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Theatres in Ilford, London

The Kenneth More Theatre - The Hippodrome Theatre - The Ilford Super Cinema - The Ilford Empire

The Kenneth More Theatre, Oakfield Road, Redbridge, Ilford

Also The Cowan Studio Theatre

A Google StreetView Image of the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford - Click to Interact

The Kenneth More Theatre is named after the much loved British Film and Stage actor Kenneth More who died in 1982. The Theatre is situated opposite the Town Hall and was built on the site of a former public convenience in 1974. It was designed by the Borough Architect and officially opened on the 3rd of January 1975, although its actual opening production of 'The Beggar's Opera' was first staged on New Years Eve, the 31st of December 1974.

The Theatre was constructed as a Civic Theatre and the site was proposed to also include a leisure centre and library. The Theatre's steeply raked auditorium has seating for 365 people. The complex also houses a small Studio Theatre which can seat 50 people. The Studio Theatre was renamed the Cowan Studio in 2001 to honour the Cowan family's contribution to the Theatre. There are six dressing rooms, scenery and paint workshops, and a bar and restaurant. Viviam Ellacott was the first general manager and artistic director of the Theatre and he also contributed in the planning of the Theatre.

The Main Theatre has a proscenium arched stage with an apron over the orchestra pit which can accommodate 26 musicians. The stage is 6.71 metres deep with 28 counterweight sets, the grid is at 12.04 metres.

The Kenneth More Theatre has a policy of putting on Musicals, Plays, Opera, and Children's shows and devotes half its calendar to local amateur groups.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Hippodome Theatre, Ilford Lane and High Street, Ilford

A postcard showing the Ilford Hippodrome Theatre

Above - A postcard showing the Ilford Hippodrome Theatre

The plans for George Dance's new Theatre in Ilford were approved in February 1908 and work on the construction of the Hippodrome Theatre as it was to be named, began shortly afterwards. The Theatre was constructed by T. N. Kingerlee & Sons and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham. The Theatre took longer to build than had been originally planned however, due to bad weather, and in December 1908 the contractors had to appeal to the district council for an extension of time for its completion saying they hoped to be able to open it by June 24th of the following year.

As it happened the Hippodrome wouldn't actually open for another 5 months after that but in November 1909 the Theatre was finally ready and it opened on the 8th of November with a variety show, this was followed by the pantomime 'Dick Whittington' at Christmas. The Hippodrome's exterior was designed in the Oriental Style, and it had a very large auditorium in the Renaissance style, capable of seating some 2,500 people, with another 500 standing, it was decked out in green and gold with a ceiling designed to appear like the Palace of Versailles. The Theatre's original stage dimensions were projected to be 29 foot 6 inches by 56 foot.

Jack Hart took over the management of the Theatre in January 1910, he had previously been running the Camden Hippodrome, but the Theatre's main policy stayed the same and it continued as a variety Theatre for the rest of its life, only occasionally showing films, which were rapidly taking over other Theatres around the Country.

In the 1930s Metropolitan and Provincial Cinematograph Theatres Ltd took over the Theatre and installed a Western Electric sound system but the Theatre remained in live use, only showing films on Sundays.

The Theatre stayed open during the war but this would prove to be a disaster as on the 12th of January 1945, during the run of 'Robinson Crusoe' staring Renee Houston and Donald Stewart, the Theatre's stage was destroyed by a bomb. A V2 rocket had hit the houses behind the Theatre and this took the Theatre's back wall and dressing rooms with it. Renee Houston, who was performing the show's opening number, 'The Fleet's In', when the bomb hit, went flying into the orchestra pit with the force of the blast, and a chorus girl is said to have been catapulted into the flies. The Theatre's auditorium was naturally showered with debris but the stage manager, speaking to the shocked audience through a microphone, appealed for calm and then the orchestra began playing whilst the audience left the Theatre in an orderly fashion. Amazingly, although some people in the houses behind had been killed by the bomb, no one was killed in the Theatre itself, although 100 people were injured. Rescue workers, and even some members of the audience, spent the night helping to dig the survivors out of the ruble.

Sadly this was to be the end of the Ilford Hippodrome's life as two days later the Theatre's roof collapsed and this brought the gallery down with it into the stalls and the auditorium was pretty much destroyed. The Theatre then remained derelict for more than a decade before it was finally demolished in 1957.

A visitor to the site, John Christophers, writes:- 'I remember part of a performance at the Hippodrome during the war. The act was by a man who impersonated famous figures. He would walk behind a curtain and emerge from the other side as someone else. Predictably, his last impersonation was a Winston Churchill complete with cigar. The roar of the audience I remember to this day. After the rocket struck I used to peer in through the temporary fencing and look at the marks in walls left standing. The balcony with its steps could clearly be seen as were bits of the stage and stalls. I remember that there was some talk of re-building the Hippodrome after the war but clearly, it came to nothing.' Courtesy John Christophers.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Ilford Super Cinema, Ley Street and Balfour Road, Ilford

An advertisement for the Watkins & Watson 'Discus' Organ Blower, as fitted in the Ilford Super Cinema - From the Cinema News and Property Gazette of 1924.The Ilford Super Cinema was situated on the corner of Ley Street and Balfour Road in Ilford. The Theatre was designed by William Edward Trent with interiors by Val Prince, and opened on the 14th of October 1922.

The Theatre was primarily built as a Cinema but had stage facilities and a restaurant and was often home to variety as well as film presentations. It also had a Theatre Organ, powered by a Watkins & Watson 'Discus' Organ Blower, see image right.

Right - An advertisement for the Watkins & Watson 'Discus' Organ Blower, as fitted in the Ilford Super Cinema - From the Cinema News and Property Gazette of 1924.

The Theatre was originally built for Premier Super Cinemas Ltd but was taken over by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres just two years later in 1924.

In 1929 PCT and its Theatres were taken over by Gaumont British Cinemas, who, in the 1930s, installed a new Compton 3 Manual 8 Ranks Theatre Organ.

Sadly the rear of the Theatre was badly damaged by a German V2 Rocket which had fallen nearby in February 1945. Two usherettes were killed and two others were injured in the blast, and the Theatre was forced to close, having been declared unsafe. It was subsequently boarded up and remained derelict until it was finally demolished in 1959. A C&A store was subsequently built on the site.

Some of the above information 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.

The Ilford Empire, Ilford Lane, Ilford

Formerly - The Empire Kinema - Later - The Empire Cinema

The Ilford Empire was built as a Cinema with stage facilities and opened as the Empire Kinema in April 1913. The Empire was the first first purpose built Cinema to be run by Alexander Bernstein who would go on to create the well known Granada Cinemas chain.

The Theatre's auditorium was built on just one level with no balconies, it had a proscenium arched stage 42 foot wide by 38 foot deep, and just two dressing rooms. There were improvements to the Theatre in 1922 and then in 1931 the Theatre was taken over by the Ben Jay circuit and renamed the Empire Cinema.

Sadly this Theatre, like the nearby Hippodrome, would be destroyed during the second world war, when it was hit by a bomb on the 17th of September 1940. Percy G. Court wrote about his experience working the Empire, during the war, shortly before it was destroyed by a bomb, in his Memories of Show Business saying:- 'We again cross London to the Empire, Ilford. We are again in difficulties with the stabling and we were unfortunate in not finding any stabling near. This was because most of the property had been destroyed by bombing. Our nearest stables were at Dalston - three miles away. Ilford was disastrous for us - we did a very bad week's business and we had bombs dropping all round us - missing us by yards. The house in which I lived - everybody left it for three days. My wife and I were the sole occupants. Many of the artists slept in the dressing rooms.' - Percy G. Court, Memories of Show Business, 1953.

What was left of the Empire after its destruction was later demolished and the site stood empty for many years until it became part of a new road layout.

Some of the information for this Theatre 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.