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Theatres in Luton, Bedfordshire

The Library Theatre - The Hat Factory - The Grand Theatre - The Palace Theatre - The Alexandra Theatre - The Alma Theatre

The Library Theatre, St George's Square, Luton

A Google StreetView Image of the Library Theatre, Luton - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Library Theatre, Luton - Click to Interact.

The Library Theatre is part of the Luton Central Library in St George's Square, Luton. It opened in 1962 as a Lecture Theatre seating 256 people, presenting Amateur and Professional Drama, Films, Music, and Children’s events.

In the 1990's the auditorium floor was raked and the décor and seating changed to a more modern style. A central isle was installed and the seating capacity reduced to 238 seats.

In the early part of this century the Theatre was improved technically, and in 2009 the Theatre closed for a major refurbishment including some front of house improvements and improvements to the bar areas, and a new café was also installed.

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

The above article on the Library Theatre, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in January 2016.

The Hat Factory, 65 - 67 Bute Street, Luton

A Google StreetView Image of the Hat Factory, Luton - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Hat Factory, Luton - Click to Interact

The Hat Factory is situated at 65 - 67 Bute Street, Luton. Opened in 2003, it is Luton's main Arts and Entertainment Venue, featuring Live music, Club nights, Theatre, Dance, Films, Children's activities, Workshop classes, and Gallery exhibitions. Also featured are Contemporary Theatre performances from various touring theatre companies.

The Hat Factory also contains 'Connors cafe Bar', and two other bars inside the premises.

You may like to visit the Hat Factory' own Website here.

The above article on the Hat Factory, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in January 2016.

The Grand Theatre, Waller Street, Luton

A Sketch of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899

Above - A Sketch of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899

A Sketch showing the Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899The Grand Theatre was situated in Waller Street, Luton, next to the town Swimming Baths. It was built for Mr Reginald F. Turner, at a cost of £22,000 and opened on the 10th of December 1898. The architect was Charles Herbert Shoppee F.R.I.B.A., of John Street, Bedford Row, London, this being his first commission for a Theatre design. The builder was Mr W. G. Dunham of Luton.

The location of Waller Street has now disappeared, being demolished and incorporated into the 'Arndale Shopping Centre' since 2006, now known as 'The Mall'.

Right - A Sketch showing the Auditorium of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899.

The building was 5 storeys high. The Exterior façade was faced in grey Luton brick relieved with quoins and dressings of red bricks, and St Aldhelm box ground stone was used for the cornices, strings etc, and for the gable. The lower storey was faced in dark brown glazed bricks. It had three entrance doors into the Theatre, and had two stairs and exit doors, one each, far left and right of the façade. At third floor height outside the central window was an ornate stone balcony, and at roof height was a very ornate central pediment featuring scroll work and decoration surmounted by a flag pole. At each of the second to top floors, three windows were featured at each level.

A Ground Plan for the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899.The Theatre was constructed of fire resistant materials, and was entirely lit by Gas, as there was no electricity connection in Luton at the time. It was a three tier Theatre. Downstairs were the fauteils (comfortable arm chairs) taking up the first three rows nearest the stage, divided from the pit behind, by a wooden barrier. Above was the circle, and above this the gallery level. The seating capacity of the Theatre at this time was quoted as 1,500 persons. Each side of the stage there was a stage box at stalls level, and above at circle level were two boxes each side of the proscenium arch. The Proscenium arch boxes, and circle and balcony fronts were decorated in ornate fibrous plaster work. The auditorium had a shallow domed ceiling separated into several segments ornately decorated.

Left - A Ground Plan for the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899.

The Theatre had a large stage containing Victorian stage machinery and trap doors. In the stage's back wall were exits, both left and right, which led into a corridor leading to the dressing rooms, which were sited at stage and circle levels.

The fibrous plaster decorations were by Messrs De Jong & Co of London. Furniture and fittings were by Messrs Broadbridge & Sons of Brighton. Iron and steel work used in the Theatre's construction were by Messrs R. Moreland & Son Ltd of London. Lighting and heating apparatus supplied by Messrs Strode & Co of London. The fire hydrants and the fire resisting curtain were supplied by Messrs Merryweather & Sons. The stage was fitted out by Mr J. W. Cawdery of London.

A Plan for the First Level of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899. The Theatre was opened on the 10th December 1898 by the famous actress, Mrs Lilly Langtree, who gave the opening address, followed by telegrams of congratulations received from Sir Henry Irving, Mr H. Beerbohm Tree, Mr G. R. Simms. Sir John Blundell Maple M.P., Mr Charles Wyndham, and Mr & Mrs De Lange.

During the afternoon the Theatre's permanent orchestra played charming selections of music under the Theatre's conductor Mr Walter Scott. The Theatre's first theatrical performance took place the following Monday with Mr William Greet's Company in 'The Sign of the Cross', all seats having been sold. The beautifully painted Act Drop rose at precisely 7.30pm and the owner, Mr Reginald Turner, stepped to the front of the stage. There was applause for several minutes with the crowd shouting 'Bravo Turner'. Mr Turner welcomed and thanked them one and all. To the 'Gallery boys', he extended a hearty and kind welcome, but asked for one favour, he knew, they would grant it, 'not to whistle nor smoke.' Then all sang the National Anthem, with Miss Lily Florence singing the solo, and the performance commenced.

Right - A Plan for the First Level of the Grand Theatre, Luton - From the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 1st 1899.

Members of Mr William Greet's Company who appeared were:- Mr Philip Cunningham as Marcus; Miss Sylvia Cavalho as Mercia; Miss Lilla Wilde as Berenis; Miss Gertrude Burnett as Stephanus; Miss Cissie Carlton played Dacia; Mr Ernest Mayne played Nero; Mr Henry Ludlow as Tigellinus; Mr W. H. Sims as Licinius; Mr Norman Page played Philodemus; Mr G Franks played Flavius; Mr R. H. Watson as Titus; Miss Rita Trekelle as Ancaria; Miss Florence Fowler danced gracefully, and the Stage Manager was Mr Herbert Vyvyan who also appeared as Gabrio. The company Manager was Mr Evelyn Vernon.

Prior to the Grand Theatre having been built the only venue in Luton which could accommodate touring productions was the Town Hall, but this could only accommodate 400 to 500 persons per performance, thus the new Theatre with its vast seating capacity was a very welcome addition to the town and district.

After its official opening the Grand Theatre continued to present plays for the population of Luton, which at the time was estimated to be 40,000 people, with a further 15,000 people in the immediate neighbourhood. However, there had been considerable opposition to the Theatre from the pulpit. At one Chapel the Theatre was denounced as 'leading to every possible ruin to those who frequented it.'

 A Postcard from 1910 showing Waller Street and Grand Theatre, Luton

Above - A Postcard from 1910 showing Waller Street and Grand Theatre, Luton

As early as 1900 early films had been part of the theatrical performances, and this continued up to the end of World War One in 1918. The Theatre eventually turned over to showing films full time but this was to end in 1930 when the last film shown was 'Simba', after which the Theatre returned to live performances.

In 1937 the Theatre closed for extensive alterations, re-opening again on the 4th December 1937 with live stage performances of 'The Desert Song.'

In 1946 the Theatre was taken over by the 'Falcon Players', and became a Repertory Theatre performing a new play every week, whilst rehearsing the next week's play in the day time, the cast learning lines for the following play whenever a spare moment occurred. The Falcon Players continued there until late 1949 when the Theatre was again closed. It was then offered for sale by auction, but remained closed until it was finally re-opened on the 10th April 1950. The Theatre then staggered on until 1957 when it was closed for the last time, and then demolished in 1959, to make way for the 'Arndale Shopping Centre' development.

The above article on the Grand Theatre, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in October 2015.

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

The Palace Theatre, 29 to 37 Mill Street, Luton

Later - The Gaumont Cinema / Majestic Ballroom / Top Rank Bingo Club

The Palace Theatre, Luton - From the Cinema News and Property Gazette of 1913

Above - The Palace Theatre, Luton - From the Cinema News and Property Gazette of 1913

The Palace Theatre was situated at 29 to 37 Mill Street, Luton, LUI 2NA and was under construction as early as 1910, however, the proprietor could not meet his debts to Creditors, and as a result the proprietor went bankrupt with the building only half constructed.

After the building had stood empty, and only half constructed, for over a year the building was bought by Mrs Milly Williams of Maida Vale for the sum of between £8,000 and £9,000. She had a good knowledge of both the Theatrical and Kinematic world, and quickly awarded the contract to complete the building to Mr Eastern (builders) of North London, who instigated both day and night shifts to quickly complete the Theatre. It was decided to continue with the existing building plans without making any alterations for speed to get the Theatre up and running in the quickest time possible. The Palace Theatre duly opened for business on the 26th December 1912, with the policy of presenting first class Variety and Kinematic entertainment.

The Theatre building contained two lock up shops, Billiard and Smoking rooms, and a Tea Room. A portion of the adjoining property had also been purchased in order to provide a main exit from either side of the Theatre. Fronting onto Mill Street, the Theatre's rear behind the stage house backed onto the LMS Railway line.

It was reckoned to have cost a total of about £20,000 by the time the Theatre had been completed, and carpeted and furnished to the highest specification. The Theatre's stage was 17 feet deep and it had five dressing rooms. From the outset the Theatre was fitted with two Simplex Cinema projectors.

The Theatre's opening capacity was quoted as being 1,500 people. Shows were presented each evening with Matinee performances on both Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.30pm. Prices ranged from 6 old pence (2 and a half pence in today’s currency) and 2 Shillings (10 pence today). The Matinee prices were half the evening prices.

The Palace Theatre's manager was Mr D. Williams, husband of Mrs Milly Williams the proprietor. The leader of the Royal Cinema orchestra was Miss D.A.Vincent.

An article printed in 'The Cinema' magazine of the 15th January 1913 describes the Palace Theatre as follows:- ''I have visited many hundreds of these places of entertainment in England but I have never found one more entitled to the designation applied to it than the Palace Theatre, Luton. With it's extensive auditorium, it's luxurious appointments, it's deep stage, and it's many means of ingress and egress, it may be said to bear more favourable comparison with many of London legitimate theatres.''

The Palace soon changed over to full time films showings, and continued until March 1928 when it was taken over by General Theatres Corporation (GTC) who were themselves taken over by the Gaumont British Theatres chain in May 1928. The Palace Theatre was then renamed 'The Gaumont Cinema' on the 14th November 1949.

The Gaumont Cinema was closed by the Rank Organisation on the 14th October 1961. The last films shown being 'Whisky Galore' starring Basil Radford and 'League of Gentlemen.' starring Jack Hawkins (a film double bill). The building was then converted into 'The Majestic Ballroom' operated by Top Rank. The Beatles, Dave Clark Five and The Hollies all appeared there during this period.

In 1960 the building was again converted, this time into a 'Top Rank Bingo Club', and the building's façade was given a more modern look.

However, the building was destroyed by fire in the early hours of the 28th December 1982. The remains being demolished in the period between July and August 1983. Offices and flats were then constructed on the site, known as 'Langham House'. Thus ended Seventy years of entertainment on the site.

The above article on the Palace Theatre, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in October 2015.

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

The Alexandra Theatre, Luton

Formerly - A Roller Skating Rink / The Alexandra Music Hall

This building started it's life as a Roller Skating Rink, opening in December 1876, it was opened by the then Lord Mayor. The Skating Rink cannot have been a great success however, as there is a record of the building then being converted into a Music Hall, called 'The Alexandra Music Hall. However, this did not last long either, as by 1881 the Alexandra Music Hall was again converted, this time into a classical Playhouse, named 'The Alexandra Theatre.'

The ERA newspaper dated the 12th February 1881 carried the following report:- 'Proprietor Mr J. S.Rosson. - This building, originally a skating rink, and more recently a Music Hall, has now been converted into a very elegant Theatre, the proprietor evidently sparing no expense in the undertaking; and it now bids fair to hold it's own with most Midland places of amusement. The Magistrates, in granting the licence to Mr Rosson, on the 21 inst, were emphatic in their decision that the usual Music Hall attributes of smoking and drinking should be prohibited; and this had the effect, on Monday, the opening night, of filling the select portion of the house at a very early period; while the pit and gallery were crowded to suffocation, hundreds failed to gain admission.' - The ERA 12th, February 1881.

The opening production on Monday 9th February 1881 was 'The Corsican Brothers', the famous melodrama, with special scenery painted by Mr Charles Ballenger. It was a strong company of actors, the part of Fabien being played by Mr Frank Pierce, with 'power and feeling'. Mr Arthur Sackville played Louis dei Franchi with 'marked repose and finish'. Mr C. S.Boote played the part of Colonna, who it is reported 'kept the house in a continuous roar during the time he occupied the stage'. Mr G. Gilbert was an efficient Meynard, and Mr H Whitehouse was Griffo. Other actors and actresses who appeared in the other parts were, Messrs A. James Thompson, Miss Rose Sinclair, Miss Pearce, and Miss Eva Gray. 'The Corsican Brothers' was preceded each evening by a one act play entitled 'Sarah's Young Man'.

The following week the ERA newspaper, dated 19th February 1881, informed us that:- 'This place of amusement is nightly filled by an enthusiastic audience, and the plays are produced with completeness never before seen in Luton.'

The play for the week of 19th February 1881 was 'The Streets of London' again preceded by 'Leah.' From the cast list it would appear that several of the actors were the same as the opening week. Mr Frank Pierce appeared as Rudolph, Mr Arthur Sackville played the Schoolmaster, Miss N. Baker was 'sufficiently tender ' as Madeline, and Mr C. S. Boote played Peter. Miss Alice Percy was the leading Lady of which the ERA said her 'impression of the Jewess was very powerful'. Other members of the cast were Messrs Gilbert, H. Whitehouse, A. James, Misses Rose Sinclair, and Eva Gray. 'Great praise is due to Mr Charles Ballenger, the artist, whose scenery is a decided attraction.' The Theatre's Manager was Mr F. Pearce.

At present no further details of the building's attractions and history can be found. However, the Theatre was finally demolished in 1935.

The above article on the Alexandra Theatre, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in December 2015.

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

The Alma Theatre, Alma Street and New Bedford Road, Luton

Formerly - The Alma Kinema - Later - The Cresta Ballroom

A Google StreetView Image Cresta House, the site of the former Alma Theatre, Luton - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image Cresta House, the site of the former Alma Theatre, Luton - Click to Interact

The Alma Kinema was situated on the corner of Alma Street and New Bedford Road, Luton and was opened on the December 21st 1929. It was designed by the famous cinema architect George Coles, as a Cine/Variety Theatre. The opening film was 'Divine Lady' starring Corrine Griffiths.

The Cinema's seating was situated in the stalls area, and also at circle level and it had a seating capacity of 1,664 seats.

The stage was 23 feet deep with a proscenium width of 38 feet, and had six dressing rooms. Front of house the cinema had it's own Café and Dance Hall.

On the 5th May 1930, a Compton two manual/Six rank organ was installed. The new organ was first played by organist Herbert A. Dowson. However in 1934 this organ was altered by adding a third coupler manual and phantom piano. The organ was fitted with an illuminated surround on a lift, so that it could rise from the orchestra pit, being played between films.

On the 24th February 1936 the Alma Kinema was taken over by the Union Cinema chain who were themselves taken over by Associated British Cinema's (ABC) in October 1937. ABC continued to run the Alma with some live performances from 1943 onwards but it was closed as a Cinema on the 28th March 1948, reverting back to theatrical use. The cinema now renamed 'The Alma Theatre'.

High class Variety returned together with the presentation of Musicals, Plays, and Opera performances.

Films were again shown from July 1954, but this did not last long and the Alma was converted into the Cresta Ballroom.

The building was demolished in July 1960 and an office block took it's place named Cresta House.

The above article on the Alma Theatre, Luton was written for this site by David Garratt in December 2015. Some of the information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.

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

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

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