Theatres in Rochdale, Lancashire, Greater Manchester
The Gracie Field Theatre - The Empire Music Hall - The Palace Theatre - The Theatre Royal & Opera House / Prince of Wales Theatre - Ohmy's Circus of Varieties / The Hippodrome Theatre - The Theatre - Jeffrey's Music Hall
See also in this area - Manchester Theatres - Oldham Theatres - Stockport Theatres - Salford Theatres - Theatre Royal, Hyde - Leigh Theatres - Wigan Theatres - Glossop Theatres - Southport Theatres - Bolton Theatres
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Gracie Fields Theatre, Rochdale - Click to Interact
The Gracie Fields Theatre is situated at Oulder Hill Leisure Complex, Hudsons Walk, Rochdale and has a Main auditorium plus a smaller Studio theatre. The Theatre was opened by Gracie Fields herself on the 16th of September 1978, which would turn out to be her last visit to the town where she was born. Appearing at the end of the opening Concert which also featured Sandy Powell, Larry Grayson, and Ben Warris, Gracie performed some of her best loved songs to a surprised audience.
Gracie Fields was a famous singer, actress, and comedienne. Born Grace Stansfield in Rochdale on the 9th January 1898, and died in Capri, where she retired to, on the 27th September 1979. She was a 'National Treasure' very highly regarded and loved by the British public. She starred in many shows, variety, radio, and television. appearing many times in the Royal Variety Shows. Famous for her song 'Sally' which was written into the film 'Sally in our Alley' in 1931. She was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1938 (for services to entertainment), also the freedom of Rochdale being bestowed on her the same year. In February 1979 she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire.
The Theatre's main auditorium is a flexible space, with raked seating for 688 people with an end on stage situated on the flat floor. It has no proscenium as such but the stage curtain (house tabs) together with border form the proscenium. There is a fly tower, with 33 flying bars, but no fire curtain. The stage dimensions are:- Overall stage width 24.5 metres, with a proscenium width of 12.2 metres; Stage depth being 6.5 metres from House tabs to the back wall, and 9.05 metres from the front of the stage apron to the back wall. There is an orchestra pit capable of housing 10 musicians.
The Studio Theatre has a raked auditorium with flexible seating, and is also fitted out with black tabs and border for end on productions.
The Theatre complex has a licensed lounge bar for patrons, on the first floor, with a refreshment kiosk on the ground floor.
Backstage there are two dressing rooms capable of holding ten people. For larger casts, the adjacent gym in the Leisure centre can be used.
The Theatre presents a wide selection of shows, staging Rock, Pop, and Jazz performances, together with Classical concerts. It is home to the Rochdale Youth Orchestra. Comedy, Drama, Musicals and Dance performances are also presented, and Rochdale Amateur Operatic Society also perform at the Theatre.
Thus Rochdale now has a vibrant modern Theatre catering for most tastes, carrying on the tradition of theatre in the town.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
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Also known as - The Empire Hall / Pringles Picture Palace / The Empire De Luxe Cinema
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Empire Music Hall, Rochdale - Click to Interact
The Empire Music Hall was situated on the corner of the Town Hall Square, and Packer Street, Rochdale. Built and opened in 1904 the building was designed to reflect the Gothic style of the Town Hall.
The building's exterior has five bays, the outside ones having a pinnacle roof, with a pediment high over the central bay with the words 'EMPIRE HALL'. At balcony level there is a 'speakers balcony.'
Inside the auditorium the ceiling is barrel-vaulted with plaster ornamentation in the form of geometric designs. When built originally there was a horseshoe shaped balcony, terminating at the proscenium arch.
The Music Hall was in existence until approximately 1910 when Cine/Variety took over, continuing until approximately 1918 when the Empire became a Cinema.
In 1910 the owner/management was
Ralph Pringle, who earlier had shown pioneering films at the 'Circus
of Varieties' in the town, in 1903
In the 1950's the showing of films ended and the cinema became a Bingo Hall.
In 1952 the ownership of the building was in the hands of Jacksons Amusements, local entrepreneurs.
In 1995 the building became a Bar/Pub in the stalls area only, the balcony being bricked off from pubic use by a wall built upwards at the balcony frontage edge.
The Building has a good position in central Rochdale and its current usage is as the Dali Bar - A Pub complete with its own Disc Jockey.
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Later - The Palace Picture House / The Palace Tudor Super Cinema / Scene One / Manhattan's / Xanadu Nightclub
The Palace Theatre was built in Great George Street, off Drake Street, Rochdale, opening on the 4th December 1911.
From the start the Theatre was equipped as a cinema with projection equipment but also staged Variety shows, known as Cine/Variety, the variety acts performing between showings of the short films in the programme.
The Palace Theatre was taken over by The Northern Cinema chain of picture houses, and renamed 'Palace Picture House', by 1922.
By the late twenties, early thirties, the cinema had a revamp, and upon re-opening was renamed the Palace Tudor Super Cinema and was now showing 'talkies'.
It became part of the Essoldo chain of cinema's in October of 1957 continuing until 31st August 1968, where upon it was then owned by a series of private owners, showing Asian and Euro/Asian films.
The Palace Tudor Super Cinema finally closed as a cinema in November 1981, and was then converted into a nightclub known as 'Scene One'. This was destroyed by fire in April 1987, but the upstairs was then refurbished and reopened as a nightclub called Manhattan's. Later the building was refurbished as the 'Xanadu Nightclub'. The Xanadu closed down in 2002 however, and the following year the building was demolished.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Formerly - The Prince of Wales Theatre, Manchester Road
The Theatre Royal & Opera House was situated in Theatre Street, Rochdale and originally opened on Friday the 22nd of November 1867 as the Prince of Wales Theatre, with a production of 'The Hunchback'. At this time the location was known as Manchester Road. The Theatre was designed by Edward Salomons, the architect of the Prince's Theatre, Manchester and the Prince of Wales Theatre, Liverpool. The Theatre was constructed by Messrs Warburton of Rochdale at a cost of £6,500 and had seating for 2,200 people. The building was reported to have been comparatively plain when it first opened, built of brick with a stone foundation. It was 120ft long by 60ft wide.
The Prince of Wales Theatre presented mostly plays and there is little documentation detailing it's progress at this time except that it had a change of name to the Theatre Royal in 1883. However, in 1889 the ERA reported on changes to the building in their 17th of August 1889 edition saying:- 'Large alterations and additions are shortly to be made in the Theatre Royal and Opera House, Rochdale. Plans are being prepared by Mr Frank Matcham for the enlargement of the pit and addition of three rows of orchestral stalls. The balcony and gallery are to be altered so as to improve the view of the stage and increase the comfort of the audience. Two very handsome private boxes are to be added, and some adjoining property which has been acquired by Mr Purcell will be utilised for the purpose of forming a new entrance vestibule and staircase leading to the principal parts of the house, with retiring rooms, crush rooms, and other conveniences. Large saloons are also to be added to the theatre on the pit, stalls, circles, and gallery floors. The exterior of the theatre will be much improved, the whole being ornamented with mouldings and pilasters; and an iron and glass shelter is to be erected over the new entrances. Three additional exits will be made, and the whole theatre is to be redecorated from Mr Matcham's designs.'
The renovated Theatre reopened on Monday the 19th of August 1889 with a production of 'Hearts of Gold' by Mr Edward Darbey's company. The ERA of 24th August 1889 reported:- 'The piece is a very sensational one, replete with any number of striking though improbable situations and incidents which have been well received by the capital audience nightly assembled. The characters are numerous, and are generally well sustained. The scenery is exceedingly good, and is very well managed.'
During the Theatre's renovations new scenery was added to the Theatres stock, painted by Mr Julian Forbes. However, five years later, in the early hours of Saturday morning the 27th January 1894, The Theatre Royal, burnt down. At about 6.10am a passing Police Constable noticed volumes of smoke issuing from the upper windows of the theatre. He immediately telephoned the fire station who were quickly on the scene with the Inspector of Police, the Fire Brigade and a hose carrier. Soon afterwards two steam fire engines arrived. The Fire Brigade burst through the stage door with hatchets and carried their hoses onto the stage. Luckily the Fire Curtain had been lowered and they were able to cut two holes in this and push the hoses through. The auditorium was ablaze with sheets of fire leaping across the rows of seats. Unfortunately they made little impression on the fire, and by 7am the fire was at its fiercest. Sparks were flying in all directions and the blaze was visible at a distance of several miles. The Fire Brigade were only able to prevent the fire from damaging the nearby Theatre Hotel.
After the blaze was finally out there was a scene of utter devastation. The roof had gone and only the bare skeleton of the auditorium was still standing. The supporting pillars holding up the circle and gallery were still there, although blackened and charred. Owing to the Fire Curtain being in place, the stage house was saved and all the scenery and costumes of the play 'A Ring of Iron' by Mr Harvey's Company, were saved. The only loss was to Mr Carter Edwards who used one of the private stage boxes as a dressing room, he lost his collection of costumes and wigs.
The loss was estimated to be in the region of £7,000. The owner of the Theatre Royal and Opera House at the time, was Mr F. W. Purcell, who had insured his Theatre with three different insurance companies, namely the Phoenix, the Equitable, and the Westminster. The fire was thought to have been caused by a careless smoker dropping a lighted match before leaving.
It was quickly decided to rebuild the Theatre, and the famous Victorian Theatre Architect Frank Matcham was employed again to design the replacement. The Theatre reopened on Monday the 4th March 1895. The ERA of the 9th of March 1895 reported as follows:- 'The Theatre is one of the handsomest and most complete in the United Kingdom, Mr Matcham, the clever architect, having taken advantage of his past experience, and adapted all his best ideas in the construction of the building. The comfort of those in front and those behind the curtain have been fully provided for, and the arrangement for the clearing of the building, which is capable of seating over 2000 people, are so complete that in case of panic it can be cleared in less than two minutes. The various parts of the house are so arranged that a capital view of the stage can be obtained from any of them. There are lavatories and retiring rooms, and every convenience provided for visitors. The decorations throughout are in the richest and most artistic style. The stage curtain is made of brocatelle, a very rich brown plush, and there is a fireproof curtain for use in case of fire. The stage itself has been made three feet wider than it was before. A new system of ventilation has been adopted, and the whole place is heated by means of hot-water pipes.'
The ERA of 9th of March 1895 goes on to describe the grand opening night as follows:- 'There was a large and brilliant audience assembled on Monday night, and on the lights being turned up on the raising of the fireproof curtain the applause bestowed upon the appearance of the house must have been very gratifying for Mr Purcell and also to Mr Matcham.'
The opening production was Mr Charles Wyndham's company under the personal direction and management of Miss Emma Hutchinson, in 'The Bauble Shop'. Prior to the play commencing, Mr C. S. Stone (for the company) explained that due to the illness of Mr F. Maxwell, who should have played Viscount Clivebrook, Mr Matthew Brodie of London (who had played the part for some time during the plays London run) had been wired for, and although it was eighteen months since he had last played this part, had arrived in town and would play that night. After the Aeolian Choir had led the audience in the National Anthem, the play began. Others in the play were Mr Harold Maxwell as Mr Stoach, MP, Mr C. S. Stone as Mathew Keber, Miss Emma Hutchinson as Lady Kate Fennel, and Miss Ethel Kay as Jessie Keber. In the Interval Mr J. Pitt Hardacre of the Comedy Theatre Manchester appeared on stage and after congratulating Mr Purcell on being possessed of such a beautiful Theatre, presented him with a handsome present from his employees at his two other Theatres at Bury and Derby, 'as a token of the esteem and regard in which they held him'. Mr Purcell was also presented with a 'very handsome cigar case', by Mr Frank Matcham. Then Mr Purcell thanked Mr Hardacre and other friends and asked the audience 'Are you satisfied with what I have done for you?' A question which was answered with 'large applause'. Mr Purcell then read telegrams received from Mr Wilson Barrett (who wired from New York). Mr Henry Irving, Mr J. L.Toole, Mr John Hare, Mr J. W. Turner, Mr D'Oyly Carte, Mr Edgar Bruce, Mr Edward Compton, Mr Horace Lingard, Mr Edward Tearle, Mr Charles Wyndham, Sir Augustus Harris, Mr Carl Rosa, Mrs Bandmann Palmer, Miss Isabelle Bateman, and Miss Fortesque. Frank Matcham, in a few words, congratulated the Rochdale public on their new Theatre, and after explaining the difficulties the contractors had had to deal with, the consequences of the recent heavy frost, joined with the audience in wishing Mr Purcell success in his new undertaking.
It would seem that the new Theatre was a huge success and it continued to entertain the public of Rochdale for many years, but it once again caught fire on Wednesday the 24th November 1954. Eleven fire engines attended the fire from Rochdale, Ashton, Bury, Oldham, and Middleton. The fire was finally brought under control by 8.0am, however, there was just the shell of the building left. Again it was thought that the cause of the fire was from a lighted match or cigarette dropped in the auditorium, or that the fire may have started in one of the Theatre's store rooms. The Variety show playing the Theatre at the time starred Tessie O'Shea and the pianist Semprini. The Fire Brigade fought to try to save Semprini's grand piano, but to no avail.
The Theatre Royal and Opera House, then owned by Northern Theatres Company Limited, had served the town for many years, but like most Theatres in the 1950's, it had been struggling to keep going, and so with the fire the end had finally come for the Theatre, and it was subsequently demolished.
Other Names - The Circus of Varieties / The Circus & Hippodrome / The Hippodrome Theatre
The Circus of Varieties was built in 1882 and opened in October the same year, it was situated in Newgate, the centre of Rochdale, Lancashire, and was built by an acrobat who appeared in Circuses and Music Halls, by the stage name of 'Ohmy the flyer' real name Joe Smith, (Presumably the name stuck by the reaction to his act by the audience of saying 'Oh my' to his daring feats). Locally the building was known as 'Ohmy's Circus.' and 'Th' O'wd Circus'.
It was a wooden single storey building with a galvanised corrugated iron roof. Flat floored, all on the ground floor level. In fact the floor was dirt, flattened and covered with sawdust.
The Circus of Varieties was closed and then re-opened on the 23rd October 1883 with the new name of 'The Circus and Hippodrome.' J. C. Heffron, a famous Music Hall singer of the day, appeared there in December 1883. Famous local artist G. H. Elliott, later to be billed as 'the Chocolate coloured Coon,' made his first appearance there on the 1st September 1894.
Dr. Walford Bodie made an appearance there on the 14th of January 1901 with his company. He gave a demonstration of ventriloquism and hypnotism, convincing a man that he was General Butler in The South African Campaign (The Boar War). His electrical experiments are reported to have been of 'remarkable character'. Walford Bodie's sister Miss Marie Walford Bodie assisted on the piano, the Circus orchestra being conducted by Mr J. Izatt.
The Theatre was owned by Messrs Joe Smith (Ohmy), Stephen Lee, and Thomas Hargreaves. In 1903 James Pringle showed early films by his North American Animated Photo Company. These featured 'The Kings State entry into London,' a pantomime, 'The Forty Thieves,' a fantasy 'Trip to the Moon,' and a football match of Rochdale Town versus Chorley, which had been played the previous Saturday. At Intervals between the films Variety acts performed featuring: - Lavardo (in a triple bar act), Miss Florence Lorrell, (an illustrated songstress), Mr Fred Hudson, (a mimic), and Owen and Moore, (musical speciality artistes).
Gracie Fields, a Rochdale lass, made her first stage appearance, in a talent competition winning joint first prize of Ten shillings, (50 pence today) at the age of seven in 1905. She recalled visiting the Hippodrome with her mother who cleaned at the Theatre and also took in artistes' washing. Gracie often used to listen and watch from the stage wings.
The Circus and Hippodrome was purchased by local entrepreneur James Jackson in 1907. James Jackson and the Jackson family formed Jackson Amusements Limited as the new owners of the theatre, and eventually had eight amusement cinema's and theatres in their portfolio.
James Pringles film company returned again in February 1907 for a fortnight's run. This time the programme of films contained 'A Trip to Niagara,' 'Foul Play,' a bank robbery film, and a film depicting a village Fire Brigade. There was also a 'singing film' using 'The Chronophone,' which synchronised the song with the movement of the figures projected onto the screen. The variety programme this time featured Bert Tyrell, as a Tyrolean vocalist, and Chard's leaping Dogs.
The Circus and Hippodrome was closed on the 30th May 1908, due to the local Council deciding to cut a wider road through the Newgate area, necessitating the demolition of the old Circus building. James Jackson took the opportunity of building a brand new modern, well equipped, Hippodrome Theatre on the adjacent site to the old Circus building. The Jackson Family laid the foundation stone for the new Hippodrome Theatre on the 16th June 1908.
The new Hippodrome Theatre was built in record time and opened on the 16th November 1908 seating 1,800 people. It was a substantial brick building, designed by a Mr Hartman for Jackson's Amusements, and built by Messrs Peters and Woolfenden Ltd of Rochdale. The ground floor dimensions were, - 61 feet wide by 57 feet in length, and contained Orchestral Stalls, Pit, Circle, and Gallery. The seating capacities were:- Ground floor (Stalls and Pit) 800, Circle 400, and Gallery 600, Giving a total of 1,800 seats. However, the Theatre was said to be able to house 2,500 people with many packed in and standing.
Every seat had an uninterrupted clear view of the stage. The stall's seats were of the tip up variety and upholstered in dark red plush. The Pit seating was of Pitch Pine. The Circle seats were also tip up chairs covered in American cloth. On each side of the proscenium arch was a stage box capable of accommodating 10 people in each box. The orchestra accommodated 13 musicians. There was a temperance bar at the rear of the Circle. The circle level also housed cinematographic apparatus inside an asbestos lined box. The Theatre had lavatories on each floor, and numerous exits.
The stage dimensions were 61 feet wide, 28 feet in depth, and 47 feet to the grid. Dressing rooms were situated each side of the stage. The proscenium was 32 feet wide and 24 feet high, having a fire proof curtain and fire proof pass doors from the stage to the rest of the Theatre. Underneath the stage was the orchestral retiring room and the heating chamber. On stage there were 400 electric lamps for illuminating the stage.
The decoration was in cream and gold with symbolic figures surmounting the proscenium arch and the boxes. The Tableaux curtains (House curtains) were of rich crimson silk plush relieved with gold trimming, and the orchestral rail curtain was also lined in gold coloured sateen.
The Stalls were carpeted in an Axminster carpet. The Circle entrance and stairway was laid with Scotch cork carpeting, with Grecian key bordering, and the edges with brass stair nosings. The bar and dressing rooms were covered with cork lino, with plain cork carpeting of a thick gauge used on the Circle floor. The stairs were carpeted in real horse hair carpets for hard wear.
The opening performance had hundreds of people waiting outside for the Theatre to open. When the curtain rose all the artists for the performance stood on the stage and the artists and audience sang the National Anthem. The solo was taken by Madam Bale, and the overture was conducted by Mr William Morgan. The performance consisted of: - Miss Jenny Lynwood (dainty comedienne), The Garricks (a quartet including Miss Queenie Finnis, Miss Agnes Tandy, Mr Ferris Pounds, and Mr Lawrence Wensley). Calcota appeared in a wayside episode entitled 'Rags and Tatters' containing (dancing, playing, and patter). Mysticus (experiences of spiritualism) created roars of laughter, George Leyton (actor vocalist), sang patriotic songs. He had raised considerable amounts of money to assist Crimean and Indian Mutiny veterans. He sang 'Lucknow' to audience applause. Then The Jackson Family appeared. (It was the Jackson family who had paid for and had the Theatre built. They were a famous musical act who had toured the world, and had now settled in Rochdale as their home.) They performed musical items featuring violin, cello, piccolo, banjos, drums, and special bells. Next was Pat Lynch (dancing and tumbling). And the programme also featured the Bioscope.
In the Interval Mr Jackson thanked the audience for the way they had rallied round, and promised good wholesome entertainment. Mr Albert Ball said 'He personally regarded such a house as one of the best temperance reformers they could have if it gave a working man an opportunity to spend an evening with his wife and family, and he returned home refreshed and ready for work the next morning', Applause from the audience.
The new Theatre initially presented top variety to the public of Rochdale. Fred Karno's Company appeared there in January 1910, and a local advert of the 15th January 1910 informed that on Monday next, twice nightly at 7.0pm and 9.pm 'Fred Karno's Company' would appear in 'Skating' a new sketch supported by Harry Lawson, (Comedian), Luzellas (in a Gymnastic Melange). The Venetions, (Living Statuary). The Three Dixons, (Nelly, Lilly, and May), Barton Swingers, Ben Jackson, (Trick Soloist), The Hippodrome Pictures, and Fred Karno's 'Early Birds'. All at popular prices.
Gracie Fields also appeared at the Theatre again in 1910. Other Artists who played the Hippodrome through the years were:- Dan Leno, Robb Wilton, G. H. Elliott, George Formby, Sandy Powell, and Norman Evans.
In 1920 architect Robert Cromie re-designed the Theatre, and in the early 1930's the Hippodrome was equipped with an RCA Sound system. Eventually it became a cinema with variety shows taking second place.
The Hippodrome Cinema closed in 1957 being bought by Rochdale Corporation who still allowed theatrical performances by local amateur groups such as Rochdale and District Amateur Dramatic Society and the Kirholt Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Eventually Bingo took over.
The Hippodrome finally closed altogether and the Theatre was demolished in the 1970's, thus ending a long and interesting career as a Circus, Music Hall, Variety Theatre, Cinema, and Bingo Hall. The site of the old Theatre was replaced by Tax Offices.
There is a record of a Methodist Meeting House together with twelve cottages being purchased and converted into a Playhouse called The Theatre in 1794 with a ground rent of £5.00 per annum on a 999 years lease.
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: