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Theatres in Folkestone, Kent

The Leas Cliff Hall Theatre - The Tower Theatre - The Leas Pavilion Theatre - The Pleasure Gardens Theatre - The Folkestone Theatre / Electric Theatre / Savoy Cinema - The Playhouse Cinema - The Playhouse, Bayle Pond

The Lease Cliff Hall Theatre, The Leas, Folkestone

The 1980s Box Office for the Leas Cliff Hall Theatre, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Above - The 1980s Box Office for the Leas Cliff Hall Theatre, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

The Leas Cliff Hall Theatre is a four storey building set into the cliffs below The Leas in Folkestone. The Box office for the Theatre, shown above, is situated on The Leas; rebuilt in the 1980s it provides a large double staircase down to the Theatre itself. The Theatre was first constructed as a Concert Hall to the designs of the Norwegian Architect J. S. Dahl and was opened on the 13th of July 1927 with a concert by the Folkestone Municipal Orchestra conducted by Captain A. Holland, with vocals by Tom Burke. The Hall could accommodate upwards of a thousand people when it first opened, and has a space which is twice as wide as it is long with a balcony running round three sides, and a stage situated in the middle of the long side, opposite the stairs up to the Box Office and entrance on The Leas. There are six dressing rooms backstage along with a rehearsal room, band room, and green room.

The Theatre today is home to a variety of entertainment including live music, comedy, dance, and family shows, and is run by ATG whose own Website for the Theatre can be found here.

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

The Tower Theatre, North Road, Shorncliffe, Folkestone

A Google StreetView Image of the entrance to the Tower Theatre, Shorncliffe, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the entrance to the Tower Theatre, Shorncliffe, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

The Tower Theatre is situated in Shorncliffe, Folkestone and opened in 2007. The Theatre, which has seating for 300 people, was a conversion of the former St. Mark's Church, a former Garison Church, originaly part of the Shorncliffe Camp Barracks. The Theatre is owned by a charitable organisation called the Folkestone & Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society which were founded in 1902 as an ameteur operatic society.

You may like to visit the Tower Theatre's own Website here.

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The Leas Pavilion Theatre, The Leas, Folkestone

The Entrance to the Leas Pavilion Theatre, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Above - The Entrance to the Leas Pavilion Theatre, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

The Leas Pavilion originally opened in 1902 as a high class tearoom, designed by the local architect Reginald Pope, but was later enhanced with the addition of a stage in 1928. The building was constructed mostly underground so as to not obstruct the light of the Hotels either side, but did have an above ground entrance. It's auditorium is on one flat floor with a surrounding balcony supported by columns and has an elaborate plasterwork ceiling. After the 1928 alterations the Pavilion Theatre soon became known for its 'Tea Matinees' where the actors had to compete for attention over the noise of its clattering tea cups.

In the 1960's the Pavilion Theatre became home to the Arthur Brough Players, founded by Arthur Brough, perhaps better known today as Mr. Grainger in TV's 'Are you Being Served'. The Theatre closed in 1984 and was converted into a Pub and entertainment venue but this was also closed in 2007 and the building has since fallen into disrepair. The Grade II Listed Building is currently owned by Developers who plan to build flats either side of it and above its entrance.

However, a local campaign to restore and reopen the Theatre itself, which attracted 31,000 signatures in a petition launched in 2016 (details here), and was still active at the time of writing in November 2017, hope that they will eventually be able to return the building to theatrical use. The Friends of the Leas Pavilion Facebook page for the Theatre can be found here and their Website can be found here.

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

The Pleasure Gardens Theatre, Bouverie Road West, Folkestone

The Pleasure Gardens Theatre, Folkestone - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Above - The Pleasure Gardens Theatre, Folkestone - Courtesy Philip Paine.

A Programme Cover for the Pleasure Gardens Theatre, Folkestone whilst under the Management of H. W. Rowland - Courtesy Philip Paine.The Pleasure Gardens Theatre was situated within the Folkestone Pleasure Gardens on Bouverie Road West and first opened as a Theatre in 1886, although the building was first constructed in 1851 as an exhibition Hall.

The Theatre was later reconstructed again and reopened on the 4th of April 1896 with Walter Sealby's Company in a production of John S. Haydon's 'A Trip to Chicago', with music by Carlile Vernon and Felix Leaman. The Theatre was managed at this time by H. W. Rowland.

Right - A Programme Cover for the Pleasure Gardens Theatre, Folkestone whilst under the Management of H. W. Rowland - Courtesy Philip Paine.

The Theatre was the first venue to show Moving Pictures in Kent in June 1896, and in its later years was home to Pantomimes, Opera, Variety, and some of the biggest touring productions from London, it would later be converted for Cinema use.

Eventually the building became very rundown and was in urgent need of renovation, but the costs for this were deemed too high, and sadly it was eventually closed and demolished in 1964.

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The Folkestone Theatre, 1 & 3 Grace Hill, Folkestone, Kent

Later - The Electric Theatre / The Savoy Theatre / The Savoy Super Cinema / Star Bingo / Metronome Nightclub

An Engraving showing the former Folkestone Theatre, its site would later be used for the construction of a Garage and then the Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Above - An Engraving showing the former Folkestone Theatre, its site would later be used for the construction of a Garage and then the Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema - Courtesy Philip Paine.

An Auction notice for the sale of the site of the former Folkestone Theatre in 1902 - Courtesy Philip Paine.The Folkestone Theatre was situated on Grace Hill next to the Prince Albert Hotel in Folkestone. An early engraving of the Theatre can be seen above. The Theatre was one of Fokestone's earliest playhouses, thought to have been opened in 1803. The Theatre was eventually closed and demolished however, and its site was then used for the construction of a new Music Hall.

The new Music Hall building however, was never put to its intended use and near to completion was instead put up for auction under the heading of 'The Folkestone Theatre Site' on the 29th of January 1902, see image right.

Right - An Auction notice for the sale of the site of the former Folkestone Theatre in 1902 - Courtesy Philip Paine. The caption for the photograph reads: 'Front Elevation of the Property as at Present, showing also the adjoining Premises from a Photograph'.

The auction resulted in the building being used as a Garage instead of a Music Hall, but the Garage would soon go on to find another use, this time as a Skating Rink.

In 1910 the building finally found a more suitable use when the Architect A. R. Bowles converted it into a Cinema called the Electric Theatre for the newly formed Company; 'Folkestone Electric Theatre Ltd.

(A. R. Bowles would go on to design the Playhouse Cinema nearby in 1912).

A 1911 Programme Cover for the Electric Theatre, Folkestone - Courtesy Philip Paine.The newly constructed Electric Theatre had seating for 400 people, all on one floor, with its main entrance on Grace Hill. The Theatre's entrance led patrons into a foyer situated behind the screen with the auditorium itself further into the building.

The Theatre's 3rd of May 1910 opening was attended by local corporate and business dignitaries, and it would go on to show two different film shows each week, screened continuously from 3.30pm to 10.30pm, along with Pathe news features.

Left - A 1911 Programme Cover for the Electric Theatre, Folkestone - Courtesy Philip Paine. The items shown included the Pathe Gazette, Gaumont Graphic, The Plumer, The American Girl, A Vivaphone Singing Picture, The Prune Industry, Outwitting Papa, and Black Beard.

The Electric Theatre was renamed the Savoy Theatre in 1928 but a major fire later that year in December gutted most of the building. The facade survived mostly intact but the rear wall of the Theatre, although still standing, was severely damaged. Luckily the Cinema was fully insured and the damage, which was estimated as £6,000, was duly paid out, ensuring that the Theatre could be rebuilt, and this time on a much grander scale.

The Facade of the former Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.The new Theatre opened as the Savoy Super Cinema on the 20th of June 1929 with a showing of the film 'The Burgomaster of Stilemonde'.

The new Theatre had its screen situated at the opposite end of the building so that patrons would enter the auditorium from the rear instead of the front, and the auditorium now also included a balcony so that the seating capacity was increased to 954. The Theatre's new proscenium opening was 30 feet wide and the projection box was at the rear of the auditorium. Another new addition was a Cafe and 'Palm Lounge', and the installation of a Standaart Theatre Organ, played on the Theatre's opening by Percy Milton, along with an orchestra conducted by John Russell.

Right - The Facade of the former Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

In September 1929 the Savoy went over to full time 'Talkie' films, and although closed for nearly a year during the early years of the war, the Theatre would go on to entertain the Folkestone public for many years.

In the later half of the 1950s however, the Theatre was taken over by Star Cinemas who would introduce Bingo there on a part time basis in 1961, and then went on to convert the Theatre for full time Bingo use not long afterwards as a Star Bingo Club.

A Google StreetView Image of of the site of the former Folkestone Theatre, later the Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Grace Hill, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Folkestone Theatre, later the Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Grace Hill, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

In the late 1980s Bingo use ceased in the building and the Theatre then remained closed and unused for many years until it found a new use as the Metronome Nightlcub for a while, but this ended in the mid 2000s. Parts of the Theatre were later converted into apartments but at the time of writing in 2017 its auditorium, which houses an illuminated circular dome and the small balcony still in situ, has yet to find a new use.

The Side elevation and auditorium block of the former Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Above - The Side elevation and auditorium block of the former Electric Theatre / Savoy Super Cinema, Folkestone in November 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, especially the early Folkestone Theatre, please Contact me.

The Playhouse Cinema, Guildhall Street, Fokestone

A Google StreetView Image of the Site of the former Playhouse Cinema, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Site of the former Playhouse Cinema, Folkestone - Click to Interact.

The Playhouse Cinema was situated on Guildhall Street, Folkestone and was designed by the Architect A. R. Bowles, who had also designed the nearby Electric Theatre two year earlier. Bowles designed the Playhouse primarily as a Cinema, but when it was built in 1912 it did also have a small stage 17 feet deep, although I have found no record of it being used for live performances. The Cinema may have been named after the nearby former Playhouse on The Bayle which was an early wooden Theatre in Folkestone, see details below. The Playhouse Cinema opened on the 14th of August 1912 with a showing of the 1912 film 'Treasure Island', and had an auditorium with stalls and circles, along with a tea room for its patrons.

The Site of the Playhouse Cinema in December 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.Taken over by Walter Bentley in 1929 the Cinema then had a Compton Theatre Organ installed. It was later taken over by Union Cinemas in 1935, who were themselves taken over by ABC in 1937. The Playhouse was closed in July 1940 due to the war but was refurbished and reopened in April 1946 by its new owners the Essoldo Chain.

Right - The Site of the Playhouse Cinema in December 2017 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

The Playhouse Cinema was closed on the 26th of August 1962 and demolished for the construction of a supermarket on the site.

Some of the above information on the Playhouse Cinema, Folkestone was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website who also have some photographs of the Theatre here.

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

The Playhouse, Bayle Pond, Folkestone

From the ERA, 14th of May, 1891

A Google StreetView Image of The Bayle, Folkestone where the Bayle Pond is situated today on the left, and opposite it the rough  site of the Bayle Playhouse - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of The Bayle, Folkestone where the Bayle Pond is situated today on the left, and opposite it the rough site of the Bayle Playhouse - Click to Interact.

Our Folkestone correspondent, writing in Holbien's List about the old theatre, says:- "There was nothing about the building suggesting the modern idea of a Patent-Safety Theatre - such structures as are now erected and advertised as 'absolutely fireproof,' in which the materials won't burn, and in the construction of which the uses of wood is reduced to the minutest minimum.

The old Folkestone playhouse was built long before advertising had arrived at such a pitch, and had wooden weather-boarded well-tarred walls, while the timbers in the roof were like the building of a ship; in fact, the shape of the roof was not dissimilar in appearance to an old boat being placed keel uppermost for the purpose. It had a wooden gallery for the gods, close up to the roof and reached by a steep wooden ladder, and crowding in this part overflowed to the wooden beams and rafters, a "full house" looking as if that part of the audience had gone to roost in the cock-loft! Under the gallery were the boxes - also of wood - reaching round each side of the auditorium, and their ends becoming the 'stage-boxes.' The pit had of course, a wooden floor, sloping down to the stage with fixed wooden benches without backs.

The stage was wood, the proscenium was wood, over the stage was a wooden green-room garret, and under it the stage-carpenter's wooden workshop was filled with wooden shaving! Added to this, against the front of the playhouse was a rickety wooden shed used as a stable, and serving the double purpose of perfuming the playhouse and keeping on hand a ready supply of straw wherewith to start a blaze. No, there certainly was nothing whatever of the Patent-Safety Theatre about it. It rather seemed like inviting a fiery fate. But perhaps our forefathers put implicit faith in the efficacy of the supply of water from the Bayle-pond so close at hand opposite the entrance.

Certainly the building was insured, or our memory deceives us, for we seem to have a distinct recollection of one of those tablets being affixed on its front which in old times advertised the 'Kent' Fire Office, while they warned would-be incendiaries it was no use to set fire to such buildings if they wished to inflict injuries on their owners.

It is curious, however, to think how such a building came to be erected at all. It was undoubtedly designed for the purposes of a playhouse, and yet when it was erected the total population could not possibly have exceeded 3,000, and the capacity of the playhouse would not be more than sufficient to accommodate 300.

Large rents for theatres - and such a theatre - were not expected, and large salaries for 'star' actors and actresses had certainly not yet been invented; but there must have been some inducement for building playhouses in such towns as ours. There appears to have been one at Hythe also, judging by the fact that they still have a Theatre-street. The preservation of a playbill serves admirably to exhibit the dramatic tastes of our ancestors, their habits when taking their amusements, and the strength of dramatic companies that then visited this part of the country as strolling players.

W. S. Penley as 'Rev. Robert Spalding' in 'The Private Secretary' - From Players Past and Present - A set of 25 cigarette cards depicting Theatre Stars of the Day - Issued by John Player & Sons in 1916 - Click to see more of these cards.Mr Penley, jun., and his position in the cast, seem, to link the old times with the present, and the performance of The Weeder at the Pleasure Gardens Theatre last year is a proof that the bill of 1810 was instinct with life that still survived in 1890. 'Doors open at six, to begin at seven o'clock,' is suggestive, but there is no intimation of time for 'carriages.' Looking at the length of the 'bill,' its preludes and epilogues, it must have been near midnight before the end was reached.

Right - W. S. Penley as 'Rev. Robert Spalding' in 'The Private Secretary' - From Players Past and Present - A set of 25 cigarette cards depicting Theatre Stars of the Day - Issued by John Player & Sons in 1916 - Click to see more of these cards.

Folkestone is not - and never was - known as the most successful 'pitch' of the strolling player. Managers do not - and probably never did - make special efforts to reach it when mapping out a route for touring purposes! And this legacy of poverty, or want of appreciation of the dramatic art, has come down for generations, and seems as applicable to-day (excepting for about two months in the year), as at any period during the present century; and it is no more unusual now for business to be 'frosty' and for the hour of 'treasury' to be exacting, than it has ever been.

Not many years ago the late Mr Charles Dillon came for a fortnight's stay, and brought his company all the way from Northampton (fares about £17!) to play at the Town Hall Hamlet, Belphegor, and other noted characters of the great tragedian. On the first night there was 'a rush,' when, unfortunately, it was impossible to play, the company having only just arrived in the town. Whether this disappointment was the cause of the failure of the visit we cannot say, but Hamlet had to be played with something like 30s. or £2 only 'in the house;' and before the end of the visit the favourite prelude to the evening's performance was Mr Charles Dillon, parading up and down in front of the hall and anathematising the heaths of passers-by, for such an utter want of appreciation of the greatest living tragedian 'who was in their midst.

In the old days - somewhere in the twenties, the celebrated Buckstone came to Folkestone as a stroller and occupied the old playhouse. But somehow, the company to which he belonged had fallen on evil days - business was bad and they had tried their very best and most attractive devices to allure the natives to the Thespian treats prepared for them, and had utterly failed. There were just a few - as there always are - who knew what was within the powers of the young comedian, and who hoped for better things; but from bad to worse the business sank, and Buckstone soon found himself stranded amongst strangers. We can imagine his coming out of the old playhouse and contemplating, on moonlight nights, the lunar reflection in the Bayle-pond, which in legendary lore once prompted a native to fish for 'green-cheeses!' And Possibly the coming comedian went home to his humble lodgings supperless to bed, perchance to dream of The Green Bushes, Good for Nothing, and other delightful playwright's work, which he subsequently wrought, and of his future brilliant reign at the Haymarket. But Buckstone fell ill, poverty's pinch pressed him sore, and his positions became really desperate. A few friends, however, rallied round - and among them, we believe, was the late Alderman Caister, and when convalescent, yearning to reach London, Buckstone was sent off with the merchandise in one of the Folkestone Hoys, and the sea-passage company with kind Captain Spicer to the metropolis pulled him round, at the tide that wafted him up the Thames was probably that which led 'on to fortune.'

Amateur theatricals have always been indulged in at Folkestone, and the old playhouse has witnessed many such performances, both ancient and modern, The Rivals being a specially favoured comedy in the old time. But it was also greatly successful with 'marionette shows - Middleton's Puppets generally securing good audiences.

There is a special corner in our memory that holds a vital picture of such a performance; one that has never since been surpassed for real dramatic interest; although it was within a year or two of the time when we witnessed Douglas Jerrold's Black Eye'd Susan at the Surrey in its palmy days, with Mrs Honor as the heroin, and the celebrated T. P. Cooke as William.

What the title of the drama was we forget, but the final scene was as exciting as that of Harbour Lights, and may possibly have inspired Mr G. R. Sims or Mr Pettitt with the dénouement of the modern melodrama, 'Lights down' and a storm is raging at sea, with a ship battling against the elements and being driven 'dead on' - to the accompaniment of vivid flashes of lightening and terrible claps of thunder - to a rocky shore at a point where the waves dash against a precipitous overhanging cliff.

A crowd of puppets on the precipice anxiously witness the vessel approaching her doom, and express with uplifted arms and bending legs the trepidation they are in for the safety of the crew. On she comes, however, and, striking on the rocks, her foremast instantly goes overboard with a jerk. One of the crowd on the cliff then approaches and, standing on the very edge, bends over to look at the impending catastrophe, perfectly oblivious of the laws of gravity. Having apparently satisfied himself, he shakes his head, straightens himself up and returns to his comrades and soon, with gestures that seem to threaten to sweep the others over the cliff, he comes again to the precipice and apparently standing standing tiptoe on nothing, throws a lifeline over to the ship, with cheers from the audience.

Did the rocket apparatus inventor conceive the idea of his patent from this episode in the play? The vessel all this time had seemingly been deserted, but now innumerable occupants - all dressed alike, and all the same size - present themselves one after another from the cabin, and go below again after having a look round; leaving the man on deck to climb up the rope as soon as it has been secured to the stump of the foremast.

Then a lifeboat appears, but as she is between the wrong waves, she is unable to come near enough to be of any service, and with a special clap of thunder goes off. It does not appear possible that the men can be pulled up the cliff, so they commence to climb the rope, and here were exhibited the special talents of puppet performers.

As each successfully gained the summit the cheers of the spectators on the cliff and the applause of the audience demonstrated the joy of all. But the exigencies of the drama demand a special excitement before the curtain comes down, and the ship begins again to toss and bump, and another jerk carries away her mainmast as the last of her crew commences to climb the rope. Most of the others have reached the top of the cliff with apparent ease, but all hopes are now centred on one who seems to have no idea whatever of climbing. He must be a 'stowaway' or some landlubber passenger, for he tries again and again, and slips back as if the rope has become a greasy pole.

The excitement of the audience rises as each attempt fails, and at last our friend on the cliff has another look over to see what's the matter; and, having satisfied himself, straightens his back, and without hesitation takes hold of the rope with his feet and slides down to the ship's deck where the non-climber stands, and then commences the task of climbing the rope with the man on his back. This seems to come comparatively easy to him, although there is a final struggle on the very brink of the cliff when both seem in danger of tumbling over but at the supreme moment the wreck is engulfed, the men are saved, and - curtain!"

The above article on the Bayle Pond Playhouse was first published in the ERA, 14th of May, 1891.

This Playhouse Theatre should not be confused with the later Playhouse Cinema on Guildhall Street, Folkestone, see details above.

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