Venue Cymru / The North Wales Theatre - The Grand Theatre - The Palladium Theatre - The Arcadia Theatre / Victoria Palace / Rivieres Concert Hall / Opera House / Hippodrome - The Princes Theatre / St. Georges Hall - The Pier Pavilion - The Savoy Cinema Theatre - The Winter Gardens Theatre / Odeon Cinema/ Astra - The Happy Valley Theatre - New Theatre (Unbuilt)
Formerly - The North Wales Theatre
Above - A Photograph of Venue Cymru, Llandudno, in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond
The 1,505 seat North Wales Theatre opened with a production of Jesus Christ Superstar on the 28th June 1994; the cast for the production was drawn from three local amateur companies. The building was officially opened by the Prince of Wales during a Royal Gala concert on the 3rd of July 1994.
Situated next to a conference centre, built in 1981, which in turn was next door to the old Arcadia, the North Wales Theatre is considered to be one of the finest Theatres in Wales, with a proscenium 50ft wide and 26ft high. The available stage depth is 45 ft., and there are 58 counter weight line sets.
Right - The North Wales Theatre, Llandudno as originally built - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
The stage was built to house the Welsh National Opera Company and is the 7th largest outside of London and can accommodate any West End Show. The orchestra pit has a spiral column lift that can move to the full height of the stage, a half level, and fully down. The pit can accommodate up to 100 musicians. Sophisticated lighting and sound equipment is installed and a translation booth is available for live captioning and audio description.
Above - A Schematic of how the Theatre Works - Courtesy Venue Cymru
The auditorium consists of stalls and circle. The circle is set well back and rises quite steeply, in effect incorporating a circle and upper circle into one. Slips on each side bring the front rows in this location to a more usual distance of a circle from the stage. The auditorium is austere, careful lighting focusing preshow audiences attention onto the F.O.H. tabs and the seats, the walls and roof remaining in shadow. The acoustics and sightlines are excellent with the exception of the front row of the centre circle which has a safety rail that limits the view for members of the audience of less than average height.
Left - The North Wales Theatre, Llandudno under construction in 1981 - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Front of house is amply provided with bar areas, alcoholic and non alcoholic. A spacious restaurant was also provided in the second stage of the development of the site (2004) when further facilities were added to the right of the building and the 1981 conference building extended over the site of the Arcadia. At this time the entire building was renamed Venue Cymru.
Above - The Venue Cymru Auditorium in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond
The exterior design of the building was controversial throughout all the planning stages from 1981 onwards, some critics complaining that the design should have reflected the towns Victorian heritage. This was not to be. The architecture reflects each decade in which it was built.
Right - The Stage House of Venue Cymru in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
The Theatre portion of the complex contains, on each corner, a tower, housing staircases, each with a six sided cap echoing the original Arcadia Theatre's façade. The principal entrance foyer of the Theatre displays a selection of photographs, playbills etc., paying tribute to the building that was from 1915 Will Catlins Arcadia Theatre.
The present complex is the third and only proposal for the site to be carried through to completion. Frank Matcham was engaged to draw up plans for the replacement of Rivieres Victoria Palace, later the Arcadia, but this came to nothing. In 1919 a grandiose plan for a seven story structure with corner towers and a centre tower was proposed but this again came to nothing.
Whatever individual opinion of the present building's architecture may be in relation to its elegant Victorian neighbours, Venue Cymru serves Llandudno and North Wales very well in many ways, bringing audiences, delegates, and trade to the town from far afield.
The above article on Venue Cymru was written for this site by George Richmond in October 2014 and was Compiled with the help of material supplied Courtesy Venue Cymru and Llandudno Library.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Architect - G. A. Humphreys - Consultant Edwin Sachs
Above - The Grand Theatre, Llandudno in 2014 - Courtesy George Richmond.
This was the first purpose built Theatre to be erected in the town and the lease of the land to Mr Milton Bode and his backers, from the Mostyn Commissioners, was conditional on the understanding, that under no circumstances was the building to be used for the presentation of Music Hall.
Above - The Grand Theatre, Llandudno whilst under construction in 1901 - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library.
The opening was only five days late, the Theatre in fact opened on August the 5th 1901, a Bank Holiday. A report in the Llandudno Advertiser dated Friday July 26th 1901 gives a comprehensive report on the building and the intended bill of fare as follows in the box below:-
The building was fitted with projection and sound equipment in 1932, a projection room being built at the back of the gallery, filling the space behind the edge of the formal ceiling and the back wall. This was never intended to be a major feature of the Grand and was used primarily, when required, during the winter months, live productions would remain its forte until the end.
Right - An undated advertisement for 'Charley's Aunt' at the Grand Theatre, Llandudno - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library.
The auditorium though now hidden from view by the interior of the nightclub (now closed) is very elegant and undamaged, the applique proscenium valance remains in place as indeed do some of the box drapes. The stage above the false ceiling is undisturbed and the raised safety curtain in place. A condition of the lease to the nightclub company required that the interior should not be damaged in order that the building may revert to its original use should the need arise.
Seating 1,000 with two well curved cantilevered balconies and well raked stalls. The dress circle terminates with two boxes at each side of the proscenium with one above that nearest to the stage at upper circle level. The boxes are divided by slim colonetts painted lapis blue with white plaster decoration, the predominant colours throughout being blue, white crème and gold. An arch with lattice decoration rises in front of and above the square proscenium terminating at the decorative caps over the upper boxes. Above this is an elaborate cartouche displaying a red Welsh Dragon.
The saucer dome covers the majority of the roof of the auditorium including most of the upper circle, the last 12 feet to the back wall of the gallery being covered by an elegant plastered barrel vault.
Left - A Painting depicting the Saucer Dome at the Grand Theatre, Llandudno by, and courtesy of, George Richmond 2014.
The centre of the dome is fitted with a sun burner surrounded by a garland and a bursting star. The circumference is finely modelled with sea scrolls and cartouches containing the face of a classical goddess. The main ground being painted to resemble a blue sky with white clouds. An unusual feature is the hand painted foliage springing from the principle mouldings around the circumference.
There is some evidence that this painted foliage was to be seen in the spandrels at the ceilings corners and in the panels above the proscenium but this decoration has been painted out at a later date. It is likely that the dome shows the original decoration, it being considerably discoloured by nicotine and the passage of time. There are many images of the hidden Theatre here.
Right - A Painting depicting a detail from the Saucer Dome at the Grand Theatre, Llandudno by, and courtesy of, George Richmond 2014.
The Theatre was in continuous use as a live theatre until 1980 when it closed and remained dark for 6 years, reopening as a nightclub in 1987. However, as previously stated, the lease required the new tenants to cause as little damage as possible to the interior fabric of the building, thus enabling the building to be returned to theatre use should the tenancy be given up. The quality of the building was attested to in 2006, when the Grade II Listed Theatre: was classified, when a group of architects and historians who specialise in theatres, gave the venue the highest rating possible -three stars- the same as some of the famous venues in the West End of London - (North Wales News).
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Architect - Arthur Hewitt
Above - An early photograph of Gloddaeth Street, Llandudno showing the Palladium Theatre - With Kind Permission of The Llandudno Library.
A new Theatre scheme for the town was announced in the Llandudno Advertiser in early 1919 saying: "Several prominent local tradesmen have combined to purchase from the Llandudno Market Hall Company, the public market and site with a frontage on Gloddaeth Street, and extending in the rear to Market Street. A meeting of the shareholders has been held and the requisite sanction obtained. We understand it was proposed to erect a large high-class music hall and picture theatre as soon as conditions permit. The property is leasehold, the lease having been extended from the Mostyn Estate to 999 years, some years ago when certain improvements were made to the property. - The Llandudno Advertiser early 1919.
Another report from the same paper in 1920, and transcribed in the box below, gives further news of the new Theatre:
Above - A Painting depicting the auditorium of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
That the Theatre was fitted with projection equipment from the opening is not questioned. The block containing the dressing rooms, and other offices, built behind the back wall of the stage but integral with the rest of the building would provide an ideal location for a projection room, well shielded from the stage by a masonry wall, and giving excellent sound proofing from mechanical clatter and fire protection. Back projection was popular at this time.
It has been thought that the decorative set back in the middle of the circle rail was a design feature made to accommodate the beam from a projector placed at the back of the circle from fouling the circle rail. Reference to the painting once more shows this feature raised above the height of the rest of the circle rail with a plaster capping and as originally designed was purely decorative.
Another black and white photo taken some years later and taken from the circle shows the decorative setback to have been lowered and covered in fabric to match the rest of the circle rail. This alteration is likely to have been made to accommodate the projector beam from the operating room now located where the three boxes were previously located.
The relocation of the projection room to the back of the circle in the space created by the removal of the three boxes was definitely made, perhaps when the building was converted to sound and the first three strip Technicolor features such as Becky Sharp were being produced, but the exact date is uncertain. The alteration to the indent can be seen in the foreground of the painting below made from an old photograph, showing the stage and boxes from the circle.
Above - A Painting depicting the auditorium and stage of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
The Theatre was successful, continuing to show both live and film shows well into the late 1960s after which the building was closed and altered to become, with the addition of a false ceiling and other partitions, a bingo hall in the former stalls, and a cinema at circle level, the upper circle being closed off. Although running at a loss during the winter months the owners, Apollo Leisure, would keep the building open for ever declining business during the summer until final closure at the end of the 1999 season.
Above - The Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today in use as a branch of Wetherspoon's - Courtesy George Richmond.
The building was taken over by the Weatherspoon Company in 2000, a condition of the planning permission being that the interior be restored as far as possible to its original theatrical condition. The interior above the former stalls level looks very much as it did in 1920, even the decorative indent in the middle of the circle rail has been restored to its former hight.
Right - The auditorium ceiling of The Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today - Courtesy George Richmond.
The decorative plasterwork at this level around the circle was lost, it has been restored but simplified using the pattern copied from the original unmolested upper circle design. The boxes at the lower level have retained the original plasterwork design which originally ran around the front of the circle. The proscenium arch has lost its inner mask with the curved upper corners but otherwise has been restored to the original design, minus the velvet valance.
The stage remains at its original height but the space has been incorporated into the restaurant and all evidence of the former stage fittings are gone or concealed.
Above - The former stage of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today in use as restaurant - Courtesy George Richmond.
A staircase leads from upstage left to an upper mezzanine level that gives a fine overall view of the auditorium. The back wall of the stage has been broken through at this level to make doorways giving access to lavatories contained in what must have been very spacious dressing rooms.
Right - The Entrance Porch of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today - Courtesy George Richmond.
Above - The Foyer Dome of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today - Courtesy George Richmond.
Front of house remains intact, the shops have been incorporated into the area but do not detract from the overall ambiance. The two staircases still lead from the foyer and still give access to the circle (doors locked) but the original lavatories remain and are in use!
Above - The rear elevation of the Palladium Theatre, Llandudno today - Courtesy George Richmond.
Weatherspoons undertook a thorough restoration of the exterior of the building during 2012/2013 and the façade now looks as it must have done in 1920 complete with the seabirds on top of the domes. It would be very unlikely that the building would ever be restored to theatrical use, but as it stands today, it is a wonderful place for lovers of old Theatres to have a cup of coffee and dream.
The above article on the Palladium Theatre was written for this site by George Richmond in March 2014. Old newspaper reports are courtesy of Llandudno Library.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Formerly - The Victoria Palace / Rivieres Concert Hall / Llandudno Opera House / Hippodrome
Original Architect G. A. Humphries - Arcadia Theatre Architect Arthur Hewitt
Above - The Arcadia Theatre in its Heyday - Courtesy Llandudno Library
Building work on the Concert Hall started in late 1892 and it was opened in July 1894; the building was designed by G. A. Humphries for the Victoria Palace Company as a temporary building, and initially called the Victoria Palace. The new venue would house the celebrated Conductor, Mr Jules Riviere and his Orchestra after his quarrel with the Llandudno Pier Company and the termination of his contract with that company. It was Riviere and his backers, the Victoria Palace Company's, intention to replace the building on the same site with a very grand concert hall to the designs of the celebrated architect Mr Frank Matcham. The designs were submitted but never put into effect and another fine building was lost to the town. However, the temporary building soldiered on for nearly a hundred years and has an interesting history.
Right - A programme for Riviere's Concert Hall in September 1895 - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Located just under a mile along the Promenade from the Pier Pavilion it was intended to face what was to have been a second pier, though this was never built. The concert hall had a very rustic façade, the main feature being two stub towers with hexagonal conical roofs on either side of the central gable of the building, the gable being enhanced by a bay window with a three sided conical half roof complimenting the towers. Two further pitched roofs of the same dimensions but with canted slated gables covered the body of the concert hall. Inside, added support for the roof trusses was provided for by four cast iron columns forming the corners of a square around the centre of the auditorium. The inner roof structure at this time was open to view with no attempt to create an ornamental ceiling for acoustic or aesthetic reasons.
The orchestra platform was at the back of the auditorium facing the front foyer, with rooms to the right and left of this for visiting artistes and the conductor. The orchestra had a room built on to the back of the building. The auditorium was flat with no balconies and was lit by glazing along the pitched roof of the centre section and windows along each side, artificial lighting initially provided by gas.
Left - A programme for Riviere's Concert Hall featuring Clara Novello Davies - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
At the front of the building was the foyer with box office, a bar, a small cafe, and the usual offices being provided for the public, occupying the full width of the front of the hall. During Mr Rivieres tenure the halls name would be changed first to Rivieres Concert Hall, and then Llandudno Opera House, rather a grand name for such a building, but light opera companies did bring concert versions of productions to the venue. After Rivieres departure to the Victoria Pier, newly opened in Colwyn Bay in 1900, the building was renamed the Hippodrome (see image below).
The backers presumably having bought Mr Rivieres interest out put in a manager in his place. Subsequent managers ran the business on similar lines during the season and used the building as a roller skating rink, (very popular at the time) and as a ballroom in the winter season thus keeping the building open and retaining the resident orchestra all year round. The problem of the four iron columns around the centre of the auditorium was overcome during these activities by covering the lower sections with thickly padded material!
Above - The Hippodrome Skating Rink - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Over the years prior to the First World War the hall continued to function thus, quite successfully, until the owners decided to sell the building. Theatrical impresario Mr Will Catlin purchased the hall during 1915 for a reported £7,500. He then undertook a conversion of the building under the guidance of the architect Mr Arthur Hewitt. The original façade was changed very little. Doorways were modified and the decorative elements made grander with a shallow classical style pediment over the main entrance and pilasters with Corinthian capitals beneath.
Above - The Arcadia Theatre's modified facade - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
It was the interior that was given the major makeover. The glass was removed from the roof and a substantial ceiling added to the auditorium with decorative plaster mouldings. The side windows were removed and the walls plastered internally and embellished with a wreath and garland plaster frieze. Electric wall lights below this punctuated the walls at intervals and electroliers suspended from the decorative plasterwork in the ceiling. A proscenium arch was created in the back wall and a stage house built where the band room had stood. This was equipped with 20 hemp lines and a safety curtain. The get in was on the back wall stage left. The depth of the stage, from setting line to back wall, was shallow at around 15ft., but this was extended by a permanent apron stage of a similar depth covering the area of the former concert platform. The orchestra was situated in front of this but without benefit of a pit. The stage height from the flat stalls floor was about 5ft., thus keeping the orchestra, except from the conductor relatively out of the audiences sightline. Two dressing rooms were accessed from a door stage right, with a dancers room above these and further overflow dressing room accommodation provided below the stage. It was not possible to get from one side of the stage to the other without crossing the stage causing problems when a full depth set was required. A room was made over the foyer bar at the back centre of the auditorium with the observation windows at the level of the wreath and garland plaster moulding . This originally housed the limes and later projection equipment. Follow spots were then operated from the body of the auditorium as and when required. Seating was by plush tip up seats reducing the capacity to around 1,126. The back 14 rows were steeply raked and comprised one block of 9 abreast, then two blocks of 12 abreast and a further block of 9 abreast. The remaining seats in front of the stage were on the flat floor in two blocks of 11 rows 13 abreast. Two further blocks of seats of 7 rows 9 abreast on each side of the stage faced directly across the auditorium and as a result had very poor sight lines.
An early colour scheme had the auditorium in cream, light blue and white. The interior of the building would be little changed over the years. It would be re seated but the layout would remain the same though colours would change. At one time dark red would predominate, at another dark green. The exterior would lose the stub towers with the conical roofs, they were purely decorative and no doubt considered old fashioned. The façade became much more streamlined losing the ornate capitals from the pilasters but oddly retaining the Victorian bargeboard on the central gable and the bay window, now louvered. The Theatre would remain thus until it closed on the 22nd June 1994.
Right - A Daily Post photograph showing the Arcadia Theatre's stage and auditorium after the Theatre's Last Night - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Above - The last days of the Arcadia, Llandudno shortly before its demolition in 2004 - Courtesy Roy Cross
The writing had been on the wall for some time. The building was in constant need of repair and the brand new purpose built North Wales Theatre next door opened for business the following month. The building remained closed and increasingly derelict for several years until it was finally demolished in June 2004 to make way for a new conference centre to be built as an integral part of the North Wales Theatre.
Under the guidance of Mr Will Catlin whose Catlin Productions also provided summer shows for his Theatres in Scarborough, Colwyn Bay and Great Yarmouth, the theatre had been a great success. He was a man astute enough to keep ahead of tastes and guide entertainment trends. After his death in 1953 family members ran the Theatre with continued success. Ultimately the Catlin interest was sold in 1968. The theatres fortunes under the new managements, whilst better than most, inevitably declined in line with changing tastes in holiday destinations until in 1992 the then Borough Council took over the building and after an unsuccessful season, it would be rented out for the remainder of its life.
Left - Demolition of the Arcadia Theatre - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
The above article on the Arcadia Theatre was written for this site by George Richmond in January 2014. Some information used courtesy of Llandudno Library and Terry Davies.
Later - The Princes Theatre / New Princes Cine/Theatre
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre, Llandudno - Click to Interact.
The building first known as St. Georges Hall and located at No. 74 Mostyn Street was erected in 1863, the first purpose built place of entertainment in Llandudno. Built and run by Mr Thomas Owen, the building had a handsome stone facade of three bays. The centre bay of four lights, at first floor level, was set back from the two outer bays, these containing large round headed doorways. The centre bay at ground level was fitted with a shop front.
Right - A drawing of the original exterior of the St. Georges Hall, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
The concert hall, for this was the primary purpose of the building, was at first floor level. This was reached through the side doorways by way of passages and staircases to the auditorium. The concert hall was in fact double height at first floor level and the platform was situated in the original configuration at the front of the building, backing on to the windows, facing the street. As originally built, the hall had no balcony, but at some point, as the entertainment presented became more diverse, one was built to increase capacity and at the same time repositioning the stage to the opposite end of the auditorium.
Above - A drawing of the original interior of the St. Georges Hall, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
Above - An early photograph of a crowd outside the main entrance to the Princes Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy Roy Cross
In 1899 the building's name was changed to the Princes Theatre when further alterations were made.
Right - A drawing of the exterior of the Princes Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported briefly on these changes in their 12th of August 1898 edition saying:- 'Mr. R. Clay, the purchaser of St. George's Hall, Llandudno, has decided to erect a modern-planned theatre on the site of the present hall, to accommodate about 1,000 persons, and has instructed Mr. Frank Matcham, Holborn, W.C., to prepare plans forthwith.' - The Building News and Engineering Journal, 12th of August 1898.
The principal changes included the provision of electric lighting and a solid and decorative proscenium arch to separate the stage from the auditorium. Other improvements related to much more comprehensive fire precautions of the premises. The entrance doors were made wider at this time. The inner stone door casings, along with the inset decorative columns were removed thus allowing two separate entrance doors to be placed within the new opening, one to gain admittance to the Orchestra Stalls the other to give access to the rather grandly named Dress Circle. The matching doorway on the right of the building would provide access to the Pit and emergency exits from the balcony and orchestra stalls. A painted sign under the moulding above the doors declared the building to be the Princes Theatre and also a sign at the centre of the building above the shop and extending over the pavement also declaring the name of the Theatre.
There is evidence on the exterior at the rear of the building of an extension attached to the back wall, and dating from this time to accommodate extra dressing rooms. It is likely that the rear of the shop premises was partitioned off and used to provide space for an orchestra pit, band, and dressing rooms prior to the 1899 alterations.
Left - The rear of the former St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre, Llandudno today - Courtesy George Richmond.
An old drawing shows the auditorium, before these alterations were carried out, viewed from the balcony, with a door at each side next to the balcony rail giving on to the passages and staircases at each side of the building. Four boxes, at balcony level, two at each side of the stage and two at stalls level, these with open fronts, positioned flat along the side walls, gave the auditorium the appearance, at that time, similar to that of a Georgian Theatre. The boxes were supported on twenty four cast iron columns in pairs, one behind the other, with the balusters and rails in open work. The barrel vault roof was decorated with plain plaster ribs at this time .The solid proscenium arch is not in evidence in the drawing.
A recent visit to this space reveals foliate plaster ribs in the same barrel vault. The fine dome above the area on the Mostyn St. end of the building possibly dates from the 1920 restructuring though this is not certain. It is possible that the plasterwork on the roof was retained from the previous interior and simply added to.
Right - Surviving plasterwork in the former St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre, Llandudno in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Above - Surviving dome in the former St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre, Llandudno in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
Under the ownership of two brothers C. and F. Burton the building would undergo another major remodelling after which it would become a full time cinema. The rebuilding of 1920 would take the auditorium down to ground floor level, relocating the shops to the two outer bays, creating a foyer, pay box and access to all parts of the house from the centre bay. On the inside, the stage was much reduced in depth to increase the seating capacity and a new balcony repositioned to accommodate a projection box.
Above - The Upper Facade of the former St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre, Llandudno in 2013 - Courtesy George Richmond.
In this format, with minor modifications to accommodate the advent of sound and advances in cinema equipment, the building would continue to serve the public of Llandudno until 1957 when it closed. The building was sold to a grocery chain in 1959 when the first floor was reinstated and the space that was once St. Georges Hall would become storerooms; a situation that remains to the present day with its current owners being H M V. Only the plaster barrel ceiling and dome remains, this is now Listed.
The above article on the St. Georges Hall / Princes Theatre was written for this site by George Richmond in January 2014. Some background information for the above is courtesy Terry Davies and his book Loves Lost in Llandudno.
Formerly - The New Cinema Theatre
Architect - Arthur Hewitt
Above - The New Cinema Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy Roy Cross
Originally called The New Cinema Theatre and built for a new company called Llandudno Cinema Company Ltd., the Savoy was located at number 35 Mostyn Street and built on the site of a former hotel. It was open for business in August 1914 and was the third place of entertainment to be located on the principal shopping street in the town, the other two being the Princes Theatre 1876 and the Grand Theatre 1901. A local newspaper gave a detailed description of the building shortly before it was opened for business (See box below).
Above - An early photograph of the Savoy Cinema Theatre, Llandudno - With kind permission Llandudno Library
The stringent fire prevention measures described in the newspaper report of 1914 proved to be of no avail, a quite serious fire broke out in 1942 and this kept the building closed for the duration of the war, due to wartime building restrictions, after which it was renovated.
Another much more damaging fire in 1956 resulted in the building having to be rebuilt, this time without its balcony and any stage facilities and now seating 600 on one level.
The building soldiered on as a cinema until the inevitable closure and eventual demolition in 1987. Shops now occupy the site but the rebuilt façade at first floor level is intended to echo the former cinema's façade.
Above - The site of the former Savoy Cinema Theatre in January 2014 - Courtesy George Richmond
The above article on the Savoy Cinema Theatre, Llandudno was written for this site by George Richmond in March 2014. The 1914 newspaper article and background material are courtesy of Llandudno Library..
Architect Mr B Nelson. Owners the Llandudno Pier Company
Above - An early postcard of the Pier Pavilion, Llandudno - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Work started on the Pavilion in 1881, this entailed considerable earth moving as the building was set at the base of the great rocky promontory known as the Great Orme. It was expected to be open for business in the spring of 1884.
Right - The rear of the Llandudno Pier Pavilion whilst under construction in 1883 - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
In January 1884 a very severe storm damaged a major section of the glass roof. An article in the Liverpool Mercury of Monday the 28th of January 1884 reported on the storm saying:- The disastrous effects of the heavy gale in North Wales were conspicuously manifest at Llandudno on Saturday afternoon the 26th January at the Pier Pavilion, nearly completed. At about three o clock in the afternoon, a large portion of the immense glass roof fell in with a loud crash and the great glass squares subsequently flew about at intervals in all directions, breaking some of the windows in the Baths Hotel close by. By seven o clock all the roof was in ruin. Two men employed at the Pavilion had fortunately left work just before the first crash occurred. The loss to the shareholders will be heavy. In the evening a meeting of the directors was held to discuss the situation the damage has been estimated at £4,000.
The North Wales Chronicle reported on 3rd May 1884:- It is surprising what progress the contractors are making in placing a new roof on the Pier Pavilion. There is every probability that the structure will be ready for the public by June; and it is noteworthy that every precaution is being taken to make the building perfectly safe for the accommodation of a large concourse of people. The new roof although not ornamental, will be substantial, and the possibility of a repetition of past misfortunes is very remote.
The original roof was of a semi-circular design above the principal centre section, with the side sections pitched, the whole fabricated in cast iron and fully glazed. The new roof would be of more conventional pitched design overall and covered in lead, with upright windows below this, surrounding the upper structure. Below these an element of the original design remained, this being an extension of the roof, fabricated in cast iron and curved and glazed to meet the eternal masonry walls.
This work would delay the opening for a relatively short time, advertisements in the local press indicated an opening date of 12th June 1884 but the building was used on Saturday 7th June for a programme to raise funds for the Llandudno Sanatorium and Cottage Hospital, an excellent public relations exercise. The problem with the roof did not deter the public from patronising the venue, in August 1884 J. L.Toole played to packed houses, a situation that would continue through the years.
The Pavilion was designed primarily as a concert hall, (although a secondary attraction was a salt water swimming pool in the basement, though this would prove to be short lived). The building had two main entrances, one from the pier leading to the ground floor level and a second at the rear of the building, from the road leading around the great Orme, this giving direct access to the balcony running around three sides of the auditorium.
Left - The rear of the Llandudno Pier Pavilion prior to opening, showing the entrance to the balcony - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
The building was 204 ft., long with a variable width from 84ft to 104 ft., at the centre block, this being 60ft., wide front to back. The left hand side of the building, from the front elevation, housed the Egyptian Hall, given over to exhibitions and miscellaneous uses. The right hand side, including the centre block, housed the concert hall proper, the stage being located at the far right.
Above - The original interior of the Llandudno Pier Pavilion showing the painted canvas ceiling - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Right - A Cast Iron Staircase - All That Remains of the Llandudno Pier Pavilion today - Courtesy George Richmond.
The curved glass roof at the balcony level was also replaced at this time with a lead roof of a conventional design and upright windows with doors at intervals giving access to the balcony. The concert hall could accommodate up to 2,000 patrons when the balcony seats were in use. Seating at this time was on upright chairs. An interesting feature of the hall was a painted canvas ceiling stretched over the auditorium intended no doubt to improve the acoustic properties of the hall and at the same time conceal the cast iron inner roof structure. Another unusual feature was the decorative and structural cast iron frame around the proscenium.
Above - The large Llandudno Pier Pavilion Orchestra - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
For the first 40 years, orchestra recitals and concerts were the main bill of fare. The first resident conductor was Jules Riviere, who would go on to build his own concert hall in the town. He would be followed by many famous names from the music world, including Malcom Sargent and Henry Wood.
Right - An advertisement for Grand Concerts by the Pier Company's
Orchestra at the Pier Pavilion, Llandudno - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
John Bridge, who is credited as leader & Solo Violinist of the orchestra
on this programme was the brother of Harry Bridge who was musical director
of the Theatre Royal, Bury (Lancs) from about 1908
In 1936, due to changing tastes, the Pavilion would feature the main Variety shows and musicals. The building was not ideally suited to Theatre presentations. There was no fly tower but the stage was relatively deep at 29ft. and the proscenium was very high and so could be masked down to provide flying height. The auditorium was less than ideal being long, narrow and flat and the balcony seats, fine for orchestra concerts, could not be used comfortably. The auditorium was re seated with conventional tip up Theatre seats reducing the total capacity to 1,242 - 306 of these being raised on platforms at the rear of the auditorium and designated Circle seats (see seating plan below).
The stalls were not raked. However, in spite of the buildings shortcomings, it would remain open as a theatrical venue until the end of the 1984 season.
The many famous names to appear at the Pavilion over the Variety years are too numerous to mention, but a few headliners from the various decades were Richard Tauber, Anna Pavlova, Paul Robeson, Vera Lynn ,Tommy Trinder, Max Jaffa and The Spinners.
Above - A post 1936 Llandudno Pier Pavilion Seating Plan - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Above - A Programme and cast photo for the last show of the season at the Pier Pavilion, Llandudno in 1983 - Courtesy Keith Hopkins who says that it was a Parnell Production and that the photograph is from the Ziegfeld Scena.
After the closure in 1984 various changes in ownership and ventures did not succeed and the building became very run down.
Left - A postcard showing an aerial view of the Llandudno Pier - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
In 1993 plans were being drawn up to restore the building and turn it into a Covent Garden type development that would include an element of Theatre along with shops, restaurants and exhibition and conference space.
However, the Pier Pavilion, which was a Grade II Listed building, became the victim of an arson attack in February 1994 which destroyed the building.
Right - The Pier Pavilion in flames in February 1994 - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Nothing has replaced the Pavilion and only remnants of the cast iron supports and a staircase to the now lost exterior balcony remain.
The above article on the Pier Pavilion, Llandudno was written for this site by George Richmond in January 2014. With thanks to Llandudno Library & Terry Davies for background material, and B.F. for some archive newspaper reports.
Later - The Odeon Cinema / The Astra
Architect - Mr Arthur Hewitt
Above - The Winter Gardens Cine Theatre in 1934 - With kind Permission Llandudno Library
An article in the Llandudno Advertiser in the summer of 1933 commented on the ongoing work of the town's forthcoming Cine / Theatre:- The new Theatre, architect Mr Hewitt, C.C., which by next summer will have replaced Messers Brierley Bros. garage on the corner of Gloddaeth and Deganwy Avenues with their new venture. Preliminary work is now well advanced, and as near as can be anticipated, the opening date of this new palace of entertainment will be at the end of June 1934. Accommodation will be provided in the Winter Gardens for the headquarters office of the Brierley Bros. Creams Coach Company, whose business has been conducted from this site for a number of years. The graceful art-deco style structure is to contain a cinema/theatre on the first floor with seating accommodation for 2,000 persons. Councillor Brierley is in preliminary negotiation for the booking of first rate films and the engagement of many personalities in the theatre world to appear in the variety entertainments, which will be featured during next summer. The latest type of cinema organ is to be built in front of the stage. Both this and the orchestra platform will be built so that they can disappear from sight when the stage is required. The ballroom, on the ground floor, which is to have a balanced and super-sprung dance surface, will be the biggest of its type in North Wales. It will be surrounded by cafes and lounges - Llandudno Advertiser, summer 1933.
Right - The opening Bill for the Winter Gardens Theatre, Llandudno in 1934 - With kind Permission Llandudno Library.
The organ referred to above was a Christie, three manual eight ranks, built by William Hill & Son, the pipe chambers being located behind decorative grills located on each side of the proscenium. The visual elements of the instrument were art deco in style, with many of the panels on the consul, translucent and lit from behind.
Above - A Painting depicting the auditorium of the Winter Garden Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
The Brierley brothers were originally from Rochdale and this connection was used to persuade Gracie Fields, perhaps the biggest British variety and film star at the time and also a native of Rochdale, to broadcast a message of congratulations, live to the opening night audience via a telephone link from her London Theatre dressing room. How Ella Shields, who was top of the bill on the opening night, really felt about being upstaged, is not recorded.
Left - An early advertisement for the Llandudno Winter Gardens Theatre mentioning Ambrose and his Orchestra, Nova Pilbeam and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, John Mills and Leslie Perrins - With kind Permission Llandudno Library.
The Theatre / Cinema lost money and the Brierley brothers sold the building after a short time to Oscar Deutsch to become part of the Odeon group of Cinemas, with the Ballroom being sold off to a third party. The Theatre would retain its original name for several years until being renamed Odeon in the late 1940s.
The seating was reduced during the 1950s to increase the size of the orchestra pit to better accommodate the Welsh National opera orchestra and the orchestras of companies such as The Sadlers Wells Ballet, the Carla Rosa Opera Company and The Doyle Carte Opera Company, all of which played the Theatre during the 50s and 60s. The alterations reduced the seating in the stalls to 1,079. The size of the stage was not ideal for these companies, some of the sets requiring the full depth and thus causing problems for cast members getting from one side of the stage to the other. However due to the design of the building, and its location on the first floor of the complex, this problem could not be remedied and the stage retained the original dimensions, proscenium 40ft. wide and stage depth 30ft. None of the 14 dressing rooms contained a shower and lavatories were in short supply. A further drawback for the large touring companies was the lack of a dedicated orchestra room.
Above - The Winter Gardens Theatre having been renamed Astra in the 1970s - With kind Permission Llandudno Library
In the 1970s the Theatre once again changed hands becoming part of the Hutchinson Leisure Group of Burnley, being renamed at this time Astra. When the owner of the Hutchinson Leisure Group died in 1984 his assets were sold off and the building was purchased by the Apollo leisure group.
Above - Photographs of the Main Staircase and Auditorium of the Winter Garden Theatre, Llandudno held at the Llandudno Reference Library.
From the 1970s attendances like that of the other Theatres in the town continued to decline for both film and live shows, only the W.N.O and similar companies could be guaranteed a good house, until in 1986, after a final visit to the Theatre by the Welsh National Opera, and in November of that year, a one night appearance of Billy Connelly, followed in the same month by the Vienna Festival Ballet, the owners closed the building and sold it to a local developer who in spite of a great deal of opposition from the townspeople subsequently built a block of flats on the site.
Above - The Winter Gardens Theatre being demolished in the late 1980s - With kind Permission Llandudno Library
Above - The site of the Winter Gardens Theatre, Llandudno, in 2014 - Courtesy George Richmond
The above article on the Winter Garden Theatre, Llandudno was written for this site by George Richmond in July 2014. Archive and source material is Courtesy The Llandudno Library. A comprehensive account of this and other Llandudno Theatres is to be found in Loves Lost in Llandudno by Terry Davis.
Above - The Happy Valley Theatre in the early 20th Century - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library
Opened in 1887 (some sources suggest 1890) on land leased from the Lord Mostyn Estates by Mr Joseph Perry of Perry & Allens Minstrels, a company unusual at the time for performing white face. Churchills Minstrels on the other hand, a company formed by a member of the Perry and Allen group after the death of Joseph Perry in 1904, performed in the more usual black face. Churchills Company performed well into the 20th century.
Right - Charles Wade's Concord Follies - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library. Also see image below.
The minstrel companies would be later replaced by Charles Wades Concord Follies (Shown Right and Below), and Roy Cowls Queeries (Shown Below), among others, up to the Second World War. Regular Sunday concerts were given throughout this time by Llandudnos Town Band.
Above - Charles Wade's Concord Follies of 1939 - Courtesy Dorothy Hawkes
Above - Roy Cowl's Queeries at the Happy Valley Theatre in 1930 - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library
Above - A Postcard showing the Happy Valley Theatre in the 1930s - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library
After the war, in the early 1950s, Waldini and his Gypsy Orchestra featured until being succeeded by Alex Munro, an actor, comedian, theatrical manager and R.A.F veteran, who took over the running of Happy Valley on behalf of the County Council and ran the open air Theatre for the next 30 years until shortly before his death.
Right - A Newspaper advertisement for 'The Waldini Show' at the Happy Valley, Llandudno - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library.
The land provided by Lord Mostyn for the new venue was sloping and curved with a relatively flat area at the base of the curve creating a natural amphitheatre. It was also a relatively short walk from the town centre, access being achieved by an unnamed road leading to the tollgate for Marine Drive, a road around the lower slopes of the Great Orme, stretching for a distance of 6 miles.
The original dressing rooms and backing were of canvas with a platform raised no more than 6 inches from the ground at the front rising towards the rear to take in the contour of the land. This was soon replaced by a permanent wooden structure providing backing, a raised platform in front and a veranda of three bays over, retaining the apron platform in front. At each end of the structure was dressing room accommodation, both topped by a decorative six sided mini tower. This would later be replaced by an art deco building after the original burned down in 1932, the new construction covering approximately the same area as the original.
Above - A Postcard showing the Llandudno Pier from an aeroplane. The Happy Valley Theatre can also be seen in this image (See red arrows) - With Kind Permission Llandudno Library.
During Alex Munros tenure the building would be modified to resemble the bridge of a ship, still with the apron stage. Seating was restricted to the area directly in front of the platform called the enclosure, later, deckchairs could be hired for use in the surrounding area but the majority would sit on the grass or stand, weather permitting. With the vagary of the British weather it was not unusual for shows to be transferred to Llandudno Town Hall.
Happy Valley went dark after the death of Alex Munro in January 1986. Arsonists set fire to the stage house during 1987 and this was never rebuilt, spelling the end of the Happy Valley. In 2014 the unnamed road leading to the former Happy Valley site was named Alex Munro Way. Throughout the years the venue had been a huge success. The new name for the road, honouring the last and very popular actor manager of the venue, will ensure that the talented managers and performers who kept the place alive for nearly 100 years will not be forgotten.
The above article on the Happy Valley Theatre, Llandudno was written for this site by George Richmond in August 2014, and was researched at Llandudno Library. Thanks to P. Richmond for her memories of the place in the early 1950s, also Terry Davis for the chronological order and dates, and Roy Cross for the Alex Munro Road renaming information.
Above - A photograph of the proposed location for the New Grand Theatre, Llandudno - Courtesy George Richmond.
On the 28th. July 1901 Mr Milton Bodes Grand theatre was due to be opened; this would be the first purpose built Theatre in the town. It would seem that the Llandudno Pier Company was keen to enter into competition with Mr Bode. The Era of 11th July 1891 announced:- "New Theatre for Llandudno. A general meeting of shareholders and directors of the pier company Llandudno, held at their offices, Dr James Nicol, JP. In the chair it was unanimously resolved to meet the wants of the visitors to this popular seaside resort by building a new Theatre. Plans and designs have been prepared by Mr Daniel Arkle, architect, Birmingham, and all the work is intended to be pushed forward at all possible speed, so as to have the Theatre ready for the next season. The site for the new building is at the entrance to the pier, on the angular piece of land in front of the Pavilion. The main fronts will face the pier entrance gates and the sea. The principal approach is by a grand central entrance lobby, from whence a handsome stone staircase leads to the stalls, dress circle and upper boxes. The central entrance will be domed over, and will be handsomely decorated and will form a special feature of the building, surmounted by a group of figures representing Music, Art, and the Drama. The style of the structure is an adaptation of the Romanesque, with a Byzantine treatment of ornament which has a very pleasing effect, and gives an oriental appearance to the building. The elevations will be faced in brick with stone dressings. Groups of statuary will be placed near the main entrance, with panels of figured subjects at the sides. The building will hold about 2,000 persons, and will comprise pit, dress circle,upper boxes and gallery, with two stage boxes, two private boxes, and one Royal box. The whole building will be built fireproof, as far as modern science can make it. Great consideration has been given to provide plenty of access and egress in case of panic. The pit is formed in the basement, the dress circle being at the level of the pier promenade, and all the floors are provided with refreshment rooms and retiring rooms for ladies and gentlemen, also smoke rooms. The office for the manager is centrally placed. It is intended to adopt electric light for the interior gas being provided as well in case of necessity. All the latest improvements will be adopted for the effective working of stage pieces. The roof of the garden will be flat and laid out as an ornamental garden, and can be used as an outdoor promenade for the Pavilion. The whole of the ornamental decoration of the interior will be raised carton pierre or plaster work. In front of the building will be gardens laid out with flower beds &c., and this will add very considerably to the attractions of the pier as a public rendezvous." - The Era 11th July 1891.
The design of the new theatre was in complete sympathy with its surroundings, special attention being given to keep the overall height of the building to a minimum and integrating fully with the existing buildings and landscaping. However, as was often the case with proposed Theatre building at this period, the intended new amenity for the town and its visitors fell foul of Llandudnos 20 Town Commissioners who were intent on keeping the morals of said people as pure as possible, however, common sense prevailed. The Era of the 5th of December 1891 reports:- "The New Theatre at Llandudno. The Question of the power of local authority over theatre plans came before the Court of Queens Bench, on Monday, in reference to the Llandudno Pier Company. It appeared that under section 138 of the public health act, 1873, the Town Commissioners of Llandudno have the power to disapprove of plans for public buildings, such as theatres, and the Pier Company, being desirous of erecting a theatre contagious to their pier, had sent their plans to the commissioners architect, who had made certain requisitions which had been complied with. The committee of the commissioners however, when the plans so amended came before them, remitted them to a general meeting of the commissioners at which they were rejected, not it was said, on any defects or demerits of the plans themselves, but on the general objection of "moral grounds" to the building proposed to be erected as a theatre.
Right - A Street Plane showing the location of the propose new Theatre - Courtesy Llandudno Library.
Mr Marshal moved on the part of the Pier Company for a mandamus to the commissioners to hear and determine the application on its merits and approve or disapprove of the plans. (Mr Justice Mathew - They have not, you say an absolute discretion?) No; it is a discretion limited by law, and which must be exercised upon legal grounds. (Lord Colerige observed that in the correspondence some reference was made to the contiguity of the building to the highway.) That would not of itself be a ground of objection in the absence of any bye-law; and no violation of a bye-law is imputed. The commissioners cannot reject the proposed plans upon vague moral grounds merely because they do not like theatres.
In spite of the Pier Company winning the case, what would have been a wonderful theatre was not built. This could have been due to a lack of funds. At this time 1901 the Pier Company had demolished its old Baths Hotel next door to the Pier Pavilion using the rubble to fill in the white elephant swimming pool under the Pavilion thus creating a proper basement. On the site of the old hotel the company erected what was the largest hotel in North Wales in 1901, the Grand Hotel. At this time some major alterations where made to the Pavilion, part of the lower roof was replaced and remodelled to better accommodate the new cast iron veranda and balcony built around the front and side of the building. The real facts of the case are lost to us, as was an innovative Theatre. The location of the Theatre is shown on the street plan of the area at that time (shown above right).
The above article on the proposed New Theatre, Llandudno was written for this site by George Richmond in January 2014.
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