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

 

The Alexandra Music Hall, 73 Cowcaddens Street, Glasgow

Formerly - The Star Music Hall - Later - The Colosseum Music Hall / The Oxford Cafe Concert and Music Hall / The Royal Music Hall / The Alexandra Assembly Rooms / Pringle's Picture Palace / The Bijou Picture Hall

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A drawing of the Front Elevation of the Alexandra Music Hall, Cowcaddens, Glasgow, which was situated above the main entrance to the Theatre Royal in Cowcaddens - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - A drawing of the Front Elevation of the Alexandra Music Hall, Cowcaddens, Glasgow, which was situated above the main entrance to the Theatre Royal in Cowcaddens - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The immense Royal Colosseum & Opera House complex built at the top of Hope Street in 1867 for James Baylis, and designed by architects Clarke & Bell, included the music-hall sitting over the main entrance to the Royal Theatre in Cowcaddens. The hall's name of Alexandra Music Hall would prevail for most of the 19th century with a few exceptions noted below. However, an early name was the Star Music Hall (chosen by whom is not yet known) and likely mirroring the name of the nearby Star Temperance Hotel already established in Cowcaddens Street. Sadly James Baylis died in 1870, before which he had leased out the Royal to William Glover; with Baylis's widow Christina now focussing upon the family's Scotia Theatre in Stockwell Street.

The Alexandra Music Hall - Drawn from surviving records by Ian Hepburn FRIBA - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - The Alexandra Music Hall - Drawn from surviving records by Ian Hepburn FRIBA - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In his trade advert in the Era of 22 October 1871 the equally respected H. T. Rossborough, lessee and manager of the Britannia Music Hall in the city's Trongate declared: "Important Notice to Music Hall Professionals: - HT Rossborough wishes it to be thoroughly understood that he is in no way connected to the Star Music Hall, which lately closed, and is now reopened and known as the Alexandra Music Hall, Cowcaddens, Glasgow."

In February 1879 fire engulfed most of the Theatre Royal but, fortunately, because of a change of wind that night the Alexandra Music Hall was largely spared although there was damage due to water and smoke. In April 1879 the owners, led by Andrew Yuille, announced plans to improve and enlarge it by building above the single storey shops at the corner of Hope Street. And the opportunity was taken to rename it the Colosseum, a name which lasted for a few years. The hall continued to be used for music-hall entertainment, drama, public and political meetings and occasional preaching.

The London and Provincial Entr'acte of 6 March 1880, aided by the promoter's puff, reported in detail (while Glasgow newspapers gave scarcely a line):-

OPENING OF THE NEW COLOSSEUM MUSIC HALL, GLASGOW

'On the site of the old Alexandra Music Hall, which formed the Cowcaddens front of the Theatre Royal, burned in February, 1879, this new hall has been built, and re-christened the Colosseum, that being the old name of the Theatre Royal, when opened by the late Mr. Baylis, of the Scotia, taking in an available space of 30 feet over the corner shops at Hope-lane, the outside measurement is now 120 feet of a frontage, with a depth of 72 feet. A great improvement has been made in the main entrance, which now faces the main thoroughfare, and is lighted by two lamps over the doorway; besides this there are also entrances from the two lanes on either side -- wide, and entirely built of stone. The vestibule, 15 feet wide, is tessalated with tiles, the walls and staircases being decorated with panelled figures, an artistic stained-glass window being let in over the doorway, thus giving the approach to the hall an appearance it never had in the old days. The same may be said of the interior, the colouring of the ceiling especially, which is in graduated pale tints; while the shapely curve given the circle is most pleasing to the eye. The internal measurements are 80 feet from the back of the pit to the footlights, with the stage 20 feet deep. The proscenium, the decorations of which are highly effective, has a height of 18 feet by 17 feet wide. Immediately behind, and in close proximity to the stage, are the artists' dressing rooms (ten in number), raised a few steps above the stage flooring, while below them is a large room, the whole width of the building. At right angles to this is another room of similar size, purposed to be made a refreshment bar, with smoking-room attached. At the front of the house are situated a complete set of lavatories, with washing apartments. There are yet to make two stage-boxes on either side of the proscenium, which, when finished, will make the hall in its entirety most complete, and will, as it does even now, reflect great credit on its designers. It is calculated to hold 1,600 comfortably seated, and is divided into stalls, pit, circle, and gallery.

A crowded audience welcomed the artists engaged for the opening week, among whom are; Castelotti, a clever performer on the trapeze and bar, Will Hicks, negro, with his little dog, who played some clever pranks; Hicks also gave capital selections on the concertina; Messrs. Vincent and Russell, in their duets, being loudly encored, as were Harly and Goodwin in their sketch "Low Life." Frank Mack rendered "The Wolf" in finished style, but is evidently not accustomed to the manners of the Glasgow rough. Miss Evelin Trevor also showed herself to be a good vocalist. Mr J H Kavanagh, Ada Wilson, Harry Gent, and Alf Manderson also appeared. The hall is under the management of Mr Fred Vincent, late of Bradford; the band having Mr Henderson as leader; the drop scene, not his best effort, by Mr Milne.' - The London and Provincial Entr'acte, 6th of March 1880.

An advertisement for 'New Men and Old Acres' followed by 'Jenny Lind at Last!' at the Colosseum Hall, Glasgow on the 18th of May 1881 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.At this time the main Theatre, the Theatre Royal, was rebuilding and would open again in October 1880. The promotional piece for the new Colosseum Music Hall shown above refers to its 15 feet wide central vestibule and to "wide" entrances from lanes at either side. In reality, once the Theatre Royal reopened it took over the 15 feet wide vestibule for its own use, and the side lane entrances and exits were not very wide, causing the city council concerns for safety.

Right - An advertisement for 'New Men and Old Acres' followed by 'Jenny Lind at Last!' at the Colosseum Hall, Glasgow on the 18th of May 1881 - Courtesy Graeme Smith. Its 14 artistes in the performances included professional actresses Julia Sleaman and Amy Glover, sister of the Royal's William Glover.

From 1880 to 1883, and known as the Colosseum Music Hall, or Colosseum Hall, it was a base for the Glasgow Amateur Dramatic Society. The Society's stage manager, the painter and illustrator Forrest Niven, started an acting family including his daughter Margaret (of Bunty Pulls the Strings) followed by her own son Sir Dirk Bogarde. The Society's Patron was the actor Walter Bentley, prominent in Britain, America and then Australia, where he founded the Australasian Actors Association. He was born in Edinburgh as William Begg, son of a Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. By the late 1880s Howard & Wyndham, led by Michael Simons, took ownership.

The Oxford Cafe Concert and Music Hall

For six years from 1890 to 1895 John Johnston Yuile - who had previously run his own art gallery in the city's Union Street, and from 1888 had opened his girl-orientated music hall, the Oxford Café Concert, at 136 Sauchiehall Street – moved his entertainment operation round to Hope Street by leasing the Alexandra Hall which sat above the Cowcaddens entrance to the Theatre Royal. Open from 8pm to midnight and on Saturdays from 7pm to 11.30pm, admission 6d, it provided vocal and instrumental music with variety guests and above all his various corps of ballet which he promoted as his charming young ladies and beauties. Variously the corps were headlined as the French Ballet, Spanish Ballet, Turkish Ballet, Singing Ballet, Black & White Ballet, New Skirt Ballet, Fairy Ballet etc.

An Advertisement for the Oxford Cafe Concert Hall in April 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Yule advertised his new Oxford Café Concert venue as "beautifully decorated and fitted out in Oriental style." He encouraged visits to his Café Concert after patrons had been to the Opera in the Royal and other venues.

Left - An Advertisement for the Oxford Cafe Concert Hall in April 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Soon his strap line in adverts was "To Visitors and Strangers, the Place to Spend a Jolly Evening." He claimed to have the only Café Stage in town, although another existed in Buchanan Street, in Parisian style.

At the city's Licensing Court in April 1893 John Johnston Yuile's application for a drinks licence was considered. The newspapers reported: "The music hall, with its gallery and stage, contained three bars and 12 small circular tables but no intoxicating drinks were sold. The usual music hall entertainment was gone through, principally after 11 o'clock at night. The police superintendent reported - that female waitresses went about serving men and sat down beside them. They have now put uniforms on the waitresses. Gentlemen came to the hall after the public houses were closed, and brought whisky in bottles with them which they mixed with the coffee and stuff which was supplied to them. There are six waitresses and three barmaids. The names of a number of very able artists appear on the bills."

The licence was granted on condition that the waitresses were not allowed to sit down beside the men, nor the artists to come off the stage and sit in the body of the hall in the friendly way they had been doing. The place would have to be conducted as an ordinary music hall."

The Royal Music Hall

A Cine-variety advertisement for the Royal Music Hall, Glasgow in April 1899 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.By the end of the 1890s cine-variety held sway in the old Alexandra Music hall, organised by Arthur Hubner and in 1899 showman Arthur Hubner from South Africa was advertising the Hall as the Royal Music Hall with prices similar to his Britannia Music Hall in the Trongate, but reserved seats could be had only at the Royal.

Right - A Cine-variety advertisement for the Royal Music Hall, Glasgow in April 1899 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He introduced Cinematographe, adding it to the variety acts. By April he was advertising two performances nightly 6.30pm and 9 pm, finishing at 10.45pm. “The doors are quite distinct, the first house leaves by separate exits.” Prices were cut almost in half to Gallery 2d, Pit 3d, Balcony 4d, Stalls 6d, and Chairs 1/-, with higher prices on Saturdays and Holidays in the winter.

The same artistes moved around his three halls, Britannia, Paisley Empire Music Hall, and the Royal. The Royal Music Hall closed for a long summer and opened again in the winter. By 1900 it was empty.

In 1904 it became known as the Alexandra Assembly Rooms (much more refined!) before becoming the Bijou Picture Hall. There is a programme for the Alexandra Music Hall here.

Ralph Pringle and the Bijou Picture Hall

A Cine- variety advertisement for Pringle`s Palace and the Alexandra Hall, Glasgow in April 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Ralph Pringle had worked as a manager for the Thomas-Edison Animated Picture Company in Newcastle. However, by 1901 he linked up with Moss, Stoll and Thornton, the music hall proprietors, and exhibited as the North American Animated Photo Company in Glasgow, Dundee and England. In the next seven years he constantly commissioned filmmakers such as Mitchell and Kenyon to make topical non-fiction films important to each town. On 19th March 1908 he opened Pringle's Picture Palace at the Alexandra Hall, charging 2d to 6d.

Right - A Cine- variety advertisement for Pringle's Palace and the Alexandra Hall, Glasgow in April 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

After the summer the Alexandra changed its name to the Bijou Picture Hall, which locals called the By Jove during its twenty year life. A performance comprised silent film, vaudeville acts, and the supporting Bijou band. Pringle started a Go-as-you-Please competition on Wednesdays, while on Thursdays “Every Lady will be admitted Free to all parts if accompanied by a Gentleman.” Some Thursdays had a Hair-dressing Competition. A ticket for the Bijou can be seen here

The Bijou continued until 1929, when it became a store for owners Howard & Wyndham Ltd, and continued as a store for Scottish Television in the 1950s when STV bought the Theatre Royal to start commercial television services. STV demolished the Hall in 1969, replacing it with new storage and workshop space which was in use until the television company moved to Govan some 40 years later.

More about the Hall as a cinema can be seen here on the Scottish Cinemas website here.

The above article was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in 2014, and is in part from his book 'THE THEATRE ROYAL: Entertaining a Nation', Details here. Graeme added more details to the page in December 2017 and April 2019.

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