The Hippodrome Theatre, Queen Street and Adelaide Street, Keighley, Yorkshire
Formerly - The Keighley Theatre / The Queen's Theatre / The New Queen's Theatre
The first records of theatre in Keighley were of Music Hall, which was presented in the Britannia Hall. Legitimate Drama was by touring companies which had to play the Drill Hall, as there was no Theatre yet built in the town.
In the late 1870's Mr Abraham Kershaw (a piano tuner by trade, who worked for Barwick and Brothers) arrived in the town, originating from Huddersfield. He soon took a job at the Britannia Music Hall playing in the orchestra. He was evidently a man of vision and saw an opportunity to build Keighley's first legitimate Theatre for Drama.
In 1876 Kershaw purchased 700 square yards of land in Queen Street, and had building plans drawn up by Mr J.B. Bailey for the new Theatre, which opened at Easter 1880. It was a Wooden building, 5 storeys high. Inside it had a ceiling divided into panels by ornamental beams, in the centre of which was a richly stencilled centre piece. The Theatre had a Dress Circle with side balconies and a spacious Stage and refreshment rooms.
It's opening performance was a concert featuring Mr Charles Blagbro, Miss Emile Norton, Mr Walker Singleton, and Mr Denbigh Cooper, together with the Leeds Harmonic Union. However the Theatre did not do good business. The opening concert cost in excess of £15.00 taking into account salaries and printing, but the audience 'take' for the performance was only £8.3.6d. (£8.17 pence today). The next week did not fare any better with a week's performance by the 'Tavener's Opera Company', and the Theatre closed after just 7 weeks in operation.
It re-opened in August with a combination company of actors, but lost £70 within the first fortnight. In May Mr Wilson Barrett's Drama Company visited including Y. C. Arnold, Miss Cissie Ward, Mr John Speakman, and Mr Luigi Lablanche. Unfortunately the week's box office take was only £23.10.9d. (£23.51 pence today). However at Whitsuntide, at two performances of 'Sam Hague's Minstrels', the box office take was £125.00.
Mr Kershaw then let the Theatre to a Mr T. R. Nugent, but again with no greater success. Mr Kershaw regained control of the Theatre and appealed to the guardians of the building to reduce the rental charges, but to no avail, and so let the Theatre to General Booth of the Salvation Army for the next two and a half years at a rent of £130.00 for the first year and £150.00 for the second. After this period the Theatre then played 6 months Music Hall presented by Mr John Ingham of Bradford. The Theatre then passed back to Mr Kershaw's control who tried legitimate drama again this time to better results.
By the winter of 1888/9 the Theatre was virtually pulled down and a new improved Theatre called the Queen's Theatre was constructed, which opened on August 26th 1889. The new Theatre had a lowered pit area so that it was given direct access onto the street. The frontage was of stone, with a felted and slated roof. The Entrance Lobby and Staircase were of verdantique and Jasper marble. The opening performance was by 'The Hansby Company' in 'Dorothy'.
However, this newly reconstructed Theatre soon became inadequate with the result that it was soon to be replaced by yet a another Theatre on the site, this being the new 'Queen's Theatre'.
After the part demolition of the previous Theatre, Frank Matcham the eminent Theatre Architect was employed to design its reconstruction as a new and lavish Theatre on the same site incorporating the then existing remnants of the previous building.
The site now covered 7,000 square feet with a frontage of 86 feet to Queen Street and 48 feet to Adelaide Street. The New 'Queen's Theatre' was constructed for Mr Kershaw and was completed and opened on the 3rd February 1900. Mr Kershaw had been in partnership with Mr Manning, however, there had been a disagreement in that Mr Manning wanted a less expensive scheme, but Mr Kershaw paid him off, and resumed partnership with Mrs Kershaw.
The Façade of the Theatre featured ornamental carving, with an iron verandah fitted with ornamental and coloured glass running the whole length of the frontage. Admittance to the best parts of the house were in the Lawkholme Lane side. The entrance led to a vestibule giving access to the pit stalls, and was wide and well decorated. A stairway led upwards to the Dress Circle. Separate entrances led to the different parts of the house. These being Stalls and Pit on the ground floor which was sloped, to give better sight lines to the stage, Dress circle and balcony on the first floor, with a promenade, and Upper Circle with Gallery above. The Pit Stalls, Dress circle and Balcony all had tip up seats covered in crimson velvet. The Amphitheatre seats were upholstered in 'rep' of a similar tint. The Pit seats were of polished birch which also featured 'tip up' in sections. The Gallery seating was on stepped concrete rows. Few pillars were present, and those that were did not block anyone's view of the stage. At the end of the Dress Circle was a private stage Box next to the proscenium arch, on each side. Emergency exits from the Dress Circle and Boxes led into Adelaide Street.
The auditorium decoration was in the 'Italian Renaissance' style, rich and ornate. It was reported that 'the gilding richness and delicacy and beauty of the colouring gave a charming effect'. Panels in front of the Private Boxes featured the names of Shakespeare and Sullivan, Statues stood on plinths each side of the Proscenium arch between the arch and the boxes. The ceiling was 'prettily' treated. Around the central Sun Burner, there were four painted panels depicting the seasons of the year. The lighting was by electricity, but gas was also fitted as a backup system.
All the auditorium doors were fitted with patent alarm bolts. There was a Fireproof Safety curtain and hydrants were present throughout. The building was erected on fireproof principals and heated by radiators on a low pressure system. Refreshment rooms and Salons with retirement rooms were provided at the most convenient positions. The audience capacity was nearly 2,000 people and it was estimated that at ordinary prices, and without early door admissions, the 'take' per house would be £100.
The new stage being 65 feet wide and 45 feet deep was level with Adelaide Street and was of a sufficient size to accommodate all shows currently touring. The builders were Messrs Greenhow and Murgatroyd of Keighley.
At the Grand Opening Mr Kershaw took the chair. The curtain rose and the Band of the Third Volunteer Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Ridings Regiment played the National Anthem conducted by Mr E. Newton.
Mr Kershaw then said, as reported in the ERA of the 10th February 1900:- 'It only seemed a few short months since he promised to build a Theatre for Keighley which should be equal to those of Leeds and Bradford. He had got it almost finished, but not quite; they had had time to look at it, and he asked whether he had kept his promise to them. He called the building a fair specimen of a modern Theatre, and it would be his endeavour to get a class of entertainment which should be up to the best level, and which should assist in the literary, musical, and dramatic culture of the town. He paid a warm tribute to the work of the architect, and in conclusion presented an ornamental key to the Mayor as a memento of the occasion.'
'The Mayor, in a few suitable words, declared the Theatre open, and reminded the audience that the hospital owed to the generosity of Mr Kershaw the possession of £1000.'
'Mr Matcham, expressed thanks for their approbation of the new Theatre. He hoped that Mr Kershaw would have a successful career, and that the Theatre would be a benefit to the town.'
'Mr Kershaw said that during the 13 years he had been away from Keighley he had heard accounts that the Theatre had rather deteriorated than made progress, and that they had had little but ultra melodrama. He would try to alter that, but he could only do it with the assistance of the public, for the best companies would not come a second time if they did not receive fitting support.' - The ERA 10th February 1900.
The performance which followed was by the Kentucky Amateur Minstrels (a combination of ladies and gentlemen from Leeds). In the interval Surgeon Captain Gabriel, under licence from the 'Daily Mail', recited 'The absent-Minded Beggar,' and 'The Boys of the Church Brigade,' in uniform passed the tambourines around. The band played 'Soldiers of the Queen' and other patriotic airs. At the close the Mayor announced that the admittance receipts amounted to £100 and that £36.4.00 had been collected. (£36.20 pence in todays money).
The following Monday Mr Sidney Cooper's 'Robinson Crusoe' Company commenced a week's engagement. Mr Ray Cantor as Crusoe, Miss Fanny Harris played a charming Polly, and Miss Lillian Geoffrey had a splendid stage presence and her singing was much appreciated. The Danbys were the chief fun makers. Mr Alfred Passmore and Mr Vendome imparted much humour. Mr W. Walshe sang a patriotic song, and Mr Harry De Mair was an excellent 'Friday'. The four Ernestines were speciality dancers and were a great favourite. The Era of the 10th February 1900 reported that:- 'Shortly before the close of the Pantomime, Mr Cooper appeared before the audience and congratulated Mr Kershaw upon providing such a handsome Theatre.'
The Theatre prospered but changed hands several times during it's history. After about two years of it's opening Mr and Mrs Kershaw relinquished ownership to Messrs Caron and Granville, and they were then followed by George Elphinstone. The next owners were Carson and Kendal and George S. Holmes before being taken over by Francis Laidler in 1913.
In 1909 the Theatre's name had been changed from the Queen's Theatre, to the Hippodrome Theatre. Early companies to play the Theatre were the D'Oyle Carte Opera company who made annual visits. The O'Mara Opera Company, various Shakespearian companies ie Frank Benson, Henry Baynton, Forbes Robertson. Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson played there as did Phylis Neilson Terry, Bransby Williams, Sidney Fairbrother and Clemence Dane.
Early Music Hall artists also played the Theatre such as Charlie Chaplin, as part of Fred Karno's company, and Gracie Fields in 'Mr Tower of London'. Harry Champion, Charles R. Whittle, Jack Pleasants, and George Chirgwin are also known to have performed here. And early Variety artists such as Will Hay, Flanagan & Allen, Max Miller, Albert Whelan, George Formby, Dorothy Ward and Tommy Handley all played the Keighley Hippodrome. General Booth of the Salvation Army also addressed an audience who had come to hear him speak. There were also periods of Repertory at the Hippodrome with the Harry Hanson Court Players.
Theatre Managers were Jabez Wood, J. Austin Walshaw, Harry Leighton, Captain Dunbar and William Green. Stage Managers were Walter Marston, Earnest Paul, Jack Knowles and Harry Williams.
The Keighley Hippodrome closed in 1956 and was demolished in 1961, so ending 56 years of fondly remembered entertainment at the venue.
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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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