The Theatre Royal, Hunslet Lane, Leeds
Also known as - The Theatre Royal and Opera House
The Theatre Royal on Hunslet Lane, Leeds that some people may still remember today was designed by J. T. Robinson and opened on Monday the 2nd of October 1876 with a production of Offenbach's 'Madame L'Archiduc', followed by a performance of 'Trial by Jury'. Sadly this Theatre was demolished in 1957 to make way for a shopping complex but there is more information on its history further down on this page. However a little history on the earlier Theatres on the site follows first.
Right - A programme for the May 1928 season at the Theatre Royal, Leeds.
The 1876 Theatre mentioned above actually stood on the site of two earlier Theatres Royal, the earliest of which dated back to 1771, originally constructed by Tate Wilkinson and designed by what the papers of the time said was 'not a very skillful architect.'
This Theatre was a small playhouse that functioned well enough despite its limitations, and was renovated and redecorated in 1836 for a reopening under the management of Mr. Downe on December the 26th that year. The renovation included re-stuffing the seats, recovering the partitions of the boxes, and repainting the auditorium in green and white with gilt mouldings. The auditorium ceiling was painted with an intersected and shaded star. The top of proscenium arch was divided into compartments, each containing a shield painted with the royal arms and other armorial bearings. Also the front of each box had paintings depicting Tragedy and Comedy.
Some decades later this early, 1771, Theatre was demolished, in 1867, and a new one was constructed on the same site, opening the same year. The New Theatre Royal, Leeds was designed by Moore and Son, and built for John Coleman, an actor and the Lessee at the time of the York Theatrical Circuit.
The ERA reported on this new Theatre Royal in their 4th of August 1867 edition saying:- '...The New `Theatre Royal, prominently situated in the centre of a busy street, presents in front a lofty and imposing appearance in the Italian style of architecture, and the actual length of the entire building is about sixty feet more than the old Theatre Royal. The entrance to the boxes, the floor of which is tesselated Mosaic pavement, is by a broad and handsome stone staircase, with massive gilt balustrades, and is lighted from the dome by a brilliant chandelier, and a number of figures in stitches in the wall, holding globes; the whole presenting a chaste and elegant appearance.
At the top of the landing is the box saloon and ladies and gentlemen's retiring-rooms, of ample dimensions, and near these separate coffee and refreshment-rooms. The boxes are entered from corridors, and will be furnished with handsome chairs, instead of the usual cramped and inconvenient benches, and besides the front circle of boxes at the sides, there are twelve private and upper boxes, approached by separate entrances, that will hold about eight persons each, and the entire boxes will accommodate 220 persons.
That important part of all Theatres, the pit, has been duly considered, with a view to the comfort of the audience, and, reached by a convenient entrance at the side, it will hold about 1,100 persons. The pit is well sloped, and so constructed that even the "late arrivals" can see from any part of its ample space all over the stage. The gallery is approached by a wide and convenient stone staircase at the back of the Theatre, down Waterloo-street, through a covered passage forming part of the building. On crowded nights the advantage of this cannot be too highly estimated, and there are three different modes of exit from the gallery, so that in case of fire it could be cleared in an inconceivably short space of time. It will seat 1,150 persons, and we understand that from every part of it a commanding view of the stage can be obtained. It will thus be seen that the entire accommodation of the Theatre is 2,516 seats.
The stage, laid down by Mr. Richard Huby, is a work of art in itself, and was built away from the Theatre in pieces. The width of the proscenium is 25 feet, and the height 28 feet, and the depth from the front to the back of the stage is 65 feet, sufficient to allow of the most effective scenic displays.
Internally the Theatre is finished in a light and elegant manner. The decorations are exactly the same as those recently used at the Imperial Palace of Versailles. They are in the highest style of decorative art, and the whole is lighted by a magnificent sun light, presenting a most beautiful and brilliant appearance. 'The scenery, by Mr. Smithers, the designer of the act-drop, is entirely new, and the machinery of the stage, which is admirably contrived by Mr. Huby, can all be worked on one side, and from the height and depth of the stage everything can be taken up or down quite out of the way.
The offices and appointments behind the scenes are of the most comprehensive character. There are upwards of twenty dressing rooms, in every one of which hot and cold water has been laid on. There is likewise a large wardrobe, a spacious working, property, and store room, with carpenters' shop and painting room, and they are, in point of adaptability and convenience, simply the best we have ever seen - indeed, we doubt whether there is a better painting-room in any Theatre out of London. All the modern improvements in connection with gas have been made use of, and Mr. Smith, of Birmingham, has prepared a new lime light apparatus, by means of which upwards of thirty lights can be thrown upon the stage at one time.
Great credit is due to the architects, Messrs. Moore and Son, of Sunderland, and especially to Mr. Thomas Moore, Jun., who has superintended the entire work, and to the eminent firm of Nicholson and Son, of Leeds, the builders, for the ingenious manner in which they have utilised every inch of space, and really built a substantial and beautiful Theatre upon a plot of ground of restricted dimensions.
The entire cost of the building is roughly estimated at
from £10,000 to £20,000, and we have no hesitation in saying
that it is an additional and great ornament to the town, and reflects
the highest credit upon all concerned, more especially upon Mr. Coleman,
for that gentleman has at his own cost supplied Leeds with a long-felt
want - an elegant modern Theatre.' - The ERA,
August 4th 1867.
Sadly this 1867 Theatre was to have a very short life as it was destroyed by fire only 8 years later on the night of the 28th of May 1875. The drama 'The Two Orphans' had been playing at the Theatre for the past fortnight with good attendance, but on this particular night the audience had only just left the Theatre when the fire was discovered, luckily for them as it turned out or serious loss of life could have befallen them. The damage was estimated at some £30,000 to £35,000, which was partially covered by insurance, but the building itself was almost totally destroyed.
Undeterred by the disastrous fire however, a new Theatre Royal, designed by J. T. Robinson, was soon being constructed on the site and would open with a production of Offenbach's 'Madame L'Archiduc' on Monday the 2nd of October 1876. The ERA printed a report on the new Theatre in their 8th of October edition saying:- 'It must have been a great triumph to Mr Hobson, the worthy Proprietor, when all his care and anxiety culminated last Monday in the successful inauguration of his splendid new Theatre. From an early hour in the afternoon a large crowd assembled outside the building, and when the doors were opened upper boxes, pit, and gallery were speedily filled by the eager and expectant multitude. Highly wrought upon as were their anticipations, we imagine they fell far short of the reality, evidenced by a spontaneous and ringing cheer when the gas was turned up, and the really beautiful Theatre was seen at its best, and the profuse and rich decorations were revealed in all their brilliancy.
Right - A flyer for the Drury Lane production of 'The Desert Song' playing at the Theatre Royal, Leeds in May 1928.
The decorations in carton, pierre are highly effective, gilt scrolls and devices being picked out in various colours, principally mauve, buff, and blue. The panels are filled in with rich blue quilted satin. The ceiling is what is known as shell, and the boxes are hung with valences of blue silk. The seats in the dress circle are luxurious chairs upholstered in blue rep, and to Mrs Joseph Hobson we are indebted for the taste displayed in what we may term the decorative furnishing of the house.
The Leeds arms in relief are conspicuous over the arch of the proscenium. The act-drop has been painted by Mr T. Rogers, of London, and represents a view of Stratford-on-Avon, with a bust of Shakespeare in the centre, the whole surrounded by a brilliantly coloured scroll and flower, border. The more leisurely and aristocratic dress-circle had an opportunity of admiring the lofty vestibule, with sun-light, and the handsomely carpeted stone staircases. Statues of Melpomene and Thalia, by Brucciani, of London, are placed in niches opposite the doorway, and the walls are tastefully painted in neutral tints.
Above - A scene from 'The Desert Song' at the Theatre Royal, Leeds in May 1928
The performances on the opening night were under the patronage and presence of the Mayor of Leeds, Alderman Croft, and when Miss Emily Soldene and her company, assisted by a portion of the Leeds Festival Choir, sang the National Anthem, the whole audience standing and the majority joining in the chorus, no finer sight or more thrilling moment had ever been experienced in Leeds.
Left - A flyer for the Drury Lane production of 'The Desert Song' playing at the Theatre Royal, Leeds in May 1928.
The architect, Mr J. T. Robinson, was called for, and bowed his thanks from a private box; and, in response to an urgent summons, Mr Joseph Hobson, for the first time in his life, addressed his own audience. Though overpowered by emotion, Mr Hobson, in a few well-chosen words, thanked his patrons for their support, touched briefly on the recent loss and the efforts that had been made to replace it, and, with promises of future liberal catering, he retired amidst hearty applause and introduced Mr W. Sidney, the new Manager... [His] address was warmly applauded throughout, and then the curtain rose on the performance of Offenbach's Madame L'Archiduc. The old favourites appeared, including Mdlles. Stella, Clara Vesey, Barber, and. Bertie; and Messrs Marshall, Campbell, and Dalton, and Miss Soldene, who was in capital voice, and acted with great animation and spirit. The scenery by Mr B. Briggs was greatly admired. Trial by Jury concluded a brilliant performance.
We were pleased again to meet Mr Sam. Farrand, box-keeper
at the Amphitheatre for nine years, at his old post; and we think Mr
James Ellis, the general Business Manager for Mr Hobson, deserves all
the thanks that can be accorded to him for his loyal and generous aid
throughout the struggles and difficulties of a work of great magnitude.'
- The ERA, 8th October 1876.
In its final years this 1876
Theatre Royal was home to the Harry Hanson Court Players as the resident
repertory Company. They were there for many years. Lawrence Storm was
The Theatre was demolished in 1957 to make way for a shopping complex.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly
collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: