The Coliseum Theatre, 55 Cookridge Street, Leeds
Later - The Gaumont Cinema / Norwood Studios / Town and Country / Creation / Leeds Academy / 02 Academy
Above - A Google StreetView image of the former Coliseum Theatre at the time it was being converted from the Creation nightclub - Click to Interact
The O2 Academy in Coockridge Street, Leeds today is a building whose earliest incarnation can be dated right back to 1882 when plans were first put forward for the construction of a new 'Hippodrome' to replace the 'dilapidated circus' building which had previously occupied the site.
This Hippodrome however, never quite got off the ground and soon new plans for the site were put into place for a large general purpose Hall to be constructed on the site which could be used for theatre, concerts, exhibitions, and political meetings and the like. Work did actually begin on this building and its size, even though incomplete, soon attracted the American Evangelists Moody and Sankey to use the unfinished building as a Mission Hall.
The local population thought that was that for the building but they were to be proved wrong when a board of Directors was established to enhance the building, chaired by Samson Fox, with Edmund Wilson as Secretary. Fox and Wilson set about resuming the construction of the building with the aim of turning it into a Town Hall which would be able to accommodate some 4,000 people. The building, designed by the architect William Bakewell, was named the Leeds Coliseum, and was finally completed in July 1885.
Above - The Leeds Coliseum on the occasion of its 50th birthday in 1935 - Courtesy Elaine Forde whose father, George Henry Webster, worked as a projectionist at the Theatre for several decades.
The Leeds Mercury reported on the final construction in their 13th of July 1885 edition saying:- 'Externally there is but one view of the Coliseum which is attractive. The view in Portland-crescent is not pleasing. That in Cookridge-street, however, has features which cannot fail to catch the eye. The style it light and graceful - Flemish of the fifteenth century. The front is of white stone, ornamented with shields of Yorkshire towns. A rose window, flanked by two balconies, emphasises the style, and gives it a semblance of ecclesiasticism.
Right - A Google StreetView image of the Portland Crescent side elevation of the former Leeds Coliseum today - Click to interact.
A spacious vestibule admits from Cookridge-street into a magnificent room, 116ft. long by 79ft. 6in., wide, capable of holding no fewer than 4,400 people 3,600 sitting, 400 standing, and 500 on the orchestra. In shape it is an amphitheatre, having an orchestra at the base and a double tier of galleries for the including line. The roof is single spanned, with ribs of pitch pine and iron. The galleries are reached by four fire-proof staircases, one at each corner. They are constructed upon the principle of a horizontal arch, supported on iron pillars and girders, and will bear unshrinking a certain strain far heavier than any they are likely to be subjected to in ordinary or in extraordinary circumstances.
Carton-pierre, chastely designed, decorates the front of the tiers, showing in delicate relief against the gold and coloured ornament. In the centre of the first tier are the arms of England, surrounded by those of the Queen and Prince Albert, of the Prince and Princess of Wales, of Ireland and of Scotland. The side galleries are adorned with the arms of Yorkshire towns and with busts of the most celebrated musical composers. Carton-pierre is also the chief material in the decoration of the second tier, where the arms of Leeds on shields of citrine, relieved with gold, occupy a prominent position.
The body of the hall will be furnished with cushioned seats, similar to those in the second gallery. In the first gallery are 409 swing chairs, similar to those in use at the Grand and at several Parisian theatres; The Orchestra is not yet constructed. The temporary platform from which Dan Godfrey's band will enliven Wednesday's proceedings does, however, give some indication of the permanent size and character. It will be a semi-circular orchestra, rising is tiers, and culminating in a splendid organ.
The galleries have been cut away so that a proscenium may be fixed, and the stage may take the place of the orchestra. That the promoters have had in view this multiform purpose is shown by the arrangements for reaching different parts of the hall. The main floor is divisible into three sections, each of which has separate entrance and egress; while staircases at the corners enable the fronts and the sides of each gallery to be set apart for distinct purposes. Thus, on the plan of a theatre, the Coliseum may have on the floor, orchestra stalls, pit stalls, and pit; on the first gallery, dress circle and side boxes; and on the second tier, upper circle and galleries.
With windows by day, and by night electricity, supplemented, if need be, by oil lamps, the hall of the Coliseum will speedily become a very imposing place of assembly. Its panelled Walls, its bold sweep of gallery, and its dark pine roof ' high overhead make a pleasant picture whether seen in the ample daylight or under the flood of light that streams from the electric lamps suspended between the pillars.
Although this hall is the chief feature, and the one upon which people are most disposed to dwell, it is by no means all the accommodation that can be had within these wall. Each floor has on the north side a suite of retiring rooms for ladies. On the south the arrangements are more elaborate. A new thoroughfare has been made between Cookridge-street and Portland-crescent. Here will be erected a covered way or colonnade, 120ft. long and 12ft. wide, so that carriages may take up and set down their occupants without risk from wet. This covered way leads directly into a crush-room paved with Mosaic and walled with decorated cement and Burmantofts tiles. This crush-room has direct means of approach to the orchestra stalls or, by a solid walnut staircase, to the dress circle above.
Over the colonnade it is intended to have an open promenade reached by three doors from a foyer that runs the entire length over the crush-room. Above this again is a refreshment-room, well lighted and roomy to a remarkable degree. Mr. Bakewell, the architect, has, in short, erected a building which is, in reality, an epitome of many buildings.
Nothing has been lost sight of. The basement will make an excellent machine-room for exhibitions, to which may be added the engine and dynamos about to be placed in a cellar as far as is practicable from the building. For the present electrical power is generated in a shed in the new street adjoining. A successful test of the machinery and apparatus for the production of the electric light has already been made. The first public illumination will take place on Wednesday evening, on the occasion of the concert by the Grenadier Guards Band. The contractors for the electric lighting are Messrs. Gardner, Allen, and Co. Limited, London. The system adopted is a combination of incandescent and arc lamps. The motive power is supplied by a 25-horse (nominal) engine and boiler, made by Messrs. Davey, Paxman, and Co., Colchester, and the dynamos are of the latest type, and constructed by Messrs. Mather and Platt, Manchester. The incandescent lamps are of the Alexandra-pattern and the arc lamps of the Stanhope pattern. The patentee is Mr. F. Thornton, the engineer to the contracting firm. For the lighting of the body of the hall seven arc lamps are used.. These are suspended from the roof - three down the centre and two on each side. Eighteen incandescent lamps are placed in each of the two semi-circles forming the dress circle and the amphitheatre. In front of the panels at the bank of the saloon or ground floor and in the dress circle are 48 of these lamps. Each light is enclosed in a large opaque grape-shaped globe, which depends from ornamental brass brackets. The vestibule is lighted by a fire-light electrolier or chandelier and two double wall brackets, incandescent lamps being employed. The passages, retiring-rooms, and refreshment-rooms are lighted throughout with incandescent lamps. The installation is so arranged that every lamp is on an alternate circuit, and in case of the failure of one of the two, the lamps on one circuit will supply ample illumination for all practical purposes.
The acoustic properties of the hall were the subject of many congratulations during the mission of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, and these properties can hardly fail to have been enhanced now that the building is complete and the walls are timber-encased. The exhausted air is extracted by means of gas-heated cylinders in the roof, while fresh air is admitted through a series of ventilators so arranged that it must pass over a series of pipes, which can be heated or cooled at will.
It is to be hoped that the distinguished part which the Coliseum is to take in the proceedings of this week will be but the opening of a successful career as a hall for public and for social gatherings.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Leeds Mercury, 13th July 1885.
As was stated in the above article,
the architect for the Leeds Coliseum was William
Bakewell, and the building was one of the earliest in the Country
to have been lit with electricity. The Coliseum officially opened on
Wednesday the 15th of July 1885
with a 'Grand Concert' featuring the full band of the Grenadier Guards,
in the presense of the Prince and Princess of Wales who were on a Royal
Visit to Leeds. The Royal couple also lunched at the Coliseum as it
afforded better accommodation than any other building in Leeds
at the time.
On the following Saturday the Coliseum opened to the public, who were entertained with a selection of concert pieces. The Leeds Mercury reported on the opening saying:- ''If the concert given by the band of the Grenadier Guards on Wednesday is to be taken as a part of, the festivities connected with the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Leeds, that of Saturday evening may fairly be looked upon as inaugurating what those more immediately concerned in the enterprise no doubt hope may be a long and prosperous career for the Coliseum. The opening of a new concert hall capable of seating double the number which can be accommodated in the Victoria Hall is a notable event, and in the case of many among the audience a wish to see the building would be mingled with the desire to hear Mesdames Valleria and Trehelli and Mr. Bridson sing, and Madame Frickenhaus and Herr Ludwig play. The directors did well to make the two concerts contrast so entirely the one with the other, and follow the gorgeous blare of the military band with the quieter tone of music for solo voices and instruments; and each in its way moved a decided success... The pleasure thus experienced by both entertainers and entertained was not slow to manifest itself alike in the vociferous applause which greeted the conclusion of each piece, the heartiness with which encores were demanded, and the kindly readiness with which they were granted. ' - The Leeds Mercury, 20th July 1885.
Commenting on the electric lighting of the Coliseum however, and the general noise in the building, the Mercury was not so enthusiastic when they reported that:- 'The electric lighting is not satisfactory, the large lights flickering most unpleasantly until they were altogether extinguished, and even when burning they emitted a hissing noise which was very distracting. Then there are doors which open with a squeak and close with a thud; and the noise of the footfall of late corners is very obtrusive, the hubbub from the staircases leading to the gallery being especially annoying to those seated in their neighbourhood. But it is ungratious to complain, these faults, are easily remediable, and no doubt will be found non-existent when the building is pronounced complete.' - The Leeds Mercury, 20th July 1885.
These problems may have been ironed out eventually but the building seems to have been less successful as a Concert Hall than the owners had originally intended, and by 1895 the Coliseum was in use as a permanent Theatre, having had its auditorium altered and a false ceiling constructed within it. Not long after this, in 1905 the Coliseum was converted into a Cinema, although it was not radically altered for the purpose.
Above - The stage of the Leeds Colisium on the occasion of the Theatre's 50th birthday in 1935 - Courtesy Elaine Forde whose father, George Henry Webster, worked as a projectionist at the Theatre for several decades.
In 1928 the Theatre was taken over by Gaumont, who, ten years later, in 1938, carried out a considerable conversion of the interior, replacing the auditorium with the more usual Cinema style of two levels, stalls and one balcony. The Theatre reopened on Monday the 24th of October 1938.
In the reopening programme, shown right, and which you can see in full here, an open letter to the Theatre's patrons by the new manager, Thomas Brewis, says:- 'Dear Patrons, it is with great pleasure I greet you as your new Manager. As a North Countryman I am no stranger in Leeds, having held positions as Assistant Manager at several Gaumont-British Theatres in Yorkshire, including the Majestic and Scala Theatres here in Leeds.
I am most happy and proud to now have the Gaumont Coliseum under my control. Past patrons will have a pleasant surprise at the wonderful transformation which has taken place within the four walls of the old Coliseum, and I am sure the following points will be of interest.
The seating is of the most luxurious character with ample leg room and this, with the gentle slope of the floors, provides most comfortable and uninterrupted view of the screen from all parts. The technical equipment is the most modern, in particular great attention has been paid to ensure that the sound re-production is of the very best, and to this end the latest type British Acoustic Duosonic System has been installed, this guarantees adequate and even distribution of sound to every seat in the Hall.
Ventilation and heating is also of great importance in a modern theatre. With the system installed it is possible to regulate the temperature and clarity of the atmosphere, no matter the weather prevailing outside, thereby ensuring the best conditions for our patrons to enjoy the programmes.
In conclusion it is my intention to make "SERVICE TO PATRONS" my watchword, the foundation of which shall be the booking of the type of films found from experience to be the most popular with the patrons of the Coliseum. Criticisms and suggestions will be most welcome, and I can assure you they will receive careful consideration.
Looking forward to knowing all my patrons personally in the near future, I am, At Your Service, TOM BREWIS.
The above text is from the reopening programme for the Leeds Coliseum / Gaumont Cinema, in 1938.
In the same programme a short history of the Coliseum was produced entitled:-
THE STORY OF THE GAUMONT COLISEUM
The Theatre was opened by the late King Edward and Queen Alexandra (who were then the Prince and Princess of Wales) on July 15th, 1885, and it celebrated its Golden Jubilee on July 15th, 1935.
In the early days the Coliseum was used as a Public Hall for all sorts of meetings and entertainments.
One of the first events - if not the very first - was a revivalist meeting held by the famous Sankey and Moody, and although the roof was not completed at the time, the building was crowded.
The old panorama shows, forerunners of motion pictures, were frequently put on at the Coliseum. Circus shows, too, were common. Many must recall, with delight, the "DICK TURPIN" shows put on by Newsome's Circus, and it was with Hamilton's panorama shows that Chung Ling Soo the Chinese conjuror who had such a dramatic ending - he was shot dead while performing one of his llusions - made his first appearance in Leeds. Then there were the minstrels, Moore and Burgess and Sam Hague's.
The North American Animated Photo Co., put on there some of the earliest moving picture shows: the first fight films, Corbett and Fitzsimmons, for example, were shown there.
But above all else, the hall will be remembered as an historical political arena. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain announced there his decision to appoint a tariff commission. Also, it has resounded to the declarations of men like ASQUITH, BALFOUR, CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN, HERBERT GLADSTONE and many others.
The great concerts, too, were held there. Patti, Simms Reeves, Clara Butt, Tetrazzini - all the great artists of the time have appeared on this platform. The older generation will still remember Edgar Haddock's Musical Evenings which were a source of delight to thousands of Yorkshire's music lovers.
Now, after extensive reconstruction, practically entailing the building of a new theatre within the old four walls, the GAUMONT Coliseum, as a modern house of entertainment, will worthily carry on the Traditions of the old Coliseum.
The above text entitled 'The story of the Gaumont Coliseum'
was first printed in the Theatre's reopening
programme of 1938.
In 1961 the Cinema closed and the building was then used as a rehearsal room and a scenery workshop. It was also sometimes used as a Film and Television Studio, and eventually for Bingo for a short time.
In 1992 the Theatre was taken over by Town And Country, who reopened the building as a Music Venue after radically altering the auditorium by leveling the stalls floor, removing the 1895 false ceiling to reveal the original 1885 Concert Hall's timber frame, and extending the auditorium back to its original rear wall thus enlarging the space to its former Concert Hall size.
In 2001 the hall became a nightclub called Creation which subsequently closed in 2004.
In August 2008 it was announced that the Coliseum, then owned by AMG (The Academy Music Group), was to have a £3,000,000 refurbishment and that the venue would be reopening as The Leeds Academy in October 2008.
Today the venue is known as the 02 Academy and their own website, which you may like to visit here, says "...its launch was one of the most exciting and ambitious projects, converting the listed building back to its magnificent theatre style format. A secondary 400 club space, Underground, has a state of the art PA, lighting grid, DJ booth and A/V equipment and is perfectly positioned to host the very best specialist club events and function as an additional area, pre and post gigs in the main auditorium."
The former Coliseum is a Grade I Listed building and has a capacity of 1,800. The stage is 12.5 metres wide at the proscenium and 7.62 deep with a grid height of 5.78 metres.
Former projectionist at the Leeds Coliseum / Gaumont Cnema
Above - Gaumont Projectionist, George Webster, with
members of the Australian Rugby League Touring Team of 1948/9 are shown
the Theatre's projectors - Courtesy Elaine Forde.
Many of the photographs on this page, and the 1938 reopening programme were kindly sent in for inclusion by Elaine Forde in 2012. Elaine's father George Henry Webster, was a projectionist at the Gaumont for several decades. Elaine says: 'My father was George Henry Webster and lived in the Bellbrooks, Harehills, Leeds.
Right - The Projection room at the Leeds Coliseum / Gaumont Cinema, in April 1949 - Courtesy Elaine Forde.
He was married in November, 1932 and his marriage certificate lists his profession as Cinematograph Operator. Unfortunately I do not have the exact dates of the time he spent at the Gaumont Leeds, however I do know that he worked there prior to the second world war and was obviously there in 1935 for the 50th anniversary.
He was still working at the Gaumont when we came to Australia in mid 1951. I also remember him talking about working in Hull on a relieving basis which I took was prior to his time at the Gaumont Leeds.
Left - The Projector Rectifiers at the Leeds Coliseum / Gaumont Cinema in 1948 - Courtesy Elaine Forde.
After migrating to Australia he continued working as a projectionist firstly doing relieving work at some of Melbourne's leading city Cinemas and was then the full time projectionist at the Melbourne Athenaeum. - Elaine Forde, December 2012.
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