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The Palace Theatre, Alcester Street and Grove Street, Redditch

Later - The Palace Super Cinema

The Redditch Palace Theatre in 2009 - Courtesy Paul Hughes

Above - The Redditch Palace Theatre in 2009 - Courtesy Paul Hughes

 

A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Redditch in 1950, with Norman Harper and his Starlight Horse, Lionel Saxon, 'voice of the stars', The Two Perfects, 'dressing to delight', Tubby Turner & Florence, and the Swanee Minstrels amongst others - Courtesy Paul Hughes.The Redditch Palace Theatre was built by the respected Theatre architect Bertie Crewe and opened in August 1913.

The auditorium was built on two levels, stalls and one balcony, with one large box on either side, and on opening its capacity was 660.

The Theatre was refurbished in 1971 when a new frontage was added in Grove Street, and then in 1976 a disused factory at the rear of building was converted into a new dressing room block for the Theatre.

Right - A Variety Bill for the Palace Theatre, Redditch in 1950, with Norman Harper and his Starlight Horse, Lionel Saxon, 'voice of the stars', The Two Perfects, 'dressing to delight', Tubby Turner & Florence, and the Swanee Minstrels amongst others - Courtesy Paul Hughes.

In 1979 a new scene dock and workshop was added to the building.

A major restoration took place in 2005 when the auditorium was returned to its original Edwardian splendour and the foyers of the Theatre were demolished and rebuilt with much improved facilities.

There is much more information on the refurbishment in 2005 and the Theatre's history below.

The Redditch Palace Theatre is a Grade II Listed building.

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

 

THE PALACE THEATRE, REDDITCH
A short history of the Theatre and its Refurbishment by Paul Hughes

The original entrance to the Palace Theatre and Cafe, Redditch, during the run of 'Jayne Eyre' in the 1950s - From a 1950s programme - Courtesy Paul Hughes

Above - The original entrance to the Palace Theatre and Cafe, Redditch, during the run of 'Jayne Eyre' in the 1950s - From a 1950s programme - Courtesy Paul Hughes

The Palace Theatre first opened its doors in August, 1913, a comparative latecomer in the wave of new theatre building in which public demand for entertainment had been finding expression since the beginning of the century. Described as a miniature opera house of classic design and seating, at that time, 660 it boasted every modern facility of the day. Mr H. K. Hayles was the managing director of the company, the Redditch Palace Ltd., and it appears that the cost of building the theatre (which was cited as £9,000) may have been raised by private subscription.

A photograph of Bertie Crewe with his partner Henry Kay, and his wife - Courtesy Paul Hughes.The company that built the Palace was G. C. Huins and Co and it seems they retained a financial interest as late as 1947, two apparent members of the family being cited in the financial returns; Sidney L. Huins as a Director of the theatre company with about 250 shares, and Nellie Louise Huins being a major share holder holding some 650 out of a total of 3,500 shares issued

The Theatre Architect chosen by the Potteries entrepreneur Mr H. K. Hayles was a leading exponent of theatre design Mr Bertie Crewe (Shown Right). The theatre was upholstered in excellent taste by Messrs Wolff and Hollander based in London.

Right - A photograph of Bertie Crewe with his partner Henry Kay, and his wife - Courtesy Paul Hughes.

The Palace Theatre used to be a Cine-Variety house which meant that it combined films and variety entertainment on the bill. Until 1929, the Palace ran a mixed bill of fare, but in February of that year, it was being advertised as the Palace Super Cinema. In April 1930 a Western Electric Sound System was installed and ticket prices were raised to 6d (Pit) and 1/-(circle), due to the cost of installing the new Talkie apparatus.

In 1939, at the beginning of the war, the Palace closed in common with places of entertainment elsewhere, but by 1940, was fully in operation with the usual entertainments.

A photograph of the workers at the Palace Theatre, Redditch outside the Theatre the year it was built, 1913 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.In the late 1940's, films took a back seat at the Palace. Jack Leuty took over the management of the building and ran a series of theatrical entertainments; this lasted until 1952, when new management took over under Mr S. G. Williams.

By 1954 the lack of artists, good touring shows, rising costs, coupled with the start of transmission of BBC television from Sutton Coldfield and the ease of purchase of sets, all conspired against the independent theatre operator, so much so that on the 19th March 1954 the Indicator ran a report 'Can the Palace be kept open?'

Left - A photograph of the workers at the Palace Theatre, Redditch outside the Theatre the year it was built, 1913 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.

In May 1954 came the shock announcement "Palace to Close Down" ran the headline. Councillor J. R. Wilkinson, the owner stating to the Indicator:- "The town has lost interest, I cannot afford to stay open." The Palace was to re-open on 21st February 1955, as a Roller Skating Rink , the raked floor had gone, and the stage etc, all altered to suit this new form of public entertainment. By 1959, the Palace Theatre became a Dance Hall, from then it led a life in mixed use, including, in the late 1960's, being used as a Bingo Hall.

In 1967 the Development Corporation bought the Palace and handed it over to Redditch Urban District Council.

By 1970 the fate of the Palace was more or less settled. Multi-Entertainment Centres were now being thought of in other areas and with Redditch being a developing town it was decided to refit the Palace for theatrical use.

It was reopened by Mr Peter Walker MP, the Secretary of State for the Environment, on the 11th September 1971, and still retaining the Palace name, it became a multi purpose venue, opening with a show called 'Between the Bars' featuring that master musician Donald Swann. Seats in the stalls were now stackable, allowing for many uses of the floor area.

Other additions included moving the dressing rooms from the front of the building to the side taking over what had been part of Shrimptons Needle Factory and adding the present foyer extensions. Administration offices were created where the dressing rooms had previously been. In 1975 a 'Buy a Seat Campaign' was launched and the stalls were fitted out with new seats.

In 1982 a private theatre group took it over under the title of the Mercian Theatre and Arts Federation but a report in the Indicator and Chronicle in April summed it up after only 60 people turned up to see a concert. Just five of them were from Redditch:- "The fate of the Redditch Palace is in the hands of the audience."

The Redditch Borough Council took over the management and running of the building in 1985 and since then has continued a tradition of providing a wide mix of entertainment to please every palate.

The splendidly restored Bertie Crewe auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Redditch - Courtesy Paul Hughes

Above - The splendidly restored Bertie Crewe auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Redditch - Courtesy Paul Hughes

In 2005 The Palace Theatre, Redditch underwent a major transformation. Firstly the refurbishment of the auditorium, returning it to its original Edwardian splendour, and then the demolishment and total rebuilding of the theatre foyers with much improved visitor facilities.

Redditch Borough Council invested £3.1 million into the upgrading of the Theatre and a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund lead to an award of £920,500.00 to restore the Grade Two listed Theatre to its former glory.

A Programme for the pantomime 'Jack and Jill' at the Palace Theatre, Redditch in January 1951 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.Working on the project were local building firm William Sapcote and Sons Ltd., who had a proven track record on restoring historic buildings, having previously worked on the Back to Back Houses in Hurst Street, Birmingham, The Molineux Hotel in Wolverhampton, and Lord Lichfield’s stately home Shugborough Hall.

Historical theatre consultant David Wilmore from Theatresearch researched the historical background of the building and its architect Bertie Crewe. The information he uncovered resulted in the restoration of the fibrous plasterwork and motifs that had been lost over the years as well as the new colour scheme in the auditorium. The Theatre’s chandelier and stained glass embellishments to its rose bowl above as well as recreating the grand entrance into the stalls were also reinstated.

Right - A Programme for the pantomime 'Jack and Jill' at the Palace Theatre, Redditch in January 1951 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.

Architects Sansome Hall based in Milton Keynes produced a scheme that centred on the detailed restoration of Bertie Crewe’s 1913 Theatre combined with a new three storey building to replace the existing 1970's facilities. The new accommodation included a Foyer, Bar and Lounge and, on the top floor, a multi purpose space for meetings rehearsals for private hire. This extension has been carefully planned to link with the levels of the auditorium to provide simpler, more direct access, and to exhibit a richness of Crewe’s interior to its best advantage.

A Programme for the pantomime 'Jack and Jill' at the Palace Theatre, Redditch in January 1951 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.Experts agree that the Palace is of national importance, as it is a rare example of Edwardian theatre architecture. It is one of only six working examples that can be wholly attributed to its famous designer Bertie Crewe left in the country. It is a significant historic building, standing at an architectural crossroads at a time when theatre construction was beginning to decline and cinema construction was just beginning.

During the restoration, many of the internal and external features, such as the windows, light fixtures and decorations, were all returned to their original 1913 design. The Alcester Street frontage was restored to match the Bertie Crewe original with all outfacing windows being replaced with beautiful stained glass, and floodlighting being reinstated using 4 large luna Arc lamps.

Left - A Programme for the pantomime 'Jack and Jill' at the Palace Theatre, Redditch in January 1951 - Courtesy Paul Hughes.

The auditorium’s new colour scheme is cream, gold and burgundy. All the seating has been refurbished and recovered in velour with the seat numbers embroidered in gold on the back, luxurious new curtaining festoons the boxes and brand new front of house tabs with swags finish off the effect. The Theatre’s seating capacity has also been increased from 399 to 425.

The new glass fronted foyers highlight the Theatre's position on the Alcester Street, streetscape. And visitors are able to enjoy the new spacious foyers and bar area. A lift has been installed to help infirm and disabled patrons to reach all levels of the building and a new studio/conference room/rehearsal space has been created on the second floor level.

The above article on the Redditch Palace Theatre was very kindly written for this site by Paul Hughes, Press and Publicity Officer for the Palace Theatre, in August 2009.

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

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: