Theatres and Halls in Ipswich, Suffolk
The Regent Theatre - The New Wosley Theatre - The Town Hall and Corn Exchange - The Lyceum Theatre - The Hippodrome Theatre - The Picture House Theatre - The New Music Hall / Public Hall - The Theatre Royal - Ritz Cinema / ABC - Poole's Picture Palace / The Arts Theatre - The Grand Theatre of Varieties (Unbuilt)
Formerly - Gaumont / Odeon Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Regent Theatre, Ipswich - Click to Interact
The Regent Theatre is situated on St. Helen's Street, Ipswich and was opened by Dr. Hossack, the then Mayor of Ipswich, on the 4th of November 1929. The Theatre was built as a Cine Variety Theatre for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, and although it was equipped with a working stage, film was always its main fare, indeed it opened with a showing of the film 'The Last of Mrs Cheyney'.
The exterior of the Theatre is in the Georgian Style but the auditorium, which is on two levels, stalls and one balcony, with 14 boxes, is a combination of Neo Classical and Art Deco, and could accommodate 2,000 people when it first opened. The Theatre was designed by William Edward Trent who also designed the Gaumont Palace Theatre, in London's Wood Green and the Regent Theatre, Sheffield amongst others. The Regent was originally equipped with a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, and had a cafe and restaurant which could accommodate 100 people.
In 1955 the Theatre was renamed Gaumont, and in 1985 a second smaller 186 seat Cinema was added in the former cafe and restaurant. In 1987 the whole Theatre was rebranded with the Odeon Name. However, both Cinemas closed on the 20th of March 1991 after it had been acquired by the Borough Council so that it could be restored to live Theatre use. The work involved adding a new 'Get In' and four new dressing rooms, general repairs to the building, and redecoration and re-equiping the backstage areas.
The building reopened with its original name of the Regent Theatre on the 21st of September 1991 as a live Theatre.
The Theatre was Grade II Listed in October 2000 and is today host to West End tours, concerts, comedy, and a variety of different theatrical uses. The Theatres Trust says of the building today:- 'The public areas were also overhauled although, at the time of writing, Ranks interior colour scheme remains. Apart from the loss many years ago of the Wurlitzer organ, its grilles set either side of the proscenium and the light fittings, the auditorium retains so much of its original form and fabric that a faithful restoration could be achieved fairly easily.' - The Theatres Trust.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.
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Above - A Google StreetView Image of the New Wosley Theatre, Ipswich - Click to Interact
The New Wosley Theatre is situated on Civic Drive, Ipswich and was built in 1979 and opened in 2000. The Theatre has two foyers, one on the ground floor which houses the box office and a bar, and another above. The Theatre's auditorium consists of a single block of raked seating with galleries to its sides, which wrap around the thrust stage, and can accommodate 400 people. The stage itself is equipped with 14 hemp sets for flying scenery but has limited wing space. There are also 4 dressing rooms, a green room, laundry, and wardrobe room.
The Theatre's mission statement is to 'create, develop and produce a vital and dynamic programme of theatre, and other live performances and projects, for all the people of Suffolk and surrounding areas.'
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.
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange - Click to Interact
The Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange was first constructed on the corner of King Street and Cornhill in around 1818. The building was later replaced by a new Town Hall which took over two years to construct. It was designed by Bellamy and Hardy, and constructed by Edward Gibbons, and was opened in January 1868 by the then Mayor, Mr John Patterson Cobbold. In 1972 the Great Hall was converted for theatrical use by the architects Birkin, Haward, Johns, Slater & Haward.
The Town Hall building is today a Grade I Listed Building and the Complex includes the Corn Exchange Great Hall, two Cinemas, another small hall, an exhibition space, and various other rooms which can be hired out. The Great Hall has a flat floor and a balcony, and a stage with a proscenium opening 13 metres wide, and can accommodate 893 people.
You may like to visit the Town Hall's own website here.
When the Town Hall was rebuilt in 1868 the Illustrated London News reported on the building and its opening in their 8th of February edition saying:- 'The new Townhall, built, by order of the Town Council of Ipswich, on the site of the old Townhall, which they resolved to pull down, though it was no older than 1818, has been completed, at a cost of £16,000, and was formally opened on Wednesday week.
Right - An engraving showing the new Ipswich Town Hall - From the ILN, 8th February 1868.
The Engraving on our front page shows the exterior of the building, which stands at the corner of Cornhill and King-street. Its design, which is of the Venetian school of architecture, is carried out in variously coloured stones, greatly enhancing its general effect. The main front, towards Cornhill, presents one continuous face, in three stories - namely, the rusticated basement, the ground story, and the principal floor, surmounted by a bold cantilever cornice and open balustrade, with enriched finials. The centre of this front is marked by a projecting open arcade, on Corinthian collumns; above which, on pedestals, are statues representing Justice, Learning, Commerce, and Agriculture. In the middle are the borough arms, executed in alto-relievo. Above this facade rises the dome, surmounted by the clock-tower, which has illuminated dials on the four clock faces. Balconies are provided for speakers, from which they can address an audience assembled in the street, on the Cornhill and King-street sides. The basement story and rustics of pilasters throughout have vermiculated faces. The stiff sky-line of the ridge is relieved by an iron cresting with finials. The King-street front is quite in harmony with that facing the Cornhill. At the angles of the building opportunity has been taken to introduce into the frieze of the ground story carved emblems of the offices of the Corporation, such as the sword and mace. There are other carvings representing caps, imposts, and keystones, too numerous to mention, bat all is perfect harmony with the general design.
The interior presents a most commodious arrangement of offices for public purposes. The basement comprises the police entrance from King-street, the superintendent's office, charge-room (with stores for stolen goods), police day-room, engine-shed, and parade corridors, seven spacious cells, an office for the inspector of weights and measures, a private entrance and stairs for the members of the Corporation, a cooking-kitchen, with lift up to the council-chamber, and all other requisite conveniences. The ground story has, in the centre, an entrance-hall, reached by a broad flight of stone steps. To the right is the magistrates' court, and to the left (separated by clustered columns of polished granite) the grand staircase. Opposite the main entrance is the sessions court, placed in the heart of the building. The ceiling is very handsome, composed of sunk panels and a deeply-coved cornice, with perforated guilloches, by which ventilation is obtained. The light is obtained by a circular glass dome in the centre of the court. The judge's seat is in a recess, to the right and left of which seats are provided for magistrates. The dock, grand and petty jury, and barristers are well placed. A retiring-room for magistrates and counsel is added; and the remainder of the ground story is occupied by offices for local boards, committee-rooms, town's servants' room, and a fireproof record-room. A corridor around the sessions court affords ready and convenient access to all the apartments, for which lavatories are provided. In the mezzanine story are the town clerk's and grand jury rooms, with witnesses' waiting-room; also a continuation of the private stairs and a second record-room and council chamber. The principal story consists of the council chamber, library, with ante-rooms, lending to the grand staircase, and spacious vestibule. The council chamber, occupying the whole length of the site, on the west side, is a very fine room; the ceiling is divided into panels, with floral decorations around the sunlights in the centre, and ornamental pendants. Scagliola columns at the farther end form a recess, which give, additional effect to the room, and will be found extremely convenient for waiters at banquets and balls.
The decorations of the hall, grand staircase, and vestibule demand special attention, the walls being divided by pilasters with Corinthian capitals, and the cornices and ceilings being very rich. Advantage has been taken in the lighting arrangements of some recent improvements, so that by tubes and other appliances when the gas is lighted the heat causes a current upwards to draw off the vitiated air. Staircases lead from the vestibule to the clock chamber in the turret. The whole of the interior finishings are handsome and appropriate.
The architects of the new Townhall are Messrs. Bellamy and Hardy, of Lincoln; and Mr. Edward Gibbons, of Ipswich, is the builder. Its construction has occupied two years and a quarter. The special festivities and public formalities upon the occasion of the opening continued several days last week. On the Monday evening the Mayor, Mr. J. P. Cobbold, invited about six hundred ladies and gentlemen to a conversazione in the council chamber and library, where a good collection of pictures and other works of art had been prepared for their entertainment. On the Tuesday there was a ball in the same rooms, admission being obtained by purchasing tickets, the money going to a charitable fund. On the Wednesday a quarterly meeting of the Town Council was held, when they formally took possession of the new hall for municipal business, and the Mayor was presented with a new set of robes. On the Thursday evening the Mayor gave a banquet in the council chamber to 150 gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood; and on the Friday evening 800 Sunday-school children were feasted in the same place.
The workmen employed in the building were regaled by Mr. Gibbons, the contractor, at the lecture and music hall, in Tower-street, on the Wednesday evening. Our Engraving of the front of the Townhall is taken from an excellent photograph by Mr. Cobb, of London-road, Ipswich.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Illustrated London News, February 8th, 1868.
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Above - An early colour postcard showing the Lyceum Theatre, Ipswich.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the imminent construction of the new Lyceum Theatre in their April the 25th 1890 edition saying:- 'A Theatre is about to be erected by a new company in Ipswich, under the patronage of the leading men of the district. Ipswich has greatly increased in latter years, and has now some 60,000 inhabitants. The new theatre will, therefore, fill a vacancy much required. It will be constructed to hold about a thousand people. The site is near the middle of the town, in Carr-street, a continuation of the main thoroughfare, which has been widened, jointly by an improvement company, the corporation, and the tramway company. It should prove an admirable site. The theatre will be fireproof, and will be lighted by electricity, the structure being isolated from other buildings. Mr. Walter Emden has been appointed architect, and Mr. Arthur Pearce, F. C.A. , is secretary.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, April the 25th 1890.
The foundation stone of the new Lyceum Theatre, Ipswich, was laid on Thursday afternoon, July 24th 1890 by Edward Terry. The ceremony was conducted in the presence of many notable figures including the Ipswich born actress Mrs. Keeley, Lord and Lady Gwydyr, Chairman F. W. Wilson, Secretary A. Pearce, and the Theatre's architect, Walter Emden.
Right - An early postcard showing the Lyceum Theatre, Ipswich.
Edward Terry made a speech at the laying of the foundation stone which was reported in the ERA of the 26th of July 1890 in which he said:- 'It has always afforded me the greatest possible pleasure to assist to the utmost of my poor ability in any movement which has for its object the advancement of the profession to which I have the honour to belong, therefore I had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to lay the foundation stone of the Ipswich Lyceum Theatre, and from the admirable designs before us I am convinced it will he a structure of which the architect, my friend, Mr Walter Emden, and the townspeople will justly be proud.
It is scarcely necessary for me to say, for it is almost universally admitted, that the theatre has become as it were one of the great necessary pleasures of the people. In the theatre we forget the worries of our workaday life in listening to the beauties of the drama and witnessing the pictorial illustration. At the present day even the clergy - or, at least, the majority of them are patrons of the drama, and admit its great refining and intellectual influence. At the Church Congress last year an audience of about 2,000, the majority of them being clergymen, listened attentively to an actor's address on the question of theatrical amusements, enthusiastically endorsing all that he said upon the subject. At the present time there is scarcely a charitable movement started, from the building of' a church down to the inauguration of a soup kitchen, but actors and actresses are asked to give their services in aid of the funds. I am pleased to add that they are always ready to do so, and I am certain that the foundations of the churches have not been damaged or the soup made thinner by the acceptance of the actor's assistance - anyway, this fact must surely be taken as indicating the popularity of the actor and his calling with all well-thinking people.
This being so, it was only natural that the good people of Ipswich, remembering her great dramatic traditions, should have asked Mrs Keeley to take an important part in these interesting proceedings. This will be the third theatre erected in your town, the first dating from about the year 1720, and it may be noted that in the old theatre the first piece presented was a scriptural one, namely, Jephtha's Rash Vow. When we consider that on the boards of the old theatre there appeared such dramatic giants as Garrick - who made his debut here - Kemble, Edmund Kean, Miss O'Neill, Matthews, Robson, and last, but certainly not least, a dear old friend of mine, and a very dear townswoman of yours - one of the greatest actresses of the day - you guess, of course, the name, Mrs Keeley, who at eighty-four years of age still retains her love for the stage, and has made a long journey to show the interest she takes in your proceedings; therefore, I repeat, in the face of this great dramatic tradition, it is only natural you should be anxious to go with the times, and possess a dramatic temple worthy of the town.
Through the townspeople's enterprise that wish is about to be gratified. Lord Gwydyr, ever a liberal patron of the arts - and I claim the drama as one of the fine arts - has shown his interest in the movement by presiding over its meetings, and assisting it in every possible way, and now, as I must have thoroughly exhausted your 'patience as I have also my stock of eloquence, I will proceed, with Mrs Keeley's assistance, to lay the stone.'
The Lyceum Theatre opened the following year in 1891 and at first was a home to plays and drama but soon went over to variety, including early film screenings. In July 1898 the Building News and Engineering Journal reported that the Theatre's Auditorium had been structurally altered and redecorated by Messrs. Grimwood and Son of Ipswich and Sudbury.
The Lyceum later became a full time Cinema but it reverted to live theatre use in 1930. This was to be short lived however as by the mid 1930s it was closed down and in 1936 it was converted into a department store.
Remarkably the Theatre remained in use as a Department Store until
the late 1980s when it was finally demolished and the Carr Street Shopping
Precinct was built on the site.
Later - The Savoy Ballroom / Top Rank Bingo
Above - An early postcard showing the Ipswich Hippodrome Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith - The card also mentions St. Peter's Street but this is today at the other end of St. Nicholas Street.
The Hippodrome Theatre was situated on Nicholas Street, Ipswich and opened on the 25th of October 1905. The Theatre was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham, as a Variety Theatre, with an auditorium consisting of Stalls and one circle, with no boxes. The stage was 40 foot deep by 50 foot wide with a proscenium opening of 30 foot, and was designed to be able to stage equestrian and circus acts as well as variety, much like the earlier Brighton Hippodrome, also by Matcham. The Theatre could accommodate 1,850 people but the artistes must have been pretty cramped as there were only five dressing rooms.
In 1929 the Theatre was taken over by ABC and it was turned over to full time Cinema use with the occasional live show put on its stage for good measure. The Lyceum ran mostly as a Cinema up until April 1957 when it was closed after a short return to live theatre.
Later the Theatre became a Bingo Hall operated by Top Rank who removed the last vestiges of Matcham's auditorium apart from its ceiling. Bingo ended at the Hippodrome in the early 1980s and the Theatre was then demolished in 1985 for the construction of an Office Building called Cardinal House on the site.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of Cardinal House, which was built
on the site of the former Ipswich Hippodrome in 1985 - Click
The Picture House Theatre is worth mentioning here as it was originally designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham. The Theatre stood on Tavern Street and was Ipswich's first purpose built Cinema. It was built for British Cinematograph Theatres and opened on the 14th of December 1910, with an auditorium which could accommodate 650 people.
Right - The auditorium of the Ipswich picture House in 1924 - From a brochure for The Bulman Cinema Screen Company.
The Theatre also had its own Jacobean Style Tea Room. The Theatre's auditorium would later be enlarged with an additional 120 seats and a new cafe was also added at the same time. The Theatre also had its own small orchestra and a Bishop & Sons Organ.
In 1927 the Theatre was restructured, land on the side of the Theatre was acquired and a new auditorium was built on the site whilst the old Theatre remained open. The Theatre later closed for 3 months while the original auditorium was demolished and the restructuring of the Theatre was finished. The Theatre reopened late in 1927 with a new seating capacity of 1,139.
Left - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Picture House, Ipswich - Click to Interact.
A visitor to the site, Stephen Wischhusen, who worked for British Cinematograph
Theatres Ltd from 1958 to 1972, says:- 'By that time the firm had been
acquired by Davies Cinemas Ltd but traded under its own name. Most of
The Davies Cinemas were operated under the BCT Banner, these included,
Ionic, Golders Green, Rex, East Finchley (now Phoenix), Florida Enfield,
Florida Tottenham, and the Playhouse Felixtowe ( a former live theatre
and part of the original BCT Circuit). W. S. R. Adams (Bill) was the
company secretary and I often accompanied him to Felixtowe. He told
me that the Ipswich Picture House went to Cinemascope when Fox failed
to agree terms with the majors, but when Fox eventually settled, there
was very little other than x-ploitation movies and it was too good a
theatre for that, so it was sold to Timothy Whites, which in its turn
became part of Boots. The operator (projectionist) then left to work
for Westrex but kept his hand in by doing relief at the Rex, as did
Pook the other operator. - Stephen Wischhusen.
Later - ABC Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Ritz Cinema, Ipswich - Click to Interact
The Ritz Cinema was situated in Buttermarket, Ipswich, next door to the Ancient House, and opened on the 4th of January 1937 with a showing of the film 'Three Maxims' with Anna Neagle, who was also at the Theatre's official opening. The Theatre was designed in the Art Deco style by the well known architect Robert Cromie, and had a 12 foot deep by 50 foot wide stage and four dressing rooms. The Theatre also had its own Wurlitzer organ and a cafe.
The Ritz was taken over by Associated British Cinemas in October 1937 and was renamed ABC in 1962. Tripled in March 1973 the Theatre reopened in May with one cinema in the former balcony, and two in the former stalls. The Theatre's Organ was removed at this time.
The Theatre closed on the 5th of April 1986 and was demolished for
the building of a new British Home Stores which is still there today.
The Theatre Royal, Ipswich was opened by the lessee Mr Wilkin on the 2nd of June 1803 with a production of 'The Maid of the Oaks' and 'The Fashionable Lover'. Wilkin would later purchase the Theatre in 1822.
The Theatre was built on the site of an even earlier Theatre which had opened sometime in the early part of the 18th century (see image right). David Garrick is said to have had his debut at this early Ipswich Theatre in 1741.
Right - An engraving by Robert Wilkinson of the early 18th century Theatre, Tankard Street, which the Theatre Royal replaced in 1803.
During its last 20 years in the late 1800s Mr H. R. Eyre was one of the joint owners of the Theatre Royal and acted as its Managing Proprietor until the end. The Theatre Royal's last performance was a production of 'Doctor Bill' on the 25th of October 1890.
The Theatre was then taken over by the Salvation Army to be used as
a barracks. The building was demolished along with the adjoing Tankard
Inn Tavern in the 1960s for a road widening scheme. There is much more
on the theatrical history of the Theatre Royal in the article below.
The history of our old provincial theatres is yet to be written, and certainly such a subject would afford matter enough to fill several interesting volumes. In the meantime, when some ancient temple of the drama in the shape of a country playhouse is pulled down, or devoted to some other purpose, a brief sketch of its annals is certain to prove both entertaining and instructive. A notable instance of this kind has just occurred. The "Theatre Royal," Ipswich, was opened on a certain fine summer's evening at the beginning of the century, viz,, on June 2d, 1803, the bill of the play for the eventful night comprising those two popular pieces of the period, The Maid of the Oaks and The Fashionable Lover, and on Oct. 25th, 1890, the very last dramatic performance in the old building was that modern metropolitan success Dr. Bill. At the last-mentioned date General Booth's local contingent of the Salvation Army took possession of the structure, which has been purchased for a "Barracks," where, at the ensuing Christmastide, the Hallelujah lads and lasses will make their first appearance on the time-honoured boards.
Before, however, attempting to enumerate the famous actors and actresses who have trod the stage of the theatre which was built on the exact site of the old structure (opened early in the eighteenth century), it ought to be noted that the "Great Garrick," the most wonderful actor " of his, or any age," selected the Ipswich Theatre for his debut. This fact alone speaks volumes for the judgment and discrimination of the players of that town in the middle of the eighteenth century. Every writer of the period and more modern biographers are positive that this "meteor of an age, in whose presence every star disappeared," made his first appearance in the summer of 1741 at the old Ipswich Theatre in Tankard-street (now Packet-street). One authority says that Garrick was then acquainted with Gilfard, then the manager of the Theatre in Goodman's Fields, and having consulted him, he was led by his advice to make an experiment of himself in the country. Accordingly, in the summer of 1741, they set out together for Ipswich, where a regular company was then performing.
Here an arrangement was made for Garrick, under the name of Lyddal, to appear as Aboan in the tragedy of Oroonoko, and in that disguise he passed the Rubicon. His appearance surprised the audience, and such was his success, we are told, that in a few days he ventured to cast his black complexion and show himself in the part of Chamont in The Orphan. Garrick after this played several other characters, according to the old playbills, such as Captain Duretete in The Way to Win Him, and the dual rule of Ventrebleu and Sir Roger Racket in Lethe; or, Esop in the Shades. The applause and support he received at Ipswich confirmed his predilection for the stage, and he performed, says one enthusiastic writer, "to the delight of the audience, not only alike in tragedy and in comedy, but even in pantomime, and his agility as harlequin rivals his humour and his pathos." This was high praise indeed, but one critic was doubtful of his tragic powers, for commenting on his reception in the old town, this authority remarks, "Ipswich credentials were all very well, but Ipswich prestige would not carry the metropolis, and a small, well-made young man, of genteel appearance, seems scarcely the stuff for a first-class tragedian." But, as all know, Garrick afterwards became the "great Apollo of the playgoing world," and Quin enviously said of him, "Garrick is a new religion, the people follow him as another Whitfield, but they will soon return to church again."
To turn, however, to the present house in Tacket-street, the first two names of note that attract attention, as appearing during the year 1804, are those of Mr Incledon, the famous singer, whose songs were enthusiastically received, and a Mr Ritchie, whose feats on the tight-rope were then considered something marvellous. Two years afterwards, "Mr Bannister, from Drury-lane," appears to have been the chief actor of note who delighted Ipswich audiences with a round of his favourite character. No particular star of any magnitude seemed to have visited Ipswich during the next decade, but in 1816, John Kemble and Mr and Mrs Bartley fulfilled a very successful engagement, while Mr Incledon repeated his visit.
In the following year no less a personage than the great Edmund Kean electrified the natives in a round of his most famous personations, and, according to local chronicles, his reception was enthusiastic to a degree. Mr Emery's name was on the bills the same year; and in 1818 another great dramatic treat was provided for local playgoers. In that year the charming Miss O'Neill appeared here for the first time, and at once became an immense favourite both on and off the boards, the leading inhabitants vying with each other in treating her in the most hospitable manner. Among those that appeared in conjunction with Miss O'Neill were Mr Booth, jun., Mr Sinclair (from Covent-garden), and Mr Blanchard, from the same metropolitan theatre.
In 1820 a complete galaxy of talent came down to the old borough, in the shape of Mr Young, Miss Brunton, Miss Stephens, and Miss Macaulay, among others. The three succeeding years were rich in the local theatrical records, as in quick succession one finds such notable names as Mr Dowtou, Mr Matthews - evidently the elder Charles - Mrs Bartley, Mr Wharton, Miss Dance (from Covent-garden), Mr Slowman, and Miss Davis.
The year 1824 was also a notable one from the interesting fact "that our dear old friend Mrs Keeley" who recently assisted Mr Edward Terry to lay the first stone of the Ipswich Lyceum, made her first appearance under the name of Miss Goward on the boards of the Tacket-street Theatre. For some years afterwards the names of Mr and Mrs Keeley were household words in the district, and, without going to the oldest inhabitant, there are many old playgoers now living in Ipswich who remember her appearance in certain favourite characters. Mr Osbaldiston's name figured several times on the playbills of 1826, and that of Mr Yates in the following year.
In 1828 "Mr Macready and Mons. Gouffe" - such names mingled - the great tragedian and the "man monkey," had both engagements at Ipswich; but it is satisfactory to read that the famous Shakespearian actor's performance made a deep impression upon his audiences every time he appeared. The year 1829 was noteworthy for the visit of three charming artists - no less a trio than Miss Foote, Miss Paton, and Madame Vestris, their singing, dancing, and acting being described as "delightful."
From 1830 to 1835 the playgoers of the period had opportunities of witnessing some of the most varied metropolitan talent of the day, such popular names as Tyrone Power (the famous Irish comedian), Mr Wallack, Mr Elton, Mr and Mrs Sloman, with the celebrated Charles Kemble, and that wonderful vocalist, Braham. Again from 1835 to 1840, in addition to the return visits of Sinclair and Yates, there was Miss Elphinstone, Charles Matthews and Madame Vestris - whose appearance together, strange to say, in 1839, is recorded as a "dead failure," in a pecuniary sense evidently - and last, but by no means least, poor G. V. Brooke. This great tragedian appeared in all his favourite parts at the Theatre Royal, and at every subsequent visit to the town became a greater favourite, until that sad catastrophe - the wreck of the London, in which he lost his life.
During the following decade several metropolitan favourites visited Ipswich, among them, Mr Farren, Miss Ellen Tree, Mr Ryder, Henry Betty (son of the Roscius), and Madame Celeste and Mr Webster. The last-named popular Adelphi artistes - it is curious to note - were announced on the bills to "Dance a Polka."
Up till the above period the Theatre Royal was one of those comprised in what was termed the "Norwich Circuit," including Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Bury St. Edmunds, Lynn, and Colchester. When the present structure was built in 1803 a Mr Wilkin was lessee, but bought the place in 1822, when Mr James Smith hired the theatre for £200 a-year This continued until 1840, when his son, George Smith, took over the lesseeship, and after that date Mr Robson, Mr Hooper, and Mr Charles Gill took the place, the last-named being manager and lessee for several years. After Mr Gill Messrs Richardson and Turner and Mr Lionel Rignold took the place for short terms, but for the last twenty years Mr H. R. Eyre, one of the joint owners of the building, has acted as managing proprietor. During the last three decades nearly every actor and actress of note has strutted a little hour upon the stage of this old theatre, and some of them now hold the highest positions.
Here Toole and Robson have male Ipswichians roar with laughter at one time and almost cry at another, while Charles Dillon has surprised and delighted them with his famous impersonation of Belphegor, the 'mountebank. The late Mr Sothern has also amused them with the eccentricities of Lord Dundreary, while not many years ago the inimitable Charles Mathews rattled away as Dazzle in London Assurance or as Charles Surface in The School for Scandal. The "beautiful Mrs Rousby" has also attracted crowded audiences in Mary, Queen of Scots, while the well-known and clever artists that have appeared with companies on tour are too many to enumerate.
Many droll reminiscences and incidents connected with the "Theatre Royal" might be related, and two or three of the same may aptly conclude this brief sketch. On one occasion doing the performance of a certain nautical drama the back of the stage represented the hull of a vessel shortly to be wrecked, when a rat was seen to be running about the deck. "I'll be d-d if that ship will sink while that blessed rat's on board" exclaimed a sailor sitting in the front row of the pit, a sagacious remark which elicited loud applause. Again, during the performance of the Octoroon, produced by Mr William Sidney, just as a "fine Negro lad " was about to he knocked down in the "slave auction," an enterprising builder in the boxes shouted out, "I'll give 8200 for the Nigger * if he can carry the hod," a strange bid which somewhat discomfited the dramatis personie, but which tickled the risibilities of the audience immensely.
Saturday night performances a few years ago were signalised sometimes by local, sensational pieces, like Margaret Catchpole, or the Heroine of Suffolk, concluding with Maria Martin; or, the Murder in the Red Barn, or, perchance, the bill for the evening would be Macbeth and The Stranger! The gallery occupants were rather critical when Shakespearian plays were attempted, and their rude remarks so irritated an aspiring young member of a stock company, who was cast for Hamlet one Saturday night, that he advanced to the footlights and angrily remarked, "If you gentlemen up there knew what it was to play Shakespeare you wouldn't he so hard on a fellow." The reply came in the shape of a portion of one of the gallery seats, which happily missed the actor, but broke off one of the arms of the chair which answered for his royal father's "throne."
But perhaps the most extraordinary and droll incident connected with the Theatre Royal occurred during one of the visits of the Beatrice company (now Frank Harvey's). At that time there was a well-known character in Ipswich, who was a painter by trade and a street preacher by profession, named Andrews, but whose nickname was "Putty." One evening the after-piece was Nine Points of the Law, one of the parts being that of a fussy, pettifogging lawyer. No sooner had the actor who assumed that role made his appearance on the stage, than he was greeted with shouts of recognition, roars of laughter, and cries of "Putty,' "Bravo, old Putty," from all parts of the pit and gallery. The actors on the stage were amazed, the piece was stopped, but the audience had recognised an old acquaintance and accordingly cheered him to the echo. There was Mr "Putty" Andrews to the life. The dingy black suit, the same old hat, the white cotton gloves, and even the bundle of papers and tracts that the "town missionary" carried with him to distribute. But the most curious part of the affair was that the very actor on the stage who was the cause of the hubbub was, by a singular coincidence, also named Andrews, and had been for many years a respected member of the Beatrice company. Eventually the piece was allowed to proceed but not only on that night, but several times after, whenever the piece was repeated, the same actor was always received with cheers and shouts of "Bravo. Putty."
Formerly - The New Music Hall
The Ipswich Public Hall was situated on Westgate Street, Ipswich, where it had its main entrance, although there was also another entrance on Museum Parade. It first opened as the New Music Hall on the 30th of November 1868, costing some £15,000 to build, a vast sum at the time.
Right - A photograph of the remains of the Ipswich Public Hall after the fire in 1948 - Ipswich Record Office.
An article in the East Anglian Daily Times of February the 28th 1948 says:- 'In its early days Ipswich Public Hall, described nearly eighty years ago as "the New Music Hall," having an entrance from Westgate Street and another from the Museum Parade, and so placed as to be away from the noise of a public thoroughfare, was much admired for its solidity, the walls being 3ft. 6ins thick of solid brick, its size - it was 98ft. in length, exclusive of the orchestra, 53ft. wide and 50f t. high - and for its elliptical roof ornamented with ribs, and bands, each of the seven divisions being an eliptical dome from which was suspended a gaselier with sixteen jets.
Advertised as seating "comfortably" (no mention of draughts then!) from 1,500 to 2,000, no mean achievement in crinoline days, the Hall had become something of a white elephant by 1875, when it was offered by Mr. William Turner, liquidator of the Public Hall Company, Limited, to the Town Council for the sum of £4,000, plus £500 for fittings and furniture.' - The EAD Times, February the 28th 1948.
By 1925 the Hall was being run by British Cinematograph Theatres who had also opened the Picture House Theatre in Ipswich some years earlier. However, after the Picture House Theatre was enlarged in 1927 the Public Hall stopped being used for regular Cinema and went over to mixed use, although it did still show the occasional film.
Left - A photograph of the remains of the Ipswich Public Hall after the fire in 1948 - Ipswich Record Office.
The building was destroyed by fire on Thursday the 26th of February
1948 and subsequently demolished.
Formerly - The Lecture Theatre of the Mechanics Institute / Poole's Picture Palace - Later The Rep Public House
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Rep Public House, Tower Street, Ipswich. Formerly Pool's Picture Palace / The Arts Theatre - Click to Interact
The Public House on Tower Street, Ipswich, known today as the Rep, was originally constructed as the Lecture Theatre of the Ipswich Mechanics Institute in 1879. In 1909 the building was converted for use as a Cinema called Poole's Picture Palace, and was then later converted for repertory theatre use as the Arts Theatre in the 1940s. A great deal of information on the Arts Theatre period can be found here.
In April 1897 a prospectus was put forward to build a new Theatre as part of the Grand Hotel in the Buttermarket, Ipswich. The Hotel, which was at the time owned by E. W. Hodge, had been been constructed on the site of a former public house called the Bee Hive Inn a few years earlier. The plan was to build the Theatre in the former market area behind the Hotel, and to enlarge the Hotel, and run both the Hotel and the Theatre together. The now renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham was brought in to design the Theatre. The plans never came to fruition however, but I have added the Prospectus to this page for completeness and transcribed some of the more interesting text below.
This company has been formed for the purpose of acquiring and carrying on THE GRAND HOTEL, Ipswich, hitherto conducted by its proprietor, Mr. E. W. Hodge, and to build and work a handsome up-to-date theatre, to be known as THE GRAND THEATRE OF VARIETIES.
Both undertakings will be carried on under the direct supervision of thoroughly practically business men, and conducted upon the same lines which have made London and provincial enterprises of a similar character successful. The freehold of the hotel is subject to an ancient yearly payment of £5 for charitable purposes. An extensive freehold site, known as the provision market, situated at the rear of the Grand Hotel, has also been secured for the purpose of erecting the theatre, and as the site of about one acre in extent is more than sufficient for the purpose, it is proposed to erect other buildings, such as shops, Agricultural Hall, &c. This, however, will be decided by the directors at some future date. The whole being freehold and situated in the centre of this prosperous and rising town, near the Town Hall and General Post Office, forms a most valuable property.
It is the directors intention to build a new wing to the hotel, which will give an additional frontage of about 30 feet. The plans have been duly sanctioned and passed by the licensing justices This is estimated by Mr. Henry J. Wright, M.S.A., Architect and Surveyor, 4, Museum-street, Ipswich, to cost £5,000 to build, and to this estimate it is proposed to add about £2,000 for additional furniture.
It is believed by the directors that the Grand Theatre of Varieties will be a great success, as it has no opposition, and will, in fact, supply a long-felt want in Ipswich, which has a population of over 60,000, not counting surrounding districts.
Very successful entertainments under Mr. E. W. Hodge's management are now held in the Winter Garden, and occasionally in the lecture hall, pending the erection of the Grand Theatre of Varieties. There is no other theatre of varieties in Ipswich.
The building of the theatre, as well as the decoration, will be carried out entirely under the direction of the eminent theatrical architect, Mr. Frank Matcham, who states that he has designed about forty of the most successful theatres and music-halls in the United Kingdom. His report, furnished to the directors at the instance-of the vendor, is as follows:-
9, Warwick-court, London, W.C., November 17, 1896.
To the Directors of the Grand Hotel and Theatre of Varieties,
I inspected the site of the old market adjoining, for the proposed new Theatre of Varieties. It is a very extensive property, and there is ample room for the erection of an arcade, shops, and winter gardens, if desired, in addition to the theatre; in fact, the site, considering its central position, is ready for very important development.
I estimate that the cost of building and furnishing a Theatre of Varieties, specially arranged to suit the requirements of the town, and with a holding capacity of £90 per performance, will be about £10,000. There is no similar building in Ipswich, and, therefore, considering the population, it should, if properly managed, prove a financial success. Yours faithfully, FRANK MATCHAM, Architect.
VALUATION. - The freehold properties in their present state have been valued by Mr. Henry J. Wright, M.S.A., architect and surveyor, of 4, Museum-street, Ipswich, at £49,500, and he estimates that on completion of the hotel and theatre the value of the freehold will amount to £90,500. The furniture, fittings, &c., have been separately valued by Mr. Alfred T. Barter, auctioneer and valuer, of 33, Upper Brook-street, Ipswich, at £8,500.
It will be seen from the following accountant's certificate, addressed to the directors on the vendor's instructions, that the profits from the hotel (although only recently erected) are steadily increasing, and taking into consideration the small extra expense required when the buildings are completed it is certain that they will be largely augmented:- 3 Adelaide-place, London Bridge, E,C., November 14, 1896.
To the Directors of the Grand Hotel and Theatre of Varieties, Ipswich (Limited).
Gentlemen, - In accordance with your instructions have carefully examined the books and accounts of the Grand Hotel, Ipswich, and certify that the net profits, after providing for all contingencies (exclusive of interest on capital), are as follows: For the year ending June, 1895, £1,293 16s. 9d.; for the year ending June, 1896, £1,744 6.s. 11d; with a continual steady increase.
With reference to the future, I consider that the extension of the hotel building; (and the erection of a theatre of Varieties) will add largely to the profits, inasmuch as the present staff and expenses are adequate for a much larger volume of business. I estimate the net profits from the hotel business alone, on completion, at not less than £4,000 per annum.
Bearing in mind that the whole of the extensive property is freehold, taken together with the goodwill of the business, and the furniture, fixtures, and effects, I am of opinion that when the buildings are completed as proposed, the company will have a very eligilble and valuable property. I remain, Gentlemen, yours faithfully, CHARLES WM. PALMER.
The holding capacity of the theatre will be £30 per performance, so that six performances per week would give £540. Taking this at forty-two weeks each year - allowing ten weeks vacation - would result in a gross annual income of £22,680.
Estimating, however, the receipts at only one-half of the above amount, viz., £11,340, and deducting £7,100 for management expenses and directors' fees (an estimate which the directors are informed by Mr. Hodge will fully cover these expenses), a net profit would be left of £4,240. Add estimated net profit from hotel , £4,000, Total £8,240...
...The company takes over the freehold property known as Nos. 18 and 20, Butter-market, now let at a rental of £90 per annum, and the unexpired residue of the lease, as from June next, also the freehold property situate in St. Stephen's-lane, let as a shop and warehouse at £60 per annum.
The purchase price for the whole of the freehold property, buildings, furniture, fixtures, plant, machinery and effects, together with the goodwill of the business, is fixed by the vendor at £76,000, payable as to £38,000 in cash, £10,000 in preference shares, £2,000 in ordinary shares, and the balance in cash or shares or debentures at the option of the directors.
The wines and consumable stores will be taken over at a valuation not to exceed £1,500.
The estimated cost of building the theatre and completing the hotel, including additional furniture is about £17,000. The sum of £27,000 in cash will be provided, thus leaving a balance of about £10,000 for working capital, which is considered amply sufficient...
The above text (edited) is transcribed from a Prospectus published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 30th April 1897.
As far as I am aware The Grand Theatre
was never built and the Hotel is no longer standing.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre or the Grand Hotel that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: