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The Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh Road, Leigh, Lancashire

Later - The New Hippodrome Cinema / Classic Cinema / Cannon / Laserquest Arena / Hippodrome Pub / Wetherspoons' The Thomas Burke

A Google StreetView Image of the former Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh, Lancashire - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh, Lancashire - Click to Interact


Leigh Council and the Proposed Hippodrome

An artiste's impression of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.The proposal to build a new Theatre in Leigh, on land already leased to the promoters, met with considerable opposition from rate payers with property close to the proposed site, in particular from the congregation and officials of the new Church and School built recently by the Primitive Methodists at the cost of £10,000. The proposed site for the Theatre was on the opposite corner from the church at the junction of Leigh Road and Windermere Road. The representatives from the church pointed out that had the Hippodrome already been built on the proposed site the church would never have been located on the opposite corner. The promoters of the Theatre had already been given outline planning permission by the General Purposes Committee which was composed of the whole of the Council. However a petition of over 500 ratepayers signatures persuaded the council to vote on overturning the original outline planning permission with 12 votes for and 7 against, resulting in the defeat of the Hippodrome proposal.

Right - An artiste's impression of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

It had been stated, during the debates, that the objections to the proposed Hippodrome was not to the building of the Theatre itself but to the location. In the event the site for the building was relocated to the east side of Leigh Road and Market Place, satisfying the objectors and fulfilling the promoters' need for any alternative site to be adjacent to tram lines and with access to the sides and rear of the proposed building. The requirement, regarding the tramlines, was due to the promoters having made a special arrangement with the Lancashire Tramway Company to secure a reduced price for travel to the Theatre from outlying districts that included admission to the Theatre Pit. When Alderman W Woolstencroft took over as managing director of both Leigh Theatres in 1918 this concession was extended to The Theatre Royal.

The above is a précis of a report in the Leigh Chronicle 12th April 1907.

 

The Journal 11th December 1908
General Description of the Theatre

A sketch of the Elevation to Leigh Road of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.“The Grand Theatre and Hippodrome at Leigh, (Managing Director Mr W Benson) is to be opened next Monday. The entrance to the better class portions of the house is situated in Leigh Road, in the centre of the main front, and consists of a spacious vestibule with a pay office in the centre. The floor of this vestibule being finished in mosaic, and the walls having a tiled dado, with plaster above. A handsome wide flight of steps leads from the vestibule to the various parts of the house. The entrances to pit and gallery are placed in the side passages.

A basement is provided in the front portion of the building, and comprises a large refreshment room, smoke room, ladies and gentlemen’s lavatories, etc. The heating apparatus has been placed under the dressing rooms, located in a separate building attached to the external wall of the stage house.

The heating is by hot water on a low pressure system, by means of pipes and ornamental radiators. Special attention has been given to the ventilation, powerful extractors being placed on the roofs with fresh air inlets in the walls. The lighting is by electric light, by means of ornamental electroliers and brackets.

Right - A sketch of the Elevation to Leigh Road of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

The building has been thoroughly protected in all parts by up-to-date fire appliances, comprising fire hydrants with hose, fire buckets, and chemical extinguishers.

The front portion of the building on the ground floor is utilised by the provision of two lock up shops.

 

The Auditorium

The pit is large and commodious having seating accommodation for 720, each person having an uninterrupted view of the stage, the floor being made to fall towards the stage with this object in view. In front of the pit are four rows of orchestral stalls, formed of handsome tip up seats giving accommodation for about 110. The stage is large, and is fitted up with all the latest improvements.
The circle is reached by a handsome staircase leading out of the vestibule. The floor is stepped down towards the front to give all a good view of the stage. The seats are comprised of tip up chairs and provide accommodation for 360. Handsome boxes are provided on this floor, one on each side of the proscenium opening. There is ample promenading space at the back of the circle. The usual conveniences are provided on this floor, the manager’s office also being on this level.

The Ground Plan of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

The Circle Plan of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

Above - The Ground and Circle Plans of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

A mezzanine floor is formed between the circle and gallery, over the front portion of the building on which has been provided a large refreshment room, ladies room and store. This floor is approached from the back of the circle.

A large and spacious gallery has been provided giving seating accommodation for 700 people. The floor is well stepped up from front to back, to give a good view of the stage, in all the seating capacity being 1,892.

Ample emergency exits have been provided to each floor, so that in case of need the whole building could be emptied in a few minutes. All doors open outwards, and the emergency exits are provided with patent panic bolts. The whole of the staircases are of fireproof construction and are enclosed in brick walls.

The Fabric

A Longitudinal Section of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

Above - A Longitudinal Section of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

The building is Free Renaissance in style and built entirely of brick. The front, facing Leigh Road, is faced with the best facing bricks. The main constructional work is executed in steel and the roofs carried by steel principals, are boarded, fitted and slated. All inside walls are plastered, the more important parts such as the ceiling over the auditorium, the proscenium front, box fronts and fronts to circle and gallery being finished in ornamental fibrous plaster. The outside dressings to the front are carried out in buff terra-cotta. The cupolas shown on the original artist’s rendering of the building have been replaced by semi-circular pediments and a simpler roofline.

Mr Isaac Webster has acted as clerk of works, and the whole work has been carried out from the designs and under the supervision of Messrs’ Prescott and Bold, architects, 8, King Street, Wigan” - The Journal 11th December 1908.

 

The Journal 18th December 1908
Leigh’s New Place of Amusement.
Opening of the Hippodrome

 A photograph of the Leigh Hippodrome in the 1910s - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

Above - A photograph of the Leigh Hippodrome in the 1910s - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

A variety Bill for the Leigh Hippodrome for Christmas Day, Monday December 25th 1922. - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.“There was a crowded attendance on Monday afternoon at the opening of the Leigh Grand Theatre and Hippodrome. The audience included the Mayor (Councillor W Harrison JP) and many Aldermen and Councillors. The managing director, Mr W Benson, having formally opened the proceedings, Miss Forster, daughter of the chairman of directors of the Company led the singing of the National Anthem. A first rate programme had been arranged for the opening week, and if the performances are kept to this high level, as we are assured they will be, there can be no doubt as to the success of Leigh’s new place of amusement. The star turn is that of the Elliott Savonas, a musical combination of eight artists who have appeared with great success at many of the leading halls in this country.

The Savonas appear in their latest creation, “The Palace of Orpheus,” a scene that cost £2,000. It is a magnificent electrically-illuminated setting of a large variety of musical instruments, including three fine organs, sets of bells, xylophones,etc., which are used to admirable effect in a “storm scene,“ which alone is well worth going to hear. A number of saxophone selections are beautifully rendered, operatic numbers especially proving great favourites with the audience. Another excellent turn is that of the Four Sisters Netherland, singers and barefoot dancers, who come direct from the London Coliseum with their latest sensation, “The Tale of the Stockings.” The Lauri Brothers, who had the honour of providing the first turn at the Hippodrome, are refined and smart acrobats, and another very clever act is that of Kyoto, Japanese contortionist, comedy juggler,etc,. Jolly Johnny Walker proves himself a spirited comedian, his sketch, “Before and after the Match,” especially appealing to footballers. Miss May Geraldine, comedienne and dancer; and the Empire “cinematograph” complete an excellent programme which is given twice nightly at 6-50 and 9pm.,with a day performance every Monday at 2-30pm. A “grand picture matinee” has been arranged for Saturday at 2-30pm.” - The Journal 18th December 1908.

Right - A variety Bill for the Leigh Hippodrome for Christmas Day, Monday December 25th 1922. - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. - On the Bill were Nicol & Martin, Evelyn May, Albert Evans, The Two Alberts, Lena Brown, Fred E. Taylor, and the Hippodrome Pictures'.

The Stage House of the Leigh Hippodrome showing the Cinema Screen at the front of the stage - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.Projection Equipment was installed at the Theatre as early as 1923 but live shows continued to be staged.

Left - The Stage House of the Leigh Hippodrome showing the Cinema Screen at the front of the stage - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Many famous stars would appear on the Hippodrome stage over the years including Edna Latonne, Nellie Wallace, George Lockwood, Tom Burke and Gracie Fields.

 

The Projection Box behind the Back wall of the stage of the Leigh Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. The Fly Floor of the Leigh Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Above - The Projection Box behind the Back wall of the stage of the Leigh Hippodrome, and the Fly Floor of the Theatre - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

 

The Remodelling of the Grand Theatre and Hippodrome.
Architects Messrs Gray, Evans and Crossley, of Liverpool
The Leigh Journal Friday, August 4th 1939

“The eagerly awaited official opening of the New Hippodrome takes place to-morrow (Saturday). Since it was closed for extensive alterations some months ago, an army of workmen have been busily engaged, and have wrought an amazing transformation. Great interest has been taken in the work. The hall has been completely re-decorated; the former Edwardian decorative plasterwork has been replaced with a contemporary fluted design that gives a very modern and elegant effect, magnificent carpets cover circle and stalls. A new seating arrangement as found in the most recent purpose built houses has been installed, and in the balcony the wooden seating has been replaced with tip up seats.

The auditorium of the New Hippodrome in 1939 - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

Above - The auditorium of the New Hippodrome in 1939 - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

The lighting also is very effective, decorative units being placed around the front of the circle to great effect. In the centre of the domed roof of the auditorium is fixed a twelve mantle gas lantern, which besides being an emergency light acts as a powerful ventilator. The auditorium will create an expression of awe to all who enter.

The front elevation of the Hippodrome will always be modern, but the facing of blue vitriolite and the addition of a new artistic canopy, the lighting of which throws a brilliant illumination on the entrance, makes this elevation ultra-modern. The entrance hall and foyers, in part due to the removal of two former shops, are spacious yet inviting, and have been designed to create an atmosphere of luxurious comfort for all who enter.” - The Leigh Journal Friday, August 4th 1939.

The remodelling of the building retained all the former stage facilities.

The Building's Later Years

A photograph of the Leigh Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

Above - A photograph of the Leigh Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy George Richmond, with kind permission The Leigh Local Studies Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust

The former Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh, now the Thomas Burke Public House in a photograph taken in April 2015 - Courtesy Alfred Mason

Above - The former Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh, now the Thomas Burke Public House in a photograph taken in April 2015 - Courtesy Alfred Mason

The remains of the Stage house of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh in January 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond

Above - The remains of the Stage house of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh in January 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond

The Side Elevation and former Scene Dock Door of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh in January 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.In 1955, on the retirement of Mr W Wolstencroft as managing director after 48 years of continuous service, the Hippodrome passed into the control of the J. Arthur Rank organisation and became the New Hippodrome Cinema. In 1967 it became the Classic Cinema and before closure in the late 1980’s a two screen Cannon. In 1991 the building became a Laserquest arena. This venture was short lived and closed three years later. A local project to create an Arts Centre in 1996 was sadly not to be and the building languished for a further two years. The premises was taken over by the Mason Organisation to be opened as the Hippodrome Pub in 1998, again this venture did not last.

Right - The Side Elevation and former Scene Dock Door of the Grand Theatre & Hippodrome, Leigh in January 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.

The building was purchased by Wetherspoons and was opened as such in 2005. Considerable restoration was made to the building. Unfortunately this did not include the restoration of the Theatre's interior which is sometimes the case with this company’s restaurants. The restaurant and bar covers the entire foyer, stalls and stage area with the kitchen bar and offices being stage right of the auditorium and the public space stage left up to the outside wall. Elegant ceilings have been created to cover what remains of the original structure above, the one in the foyer area being double height to create a feeling of grandeur in tribute to the building's past as a Theatre, and copies of the plans of the original building are displayed there together with playbills and photographs of past stars. A small portion of the proscenium wall is to be found stage left. The proscenium wall stage right is hidden behind partition walls and the upper level hidden by a very fine quality ceiling. The stage level remains, but due to the levelling of what was once the stalls, only two steps are required to reach this level, the scene dock door has been shortened and converted to a window. The former doors to the dressing rooms have been converted, one to an emergency exit the other to a window. The dressing rooms beyond the back wall have been demolished and the area converted into a garden.

The name of the Grand Theatre and Hippodrome is today 'The Thomas Burke', named after a famous opera singer born in Leigh and who performed at the Theatre on many occasions. To read more about this famous singer and to hear him sing see this site. There are also some clips of him on the British Pathe Website, apparently he was born in Leigh and was considered a very fine tenor, he sang with Melba at Covent Garden at her request. He never forgot his roots though, and performed at the Hippodrome quite often.

This article on the Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013.

 

The Theatre Royal and People's Music Hall, Lord Street, Leigh - 1873

Later - De Castro’s Theatre of Varieties / De Castro’s Theatre

The original building on this site was a wooden structure known in 1873 as the Theatre Royal and Peoples Music Hall, (original architect unknown).

After 1877 the Theatre was known as De Castro’s Theatre of Varieties and later as De Castro’s Theatre. It was described in the Leigh Chronicle as “An old and for many years an unsightly structure”. An advertisement in The ERA dated 21st January 1882 states:-

“Leigh Lancashire
De Castro’s Theatre of Varieties
To be let for good traveling companies only.
Population of Leigh and district 45,000.
Seats nearly 2,000.
For vacant dates and terms, apply as above.”

A further advertisement of December 1883 in the same journal states that “De Castro’s Theatre now booking dates for 1884.Well stocked with new Scenery, Band and Working Staff kept”.

This would be a short season, in July 1884 the plans for the building of a new Theatre Royal on the same site in Lord Street, Leigh are approved and the local Architect, Mr J C Prestwich had the contract to design and have it built for Mr A. De Castro (See below).

Rules an Regulations for Artistes at De Castro's Theatre of Varieties, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Above - Rules an Regulations for Artistes at De Castro's Theatre of Varieties, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services

This article on the first Theatre Royal / De Castro's Theatre of Varieties, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013. The image used in the above article was kindly provided by Wigan Archive Services, WLCT, and must not be further reproduced without their permission.

 

The Theatre Royal, Lord Street, Leigh - 1884 / 1885

Leigh Chronicle 10 October 1884
Theatre Royal Leigh
Rearing Supper Hosted by Mr R Green Theatre Manager

A Souvenir Programme for Wilson Barrett in a production of 'The Acrobat' at the Theatre Royal, Leigh on Tuesday the 4th of September 1894 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. “The new Theatre Royal in Lord Street, Leigh, which supplants the old wooden structure that supplied the wants of the drama in the town, is fast approaching completion, the rearing of the building being celebrated on Saturday evening in the British Volunteer Inn, when the “rearing supper” was provided by mine host and hostess Mr and Mrs R Green, who placed before the guests a capital spread.

Right - A Souvenir Programme for Wilson Barrett in a production of 'The Acrobat' at the Theatre Royal, Leigh on Tuesday the 4th of September 1894 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

As was stated last week the Theatre was built from the plans of Mr J C Prestwich, architect and surveyor. The building, which is brick built, is 92 feet by 44 feet, and the stage 28 feet deep by 44 feet wide. In front of the stage there will be two rows of the stalls set apart for the orchestra. The lower part of the building is divided into two divisions for different prices of admission. Underneath the stage are dressing rooms for artistes, and storage for stage requsites, with side entrances from the street. It is also intended to have four private boxes, with separate staircases leading thereto. The gallery is to be in the form of a horse shoe, and there are also separate staircases to this part of the Theatre, and there is a refreshment bar on the landing. Separate entrances are provided for each part of the building. The roof is an open timber one being ceiled half way up, and is ventilated by air extractors. When completed it is estimates to hold about 1,700 persons. Mr T Norbury is the contractor for the work. As we have stated the supper was held on Saturday evening, and we need only use the stereotyped phrase that “ample justice was done to the sumptuous repast.” After the tables were cleared Mr T Norbury the builder, occupied the chair and Mr Crompton the vice chair. The Chairman having proposed “the Queen,” which was warmly acknowledged, Mr T Boardman clerk of works, proposed the health of Mr De Castro, the proprietor, which was suitably responded to by Mr R Green, observing that Mr De Castro would be extremely pleased to hear of them having spent such a happy evening. The other toasts were “The Architect,” the “Host and Hostess,” the “Chairman,” and “Clerk of Works. “The remainder of the evening was spent in a convivial manner, the following programme being gone through:- Recitation, Mr Boyes; song, “Yorkshire Lass,” Mr Whittaker; song “Wedding of Larry McGee,” Mr Hayes; comic sketch, Mr W L Barker; selection on the violin Mr Spragg; song,”Dr.Jong,” Mr Kelly; song,” The Showman, “Mr Peters. Several of the singers were encored, and a very pleasant evening terminated about eleven o’ clock.” - Leigh Chronicle 10 October 1884.

Right - An 1888 Bill advertising 'Nell Gwynne' and 'Shadows of a Great City' at the Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The overall style of the exterior of the building was very plain and no effort on the part of the architect Mr Prestwich was made to impress, his client Mr De Castro no doubt wished to keep down unnecessary costs on what could prove to be a risky project, reserving any embellishment for the interior of the building.

 

An 1888 Bill advertising 'Nell Gwynne' and 'Shadows of a Great City' at the Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. The finished Theatre would have a stage 26 feet deep by 44 feet wide and a cellar 30feet deep, this was fitted with dressing rooms and the mechanics for several traps set into the stage to create the standard illusions of the period. The proscenium opening was 19 and one half feet, this was elliptical at the entablature and was decorated with Egyptian heads and scrolls and decorated in gold and chocolate. At the top of the arch was the town’s coat of arms. The building was lit throughout by gas and as one of a number of safety precaution the front three feet behind the footlights was covered with Minton tiles. All lights were covered by wires or globes. The mandatory requirement of a fireproof safety curtain had yet to be introduced and none was provided. The height from stage floor to the grid was 36 feet, a counterweight system was installed but with a limited height to the grid, cloths had to be rolled before being flown. The stock scenery was by Mr J E Foster of London, his drop scene was of the Old Mill with a depiction of Shakespeare at the top, and a second drop scene depicted an old smithy known locally in the town. Provision for a small orchestra was provided separated from the three rows of stall seats by a brass railing hung with plush curtains. All curtains including FOH stage curtains (described as tableaux curtains) were claret in colour. The stall seats being separated from the pit by another barrier.

Left - An 1888 Bill advertising 'Nell Gwynne' and 'Shadows of a Great City' at the Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The building opened on February 2nd 1885 with a production of the popular musical play “My Sweetheart” presented by the well-known comedian and producer Harry Starr and described in the bill matter as “London’s latest and greatest success.”

The new Theatre evidently gave every satisfaction to the artists employed, as can be seen from the testimonial below; however this was not to be the case with the public.

At the end of his engagement, March 3rd 1885, J B Mulholland wrote to the Manager from the Theatre Royal St. Helens and published in From The ERA on the 7th March 1885:-

“Dear Green, Allow me on the termination of my engagement at your theatre to express my entire satisfaction with the existing arrangements both before and behind the curtain. “The Unknown” has never been placed upon the stage in a more complete manner. Your orchestra and staff are both thoroughly efficient and obliging, and we have both reason to congratulate ourselves upon the business. Wishing you the success your liberal management deserves, Yours very truly, J.B.Mulholland”. - J B Mulholland, March 3rd 1885.

The opening season was quite short and closed at the end of May for what was to prove to be considerable re-working and refurbishment of the building.

 

Leigh Chronicle 14th August 1885
Reopening of the Theatre Royal Leigh

An 1888 Bill advertising 'Manhood', 'Next of Kin', and the Wonderful Craggs at the Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. “After a period of a little over two months, during which very extensive alterations and improvements have been made, the Leigh Theatre Royal was reopened on Monday evening under very favourable auspices, by Mr Jonathan Dewhurst, who is the eminent and popular tragedian, with a specially selected company of artistes. Last week we briefly alluded to Mr Dewhurst, who is an old townsman, and to the nature of the changes that have been made to the building. Mr Sam Rogerson, well known in connection with the Manchester and other theatres, has had the work of decorating in hand, and he has been highly successful in the work of renovation. He has certainly spared no pains in making the building attractive to the eye. Balcony, proscenium boxes etc., have all received a touch of the brush, and from all sides on Monday evening expressions of satisfaction of the result were freely made.

Right - An 1888 Bill advertising 'Manhood', 'Next of Kin', and the Wonderful Craggs at the Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

For the comfort of theatre goers vast improvements have taken place. Foremost are the changes made to the entrances to the various parts of the building. (Access to the left of the building from Lord Street was via the passage mentioned in the text, access to the right from Lord Street via Silk Street) Before the season closed last May much annoyance was experienced from droughts and the noise of high heeled boots or clogs along the passage, and to this we called the attention of the management, who have now gone far beyond what was expected.

The new permanent entrance in Lord Street to the boxes and front seats does away with those discomforts, and the alteration is a very agreeable one. The seats in the balcony have also been improved and rendered more easy, the first row, which is set apart as better class seats, having been upholstered by Mr Lolli, of Church Street Leigh. The stage carpenter, Mr Crow, has likewise lent a helping hand in his department, and Mr Foster the scenic artist, has produced some admirable scenes for the present week. Mr T C Daly, the property master, has not been idle, for he has made a full suite of furniture in the Elizabethan style, for Shakespearian plays, and these were brought into requisition for the first time on Monday night. In addition Mr Daly has constructed a large collection of other articles necessary for the production of first class pieces.

Jonathan Dewhurst as Richelieu which he performed at the 1885 opening of the Theatre Royal, Leigh - Courtesy Phillip & Sue Taylor.Mr Jonathan Dewhurst, as we have previously stated, opened the Theatre on Monday Evening when the famous tragedian received a very hearty reception, after an absence of nearly five years. Mr Dewhurst’s critics say that he shines best in Shakespeare’s play of “Othello”, but whether this is so or not, his personation of Hamlet on Monday evening, before a large and fashionable audience, far exceeded anything we have yet seen from him, for he has indeed placed on the records of the stage a thoroughly acceptable reading of Shakespeare’s work. The appearance of Mr Dewhurst in the second scene was a signal for an outburst of loud applause, which was some time before it subsided. Then the audience were given a rich and intellectual treat such as they never had before in their own town. Throughout the entire play Mr Dewhurst displays rare ability, his elocution and pronunciation being admirable. He is well supported by Miss Rose Murray, (who sustained the character of Ophelia), and the other members of the Company.

Left - Jonathan Dewhurst as Richelieu which he performed at the 1885 opening of the Theatre Royal, Leigh - Courtesy Phillip & Sue Taylor.

At the close of the play Mr Dewhurst appeared in front of the curtain, when he was received with rapturous applause. He thanked them for the reception given to him, and expressed the pleasure it gave him to meet them in such a handsome theatre. It was a pretty building, and should prove a means of education in Leigh if the management brought high intellectual entertainments. (Applause). It was a credit to the town, and should prove as great an instructor as the church. (Applause).

On Tuesday evening Mr Dewhurst Appeared in Bulwer Lytton’s historical play of “Richelieu”, taking himself the title role with Miss Rose Murray as Julie de Mortimer. His conception of the piece was admirable, and the frequent applause testified to the high appreciation of the audience.

The ladies’ night was Wednesday, when there was produced “The Lady of Lyons”. Mr Dewhurst, as Claude Melnotte was perfectly natural throughout the piece, and Miss Murray is to be congratulated on the able manner in which she took the character of Pauline. Thursday night “Louis XI” was given. Tonight (Friday) the performance is for the benefit of Mr Dewhurst, when he will appear as “Othello, “and tomorrow evening is to give the tragedy of “Macbeth”.” - Leigh Chronicle 14th August 1885.

This article on the Theatre Royal, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013. All images used in the above article, unless otherwise stated, have been kindly provided by Wigan Archive Services, WLCT, and must not be further reproduced without their permission.

 

The Theatre Royal & Opera House, Lord Street, Leigh - 1901

Later - The Casino Ballroom / Ruebens Nightclub

Original Architect J C Prestwich Esq
Proprietor Mr J W Cragg
Sole Lessee and Manager Mr J Dewhurst

The former Theatre Royal, Leigh, here in its incarnation as Ruebens  Nightclub in the 1970s - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Above - The former Theatre Royal, Leigh, here in its incarnation as Ruebens Nightclub in the 1970s - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. The Foundation Stone of the 1884 Theatre Royal can be seen on the Gable End of the building.

The 1884 Theatre Royal was extensively rebuilt in 1901, but prior to this in 1893 Mr Dewhurst had installed a gallery which increased the capacity from 1,700 to 2,000 and he also obtained an excise licence to sell intoxicating liquors for the bars he had created within the building during Theatre hours.

Leigh Chronicle 13 September 1901

The Stage House of the 1901 Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.“When the audience assemble on Monday evening at the Leigh Theatre Royal and Opera House, on the occasion of the reopening, and after the extensive alterations, additions, and improvements that have been made during the last two months, they will be surprised and gratified at the wonderful transformation that has taken place. The demolition of the two shops that stood to the rear of the Theatre in Bold Street and the extension of the building to cover this site has enabled the seating accommodation to be extended by one third.

Right - The Stage House of the 1901 Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Formerly there was seating accommodation and standing room for about 2,000 persons, but now 2,600 can find room to see the plays. There are now 100 pit stalls, with beautiful velvet armchairs, and there is seating accommodation in the rest of the pit for 1,200 persons. The centre circle contains about 60 armchairs of red plush, and there are 400 separate seats in the side circle. An innovation that will no doubt be greatly appreciated is that the seats in the side circle are all numbered and on payment of an extra sixpence can be booked and reserved. 300 Persons can be placed in the gallery. In order to secure a very large amount of air space for the habitués of the circle and pit stalls the gallery has scarcely been extended at all, and there is consequently a wide open space between there and the private boxes. The building is thoroughly ventilated. There are four private boxes, the two lower ones affording seating accommodations for four and the two upper for six persons each. Seats can be booked for centre circle, side circle and stalls. The charges for the gallery, pit and side circle remain the same as hitherto: - 4d, 6p and 1s with a little extra for going in at the early doors. It can be said that the best shilling accommodation in Lancashire is provided. The charge for the stalls and centre circle is 2s and for the private boxes 12s.

 

A Long view of the Stage House of the 1901 Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.The whole of the Theatre floor has been covered with splendid cork carpet by Dean and Co., of Birmingham, but the private boxes are richly carpeted, and each provided with special chairs. Great artistic taste has been shown in the decoration of the proscenium and private boxes, and when completed it is believed the proscenium will be one of the handsomest in the country. Richly ornamented fibrous plaster casts have been placed all round and the effect is very fine indeed. Plush Velvet Tableau curtains cover the entire stage, and similar hangings are used in the private boxes. A handsome brass rail and plush curtains separate the orchestra from the pit stalls. The stage has been so enlarged that it will now be possible to stage any play. The stage opening is 25 feet as against 19 feet previously, and the stage is 35 feet deep as against 26 feet. The scenery instead of being rolled up as hitherto will be hoisted into the flies, for the distance from the stage floor to the grid is 50 feet as opposed to 36 feet previously.

Left - A Long view of the Stage House of the 1901 Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Altogether the Theatre is decidedly handsome, commodious, and comfortable, and Mr Dewhurst commences his 14th year of management under favourable auspices. It was a matter of great regret to him that he had to postpone the engagement of several companies owing to the work not being completed, but he could not postpone any further engagements without incurring serious monitory loss, and the Theatre will positively re-open on Monday, when the stirring military drama “The Soldiers of the Queen “will be produced. Although it is probable that more work will have to be done during the week, the audience will find their comfort has been thoroughly considered. Mr Dewhurst has been able to secure some excellent bookings, including “San Toy,” “Florodora,”and all the leading companies”. - Leigh Chronicle 13 September 1901.

The 1901 alterations then, involved the demolition of the original stage house including the back wall, proscenium and boxes but retaining the original roof structure. This increased the area of the pit by over 26ft in length. The new stage house occupying the land where the former shops had been located. The new proscenium was where the former back wall had stood. The side circle seats referred to in the 1901 article were contained in newly formed slips attached to the circle and connected to the upper stage boxes and a new ceiling created to cover the void left where the former grid had been located. The new stage house was to survive intact for the rest of the life of the building. An inventory made in preparation for Mr W Wolstencroft purchasing the Theatre shows the stage to have been fitted with:-

26, sets of lines. 3, electric battens. Paint frame on back wall with counterweights. Electric switchboard. Gas taps board. Fireproof curtain. Advertising curtain. Tableau curtain. Two lime lights on stands. Cinematograph operating box (made of sheet iron). 1 row of footlights (electric). 1 row of footlights (gas). Church bell. One rain box. One thunder sheet. - The list goes on to record many items of stock scenery and props.

 

A wonderful photograph of the performers in Casey's Circus who performed at the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 1906, including the great Charlie Chaplin - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Above - A wonderful photograph of the performers in Casey's Circus who performed at the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 1906, including the great Charlie Chaplin who is in the middle row, 4th from the right, wearing a bowler hat. - Image used with kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Under the ownership of Tolfree and Slingsby serious drama and musical plays were by and large superseded by variety bills and musical comedy, no doubt to compete with the recently opened Hippodrome. Their tenure was quite short and in 1918 the control of the theatre passed to Leigh Hippodrome and Theatre Ltd. The company owned by Mr W Wolstencroft.

The elevation of the proposed new luxurious Theatre on the site of the present Theatre Royal - From a 1936 cutting - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.A further refurbishment in the summer of 1920 was carried out, the first for almost two decades. The old gallery, inserted by Mr Dewhurst, – now practically an eyesore, according to the Leigh Chronicle was removed and the circle enlarged, the auditorium was redecorated and the exterior repainted. New entrances were created that did not segregate the public as before. The auditorium was re-seated, the benches in the pit being replaced with tip up seats, divisions removed and all seats in the former pit being classed as stalls.

The advent of sound in the cinema at the end of the 1920s and its proliferation into most cinemas during the early 30s would mean less live shows at the Theatre. A proposal in 1936 to replace the building with a super cinema to be called “The Royal Cinema” came to nothing and the old Theatre soldiered on (see cutting right).

Right - The elevation of the proposed new luxurious Theatre on the site of the present Theatre Royal - From a 1936 cutting - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

In 1938 HUGREEN Enterprises starring Hughie Green in “Happiness in the Air” was at the Theatre in February and the International Opera Company was presenting “Tannhauser” and “The Bohemian Girl” at the Theatre in March. Later in the month Leigh’s own Frank Randle was appearing at the Theatre in “A Vaudeville Revue”. The mix of variety, panto and film would be enhanced by rep companies such as the Fortesque Players.

It was this company that would end the building's life as a live Theatre when their three week booking concluded on February 27th 1954 with a presentation of Reginald Denham’s play “First Night”. It was Arthur Leslie’s custom (he was the actor/ manager of the company) after the curtain call at the end of the performance to step forward and announce the next weeks offering or to say farewell until next season; on this occasion his remarks would be the last words an actor would speak from the stage of the Theatre Royal.

The Theatre Royal was sold in 1954 to a Mr Ronald Brown of Wigan to be converted into a dance hall, to be called The Casino Ballroom.

 

The Leigh Guardian 13th August 1954

The Casino Ballroom, Leigh, showing the 1901 Proscenium arch Decoration - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.“The Theatre Royal, Leigh’s last link with legitimate theatre, has been sold and will be converted into a dance hall. It is understood that the interior of the building will be partly reconstructed and that the dance hall will be modern and complete with cloakrooms and soft drinks bar. The floor will be raised and levelled, and a shallow balcony running along the back of the building will replace the old circle with its iron pillars” - The Leigh Guardian 13th August 1954.

Right - The Casino Ballroom, Leigh, showing the 1901 Proscenium arch Decoration - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

A photograph taken at the time of the Casino Ballroom opening shows everything from the 1901 auditorium with the exception of the proscenium arch fibrous plaster decoration swept away. A report in the Leigh Chronicle of August 1955, describes the dance floor as being of inlaid maple, and the proscenium arch painted blue and gold, walls of maroon and gold and settees and chairs of maroon moquett. The surviving stage would be put to good use and in the years ahead stars such as the Beatles, Cliff Richards and Max Bygraves would appear there.

 

Ruebens Nightclub

Ruebens  Nightclub at the former Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

Above - Ruebens Nightclub at the former Theatre Royal, Leigh - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The Grid of the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 2008 showing a drum and shaft similar to that which until recently graced the grid of the Comedy Theatre, London, now the Harold Pinter Theatre - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. By the end of the 1970s the passion for ballroom dancing had waned and the Theatre Royal entered its final transformation as a night club. During this conversion in 1983 the last element of the 1901 auditorium would be removed when the ornamental plasterwork was removed from the proscenium arch.

Right - The Grid of the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 2008 showing a drum and shaft similar to that which until recently graced the grid of the Comedy Theatre, London, now the Harold Pinter Theatre - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The Grid of the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 2008 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. Left - The Grid of the Theatre Royal, Leigh in 2008 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

After the closure of the nightclub in 1996 the building would remain dark and increasing dereliction would hasten its demolition in 2008, however the stage house with its 1901 grid, drum and lines would remain intact until the end.

The Foundation Stone of the Theatre Royal, Leigh, which was originally situated on the Theatre itself, then the Ruebens Nightclub, and is now situated on Ruebens Court - Photo Courtesy Alfred Mason.The site was then used to build sheltered housing called Ruebens Court which opened on the 4th of September 2009.

Right - The Foundation Stone of the 1884 Theatre Royal, which was originally situated on the Theatre itself, then the Ruebens Nightclub, and is now situated on Ruebens Court - Photo Courtesy Alfred Mason.

This article on the Theatre Royal, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013.

All images used in the above articles on the Theatres Royal, unless otherwise stated, have been kindly provided by Wigan Archive Services, WLCT, and must not be further reproduced without their permission.

The site of the former Theatre Royal, now Ruebens Court, in May 2015 - Courtesy Alfred Mason

Above - The site of the former Theatre Royal, now Ruebens Court, in May 2015 - Courtesy Alfred Mason. The old Foundation Stone of the 1884 Theatre Royal was repositioned on the new building and can be seen in a photo above.

 

The Management of the Theatres Royal, Leigh

A portrait of J. W. Cragg.The owner of the wooden Theatre Royal in 1877 was Mr J W Cragg (shown right). He came to Leigh after returning from a tour of Australia and India with his acrobatic troupe, “The Cragg Family” in 1876. Faced with a lack of bookings for his act, due to his long absence from the country, he first purchased a small theatre in Blackpool, this venture was unsuccessful. He sold up and came to Leigh and stayed for two years becoming proprietor of the Theatre Royal shortly after his arrival. On accepting a booking for his troupe at the Alexander Palace he left the town, “abandoning for ever any wish I had to play the role of Proprietor of a place of entertainment, for I had found experiment in that direction abject failure” (Quote from The Era 1896).

Right - A portrait of J. W. Cragg.

He became an absentee landlord and left the running of his theatre, the only one in the town for over 40 years, to some very successful managers. “The Cragg Family” an acrobatic troupe and comedy act and would go on to become world famous. The proprietor of the theatre on playbills and all printed matter over the years could be seen variously to be A de Castro, J W Cragg, and J Williams, the latter (John Williams) being the name J W Cragg was born with in Manchester in 1846. De Castro was the name selected originally for the early trapeze act he worked with his partner, Cragg came in to use after his first marriage. He married four times and had 24 children 12 of which survived into adulthood. He died in 1931.

 

Jonathan Dewhurst and his wife Fanny Rivers - Courtesy Phillip & Sue Taylor.Mr R Green, a local business man, was his first manager; he was responsible for overlooking the rebuilding of 1884/5 and for the success of the theatre before this. He was followed by the celebrated tragedian Jonathan Dewhurst as lessee and Manager in August 1888. Mr Dewhurst (shown left with his wife Fanny Rivers) who was born in Lowton on the outskirts of Leigh in 1837 started his professional acting career alongside Henry Irving at Manchester’s Prince’s Theatre under Charles Calvert in 1865, with appearances at other major northern towns until he achieved London fame in 1871 at Drury Lane in Andrew Halliday’s “Ivanhoe”.

Left - Jonathan Dewhurst and his wife Fanny Rivers - Courtesy Phillip & Sue Taylor.

He maintained his connections in the north and, with his “Powerful Legitimate Company”, toured the northern circuits from 1879, (including the Leigh Assembly Rooms in January 1880). He toured Australia and India in 1881/3. Two years after opening the Theatre as reported above for J W Cragg, Mr Cragg approached Mr Dewhurst to become Lessee and Manager. After some initial hesitation Mr Dewhurst took up the post on August 3rd 1888, supported by his wife Fanny Rivers, an actress who took leading roles alongside her husband. Fanny was often left in charge at the Theatre Royal whenever he went on tour, so was effectively his deputy manager assisted on occasion by his business manager James Smith. This was a very successful period for the Theatre and during his tenure Mr Dewhurst persuaded Sir Henry Irving to appear at the Theatre Royal; Mr Dewhurst oversaw the considerable extension and rebuilding of 1901. After Mr Dewhurst’s retirement from the Theatre in 1906 he moved to Chorley to manage “The Royal Oak” hotel. He died in 1913.

The lessees who followed him for short periods were among others Messer’s Sidney Tolfree and Harry Slingsby, business men who also had interests in several other theatres around the country. In 1918 Councillor .W Woolstencroft JP, a local business man, became lessee and manager of the Theatre Royal, and together with the Hippodrome he would oversee both theatres until their closure in 1954 on his retirement.

This article on the Management of the Theatres Royal, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013. (Information and photographs for the above on Mr Dewhurst kindly supplied by Phillip & Sue Taylor.

 

The Prince of Wales Theatre, Back Salford Street, Leigh

Later - The Victoria Theatre / The Assembly Room / The Hippodrome

Proprietor and Builder Mr M Wardhough

With details of the Theatre, King's Head, Leigh

A Playbill for 'Castle Spectre' and 'Spectre Bridegroom' at the Theatre, King's Head, Leigh on Saturday October 5th 1833 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. Although theatrical entertainment was no stranger to the town, a playbill dated as early as Saturday October 5th 1833 advertises a production of “Castle Spectre” to be followed by “Spectre Bridegroom “at, Theatre, Kings Head Leigh.

Right - A Playbill for 'Castle Spectre' and 'Spectre Bridegroom' at the Theatre, King's Head, Leigh on Saturday October 5th 1833 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The Prince of Wales Theatre was, as far as existing records show, one of the earliest custom build playhouses in the town, together with the Theatre Royal which in 1866 was under the management of Mr J Holloway. The Prince of Wales Theatre was constructed in Back Salford Street and ready for use in April 1863 but due to opposition to the granting of a licence the opening was delayed until May 1863. The main thrust of the petition against the granting of a licence, presented by 12 men led by a Mr William Heyes, was that the establishment of the Theatre would result in no benefit to the town, “But would be attended with evils, especially the demoralisation of the young and rising generations”. Theatres he said “Were the most despicable establishments for the juvenile portion of the population, places where morals were contaminated”. Mr Ambler (solicitor) appearing for Mr Wardhough argued that, “Those persons who presented a petition against the granting of a licence had no right to deter other people from the enjoyment of anything already allowed by the legislature. Theatres were not only patronised by royalty and the nobility, everyone that had a disposition to cultivate theatrical amusement also patronised the drama. Shakespeare’s plays were good and these would be put upon the stage by Mr Wardhaugh”. After further debate the licence was granted to Mr Wardhough. A similar problem of opposition would occur over 40 years later when application was made for the building of the Grand Theatre and Hippodrome, again the opposition would be defeated.

The Prince of Wales was built of wood at a cost of £500 and was reputed to have been heated by a stove in the middle of the auditorium. No further details on the fabric of the building have survived.

The first performance at the Theatre was the drama “Morna, The Forsaken One”. Followed on the same evening by “Make Your Will” Mr Wardhaugh although an actor did not appear in any of the plays in the opening week but gave an opening address before the curtain at the start of the evening. The stage manager was Mr Tom Slater and during the first week after the opening night he oversaw a change of programme every night. “Two Loves and a Life”; “Writing on the Wall”; “The Ranger”; “The Bird Catchers of Bedford”; “Ingomar the Son of the Wilderness,”being presented during the opening week.

The proprietor and builder of the Theatre Mr William Wardhaugh, was also proprietor of the Theatre Royal Bury. The management, in 1866, was taken over by Mr E C Litchfield who like Mr Wardhaugh was also an actor. The management changed again in 1869 when Mr Tom Slater, formally the stage manager, took over the running of the Theatre. It is likely Mr Warhaugh whose wife was also in the profession gave up the management when other theatrical dates were available. They returned to perform at the Prince of Wales in 1868 but did not remain after the engagement, presumably having sold their interest in the enterprise.

The Victoria Theatre
Proprietor and Builder Mr E C Lichfield
Architects unknown

A timber auction was held on the site of the Theatre in May 1874, suggesting demolition, only 11 years after the building opened, the reason, because of dilapidation, or a possible fire it is not known. In May 1875 a licence was applied for and granted to the actor manager Mr A C Litchfield, a former manager of the Prince of Wales Theatre, for a new wooden structure he had built on the site of the Prince of Wales and to be known as the Victoria Theatre.

Improvements to this building were announced in October 1875, “The interior of the building has been beautified with the seats having been cushioned, hangings and shields placed on the walls, chandeliers fitted and good fires kept in place”.

Some of the plays performed at the Victoria Theatre at this time were popular fare of the period and included “Lady of Lyon”; “Kathleen Mavoureen”; Colleen Bawn”and “East Lynne”. The Theatre cannot have been a great success because by December 1879, just over four and a half years later, a brick and stone building to house the Conservative Club and Assembly Room stood on the site.

The Assembly Room / Hippodrome

The Assembly Room was on occasion used for the presentation of theatrical entertainment. Jonathan Dewhurst appeared there with his “Powerful Legitimate Company” in January 1880 a year after the building opened. The Assembly Room was sometimes called “The Hippodrome” when the occasional light entertainment was presented there, and before the Grand Theatre and Hippodrome was opened in December 1908. After this date the building was no longer used for this purpose, the live entertainment needs of the people of Leigh being catered for by the new Grand Theatre and Hippodrome and the recently rebuilt Theatre Royal.

This article on the Prince of Wales Theatre, Leigh, was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by George Richmond in 2013. The article is © copyright George Richmond 2013. With thanks to Tony Ashcroft for the use of his source material in the above article. The image used in the above article on the Prince of Wales Theatre, Leigh, was kindly provided by Wigan Archive Services, WLCT, and must not be further reproduced without their permission.

 

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