The Grand Theatre and Opera House, in George Street Hull was erected in 1892 and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, who at the time was operating from 9, Warwick Court, Gray's Inn, London.
The managing Director of the Theatre was John Hart who had previously been manager of the Theatre Royal, Bradford. Near to completion an advertisement carried in the Era of the 24th of December 1892 announced that the proprietors were seeking 'First Class Attractions' for the Theatre and that 'One week's notice should be considered a polite negative.'
The Theatre, which had an auditorium decorated in the Louis XV style, and an Italian style exterior, opened on Monday January the 9th 1893 with a production of the Comic Opera 'Cinderella' by the Burns-Crotty Opera Company.
Shortly before it opened the ERA printed a review of the new Grand Theatre in their 31st of December edition saying: 'The New Grand Opera House in George-street, Hull, is, practically speaking, finished, and will be opened on Jan. 9th next. The theatre has been built from the designs of Mr Frank Matcham, the well-known theatrical architect, who has erected over two dozen theatres in London and the provinces, and it is admirably arranged and fitted up with all the latest improvements. The rich decorations, with the marble staircases and columns, encaustic tiled floor, polished woodwork lounges, the handsome furnishings and upholstery, have all been arranged with a view to studying the tastes and comfort of the audience. Special attention has been given by the architect to form perfect sight lines, and in this he has been very successful, as there is no seat in the house from which a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage cannot be obtained.
The entrances to the theatre are all from George-street, and owing to the width of the site, private roadways have been formed on each side of the building, which have enabled the architect to obtain an exceptional number of "exits" from all parts, so that the auditorium can be cleared in a very short space of time. These "exits" are placed in the most convenient positions, are quite separate one from the other, and are all wide and fireproof. The doors are made to open outwards, and are fitted with Briggs' special panic bolts, no locks or other fittings being used.
Left - A programme for the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe' which was performed at the Theatre Royal, Hull in the Christmas period 1898 / 1899 - In the cast were Millie Hylton, Hal Forde, Junr., Walter Lonnen, Cissy Saumarez, Charles Brown, George Le Clerq, James Newland, James O'connor, Charles Brady, J. A. Wilson, Ray Maskell, Annie Mora, May Austen, Marcia G. Moore, Clara Webber, John Donald, Ulysses Grant, The Kentucky Quartette, Master Canined, Master Jacko, Master Foo, Master Grimalkin, Master Kid, and Emmie Ames.
A special feature of the exterior of the building is the handsome stone portico, which not only forms a shelter for the early arrivals but a balcony which, entered through casement windows, will serve as a smoking lounge in the summer, and, when suitably appointed, will, no doubt, be a very attractive feature to the building. Over the pavement of the principal entry is a glass and iron shelter to shield the carriage patrons from inclement weather. The front of the building at night will be illuminated with electric lights in the shelter, together with two bold arc lamps, and, with the coloured glass introduced in the doors and windows, a very pretty effect will be obtained.
The principal entrance is in the centre of the building. Pairs of polished mahogany doors open into a very fine vestibule, having an ornamental plaster ceiling, decorated in gold and colours, and the floor laid with encaustic tiles. To the left is the pay office, and this is so placed that the money paid for all parts of the house is taken here, although, of course, at different entrances. To the right is the marble staircase (eleven feet wide, divided by double bold brass handrails and newels), which conducts the visitor to the crush room, a fine apartment, with deeply recessed and ornamental ceiling, divided by moulded ribs, supported on marble columns and pedestals, with enriched caps and trusses, the whole decorated in gold and colour. Marble rails and balustrades are introduced, and the warm rose tints on the walls, the tile flooring, &c., make this entrance as fine an one as almost any theatre in the country possesses.
Right - A Programme for 'The Gay Lord Quex' at the Grand Theatre, Hull in March 1901.
A suite of rooms, comfortably fitted up, and approached from the crush-room, is provided for the managing-director, the business manager, and other officials. These offices are in communication, by speaking-tubes and electric bells, with all parts of the house. From the crush-room fire-proof corridors lead to each side of the dress circle, and thence by staircases to the stalls. The principal lounge is on this level, and is a beautifully decorated and fitted apartment. A wide staircase, with carved balusters, rails, and arched entrances draped with rich terra-cotta draperies, opens into this room from one end, and the bay window in the centre opens on to the outside balcony before alluded to. The whole of the doors, windows, and fittings here are finished in white porcelain, picked out with gold, the walls covered with blue and gold Japanese paper, and the ceiling richly decorated. The entrance staircase is continued from the crush-room to the upper circle, and from the lobby here a lounge is arranged. Ladies' and gentlemen's retiring-rooms and cloak-rooms are provided and fitted with every convenience.
The pit is a very large one, has a good slope towards the stage, and is comfortably fitted up, the seats and backs being upholstered with American leather.
Left - A Postcard advertising Emma and Percy Hutchinson's Company in the £2,000 production from London's Wyndham's Theatre of 'Brewster's Millions' at the Grand Theatre, Hull on Monday the 27th of September for six nights - Year Unknown.
The walls are covered with warm, red, glazed tiles, and the ceiling is decorated. Retiring rooms are also provided for this part of the house. The gallery is approached through the covered gateway at the side, and has a separate and special entrance door, so arranged (as has also the pit entry) that the "exit" is always clear. This is an arrangement planned by the architect which cannot be too highly appreciated, as all fixed barriers, &c., are entirely done away with; the passage and staircases are always clear and uninterrupted in case of an emergency. A wide fireproof staircase leads directly to the lower seats of the gallery, and is continued up to the top, this arrangement greatly facilitating the "exit." There is also another fireproof staircase used for the early door and exit only, leading from the other side of the gallery to the passage on the other side of the theatre. A lounge and retiring-rooms are also provided ; in fact, the comfort of the gallery patrons has had as much consideration given by Mr Matcham as that of any other part of the house.
Above Left - Programme for 'The Fanatics' at the
Grand Theatre, Hull 8th August 1927
The auditorium is divided on the ground floor into stalls and pit, the former being fitted with six rows of plush-velvet tip-up seats, and the pit with benches, &c., as before described. There are no less than six wide exits from this level of the building. The first floor contains the dress-circle, with three rows of tip-up seats and carpeted floor, the same as the stalls, and at the rear are five rows of upper circle seats upholstered with Utrecht velvet, and the floor covered with linoleum. A novel arrangement has been introduced here, the sides of the gallery being separated from the centre, and approached from the level of the upper-circle promenade, and is thus used as a part of the upper circle. This places the gallery, which is a very large one, at the rear, giving the occupants, however, a splendid view of the stage.
The stage is a very large one, being about 50ft. deep, nearly 80ft. wide from wall to wall, with large scene docks, property rooms, property makers' stores, and a big and conveniently appointed paint room at the rear. The stage is divided from the auditorium by a brick wall carried up above the roof, and the stage opening fitted with a steel fireproof curtain, and all openings in this wall are also fitted with iron doors. The block of dressing-rooms, which are at the side and detached from the stage, are well supplied with every necessary convenience. The stage is fitted up with the usual machinery, and the "grid" is of such a height that the act-drop and all scenery can be taken up without rolling.
The theatre is heated throughout with hot water pipes and coils, and hydrants are provided on each floor for the extinction of fire, the risk of which is greatly minimised by the electric light being used for illuminating purposes, instead of gas. Special attention has been given to the ventilation of the building and the comfort and safety of the public have been studied in every way.
Above Left - Programme for 'The Last Waltz' at the
Grand Theatre, Hull 20th October 1924
The decorations of the theatre have had Mr Matcham's particular attention, and are carried out from his designs; and, both in the modelling and painting, it has been intended to represent Dresden china, and, for this purpose, Louis XV. style has been adopted, and is very pretty and effective. The subject-paintings on the ceiling, and over the proscenium, are carried out in Watteau treatment by Ballard. The stage-opening is flanked on each side by marble pilasters, from which spring ornamental bracketing, through which the handsome plush valance is seen. There are two beautifully-designed private boxes on each side of the stage, draped with stamped-gold plush curtains and valance, turned up with heliotrope silk. The ceiling is a very handsome one, springing from four large columns, the centre portion being domed and divided out with open scroll work pilasters, with bold cornices and enrichments, the panels being filled in with imitation sky and winged Cupids. At the four corners are large circular panels, with paintings representing Art, Painting, Music, and Singing. The gallery and dress circle fronts are fully enriched and decorated in gold and colours, the panels in the latter being filled in with monochrome paintings, and between these are peacocks, with brass collars, carrying small electric lamps. The electric light has been introduced by the architect, so as to form a part of the decorations of the theatre. The walls of the auditorium are covered with anaglypta, which serve to throw out the delicate tints of blue and pink and gold that have been introduced in the decorations, and this, with the rich gold plush curtains, the electric lighting, and the highly artistic finish of the building, will form an effective tout ensemble.
The whole of the work has been carried out under the personal supervision of the architect, ably assisted by Mr Bradney, who has acted throughout as the master of the works, and under whose superintendence the whole of the woodwork and plastering has been done by the company's own workmen. The fibrous plaster work is by the Plastic Decoration Company, London; tip-up seats by Messrs Lazarus and Son, London; gas arrangements and fire-proof curtain, Mr Tollerton, Leeds; and act drop, Mr Hemsley, London. Mr John Hart is the managing director. The resident acting-manager and treasurer is Mr A. D. Corry. The theatre will open on Jan. 9th with Mr Leslie Crotty, Madame Georgina Burns, and a powerful company in the opera Cinderella.'
The Grand Theatre, Hull was converted for Cinema use in 1930 and its name was changed to the Grand Cinema. Such was the success of this however, that in July 1935 the Theatre was closed and radically altered for full time Cinema use by Blackmore & Sykes. This conversion took three months and meant that the interior was savagely reconstructed, leaving only one balcony, and none of Matcham's splendid auditorium intact. Indeed, only the exterior walls survived and even then the facade was altered and plastered over. The new Cinema, named the Dorchester Cinema had a much plainer auditorium with peach, gold, and silver decorations seating 1,507 people, and a new stage and Theatre Organ. The Dorchester was a first run movie house and carried on successfully until it was closed in 1977, although it did open occasionally for special screenings and the occasional concert.
The sad end came for this Theatre when it was finally closed for good in 1979 and demolished in 1987 having been in a derelict state for many years.
There are many photos of the Grand Theatre and its later incarnation as the Grand Cinema and Dorchester Cinema here.
In the programme for 'The Gay Lord Quex' at the Grand Theatre, Hull in March 1901 (shown left) there is an interesting extract from The ERA of March the 28th, 1896 about the wearing of hats in American Theatres which reads: 'The Legislature of the State of Cincinnati passed on Tuesday a law forbidding women to wear large hats at Theatres, and imposing a fine of 10 dollars upon any Manager for each hat he allows to be worn in his Theatre, obstructing the view of the audience of what is transpiring on the stage. The measure not only deals with women's hats, but is applicable to head-gear of any kind. An amendment providing that the Manager should be liable to six months' imprisonment in addition to the fine, if his offense were frequently repeated, was rejected.'
Although the above seems rather tough on the Theatre Managers of Cincinati in 1896 almost every programme for the same period in the UK, and indeed for several decades afterwards, has a small piece pleading with Ladies to remove their hats in the Theatre. It must have been a constant problem for Theatre managers and their audiences alike.
Left - The Programme for 'The Gay Lord Quex' at the Grand Theatre, Hull in March 1901.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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