The Pavilion Theatre, Belgrave Gate and Wilton Street, Leicester
Formerly - The Old Cheese Pub / The Prince of Wales / The Midland Music Hall - Later - The Prince Of Wales Theatre of Variety / New Tivoli Theatre of Varieties / Pavilion Theatre
Above - Belgrave Gate and Wilton street in 2011, the site of the
Pavilion Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David
Billy Paul became pub landlord of 'The Old Cheese' on March 10th 1863, where he ran a 'Free and Easy' (this was a song and supper room attached to the pub). The pub stood on the corner of Belgrave Gate and Wilton Street. In 1864 he reconstructed 'The Old Cheese' pub with an enlarged song and supper room above the pub also making a new entrance directly onto Belgrave Gate. However, records show that by 1870 the pub was renamed 'The Prince of Wales', and the hall itself was known as 'The Midland Music Hall'.
In October 1876 Billy Paul announced plans to enlarge the premises yet again, this time to hold some 1,500 people, and plans were submitted on November 17th. The whole block was to be demolished excepting the side walls and a new Hall built. This time the body of the hall would be on the ground floor with three galleries above. It would also feature a large promenade and refreshment bars both upstairs and downstairs. The stage was now to be situated on the Wilton street side of the building.
In 1878 an advertisement read 'the Wonderful Astounding, and World-famous ELECTRIC LIGHT.... All should see this the Greatest Scientific Achievement of the present day'.
Billy Paul was a kind and generous man, entertaining old people around Christmas. In 1878 he provided a hot dinner of roast beef and plum pudding for 110 poor people. After the meal he staged the whole of the pantomime 'Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper' for them, and upon leaving gave each person one shilling.
By September 1882 the Hall was being advertised as having had a complete renovation. Seats recovered, the galleries redecorated, and the stage had new scenery and a new drop scene by Mr Graves of 'The Lake at Como'.
Artists who appeared at the Music Hall were The Great Macdermott who sang 'We don't want to fight', Harry Campbell and George Leybourne (the Lion Comique), and Miss Kate Harvey came often, billed as 'Bonnie Kate Harvey. In May 1880 Jenny Hill the 'Vital Spark' sang 'That's What a Woman can do.' Chirgwin the White-eyed Kaffir, Harry Liston, and a young Vesta Tilley, also played the Pavilion.
Billy Paul died suddenly one night in November 1882 after eating a tripe supper. The management of the Hall then passed to his son Mr James Paul.
On February 28th 1889 the Theatre burnt to the ground.
Prince Of Wales Theatre of Variety
However, on the 1st of January 1890 the foundation stone was laid by Mrs Lovejoy for the 'New Prince Of Wales Theatre of Variety'. The new theatre opened on Bank Holiday Monday, the 4th of August 1890, being designed by Mr Harry Percival in the renaissance style, in red brick with stone dressings, and built by local builder George Duxbury & Son at a cost of £10,000.
The new theatre was to be as Fireproof as possible, thus it had 4 fireproof staircases, two down to the pit and stalls, and two fireproof staircases up to the circle and galley. The proscenium was 21 feet square with a green baize house curtain, and had an iron perforated pipe above, so that should fire breakout it could be saturated in seconds. There was also a sprinkler system over the stage area. It also had a fly tower so that scenery could be raised upwards instead of being tumbled, and there were 6 well lit dressing rooms, all fitted with hot and cold water and toilet accommodation. The orchestra pit could take 20 musicians. The seating arrangements of pit and stalls, with two stage boxes, held 355 people, circle, with 6 private boxes, holding 405 people, and 500 people in the gallery. Total 1,260 seats. The seats in the stalls and circle were folding seats and upholstered in blue plush, with curtains and hangings to the 8 private boxes in gold plush. Adjoining the orchestra was a central table for the chairman. The pit and stalls were below ground level, the circle at street level with entrances on Belgrave Gate. Refreshment Saloons were at the back of the auditorium at each level with a good view of the stage. The theatre was fitted with electric light consisting of 46 incandescent lamps of 16 candle power.
The Chairman sat with his back to the stage with a mirror in front of him so that he could see each number as it went up without turning his head. He would then announce the next artist and lead the applause by rattling his wooden hammer on his table. In 1892 Eugene Stratton appeared here, special beam lights were installed for him, and he sang two songs, 'John James Brown', and 'The Idler' to great success.
Tivoli Theatre of Varieties / The Pavilion Theatre
In May 1893 the Theatre was purchased by Captain Orr Gray and renamed the 'New Tivoli Theatre of Varieties'. However, by 1901 the Theatre was in the hands of the Macnaughton circuit and now named 'The Pavilion'. Affectionately known locally as the PAV.
Right - An early 1900s poster for a twice nightly variety show at the Pavilion Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt. Included on the bill were 'Octoroon' Frederick Maxwell's 'Great American Plantation Episode', Victoria Loving, the Lucardo Brothers, Spot - the Dog Thief, the Bioscope, The Victorians, G. W. Foster, and The Devonports.
In 1902 Harry Houdini appeared, and on November 11th a challenge was issued by Francis John Walker of the 'Windmill Inn' at 7, Church Gate, Leicester. He and several interested parties informed Harry Houdini that they had put up a purse of £25. They had a lock which he could neither pick nor open. This was the Original lock of Leicester's Old East Gates which was over 500 years old. They stated that in 1896 the lock had been sent to London to Chubb, the famous lock makers, to have a key made for it. This had taken four days and two hours to make. If he would accept the challenge he would have to match the bet, and they were happy to have the match take place in private, or on stage at any time to suit Houdini. Houdini accepted the challenge and deposited his £25 with the 'Sporting News'. He asked the gentlemen to kindly bring their manacle to the first performance on Friday the 14th of November at the Pavilion.
A man who saw Houdini at the Pavilion has a memory of him being a great draw. He remembers Houdini being chained and padlocked. He then entered a glass tank filled with water, with an attendant standing by with an axe ready to smash the front of the tank if he had not escaped within two and a half minutes.
Another act to appear at the Pav was Samson. He had a large iron bar on stage and would invite men from the audience to lift it, which they could not. After several volunteers had tried, he would choose one last volunteer, who would stand facing the audience with one foot either side of the bar, and try to lift it. Samson would lift the bar from behind him to great peels of laughter as the volunteer really thought he had managed to lift the bar himself. Samson also bent steel bars and would hang upside down and pick up a piano in his teeth.
Another memory is of a good night out.; on Saturday nights you could get a good seat at the PAV close to the stage for 6 pence (2.5p today), it was 9 pence in the circle. Occasionally you could hear beer bottles rolling down the balcony floor above. A pint of beer cost 3d (1.5p). After a night at the PAV you could get a meal of Black pudding and roast potatoes on the way home for 3 pence. Cigarettes were only 5 for a penny.
Left - A poster for C. A. Stephenson and his No. 1 Company in the successful Musical Comedy Revue 'The Sunny South' at the Pavilion Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt .
The Pavilion presented Variety which later progressed into Revue shows. One of which was 'Its a Bargain' starring Gracie Fields in June 1916, the show returning in November 1917. By the late twenties weekly repertory plays were being presented. In 1929 the Walkley Healey Repertory Company came for a three week season but stayed eighteen months. They presented two plays a week twice nightly at 6.40pm and 8.55pm with a matinee on Thursdays.
Above - Both sides of a programme for 'Trumps' at the Pavilion Theatre, Leicester for Monday June the 1st, 1925 - Courtesy David Garratt.
The old PAV closed on the 29th November 1930 to make way for a road widening scheme for Belgrave Gate. Auld Lang Syne was sung as the actors linked arms with the audience as the crowded house paid its last respects at the 'death' of this well loved theatre.
The demolition was carried out by Taylore of Smthwick. Just before the demolition the stage and scenery were taken out, and installed in the Hillcrest hospital situated on Swain Street Leicester, where it remained for several years.
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