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Theatres and Halls in Kingston Upon Thames, London

The Rose Theatre - The Kingston Empire Theatre - The Royal County Theatre - The Regal Cinema / ABC / Gala Bingo / Cinema Palace

See also in this area: Richmond Theatres

The Rose Theatre, 24-26 High Street, Kingston upon Thames

The Rose Theatre, Kingston in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Rose Theatre, Kingston in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

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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.

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

The Royal County Theatre, Fife Road, Kingston Upon Thames

Formerly - The Albany Assembly Rooms / Hall - Later - The New Revue Theatre / Super Cinema / The County Theatre

The Royal County Theatre, Kingston at the turn of the century - From a postcard

Above - The Royal County Theatre, Kingston at the turn of the century - From a postcard

A Programme for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston for the week of September 7th 1903.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.

A Postcard view of the Royal County Theatre and Fife Road, Kingston circa 1910 - Courtesy Roger Fox.

Above - A Postcard view of the Royal County Theatre and Fife Road, Kingston circa 1910 - Courtesy Roger Fox.

An illustrated Programme Cover for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston on Thames in 1911 - Courtesy Roy Cross.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.

Right - 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 recent years though the building had been used as a Sports Direct Store and its original use had been all but extinguished from view, although it was still possible to see part of its original name on what remained of the fly tower. (See the two photographs below).

In October 2020 the local Council approved plans to demolish the former Theatre and its neighbouring building in order to construct a 200 room Residential housing building.

Some of the above information is Courtesy Alan Chudley.

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 - 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.

Programme for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston, with details for the week of September 7th 1903

Programme for the Royal County Theatre, Kingston, with details for the week of September 7th 1903

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.

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 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.

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

The Empire Theatre, Clarence Street, Richmond Road, Kingston Upon Thames

Later - The Kings Tun Public House

Bertie Crewe's Kingston Empire in 1910 - From the ERA, 1st October 1910.

Above - Bertie Crewe's Kingston Empire in 1910 - From the ERA, 1st October 1910.

Percy G Court, the Stage manager at the Kingston Empire from its opening in 1910.The Empire Theatre, Kingston was designed by the well known Theatre Architect Bertie Crewe for Clarence Sounes, and opened on the 24th of October 1910. The stage carpenter and resident stage manager at the Kingston Empire from its opening in 1910 was Percy G. Court (shown right) who worked there for 30 years until 1940. 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 fascinating contemporary account is available to read on the site here.

Right - Percy G. Court, the Stage manager at the Kingston Empire from its opening in 1910.

The ERA reported on the almost completed Theatre in their October the 1st 1910 edition, along with the image shown above, saying:- 'This new and handsome addition to the architectural features of Kingston is rapidly approaching completion, and we are able, by the courtesy of Mr. Clarence Sounes, the proprietor, and Mr. Bertie Crewe, the architect, of 75, 77, Shaftesbury Avenue, W., who has designed over fifty of the most successful theatres and hippodromes in London and the provinces, to give a full description of the new house, which is situated in the Richmond-road, one minute's walk from the Kingston railway station...

An early Postcard showing the Kingston Empire - Courtesy Roger Fox.

Above - An early Postcard showing the Kingston Empire - Courtesy Roger Fox who says 'The Theatre opened in 1910 and the trams arrived in Kingston in 1906. The site opposite, Canbury Lodge and its garden, partly later became the Bus depot, and the right hand part in 1939 the Granada. An early cinema opened on a site hidden by the trees on the right hand side in 1910 but we cannot see it. The first trams were in the series 300 but this one looks to be in the 200 series.

A Google StreetView Image of the former Kingston Empire today - Click to Interact....The site, needless to remark, is a most admirable one, being in the centre of the town, with frontages to the main road, and rights of way at both ends, having a splendid electric train service which passes the theatre to Wimbledon, Tooting, Merton, Hampton Wick, Hampton Court, Molesey, Twickenham, Richmond, Teddington, and Surbiton.

Right - A Google StreetView Image of the former Kingston Empire today - Click to Interact.

The main elevation is very handsome and strictly architectural, carved out in Modern English Renaissance style and constructed in terracotta (to imitate Portland stone) and medium red bricks. This will be further improved by the erection of an ornamental wrought Iron and glass verandah stretching out over the payment, the glass to this and to all the windows having been carried out in coloured "Deconverre" leaded work, and the effect when lighted up at night, and with numerous arc lamps on the front, will be most attractive. A special feature to the elevation will be the turret at the south-east corner of the main elevation, from which will be suspended a brilliant electric arc lamp, about 66ft. from the ground, a feature which will be seen from all parts of the town.

The main entrance is from Richmond-road into the entrance-hall, this being a high apartment with the walls finished to imitate stone, and lined to imitate Ashlar, and a white panelled ceiling. In the centre opposite the entrance is the Box Office, and on the right-hand side there are staircases leading to the stalls and circle respectively.

The Auditorium of the Kingston Empire - From a Programme from October 1945 - Courtesy Philip Paine.The stalls are approached from the main entrance, down a few steps and entered at the side. There are ten rows in all, all tip up chairs, with wide gangways, and plenty of "knee-room," the floor being covered with thick pile carpet. A few steps up from the entrance hall leads to the circle, where there are twelve rows, and seated and carpeted similar to the stalls. A great feature in the circle is the spacious promenade, 61ft long, with a floor slightly sloping, and from which the whole of the stage can be seen.

Left - The Auditorium of the Kingston Empire - From a Programme from October 1945 - Courtesy Philip Paine.

A few steps from the promenade there is a spacious lounge each side of the Biograph box, special provision having been made for separate saloons for the stalls and circle patrons. Also a special feature has been made of a ladies' tea room; this is quite out of the ordinary, and will be a great convenience, especially at matinees. This room, along with the stalls and circle saloons, will be made as comfortable as possible, and are the finest and cosiest in any theatre, with pile carpets and settees, &c. Retiring and cloak rooms have been provided for ladies and gentlemen in the most convenient places for an all of the house.

In the centre of the circle promenade is a fire proof Biograph chamber, so constructed that it forms part of the scheme of decoration. The boxes, of which there are four, are approached from the circle. The pit entrance is also from Richmond-road, with a few steps down. To prevent crushing in the entrance the people will be guided slowly past the pay-box; the same system will also be used in the gallery entrance. There are nearly 600 seats in the pit in seventeen rows, all comfortably upholstered, with wide passages and gangways.

The rear and side elevation of what remained of the Kingston Empire in 2011 - Courtesy Roger Fox

Above - The rear and side elevation of what remained of the Kingston Empire in 2011 - Courtesy Roger Fox.

The Auditorium of the Kingston Empire when it first opened - From the ERA, 8th of October 1910.The gallery is entered from the right of way at the side nearest Kingston Station, and will seat about 607 people in twelve rows, while spacious saloons have been provided for both pit and gallery, also cloak rooms and ample lavatory accommodation for both sexes.

Right - The Auditorium of the Kingston Empire when it first opened - From the ERA, 8th of October 1910.

The "sight-lines" from all parts of the house are perfect, in spite of the great width of the auditorium; there is not a single column to obstruct the view. The circle and gallery have been constructed on the most approved suspensory principle, the huge girders under the circle and gallery being hidden from view and the ends carried on blue brick piers built in neat cement and flush with the walls. The auditorium is 73ft. deep by 60ft. wide.

The decoration in the auditorium has been carried out in Grecian Renaissance, so admirably adapted for theatres, and finished in white, with the enrichments finished off to imitate gold bronze. The tableaux curtains and all draperies are in shades of maze blue and rich old gold, also the armchairs, seats, and carpets. These, together with all the interior fittings, electric lifts, barriers, doors, and even door furniture, have been specially designed to harmonise with the scheme of decoration.

The lighting is by electricity, with a second and third service in case of failure. The heating is on the low pressure hot water system, on the most elaborate lines, numerous radiators have been placed in the best positions in the auditorium, and the stage has a continuous coil of pipes round each wall, so draughts will be impossible. Special attention has been paid to the most important question of ventilation, and this has been done by means of huge electric fans in the roof and air ducts. These are powerful enough to entirely change the air in the theatre six times an hour.

A Google StreetView Image of the former Kingston Empire today - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Kingston Empire today - Click to Interact.

There are two exits to each part of the house, the pit having three, all of which are in the most advantageous positions, and the theatre when crowded can, with ease, be cleared in two minutes. These exit are indicated by lights always burning, so that when the house is in darkness they will show up, and in the rare event of panic the people would walk straight to them.

The question of contending with an outbreak of fire - an almost impossible thing - has been thoroughly dealt with. The stage can be entirely cut off from the auditorium in a few seconds by a steel framed and double covered asbestos curtain, and would have a constant flood of water over it. This can be operated both from the stage or from just inside the stage door. In addition to this there are two hydrants on the stage and two In the flies, each with water-buckets, and also two hydrants in the pit, circle, and gallery, ten in all.

The stage roof is constructed with a large skylight, the sides of which automatically open in case of fire, and draw the flames and smoke through the stage roof away from the auditorium. All the openings between the stage and the dressing rooms and auditorium have been fitted with self-closing iron doors.

A framed collection of programmes and photos for a production of 'Mr. Gulliver Comes to Town' at the Kingston Empire in September 1952 - Courtesy Hildegard Schindler.

Above - A framed collection of programmes and photos for a production of 'Mr. Gulliver Comes to Town' at the Kingston Empire in September 1952 - Courtesy Hildegard Schindler.

Apart from this, the theatre has been constructed, wherever possible, of fireproof materials. The circle and gallery are in steel and concrete, only the steppings being made of wood, and all the exit staircases are of brick and concrete.

The dressing rooms are in an entirely separate block, and are entered off the right of way at side. They are all light and airy, with hot-water heating and with hot and cold lavatories. Down below in the basement are the boiler-house and electricians' rooms, entirely cut off from the rest of the building.

The stage is of ample dimensions to take anything that is ever likely to be required, with a height to the grid of 49ft. and a width of 78ft.

The seating capacity altogether is for nearly 2,000 people, each one of whom will get an absolutely uninterrupted view of the stage. The opening is fixed for Oct. 24, for which a strong variety company has been engaged. Performances will be given twice nightly, also frequent flying matinees by London stars, for which many important engagements have been made. We wish Mr. Sounes every success in his new venture.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 1st October 1910.

The side elevation of what remained 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 side elevation of what remained 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.

The Kingston Empire in 1939 - From a programme - Courtesy Alan ChudleyA serious fire occurred at the Kingston Empire in its Music Hall days only a few years after it was built. The fire occurred in April 1914 destroying the stage, and damaging the auditorium. But the Theatre was quickly rebuilt and redecorated, and reopened on Monday the 20th of July 1914.

Right - The Kingston Empire in 1939 from a programme - Courtesy Alan Chudley

A Review of the Last Show 'La Vie Parisienne' at the Kingston Empire in March 1956 - From the Stage Newspaper, March 24th 1956.The Theatre was altered in 1930 when it was bought by Kingshot Theatres 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.

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.

Left - A Review of the Last Show 'La Vie Parisienne' at the Kingston Empire in March 1956 - From the Stage Newspaper, March 24th 1956.

The exterior of the building is however still partly recognisable as a lost theatre today and although today it is 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 Weatherspoon 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.

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

Working at the Kingston Empire by Alan Chudley

The side elevation of what remained of the Kingston Empire in 2010. Note the Empire sign 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 remained of the Kingston Empire in 2010. Note the Empire sign still slightly visible although painted over, and the 1910 date on the side of the Theatre's Facade - Photo Courtesy Roger Fox.

Kingston Empire Auditorium after the 1930s alteration - From a programme - Courtesy 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.

Right - The Kingston Empire Auditorium after the 1930s alteration - From a programme - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

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.

Programme for 'Wild Oats' at the Empire Theatre, Kingston, run at this time by Kingshot Theatres Ltd. - July 24th 1939The Empire was about twice the size of the Hippodrome and the pay for the matinee three times as great, at seven shillings and sixpence, plus train and 'diddler' fares. The Stage manager at the Empire was the highly respected Percy Court, the musical Director was Olly Aston who was replaced at the end of 1943 by Jack Frere, who had conducted the last two Royal Variety Performances prior to world war two.

Left - A Programme for 'Wild Oats' at the Empire Theatre, Kingston, run at this time by Kingshot Theatres Ltd. - July 24th 1939.

The Empire circa 1950 became one of the few theatres to install an Atlas Fluorescent Stage Lighting System, a grant when the supply changed from DC to AC helped to pay for this.

The success of the Empire put paid to the Royal County Theatre Kingston, which was just around the corner from the Empire in Fife Road as a live Theatre.'

The above text in quotes was kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.

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 thirty years. He passed away on the 18th December 1948, but as I was not born until 1931 I can only assume that he became Manager about 1918. I know some of his duties were having all the days takings from the Box Office, the several bars in the theatre and possibly any other places where money was collected. This had to be checked and put in the safe until the next morning when it was taken to the bank. He used to leave home at 6.30 each morning and did not leave the theatre until after the interval of the second house in the evening. He was also responsible for booking the acts that were to perform in the following weeks. Such stars as Tommy Trinder, Billy Cotton and his Orchestra, Vera Lynne, and Hutch. These are but a few. I can remember my very first visit to the Empire with my Mother. We met my Dad at the stage door and he took us onto the stage where we were met by two little lion cubs! The circus which was performing that week had lions and Lena the mother had had cubs and I was allowed to play with them for a short while. I was often taken back-stage to meet entertainers who were good friends of my Dad. He did actually give Frankie Vaughan his first week's work after he had spotted him in a talent show that was taking place at the theatre.' Courtesy - Angela Goldsborough.

The Regal Cinema, 22-30, Richmond Road, Kingston Upon Thames

Formerly - The Cinema Palace Theatre - Later - ABC / Coral Bingo / Gala Bingo and Dance Studio

A Google StreetView Image of the  Regal Cinema, Kingston, built on the site of the former Cinema Palace Theatre - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Regal Cinema, Kingston, built on the site of the former Cinema Palace Theatre - Click to Interact.

The Regal Cinema replaced the earlier Cinema Palace Theatre in Richmond Road, Kingston Upon Thames, which was built next to the Central Hall Rink and opened on the 4th of December 1909. The auditorium of the Central Palace 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, Kingston in December 2013 - Courtesy Mo Malik.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.

Right - The Regal Cinema, Kingston in December 2013 - Courtesy Mo Malik who has many more images of the building on his Flickr page here.

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.

An advertisement from the Bioscope of April 1932 featuring the Wurlitzer Organ at the Regal, Kingston.

Above - An advertisement from the Bioscope of April 1932 featuring the Wurlitzer Organ at the Regal, Kingston.

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 former Tea Rooms of the Regal Cinema, Kingston, today home to the Kingston Dance Studio - Courtesy Mo Malik.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.

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

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