Theatres in Nelson, Lancashire
Above - The Nelson Palace Theatre's original facade in a photograph by Geoff Lord - Courtesy Terry Kirtland
The Nelson Palace Theatre in Leeds Road, Nelson was built in 1909 and opened on December the 13th the same year.
The auditorium originally had two balconies and a single box either side of the proscenium framed by columns, and had a capacity of nearly 2,000. The stage was 32 feet wide across the proscenium.
On the 8th of June 1921 an accident occurred in the Theatre during a trapeze performance when one of the artistes, Miss Winifred May Hunt, who was known as one of 'The Dancing Dinnies', fell 16 feet to the stage when a rope broke. She was badly injured and the subsequent court case was reported in the Times later that year. To read the transcript of the case click here.
In 1970 the Theatre was faced with a demolition threat but the building was saved when Peter Miller campaigned vigorously for its survival.
Above - The Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 which shows the 1983 'sawn off' facade to great effect when compared with the photograph top of page - Photo courtesy Neil Foster
In 1983 the Theatre's original stone facade was removed so that Leeds Road could be widened. This left the Theatre without a facade at all, and a new entrance was created in the former pit stalls.
The Theatre was then used for Bingo until its closure in 2009, when the building was sold to the local Council who, despite quite a lot of local opposition and a campaign to save the building, eventually demolished the Theatre in 2010 so that a car park could be put on the site.
Above - The Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 - Courtesy Neil Foster
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An article written by Geoff Lord, reporter for Old Theatres - From Old Theatres Magazine, issue two, with kind permission, Terry Kirtland
first became acquainted with The Palace in 1953 when I saw a production
of Wild Violets by The St. John's Operatic Society. From that first
visit, I fell in love with the Palace and hoped that one day I might
become part of the 'team' there. That wasn't to happen for another
two years when I approached the Society and enquired if I could be
of any assistance backstage.
Following that show came an early bonus when the Burnley Light Opera Society used the Palace for the next three years, as none of the Burnley theatres was available. All the amateur musicals in those days had 'full sets' for most scenes with little improvisation. This tested the facilities and the staff at the Palace to the fullest extent, and, save for the odd cloth that couldn't be hung, everything was made to work. The whole staff were experienced from the days of Variety and Revue, if only on an occasional basis. The Palace had been mainly films since the twenties.
I couldn't have had better tuition anywhere. My 'teacher' and one of the prompt side team was the Stage Manager for the theatre, Albert Spencer, who knew the business inside and out, and it showed! The team virtually came together for just twice a year in those early years, as, apart from amateur musicals, there wasn't the necessity to warrant a full crew for the occasional concert and Drama Festival.
These were the only times during the year when the Palace came 'Live'. But, nevertheless, it was a joy to fly the cinema screen whatever the attraction. The Palace stage was in a 'rough' state and for the musicals a canvas cloth was needed to cover the playing area. Flying facilities were via hemp lines and worked well with approx 30 working sets. One interesting thing about the Palace was a double row of cleats. (The bottom for the tie off [dead] and the top for tying off when cloths, etc, are flown out.) For the infrequent use over the years all the lines survived well. On the annual musical week, the backstage scene resembled any full time theatre taking in touring productions. Wing side space wasn't too bad, except OP. Prompt side fared a little better.
The stage depth was approximately 28 feet, proscenium opening 34 feet. 'Get-in' was good on street level at PS. The fascinating thing about backstage at the Palace was that much old scenery had been retained with certain wings and borders used for occasional concerts. Lots of old cloths were in evidence, held on the back wall, and lots of scenery on the OP fly floor. These rarely saw the light of day from year to year. Access from PS to OP in the flies was via a bridge on the back wall. Dressing rooms were very basic and, unusually, on the PS fly floor, three rooms led directly to the line workings for the flies, mainly for light battens, safety curtain and cinema screen winch. House tabs were operated from the Prompt corner.
Serving 'my apprenticeship' backstage was a wonderful experience. Learning to handle the 18 foot flats and wings was a real test, especially when time was short in quick scene changes. Box sets were common and 'cleating' was an art in itself. When braces were needed to support 'flats', etc, it was a common practice to secure them to the stage with 'stage screws' which simply screwed into the stage floor and not with weights.
During my time at the Palace, I 'worked' 21 musicals with the scenery for many of these coming from Watts & Corry of Manchester. Thirty foot cloths with battens top and bottom were common, and these were the first to set up after the 'get in'. With often foliage border and legs these really did stretch the capacity needed in the flies to the limit !
There was one week that really made my day, and that was for the professional pantomime Red Riding Hood which came for a week in January 1958 after a short run at Stockton Hippodrome. Presented by Edwin Hicks, it starred Peter Webster as Simple Simon and Jock Glen as Dame. Not a great week for business, but a thoroughly enjoyable one from a backstage point of view. (This turned out to be the very last professional show of any kind there.) The musical weeks ran on until 1972 when, by that time, the Palace had already succumbed to Bingo and 'live' shows finished: the last production being Fiddler on the Roof.
The theatre is still there and catering for the 'Eyes Down' brigade. Unfortunately, in 1983, the Palace frontage was demolished and a new entrance created in the former pit stalls (All this for a road widening scheme !) The auditorium and stage areas are still intact to this day.
One interesting fact is that on December 13th 2009, the Palace will 'celebrate' its centenary, which for all its 'ups and downs' will be quite an achievement.
The above article was written by Geoff Lord and is reproduced from Old Theatres Magazine, Issue Two, Summer 2009, with the kind permission of Terry Kirtland.
On the 8th of June 1921 an accident occurred in the Nelson Palace Theatre during a trapeze performance when one of the artistes, Miss Winifred May Hunt, who was known as one of 'The Dancing Dinnies', fell 16 feet to the stage when a rope broke. She was badly injured and the subsequent court case was reported in the Times of December the 8th 1921 which is transcribed below:
KING'S BENCH DIVISION. A TRAPEZE PERFORMER'S ACCIDENT. HUNT v. THE NELSON HIPPODROME, LIMITED. (Before "MR. Justice Horridge and Mr Justice Shearman.)
This was an appeal from a judgment of the County Court Judge at Colne in favour of the defendants.
Mr. Arthur Lawton appeared for the-appellant; and Mr. B. A. Leverson for the defendants.
Right - The side elevation of the Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 showing the 1983 'sawn off' facde - Courtesy Neil Foster.
The plaintiff, Miss Winifred May Hunt, was known on the stage as one of "The Dancing Dinnies," and on June 8 last she was engaged in giving a trapeze performance at the Palace Theatre, Nelson, when a rope broke and she fell 16ft. to the stage, and received injuries which incapacitated her for several' weeks.
It was stated, in evidence before the County Court Judge that, although the plaintiff herself provided the ladder - which depended from the rope and reached to a pedestal on the stage - and other portions of the equipment, she did not provide the rope. The management of the theatre gave the plaintiff three ropes to choose from, and that which she chose turned out to have some weakened strands.
Above - The rear elevation of the Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 - Courtesy Neil Foster.
Mr. LAWTON said that if the management supplied a rope for the use of the artists and it proved to be defective, they were liable. He understood that the rope was suspended from the roof. On it was secured a ladder, on the top of which a chair was fixed, and in that the plaintiff went through the various parts of her performance, and at the bottom of the ladder was a pedestal resting on the stage.
MR JUSTICE HORRIDGE - Does everything depend upon the rope?
Mr. Lawton. - The plaintiff was climbing up the rope when it broke.
Above - The side elevation of the Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 - Courtesy Neil Foster.
Counsel went on to argue that the management had means of knowledge of the defective character of the rope, and that if they failed to inform themselves by examination they must be held liable for the consequences. He cited Heaven v. Pender (Q.B.D., 503).
Mr JUSTICE HORRIDGE said that there was a more recent case - Bates and another v. Batey and Co., Limited (29 The Times L.R., 616 -  3K.B.D., 351), which had been tried before himself and which went to the Court of Appeal. In that case some defective ginger-beer bottles had exploded, and it had been held that there was no contractual obligation on the part of the manufacturer, as he had used other people's bottles and had no knowledge and no opportunity of knowing of the defects.
Mr. JUSTICE SHEARMAN said that there was no obligation to provide a rope. At the most it could be only a case of an invitee suing an invitor.
MR. JUSTICE HORRIDGE addressing Mr. Lawton, said that if the defendants had said "We supply a rope for acrobatic purposes" he might have had a case, but here the whole point was that the plaintiff might have used her own rope, and instead of doing so she thought fit to borrow one. Hence it was difficult to see where the contractual obligation came in.
Mr. LAWTON contended that there was al least a common interest.
MR. JUSTICE HORRIDGE - Not at all. That is a confusion of ideas. There was no common interest,. The woman was hired to give a performance, and it was for her own interest only. If, for example, there had been a hole in the floor, and she had gone through, the case might have been different.
Mr. LAWTON argued that the effect of the judgment in Cox v. Coulson's (32 The Times, L.R., 406;  2 KB., p. 177) was that the opportunity to have acquired knowledge was equivalent to negligence in not communicating it.
Mr. JUSTICE HORRIDGE - A man can't be guilty of gross negligence in not communicating a thing unless he knew of it.
Mr.. JUSTICE HORRIDGE - after reciting the facts, said that they had been asked to draw the inference that the plaintiff became an invitee by borrowing a rope for the purpose of the performance. He did not think so. The only obligation on the lender was to disclose the fact that it was unsafe, if he knew it, and, as it was clear that he did not, there was an end of the case, and the appeal must be dismissed.
MR JUSTICE SHEARMAN concurred.
Solicitors - Messrs. Judge and Priestley; Messrs. Francis, White, and Needham, for Mr Frank Roberts, Nelson.
Above text from The Times, 8th of December 1921.
Above - The 1983 front elevation of the Nelson Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in August 2009 - Courtesy Neil Foster.
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Formerly - The Electric Palace
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Majestic Theatre / Electric Palace, Nelson - Click to Interact
The Majestic Theatre was a rebuild of the former Electric Palace, Nelson which had first opened in 1910. The new Theatre was designed by Richard Jaques and took just five months to construct, opening in November 1925. The Theatre was built primarily as a Cinema but was equipped with a Stage, 26 foot wide by 18 foot deep, the land for which came from the demolition of a house previously situated next door to the old Electric Palace. The new Theatre had an auditorium on three levels, Stalls and Two Circles, and Side Galleries stretching down to the proscenium on the first level, whereas the old Electric Palace was really just a Hall situated above shops, which were also removed for the building of the Majestic. The exterior of the building however, was that of the old Electric Palace, without the shops below.
The Supplement to the Cinema News and Property Gazette reported on the rebuilding of the Theatre in their 26th of November 1925 edition which I have reproduced below:
THE MAJESTIC, NELSON
Upon the site of the Electric Palace, Nelson, one of the oldest of provincial picture theatres, has been raised a modern cinema. The metamorphosis has been brought about by the gutting of the entire building and removal of the shops on the ground level. The architect, Mr. Richard Jaques, of Nelson, has produced from unlikely environment a most attractive and exceedingly well-planned modern theatre, and he may well be congratulated upon the result achieved. Mr. Peel, who supervised the construction as clerk of the works, is also entitled to congratulation upon the expeditious manner in which the work was carried out, for the job was completed in five months.
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Majestic Theatre, Nelson - From the Supplement to the Cinema News and Property Gazette, 26th of November 1925.
An ample stage has been provided by pulling down the house next door, which adds some 18 feet to the length of the building, converting it from an upstairs hall into a modern picture theatre, with seats at ground level and two circles and side galleries above. The site is surrounded on three sides by streets providing four exits to the stalls and four other exits for the upper parts of the house.
The external appearance of the existing building has not been materially altered. The extension has been made to harmonise with the rest, and the lower part, where the shops stood, has been panelled out to receive the advertising bills that are considered a necessity to every theatre. The comfort of those waiting in the queues will be provided for by erecting a handsome metal and glass canopy.
An attractive vestibule has been formed with panelled mahogany doors and ceiling, leading into a roomy crush hall with floor of coloured marble terrazzo. The wall is tiled in quiet tones of cream and grey. These materials were selected because they give an air of brightness, as they are easily cleaned and very sanitary. The hail ceiling is panelled out in a pleasing design of ornamental anaglypta.
Facing the entrance is a handsome segmental panelled mahogany booking office, from which patrons can quickly reach all parts of the house. Mahogany swing doors at each side of the hall lead into the stalls, accommodating 592 tip-up seats, the first nine rows being upholstered in dark blue velvet, the remainder in amber-coloured velvet. The walls are panelled in blue, with cream ornament and panelled wood dado below.
From the entrance hall a wide double staircase in coloured marble terrazzo rises in two flights to left and right, leading through vestibules into a beautifully carpeted lounge. Ladies' and gentlemen's retiring-rooms are arranged from the lounge by separate staircases.
From the lounge direct access is gained to the gracefully curved dress circle, which may be called the piece de resistance of the building. It has 118 cosy tip-up oak tub seats upholstered in wine-coloured velvet, supplied and fixed by W. W. Turner and Co., Limited, of Birmingham. The floor is covered with a beautifully figured carpet to harmonise with the seating, giving an air of seclusion and comfort, while the elliptical ceiling allows ample air space and ventilation.
The terrazzo marble staircases continue from the lounge level on both sides of the house up to the circle and side galleries, accommodating 406 comfortable mahogany seats upholstered in amber velvet, from which an excellent view is obtained of the whole house.
The specially designed proscenium arch is in fibrous plaster decorated in cream and gold, and contains a unique feature in the shape of seven fibrous plaster cartouches, in the centre of which are large prismatic holophane globes and colour screens which glow in rainbow colours and are dimmed as required, like seven jewels set in the arch, shedding a soft radiance all round. The existing segmental ceiling has been extended and panelled out in ornamental high relief anaglypta mouldings.
Above - The Auditorium of the Majestic Theatre, Nelson - From the Supplement to the Cinema News and Property Gazette, 26th of November 1925.
The interior effect is one of simplicity without being severe, it being desired to avoid over-elaboration. The walls are panelled in two shades of blue, with cream ornament, the balcony and circle fronts are panelled in two shades of cream, with a gold line on the mouldings, and the wall pilasters are treated similarly.
The heating is by hot-water radiators judiciously disposed throughout the building. Ample ventilation is provided by four large extracts in the main ceiling, each connected by separate ducts to a central chamber with a Blackman extractor fan in the roof.
The decorative lighting is on the holophane system in clusters of four lights, the centre being coloured, hung from the main ceiling. Other single lights, both coloured and plain, are placed where they can distribute the light to the best advantage. The coloured units can be dimmed separately or in conjunction with those in the proscenium arch. The control of the auditorium lighting, including the proscenium arch, is by two Celec dimmers.
The screen curtains are artistically painted in blue and gold, with deep golden margins decorated with a fruit and floral design, with coloured sequins cunningly placed, giving a most dazzling effect which defies description and forms one of the special features of this house, and was produced in the Theatre Co.'s own studio. It is hung on special railway track runners, and the whole is suspended in such a manner that it may be lowered for cleaning when desired.
The ample orchestra space is slightly sunk below the floor, and is enclosed by a panelled balustrade in keeping with the side-wall panelling.
A roomy operating-box accommodates two Kalee projectors and separate lantern for slides and other effects, as well as the control switches and dimmers.
The contractors include:- W. Walker and Co., Bradford (canopy); Pattison and Co., Manchester (marble work); Waters and Kidd, Nelson (carpets); J. A. Holdsworth, Shipley (fibrous plaster); H. Nutter and Sons, Nelson (decoration); H. Garratt and Sons, Nelson (heating and plumbing); Fryer, Nelson (ventilation); Alan E. Dent, Nelson (electrical work); Win. Boothman, Nelson (joinery); Joseph Webb and Sons, Bury (steelwork); Arthur Peel (clerk of works).
The above article on the Majestic, Nelson was first published in the Supplement to the Cinema News and Property Gazette, 26th of November 1925.
The Majestic Theatre opened in November 1925 and although built for both Film and Live shows by 1934 it had gone over to full time Cinema use. The Theatre was closed on Saturday the 8th of July 1961 with the last showing of the Films 'Cinderfella' and 'The Paleface'. The Theatre was then demolished for the building of the headquarters of the Marsden Building Society, who are still there today.
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Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former Grand Theatre, Nelson - Click to Interact
The Grand Theatre was situated in Market Street, Nelson, and opened on Monday the 23rd of January 1888. The Theatre was designed by the architect Thomas Bell in the Gothic / Neo-Classical Style with a three storey, seven bay, facade, divided by pilaster strips. The Theatre's Stage was 33 feet deep by 50 feet wide, with a proscenium opening of 26 feet. On its opening the Proprietor and Manager was John Barker and the opening production was by Charles Dornton's 'Silver King' Company.
In 1923 the Theatre was restructured and the original Dress Circle and Gallery of the auditorium were removed and replaced by one large Balcony. Although built originally as a live Theatre by 1934 it had gone over to Cinema use almost exclusively, although it did still stage the occasional live show until the late 1940s.
The Theatre then continued in Cinema use, operated by the Star Cinemas chain from 1960 to 1974, who also ran the Majestic and Palace Theatres in the Town. After this the Grand was taken over by an Independent for a short while, and then by Unit Four Cinemas who soon closed the Theatre. After this it remained dark and unused for a number of years until it was finally destroyed by a fire in 2000 and was subsequently demolished. A Library and offices for the Pendle Borough Council stands on the site today.
A photograph by Ian Grundy of the Nelson Grand Theatre can be seen here.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: