The St. James's Hall, Oxford Street, Manchester
Including - The St. James's Theatre / The Pavilion Picture House / The New Pavilion Picture Theatre / The American Roller Skating Rink
The St. James's Hall was situated on Oxford Street in Manchester opposite the Princes Theatre and the later Hippodrome. The Hall opened on Monday the 26th of September 1881 and was designed by W. H. M. Ward and built for its owner James Reilly as a Public Hall, and Concert Hall, and included the Main Hall itself, which could accomodate 10,000 people, a smaller Hall which was added later, situated above the Main Entrance, which could accomodate 1,000, and eventually a Theatre called the St. James's Theatre, which was equipped with a large stage, and dressing rooms for the artistes.
The Manchester Times Newspaper reported on the Hall's opening in their 1st of October 1881 edition saying:- 'A large public hall, to be known as the Great St. James's Hall, was opened in Manchester on Monday evening. The owner of the new building is Mr. James Reilly, proprietor of the Pomona Gardens, and his intention is to use the structure, which comprises the largest hall in the centre of the city, for general purposes. During the ensuing winter a series of promenade concerts will be held there, and the hall will also be let for great political demonstrations, public meetings, and gatherings of other descriptions.
The entrances to the building are from Oxford-street, near the end of Portland-street. The hall itself lies some distance back from the road, the frontage being occupied by a number of shops, so that the exterior the new structure presents is not very striking. With respect to its interior, however, the building is handsome and palatial. An area of 24,386ft. is covered by the large hall, which is divided into three bays, extended its entire length in the direction of Oxford-street. The central bay or arch is 178ft. long, 60ft. wide, and 51ft, high, and the side bays are 38ft. wide and 40ft. high. The entire length of the hall is thus 178ft., and its width 137ft.
The roof is supported by eight iron pillars, inlaid with mirrors, which serve to indicate the boundaries of the bays. There is a very large platform at one end of the hall. In width it is 62ft., and rises to a height of 236ft, at the rear. Beneath the platform a number of tables and seats will be placed, and on the occasion of great publics meetings it will be connected with the Central Telegraph Offices in York-street, and reporters will be able to transmit their messages without leaving the building.
At the northern end of the room is a gallery, which has a frontage of 137ft. The stalls and boxes will be here placed, the approach to them being by a handsome staircase. It is estimated that the hall will provide seating accommodation for about 5,000 or 6,000 persons, and that from 8,000 to 10,000 persons will be able to find standing accommodation.
Arrangements have also been made by which the area of the large hall can be considerably extended when occasion requires it. A number of cloak and committee rooms are placed to the right of the platform, with dressing rooms for the professional artistes who appear at the concerts.
The interior aspect of the building is light and spacious. Its walls and ceilings consist of timber, which is fluted and carved very elaborately. Around the walls are placed a number of mirrors, and the walls are painted and gilt. The only exits are on Oxford-street side of the building. They are four in number, and of considerable width, so as to afford quick and easy egress, in case of necessity, from the hall. The level of the floor is only six inches above the level of Oxford-street. It may be mentioned, with regard to the great hall, that by means of curtains attached to the pillars it can be divided into three sections, which may be used for independent purposes.
The hall has been furnished in a very handsome manner. There are several capacious ante-chambers and assembly rooms. On the basement, under the gallery, is a refectory or storeroom, which is 120ft. long and 51ft. wide. Between the shops in Oxford-street and the great hall there is to be an intermediate chamber, which is to be called the Dramatic Hall, and it will be let for histrionics purposes to private clubs. Above this hall, again, and the shops which are in course of construction, there will be a large room of 128ft. in length and 48ft. in width, and it will be utilised for workshop or storage purposes.
The brickwork of the building has been executed by Messrs. Lord and Holland, of Higher Broughton; Mr. Stroud, of London, has supplied the gas fittings, and the other fittings have been made at the works of the proprietor, Mr. Reilly, at Cornbrook. The architect is Mr. W. H. M. Ward, of Dickinson-street, in this city. It is estimated that the total cost of the building, fittings, and furniture will be nearly £50,000.
The St. James's Hall was opened on Monday with a Promenade Concert, conducted by M. Van Biene. The extensive promenade was fairly well filled during the evening, but the central portion of the hall, which is fitted with comfortable chairs for the holders of reserved seat tickets, was very scantily occupied.'
The above text in quotes was first published in The Manchester Times, 1st October 1881.
By the mid 1880s the St. James's Hall also included a Theatre called the St. James's Theatre which had its own canopied entrance on Oxford Street. The Theatre itself was situated behind the auditorium of the Main Hall, a map showing the layout of the building at this time can be seen here.
Right - A Watercolour of the Auditorium of the St.
James's Theatre, Manchester by George Richmond, November 2016. The painting
has been created from a photograph in the book 'Red Plush and Gilt'
by Joyce Knowlson. George Richmond says 'The top half of the gallery
and the ceiling in the painting are my own as these are blacked out
areas in the original photocopy in Red Plush and Gilt.
The Theatre was put up for sale by auction in December 1886 by its then owner James Reilly, the ERA carried an advertisement for the auction in their 27th of November 1886 edition saying:- '...The elegant and valuable property known as the St. James's Theatre with all Fittings, Furniture, Appliances, Stage Machinery, Requisites, and Utensils, enumerated by schedule in the lease - hereafter referred to; together with all other loose articles and effects not enumerated in the said lease, and belonging to the said owner; also with the fully-licensed Refreshment Bars, Premises, and Rights of Approach, at present and prospectively in the occupation of Mr Edward Garcia, and conducted under the skilled management of Mr J. C. Emmerson.
The Theatre has been constructed with careful regard to the perfect comfort and convenience of the Public, and, being in a central position, is most admirably situated both for the residents of the City and its numerous visitors. It is capable of accommodating without crowding 2,500 people, and it has been recorded in its books that 2,392 persons have paid for admission at one representation.
Further particulars will be given in future advertisements (if such shall be deemed necessary), and for the guidance and information of contemplating purchasers, it may be meanwhile stated that facilities will be offered for allowing a reasonable proportion of the purchase money to remain on mortgage. It may also be added that the Theatre is Let under a Lease of Twenty-one Years to the above named Mr Edward Garcia, the minimum Rent of £1,000 increasing yearly, and for the eighth and each succeeding year of the said term a yearly rental of £1,500 is payable (exclusive of the Rental of the Refreshment Bars and premises connected therewith).
The Basement Storey under the Theatre, with all the Landlord's Fixtures attached thereto, and let for the sale of refreshments, and the Store-room are also in the occupation of Mr Edward Garcia, as yearly tenant, at a, rental of £100 per annum, the tenancy being determined by Twelve Months' Notice on the part of either Landlord or Tenant from any quarter day after the expiration of his first year's tenancy. These Rentals will be subjected combinedly to a yearly chief of £349 10s. or thereabouts...'
Gertie Millar had her debut at the St. James's Theatre in 1892 aged 13, in 'Babes in the Wood', and Arthur Lloyd is also known to have performed here in 1891. In 1896 the Lessee and manager of the Theatre was Mr. R. Flanagan.
In 1901 the Main Hall was rented by the Thomas Edison Photo Company who used it to show their early Films to the local public, with prices ranging from 6d to 3s, the first of which, in May 1901, was a film about the China and Boer Wars which was said to have been attended by 60,000 people in its first week.
In February 1902 the Company moved into the smaller Hall but despite their introduction of the then new Edison's Theatrephone, the Company left the building in March 1902. Other Biograph and Cinamatograph Film presentations however, would be a regular feature in the Hall and the Theatre until their closure.
The Theatre and Hall were offered for sale by auction in 1906 but didn't sell. However, they were later bought by the Calico Printers Association in preparation for their future redevelopment of the site. The building continued to be used for various functions whilst plans were drawn up for its redevelopment, including the Manchester Dog Show in March 1908 which was held in the Main Hall.
The St. James's Theatre itself closed on the 21st of September 1907 and then reopened on the 2nd of March 1908 as The Pavilion Picture House. Various productions were put on in the Theatre including Ralph Pringle's North American Picture ("and smart vaudeville") Company. And patrons could even listen to features on the Auxeto Gramophone with recordings of the stars of the day. The Theatre closed again, for the summer, and then reopened as The New Pavilion Picture Theatre on the 14th of September 1908, where various entertainments were shown including Prince Edward's Human Talking Pictures. The Theatre was later given the indignity of being turned into an American Roller Skating Rink for its final swan song, running from January to May 1909.
The whole building was demolished shortly afterwards in June 1909 and a new building, the St. James' Building, was then constructed on the site. This was completed in 1912 for the Calico Printers Association's Head Office. The St. James' Building still stands today and is Grade II Listed.
Some of the information on this page was gleaned from a very interesting article called 'Manchester's First Cinemas 1896-1914' by William Shenton.
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