The Holloway Empire, 556-564, Holloway Road, Islington
Formerly - The Empire Palace of Varieties / Empire Palace
The Holloway Empire was situated on the corner of Holloway Road and Manor Gardens in Islington, and was designed by the well known and respected Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague. The Theatre was constructed by Mr. Longden of Sheffield for Oswold Stoll in 1899 and first opened as the Empire Palace of Varieties on the 4th of December 1899 with a capacity, on three levels, of 1,210. The stage was 65' Wide by 35' Deep.
The ERA visited the Theatre, shortly before it opened, and published a sketch and a review of the building just 2 days before it opened, in their 2nd of December 1899 edition saying:- 'This new theatre of varieties will open its doors to the public on Monday evening next, the County Council having on Thursday confirmed the recommendation of the Theatres and Music Halls Committee to grant a licence.
Right - A programme for a Music Hall show at the Holloway Empire Palace Theatre for the week beginning 29th of August 1904. On the Bill were Gus Elen, Grace Merton, The Harvey Boys, Nina Martino, The Ohms with their Ponies, Bears, Dogs and Monkeys, Maude Mortimer, The Brothers W. & W. Ethairien, Ernest Shand, and the Bioscope. The Musical Director was Thomas Gray.
The building is situated in that busy North London thoroughfare known as the Holloway-road, at the corner of Manor-gardens, only a few minutes' walk from the well-known Nag's Head Tavern. The house is the latest addition to the numerous theatres in London and the provinces belonging to Messrs Moss and Stoll's London District and Provincial Empire Palaces, Limited, of which Mr Moss is the chairman and Mr Stoll the managing director. It has been erected from the designs of Mr W. G. R. Sprague, whose reputation as a theatrical architect has been established by the numerous London and provincial theatres he has successfully planned. The new Holloway Empire affords another proof of his skill as an architect, and the ability he always displays in meeting the latest requirements both of the authorities and the public in the modern theatre.
The building presents a very handsome and imposing facade to the Holloway-road, and has been erected entirely under the supervision of Mr Sprague by Mr Longden, of Neepsend, Sheffield. That no expense has been spared to ensure the comfort of visitors is evident at a glance. The auditorium, which is of spacious proportions, is most lavishly decorated in Indian style, the effect being greatly enhanced by the brilliant scheme of colour decoration and the rich hangings and furnishings, which are of two shades of gold. The ceiling is decorated with some artistic paintings representing music, dancing, &c., and the general effect is very charming.
There are comfortable private boxes on each side of the stage, and at the back of the circle are eight boxes, each of which affords accommodation for four persons. In the rear of these boxes is the entrance to a spacious and handsome saloon, where refreshments can be obtained. From this access can be gained to a narrow balcony overlooking the Holloway-road, and, no doubt, on warm summer evenings visitors, more particularly smokers, will be glad to avail themselves of the privilege.
Left - The Holloway Empire Theatre - From a 1904 postcard.
The approach to the auditorium is from a magnificent crush-room, also decorated in Indian style, handsome marble steps leading to luxurious lounges, communicating with the main building. The auditorium is about 55ft. wide, with a depth of about 70ft. For a variety house the stage is unusually large, its dimensions being about 65ft, wide, with a depth of about 35ft, and a height to the grid of over 50ft. This will allow of the most elaborate pieces being produced. The stage is, of course, fitted up with all the latest appliances, and the entrance is in Manor-gardens-road.
Above - A Detail from the postcard above of the Holloway Empire Theatre in 1904.
The whole building is lighted by electricity, handsome and specially designed Indian electroliers and brackets being successfully introduced in the general scheme of decoration. Gas is supplied as a reserve to all parts, in the event of any failure of the electric light. At night the theatre is rendered conspicuous by brilliant electric lighting, and the name, each letter being illuminated, can be seen at a considerable distance in either direction. Mr Sprague has taken good care that from every seat in the house an uninterrupted view of the stage can be obtained, an advantage that will be greatly appreciated by the patrons of the new place of amusement.
Above - The reverse side of a programme for a Music Hall show at the Holloway Empire Palace Theatre for the week beginning 29th of August 1904. On the Bill were Gus Elen, Grace Merton, The Harvey Boys, Nina Martino, The Ohms with their Ponies, Bears, Dogs and Monkeys, Maude Mortimer, The Brothers W. & W. Ethairien, Ernest Shand, and the Bioscope. The Musical Director was Thomas Gray.
Full provision for security against fire is made by numerous hydrants, fitted in the moat advantageous positions. Separating the stage from the auditorium is a double asbestos curtain, so hung as to be under the instant control of the attendant in charge.
The interior decorations throughout are by Messrs De Jong; the furnishings and upholstery by Messrs Cranston and Elliott; the electric light installation and fittings by Messrs Sax Blatter; the heating and gas arrangements by Messrs Vaughan and Brown; hydrants and fire-proof curtain by Messrs Merry weather; and the stage work by Messrs Cawdrey. Mr George Webber has acted as clerk of works throughout.
Mr Clement King has been appointed acting-manager of the theatre, and Mr J. W. Stephenson, who has had experience in connection with the Alhambra, Hull, is the assistant acting-manager. Mr Jesse Williams has been engaged to act as conductor of the orchestra.
The New Empire will be conducted on the two-houses-night principle - that is to say, two performances each evening will be given, the same artists appearing at both, the first beginning at half-past six and finishing at half-past eight, and the second opening at nine and concluding at eleven. The hall will be made as attractive and comfortable as those palaces of pleasure situated at the West-end of London, and the names of leading artists in the variety profession will figure in the programme, which will be changed every week.'
The Building News and Engineering Journal also published a report on the newly opened Theatre in their 8th of December 1899 edition saying:- 'The Empire Theatre of Varieties was opened on Monday evening. The building is situated in the Holloway-road, at the corner of Manor-gardens. It has been erected from the designs of Mr. W. G. R. Sprague, of London, by Mr. Longden, of Neeps End, Sheffield.
The auditorium is decorated in Indian style, the rich hangings and furnishings being of two shades of gold. The ceiling contains paintings representing music, dancing, &c. There are private boxes on each side of the stage, and at the back of the circle are eight boxes. In the rear of these boxes is the entrance to a refreshment saloon. From this access can be gained to a narrow balcony overlooking the Holloway-road. The approach to the auditorium is from a crush-room, also decorated in Indian style, marble steps leading to lounges, communicating with the main building. The auditorium is 55ft. wide, with a depth of 70ft. The stage is 65ft. wide, with a depth of 35ft. and a height to the grid of over 50ft.
The whole building is lighted by electricity, but gas is supplied as a reserve to all parts. Numerous hydrants are fitted in various positions, and separating the stage from the auditorium is a double asbestos curtain, under the instant control of the attendant in charge. Mr. George Webber has acted as clerk of works throughout.
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 8th of December 1899.
All the big Music Hall and Variety names appeared at the Theatre in its early years, including Charlie Chaplin who was there in August 1906 and again in May 1907, and would go on to be featured in many of the films shown at the Empire during its later Cinema years.
The Empire was converted for full time Cinema use in November 1923 when it became part of the Biocolour Picture Theatres chain. Bicolour were taken over by Gaumont British Theatres in July 1927, and the Empire was later fitted out for 'Talkies' in 1930.
The Empire was closed by Gaumont in late August 1938 because they had built a huge new Cinema almost opposite the Theatre making the Empire surplus to requirements.
The Empire was then used as a warehouse before it was finally sold off for demolition on the 31st of March 1953.
An office building for the Inner London Education Authority was then constructed on the site but this has since been replaced by a building called Bloomfield Court which was built as student accommodation for the American Intercontinental University (AIU) See Left.
Left - A Google StreetView image of the site o the Holloway Empire today - Click to Interact.
Some of the information for this Theatre's Cinema days was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Some of the Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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