Arthur Lloyd.co.uk
The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Grand Theatre and Opera House, 46 New Briggate, Leeds

Also - The Assembly Rooms / Plaza Cinema

Leeds Theatres Index

A Google StreetView Image of the Grand Theatre, Leeds - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Grand Theatre, Leeds - Click to Interact

The Leeds Grand and Opera House - From the Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.The Leeds Grand Theatre was built at a cost of £62,000 and was designed by the architect George Corson. Despite being his only Theatre, it is on a vast scale, taking up three quarters of an acre with a frontage of 162 feet. Corson was assisted by James Robertson Watson who had previously taken a tour of Europe’s churches and Theatres for inspiration.

Originally the site also included a concert hall called the Assembly Rooms, this would later be converted into a cinema called 'The Plaza' which was in use from 1912 until 1978, and would later be converted into a rehearsal room for Opera North.

Right - The Leeds Grand and Opera House - From the Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.

The ceremony to 'Christen' the Grand Theatre took place on the 28th of May 1878 and the ERA reported on the occasion, with some details of the building in their 9th of June edition saying:- 'The ceremony of "christening" the above Theatre and Opera House as briefly reported last week, took place on Tuesday, 28th ult., when a number of the Directors of the Company, by which the Theatre is being built, assembled with other gentlemen who feel an interest in the undertaking, and, after they had surveyed the vast structure, the workmen were called from their respective labours to join them in the proceedings.

When all had gathered in the pit, one of the men, doffing his cap with one hand and holding a mug of beer in the other declared that the building should for ever afterwards be named the Grand Theatre and Opera House, expressed a hope that it might be a great success, and called upon all present to join in giving three cheers in commemoration of the event. The cheers were given accordingly, the master of the ceremony drank his beer, and the others present similarly refreshed themselves. The workmen were further regaled with, meat pies, after which one or two of the gentlemen present made a few remarks on the undertaking, and the purposes it was intended to serve...

It was determined that in the construction of the building the public should have given to them every accommodation in the shape of cloak-rooms, with lavatories and other conveniences attached. It was also determined that the scheme should be upon a sound financial basis. The site, which is in New Briggate, covers an area of nearly three-quarters of an acre, adjoins Harrison-street, and was purchased at an average price of £6 10s per yard, and the tenders being let during a depression of trade, enabled the Directors to obtain contracts at very reasonable rates.

With respect to the general arrangements of the building, as far as it has already advanced, we find that the stage department is unusually complete, everything having been provided to facilitate the business.

The auditorium of the Leeds Grand and Opera House - From The Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.Surrounding the stage corridors are rooms for the use of the stage and gasmen, property room, Stage-Manager's office, furniture storage rooms, spacious scene-dock, and other store rooms; two green-rooms, the principal one being placed at the corner of the stage block of buildings, and commanding a a pleasant outlook upon Briggate. On the stage level are five "star" dressing-rooms; and on the other floor levels, both below and above the stage, further dressing accommodation is provided for the actors and actresses, ballet, extras, chorus,boys and girls, and supers; every one of these rooms being cheerful, well-lighted apartments.

Owing to the fall of the ground, the stage level is considerably above Harrison-street, and all the rooms are above the ground. Advantage has also been taken of the difference of the level, to obtain another scene-dock level with the street.

Right - The auditorium of the Leeds Grand and Opera House - From The Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.

In addition to the accommodation described, there are two bath-rooms, one for ladies and another for gentlemen; property work-rooms, modelling-room, carpenters'-shop, band-room, conductor's-room, bill inspectors' office, plumbers'-shop, smiths' shop, large engine-room, armoury, wardrobe, and sewing-room, Manager's private room, and waiting-room; and under the court, between the Theatre and Assembly Room buildings, are fire-proof cellars, in which the gas-meters, limelight apparatus, and other sources of danger are placed.

Another admirable and unusual feature is the introduction of ballet practice and rehearsal rooms, with waiting rooms attached. The conveniences arranged for in connection with the stage are such as to enable the Manager to produce and rehearse an entire Pantomime without interfering in the slightest degree with the stage business.

To guard against the spread of fire, the various departments are placed in blocks; thus we find a large portion of the site adjoining Briggate occupied with the various entrances and staircases, cloak-room, lavatories, &c. The auditorium and stage have their axis lying parallel with Briggate. On the right hand, or prompt side of the stage, are the dressing rooms, wardrobe, and Manager's offices; and on the left side the scene docks, rehearsal room, store room, and carpenters' shop. At the back of the stage, but on a level above, is the painting room, fitted up with four painting frames. At the opposite, or far end of the auditorium, are the refreshment and smoking rooms, drawing room, and promenades; no workshops or store rooms of any description connected with the Theatre being placed under or over the stage or auditorium. Thick solid walls separate all the blocks, while all the floors of the corridors, refreshment rooms, and work-rooms are composed of fire-proof materials.

In the construction of the walls of the auditorium, corridors, and staircases glazed bricks and tiles are largely used; thus contributing greatly to the light and general appearance of what are usually dismal appurtenances in Theatres.

It will thus be seen that the Directors have been able to erect a really luxurious and well-appointed Theatre, which, owing to the financial advantages of the scheme, will enable them to let the Theatre at a reasonable rent. It is intended to open the Theatre in the autumn, under the management of Mr Wilson Barrett, who has taken a lease for five years.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the ERA, 9th of June, 1878.

The auditorium of the Leeds Grand and Opera House - From The Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.

Above - The auditorium of the Leeds Grand and Opera House - From The Theatre's Centenary Brochure in 1978 - Courtesy John Grice.

The Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House took 13 months to build in all, and was opened 5 months after the above report, with a production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' on Monday the 18th of November 1878. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the Theatre's opening in their 22nd of November 1878 edition saying:- 'The new theatre and opera-house at Leeds was opened on Monday. The architects are Mr. G. Corson and Mr. J. R. Watson.

Thick solid walls separate all the blocks, and the floors are composed of fireproof materials. The accommodation of the theatre is divided into pit and pit-stalls, dress circle, upper circle, amphitheatre circle, gallery, six stage boxes, eight family boxes, eight upper private boxes, and six amphitheatre boxes; the whole giving seating accommodation for about 2,600 persons, in addition to which standing room is provided for 200 more.

The central portion of the ceiling is circular and slightly domed. The dome is divided by ribs into numerous panels, filled in with perforated ornamental work, enclosing a magnificent sunlight 12ft. square, cased with crystals and illumined by more than 400 gas jets. The front of all the circles in the auditorium is decorated with rich work in cartonpierre - coloured and gilded. The proscenium is boldly decorated, its adornment including statuettes after Canova's dancers placed upon pedestals at each side. The walls of most of the corridors are lined with tiles, and the floors inlaid with mosaic.

Beneath the stage itself there is a working space of no less than 30ft., whilst from the stage level to the gridiron, or floor over the stage, there is a height of 70ft.; and beyond the gridiron there is a further space of 18ft. to the apex of the roof.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 22nd of November 1878.

Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1918 Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1918 Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1918

 

Above - Three Programmes for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1918 - 'The Carla Rosa Opera Company', 'Seven Day's Leave', and 'The 13th Chair.'

Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1919 Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1919 Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1919

 

Above - Three Programmes for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1919 - 'Oh! Joy', 'Reparation', and 'The Scarlet Pimpenel'.

Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1920In 1895 the Theatre was closed for six weeks whilst improvements were carried out to the designs of the architect Thomas Winn. The ERA reported on the changes in their 10th of August 1895 edition saying:- 'GRAND THEATRE -Managing Director, Mr John Hart -General Manager, Mr Fred Vincent - Quite a revelation was made to the large audience at this theatre on Monday night, when the work which has been going on inside the house for a period of six weeks was disclosed to public gaze. The transformation is a gorgeous one, and the outlay must have been considerable. Everything has been thoroughly overhauled and made to look as spic and span as a new shilling, and perhaps the best improvement is the installation of the electric light throughout.

Right - A Programme for 'Sweet Nell of Old Drury' at the Leed's Grand in in 1920.

Programme for the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1921All the stalls and dress-circle seats have been recovered with crimson plush, and the corridors, too, have been beautifully carpeted, together with the two staircases. The box-office and circle bar have been made much larger, and, altogether, the interior of the house gives one the impression that it is one of the most magnificent of its kind in the United Kingdom. The new furnishings have been supplied by Messrs Marsh, Jones, and Cribb, Leeds; the decorations by Messrs Jonas Binns and Sons, theatrical decorators, Halifax; the electric installation and fittings by Messrs S. Dixon and Son, Leeds. The whole of the structural alterations have been carried out by Messrs Irwin and Co., Leeds; Messrs Helliwell and Co., Limited, Brighouse; Messrs Holroyd, Horsfield, and Wilson, Leeds, under the supervision of Mr Thomas Winn, the architect.

Left - A Programme for 'The Bird of Paradise at the Leed's Grand in 1921.

The attraction for this week has been Don Juan, but the company is not so strong a one as its predecessor. Mr Fred Eastman appears as Pedrillo, and in the Lady Barber scene evoked roars of laughter. Miss Florence L. Forster, too, is very successful, and she scored heavily with Linger Longer Loo. Mr Kennedy Allen sustains the part of Lambro's Lieutenant; Miss Maud Jackson makes a charming Haidee; Mr Russell Wallett is good as the pirate chief; Miss Belle Harcourt puts plenty of fire into her impersonation of Isabella; and Mr Arthur Jackson represents the Pasha. Miss Katie Fredericks, Miss Marion Martell, Miss Etheldene Percy, and others are also satisfactory.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 10th of August 1895.

The Leeds Grand Theatre during the run of Can-Can on the 11th of June 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Above - The Leeds Grand Theatre during the run of Can-Can on the 11th of June 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

A Programme for 'Idiot's Delight' at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds in February 1938 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé whose Grandfather Carl Jaffé was in the cast.The Grand Theatre had a long and successful life as a Variety Theatre and Touring House for many years but became the home of Opera North in 1978.

The Theatre was later closed in 2005 for major refurbishment so that it could provide an improved home for Opera North. This included re-seating and re-raking the Stalls, installing air conditioning, and enhancing the backstage areas.

Right - A Programme for 'Idiot's Delight' at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds in February 1938 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé whose Grandfather Carl Jaffé was in the cast (See cast details Below).

A Programme for Tom Arnold's Pantomime 'Old King Cole' at the Leeds Grand Theatre at Christmas 1954/55 - Courtesy Roy Cross.A new Opera Centre for Opera North was built close to the Theatre at this time by converting the former Assembly Rooms / Plaza Cinema, with access via a bridge, and includes two rehearsal rooms with the same dimensions as the Theatre's stage.

The Theatre reopened on the 7th of October 2006 with a production of Verdi's 'Rigoletto'.

Left - A Programme for Tom Arnold's Pantomime 'Old King Cole' at the Leeds Grand Theatre at Christmas 1954/55 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

The Grand Theatre is a Grade II Listed building and currently seats 1,500. The Theatre's scene dock is one of the most complete Victorian scenic paint shops left in Great Britain and is still in use today.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.

A Programme for 'Idiot's Delight' at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds in February 1938 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé whose Grandfather Carl Jaffé was in the cast.

Above - A Programme for 'Idiot's Delight' at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds in February 1938 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé whose Grandfather Carl Jaffé was in the cast.

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

Some of the archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

Other Pages that may be of Interest