manager, skilled in gauging the taste of the public of today, Mr Grahame resolved to restore the building for the purpose of providing a thoroughly popular entertainment. The result is that, both within and without, the Theatre Royal is no longer a reproach but a credit to Croydon. Not so long since it was under a cloud of ill-success as a music hall, but it reverts again to its ancient uses. Now "dark is light," and the expenditure of some thousands of pounds should give it a fresh lease of life.
The extensive changes in the interior will enable an audience totaling 1,600 to be seated, and it is computed that there is standing accommodation for about 400 in addition. The theatre has been remodelled and tastefully redecorated in the Italian Renaissance style, comfortably reseated, and electricity is the illuminant employed both before and behind the curtain. There is a capacious pit, with three rows of stalls in front ; and, indeed, the comfort of the shilling pittite, who will be the backbone of the support accorded to the new proprietor, has been specially cared for. He or she is blessed with an upholstered patent tip-up seat. The patrons of the gallery have not been neglected, this part of the house also being very comfortably seated and carpeted. The circle is roomy, and for two shillings, the price of admission to this portion of the auditorium, one can have a most luxurious lounge. There is every comfort for the artistes in the dressing-rooms, while the stage has been enlarged so as to accommodate more ambitious productions than were formerly possible. Half-a-crown will be the highest rate of admission, and 6d. the lowest, and an old custom will be reverted to in the adoption of half-price at nine o'clock.
Mr Grahame intends providing a thoroughly popular entertainment,
and will rely mainly on Provincial melodrama, but there are to be occasional
incursions into the domain of light opera of the Cloches de Corneville
type. He starts on Monday with When London Sleeps, and at Christmas
he will produce Aladdin.
After the private view of the house on Wednesday some thirty guests sat down to the luncheon provided at the Greyhound Hotel. Mr Ronald Grahame occupied the chair, and by his side sat his clever little wife, Miss Gracie Grahame. Justice was done to the attractive menu, for which the caterer was warmly complimented, and some witty speeches and congratulatory addresses were given by Mr Harrison, Mr Edwards, Mr Henry Joyner, director of the Croydon Palace of Varieties; Mr Eustace H. Jay, manager of the Croydon Palace of Varieties; Mr Richards, and Mr E. Roffey. It was pleasurable to hear that no rivalry would exist between the now three places of amusement in the borough, as Mr Grahame is only fulfilling a want in supplying a respectable house for the best melodramatic productions, some of which have not as yet visited the locality. Mr Grahame was greatly applauded when he announced his intention in the near future to give his old friends, Messrs Archer and Bartlett, a bumper benefit at the New Royal. Mr Richards, in his extempore song (previously written on the tablecloth), and Mr G. J. Heath in his two songs were greatly appreciated. Mr J. Hindle-Taylor, from the Grand, was unable to be present owing to a previous engagement in town.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Penny Illustrated, 29th July 1899.
The Theatre was renamed the Hippodrome in April 1908 and reopened as a variety Theatre with two shows nightly. The opening programme by Fred Southern and his company included May Emery in 'A woman's Crime', Alvar the gymnast, The Ives and their 'Ball Punching' act, several pictures from the Bio-Tableaux, Little Dando, Gracie Hunt, Rose Nicholson, Bernard and Weston, and Will and Rose.
The Hippodrome Rebuild, 1910
Above - The Auditorium of the Croydon Hippodrome - From a 1911 Variety Programme - Courtesy Colin Charman
The Theatre was rebuilt in 1910 to designs of the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham, and constructed by J. Smith and Sons of South Norwood. The Croydon Hippodrome had a capacity of some 1,500 people and opened on Monday the 1st of August 1910, and was built to house twice nightly variety shows. The first night included Vesta Tilley, Charburn's Young Stars, Bert Coote and Company, the Three Meers, Harry Simms, Jen Latons, and O'Gust. The Stage Newspaper reported on the new Theatre in their 21st of July edition saying: 'Through the enterprise of Mr. Oswald Stoll, Croydon has an elegant new variety house, the Croydon Hippodrome, which will be opened on August 1. The house will be booked in conjunction with the Moss-Stoll syndicate, the proprietors being the Croydon Hippodrome, Limited, of which Mr. Stoll is chairman and managing director. The house stands on the site of the old Royal, on Crown Hill, in the centre of the town, and is thus within a single minute's walk of the trams which directly connect East, West, and South Croydon with this point.
Right - A Variety Programme for the Croydon Hippodrome Theatre for the week of 23rd of January 1911 - Courtesy Colin Charman whose Grandmother, Little Ena Dayne, shown left, was on the Bill for that week.
Two performances are to be given nightly, and in addition a novelty will be introduced in the form of "Afternoon Tea Picture Concerts." These concerts will be held daily at 3 o'clock, and the programme will consist of animated pictures and gramophone selections. Tea will be served free. The programme will be changed every three days.
The building has been erected from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. Frank Matcham, by Messrs. J, Smith and Sons, of South Norwood. It occupies an island site with frontage of 40 feat to Crown Hill, 180 feet to the public thoroughfare of Priddy's Yard, and 100 feet to a private road. The vestibule is approached through four large doors, and thence the way to the stalls and circle is by two wide staircases. The pit and gallery entrances are in the private roadway at the side of the house. Comfortable waiting rooms are provided for each part of the house, so that patrons can avoid the discomfort of waiting in the public street. The house is divided into stalls and pit on the ground floor, with a commodious circle containing eleven rows of tip-up seats, and immediately above the circle is the gallery, which is fitted with upholstered seats. The whole of the construction of the tiers is of steel and concrete, and there are no collumns to obstruct the view.
Above - A Variety Programme for the Croydon Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties for the week of 23rd of January 1911. - Courtesy Colin Charman whose Grandmother, Little Ena Dayne, was on the Bill for that week.
The entire building is illuminated by electric light,
supplemented by gas. The heating is by means of low-pressure hot water,
and radiators are placed in convenient positions. The stalls and circle
are fitted with roomy tip-up upholstered seats, and the floors are carpeted,
the upholstery and decorative work have received careful consideration
to harmonise with the general character of the
Renaming to the Hippodrome Picture Theatre
In January 1946 a long Lease for the Hippodrome Theatre, which was then owned by Loughborough Playhouse Ltd., was taken over by Odeon Theatres, although they had been running it as a Cinema since May 1942 anyway. The Theatre was renamed the Hippodrome Picture Theatre.
Later the Theatre was run by the Rank Organisation who finally closed the Theatre after the final showing of the films 'Run For The Sun' and 'Rebel in Town' on the 3rd of November 1956.
The Theatre was then sold to British Home Stores who had a store next door, and they demolished all but the facade of the Theatre, which was then modernised, and used the rest of the site as an extension of the store. The new building, ironically, was designed by the well known Cinema architects George Coles & Partners.
In another twist the new building was later converted into a three screen Classic Cinema in 1972.
Some of the information on the final years of the Hippodrome was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website, and 'Croydon Cinemas' by Allen Eyles and Keith Skone. Archive newspaper reports were kindly sent in by B.F.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Above - The Three Meers, who performed at the opening of the rebuilt Croydon Hippodomre in 1910, with a poster of them playing at an unknown Empire Theatre, and George William Olley, known as George Omo, and his wife Martha Rebecca as Rosie Raven - Courtesy Sue Pay who says:- 'They performed under various guises: The Three Meers, The Eltons, Omo and Oma, George Omo, and possible Will and Rose; Rose being Will's wife and actress going by the name of Rosie Raven.' - If you have any more information on the Three Meers Please Contact me.
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Civic Hall, Croydon showing the Croydon Philharmonic Choir in 1953 - From the Croydon Philharmonic Choir's 50 years celebration program in 1964. (Some of the choir can be seen up in the right balcony) - Photo by Cosser Photographic Services - Courtesy Gavin Wood.
Civic Hall, on Crown Hill, Croydon was where most musical concerts were
held before the Fairfield Hall was built. The
Civic Hall gave lunch time concerts, private recitals; for example,
by local pianist Dorothy Grinstead, and it was where the Croydon Philharmonic
Choir, conducted by Alan Kirby and later Myers
The Hall was long with a balcony down both sides.
Right - The Civic Hall, Croydon showing The Croydon Philharmonic
Choir with Alan J. Kirby in the 1950s - Photographed by the Croydon
Times - Courtesy Gavin Wood, whose mother can be seen 3rd from right
in the second row.
Above - The Joan Rodney-Deane Academy in their yearly
Dancing Display and Medal Awards Ceremony at the Civic Hall, Croydon
on the 29th of January 1952 - Courtesy Sandra Shire who is holding the
flowers centre stage at the age of 10. Sandra's Grandmother, Ida Wells,
worked in the box offices and helped behind the scenes at the Catford,
Penge, and Croydon
Empires. Sandra says:- 'I grew up surrounded by photos on the walls
and scrapbooks full of the stars of the day who she knew, as in Gracie
Fields, the Crazy Gang and Charlie Chaplin etc etc. I used to get in
to see the shows sometimes and go backstage, I remember Liberace at
the Davis and London
Palladium and meeting him. My Grandfather was at one point stage
electrician probably how they met, and his father worked as electrician
at the Crystal Palace before it burnt
Above - Sandra Shire on stage at the Civic Hall, Croydon on the 29th of January 1952 - Courtesy Sandra Shire whose Grandmother , Ida Wells, worked in the box offices and helped behind the scenes at the Catford, Penge, and Croydon Empires.
If you have any more information or images for the Civic Hall that you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Formerly - The National Hall and Grand Theatre of Varieties - Later - The Empire Palace Theatre - Eros Cinema
Above - A silk Programme for a 'Grand Fashionable Night' at the new National Hall and Grand Theatre of Varieties, Croydon, date unknown but probably 1895.
The National Palace of Varieties was situated in North End, Croydon and originally opened as the National Hall and Grand Theatre of Varieties in 1895. It was constructed as a Circus venue and Variety Theatre. The original owner of the Theatre was T. G. Hales, often known as Spangle Hales because he also had a shop in Bow Street where he sold tinsels, theatrical jewellery, and spangles.
The Theatre was later leased by a consortium of well known Music Hall personalities and renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The consortium consisted of Herbert Campbell, Dan Leno, Fred Williams, Henry Joymer, and G. E. S. Venner. T. G. Hales, the original owner, also joined the Board and the consortium turned the ownership of the Hall into a Company.
They would later go on to rebuild and reopen the Theatre as the Empire Theatre of Varieties in 1906, and later built the Granville in Walham Green, the Camberwell Palace, and the Clapham Grand. More information on this Consortium can be read here.
Below is a souvenir programme for a 'Grand Anniversary Celebration' of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, printed on silk, which has many of the consortium appearing on the Bill.
Above - A Silk Programme for the Grand Anniversary Celebration of the National Palace of Varieties, Croydon on the 15th of November 1900. On the Bill were many members of the Consortium who had recently taken over the Theatre.
On July 11th, 1901 the Stage Newspaper reported that on the previous Monday at a meeting of the Croydon County Council the stage plays and excise licences of the National Palace of Varieties, North End, Croydon, were transferred from Mr. Henry Joyner, a late director of the company of Cheshunt, Herts, to Mr. Fred Williams.
If you have any more information or images for the National Palace of Varieties that you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Formerly - The National Palace of Varieties - Later - The Eros Cinema
In 1906 the National Palace of Varieties was completely rebuilt at a cost of around £30,000. The new Theatre was constructed by Walter Wallis to the designs of the well known Theatre architect W. G. R. Sprague, and reopened as the Empire Theatre of Varieties in May 1906. The auditorium of this Theatre was built on three levels, stalls, dress circle, and gallery and had seating for some 1,868 people. The Empire was also equipped with eight dressing rooms, an orchestra pit for fourteen musicians, and a stage 30 foot wide at the proscenium and 30 foot deep.
Right - A Poster for a Variety performance at the Empire Theatre, Croydon, on the 15th of April 1912. On the Bill were Vesta Tilley, R. H. Douglass, the 4 Comptons, Talberto & Douglas, the 8 College Girls, Jimmy Sheilds, The Bioscope, Jimmy Godden, Spanish Goldinis, and Ena Dayne, Billed here as the new star juvenile comedienne. Poster courtesy Colin Charman whose Grandmother was Little Ena Dayne.
The Stage Newspaper reported on the new Empire Theatre in their 3rd of May 1906 edition saying:- 'This new and magnificent building has been erected on the site of the old National Palace of Varieties in North-End., Croydon, a hall which was originally built as a circus.
The new building has been faced completely round, so that the entrance is now occupying the position which was formerly taken by the stage, and on the site of the old passage which led to the stage entrance an imposing ornamental tower 75ft. high has been erected. Unfortunately, this somewhat narrow frontage is the only indication from the street of the existence of the hall behind, but this disadvantage is considerably minimised by the powerful electric lights which have been placed upon the tower. Appropriate sculptured figures of "Music" and "Drama" have been set upon the structure, and the dome is surmounted by a figure of "Mercury." This work was executed by Mr. Arrowsmith, of Clapham, who is also responsible for the handsome decorative carved work elsewhere in the building.
Leading from the main entrance in this tower is a tastefully-decorated corridor, communicating by easy flights of stairs with the foyer leading to the grand circle, boxes, and saloons, all of which are beautifully upholstered and carpeted.
The seating of the house, which approximates to about 2,500, is divided into fauteuil's, stalls, and pit stalls on the ground floor, grand circle and gallery above. The seats, which are tip-up, have been upholstered in velvet and satin of a warm and comfortable shade of red by Messrs. Waring of Oxford Street, who have also supplied the carpets and handsome tableau curtains in the same shade. The gallery, which holds 800 people, has been comfortably furnished, and the seats are so arranged that an excellent view of the stage is easily obtainable from any part.
The general colour scheme of the auditorium decoration is cream, gold and white, which contrasts very nicely with the red of the seats and curtain. Thin work has been carried out by Mr. De Jong, of Camden Town, who is also responsible for the allegorical group and the Croydon armorial bearings over the proscenium.
There is a domed roof with sliding mechanism, and a roof-light of stained glass, which has been supplied by Messrs. Wootton and Co., of Croydon. The stage is by Messrs. Lyons and Co., of St. Mary Axe, and is completely fitted in an up-to-date manner. The scenery has been contracted for by Mr. Francis H. Bull, and is of a very high order. The iron and steel work are by Messrs. Smith, Walker, and Co., of Westminster.
The whole building is considered to be absolutely fireproof, the floors being laid on concrete. Fire-proof curtain, iron doors, and numerous hydrants are further steps which have been taken towards securing the safety of the public. All the foregoing have been supplied by Messrs. Strode and Co., together with the handsome electric light fittings and heating and ventilating apparatus. Powerful electric plant has been laid down by Messrs. W. P. Theerman and Co., of Manchester, to supply the lighting.
The architect, Mr. W. G. Sprague, has reason to congratulate himself on the excellent results ho has achieved, with the aid of Mr. Walter Wallis, of Balham, who is the general contractor for the building. The whole has been completed at a cost of nearly £30,000, and has been arranged by Mr. T. Gardiner Hales, the freeholder, in conjunction with Mr. Walter Gibbons. The theatre was opened on Tuesday evening on the two-shows-nightly basis, with Mr. Eustace Jay as the manager.
Mr. A. C. Lilly and company are providing a star turn with Drummed Out, which meets with great approval. Gilbert Girard gives some clever imitations of animals and of musical instruments with his voice. Baker and Balfe admirably on the xylophone. Mildred de Grey gives a graceful exhibition of barefoot dancing. Billy Hobbs is a very amusing coon impersonator. Ferguson and Mack are clever acrobatic comedians. Stanley and Greenop, banjoists; the Aindow Sisters, musical speciality artists; and Minnie Mace, comedienne and dancer, complete the programme.
On Tuesday, the opening night, Miss Victoria Monks appeared at the second house, and was not allowed to leave until she had rendered three of her favourite songs.'
The Empire Theatre opened as a Variety Theatre on Tuesday the 2nd of May 1906 and had a reasonable career but films were soon forming part of the Bill too. This Empire Theatre should not to be confused with the earlier Empire Theatre of Varieties which was formerly the Theatre Royal, Church Street Croydon, later the Hippodrome.
In 1920 Marie Lloyd topped the Bill at the Empire, singing such favourites as 'I'm a Good Girls Now' and 'As I Take a Morning Promenade'.
In 1930 the Empire went over to Cinema full time. The first film in this incarnation was the rather ironically title 'What Price Melody?' Live shows were still performed on the stage from time to time however and then, after the building was taken over by Moss Empires in 1938, it went back to full time Live Variety again with films relegated to Sundays only.
Left - A Programme for 'Harry Lester's Comedians' at the Croydon Empire. The programme states that the show is an "all out comedy thrill show that takes you Away from this World."
The Theatre was taken over by the Hyams Brothers in 1946 who continued to run it as a Variety Theatre but the end came on the 9th of May 1953 after the last performance of 'Soldiers in Skirts' when it was closed as a live Theatre and then reopened a week later as The Eros Cinema.
"The last Manager of the Empire, Croydon was Arthur Dixon, who stayed on when the Theatre was converted to Cinema use as the Eros Cinema. Arthur Dixon continued as manager but was much saddened by his beloved Theatre having been turned into a Cinema." - Ted Loveday, Managing Director Brunskill & Loveday LTD.
Right - The entrance stairs to the Croydon Empire Theatre - Photo Richard Norman - Courtesy Les Osman and Richard Norman.
The Eros Cinema was not to last long however, it was bought up by a development Company in February 1959 and closed for good on May the 30th the same year after a last showing of the film 'Streets of Larado', a week after the Davis Theatre had also closed for the last time.
The building was then completely demolished in 1961 to make way for an office block and car park with three shops, and the site of the entrance to the Eros was replaced by the entrance to the new Whitgift Shopping Centre.
Some of the information on the final years of the Empire / Eros was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website, and also 'Croydon Cinemas' by Allen Eyles and Keith Skone.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre in any of its guises 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.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: