Theatres and Halls in Southampton
Mayflower Theatre / Empire Theatre / Gaumont Theatre - The Grand Theatre / New Hippodrome - The Royal York Music Hall - The Royal York Palace of Varieties - Empire Palace / Rainbow Tavern Music Hall / Gaiety Theatre - The Theatre Royal Bugle Street - Theatre Royal and Opera House, French Street - Gordon's New Theatre of Varieties - Prince of Wales Theatre / Hippodrome - Nuffield Theatre
Formerly - The Empire Theatre - Later - The Gaumont Theatre
Above - A 1930s Postcard showing the Empire Theatre, Southampton, now the Mayflower Theatre.
The Mayflower Theatre is situated in Commercial road Southampton, designed by the architects W and T. R. Milburn for Moss Empires. When newly built the Theatre was called The Empire Theatre Southampton. It opened on the 22nd December 1928 with a new musical bound for London called 'Winona' with a cast of over 100 artists.
It was the last Theatre to be built by Moss Empires, who had a programme of large Theatre building in the late 1920's. These Theatres were the Empire's at Southampton, at Liverpool and Edinburgh, together with the Dominion Theatre in London.
Right - The Gaumont Theatre, Southampton, now the Mayflower Theatre, during the run of 'Can Can' on the 23rd of July 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.
The façade on Commercial road is built of stone and red brick. Having five bays between two demi-octagonal towers at each front corner, only slightly higher than the five storey height of the Theatre itself. Stone pilasters rise above first floor windows up to a modillion cornice. The building frontage is very cinema like in style. When first built the Theatre even had a tea garden on its roof, offering patrons excellent views of the town and Southampton water.
The foyer has marbled lower walls with two ocean liner type staircases. The auditorium is vast, and typically Milburn in style. The auditorium theme is Neo Grecian with Art Deco influences. There are two balconies, the upper one set back. The proscenium arch is curved, rising high, and penetrates the deep sounding board part of the ceiling. The ceiling itself is divided into square and rectangular panels, with a dome in its centre. Either side of the proscenium arch are two stepped stage boxes, above which are highly decorated curved arches. Along the auditorium walls are 22 mahogany 'standing boxes', which can hold a total of 142 people on three levels.
When the Theatre was first built the colour scheme in the auditorium was cream and gold with touches of blue and strawberry. The seats were upholstered in Rose du Barry velvet and heavy Durham carpets were featured. Backstage the dressing rooms all had hot and cold water and the two star dressing rooms had phones and baths.
The Theatre has a large well equipped stage capable of staging large productions of West End Musicals,Opera,and Ballet.
Stage dimensions are - depth 11.88 metres; Proscenium width 13.41 metres by 8.23 metres high; Stage width is 22.26 metres; Wing space being stage left 2.75 metres and stage right 6.1 metres; Height to the grid is 18.6 metres and the flying system has 68 counterweighted sets of single purchase flying lines. The orchestra pit can take 100 musicians.
The Theatre's seating capacity has not changed over the years and still seats 2,299 people.
Early stage shows were Jack Buchanan in 'Thats A Good Girl, Jack Hulbert and his wife Cicely Courtneidge in 'The House that Jack Built' in October 1929. Stanley Holoway in 'The Co-Optimists' in November 1929.
1930 brought Sybil Thorndyke in 'The Squall', and in September of that year Raymond Massey and Alice Delysia appeared in 'Topaze'. There were also visits by Paul Robeson, Anna Pavlova, Gracie Fields and Harry Lauder. In 1932 Ivor Novello played in 'I Live with You', and in 1933 Tallulah Bankhead, the American Actress, appeared in 'The Lady of the Camellias'.
It remained a Theatre for the next 15 years, but films were making there presence felt and attendance for stage shows was waning. In 1933 the Theatre succumbed to films and a projection box was built at the rear of the balcony on the third level. The Theatre went over to films and the first film shown was 'Elsewhere' on the 14th May 1933. Occasional stage shows were still presented in amongst the films. The Theatre became the Gaumont cinema in 1941. In 1942 during the Blitz the Theatre suffered from two bomb blast blowing holes in the rear wall, and incendiary bombs fell on the roof.
The sixty's brought Rock & Roll shows, with Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, the Beachboys and Chuck Berry. The Beatles played the Theatre on 20th May 1963 with Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Roy Orbison.
By 1982 the Rank Organisation, who then owned the Theatre, were losing money and a change of use to Bingo was proposed. The City Council refused this, and an appeal was launched, 93,000 people signed a petition to keep the Theatre. This eventually led to the Theatre being sold to the City Council in 1985. A programme of restoration was carried out in the auditorium. The bar areas were enlarged, and the box office was modernised. A new lighting and sound system was installed together with closed circuit TV. Backstage a new stage floor complete with new traps was installed, and an enlarged scenery dock and improved access made. All the dressing rooms were modernised, and the Theatre re-opened in 1987 as 'The Mayflower Theatre'.
Right - A Google Streetview image of the Southampton Mayflower Theatre - Click to Interact.
In 2003 further alterations were made. The stage floor was flattened, wing space was enlarged, and the flying system updated. In the auditorium the stalls area was reseated.
Today the Theatre is run by an independent trust, and is Grade II Listed. It is the largest touring house for a very large area of the South Coast. A wide ranging programme of West End Musicals, Opera, Ballet, plays, pantomimes and one night stands are presented catering for every taste.
You may like to visit the Mayflower's own website here.
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Later - The New Hippodrome Theatre
Above - A Sketch of the Grand Theatre, Southampton shortly before its opening and here bearing the name Theatre Royal although the Theatre actually opened as the Grand - From the ERA, 5th of November 1898 - To see more of these Sketches click here. Details for the actual Theatre Royal can be found here.
The Grand Theatre Southampton was situated on a plot of land facing the fine park at West Marlands, accessible from the main thoroughfare of Above Bar. The Architects were William Hope and J. C. Maxwell A.R.I.B.A. of Newcastle on Tyne. The builder being Messrs Jenkins & Sons of Southampton, who built the Theatre for the owners, Messrs Frederick Mouillot and H. H. 'Mackenzie' Morell. Mouillot and Morell mounted a lot of their own shows in this period and toured the country with them, visiting many Theatres. They also had ownership of a lot of Theatres and had several specially built for them including the Grand Theatre in Swansea. The Sothampton Grand opened on 5th December 1898 with a production of ' The Little Minister' by Frederick Harrison, performed by Cyril Maude's company. The Memorial stone had been laid by Mrs Kemble, a famous actress of the day, on the 15th November 1898.
It was a cramped and peculiar site, and economy of space was paramount. The ERA of 5th November 1898 states, 'it is erected on a peculiar shaped site, which necessitates economy of space in arranging the various working parts of the theatre round the finely formed auditorium, which, with the flat ceiling throughout and the regular-shaped back wall, is well adapted to give perfect acoustic results.'
Right - A Plan of the Grand Theatre, Southampton - From the Academy Architecture and Architectural review 1898.
The main entrance in West Marlands had a handsome clock tower above. The ERA of November 5th 1898 describes the exterior of the Theatre as follows. 'The design of the building to the front is treated in a free classic style, with complete columns of the Ionic order on a high-class storey, and is finished with finials and balustrade between. The regular shape of the auditorium is carried up, and shows as an attic storey. The main panels are finished with sgraffitto decoration in colour and relief. The tower also is decorated in the same style, and is finished with 'fleches' having arc lamps. The main entrance has a handsome suspended verandah approach; and the queue entrances have also a verandah, which is carried along the whole length of the building in Windsor-terrace. The grand staircase from the main entrance is of marble, and leads to a fine foyer overlooking the park. There are also large saloons for the pit and gallery, and separate lavatories for each part of the house.'
The Auditorium was two tiered being the circle on the first tier and the gallery above. From the curtain line to the back of the pit was 59 feet with the auditorium being 60 feet in width. The height from the stage floor to the grid was 53 feet. The stage was 37 feet deep with a large scene dock, properties room, good cellars and a mezzanine floor under the stage.
The Auditorium decoration was of fibrous plaster in free Renaissance style. The ceiling between the stage boxes was arched and coffered and brilliantly lit by electricity. The auditorium ceiling was designed in relief with painted panels. The front of the circle and boxes were finished in cream and gold. The seating capacity was 1,800 people.
Left - An early colour postcard depicting the Grand Theatre, Southampton.
The whole building was lit by electricity with gas as a supplementary system.
The Theatre's first manager was Mr Clyde Menell and the orchestral conductor was Mr Charles Bye.
On the opening night of 'The Little Minister,' between acts 2 and 3, Mr Morell came to the footlights and made a brief speech. Telegrams of good wishes had been received from Sir Henry Irving, George Alexander, George Dance, Cyril Maude and friends.
The cast of 'The Little Minister' was as follows. Mr Kenneth Douglas in the title role, with Miss Grace Lane as 'Babbie'. Hubert Carter as Rob Dow, with Miss Dora Tullock as Micah Dow. Mrs Edmund Phelps as Nanny Webster. John Nesbitt, Harry Kitts, and Cecil Croft, also appearing. Reginald Dance played the Earl of Rintoul and Leslie Tyler played Captain Halliwell, with Muriel Beaumont as Felice and Christine M'Gill as Jean.
The Theatre prospered with many famous actors of the day playing there. The Impresario Alfred Denville produced repertory plays at the Theatre in the thirties. Many actors appeared in his company including Betty Carterm, Edwin Beverley, and Harry Richardson, and Peter Cushing appeared in 'Lean Harvest' in the late 1930's staying with the company for approximately 9 months.
The Grand Theatre had a flashing light in it's lantern tower which caused problems for pilots of shipping on Southampton water, and had to be dimmed at the request of the harbour board. The light was changed to green, but this caused problems for train drivers approaching Southampton, who thought it was a 'clear' sign to enter the towns rail tunnel from Winchester, and so the light was changed again, this time to purple.
Above - A postcard depicting the Rose Gardens and Grand Theatre, Southampton
The Theatre was renamed the 'New Hippodrome' in March 1939, reopening after refurbishment on Monday the 27th of March 1939, following the closure of the former Hippodrome in Ogle Road. The first show was a musical fresh from the London Hippodrome, 'Hide and Seek', starring Leslie Hatton. The New Hippodrome continued to operate under that name until Saturday the 14th of September 1940. The last show was 'Thumbs Up! a modern laughter road show', with Jasper Maskelyne "Royal Command Magician" and Sonny Farrar from the Holborn Empire success 'Haw Haw'.
For the rest of World War Two the Theatre was used to accommodate troops. Having survived the bombing of Southampton, the Theatre finally reopened as the Grand Theatre under the management of New Hippodrome Theatre Ltd in December 1950 with the pantomime 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'. It continued in operation presenting variety shows, plays, and pantomimes, eventually succumbing to striptease shows. Sadly it closed in 1959. The Theatre was eventually demolished and a glass fronted office block and parade of shops replaced it.
Like many Theatres this bastion of entertainment provided much pleasure to the citizens of Southampton for 61 years, as with many cities, only to be swept away with the advent of television cinema, and bingo.
The above article on the Grand Theatre, Southampton was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2012. The article is © David Garratt 2012. Some amendments to the article were kindly sent in by Vicky Green in 2015.
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Formerly - The Royal York Music Hall
Above - A 1908 postcard depicting the Royal York Palace Theatre, Above Bar, Southampton
There were two places of entertainment known as The Royal York in Southampton, one superseding the other. The first; 'The Royal York Music Hall' was built at the rear of the Royal York Hotel, on Above Bar Street, Southampton and opened on the 9th December 1872. The proprietor of both the Hotel and the Music Hall was Mr William Hyles. The architect of this new Music Hall was Mr Alfred Bedborough with Mr Gamblin as the builder.
The Hampshire Advertiser newspaper edition of Saturday 7th December 1872 states the following:- 'The hall is brick built. Plastered inside, and presents a substantial yet light appearance. The space on the ground floor is about 90 feet long by 40 wide, and the stage behind is 22 feet deep by from 14 to 20 in width. The ceiling is lofty and splendidly decorated with chaste designs, and along the whole of the left hand side, on entering, is a spacious balcony, while facing and at the extreme end from the stage are five private boxes, excellently calculated for the accommodation of those who may wish to see and not be seen. The decoration of the proscenium, and the painting of the scenery has been executed by Mr C. Vaughan, ably assisted by Mr Greenwood, and it certainly reflects credit on them that they have shown so much taste and care in the work. The proscenium is painted with a light ground, the moulding and cornices picked out in gold, and over the centre is the Royal coat of armes beautifully coloured. The drop scene is a representation of the Castle of Chillon, on the Lake of Geneva, and has a pleasing effect, while the garden and chamber scenery is equally good. The whole of the machinery is put up by Mr Lanham, of the Drury Lane Theatre, London. Under the stage are rooms, and every accommodation for the performers. Close to the stage, at the back of the footlights, is a space for the orchestra, consisting of six instrumentalists, including a pianist. Behind this are the orchestra stalls, calculated to seat about 200, who are to be accommodated with plush velvet settees, and marble-top tables, and behind again seats for 300 persons, and a promenade at the back, close to which is the refreshment bar. The balcony is well carpeted and velvet chairs will render those who attend comfortable; but the accommodation in the private boxes is better still, they being curtained and carpeted. The latter is approached from the side door by a private staircase, the entrance to the stalls and balcony being also from the side door, and to the body of the hall by a door further up the yard. The building is lighted by ten pretty chandeliers, supplied by Defries and Sons, having 90 lights in all; and Mr Vivian has had the arrangement of the gasfittings. The Music Hall is to be opened for the first time on Monday evening.' - The Hampshire Advertiser 7th December 1872.
The opening advertisement in the Hampshire Advertiser for 7th December 1872 reads as follows:-
ROYAL YORK MUSIC HALL,.
Harry Church was also the Chairman.
A quick note here to explain prices for modern currency. 1 Guinea was £1.1 shilling. (21 old shillings) (today £1 and 5 pence). 2s refers to 2 shillings (10 pence today). 1s refers to 1 shilling (5 pence today). 6d refers to 6 pennies (2 and half pence today). 1s 6d refers to 1 shilling and 6 pennies (7 and half pence today).
These prices may seem cheap to us today, but remember that a weeks wage was probably approximately £1 or 20 shillings then.
Music Hall continued at the Royal York, the programme of fare reported in the ERA for 13th April 1873 was as follows-: 'Mr Barry Wilson, Irish descriptive singer, made his first appearance. He possesses a fine voice, and is deservedly applauded. Mr E.T.Owen, mimic, comic vocalist, and performer of various instruments, who is also a stranger to us, is clever and versatile, and has made a hit. The talented gymnasts the Brothers de Vere, the funny Niggers * Townsend and Graham, Miss Agnes Beaumont (serio-comic), and Mr Harry Church (Chairman and tenor) appear nightly with success.' - The ERA, 13th April 1873.
The Music Hall's popularity grew with the public of Southampton, so that by 1897 it was decided to rebuild. The Music Hall and Hotel were subsequently demolished and in their place the Royal York Palace of Varieties was constructed, still situated in the High Street 'Above Bar' within a few paces of the Royal Hotel and Southampton Yacht Club.
The well known Theatre architect Walter Emden was employed to design the new Theatre, and on the 29th November 1897 the prospectus was issued to raise capital for the new Theatre to be known as 'The Royal York Palace Of Varieties', out of the amalgamation of two of Southampton's variety Theatres, being The Royal York and the Empire Palace. The share capital was £35,000, in 15,000 7 per cent, cumulative preference shares of £1 each, and 20,000 ordinary shares of £1 each. There was also an issue of 17,500 first mortgage debentures and 2,500 second debentures.
Left - Detail from a 1908 postcard depicting the Royal York Palace Theatre, Southampton.
The Chairman of the company of The Royal York Palace of Varieties Limited, was Mr John Bull who was also the managing director of the Middlesbrough Empire, as well as the Managing Director of the Hastings Marine Palace and proprietor of the Royal Music Hall in London. The purchase price was £28,000.
The new Theatre, which opened on Monday the 28th of March 1898, had a frontage on the High Street of 86 feet, with a depth of 146 feet, and comprised an area of 12,694 square feet. The auditorium held 1,900 people, and featured all the latest conveniences, was handsomely decorated, and lit by electric light. It was provided with the most modern appliances for extinguishing fire, and featured a spacious vestibule and three shops facing the high street. It had public bars and refreshment rooms, with rooms on the upper floors which could be let as offices, flats, or a club.
Herein is quoted in full the article which appeared in the ERA newspaper of the 2nd of April 1898: 'The inauguration of this hall on Monday night was a brilliant function, a dense crowd outside striving to gain admission, but owing to seats having been booked long in advance, few of the number attained their desire. The general effect of the interior was tasteful in the extreme, the splendid grouping of the electric light showing off the artistic ornamentation and upholstering to the best advantage.
The company was decidedly select, prominent members of the legal and medical professions being conspicuous, while 'the Corporation' was also well represented. Among other well-known people present were Mr Graydon, managing director of the hall; Mr Donald Munro, director of the Pavilion Mile-End; Mr and Mrs J. Brill, Royal; Mr Polden, of the Palace, Shaftesbury-avenue; Mr Alfred Moul, manager of the Alhambra; Mr Herbert Campbell, director of the new Granville, Walham-green; Mr Harry Randall; Mr Walter Emden, the architect; Lord Fingall, Mr A.J. Thomas, Colonel Keyser, Mr W.C. Bailey, Captain Warren Wright, Mr Reginald Brill, Mr and Mrs George English, Mr and Mrs George Fuller, and many more.
The orchestra opened the proceedings, after which the curtain rose to find the management and company assembled on the stage. Mr George Adams sang the National Anthem, in which the whole house joined. Esta Stella then contributed a sprightly song and dance, Mr George Adams following with two capitally rendered baritone songs. Then came the lively and versatile Miss Ada Cerito, comedienne, in comedy song and spirited dance, she being succeeded by Mr Percy Clifton, Australian comedian. A capital medley, entitled 'Oh What a Night!' was contributed by the Bancrofts, an entertaining pair, in direct contrast being the contribution of Helen Bourne, who gave a couple of sentimental songs with good intonation. The Brown and Kelly Combination created roars of laughter in their sketch 'The Club', the character of the waiter being especially well sustained. Two capital turns were those of the Brothers Wittington (head balancers) and the Sisters Marcarte (wire walkers). Mdlle. La Tostia became immensely popular through her charming playing of the mandolin. Mdlle. May Belfort gave her songs with excellent expression, and Lottie Leonora danced with abandon and style. The appearance of Chirgwin, the star of the week, was eagerly anticipated, and he fully merited his cordial reception, his business being, if possible, better than ever. Two special turns ''for this evening only'' were Harry Randall and Katie Lawrence. The former received a great welcome, his song ''Tatcho'' hitting the public taste to a nicety. Katie Lawrence at once established herself a favourite by her charm of style and her capitally-rendered songs. The following artists were also billed for the week: - Tuesday, Marie Dainton; Wednesday, the Sisters M'Nulty; Thursday, Mays and Hunter; Friday, Kate Chard and Deane Brand; Saturday, Delaur and Debrimont.
The whole evening passed off without a hitch, and opinion was unanimous that the town now possesses a hall second to none outside London, and one of which Mr Waler Emden, the architect, may be proud. In the general arrangements Mr Charles Marte and his able assistant Mr Amer are to be heartily congratulated, everything having been done to secure the comfort and safety of the vast audience. The scenery had been painted by those well-known artists, Messrs Fritz Wallis and Son.' - The ERA, 2nd of April 1898.
The Theatre served the town well with entertainment for many years, until the Blitz of World War Two, when it was virtually demolished by a bomb in 1942, and was finally demolished in 1955. A sad ending to such a well loved Music Hall and Variety Theatre.
Right - A photograph of the bombed Palace Theatre, Southampton -
From the Flickr Photo sharing site - Click
to see the original.
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The original Theatre Royal in Southampton of 1849 was located at 35 Bugle Street, under the management of Mr W. Parker. Lloyds Weekly newspaper of the 18th August 1850 reports that the Summer season of plays opened on that date under the new management of Mr George Owen (a celebrated tragedian actor). The stars of the week were Mrs Nisbett, Miss Jane Mordaunt and their brother, Mr Mordaunt. This Summer Season was still in operation by the 13th October 1850 giving three or four performances a week.
The ERA newspaper of the 17th November 1850 reported: - 'The above pretty theatre is under the necessary cleaning, previous to its being opened by the Lessee, Mr George Owen, on the 2nd December; some of the old favourites will re-appear, together with great talent engaged; all the novelty that can be brought forward will be produced, and some of the most leading stars will appear.' - The ERA 17th November 1850. The Winter season actually opened on Monday 9th December 1850.
On Sunday 12th January 1851 it was reported that Mr George Owen Esq, father of the lessee of the Southampton Theatre had died in his 67th year.
On 27th April 1851 the Southampton Theatre Royal was taken over by Mr W. Crook, who opened on Easter Monday with the play 'The Rivals' and the 'Illustrious Stranger'.
There was a later Theatre Theatre Royal and Opera House in French Street Southampton. The Grand Pantomime 'Bo Peep or The Demon Butcher and the Skewer Imp', was presented over the Christmas period of 1876 / 77, with an entirely new transformation scene painted by Mr Richard Gates, and the final scene 'The Rolling Wave' was a patent of Mr John Cawdery. The Theatre at this time was under the sole lessee and management of Messrs St. Maur and Davenport. Mr John Elwes was the Acting Manager with Mr M Audibert as Musical Director.
The ERA of 1st July 1877 reported ' Southampton Theatre Royal Entirely Redecorated and restored, now open under the Management of Messrs St Maur and Davenport. Holds £70 at ordinary prices. Stars and First class companies desirous of dates, address the Managers, as above. Acting Manager, Mr John Evans.' - The ERA 1st July 1877.
The ERA of 12th September 1880 reported that a New Theatre Royal opened on 2nd September 1880 as follows: - 'The old Theatre, which has witnessed the triumphs of nearly every celebrated actor of the first half of the present century, whilst yet Southampton was a fashionable watering place having long been outgrown by modern demands, Mr Gordon, its spirited and enterprising Lessee, who for so many years has catered for the public amusement, determined to keep pace with the public requirements, and has accordingly converted at considerable expense, the recently built capacious Hall which adjoins the old Theatre into a new Temple of Thespis, and this was opened on Thursday night (21st inst) with amateur performances by the members of the Southampton Garrick Club for the benefit of Mr Gordon and in recognition of his valuable services on behalf of the drama.
The chief entrance of the old building continues the principal entrance to the new, the dress circle being converted into a ladies' cloak and crush room, with a corridor passing down the left-hand side, and opening into orchestral stalls, fitted up with chairs of the pattern of those newly added to the old building, with spring backs and moveable seats, and capable of accommodating about 150 spectators, immediately in front of the stage, which is much more spacious than the stage of the old house. Behind the orchestral stalls, and occupying the centre of a Hall, more than a hundred feet long, from wall to wall, and five-and-thirty feet high, are the pit stalls, capable of seating about 100; at the back of these being the pit. In other respects the new house very much resembles the old in its arrangements, save that everything is new, and the latest aids to comfort have been studied. On the left of the house, the right of the stage, and some little distance from it, and also from the two galleries running round the rear of the house to about two-thirds its length stage wards, are two tiers of private boxes. The two galleries are disposed as in the old house, the first being devoted to upper-boxes, and the second to the gallery, these being respectively approached by capacious staircases built out on each side the new building from the street, immediately below the old Theatre.
The ventilation of the house has received special attention, as following the experiences of the old house has the scarcely less important subject of ingree and egress. Mr Charles Vaughan has charge of the decorative details, which are of a very elaborate character. The new stage has been built under the superintendence of Mr W. Seaman, principal machinist of the Westminster Aquarium, whilst the new and admirable scenery is by Mr O'Rorke, of the Bradford Theatre; the upholstery having been tastefully executed by Messrs Permain and Hanlon, of this town' - The ERA 12th September 1880.
The opening performance is described as follows, again from the ERA of 12th September 1880: - 'The curtain rose punctual to the time, when an inaugural address, written for the occasion by Mr W. Andrews, was excellently delivered by Mr A. O. Capper. The band of the 1st Hants Engineers, under the able direction of Mr J. D.Wilson, and stationed on the stage, then played the National Anthem, the audience rising en masse. The band next played several selections in capital style. Then followed Mr H. J. Bryon's comedy 'Old Soldiers'. - The ERA 12th September 1880.
The actors taking part in this play were Mr A. O. Capper as Cassidy. Mr W. West as Lionel Leverett. Mr W. S. Hodges as Captain M'Tavish. Mr G. W. Capper as Gordon Lockhart and Mr F. Westmacott as Major Fang. The Ladies of the company were Miss E. Wiber as the widow, Mrs Major Moss, Miss Blanche Newton as Kate M'Tavish, and Miss Nesbitt as the daughter Mary Moss.
The Farce 'My Fellow Clerk' followed, the cast being Mr Hocker, Mr J. W. Lichfield, Mr E. L. Ede, Mr W. S. Hodges, Mr G. W. Capper, Mr Knitbrow, Mr D. Chamberlain, Mrs Dobson, Miss Newton, Fanny Dobson, Miss Nesbitt, Julia Snooks, and Miss E. Wiber.
On the following Monday 'Rip Van Winkle' was produced with Mr William Calder in the title role.
At one stage Mr J. W. Gordon was proprietor of two theatres, the Theatre Royal, Southampton and Gordon's New Theatre of Varieties. His first wife, Miss Juliet Power was a stage dancer and singer. They'd both met as early as 1851 when performing at the Theatre Royal Newcastle. They performed in the Theatre Royal, Southampton as early as 1854. He was the Acting Manager at the Theatre Royal Rochester in 1856; she performed there too. He became manager of this theatre in 1857.
In 1883 the ERA of 13th January reported that Mr J. W. Gordon was the Lessee and that 'Mr Wm Duck's company are in the third week of their engagement. On Monday and Tuesday 'Courtship' was produced for the first time here, and met with a most flattering reception. On Wednesday and following evening 'Married in Haste' was played.' - The ERA 13th January 1883.
The Theatre continued to provide entertainment for the population of Southampton, but was destroyed by a bomb in 1940.
Formerly - The Rainbow Tavern Music Hall / The Gaiety Theatre of Varieties - Later - The Empire Cinema
Between 1851 and 1854 Mr George Tilley was the owner of the Rainbow Tavern in French Street Southampton, and was probably responsible for the building of a Concert Room adjacent to, and in the grounds of, the Tavern. However it would seem that Mr J Nicholls was the owner in 1855. The Hampshire Advertiser of the 3rd March 1855 printed the following advertisement.
The Rainbow Concert Hall still existed in January 1858 under the proprietorship of Mr J. Nicholls, although there were rumours of him giving up as manager also, however the following report from the ERA newspaper of 28th February 1858 states that he had suddenly died, It reads as follows:
'PLYMOUTH.- NOTICE. - F. BARBER, of the Exmouth Music Hall, has taken the RAINBOW CONCERT HALL AND TAVERN from Mr. Nicholls, and hopes, by bringing forth the best talent that can be obtained, and strict attention to business, to meet with a share of the patronage so liberally bestowed on the late worthy proprietor. The house will be opened by Mr Barber on the 22nd of March. The following ladies and gentlemen are already engaged ;- Miss Harley, Misses Whyatts; Mr Gus Miller, Mr Leon, and Mr Clark, who, after a most successful engagement of four months, are re-engaged for two.'
The Rainbow Concert Hall flourished and was well supported by the Southampton public. By the early 1880s it would seem that the Concert Hall had either been enlarged or rebuilt as it was now known as the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties. The ERA of the 14th of July 1883 lists the following attraction at the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties: 'Sole proprietor Mr Wm Potter. - The following are here again, in addition to those noticed last week; - Miss Ethel Victor, the well- known serio-comic; Mr J.P.Boston, comedian; Queen Mab and Joey English, duettists and dancers; Dixon, Mellon, and Sutton, in their attractive Negro sketches; Miss Marie Alexander, serio-comic and clog dancer; Mr Chas. Murray, eccentric comedian; and Mr T.H.Lindon, comic.'
In 1884 the owner was Jane Woodley, who was a very famous Music Hall star of the era, who's stage name was Miss Jenny Hill, billed as 'The Vital Spark'. She had obtained the lease from Messrs Hyles, the previous owners. However on the night of Wednesday the 19th of November 1884 disaster struck as the Gaiety Theatre caught fire and was totally destroyed.
After the performance had ended and the Theatre closed, a loan barman named Mr Cannon, whilst sitting in one of the rooms on the ground floor, heard a crackling, and proceeded to the refreshment bar adjacent to the orchestra stalls, found that the place was in flames. He immediately raised the alarm. The First Hants Artillery Brigade, and South Western Engines quickly attended the fire, but by now the flames had shot up to a tremendous height and created smaller fires in the immediate neighbourhood. One such fire had started in the adjoining old Southampton Theatre. The fire continued throughout the night and up until the afternoon of the next day, when all that was left of the Gaiety was an empty shell. The damage which was fully covered by insurance was estimated at many thousands of pounds.
In 1886 on Wednesday the 18th of August the Hampshire Advertiser noted that an application had been made by Mr Hallett on behalf of Mr Guy for the transfer of the licence of the Rainbow Tavern, French Street, from Jenny Hill to George Crump Sanderson, boot and shoe dealer, of Queen Street, Portsea. A new Theatre was rebuilt on the site of the old one and named The Empire Palace of Varieties.
'Pretty, Refined, and Talented
However there was a tragic death at this Theatre, reported in the Hampshire Advertiser on the 10th October 1894: -
ACCIDENT AT THE EMPIRE THEATRE
A COMMERCIAL TRAVELLER'S FALL DOWN STAIRS.
'Walter Haines, manager of the Rainbow Tavern, otherwise known as the Empire Palace, in French Street, stated that on the night of the 30th September about four minutes to 10, Mr Beckett was standing by the bar talking to him. Witness left him, and went out to shut the side door. He also went to search the big room and convenience. He then returned, shut the door, and bolted it. Mr Beckett went to go out of the door, but witness told him not to do so, as the gas was out, and the doors were locked. Deceased replied, ''All right Walter, I have been down there more hundreds of times than you have dozens,'' He went through, and when witness went to turn the gas out at the other end of the private bar he heard the deceased fall down the steps. Witness immediately ran to his assistance and as soon as he got to the bottom deceased said, ''Good God, Walter; I have done what you forbade me to do,'' Immediately witness sent his son for a doctor. Dr, Crofton came, and ordered deceased to be taken to bed. Witness carried the deceased up, and laid him on his bed. The next morning Dr Welch came, and witness removed the deceased to the Infirmary by his orders.'
Mr Beckett died the following Friday from a dislocated joint of the neck which had caused pressure on his spinal cord. This had resulted in congestion of the lungs following paralysis of the whole body. The ERA of the 4th of May 1895 carried the following announcement: -
EMPIRE THEATRE SOUTHAMPTON.
A report in the Hampshire Advertiser of 27th July 1895 states: - 'The Finance Committee reported that Mr W. A. Killby applied, on behalf of Mr Arthur Carlton, for a licence to perform stage plays at the Empire Theatre. Mr W. L. Bell, on behalf of Messrs Gordon and Plowman, lessees, and Mr William Morton for the executors and trustees of Mr Sefton Parry, owners of the Prince of Wales Theatre, appeared to oppose. The committee resolved that the application be refused.'
The Empire Palace Theatre became a cinema in November 1908, simply known as 'The Empire'. It was never a fashionable cinema, and increasing competition forced it's closure in 1925. It was demolished in 1927.
Right - A photograph of the Empire Cinema, Southampton from the Flickr Photo Sharing site - Click to see the original.
Gordon's New Theatre of Varieties was situated in French Street, Southampton, and was opened in 1858, the Sole proprietor being Mr J. W. Gordon. The Theatre was altered and improved in 1877 and an advertisement, which appeared in the 'Hampshire Advertiser' of the 20th January that year tells us::
'The above establishment having lately undergone most EXTENSIVE ALTERATIONS and IMPROVEMENTS, under the direction of Mr W. H. Mitchell, architect, of this town, is now one of the most Elegant and perfectly-arranged Halls in the Provinces. The floor of the Hall has been lowered to the level of the street entrances, giving considerable additional height. Two tiers of new boxes and balconies have been constructed, communicating with spacious Promenades and Refreshment Saloons. The Stage has been increased in height and length. The work generally has been carried out by Mr W. J. Bunrey, builder. The decorations, which are very chaste and elegant, have been designed and executed by Mr C. Vaughan and his numerous assistants. The gas fittings by Mr Vivian.
IS NOW OPEN EVERY EVENING FOR THE SEASON.
For all particulars see day bills and programmes.
Doors open at 6,45; commence at 7.15.
Prices of Admission:-
Private Boxes, 10s 6d. Orchestra Stalls, 1s 6d. Stalls or first Balcony 1s.
Second Balcony. 6d. Body of Hall, 6d.
Second Price, at 9 o'clock. - To Orchestra Stalls, 1s. Stalls 6d.'
The Hampshire Advertiser, 20th of January 1877
This Music Hall, later Variety Theatre, had been providing entertainment for 19 years when this advertisement appeared in 1877, and gradually evolved from its Music Hall traditional fare into Variety, later being succeeded by the larger Variety Theatres built in Southampton.
Mr J. W. Gordon seems to have been part of the Southampton Theatre scene for quite some years, as he appears in the stories of the Theatre Royal, Gordon's New Theatre of Varieties, and the Prince of Wales Theatre, (which will feature on this site soon).
Later - The Hippodrome
The Prince of Wales Theatre was opened on the 11th June 1883 on the south side of Ogle Street close to Above Bar Street in Southampton. The ERA newspaper of the 2nd June 1883 reports the opening of this new theatre as follows:-
'A New Theatre at Southampton.
Mr Sefton Parry's new theatre, the Prince of Wales, will be opened on June 11th, under the management of Mr J. W. Gordon, the inaugural performance being by the celebrated Beatrice company. It is hoped it will prove one of the safest and most comfortable, as it is undeniably one of the handsomest, dramatic establishments in the United Kingdom. It is situated within full view and close to Above Bar-street, the leading thoroughfare of the town. The plan of the building is similar to that of the Globe Theatre, London, and the Theatre Royal, Hull, having a pit to hold 800 persons; orchestra stalls, 78 (which can be increased when necessary); balcony stalls, 120; upper boxes, 100; gallery 600; together with numerous private boxes and large spaces for standing room. The stairs and entrances are both numerous, spacious, and fire-proof, and all doors open outwards; and the saloons and retiring rooms are handsome and convenient. The stage is 60 ft by 40 ft, and is laid with every modern improvement. The large stock of scenery has been painted by Mr T. W. Hall, Mr J. W. Roberts, Mr G. R. Smythes, and assistants. The gas arrangements, limelight tanks, &c, are of the best and most improved kind. The carton pierre decorations are designed and executed by the celebrated firm Battiscombe and Harris of London. The seating and upholstery by Christopher Horsman, of Southampton. An entire supply of modern and antique furniture, carpets, and properties for the stage has been provided. Messrs Fowler and Hill, the architects, have drawn the plans, which have been carried out by Mr J. Gooding, clerk of the works, who superintended the construction of the elegant Avenue Theatre, London. It is the firm belief of the proprietor, Mr Sefton Parry, who has designed the whole of the arrangements, and himself seen them carried out, that this, his ninth theatre, is undoubtedly the best and most convenient he has ever erected.' - The ERA, 2nd June 1883.
The ERA of the 14th July 1883 states that: -'Mr Charles Dornton's excellent company are in the second week of their engagement and on Monday was produced 'Michael Strogoff', with Mr William Rignold in the title-role, and Mr Dornton as John Blunt. The mounting of the piece was everything that could be desired, whilst the talented artists were repeatedly recalled and loudly applauded.' - The ERA, 14th July 1883.
The Theatre continued presenting productions of burlesque, drama, comedy and pantomime but was closed in 1905 when alterations were made to the building, and the Theatre was then renamed 'The Hippodrome.' There is a small image of the Hippodrome here.
The Hippodrome closed as a Theatre on Saturday the 25th of March 1939 as the Post Office had acquired the site for a proposed expansion of their next door Telephone Exchange. Two days later, on Monday the 27th of March 1939, the Grand Theatre in Civic Centre Road re-opened as the 'New Hippodrome'.
However, the Post Offices plans for redevelopment of the Hippodrome site were interrupted by the outbreak of war in September 1939, and by the Southampton Blitz on the 30th of November 1940, when an incendiary bomb destroyed the upper floors of the Telephone Exchange next door and rendered the equipment in the lower floors unusable. The Exchange then moved to temporary premises in the Coliseum, just around the corner, which was being used as a store for the Southampton Gaslight and Coke Company.
Meanwhile the empty Hippodrome building was damaged but not destroyed
in a later air raid on the 7th of July 1941, and then demolished between
June and August the following year, 1942. The planned new Telephone
exchange, built on the Hippodrome site, was finally opened 3 April
1954, and the temporary exchange at the Coliseum handed back to what
had become British Gas.
The above article on the Prince of Wales Theatre / Hippodrome Theatre, Southampton was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2012. The article is © David Garratt 2012. Some amendments to the article were kindly sent in by Vicky Green in 2015.
Above - A Google StreetView image of the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton - Click to Interact
The Nuffield Theatre Southampton is situated in University Road, Southampton. It was designed by Sir Basil Spence OM. RA. in 1964 as part of the University of Southampton built on it's Campus. Sir Basil Spence worked closely with Sir Richard Southern as consultant for the Theatre's interior, design, and the layout of the Theatre. It was opened by Dame Sybil Thorndike on the 2nd March.
The Theatre consists of a main auditorium with a Studio theatre, and a Cafe Bar.
On the first of November 1982 the Theatre became an independent producing Theatre, producing it's own productions.
The Theatre is currently supported by Arts Council England, the University of Southampton, and Hampshire County Council.
The Nuffield Theatre creates its own productions and also presents the best of national and international touring productions. The Theatre also tours its own productions nationally and internationally to Theatres, schools, and other non theatre spaces. It also gives opportunities for adults and children to participate in theatre activities that educate and entertain.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own website 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: