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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

Theatres and Halls in Greenock, Scotland

Introduction - Assembly Hall and Early Theatres - New Theatre / Theatre Royal - Theatre Royal (& West End Music Hall) / Palace Theatre / Pavilion Theatre / Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties - The Western Concert Hall - Cooke's Circus / Alexandra Theatre / King`s Theatre / Odeon Cinema - Empire Theatre - Argyll Varieties - Lorne Music Hall / Queen`s Rooms Varieties - Greenock Arts Guild Theatre / Beacon - Greenock Town Hall - Port Glasgow Theatres

Information on the Moss Family including Edward Moss

The Custom House, Greenock in 1820, painted by Robert Salmon - With kind permission the McLean Museum & Art Gallery. Greenock, and its neighbour Port Glasgow, became major shipbuilding centres on the Clyde. To begin with they were a row of small villages when during the 17th century a Fishing Company was started by Royal Charter, initially for whaling and the processing of blubber for the new Soaperie in Candleriggs, Glasgow and then for the more lucrative and plentiful herring.

Right - The Custom House, Greenock in 1820, painted by Robert Salmon - With kind permission the McLean Museum & Art Gallery.

The trade was controlled by the merchants and magistrates of Glasgow, some twenty miles upriver, to the extent that a herring became known as “a Glasgow magistrate.” Herring was cured, packed and exported to the Continent in vast quantity.

The wealth from herring, the shipping of cargoes, and the growth of the sugar trade – making it a Sugaropolis second only to London – all created the town of Greenock and with it the establishment of its first Theatres.

The Assembly Hall and Early Greenock Theatres

The oldest surviving playbill of a theatrical performance in the town is for Folly`s Mirror staged in 1788 at the Assembly Hall. This was a:- “Dramatic Medley as performed 40 nights successively at the Royalty Theatre, London, being a compendium of all that is odd, queer, droll, witty, funny, comical, diverting, laughable and out of the way"

This theatric feast will consist of three courses and a dessert. The public may rest satisfied that nothing has been omitted to render this entertainment worthy their attention. They will find it at least a savoury repast; each dish being highly seasoned with the pepper of satire, the all-spice of wit, the cloves of genius, and greatly powdered with the genuine attic salt.

Front seats, two shillings. Back seats one. Children, half-price. To begin at half past seven o`clock. Tickets to be had at the principal inns, and at W McAlpine`s printing-office.”

Although earlier records show that in 1779 an honest Frenchman made his appearance in town for the purpose of teaching dancing. He petitioned the Magistrates and Town Council to get the Loft at the Royal Closs, centre of the Fishery Company, after school teaching hours; but was refused, lest the “tripping on the fantastic toe" might injure the cellars, and bring the town into unnecessary expenses.

Around the end of the 18th century plays were staged, with permission of the magistrates in premises in Rue-end in the counting room and premises of grain merchant Robert Angus. Seasons became longer usually with the authority given “to perform within the liberties of Greenock for the number of 36 days, excepting Saturdays, and within the space of twelve weeks, such plays as may now be acted in any of the established theatres of the kingdom.”

A Greenock Theatre newspaper advertisement for 'Heir At Law', 'Irish Wake' and 'The Romp' from the Greenock Advertiser of December 1802 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Around 1802 the lessee and manager at this time was W. H. Moss, active also in Dundee and later in Dumfries and the Isle of Man, but of no connection to Edward Moss, future founder of the national Moss Empire Theatres, who settled as a young man in Greenock much later in the century. Stephen Kemble also staged plays, in a temporary theatre, before planning a permanent one to be known as the New Theatre.

Right - A Greenock Theatre newspaper advertisement for 'Heir At Law', 'Irish Wake' and 'The Romp' from the Greenock Advertiser of December 1802 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Tontine Society was formed and successfully started subscriptions in 1802 to build and operate a new hotel, the Tontine duly opening in 1805 in Cathcart Street with 30 bedrooms and 12 sitting rooms. (In the 1890s the Tontine relocated itself to its present site at Ardgowan Square.) In the same month of 1802 subscriptions were also advertised and gathered for the erection of a Tontine Theatre but it was never built and the subscriptions were returned to members. Most likely this encouraged Kemble to build his own, described as the New Theatre.

In the 1820s mention is made of a place of entertainment called the Lyceum at the foot of the Vennel, which was possibly a temporary theatre.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The New Theatre, 2 Mansion-house Lane, Greenock

Later - The Theatre Royal / Parthenon

Stephen Kemble Theatre owner and actor - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Actor and producer Stephen Kemble, born into the established theatrical Kemble family, was active in the 1790s in managing theatres including Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. He also operated from a temporary theatre booth in Greenock`s West Breast and resolved to build and operate the first permanent theatre in the town. The site chosen was a plot at 2 Mansion-house Lane, just off Cathcart Street and opposite the newly built Tontine, up from the equally new Custom House.

Right - Stephen Kemble Theatre owner and actor - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Town Map of 1825 enlarges on the National Library of Scotland site here to show the theatre adjacent to Cathcart Street. The Theatre is denoted by the key letter K, and is directly behind Greenock Exchange and Assembly Rooms which opened in 1814. To keep certain classes apart the lane contained the entrance to the theatre gallery, while the boxes were entered through the adjacent Exchange! (The new Assembly Rooms continued with soirees and concerts into and beyond the 1830s and to the 1850s largely under the direction of the Tasker family of sugar refiners.)

Kemble`s Theatre, often referred to as the New Theatre, opened in 1808 with the comedy of the “Poor Gentleman”. Naturally his own Kemble Company was dominant, with Mrs Kemble in many plays, while Kemble revelled in the role of Falstaff. Visiting companies were also attracted. Tickets ranging from 2s 6d in the Pit, 3s 6d for Boxes and 6d to 1s for the Gallery, were available from the Tontine, White Hart Inn and Stewart the Bookseller, and others.

Kemble, the same year, petitioned the magistrates against others setting up theatres but despite this a Mr Asker was given permission to open a Theatre in Crawfordsdyke in consequence of his production EVENING MIRROR having been interdicted by Mr Kemble. Asker declared that “his plays shall only be performed that tend to interest the mind and inspire the heart, and satire used only to lash vice and folly from Society.”

In the early 1800s performers often came to the New Theatre from the Theatre Royal, Queen Street, Glasgow and from Edinburgh. Lessees included the ubiquitous Francis Seymour from Ireland, who was a colleague of actor Edmund Kean.

In June 1812 the New Theatre, "substantially built, is advertised for sale by John Kemble (of Durham) son of the late Stephen Kemble. Complete with wings, scenery and other decoration, ready to open at one hour`s notice... for £2,400, one half of which could be a loan secured over the property. NB - The premises are advantageously situated for Warehouses or the accommodation of a society.”

It continued under new ownership and in June 1813, with the patronage of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart and Lady Shaw Stewart, a Grand Fancy Ball was arranged by the lessee Henry Johnson who also managed the Theatre Royal, Ayr.

THEATRE, GREENOCK
GRAND FANCY BALL

The Theatre on this occasion will represent a GRAND SALOON illuminated with several Hundred Variegated Lamps, after the manner of the King`s Theatre, Haymarket, - the Boxes will be decorated with Evergreens, each forming an Alcove, for the purposes of Refreshments, and retiring from the GRAND PROMENADE, which will be formed by a Platform over the Pit and Stage. Separate Orchestras will be erected, and several eminent Performers engaged – the whole forming Military and Pit Bands.

Refreshments to be furnished by Mr Weddell, Confectioner - Dresses, Dominos, and Masks, from London, to be had of Mr Nightingale and Mr Urquhart, who will attend in appropriate Dressing Rooms for those who wish to support Characters in the Masquerade.

The Painting and Ornamenting by Mr Rae and Assistants.
The whole will be conducted in a style of
Novelty and Elegance.
Doors to be Opened at NINE O`CLOCK
Tickets Half a Guinea each

By Particular Desire, the Gallery will be opened for Spectators, Five Shillings each.
Carriages to be set down, and take up, with the Horse-heads towards the east end of Cathcart Street.

A Theatre Royal, Greenock Newspaper advertisement from November 1834 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The theatre was opened for seasons in each year, a season being normally three months, followed by a break and then another season. The building now acquired the name of Theatre Royal, after being known as the Parthenon for a short time.

Right - A Theatre Royal, Greenock Newspaper advertisement from November 1834 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Greenock attracted circuses including Newsome`s and especially Cooke`s Circus – who later had a family agreement not to compete in towns occupied by Hengler`s. Cooke`s often used the Theatre Royal and could be as dramatic as any tragedian company on the boards. Much later they added variety programmes. In his review in 2000 of Shakespeare being performed in novel ways David Mayer of Manchester University writes:-

“When, in the summer of 1843, William Cooke advertised his "Royal Circus" to the people of Greenock one of the featured performers was his son Alfred. Standing on a horse's back and circling the ring at a slow canter, Alfred entered costumed as Shakespeare's Falstaff leading his ragged recruits to slaughter at the Battle of Shrewsbury. From this position Alfred recited Falstaff's soliloquy about the follies and limitations of honour and then, still standing on his horse's back, shed the Falstaff costume to reveal a second dress, that of Shakespeare's Shylock, complete with prop knife and scales with which to extract his pound of flesh from Antonio's bosom. In the character of Shylock and declaiming a mixture of lines from several scenes of The Merchant of Venice, Cooke continued his circling canter. For a second time he shed his costume, revealing beneath the Shylock robe the battle attire of Richard III, and in his final equestrian circles of the ring Alfred Cooke shouted out his desire to exchange his kingdom for a horse. As the Royal Circus playbill promised, "So far as can be portrayed on Horseback, MR ALFRED COOKE will delineate the varied and conflicting feelings which moved the breasts of JOCUND FALSTAFF, the USURIOUS and RELENTLESS JEW, and the AMBITIOUS and CRUEL RICHARD." - David Mayer, Manchester University.

Watkins Burroughs, Lessee and actor at the Greenock Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.By the 1830s the theatre was owned by sugar refiner Duncan Shaw whose family became partners in the extensive Westburn refinery of John Walker & Co. In 1834 when leased to John Dale the stage was shortened and space added to the pit with the Greenock Advertiser reporting:- “The interior has been tastefully painted; the proscenium is absolutely and gorgeously executed; and aided by the flood of light which streams from the splendid gazalier suspended from the centre of the roof, has a remarkably fine appearance. Every part of the house is cheery and comfortable. Dale`s company was efficient, the orchestra well appointed and the scenery and dresses are in good company with the other arrangements.”

Left - Watkins Burroughs, Lessee and actor at the Greenock Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

When the Greenock Mechanics Institution was looking for its first premises it considered the theatre in 1835 but considered it impracticable for their educational and social purposes.

Despite the productions which included new plays by John Galt, who had settled in the town, attendances were variable. Lessees would change and new drop scenes emerge. Lessees included the return of Johnson, arrival of Mr Purius, and of Messrs Fisher & Evans. In 1845 the Town Council sponsored a performance in aid of funds for Public Baths when the actor-manager was Watkins Burroughs who had also leased the theatre in 1835 when he was proprietor of the Belfast Theatre, and before that of the Liverpool Theatre. Visits by the Edmund Glover Company from the Prince`s Theatre Royal, West Nile Street and the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, Glasgow won attention and Glover would soon decide to open his own Theatre Royal in the town, in West Blackhall Street.

Henry St Ody, lessee and dance academician - Music sheet 1858 published in USA - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In 1852/53 the lessee was M. Henry St Ody. While the M stood for Monsieur it is not clear if he had any French connection. He migrated in 1854 from Glasgow to the USA and settled in Buffalo, NY, successfully presenting shows in the American Hall and other venues in the town for many years. A musician, composer, “prince of tableau artists” and dancing master, he developed his own Dance Academy there.

Right - Henry St Ody, lessee and dance academician - Music sheet 1858 published in USA - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in Washington in April 1865 the arrangements for the funerary train to arrive in Buffalo for open casket viewing and a solemn service in the city were aided by Henry St Ody. The newspapers report that the hearse was designed by M St Ody and built under his direction by Mr Cheeseman and Mr Dodge, “and was altogether a magnificent affair”. The appearance and layout of St James Hall for the funeral was conceived by M St Ody and put together under his direction. On that day an estimated 100,000 persons passed through the Hall to pay their respects at the coffin before it went on by train the following day on its route towards the President`s final resting place in Illinois.

In the 1850s the painter and academician Samuel Bough lived for a time in Port Glasgow and was a scene painter in the theatre, later being a painter for Edmund Glover in Glasgow. Of Samuel Bough`s many paintings one of Port Glasgow Harbour can be seen here.

What had started as Kemble`s theatre finally closed in 1856 after being bought by sugar broker and refiner William Anderson, whose firm later became part of Westburn Sugar Refineries. Anderson had pioneered the town`s first “Refined Sugar Sample Room” and now rebuilt the Mansion House Lane property as the town`s first Sugar Exchange. Looking back then the papers said:- “In nights of yore it was frequented by the beauty and fashion of Greenock. Its well-trod stage echoed to the footsteps of Kean, Macready, Pitt, Knowles, Brooke, TP Cooke, Harry Johnson, Weekes, Matthews, Helen Faucit, Fanny Kemble and others of the sock and buskin.” And not forgetting J. H. Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North!

About its change to a Sugar Exchange:- “Some time ago it was bought to convert into offices and shops to be converted into a building of two flats, the lower to be a wholesale grocery warehouse, and the upper to have offices and a Sugar Exchange for refiners and brokers to meet, consider samples and transact business. In Kemble`s building Hamlet has now given way to HAM, and Bacon to BACON.”

The founding of the Greenock Sugar Exchange was to compete with the established and larger Sugar Exchange in Glasgow. In future decades one of Greenock`s leading refiners, Abram Lyle, joined with Henry Tate of Liverpool to create the firm of Tate & Lyle. Situated next to the railway station, to which it had its own entrance, the Sugar Exchange was active in bargain making “resulting in business transactions of no ordinary magnitude.” The Caledonian Railway Company introduced “a handsome saloon carriage reserved for the comfort and convenience of the sugar brokers who travel daily betwixt Glasgow and Greenock to the Sugar Exchange in the latter town.”

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Theatre Royal & West End Music Hall, 38/40 West Blackhall Street, Greenock

Later - The Palace Theatre / Pavilion / Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties

And information on The Western Concert Hall

The Greenock Theatre Royal in the late 1860s - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock

Above - The Greenock Theatre Royal in the late 1860s - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock

A Sketch of (Samuel) Edmund Glover (1813 - 1860) - Courtesy the Glover family.On 27th December 1858 a new Theatre Royal opened, in Greenock’s West Blackhall Street at a cost reported at £8,000. The promoter and proprietor was the esteemed Edmund Glover – actor, producer and painter – who owned the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, Glasgow and leased the Prince`s Theatre Royal, West Nile Street.

Right - A Sketch of (Samuel) Edmund Glover (1813 - 1860) - Courtesy the Glover family.

Designed by the prolific firm of architects and surveyors of Joseph Potts & Son of Sunderland it held 1,600 customers, with entrances similar to the Dunlop Street theatre and with a black and white marble floor. The proscenium had Corinthian columns, and the building facade had niches for statuary; the newspapers declaring on its opening after an evening of “Much Ado about Nothing”:- “The boxes were occupied by a number of the elite, the ladies being in full dress, the pit well filled and the gallery crowded. It was lighted by a range of handsome crystal lustres above the boxes; the ventilation was perfect, and there was an agreeable warmth in all parts of the house. The decorations are white and gold and the ornamentation extremely chaste and elegant. The fronts of the boxes are adorned with scrolls, alternated by medallions, containing groups of figures in bas relief on a blue ground.

The drop curtain, painted by CF Fisher is artistically effective, and very appropriate. It represents a statue of James Watt, with Sciences and Plenty seated at his feet; while in the background are depicted the quays and harbours of Greenock, with the shipping in the foreground, and in the distance the river stretching up to Dumbarton Castle.”

Many of the plays and operas now came to Greenock from the Royal in Glasgow.

A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for MR LLOYD Saturday December 10 1859 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.Earlier the papers reported on the laying of the foundation stone:- “In September 1858 the laying of the foundation stone of the new Theatre and West End Music Hall took place, the ceremony being attended by various lodges mustered in the new Town Hall. These consisted of the Provincial Grand Lodge, West Renfrewshire; Port Glasgow Dorric; Glasgow Thistle and Rose; St Mary`s Partick; Glasgow Thistle; Glasgow St Clair; and Greenock St John. Mr Glover, the originator and proprietor of the new theatre, was present, and brought with him a splendid instrumental band from Glasgow, and the Greenock Thistle Brass Band was present in fine uniform.”

But layouts of new theatres could bring accidents. The Paisley Herald & Renfrewshire Advertiser of 26 March 1859 reported on the plight of Horatio Lloyd:- “An Accident of a most painful nature occurred to Mr Lloyd on Monday evening. It appears he was returning from the boxes by a private staircase in the new Theatre at Greenock, and on reaching the last step but two, slipped and fell with his face against the wall, with such violence that his tongue was cut completely in half. He was immediately attended by Dr McCall, who sewed the parts together, and through whose excellent treatment and kind attention Mr Lloyd is fast recovering.”

Left - A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for MR LLOYD Saturday December 10 1859 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

Over 200 of the early playbills are in the McLean Museum & Art Gallery in Greenock, and some in December 1859 have this NOTICE at the foot:- “In consequence of the great destruction of Mr Glover`s Bills since the opening of the Theatre Royal, Greenock, the Police have instructions to take note and Punish any person found defacing or destroying them. It is hoped that after this warning this disgraceful practice will be discontinued, as it may be the means of bringing the offenders into trouble.”

Louisa Pyne, singer and opera promoter - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Glover now developed the second part of his ground and opened the Western Concert Hall, designed by architect William Spence of Glasgow, with a grand concert on 16th May 1860. Midway in size between the Town Hall and the Assembly Rooms, the new Hall seated 700, and was adorned with opera paintings by the scenic artist Thomas Dudgeon. It opened with vocalists of the Pyne Harrison Company including Miss Louisa Pyne (shown right), Mr William Harrison, Mr Corri and others. Affectionately known as the Skylark she was in charge of the Pyne Harrison Opera Company and operated two companies, one in the USA and one in Britain.

Right - Louisa Pyne, singer and opera promoter - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Her companies were of national standing, considered as Britain`s first “national opera company” and regularly appeared in Glover theatres, among others. Edmund Glover gave occasional Lectures on Elocution, and Readings from Shakespeare, and in addition to concerts the hall became a venue for meetings, exhibitions and weddings.

A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for ROB ROY, Monday 30 October 1865 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.Sadly Edmund Glover died in October 1860 but his widow, actress Elizabeth Glover, continued in charge with the help of Alexander Wright, one of the Glover staff, as treasurer and resident manager. He had first trod the boards in 1845 in the town`s earlier Royal when the Glover company visited.

Of Edmund Glover the Greenock Herald wrote:- “He had a high sense of his mission which was to make the West of Scotland a school for the development and appreciation of poetry and art. In Glasgow on one occasion when he had lavished large sums on gorgeous representations of the Shakespearian drama, and spectacular exhibitions, he was railled by a friend on what he called the waste. Edmund Glover replied: 'Venice was mercantile, and if you give me time, I shall give Glasgow the taste to appreciate what is good.' In Greenock one of his pantomimes at the Theatre Royal did not take as well as might be expected. 'It is too much of a novelty as yet', said Glover, 'when they understand this sort of thing they will like it'.”

The pantomime in question was “Babes in the Wood, or, Cock Robin and the Cruel Uncle, produced with Great Splendour and Outlay by Mr Edmund Glover and his son Mr Sam Glover.” An example of Glover`s land and seascape painting can be seen here.

Left - A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for ROB ROY, Monday 30 October 1865 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

Architect Joseph Potts was engaged again, this time in Glasgow in 1863, to redesign and extend the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street for Mrs Glover following a major fire.

It was much enlarged, with the theatre auditorium becoming almost a circle, accommodating 3,000 people. Some five years later the railway companies were crossing the Clyde to build new termini in Glasgow city centre and Dunlop Street and other streets were about to be demolished. At this point Mrs Glover leased the Greenock Royal to Alexander Wright in 1868. When the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street was sold and demolished in 1869 three of its statues were erected in the niches at the Greenock theatre. At this time her son William Glover took up the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow. For most of the next three decades Wright ran the theatre with distinction, latterly with his sons. For a decade he had his own stock company of actors and actresses numbering around 20, house and technical staff of about 10 and an orchestra of 9, in addition to visiting stars and companies. Pantomimes produced by him including those written by William Lowe often had the tag line:-

“Gie me nane o` yer lip,
I`m Jock McFie, frae Innerkip.”
The McFies were sugar barons living in their Inverkip estate.

A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for THE QUEEN`s MINSTRELS, 5 February 1876 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.Alexander Wright was held in high regard by the citizens and in 1874 they presented to Mr & Mrs Wright a silver tea service and £100 as a token of their appreciation. He also staged productions in the Drill Hall, Paisley. During 1876 there were extensive alterations to the Royal and to the Western Hall. However in 1879 he was sequestrated, but managed to reach a deal to pay off some of his debts to creditors. Possibly his predicament suffered from the major fire that year at William Glover`s Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow which ended Glover`s own lease, destroyed costumes and scenery and ended the pipeline of productions for over a year.

Right - A Greenock Theatre Royal playbill for THE QUEEN`s MINSTRELS, 5 February 1876 - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

Wright resumed as lessee by special arrangement but lost the Royal in 1886 when the Mexican tragedian Senor Edgar Colona gained the lease for three years. His real name was Edgar Chalmers, the son of a Scots mining engineer working in Mexico. In the mid 1880s Wright turned to staging concerts and entertainments in the Greenock Town Hall. In 1887/88 William Rushbury was one of a number of lessees at the Glasgow Royal and he also leased the Greenock Royal but ran out of money. (He later bounced back with his own Concert Party of some 40 performers touring halls throughout Scotland with recitals, plays and pantomimes; and in 1896 he was the first to present cinematographe in Greenock.) With an opportunity in the summer of 1888 to resume at the Royal, the impecunious Wright wrote, with success, to Sir Henry Irving to borrow £100 to allow him to refurbish the theatre and take up a 5 year lease. Assisted by his two sons Wright continued to be in charge until his death in 1902.

With the passing of Mrs Glover the entire property, scenery and fittings were put up for sale in 1896, comprising the Theatre, Western Hall, and the Wine & Spirit Shop (leased to Joseph Arthur) in its front underflat. The successful bidder was Arthur and he continued the theatre lease to Wright. At this time the Greenock press wrote:- “Tragedy, comedy, opera, burlesque, pantomime, concert, have all been put before the public during the thirty eight years... great actors and actresses have trod the boards of our theatre. Sir Henry Irving has played in it at a salary of £2 a week, and in later years with his world famous impersonation of Hamlet has packed it with people at double prices.”

In October 1899 Wright announced he would intimate from the stage each night the results of the races for the America Cup on the evenings of the race. The country hoped that Sir Thomas Lipton would win! Joseph Arthur owned property next to the theatre including the Waverley Temperance Hotel and the large site on the corner of West Blackhall Street and Ker Street which was once the venue of Cooke`s Circus and now had a temporary theatre established in the late 1890s as the Royal Circus of Varieties managed by agent George Weldon (well known in circus variety venues on both sides of the border) on behalf of the lessees who were the Greenock Entertainment Syndicate which included Joseph Arthur and Bailie William Bentley McMillan, a future Provost of the town. Both were keen to see a new variety theatre formed.

NEW VARIETY, NEW NAMES

The Greenock Theatre Royal as the Hippodrome - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

Above - The Greenock Theatre Royal as the Hippodrome - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

Once the dust had settled on prolonged jousting to start new permanent buildings, namely the Empire Theatre and the Alexandra Theatre, the Theatre Royal changed to become a vaudeville theatre in 1905 initially planned to be linked in management to the Alexandra. The old Royal had its first name change - to the Palace Theatre, taking its name from Joseph Arthur`s original plans for the corner site at Ker Street, and was managed by George Ashton of Glasgow.

The following year the theatre changed to be the Pavilion Theatre, associated with the new Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow and several managers took turns at running it including Sam Lloyd who returned to the Glasgow Pavilion and later became the first manager for the new Olympia, Bridgeton Cross, Glasgow in 1911.

In 1908 the theatre was leased to Harry L Skivington of Greenock and remodelled and reseated to be the lively Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties, but which also staged plays. Skivington, by training a sugar boiler, was the son of a wine and spirit merchant. He headed the Greenock Concert Company and also leased the Empire from around 1906 to 1910. He also became general manager of the new Rothesay Pavilion in the resort`s Montagu Street in 1910 which provided roller skating, concerts and variety.

Greenock Provost W. B. McMillan - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Harry Skivington continued in charge of the Hippodrome till his death in 1918. He was a business colleague of Provost W. B. McMillan (shown left), and fellow shareholder in Greenock Morton Football Club and in the mighty Olympia Theatre, Glasgow pioneered by McMillan in 1911. Having been unable to open a new variety theatre in his town of Greenock Provost McMillan instead opened the Olympia Theatre of Varieties in his native city of Glasgow at Bridgeton Cross near where he had been born and brought up.

Left - Greenock Provost W. B. McMillan - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Hippodrome eventually closed on 1st December, 1923 and a public sale took place of furnishings and effects. The statuary ended up installed in Auchmountain Glen and the building was scheduled for demolition to make way for road widening. However it remained (empty) for six years – with residents complaining of a lack of theatre – and was only demolished in 1930.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Alexandra Theatre, West Blackhall Street, Greenock

Originally planned to be the Palace Theatre of Varieties

Formerly - Cooke's Circus / Royal Circus of Varieties - Later - The King's Theatre / Odeon Cinema

The Greenock Alexandra Theatre Circa 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - The Greenock Alexandra Theatre Circa 1908 - Courtesy Graeme Smith

The site of what would become the Alexandra Theatre had been used for many years by Cooke`s Circus and others including the Scottish Entertainment Company in the 1880s when the manager was W. H. Howard, later manager of the Gaiety / Empire Palace, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. The circus stood on ground owned by publican Joseph F Arthur who in 1896 became the owner of Greenock`s Theatre Royal nearby.

By the late 1890s the galleried building, known now as the Royal Circus of Varieties was leased to The Greenock Entertainments / Amusements Syndicate, and the venue was managed by George Weldon, respected agent and designer for circus variety business in Britain, and later in Canada. Admittance was 1d, 6d and 2s.

Cooke`s Circus headquarters, very top left building (on Prince`s Pier) which briefly became a music hall - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.Looking back from the 1920s John Donald writes in the Greenock Telegraph:- “This was a temporary structure leased to the Greenock Amusement Syndicate, and managed by George Weldon. It had been vacated by Mr John Henry Cooke and his circus company, and it may be mentioned that Mr Cooke was also followed in a building (long since demolished) in Campbell Street, at Princes Pier, by a music hall, which however had a short life.

Right - Cooke`s Circus headquarters, very top left building (on Prince`s Pier) which briefly became a music hall - Courtesy the McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock.

The West Blackhall Street house was opened on 11th September 1899 and lasted for two or three seasons during which there appeared J W Ashcroft (“The Solid Man”), Tom Bassett, T W Harper, George Formby (Senior), N C Bostock (a spent force; Jack Carkeet, Alec Munro of Govan, and Bain of Wishaw, wrestlers; Datas, “the living almanac”; and other noted performers.”

Cooke`s Circus had their headquarters in Campbell Street at Prince`s Pier which provided their winter base and from which they also shipped animals, their attendants and equipment to the USA for their tours in America, and linking with the Cooke family members there.

The Planned New Circus and Theatre of Varieties Greenock in 1900 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In November 1900 Arthur proposed a NEW CIRCUS & THEATRE of VARIETIES, with a pit, balcony and gallery to accommodate 2,000 people, and appointed the Greenock firm of Boston, Menzies & Morton as architects, while George Weldon complained the architects had pinched his ideas.

Left - The Planned New Circus and Theatre of Varieties Greenock in 1900 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Newspapers described the plans:- “The style of architecture is Italian with special treatment of the windows, bold projecting eaves and other ornamental features, with the brick walls treated with terra cotta at the front, and a combination of terra cotta and tinted roughcast lining the staircase walls. Shops are to be on each side of the wide arched entrance.

The building is primarily designed for a circus, having a permanent ring, but, as required, by a rearrangement of the back portion of the house a stage may be added with the usual accessories, the area within the ring seated, and the building thereby converted into a commodious and well-arranged Theatre of Varieties.”

However the papers reported in September 1902 that J. F. Arthur had received sanction to erect the new circus and variety theatre on his vacant ground at West Blackhall Street and Ker Street but due to unavoidable circumstances these plans would not be carried out. Instead he appointed his architects Boston, Menzies & Morton to design a modern Music Hall for which he had purchased more premises around the site, including Crawford Street at the rear.

Arthur obtained Dean of Guild consent for the new theatre, but almost exactly a year later in 1903, and his health failing, he sold the site to a syndicate, now headed by R. C. Buchanan of Glasgow, which had been thwarted in building Greenock`s Empire Theatre. Associated with Buchanan was the architect Alex Cullen of Hamilton who now became theatre consultant to the Greenock architectural firm. The new theatre was to be the Alexandra Theatre, and opened on 10th August 1905 one year after Arthur`s death.

Its founding company was the Greenock Theatre Co Ltd, with R. C. Buchanan as managing director, the Wright brothers the resident directors, and the largest shareholder the J. F. Arthur Trust. It accommodated 1,800 people and had a striking circular dome above its entrance and a circular foyer leading to the pit and stalls, and two tiers, the first containing the Dress and Upper Circles and the second containing the amphitheatre and gallery. There were 10 boxes, two at pit level, four at dress circle level and four in front of the gallery. The auditorium was finished in French Renaissance style, with plasterwork of cream and gold, while for those in the orchestra stalls there was a green Axminster carpet and seating finished in old gold velvet. The stage opening was 28 feet, and dressing rooms numbered eleven in all.

An early postcard showing the King's Theatre, Greenock on the left and the Hippodrome on the right - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Productions were booked through Buchanan`s associated theatres, which included the Grand, Glasgow and others, but the Alexandra Theatre never made a profit and the company was liquidated in 1909 at which point John James Wright bought the theatre and promoted it his way, changing its name to be the King`s Theatre.

Right - An early postcard showing the King's Theatre, Greenock on the left and the Hippodrome on the right - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

His brother Alec went off to join the Glebe Sugar Refining Company, but maintained an interest in the King`s. The King`s presented a width of productions including performances by George Edwardes, Walter Bentley, Sir J. Martin Harvey and his wife, Zena Dare, Matheson Lang, the ubiquitous Mrs Patrick Campbell, Fay Compton, and occasional visits by Carl Rosa Opera and the D`Oyle Carte Opera Company.

In 1926 it was bought by the Bostock Circuit of theatres which had been started by E. H. Bostock of the Scottish Zoo and Glasgow Hippodrome, Glasgow who ran cine variety in addition to plays, before selling it in 1928 to Sydney Friedman and family, of early London cinemas, who converted it to a full time cinema – and retaining the stage. It was directed with verve and style by their son Reginald Friedman. During World War II it also served as the Garrison Theatre for Greenock, on Sunday afternoons.

The Rank Organisation took over in 1955 and a modern 1,500 seat Odeon cinema was created within the shell of the building to the designs of architect Lennox Paterson, involving the removal of the balcony, boxes, stage and dressing rooms. It closed in 1969 after a Compulsory Purchase Order was made to straighten the road. It was demolished in 1973, the site remaining an empty plot of land, used for car parking. Images of the Odeon can be seen on the Scottish Cinema website here.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Empire Theatre, Manse Lane, Hamilton Street , Greenock

The Greenock Empire Theatre in the 1950s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - The Greenock Empire Theatre in the 1950s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Greenock Empire Theatre Programme cover - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Empire in Manse Lane at Hamilton Street won the accolade of being the first purpose built variety theatre in Greenock and opened its doors in 1903. By the 1890s (Sir) Edward Moss, from Greenock, was well on his way to building the largest group of variety theatres known in Britain, Moss Empires, which encouraged many to emulate his success. But this new venue had no connection to the Moss Empires.

Right - A Greenock Empire Theatre Programme cover - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In December 1899 a new venture was floated in Glasgow and Greenock to establish The British Variety Theatre Company Ltd and build their proposed Greenock Empire Palace theatre in Manse Lane, on ground owned by the publican John McCormick who would become a director. The theatre would hold 2,000 people and the site would also have shops and offices. The architect would be the distinguished David Barclay, designer of major buildings including Greenock Municipal Chambers, who had also designed the very new Lyceum Theatre, Govan for clients of Glasgow accountants George McCulloch and his brother – secretaries to the Greenock venture.

A cartoon from the Bailie of W. F. Frame, Managing Director-to-be of the Empire Palace when planned - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In the new company one of its directors was Bailie W. B. McMillan, a future Provost of Greenock, and head of the largest billboard advertising company in Scotland (part of David Allen & Sons who were the largest theatrical printers in the world.) And the managing director was W. F. Frame (shown left), who had made his debut in James Baylis`s Scotia, Glasgow in 1867 and was now possibly the leading entertainer in Scotland before being overtaken by Harry Lauder. Willie Frame was also the principal founder of the Scottish Musical Artistes Benevolent Fund in 1895 (part of today`s Show Business Fund) and the originator of a rest home for artistes the same year in Eaglesham, to the south of Glasgow. By contrast the English Fund for artistes did not open their retirement home, in Twickenham, London, until 1911. Frame`s amiable and illustrated memoir of music hall days, published in 1907, can be read online here.

Left - A cartoon from the Bailie of W. F. Frame, Managing Director-to-be of the Empire Palace when planned - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

But the grand adventure stumbled when John McCormick and his brothers Edward and Henry (each with their own public houses) decided to promote and build the Empire themselves and they appointed their own architect Thomas Kennedy who practised in Greenock and Glasgow. In Glasgow he had worked alongside William McIlwraith who, in the 1870s, had designed the Gaiety Theatre, Sauchiehall Street which transformed to Glasgow Empire in the 1890s. For their part the McCormicks knew about managing entertainment. In fact John McCormick was the last lessee, for one week in 1887, of the Varieties Hall, formerly used by the Moss family, in Hamilton Street before it became a Salvation Army hall.

Empire Theatre, queue in Manse Lane, Greenock in 1933 for an unemployed matinee - Courtesy of George Woolley.Stymied in their own plans for an Empire the first syndicate promoters turned their attention to J. F. Arthur`s proposal for a New Circus & Theatre of Varieties in West Blackhall Street close to the Theatre Royal. The first theatre, of a number, to be built by the combination of R. C. Buchanan and the Regent Property & Assets Co Ltd of Glasgow was the New Century Theatre in Motherwell which opened in 1901 to the designs of architect Alex Cullen of Hamilton.

Right - An Empire Theatre, queue in Manse Lane, Greenock in 1933 for an unemployed matinee - Courtesy of George Woolley.

The Empire`s red sandstone front had pavilions at each end, and the stalls and circle held 1,000 people, latterly 920. (This was half the size of the first plans.) Inside, the decor was French finished with plaster garlands, and ceiling paintings.

John Donald writes about the Empire in the Greenock Telegraph in 1923:- “This the first building separately designed for use as a music hall in Greenock was erected by the brothers John, Edward and Henry M`Cormick and opened on 16th March 1903 under the management of Pierce Butler, formerly ringmaster to Mr John Henry Cooke. Excellent turns were brought and good business was done twenty years ago. The salary list has been as big as about £200 per week as for example when Milo (representing statuary), Chung Ling Soo, and another big star appeared with lesser lights, all in the same company. WJ Ashcroft, T Barrett, JW Rowley, Slade Murray, Charles Coburn, and Walter “Viscount” Munroe were also here at different times; but they were all past their best. The drama too was represented, notably by Mr John Lawson (“Only a Jew” in his play of “Humanity”.)"

One of a number of rising stars was Harry Tate.

A Greenock Empire stage variety scene in the Coronation year 1937 - Courtesy Bob Bain

Above - A Greenock Empire stage variety scene in the Coronation year 1937 - Courtesy Bob Bain

The next lessee was Harry L Skivington from 1906. He also became lessee of the Hippodrome, formerly the Theatre Royal.

In 1910 it became a cine-variety house as part of J. J. Bennell`s BB picture house chain, and in the mid-1920s it was operated by Mr & Mrs A Swan as a well attended variety house with stars such as Charlie Kemble, Ellis Drake and O'Reilly's Vaudevillians. When their lease expired at the end of 1927 they announced their intention to convert a building in Argyle Street to become the Argyll Varieties hall.

A Greenock Empire Theatre flyer for 'Here We Are Again' in 1950 - Courtesy Colin Calder.The Empire was then owned for a few years by the Bostock Circuit of theatres and cinemas founded by E. H. Bostock originator of the Scottish Zoo and Glasgow Hippodrome. The Bostocks continued cinema and variety – but sold the building in 1933 to another entertainment family – brothers George and David Woolley and their father, whose family had a billposter and advertising firm based in Paisley. The two brothers had been running the Argyll Varieties for almost six years. It held 800 people and never made much money, whereas the Empire held 1,000.

Right - A Greenock Empire Theatre flyer for 'Here We Are Again' in 1950 - Courtesy Colin Calder.

For the next 24 years the Empire staged variety shows, revues, plays and pantomimes with well respected names including Short & Dalziel and their Logan Family including Jimmy Logan, Lex McLean, and Donoghue & Ramsey, and rising stars such as Denny Willis, Roma Derry & George Johnstone, and Chic Murray & Maidie. It was also a base for amateur companies. It closed due to the impact of television in 1957 – and amateur companies moving to the newly opened Arts Guild Theatre – and was sold to Greenock Corporation the following year, while the Woolleys concentrated on public houses. A furniture store occupied the premises for 10 years until its demolition as part of a town centre redevelopment.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in bNovember 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Argyle Varieties, Argyle Street at West Stewart Street, Greenock

The Greenock Argyll Varieties building in its later years - Courtesy Viki McDonnell

Above - The Greenock Argyll Varieties building in its later years - Courtesy Viki McDonnell

This building started in 1835 as St Andrews Free Church until the congregation moved to new premises in Margaret Street. It was taken over as an Italian warehouse by Messrs Robert MacSymon & Co, the firm having a large west-end trade. When they expanded in the late 1920s to another site the building was structurally altered by a new company to become a music hall, with A. Swan as its first manager. Mr & Mrs Swan had been running the Empire under a three year lease, which was now expiring. The architects were Boston, Menzies & Morton who designed the stage, rectangular proscenium, fly tower, dressing rooms, pit and cantilevered gallery; accommodating a maximum 900 people. It opened on the 1st of October 1928 as the Argyll Varieties complete with tip-up chairs, and advertising itself as “Greenock`s Cosy Corner”. Prices were 1/6d, 1/-, 9d., and 6d.

A Google StreetView Image of the former Argyle Theatre, Greenock - Click to Interact.Early performers included Jack Raymond and Dr Walford Bodie. For most of its six years it was operated (and owned) by the two Woolley brothers who moved in 1933 to take up the larger Empire theatre.

Left - A Google StreetView Image of the former Argyle Theatre, Greenock - Click to Interact. The image also shows the former 1914 B B Cinema, now derelict.

It became a boxing arena but was taken over by the Mechanics’ Institute when they were bombed in the 1941 Clydeside Blitz.  During the war it also became a welfare centre. It later became a shopping arcade, leisure centre, discotheque, and latterly a furniture store all with the pit covered over.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Lorne Music Hall, 39 Hamilton Street, Greenock

Later - The Queen's Rooms Varieties / Moss's Hall of Varieties / The Gaiety Music Hall

With information on the Moss Family including Edward Moss

Hamilton Street, Greenock Circa 1907 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - Hamilton Street, Greenock Circa 1907 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

By the mid 19th century there were half a dozen “Free and Easies” in public houses in the town. In 1872 James Moss (1833-1882) introduced variety music hall to Greenock by creating the Lorne Music Hall in the Queen`s Rooms, Hamilton Street. He also trained his son Edward (known as Ted) very well, as a performer and as a manager. Edward soon developed his own business and became Sir Edward Moss, chairman of Moss Empires Ltd, the largest company of variety theatres ever known in Britain.

William Gribbon Ross - Courtesy Graeme Smith.But before James Moss, one of his colleagues W. G. Ross (shown right) tried to run a high class music-hall in the Mechanics Institute. Historian RM Smith records the time:- “An attempt by a Glasgow man named W. G. Ross to run a high-class music-hall ended disastrously in the loss of £200 in a few months in 1863; and the Mechanics Institute directors could hardly feel surprised when he wrote them:— “It is with great pain I am compelled to relinquish my endeavour to give cheap concerts to the people of Greenock. When I first thought of coming here, I said in my mind that Greenock is the only town of any magnitude that has not got some amusement nightly without intoxicating drinks, so I tried Greenock with cheap concerts for the people, and have carried them on without any assistance for the last four months, and with, I think, honour to myself and at the same time with great loss.”

Right - William Gribbon Ross - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

William Gribbon Ross had trained as a compositor then became a celebrated concert singer in Glasgow and London in the 1840s and 50s. W. G. Ross was acclaimed for his comic singing and famous for his dramatic enactment of his grisly Ballad of Sam Hall, and other lyrics. While trying to establish music hall in Greenock he was also the last lessee of the Shakespeare Singing Saloon, Saltmarket, Glasgow.

Pioneering James Moss was born in Lancashire around 1833, the son of a mason; and in 1851 in Ashton-under-Lyne he married 18 year old Martha Bagueley who was a power loom weaver. She became a vocalist and sang with James, who also played violin and harmonium. Their first son Horace Edward Moss was born in 1852 in Droylsden. James Moss performed in the singing saloons and halls in an around Manchester until the early 1860s when they moved to Glasgow – performing in the city and its surrounding towns from Paisley to Falkirk. And also touring round more distant parts of Scotland. Edward Moss completed his education in Glasgow and received his musical training from Andrew Banks, of Buchanan Street.

Willie Frame recalls in his own Memoir in 1907:- “Jim Moss, as I must affectionately call him, was among the pioneer of variety touring companies.

Providing a` the folk wi` mirth,
Frae John o` Groats tae Solway Firth.

He was known as “the fiddling comedian”. He was a great favourite in “Davie Broon`s”, Dunlop Street, Glasgow, and on one occasion fulfilled an engagement which ran for thirteen consecutive weeks. He perhaps was not a Paganini or a Paderewski, but he was equally at home with the violin and piano.”

James` venues in Glasgow for his performing as a character singer, comedian and instrumentalist included Greendyke Hall (with the Social Reform Society); Brown`s Royal Music Hall; Prince`s Theatre, West Nile Street in comic pantomime; James Baylis`s Milton Colosseum, and his Scotia; Henglers Cirque; Whitebait Concert Rooms; and in the City Hall, Candleriggs he staged his own Monstre Concert with a bill of artistes, and his own New Songs – the advertisements stating:-

“FIVE POUNDS in Cash will be given to the BEST AMATEUR COMIC SINGER in Glasgow – the Audience to judge and decide by a show of hands.”

A Newspaper advertisement for the Lorne Music Hall opening by James Moss in June 1872 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.After being well received in variety at Greenock Town Hall the family settled in Greenock in June 1872 where James took up his own leased venue in Hamilton Street, the town`s main thoroughfare, and adapted it to a music hall, opening with the advert (shown right.)

Right - A Newspaper advertisement for the Lorne Music Hall opening by James Moss in June 1872 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

His advertisements soon expanded:-

LORNE MUSIC HALL
QUEENS’ ROOMS GREENOCK
ANOTHER GREAT CHANGE OF COMPANY TONIGHT
THE GREAT ATHLETIC WONDERS, TONIGHT
The charming SISTERS STUART in new duets
tonight, and a host of First Class Artistes
tonight and during the week
Prices – Mondays and Saturdays 4d, 6d, and 1s
other nights 3d, 4d, 6d, and 1s
Half price Front Seats at a Quarter to Nine
Doors open at 7 commence at 7.30
Saturdays half an hour earlier
Season Tickets – One Guinea.

Sir Edward Moss in 1911 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Their son, young man Edward Moss, was manager ensuring strict control and he accompanied on piano where required. The Greenock Telegraph reported the opening:- “MUSIC HALL - Mr Moss`s venture in introducing into Greenock a Music Hall on principles different from any previous entertainments of the kind proved a decided success last night. The Queen`s Rooms were crowded last evening, and numbers were not admitted because of want of accommodation. The performances were of a varied description, and for two hours the audience gave demonstrative signs of their approbation of the effort to please their new spectators on the part of each artiste. The Music Hall gives promises of being well patronised by the working-classes, particularly on Saturdays and Mondays.”

Right - Sir Edward Moss in 1911 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Another newspaper observed the change to the Rooms:- “On the occasion of Mr Moss opening his Hall of Varieties in the Queen’s Rooms on Monday night the hall was crowded. The interior of the building has been entirely renovated. Curtains are hung around the boxes, giving them a comfortable and finished appearance. The front has also been tastefully decorated, and mirrors have been fixed in the shape of pillars. Besides these a new piano has been added, to the great relief of those who ever sat and heard the old one. “

The newspapers reported regularly, an example on 21st October being:– “At the conclusion of the performance at this Music Hall on Saturday night, the “Little Shamrock” was presented with a gold medal, as expressing Mr Moss’s satisfaction at having her as an artiste. To-night Mr Moss presents the public with a programme of great variety, and a company of ten artistes including the following :- The Great Dusoni family of Star acrobats, first appearance in Greenock, Mr & Mrs Hubert O’Grady, Irish duettists, Dick Schofield, comic and motto vocalist, Tom Sandford, negro comedian and pedestal dancer, Mr Will Trant, comic. Mons Pierrot, one legged dancer having completed his engagement left on Saturday night.

Young W. F. Frame appeared; Greenock`s Harry Linn was a great favourite, and the Lorne Minstrels established themselves. A journalist H. G. Gibbert, published in 1916 his memoirs of “Fifty Years of a Londoner`s Life,” writing of the Moss family -“For years James Moss adventured shows of all kinds, and soon he found his son, Horace Edward Moss, a useful assistant. The boy had a particular aptitude at music, and played the piano for a "troupe" which had painful vicissitudes. The Franco-German War of 1870-1871 brought about a change in the fortunes of the Mosses. They concocted a panorama which put them in possession of a little capital. And
still, they were careful. (While performing in Campbeltown) this advertisement proved most attractive to the musical member of the firm:

"Glenburn Abbey — An old piano by Clementini in tolerably good
order for its age. Mr MacAlister will give it to any person who will
take it away.”

A conveyance, fitting the circumstances, was procured; and the piano went into the Moss stock. Father and son entered into possession of the Queen's Rooms, Greenock, and transformed them into a music hall. They seemed on the way to success when the landlord, enamoured of their ideas, resumed possession, by virtue of a faulty lease, to run his own programmes. The conventions of melodrama demand that the landlord should fail. He did.”

But James Moss found other premises in the town and continued. He used the Mechanics Institute Hall in Sir Michael Street from August 1873 calling it the Royal Lorne Music Hall and started his own orchestra of five players including his son, before returning to the Queens Rooms in February 1875 which he reopened as Moss`s Hall of Varieties. He provided clean entertainment at good prices and ran each venue profitably. At Christmas and New Year he ran special productions; and some productions enacted by children. At intervals through the year there were singing and dancing competitions.

The Mosses decided to expand in Edinburgh, Glasgow being well provided for in entertainment. Edward and his wife Ellen, daughter of a livery stable keeper in Lancashire, maintained a home in Gourock where their daughter was born in 1877. When his father retired in 1878 Edward Moss and family moved residence to Edinburgh.

Edward Moss on the right with Richard Thornton seated, about 1900 - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure 1949.The Queen`s Rooms continued for variety under many lessees, and varying titles latterly as the Gaiety Music Hall, until about 1887. In its last two years it was leased to Sam Picton, entertainer, who moved on to run the Alhambra Varieties, Aberdeen. The Queen`s Rooms were later occupied by the Salvation Army up to the 1920s.

Left - Edward Moss on the right with Richard Thornton seated, about 1900 - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure 1949.

With his father`s help Edward Moss tried a number of sites in the capital, with varying results. The better was the tiny old Gaiety in Chambers Street which he renamed Moss`s Theatre of Varieties, and his annual festive tenure of Waverley Market also proved lucrative.

The Moss-Thornton-Stoll Circuit list from around 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In 1892 he headed the building and opening of the first of his Empires, the Empire Palace Theatre of Varieties in Nicolson Street – which continues today as the Festival Theatre. One of his next new theatres was the Empire Palace in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.

By now he was associated with Richard Thornton of Newcastle and Oswald Stoll joined from Cardiff. Moss Empires became the byword for high quality variety, and soon became the largest company of theatres in the world; its early flagship being the London Hippodrome. Edward Moss became the first music hall impresario to be knighted, in 1905, seven years before his passing.

Right - The Moss-Thornton-Stoll Circuit list from around 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1949 Moss Empires Ltd celebrated 50 years of business by publishing their Illustrated Jubilee Brochure.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

A postcard view of Sir Edward Moss`s residence of Middleton House, Gorebridge - Courtesy Phil Wilson and Peter Stubbs, Edinphoto.

Above - A postcard view of Sir Edward Moss`s residence of Middleton House, Gorebridge - Courtesy Phil Wilson and Peter Stubbs, Edinphoto.

The Greenock Arts Guild Theatre, Campbell Street, Greenock

And its successor - The Beacon, Custom House Quay

Custom House Quay postcard view by Valentine in the 1880s - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - Custom House Quay postcard view by Valentine in the 1880s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Greenock PlayersThe birth in 1946 of The Greenock Arts Guild and its theatres and art centres, for amateur and professional productions, came about as the town considered during 1945 how to establish a war memorial that would be “something worthy of the sacrifice of the fallen, and of practical value to those who have survived.” The Greenock Telegraph took a leading role and encouraged ideas to come forward. At the final of the West Renfrewshire Drama Festival in 1945 the newspaper`s managing director Ryrie J Erskine Orr declared that man-made beauty was something desperately lacking in Greenock. He suggested that the town should build a theatre as a war memorial – “a beautiful and living theatre that would be the headquarters of all the cultured arts.”

The Beacon Theatre`s angular glass exterior at the Customs House Quay in 2013 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Arts Guild was started and the former West End Baths built as a private swimming club in Campbell Street in 1881, and which closed in 1941, were bought. Over the next three years plans were made and material and money gathered to convert the building. At the same time the Guild promoted productions in a number of other Halls, accommodating The Intimate Opera Company, Cygnet Ballet, Perth Repertory Theatre, Bertha Waddell Children`s Theatre, Glasgow Jewish Institute Players, the Scottish Junior Singers, and others.

The first part to emerge was the Wallace Bennet Theatre - named in memory of one of the town`s RAF servicemen – which replaced the Club`s former billiards room. When opened it was the first new theatre in mainland Britain for over two decades. Messages came from near and far - from such as Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Sir Malcolm Sargent, John Gielgud and Sybil Thorndyke.

Right - The Beacon Theatre`s angular glass exterior at the Customs House Quay in 2013 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Arts Guild developed as an arts centre and a community theatre and performing centre for professional and amateur companies alike. In 1956 The Greenock Players, formed in 1943, were the first amateur dramatic company in Scotland to be televised, live from its home stage. When moving in 2013 to its new premises The Beacon on the waterfront next to the Custom House and the East India Harbour the Guild spoke warmly of its origins saying:-

The Final Curtain – Arts Guild Theatre – 1949 to 2012

The Arts Guild auditorium and stage - Courtesy Graeme Smith.“Greenock Arts Guild Ltd. was founded in 1946 as a not for profit company whose aims are to promote and encourage participation in arts activities. The Guild as it is affectionately known purchased a disused private swimming baths and set about converting it to an arts centre which first opened its doors in 1949, with the small, 100 seat, Wallace Bennett Theatre and two meeting rooms.

Right - The Arts Guild auditorium and stage - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The main theatre, with 500 seats, opened in 1955 in what had been the swimming pool. The slope of the pool floor made for good audience sightlines when it became the stalls, with the stage being constructed at what had been the “deep end”. In the ’60's further meeting rooms and a scenery store were added. The 1980's saw the Wallace Bennett Theatre converted into a flexible studio space.

Having served the community of Inverclyde for over 65 years, the Arts Guild Theatre closed our doors for the last time on Saturday 8th December 2012.

The Beacon auditorium viewed from the stage - Courtesy The Beacon.The Guild will then move to its new purpose build home, The Beacon Arts Centre, on Greenock’s waterfront. After nearly 9 years of planning, design, construction and, of course, raising funds, we are almost ready to open the doors of The Beacon and show everyone what we have been so excited about for so long.

Left - The Beacon auditorium viewed from the stage - Courtesy The Beacon.

On behalf of Greenock Arts Guild, the charity which will continue to own, manage and operate The Beacon, we should like to thank all of our funders, donators, staff and volunteers for helping to make the Beacon a reality and for giving the community of Inverclyde one of the best arts centres in the UK.  A warm welcome awaits everyone at The Beacon.”

A short slideshow of Greenock Arts Guild buildings old and new by Robin Currie can be seen here.

More about The Beacon, its activities and programme can be found on its own website here.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

The Town Hall, Hamilton Street, Greenock

Greenock Municipal Buildings and Town Hall at night - Courtesy Inverclyde Views

Above - Greenock Municipal Buildings and Town Hall at night - Courtesy Inverclyde Views

A Greenock Telegraph advertisement from the 23rd of December 1899 for Arthur Lloyd, King Lloyd, and Annie King Lloyd performing at the Town Hall, Greenock.Both the old Town Hall in Hamilton Street and its successor Town Hall which started in the 1880s as part of the very substantial Municipal Chambers provided a venue for classical concerts, operetta, plays and variety. W. T. Rushbury latterly of the Theatre Royal introduced cinematographe to Greenock with a week of films being shown in the Town Hall in July, 1896, the year the invention was introduced to Britain.

Every weekend into the 1900s, and sometimes every week depending on season, the Hall provided variety shows with some 10 -14 turns, and occasional diorama shows. The Livermore Court Minstrels were regulars at festive seasons in the 1890s. The Imperial Hall in Rue-end Street also staged variety for a time in the late 1890s.

The Town Hall accommodated over 1,000 people. Today it continues to be available for concerts, conferences, weddings and public meetings.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here, in addition to appearing at the Theatre Royal. And show are two advertisements from the Greenock Telegraph.

Right - A Greenock Telegraph advertisement from the 23rd of December 1899 for Arthur Lloyd, King Lloyd, and Annie King Lloyd performing at the Town Hall, Greenock.

The Town Hall featured in the early days of Harry Lauder, as the Scottish Theatre Archive explains:- “He answered an advert for a comedian with a Scottish concert party tour, and soon found himself in Beith acting as baggage-man, bill-poster, stage- carpenter and ticket collector as well as doing his own three turns on the programme.

A Greenock Telegraph advertisement from October 1872 for Arthur Lloyd and Company performing 'Two Hours Genuine Fun' at the Town Hall, Greenock. The pay was thirty-five shillings a week and the tour covered Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, the Borders and central Scotland.

Left - A Greenock Telegraph advertisement from October 1872 for Arthur Lloyd and Company performing 'Two Hours Genuine Fun' at the Town Hall, Greenock.

After the tour however, there were few offers of work and Lauder was forced to return to the mine until he was given the chance of New Year week at Greenock Town Hall, deputising for J C MacDonald. After another month at the mine, he was offered, through MacDonald's influence, a tour of the Moss and Thornton halls in the north of England, ending up with two weeks at their Scotia and Gaiety theatres in Glasgow. Lauder took the contract and left the pit for good. He later wrote that his first music-hall tour "knocked the rough corners off my acting."

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

Port Glasgow Theatres

A Newspaper Advertisement for the Theatre, Port Glasgow in June 1813 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In Port Glasgow, some three miles to the east of Greenock, it is known that a Theatre was in operation from early date, but little record exists of it.

A proposal was made in February 1889 to re-open the Theatre Royal, Chapel Lane, by Ralph Silvester, proprietor of Dumbarton Theatre, which sat on Dumbarton Common.

He applied to the Port Glasgow magistrates to perform stage plays. It was noted then that the building had been without a tenant for some years.

Right - A Newspaper Advertisement for the Theatre, Port Glasgow in June 1813 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Mr Hamilton`s music-hall in the town became the Salvation Army`s Hall in the 1880s onwards.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in November 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre please Contact me.

Other Pages that may be of Interest