The Empire Palace Theatre, and Empire Cinema, Newgate Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Formerly - The Empire Variety Theatre
Above - The Newcastle Empire Theatre - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949
The Empire Palace Theatre, was situated on Newgate Street, Newcastle, and was known locally as simply The Empire. It originally opened as the Empire Variety Theatre on Monday the 1st of December 1890. The Theatre was constructed for the proprietor Farquhar M. Laing by Alex. Pringle of Gateshead, and leased to Thornton and Moss. It was designed by the Architects Oliver and Leeson and its auditorium could accommodate some 2,000 people. The Theatre would eventually be altered to the designs of the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham in 1903.
Right - A Programme for the Grand Opening Night of the Empire Variety Theatre, Newcastle on Monday the 1st of December 1890 - Courtesy Byrnice Reeds. On the Bill were Louise De Leau, Professor Thornbury, Agnes Hazel, Edgar Wilson, The Haytors, Aimee Desiree, G. W. Hunter, Don Juan A Caceido, Peggy Pryde, Major Yewell, The Sisters Cavendish, and Pat Cashan - Click to see this and three more early programmes for this Theatre enlarged.
The ERA printed a report on the original building in their 6th of December 1890 edition saying:- 'This fine hall at Newcastle-on-Tyne was opened to the public for the first time on Monday evening last, an immense audience assembling. The building has been furnished and decorated in the most lavish and artistic manner, and it is claimed that it is certainly the finest hall for the purposes required out of London.
It is almost square in shape, being about 54ft. by 57ft., with hanging galleries, rising to the tier of boxes that give a crown of grace to the interior, and the lavish decoration in crimson and gold, rich mouldings, and magnificent dodos and entablature give a splendour and magnificence to the theatre that cannot be excelled. Indeed, the whole of the fittings and decorations having been made and manufactured by local tradesmen, the place may he cited as a splendid example of their respective handicrafts. Behind the scenes there is unusually good accommodation in the way of green-room and dressing-rooms, and at the front of the house handsomely furnished apartments as cloak and retiring-rooms. The stage is wide and high; the drop-scene is pleasant, if conventional; and the curtain is rich crimson velvet, draping most artistically.
Right - An Early 1890s Programme for the Empire Variety Theatre, Newcastle now held at the Tyne and Wear Archives (catalogue reference DX1475/1) - Courtesy Byrnice Reeds - Click to see this and three more early programmes for this Theatre enlarged.
In front of the proscenium is, first, the orchestra, next the stalls, upholstered in velvet pile, and further back the pit. The first circle has the centre seats in crimson plush, and the sides more plainly furnished, being half the charge for admission.
The next tier is occupied its the centre by the boxes, and at the sides are the balcony and promenade. The whole house is lighted by electricity supplied from the Newcastle and District Electric Light Company. The novel fittings are by Messrs R. J. Charlton and Co., Northumberland-street. From the dome in the centre of the roof depends a handsome gilt electrolier of twenty-one 32-candle power lamps, with four smaller electroliers, one at each corner, containing three 50 candle power lamps.
Left - A Programme for the Empire Variety Theatre, Newcastle on August the 6th 1892 now held at the Tyne and Wear Archives (catalogue reference DX1475/1) - Courtesy Byrnice Reeds - Click to see this and three more early programmes for this Theatre enlarged plus a review for the show.
Old gold coloured suspensions are hung round the promenade and over the tops of the balcony, while in front of these are three-light sprays containing 16-candle power lamps. The lights at the back of the theatre are to match, as also those in the refreshment rooms and offices on the various floors. Electricity is also employed for the footlights, and a novel arrangement of automatic focussing arc projectors is employed for use on the stage instead of the limelight.
Altogether, the electricians say that the installation is one of the handsomest ever put into any place of entertainment. With an electric installation danger from fire is very much minimised, but the exits are believed to be ample to empty the house in a few minutes. There is accommodation in the theatre for 2000 people, and the ventilation is perfect. The theatre is a credit to all connected in it. It was designed by Messrs Oliver and Leeson, architects, and contracted for by Mr Alex. Pringle, Gateshead. The gorgeous decorations are by Mr G. G. Laidler, Northumberland-street; the beautiful furnishings by Messrs Rubson and Son, Northumberland-street, under the direction of Mr Whyte; and the iron work, including the portico in line with carriage way, by Messrs Swinney Brothers, Morpeth.
Right - A Poster for the Empire Theatre, Newcastle probably in the 1950s - Courtesy David Garratt - On the Bill were Eddie Calvert, Gerry Brereton, The Londonairs, El Granadas & Peter, Jeff Lenner, The Vadios Brothers, The Westway Cavalettes, and Don Lang.
The proprietor, as has been mentioned, is Mr Farquhar M. Laing; his lessees, Messrs Thornton and Moss. That they will prove equal to the occasion is certain, from their repute in the theatrical world and from the power they posses, by virtue of being the proprietors of many other variety theatres in England and Scotland.
Mr Thornton's experiences in this line have been exceptionally happy, and Mr Moss has earned the title of "the prince of managers." Nothing that is possible will be left undone to secure the best talent in Europe, and the selection will not be entrusted solely to agents, as Mr Moss will continue to make his periodical visits to London, Paris, and Berlin in search of novelties.
Left - A Flyer for the Lew & Leslie Grade's 'Showband Show' at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle probably in the 1950s - Courtesy Keith Hetherington - On the Bill were the Cyril Stapleton Showband, Ronnie Hilton, Marion Ryan, Des O'Connor, Group One, and Johnny Laycock.
There was on Monday evening a crowded house, and the performance, which was inaugurated with the singing of the National Anthem, was throughout marked by the best of taste, and was accompanied by an unbroken chord of delight on the part of the audience. The Mayor of Newcastle had a box for the occasion, and his party remained till the close; and in different parts of the theatre were to be seen men well know in law, literature, art, and society generally.
At a suitable opportunity Messrs Moss and Thornton appeared upon the stage, and Mr Allen, general manger, spoke on the lines upon which it was proposed to conduct the house.
At an inspection by invitation last week, the Mayor said that the gentlemen who had undertaken the responsibilty of conducting such a place deserved the encouragement of the authorities in the city. He had been in many places of amusement, theatres, and other places, both in London and in the important towns in the provinces, and he had never been in a place he liked so well. Men and women were all the better for interesting and innocent amusements.'
The Empire Palace Theatre first opened on Monday the 1st of December 1890. However, the Theatre would soon be altered, this time to the designs of the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, who would virtually rebuild the Theatre in 1903.
The Stage Newspaper reported on the newly built Theatre in their September the 17th, 1903 edition saying:- 'At a private and Press view of the new Empire erected by Moss's Empires, Limited, held on Friday, a large party assembled to witness the result of the skill of the architect, Mr. Frank Matcham. Additional property was "commandeered" and added to the old site, and nothing of the original building was left standing but the fine Scotch baronial elevation fronting into Newgate Street, which has been much improved by the addition of a handsome new facade, etc.
In the centre of the Newgate Street frontage is the principal entrance to stalls, dress circle, and private boxes. Two pairs of handsome doors, divided by an open designed niche, with a canopy over, containing a bronze figure of Music, open into a vestibule, richly decorated in Arabesque style from the architect's 'design, which has quite the Eastern effect desired. The whole of the rich dark woodwork is designed in the same style, and even the electric light fittings carry out the same feeling. The floors are covered with mosaic, and the walls and ceilings are decorated in rich colours and gold. Ascending the marble staircases on each side of the vestibule, we arrive at a crush-room, having an open balustrading overlooking the vestibule between marble piers and rich Moorish arches. This has a dome ceiling in the centre. In the centre two draped openings lead into private boxes, and between these is the fireproof cinematograph room. The doors to the boxes are covered with plush velvet, with a Moresque design in copper nailing.
The grand circle contains six rows of luxurious tip-up seats similar to the stalls; there are six private boxes at the rear and two wide promenades on each side, where a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage can be obtained. The galleries are all built on the cantilever system, without columns or anything to intercept the view, and it will be found that no matter where one stations oneself, the whole of the stage can be seen, the sight lines being exceptionally good. In the pit the walls are tiled, the floor is covered with warm, designed cork carpet, and each person will be in a comfortable velvet tip-up seat. The comfort of the patrons of the upper circle has also received similar attention, and the gallery has net been forgotten. Every part of the house has its separate retiring rooms and saloons, these latter being large and well-lighted and ventilated apartments, tastefully decorated. Lounges, settees, and rich curtains and hangings are conspicuous throughout. 'Mirrors give further light and brightness to the scene.
In the auditorium the architect has adapted a complete change of style. From the crush-room the Moresque scheme stops, and we enter on a fine treatment of Elizabethan. The main ceiling contains a dome with a large sliding roof in the centre; the ceiling surrounding this is panelled out, and contains paintings by French artists, representing Morn and Night. There are coffer coves at the four corners of the ceiling, and a deep frieze is formed over the sides of the upper circle. The gallery has not been carried up to the boxes in the usual way, and thus a fine height is obtained which the architect has taken advantage of in his decorative scheme. Over this frieze are large panels representing Dance, Art, and Music, whilst in the large cove over the proscenium is a large decorative panel representing Comedy; this is framed up with life-size models of figures holding wreaths of laurels.
Above - The Auditorium of the Newcastle Empire Theatre - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949
The box facades on each side of the stage have been grouped most gracefully; the lines of the fronts are not carried through, but the levels are raised or lowered in such a way as not to break the continuity of the whole design. The facade is formed with arches supported by columns, and on one side arcading forms entrances to the grand circle and upper circle. On the other, between the green marble proscenium frame and the boxes, rises some fine semi-circular panelling surmounted by a niche containing dancing figures surmounted by minarets. A bold pediment containing the Newcastle coat of arms is introduced over the stage, and some openwork brackets in the angles, the whole forming a rich frame for the stage effects. The colouring throughout the auditorium is in cream and gold, relieved with umber grey tints and copper backgrounds, forming a happy contrast to the greenish blue and gold raised leather paper on the walls, whilst the draperies are in rich copper with Rose du Barri applique work. The seating is also upholstered in this colour, and with the green carpets a very artistic result is obtained. The electric light fittings have been introduced with good judgment; four large electroliers hang from special positions in the ceiling, whilst a number of smaller fittings are introduced in the ceiling and gallery fronts.
The following firms have been engaged in this large scheme of rebuilding, etc., under Mr Matcham, the architect, and Mr. C. Farrell, clerk of the works:-- Builders, Messrs. Howe and Co., West Hartlepool; structural engineers, Messrs. R. Moreland and Sons, Limited; decorators, Messrs. De Jong and Co.; marble, mosaic, plumbing, etc., Messrs. Tweddle and Co., Newcastle; electricians, Messrs. Robson, Robson, and Co., Newcastle; consulting electrical engineer, Mr. E. Wingfield Bowler; draperies and upholstories, Messrs. Robson and Sons Newcastle; carpets, Messrs. Cranston and Elliott; faience work, Messrs. Whitehead; fireproof curtain and heating apparatus, Messrs. Olroyd; and the act drop and scenery are by Mr. Ernest Howard, Northampton.
While the visitors made a tour of inspection, the fine orchestra, of which the management is justly proud, played an admirable selection of music under the able direction of Mr. J. W. Dawson. The architect received the heartiest congratulations for his handsome achievement, and Mr. Richard Thornton, the resident director, and his energetic and courteous lieutenant. Mr. K Leslie Conroy, were the recipients of the compliments and good wishes of their friends.'
Frank Matcham's newly rebuilt Empire Theatre opened in 1903 and would eventually be joined by an adjoining Cinema, also called the Empire, in 1913, see details below. The Theatre itself would go on to have a long and distinguished career as a variety Theatre until it finally succumbed, like so many others around the Country at this time, to its eventual demolition in 1963.
Right - The Empire Theatre, Newcastle sporting a 'Closed' sign in the 1960s and shortly before its demolition - Courtesy Gareth Price.
Above Left - A Google Street View Image of the site of the Empire Theatre today - Click to Interact.
A visitor to this site, Jeff Barron, says:- 'I have fond memories of this Theatre. My Grandma would take me to the booking office on the first day of bookings opening for the Christmas Panto. She did this so we always had a seat in the front row in the stalls. That would have been in the 50s. I used to love going and remember seeing Nat Jackley, Yana and Jimmy Clitheroe amongst others. It was always a good show. There was always fountains I think before the interval, on one occasion leaking quite badly over the orchestra. Unfortunately I watched the place being demolished from the bus stop opposite where I used to get the bus to work each day. I think that was 1964 or 65. It was a sad sight. Each day a bit more was gone. On one particular morning the frontage was all gone and all you could see was the old stage and arch with a bit of the boxes still intact. The next day it was all gone. Really sad. Happy memories though.' - Jeff Barron.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Above - The Empire Cinema - Courtesy David Garratt
The Empire Cinema was a conversion from the former Dunn and Dick Jeweller's shop situated next door to the Empire Palace Theatre on Newgate Street. The Cinema was built for Moss Empires, who also owned the adjacent Empire Theatre at the time. The Cinema's main entrance however, was on Grainger Street West, and although a separate building it did provide access to the Empire Theatre from various parts of the Cinema. If you obtained a 'special ticket' you could come and go as you pleased between the Cinema and Theatre without having to go into the street.
The Empire Cinema was designed in luxurious style with mahogany doors and fittings, and marble floors and walls. It also had tip up seats in the auditorium, which was designed in the Adam Style with mahogany paneled walls, with cedarwood carvings, and with friezes and tapestries above. The Cinema could accommodate 614 people in comfort and was unusual in that the circle had a slip running along one side towards the proscenium.
The Cinema's screen was 16 foot by 14 foot, with a projection being done from the rear of the Stalls. The overall dimensions of the auditorium were 68 feet by 42 feet. Above the foyer was a large Tea Room with its own separate entrance from Grainger Street, and this could also be used by patrons of the adjacent Empire Theatre. There was also a Smoking Lounge and another Tea Room on the second floor.
The Empire Cinema opened on Wednesday the 2nd of April1913 at 6pm. But after this it ran continuous performances from 2pm to 10pm daily. It had its own Empire Cinema Orchestra and an Organ for incidental music during the silent era.
The Empire Cinema is thought to have been closed around
1933 and today its site is being used as an entrance to the Newgate
shopping centre. The Empire Theatre next door
would go on longer however, only finally being demolished in 1963.
Some of the above information on the Empire Cinema was gleaned from the book 'Cinemas of Newcastle' by Frank Manders.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
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