Theatres and Halls in Kingston Upon Thames, London.
Above - The Rose Theatre, Kingston in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
The Rose Theatre, Kingston was the first theatre to be built in the UK in the 21st Century. Work began on the shell of the building in 2003, which also included residential and commercial properties.
The Theatre itself was fitted out by the architects Blundell, Thompson and Hargreaves in 2004 and even before it was finished Sir Peter Hall, who had become the Director of the Theatre the previous year, staged several plays in its unfinished auditorium under the banner of the In the Raw' season.
The Rose Theatre's Horse Shoe shaped auditorium drew its inspiration from the Elizabethan Theatre of the same name in London's Bankside which was home to many of Shakespeare and Marlowe's early plays. (There are plans to excavate the original Rose Theatre site on Bankside and more information about this can be found here.)
Right - The Rose Theatre, Kingston in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
Kingston's Rose Theatre was completed in late 2007 and opened on the 16th of January 2008 with an English Touring Theatre Production of 'Uncle Vanya' directed by Peter Hall.
Apart from the main Theatre there is also a complex of
other theatre spaces in the building.
You may like to visit The Rose Theatre's own Website here.
Formerly - The Albany Assembly Rooms / Hall - Later - The New Revue Theatre / Super Cinema / The County Theatre
Above - The Royal County Theatre, Kingston at the turn of the century - From a postcard
The Royal County Theatre opened on the 4th of October 1897 and was a conversion from the former Albany Assembly Rooms which had been vacated for some time. The Albany was bought by Peter Davey who was a writer of plays and pantomimes, and a member of the local Amateur Dramatic Club. Davey managed to raise enough money, £18,000, to have the Albany Hall converted into a Theatre. The Architect was J.C. Bourne, who was also associated with the planning of the Empire, Kingston, and the conversion took 9 months to achieve. When it was finished the new Royal County Theatre had an auditorium on three levels, Stalls, Circle, and Gallery with a capacity of 1,300.
Right - A Programme for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston for the week of September 7th 1903.
The Theatre was equipped with a working stage of 60 foot wide, with a proscenium opening of 24 foot wide by 22 foot high, which was big enough for all the productions it might encounter in that period. The Theatre also had an orchestra pit, 8 dressing rooms, and a green room, and became home to all manor of productions including plays, opera, and even variety shows, but it was more famous for its pantomimes, written by Peter Davey, which were so good that they would often be presented in other Theatres too. Noel Coward was taken to the Royal County Theatre as a child to see his very first Pantomime; "Aladdin" in 1903. Programmes and the scripts from some of these Pantomimes can be seen in the Templeman Library in the University of Kent.
By 1905 the Theatre was part of a Circuit of 20 other Theatres around London but by November 1912 its live theatre days had ceased and it was in use as a Cinema. In 1915 it was renamed the New Revue Theatre and was in use as a live Theatre again but this didn't last long and it was back in use as a Cinema again six months later, and by November 1917 it was reopened as the Super Cinema.
Left - An illustrated Programme Cover for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston on Thames in 1911 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
In 1939, under the control of H & R Properties, the building was modernised and refurbished and renamed the County Theatre. Sadly on the 9th of February the next year, 1940, the Theatre was destroyed by fire, gutting the interior and leaving only the exterior standing.
The building then remained unused until 1955 when it was converted into a showroom for the Times Furnishing Company. This firm hired furniture to Theatre Production companies for dressing their stage sets, so there was still a slight connection with the theatre world. In 2015 the building is being used as a Sports Direct Store but it is still possible to see part of its original name on what remains of the fly tower. (See the two photographs below).
Some of the above information is Courtesy Alan Chudley.
Above - The remaining structure of the 1897 Royal County Theatre, Kingston in September 2009 when it was being used as a Sports Store called Sports World - Courtesy Roger Fox.
Above - Details from a Programme for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston for the week of September 7th 1903, with the Annual visit of Mr. Mouilot's Company in the Japanese Musical Play 'The Geisha' A Tale of the Tea House. And on the Friday of the same week, A Story of Ancient Rome; 'A Greek Slave' with full chorus and augmented orchestra.
Above - The remains of the fly tower of the 1897 Royal County Theatre, Kingston in September 2009. It is just possible to read part of the name of the Theatre picked out on the Stage Right Wall - Courtesy Roger Fox.
Above - The Kingston Empire in 1939 - From a programme - Courtesy Alan Chudley
The Empire Theatre, Kingston, also known as the New Empire, was built by Bertie Crewe and opened in October 1910. A serious fire occurred at the Empire in its Music Hall days only a few years after it was built in 1919 and the auditorium was severely damaged.
The Theatre was altered in 1930 when the theatre was bought by Kingshot Theatres (See programme below) and the pit and stalls were merged. It was also, at this time, only the second theatre in the country to install neon lighting to its exterior.
Left - The Auditorium of the Kingston Empire before the 1930s alteration.
The Empire was another casualty of the coming of Television in the 1950s. When an auction failed to find a buyer for the Theatre it was bought by a property company in 1956, gutted and turned into a supermarket and offices.
The exterior of the building is however still partly recognisable as a lost theatre today and although in the late 2000s it was being used as a pub called 'Kings Tun' it still has the word Empire painted on tiling on the side of the building.
In 2010 the building was purchased by London Church International, who planed to change its name to KingsGate and reopen the building in September with the intention of running it as a multi-purpose hall for church and conference use, church offices, and a soft play area and coffee shop.
In 2011 the exterior of the building was cleaned and the original Empire sign revealed for all to see clearly. On the ground floor and half the first floor of the former Theatre a Weatherspoons pub called the 'King's Tun' is now in occupation and the church is on the second floor, an unlikely mix of bed fellows but it appears to be working.
The Kingston Empire by Alan Chudley
'After a false start, in 1907 the Empire was designed by Bertie Crewe for Clarence Sounes, and was built on the site of a Doctor's house and orchard. It later came into the hands of Jack Gladwin of the Theatre Royal Norwich and in 1930 was sold with the Aldershot Hippodrome to Stanley Watson to become Kingshot Theatres Ltd.
Above - The side elevation of what remains of the Kingston Empire today. Note the Empire sign is still slightly visible although painted over, and the 1910 date on the side of the Theatre's Facade - Photo Courtesy Roger Fox.
Above - The side elevation of what remains of the Kingston Empire in August 2011. Note the Empire sign being cleaned on the side of the Theatre's Facade - Photo Courtesy Roger Fox.
Above - The rear and side elevation of what remains of the Kingston Empire today - Courtesy Roger Fox
The Empire, always a twice nightly house, was the sister theatre of the Hippodrome Aldershot where in the 1940s I was employed as assistant Electrician. Sometimes when the Empire had a mid-week matinee and the usual stage crew, having day time jobs would not be available, I would be asked to work the Limes on the front of the upper circle, for that matinee at the Empire. I had to take a train from Aldershot to Surbition, and then catch a trolley bus, known locally as a 'Diddler' to Kingston. And it was quite a task to get back to Aldershot in time for the evening performances there.
Left - The Kingston Empire Auditorium after the 1930s
alteration - From a programme - Courtesy Alan
Right - A Programme for 'Wild Oats' at the Empire Theatre, Kingston, run at this time by Kingshot Theatres Ltd. - July 24th 1939.
Left - Percy
G Court, the Stage manager at the Empire, Kingston.
Text in quotes above was kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.
After Percy retired he wrote down his memories of his long career in the theatre from the late 1800s in an article entitled 'Memories Of Show-Business' and this is now availiable to read on the site here...
A visitor to the site, Angela Goldsborough, has
sent in some information regarding her father, Henry Dean, who was manager
at the Kingston Empire for over 30 years. Angela says: 'My Dad Henry
Richard Dean was the manager of Kingston Empire for over
Later The Regal Cinema / ABC / Coral Bingo / Gala Bingo and Dance Studio
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Regal Cinema, Kingston, built on the site of the former Cinema Palace Theatre - Click to Interact.
The Cinema Palace Theatre in Richmond Road, Kingston Upon Thames was built next to the Central Hall Rink and opened on the 4th of December 1909. The auditorium was in the style of the Music Halls of the day and was fitted with one balcony.
Despite its music hall pretensions however it wasn't long before it was being used as a Cinema only, and showing silent films instead. The Theatre was never converted for sound and although successful was demolished in 1931 so that a new Cinema, called the Regal, could be built on the site.
The Regal Cinema was designed by the well known Theatre Architect Robert Cromie with an auditorium in the Art Deco style and a capacity of over 2,400. The Cinema was built by the County Cinemas circuit with stage facilities and an orchestra pit and there was also a Tea Room on the first floor with a small stage, sometimes used as a Ballroom. The Regal opened on 15th February 1932 with the films 'Splinters of the Navy', 'Keepers of Youth', and the Laurel & Hardy film 'Our Wives'. The Regal also played host to regular stage shows and there were many radio broadcasts of its Wurlitzer organ which is today still going strong as one of the main attractions of the Musical Museum in Brentford.
Right - The Regal Cinema, Kingston in December 2013 - Courtesy Mo Malik who has many more images of the building on his Flickr page here.
In August 1961 the Cinema was renamed ABC, a name it retained until its eventual closure as a Cinema on July the 17th 1976 with a final showing of the films 'Blondie' and 'Adventures of a Taxi Driver.' The building was then converted for Bingo by Coral, and was renamed Gala Bingo in 1991.
The Regal is rare example of one of Robert Cromie's Cinemas and is Grade II Listed. The building still survives with much of its fittings intact.
Although the Cinema is currently closed and boarded up the former Tea Rooms is today used as the Kingston Dance Studio and is a rare example of 1930's Art Deco preserved in its original colour scheme.
Left - The former Tea Rooms of the Regal Cinema, Kingston, today home to the Kingston Dance Studio - Courtesy Mo Malik who has many more images of the Tea Rooms here.
There are also many other images of the building, inside and out, here.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: