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The Alexandra Theatre, George Street, Hull

History - William Morton - Other People Associated with the Theatre

Hull Theatres Index

An early photograph of the Alexandra Theatre, Hull - Courtesy David Fewster

Above - An early photograph of the Alexandra Theatre, Hull - Courtesy David Fewster

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A 1930s Poster for the Alexandra Theatre, Hull - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.The Alexandra Theatre in George Street, Hull was designed by Thomas Guest who also designed the Carlton Theatre, Birmingham. The Theatre opened on Boxing day 1902 with Frederick Moyes and Edith Cole in a production of 'A Royal Divorce'. This was preceded by the National Anthem played by the Theatre's own orchestra under the direction of Alfred Rhodes. Two performances were put on for the opening day, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, in which the owner of the Theatre, William Morton, made a speech thanking the crowded house for coming to the opening of the new Alexandra Theatre. The acting manager for the Theatre was Morton's son, George.

Right - A 1930s variety poster for the Alexandra Theatre, Hull with Scott & Whaley, Wally Wood, The Two Cubans, Judy Jaxon, Dumarte & Denzar, The Four Rios, Pawson and Butler, and Nicol & Martin on the Bill - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

The exterior of the Alexandra was constructed in the Renaissance style with bright red bricks and terra cotta dressings, and the main entrance to the Theatre was on George Street, although there were also entrances to the Gallery and Pit from Bourne Street, and exits to Mason Street. The exterior also had a tower on its George Street and Bourne Street corner which was fitted with a powerful search light and must have been visible for miles around.

The Theatre's auditorium, which was lit by electricity from the start, was constructed on four levels, stalls and pit, dress circle, family gallery, and gallery, and could accommodate 2,200 people seated and a further 500 standing. The auditorium also had a large glass and iron sliding roof which could be opened for ventilation. The Theatre was equipped with a large stage with a proscenium opening of 36 foot wide and enough dressing rooms to provide accommodation for large touring productions.

The Alexandra Theatre was a casualty of the Second World War when it was destroyed by enemy action in 1941 and subsequently demolished.

William Morton

The long time Managing Director of the Alexandra Theatre, Hull, and also long term friend of Arthur Lloyd, William Morton, gave an interview to the press in 1933 summing up his long life and career in theatre. Although probably published in a number of papers the following transcription is from the Manawatu Times of the 14th of August 1933:- 'Drop into the Alexandra Theatre, in this Yorkshire city one evening, and the odds are you will see, somewhere near the vestibule, a dapper looking man almost as upright as a hop pole, with a flower in his buttonhole. He is the managing director of the theatre; and no glancing at his almost unwrinkled face, neatly-cropped iron-grey hair, and keen brown eyes would suspect that he is within a few yearn of being a centenarian.

A very wonderful man indeed is Mr. William Morton for although he was born in 1838, the year after Queen Victoria came to the throne, he is still working and taking an active part in one of the leading theatrical and cinema organisations in the North of England.

"Don't talk about feeling old;" Mr. Morton said when interviewed. "Why I feel as young and as active as most men of 40. I am going so strong that at 95 I have actually stated to write a book. I am putting in two hours a day on that alone, and I am doing that in what we might call 'spare time.'

I suppose I must be the oldest active theatrical managing director in the country. I have been providing entertainments, in some shape of form, since the days of 'penny readys,' for something like 70 years. Things have changed greatly since those days, and in the passing years I have seen many famous 'stars' in the amusement firmament come and disappear."

Born at Royston, Herfordshire, Mr. Morton tried his hand at quite a number of things before he settled down. After leaving school he become an apprentice compositor to a local printer. Setting type by hand in the old-fashioned way did not appeal to him, however, and so he determined to strike out in another direction. In his spare time he taught himself a from of shorthand, and in due course he became what was known as a "printer- reporter." He obtained a post on a Nottingham paper, and subsequently went to Southport as the member of the staff of a weekly newspaper.

It was while he was at Southport that Mr. Morton developed the idea of becoming a caterer for amusements. "There was no theatre at Southport at the time," he said when recalling his early days. "The town hall was used for what amusement came to the town, and here I provided various kinds of entertainments.

"In this way I came in touch with the famous Maskelyne and Cook's and I suppose I am the only man alive who knew the original Maskelyne. We made a business deal whereby I took the show on a provincial tour, visiting most of the towns in this country, as well as Jersey, Dublin Edinburgh. Then encouraged by the popularity achieved, we decided to introduce this kind of entertainment into London."

Opening at the Crystal Palace, where they remained for five weeks, the show, which by this time was creating a big sensation, when to the St. James' Hall, Piccadilly, then to the Agricultural Hall Piccadilly, and finally to the Egyptian Hall.

Mystery and Melodrama

A Programme for Miss Cissy Graham's Triple Bill Company in 'The Highwayman', 'A Commission', and 'A Pantomime Rehearsal' at Morton's Theatre, Greenwich in March 1893."By this time," Mr. Morton explained, "I had become Mr. Maskslyne's partner, and 16 years' most interesting associating with the 'home of mysteries' was severed when the show was transferred to St. George's Hall."

Mr. Morton then went to Greenwich, where he took over the Theatre Royal, "blood-and-thunder" dramas being among the principal attractions in the bill of fare. "I made 'such a success of the place," he stated, "that before I sold out after a stay of 15 years, I was booking the best of touring companies.

Right - A Programme for Miss Cissy Graham's Triple Bill Company in 'The Highwayman', 'A Commission', and 'A Pantomime Rehearsal' at Morton's Theatre, Greenwich in March 1893.

Then I came to Hull, and here I am still carrying on, still trying to entertain and amuse the public. It is interesting work. I like it.

"Punctually and two meals a day are my watchwords. I am always the first director in the board room, I never go to bed before 11 o'clock, and am up in the morning before many men are awake. I can eat an elephant, but I have only two meals a day-breakfast and lunch."

Beyond being slightly deaf Mr. Morton is amazing active and alert. Spectacles he uses only for reading. He is a life-long abstainer, but he smokes cigarettes. Gardening is his favourite hobby.

The above article on William Morton was published in the Manawatu Times, 14th of August 1933, and is shown here with permission using a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 New Zealand licence. The article wrongly printed William Morton's name as Moreton but I have corrected it for this transcription.

Other People Associated with the Alexandra Theatre, Hull

A visitor to this site, Pat Clark' says:- ''My great grandad came to Hull to work at the Alexandra theatre, I think between 1906 and 1908. He was a stage carpenter. His youngest daughter, who is now deceased, told me that he came to stage manage. His name was Augustus George Thomas Haecker." - Pat Clark.

And another visitor to the site, Jonathan Bohman, says:- 'My great uncle, Harry Thornton, played at the Alexandria Theatre, Hull - sorry, don't have a date. He played piano and his wife Emmie (Wagner) sang. I'm not sure how they were billed and I don't think they were ever a 'big act', however Harry is famous for his grave in Highgate cemetery which is shaped like a grand piano. He died in 1918 - Spanish flu.' - Jonathan Bohman.

A photograph of Hull's Alexandra Theatre Orchestra, directed by Chas Jocelyne - Courtesy Mike Jocelyn

Above - A photograph of Hull's Alexandra Theatre Orchestra, directed by Chas Jocelyne - Courtesy Mike Jocelyn who says:- 'I know my parents lived in Hull and then moved to Oxford before I was born in 1937. We think the photograph must have been taken between 1932 and 1937. My Dad was Leader of the New Theatre, Oxford during my early years.'

John William Munby as Justice Shallow John William Munby as the Prince of Verona

 

Above - Two photographs of John William Munby of Hull (1876-1960) in costume for Justice Shallow and the Prince of Verona at the Alexandra Theatre, Hull circa 1904 - Courtesy Drew Adamson, whose Great Grandmother's brother was John Munby.

Postcard advertising 'The Angel of His Dreams' at the Alexandra Theatre, Hull 1909.

Postcard advertising 'The Angel of His Dreams' at the Alexandra Theatre, Hull 1909.

Above - A Postcard advertising 'The Angel of His Dreams' at the Alexandra Theatre, Hull 1909.

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