Theatres and Halls in Southend-on-Sea, and Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
Cliffs Pavilion - Palace Theatre - New Empire Theatre - Astoria Theatre / Odeon Theatre - Hippodrome Theatre / Gaumont - Ambassadors Theatre / Regal Cinema - The Kursaal - Theatre Royal - Victoria Hall - Garon's Imperial - Pier Pavilion - Sundeck Theatre / Royal Pavilion Cultural Centre - The Prince's Hall / Princes Picturedrome / Avenue / Lyric - Talza - Floral Hall, Westcliff - Odeon Cinema Complex - Ritz Cinema - Plaza Theatre / Cinema - Theatre De Luxe - Rameses and his association with Southend Entertainment
Also known previously as Raymonds New Picture Palace / The New Palace Theatre / The New Palace of Varieties
Above - The Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
The Palace Theatre, on London Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, which is a suburb of, and a short distance from, Southend-on-Sea, was built by Ward & Ward for the Raymond Picture Company and opened in 1912 with a capacity of 1,500 and an orchestra pit capable of housing some 20 musicians.
On the original plans for the Theatre it was to have been named Raymond's New Picture Palace but this never came to fruition and instead it was named the New Palace Theatre when it opened.
Right - Two early Programmes for the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend. The first is for 'The Easiest Way' and the second is for 'Driven' and 'The Burglar.'
Left - A programme for 'The Fol-De-Rols song and laugh show' at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff in 1959 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
The Theatre currently has a capacity of 600 which is quite small considering the plot of land it takes up and its imposing red brick facade.
The auditorium was built on three levels, stalls and two circles with a pair of boxes on either side of the proscenium at the first balcony level, and still includes its original gallery with benched seating, and its original brass light fittings.
Above - Details from a programme for 'The Fol-De-Rols song and laugh show' at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff in 1959 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
Above - A photograph of the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea during the run of 'Little Lambs Eat Ivy' -From a programme for 'Top Secret' at the Theatre in May 1950 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
In the 1960s major work was carried out to the FOH areas of the Theatre and by 1972 the building was owned and managed by the Palace Theatre Trust.
Right - The auditorium of the Westcliff Palace Theatre, Southend, from an early programme for Driven' and 'The Burglar' at the Theatre.
Above - The first floor Theatre Lounge and Bar - in 1959 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
In 1982 an apron stage was installed which allows for larger productions than the original shallow fly tower would allow. And beside the main Theatre an extension was added to house a small studio space called the Dixon Studio Theatre with a capacity of 100.
The Southend Palace Theatre is now a Grade II Listed building and currently has a stage depth of 16 to 18 foot 6 inches including the apron, a proscenium opening of 26 foot wide, a grid height of 51 foot, and an orchestra pit for 12 musicians.
You may like to visit the Palace Theatre's own website here.
Above - The auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea, from a programme for 'The Fol-De-Rols song and laugh show' at the Theatre in 1959 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
Above - The Palace Theatre, and Dixon Studio, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
Above - The Auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend in 1990 - Courtesy Ted Bottle
Above - The Palace Theatre, and Dixon Studio, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
Above - The Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
The Cliffs Pavilion in Station Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, which is a suburb of, and a short distance from, Southend, was opened in 1964. The building had been planned since the 1930s and some work on the building had already begun when the outbreak of war in 1939 halted construction. The building then remained boarded up until 1959 when it was demolished so that a new building could be erected on the site, albeit closer to the cliff edge.
Right - A programme for the Miller School of Dancing's production of 'Showtime Revue 1975' at the Cliffs Pavilion in February 1975 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
The new Cliffs Pavilion opened in 1964 and then had a major upgrade in 1991 when it was enlarged and new foyer spaces and exits were constructed, and a balcony was added to the auditorium.
The Theatre currently has a capacity of over 1,600 and is home to theatre and concerts by all the major artistes.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.
Above - A programme for the Miller School of Dancing's production of 'Showtime Revue 1975' at the Cliffs Pavilion in February 1975 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
Formerly - The Public Hall / The Alexandra Theatre / Rivoli Picture House / ABC Cinema
Above - Alexandra Street, Southend showing the Empire Theatre with its original frontage in a 1908 postcard
The New Empire Theatre which is situated on Alexandra Street in Southend-on-Sea today has had a long and involved history. The current building opened on Monday the 25th of May 1896 and was built after fire destroyed the previous Theatre in 1895. The site of the Theatre has had many changes over the years and a full history follows:
The site of the current Theatre was first home to a Public Hall, built by the Public Hall Company, which opened in 1872 with a concert including such artistes as Miss Catherine Poyntz, Madame Osborne Williams, Mr George Perrin, and Mr Maybrick.
The Public Hall had become known as the Alexandra Theatre by 1886 and was home to a variety of productions over the ensuing years, sometimes still called the Public Hall and sometimes the Alexandra Theatre.
Right - A Programme for the Alexandra Theatre, Southend in 1886. On the Bill for this Musical Evening entitled 'A Novelty For 1886' were Jennie and Francis Franklin giving various monologues, impersonations, songs, piano recitals, and character Sketches - Click to see the entire programme.
Eventually the Alexandra Theatre's time came to an end when it was reconstructed and improved and reopened as the New Empire Theatre in 1894. The new Theatre had a capacity of 1,300 on two levels, stalls and gallery, and was designed by Mr. W. Hancock with a facade in the Renaissance style, in red brick and stone. The Theatre opened with a production of 'Robinson Crusoe' on Monday the 14th of May 1894.
In 1870 or 1871 it was felt a new hall was required, and the Public Hall Company was formed, with the result of the erection of the old Public hall. It was opened in 1872, and by the kindness of a dear old friend of Southend, Mrs Tyler, I have in my hand a programme of the first entertainment in the old building.
Left - A poster for Ben Greet's Comedy Company in a series of Shakespeare plays for 'six nights only' at the New Empire Theatre, Southend on Sea for the week beginning Monday October 2nd 1899 - Courtesy Angela Walters.
A very excellent concert was given, as you will imagine when I tell you the artists were Miss Catherine Poyntz, Madame Osborne Williams, Mr George Perrin, and Mr Maybrick. For a long time the Public Hall, as it then stood, answered the requirements of the town, arid existed till last year as the Public Hall. It was materially altered and enlarged when I first came upon the scene, and we wanted further alterations, but the Public Hall Company could not see their way to do it. Mr Marlow stepped into the gap, and we know what he did for ushe brought the place as much up to date as it could be. That building came to an untimely finish not quite twelve months ago, and to-day we commence what we hope will be an era of new prosperity, new life, and new vigour for the principal place of amusement in Southend. This land was originally bought for something like, 100 or £500...
Above - The New Empire Theatre, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
...During the past few years Southend has grown so rapidly that the need of a really good theatre has been sadly felt. Mr Fred Marlow, of the Eastern Empire, Bow, recently purchased the old Public Hall and has completely transformed it, and the Empire may be accounted a valuable addition to the existing places of amusement at Southend-on-Sea. The theatre was formally opened last Monday, a large audience being present. The stage was prettily embellished with plants and flowers. Mr Chas. H. Bowmaker, the responsible manager, on behalf of Mr Marlow, made a few commendably brief remarks, and the theatre was declared open.
The stage has been considerably enlarged, new and picturesque scenery has been painted, the drop scene being a charming view of Kelso from the Tweed by Mr Thos. Evans, London. Modern lighting appliances of the most approved patterns are fitted in the house. The stalls are supplied with tip-up seat upholstered in light blue plush. These and the unreserved seats, which are similar to the stalls and on the same floor, are now approached from the street by a separate entrance, and a commodious gallery has been erected, to which, access is gained by a flight of stone steps leading from the main entrance...
...On the outer sides are two flights of stone steps in connection with the emergency exits, in addition to the exits on the ground floor, so that the entire house - the seating capacity of which is about 1,300 - may be cleared in about two and a-half minutes. The old wooden beams have been removed from the interior, and the ceiling has been artistically painted. The other decorations are harmonious, the whole auditorium looking exceedingly pretty and attractive. The ventilation has not been overlooked, fire hydrants have been placed on the stage and in the body of the building, and a water curtain has been hung. There are also refreshment bars, cloak rooms, and offices.
The alterations are from designs by Mr W. Hancock, and the work has been carried out in a most substantial and expeditious manner under the direction of Mr W. H. Heffer, of Bow, who has acted as foreman of works. The piece selected for the opening night was Robinson Crusoe, which was played by Mr Terence Ramsdale's company. The artists sustained the parts allotted to them in a praiseworthy manner. The burlesque has been repeated during the week.'
Sadly the New Empire was hit by tragedy only a year later when the Theatre caught fire on the morning of the 6th of January 1895 and was completely destroyed, except for the outer walls. A pantomime had been performed the previous evening and all of the cast, who were to have continued at the Theatre for several more weeks, were to find themselves unemployed as a result. The ERA covered the story in their 12th of January 1895 edition saying:- 'In the early hours of Sunday morning last the Empire Theatre, Southend, was destroyed by fire. The property - which used to be known as the Public Hall or Alexandra Theatre - belonged formerly to a limited company; but less than a year ago it was sold to Mr Fred Marlow, late of the Eastern Empire, Bow. The building had been greatly improved since it came into the possession of Mr Marlow. It was reseated and refitted, and an extensive gallery was erected; the expense incurred in making these alterations being very heavy. By direction of the magistrates, additional exits and other precautions against fire had also been provided.
Right - The rear elevation of the New Empire Theatre, Southend in August 2009.
On Boxing-day Mr Marlow produced at the theatre the pantomime Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. An afternoon performance was given on Saturday, to which all the old people who attended the free dinner on New Year's Day were kindly invited by the proprietor. About 160 of them attended, but owing to the severe weather many others were kept away. Rather than they should be disappointed, Mr Marlow announced his intention of giving another afternoon performance on the following Saturday, at which the remainder of the aged guests were invited to attend. The latter announcement was made from the stage last Saturday afternoon by Mr C. H. Bowmaker, the manager, and it was received with much enthusiasm by the old people present, who gave three hearty cheers for Mr Marlow, with one more for Mrs Marlow, the latter of whom had played the part of Aladdin with great success. The evening performance passed off as usual, and shortly after eleven o'clock the lights were turned out. The customary inspection of the premises was likewise made, and everything appeared all right. The company was to have remained at Southend for a week or two longer, and was then to have gone on tour.
At about ten minutes past two on Sunday morning the police on duty in the street noticed a smell of smoke. They soon found that the theatre was on fire, and they hastened to arouse other members of the force. In about eight minutes some of the members of the Brigade were on the scene with their appliances, the theatre being within a stone's-throw of the fire brigade station. Water was thrown upon the flames to the amount of 420 gallons a minute. There was, however, no hope of saving the theatre. Flames appeared through the roof, and shortly afterwards shot up to a great height, and rapidly spread to the other end of the building. The heat became intense, and the lead flushing and guttering on the roof melted and ran down the walls to the ground. The caretaker was sleeping at the theatre, in a room on the ground floor, when he was awakened by the police.
The adjoining houses were in danger, and the occupants were advised to leave them. Other residents in the locality of the fire were also awakened, and same of them commenced removing their belongings into the street. At one time it was feared that the gable end of the theatre would fall into the street, and perhaps strike the police-station. For nearly two hours water was poured upon the flames, and shortly before three the roof of the theatre fell in with a loud crash. The building and its contents were completely destroyed, and the only parts of the structure that remain standing are the four outer walls and the main entrance. The building was insured for £3.000, and the scenery, furniture, and effects for £1,000, in the London and Lancashire Fire Office. There was about £100 worth of uninsured property in the theatre, consisting chiefly of the performers' costumes. The theatre was, we understand, purchased by Mr Marlow for £3,100; and he spent several hundreds of pounds upon the alterations. Mr Marlow (the proprietor of the theatre), Mr C. H. Bowmaker (the manager), and the members of the pantomime company were present at the fire. They were all much upset at the unfortunate occurrence; and some of the artistes were even moved to tears. About forty of them have been thrown out of employment.
The cause of the fire is at present unknown. Some of the men in the gallery on Saturday evening insisted upon smoking, although remonstrated with several times, and it is thought that the conflagration may have arisen from this. Mr Marlow, upon being interviewed on Sunday, said ; "The building and nearly all in it were mine. Very nearly all the costumes were mine, and the scenery was new as well, a good deal of which I had bought. The pantomime was to have been here for six weeks, and I had just concluded arrangements with several managers to go on tour afterwards. We had been making arrangements for its production since September, and it was, of course, an expensive engagement. There were forty performers altogether, and the thing was a great success. I was just congratulating myself that I had won my way to the hearts of the Southend people, and only on Saturday night, a couple or three hours before the fire, I had arranged with the Mayor to give at his expense a performance next Saturday to all the school children of Southend." Questioned as to his estimate of the loss sustained, he could give no near figure off-hand, but pointed out that of the £4,000 insurance he would probably not receive the whole.
The following circular has been issued in connection with the above disastrous fire : "To our brother and sister artistes. - We, the undersigned, through the above are compelled to ask your kindness to help us in our misfortune. Besides being thrown out of our engagement, we have lost the whole of our properties, dresses, &c. Yours respectfully, Miss Emily Marlow, Miss Minnie Palmerston, Miss Lilian Morgan, Miss Sara Russell, Miss Alice Ashburn, Miss Nelly De Vero, Miss Lillie De Vere, Miss Mabel De Vere; Mr Walter Kooney, Mr Charles Clark, Mr Harry Karr, Mr Edwin Adeler, Mr Tom Nelson, Mr Sam Hayhoe, Mr Tom Evans (scenic artist), Mr Harry King-Bolton (author and stage-manager).'
Above - The rear elevation of the New Empire Theatre, Southend in August 2009 - Note the '96' picked out in the brick work which denotes the Theatres rebuild in 1896 - Photo M.L.
Despite the disastrous fire however, it wasn't long before a new Theatre would rise from the ashes. On Monday the 30th of December a memorial stone for the new building was laid by Major Rasch, M.P and the ERA reported the occasion in their 4th of January 1896 edition saying:- 'The memorial stone of the Empire Theatre, Southend, was laid on Monday, by Major Rasch, M.P. The stone, placed at the right of the main entrance, is inscribed as follows: Empire Theatre. Proprietor, Fred Marlow. Erected, 1870. Rebuilt, 1895-6. This Foundation Stone was laid by Major Frederic Carne Rasch, M.P., D.L., J.P., Dec. 30th, 1895. Alfred Prevost, Esq., Mayor of Southend-on-Sea. Walter J. Wood, architect; W. Heifer, builder; W. Hancock (London), consulting architect.
The building will, when finished, accommodate almost 2,000 persons, and be provided with a full-sized stage. On Monday the surroundings were made as bright as possible. The scaffold poles in front were covered with red material, and numerous flags were arranged all round, and over an archway there was an addition to the array of colour in four triangular flags, bearing the letters "At the invitation of Mr Fred Marlow, a number of gentlemen had luncheon prior to the ceremony at the Alexandra Hotel. Major Rasch, M.P., presided, supported by Mr Marlow. At the close, the CHAIRMAN briefly proposed "The Health of the Queen," which was loyally drunk; and then submitted "Prosperity to the new Southend Theatre." It was not necessary, he said, for him to add how heartily he re-echoed that aspiration, and how extremely glad be was to be there that day. As they knew, a comfortable, well-organised, modern theatre was absolutely essential to the prosperity of any town. He was perfectly certain that the new theatre at Southend would add to the amenities of a rising watering place, and bring many people who would otherwise stay away. Therefore he had the pleasure to propose "Prosperity to the new Theatre," coupled with the name of Mr Marlow.
Mr FRED MARLOW, in responding, said he was very pleased to see so many new and old friends rally round him. They all knew the ups and downs of his life, and the trouble he had had! But they could leave it to him to put up what they all wanted - the brightest and best theatre outside London. The people of Southend had got to be pleased, and to know that they had got such a man as Marlow to come there, and with the help of Mr Wood and Mr Hancock, they would have as nice a theatre as any seaside town in England.
When the company met on the site of the building operations, Mr CHARLES H. BOWMAKER said : I feel it a great honour to have been called upon by Mr Fred Marlow to take an active part in these proceedings, as one who was interested in the old place for a great number of years, and it was extremely, kind of him to ask me to do a little towards the laying of the foundation-stone of the new building. It may be as well, inasmuch as a great number of you are as recent comers to Southend as myself, if I give you some idea of the old place and its use from its origin to when it was destroyed. In 1870 or 1871 it was felt a new hall was required, and the Public Hall Company was formed, with the result of the erection of the old Public hall. It was opened in 1872, and by the kindness of a dear old friend of Southend, Mrs Tyler, I have in my hand a programme of the first entertainment in the old building. A very excellent concert was given, as you will imagine when I tell you the artists were Miss Catherine Poyntz, Madame Osborne Williams, Mr George Perrin, and Mr Maybrick. For a long time the Public Hall, as it then stood, answered the requirements of the town, and existed till last year as the Public Hall. It was materially altered and enlarged when I first came upon the scene, and we wanted further alterations, but the Public Hall Company could not see their way to do it. Mr Marlow stepped into the gap, and we know what be did for us - he brought the place as much up to date as it could be. That building came to an untimely finish not quite twelve months ago, and to-day we commence what we hope will be an era of new prosperity, new life, and new vigour for the principal place of amusement in Southend. This land was originally bought for something like £400 or £500. If Mr Marlow wanted to put it into the market to-day he could add another "0" to the figure.
Mr Marlow - It is not for sale.
Mr WOOD, the architect, then gave particulars of the proposed building. The materials used will be fire-proof as far as possible, and every convenience will be introduced, with careful attention to sanitary, lighting, and other matters. The front of the building will be of the Renaissance style, in red brick and stone.
Major RASCH, when the stone had been adjusted, tapped it thrice with a hammer and said "I declare that the foundation-stone of the New Southend Theatre is this day well and truly laid. I have to thank you for having done me the great honour of asking me to come here to lay it."
Alderman HOWARD moved a vote of thanks to Major Rasch, which Dr. LANG seconded, and the motion was carried with cheers.
Major RASCH said he was not wholly unconnected with the profession, for he had the misfortune to own a theatre in the wilds of Kensington, and he only hoped Mr Marlow's theatre would pay better than his did. He had been a theatre-goer and an admirer of the profession since he was a boy, and he was present when Mdlle. Dejazet played at the Gaiety in 1860.
Mr J. J. WAGSTAFF then smashed a bottle of wine on the stone, and said: I have great pleasure in breaking a bottle of wine and christening this "The New Empire Theatre."
Mr MARLOW thanked the company; and the proceedings terminated.'
Above - The New Empire Theatre, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
Having laid the memorial stone on the 30th of December 1895 building of the New Empire Theatre continued apace and the building was finished and declared open 6 months later on Monday the 25th of May 1896. The ERA reported on the opening in their 30th of May edition saying:- 'On Monday this theatre, which has been rebuilt by the owner, Mr Fred Marlow, was declared open to the public by the Mayor, M. Prevost, and Major Rasch, M.P., acting jointly, in the presence of a brilliant assembly, the initial ceremony being concluded by the singing of the National Anthem by the entire company (Neilson's), who subsequently appeared in the popular opera Maritana, the first piece staged in the new house.
After the old theatre was burned Mr Marlow's local architect, Mr Walter J. Wood, secured the approval of the magistrates to plans for the rebuilding, but on the advice of Mr W. Hancock, of London, who was called in as consulting architect, it was decided to enlarge the theatre by removing the dressing-rooms and passages, &c., from the rear, and erecting them on the promptside, throwing the space into the stage and auditorium, and allowing for increased seating, better exits, and lavatory accommodation. The front elevation is of red brick and stone, handsomely carved, and the main entrance has a grand staircase ascending to the right and left to the dress circle, which is one of the finest in the provinces, having eleven rows of seats, accommodating 400 persons. Descending by a broad flight between the circle staircases, there are two subways under the pit leading direct to the stalls, where seating is found for 200. The pit, which is comfortably upholstered, will seat 600, and the gallery, with seating accommodation for 600, has the floor covered with linoleum. The stage, which is 40ft. deep, and has a proscenium opening 28ft. wide, is fitted throughout with every modern appliance, and has an iron and asbestos fire curtain supplied by Messrs Vaughan and Brown, of London.
Right - The Empire Theatre, Southend with its original frontage, from a 1908 postcard.
The interior decoration, which is light and tasteful to a degree, is in the period of Louis the Fourteenth, and has been executed by Messrs F. Dejong and Co., from the designs of Mr W. Hancock. The theatre is exceptionally well ventilated, and the upholstery, including the handsome plush drop curtain, has been executed by Messrs Deane and Co., of Birmingham, the prevailing colour being a rich brocaded terra cotta, which heightens the artistic appearance of the house.
With reference to the important question of sight lines, they have been studied with such effect that a perfect view of the stage can be obtained from every seat in the house. There are handsomely and comfortably equipped bars and foyers on each level, and the magistrates have for the first time in Southend granted the licence by suspending one of their standing orders.
The building is entirely isolated, and reaches from Alexandra-street to Clarence-road, with private ways on either side, and is 160ft. deep from front to back, and when it is remembered that the excavating was only commenced on Nov. 21st last, congratulations must be offered to Mr Marlow and his henchmen Messrs Heifer and Gillett, who, acting under the direction and personal superintendence of Mr W. Hancock, have completed the building so speedily. Mention should be made of the magnificent scenery painted by Messrs Tom Evans and J. Douglas, of London, and to the sanitary work and fire appliances of Mr W. Christmas, of Southend.'
In his 'Memories of Show Business' Percy G Court wrote about working at the Southend Empire in the late 1890s saying: 'After a wait of three weeks I received a letter to open at the Empire Southend-on-Sea in the drama "A Life of Pleasure". I was engaged as second carpenter at thirty five shillings a week. The first scene was a blacksmith's forge, the stage lighting was by gas. During the first scene on the Monday evening a current of air blew a canvas border into the gas-batten, immediately flames were bursting everywhere, but the flymen got out fire hoses and controlled it within five minutes and after a pause - the show went on. Memories of Show Business by Percy G Court 1953.
The New Empire Theatre described above is the building which still stands on Alexandra Street, Southend to this day, although it is hard to recognise the building by its description above. The facade which was originally built in the Renaissance style, in red brick and stone and the lavish interior in the Louis the Fourteenth style are all gone. In their place are a bland facade and a modern interior but even so the remaining outer walls and some parts of the interior are as they were in 1896 when the Theatre was built.
In the late 1900s Albert Marchinski, better known as the magician and illusionist Rameses the Wonderworker, took a lease on the Empire, redecorating it, reupholstering the seating, and recarpeting the Theatre. But the venture was a failure and he soon went back to performing again. He later went on to present his side show at the Kursaal in Southend. More on all this below.
In 1920 the Theatre was converted for Cinema use and renamed the Rivoli Picture House. The reconstructed auditorium was on two levels with boxes and seating for 1,500, but the stage remained as did the orchestra pit and understage areas, although these were hidden from view.
In 1935 the cinema was bought by the Union Circuit Group and then shortly afterwards they were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC).
The Cinema closed in November 1961 so that further modernisation work could take place. Costing £100,000 the building was twinned, creating two Cinemas, one on each level, with a total capacity of 1,226. The stage would not be used again and the building had truly become a Cinema. The new Screens opened on Thursday the 7th of June 1962 and the Cinema was renamed ABC, later to be taken over by Cannon Cinemas.
Above - The Empire Theatre, Southend whilst under the control of Cannon Cinemas in a postcard from 1988
The Cinema closed in 1998 and then the building remained empty and unused for a while but by the end of the year two local amateur theatre groups moved into the building using both spaces as theatre spaces with the occasional film showing.
The New Empire Theatre ran in this form for ten years with a dedicated team who had a great love for the building but were always on a tight budget. Sadly on the 7th of November 2008 the owner of the building called in the bailiffs and had the Theatre shut down due to non payment of rent.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the New Empire Theatre, Southend - Click to Interact.
A fire which broke out on the morning of the 26th of July 2015, and is thought to have been started deliberately, caused the Theatre's roof to collapse and seriously damaged the upper parts of the auditorium. The owner of the building, Richard Shea, was away on holiday at the time. You can read more about the fire here.
If you have any more information about this Theatre, or images you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Above - The Rear Elevation of the New Empire Theatre, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
Formerly The Kursaal Palace - Later Luna Park
Above - The Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
The Kursaal on South Church Avenue and Marine Parade, Southend originally opened as the Kursaal Palace in 1901 and was designed by the architects George Sherrin and John Clarke as a Music Hall with an auditorium on two levels and a Ballroom in the centre of the complex. The entire building original had a capacity of 2,000 to 8,000 standing, and apart from the auditorium and Ballroom there were also dressing rooms for artistes and a band room for musicians included in the design. The stage of the Music Hall was built on two aspects, one being an apron stage and the other a thrust stage, and had a depth of 49 foot and a width of 87 foot with a proscenium opening of 31 foot.
Right - A 1930s advertisement for the attractions at the Kursaal, Southend - From a programme for the Floral Hall, Westcliff on Sea - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
The building had actually originally been planned several years earlier than this in 1898 by Pyramidal Syndicate Limited to be a Circus, Theatre, and Arcade but this Company collapsed and the site was acquired by Margate & Southend Kursaals Ltd who built the present building instead.
In 1913 Clifton Jay Morehouse redesigned the building's interior as an amusement park with his inspiration apparently taken from New York's Coney Island. The building was later renamed Luna Park.
In the mid 1970s the Kursaal Palace was closed down and although the Morehouse family still owned the building it remained closed until 1985 when it was sold to a new Company owned by a Mr. Peter Ketteley who planned to restore the building. The stage was removed but before any more work could be done the Company found themselves unable to continue and the building was then sold to Brent Walker in 1988, although it remained empty and in a dilapidated state for years, until the local council eventually stepped in during the 1990s before the building became too unsafe to remain in situ.
The building, now owned by the local authority, was then gutted internally and converted into a leisure complex and bowling alley. The Kursaal is a Grade II Listed building although this doesn't seem to have helped much as although the exterior of the building is still much in its original form the interior is now completely new.
You may like to visit the Southend Kursaal's Function Sweet website here.
Above - The Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo ML
Later - The Odeon Theatre / Cinema
Above - The Site of the Astoria Theatre, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo ML
The Theatre on the High Street, Southend, which many people today may remember as the Odeon Theatre or Cinema, actually opened as the Astoria Theatre on the 15th of July 1935. The building was designed as a cine-variety Theatre with a fully equipped stage, a cafe for its patrons, and a large and lavish auditorium capable of seating some 2,750 people. The Theatre was also equipped with a Compton illuminated Theatre Organ. In 1954, under the ownership of Odeon Theatres, Cinamascope was installed in the Theatre but despite this films were only part of the entertainment in the Theatre as it was still used for live theatre shows on occasions.
Right and Left - A programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the Odeon Theatre, Southend in 1955 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies. The production scenery for this show was built at the Stoll Theatre Workshops in London. There is a nice piece on the spotlight operators for the Southend Odeon in this programme which I have added to the site here.
In 1960 refurbishment of the building created more leg room for its patrons and thus a reduced capacity of 2,286. The new incarnation was home to pop concerts on its stage as well as the regular film showings and was host to all the big names of the day.
The Theatre closed in 1970 for another major refurbishment but this time it was to convert the former cafe into one Cinema with a capacity of 500, and the former balcony into another, with its floor extended to the original proscenium opening of the stage, and a capacity of 1,350. The original stalls were then converted into a supermarket. The old Compton Organ Console was sold to a private collector.
Both screens closed in 1998 when the new Odeon 8 screen Complex in Victoria Square opened for business.
The former Astoria Theatre was demolished in 2004 and a new University, the University of Essex, was built on the site.
Later - The Gaumont Cinema
Above - The Site of the Hippodrome Theatre, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo ML
The Southend Hippodrome on Southchurch Road was built by the well known Theatre architect Bertie Crew and opened on the 8th of November 1909. The Theatre was built for the DeFreece circuit of Theatres and was designed for stage plays and variety productions. The auditorium was built on four levels, stalls, dress circle, and gallery, with four boxes either side of the proscenium and had a capacity on the Theatre's opening of 1,750.
Right - A programme for a Charles B. Cochran production of Noel Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' at the Hippodrome, Southend in October 1931 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies. In the cast were Rose Hignell, Peter Gibson, and Renee Reel, and 80 per cent of the original cast from Her Majesty's Theatre in London.
In 1928 the Theatre was bought by Gaumont Theatres who ran it with a cine-variety policy until 1933 when the building was converted into a Cinema only, with a new projection box at the rear of the gallery. The two top most boxes were removed from the auditorium at this time and replaced by grills, and the new Cinema opened on the 15th of January 1934 as the Gaumont Palace with a capacity of 1,588. In 1937 the Theatre was renamed to the simpler 'Gaumont'.
Left - A detail from a programme for a Charles B. Cochran production of Noel Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' at the Hippodrome, Southend in October 1931 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies. In the cast were Rose Hignell, Peter Gibson, and Renee Reel, and 80 per cent of the original cast from Her Majesty's Theatre in London.
In February of 1954, now under the control of the Rank Organisation, a major fire destroyed the former stage of the building but remarkably the Cinema was back open again the following day. Mind you the stage by that time was superfluous to requirements.
The Theatre was demolished in 1958 and a supermarket was built on the site. In August 2009 the building looks quite an eyesore and its hard to believe that a magnificent Bertie Crewe Theatre once stood in the same place as this ugly building.
Right - A Programme for a special matinee in aid of the Mayoress' Fund for the relief of the widows and orphans of the Titanic disaster held at the Hippodrome Theatre Southend-on-Sea on Thursday April 25th 1912 - With the kind permission of the Dutch Website Online Titanic Museum. On the Bill were Dr. Bodie, Phil Bransby, Lively Lily Burnand, Carlisle & Wellmon, Helen Charles, Cissie Curlette, Crystal & Savill, Nellie Dalwood, Princess D'Aryaba, Nell Drury, Arthur Ferris, Fishkind & his Dog, Mona Garrick, Fred Ginnett's Co., Three Mahers, Victoria Monks, Daisie Morrell, Will Norrie, Jan Rudenyi, Ben Seller & Will Maynard, Dick Tubb, The Vaudevillians, Verno &Voyce, Walter Williams, Zigeuner Quartette, and the Pictorial Chronicle.
If you have any more information about this Theatre, or images you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Above - A photograph of the Ritz Cinema, Southend around 1958 - Courtesy Nick Bridge and Terry Ebbs.
The Ritz Cinema was designed by the well known Theatre Architect, Robert Cromie, for County Cinemas, and had internal decorations by Molli and Egan. The Cinema opened on the 14th of February 1935 and was equipped with a Conacher 4Manual/12Rank Theatre organ with Grand Piano, and had a large cafe with sea views.
Right - A programme for a Russell Fielding Celebrity Feature presenting Pouishnoff playing a Chopin Recital at the Ritz Cinema, Southend in November 1942 - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
County Cinemas were taken over by the Odeon Chain in 1939 and the Theatre was later operated by the Rank Organisation who modernised the Theatre in 1956 and converted the cafe into a ballroom.
Left - A programme for a Harold Fielding Sunday Concert at the Ritz Cinema, Southend in December 1943 - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
In 1968 the Ritz was refurbished again but didn't manage to carry on for much longer and it closed on the 29th of July 1972 and was then converted for Bingo use by Top Rank Bingo. Later operated as an Invicta Bingo Club the building was closed down completely in 1978, and then stood derelict for a number of years before final demolition in 1981. The site is today home to the Royals Shopping Centre.
Right - A Ticket Stub for a Russell Fielding Celebrity Feature presenting Pouishnoff playing a Chopin Recital at the Ritz Cinema, Southend in November 1942 - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
Some of the above information on the Ritz Cinema was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.
Later - The Regal Cinema / Theatre
Above - The Regal Theatre after it had closed in 1954 and was being used as a warehouse - Courtesy Nick Bridge and Terry Ebbs.
The Ambassadors Theatre was built in in the early 1900s and was running as a variety Theatre until 1930 when it was redecorated and reopened in August as a repertory Theatre with a production of 'Mary Rose' by the Southend Repertory Company. Fay Compton played the lead role. This policy continued for a number of productions but the writing was on the wall for the Ambassadors in this form and its fortunes were about to change.
Right - A programme for 'Mary Rose' at the Ambassadors Theatre, Southend for August 4th 1930 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
The Theatre was then converted for Cinema use and it reopened as the Regal Cinema in 1931, however even this was fairly short lived as it was restored to live variety theatre use again in 1937 but still under the Regal name.
Left - A programme for one of 'Dave and Joe O'Gorman's Super Summer variety shows at the Regal Theatre, Southend in the 1930s - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
The Theatre was later turned over to nude revues and the like in the 1950s just to try and keep it going when all around other Theatres were being closed and demolished.
The revues didn't help though and by October 1954 the Theatre was closed and was later in use as a warehouse, although it wouldn't actually be demolished until 1963 when the site became part of a large car park.
Above - The Regal Theatre after it had closed in
1954 and was being used as a warehouse - Courtesy Nick
Bridge and Terry Ebbs. Nick says:- 'Not sure when it was taken but
it must have been after 1954 as the building was being used as a warehouse
(you can see the "wholesale" sign). Next door is the old Southend
Fire Station which moved to Sutton Road in 1964.'
A visitor to the site, Nick Bridge, who has also sent in the photos of the Theatre shown above, says:- 'My father (Bob Bridge) and brother (Terry Barber) both worked at the Regal in the early 50's doing the curtains between the acts. We used to receive complementary tickets to the shows and I can remember that whilst waiting to enter the theatre, street acts would come along the queue entertaining the punters. I particularly remember a man with a monkey which snatched the peanuts I was holding - I'm told I cried.
We lived in Napier Avenue which is close to the theatre and my parents used to let a room out to acts who we're appearing. One of the acts was an unknown called Bruce Forsyth who had a dance act with his then wife Penny and they stayed at our house whilst appearing at the theatre.
Right - An advertisement for 'It's A Riot', with Bruce Forsyth and Penny Calvert, at the Regal Theatre, Southend in May 1952 - Courtesy Nick Bridge.
When we were in Puerto Rico on holiday a few years ago we bumped into Bruce at the airport and I asked him if he remembered the Regal, Southend which he recalled as a "Fleapit"!' - Nick Bridge.
If you have any more information about this Theatre, or images you are willing to share, please Contact me.
The Pier Pavilion was built on the shore end of the Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. One of the regular productions at the Pavilion in the 1950s was a variety show called 'Out of the Blue' which ran for many years in the summer seasons with a variety of well known names working hard to entertain Southend's visitors. This was not always that easy though, as one reviewer explains below: -
IT'S NO LAUGH BEING IN "OUT OF THE BLUE"
'Appearing in Southend's summer show, "Out of the Blue," at the Pier Pavilion, are a hard working band of talented artists, but it is no joke trying to raise a laugh with row upon row of empty seats. These artists, led by comedian Terry Scott, set out to entertain, and they achieved their purpose on Monday, when they presented their third edition.
Right and Left - Two programme covers for 'Out of the Blue' at the Pier Pavilion, Southend in the 1950s - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
Alec Halls tried in vain to make the audience sing. His performance needs drastic trimming. The artists - and the audience - lacked the spark that brings free and easy entertainment. The sketch, "Unnecessary Remarks," we have heard before, and, in fact, was indeed unnecessary.
The first half finished with "Egypt," a riot of colours, grand costumes, and with Terry Scott, Hugh Lloyd and Marjorie Wieland.
The second half began with a high note, and never left it. A scene, "The Show Must Go On," hit the right spot. It was colourful, tuneful and it had zest and life.
Marjorie Wieland is at her best in this edition, and her portrayal of a fading soprano is really funny. Freddie Lloyd and Roberta, the dancing pair, gave another excellent presentation. In his solo number Terry Scott Presents "The Play's the Thing" and had the audience laughing at his antics.'
Above - Cast Details for 'Out of the Blue' at the
Pier Pavilion, Southend in the 1955 - Kindly donated by Jan Davies.
Sadly the Pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1959 which trapped around 500 people at the end of the pier who then had to be rescued by boat. The Pavilion was replaced by a bowling alley in 1962 which was itself destroyed by fire in 1995. The site is now just decking.
There is a page about the Southend Pier on Wikipedia here.
Later - The Royal Pavilion Cultural Centre
Above - The Royal Pavilion Cultural Centre, Southend Pier, in September 2014 - Courtesy Gemma Gowings
In May 2012 a new Cultural Centre designed by White Arkitekter and called the Royal Pavilion was added to the Pier Head of the Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. It was the first building to bring live theatre back to the pier since the former Sundeck Theatre was lost in the 1970s.
Above - Southend Pier and the Sundeck Theatre from a 1950s programme for Zip-a-Hoy - Courtesy Robert Frise
The Sundeck Theatre was constructed in the 1950s and was situated on the Pier Head of Southend Pier. The Theatre was above the main deck of the Pier and had a proper stage for theatrical productions. The Theatre was converted into the 'Diamond Horsehoe Showbar' in the 1970s but sadly this was destroyed by fire in 1976.
Above - Two programmes for 'Zip-a-Hoy' at the Sun Deck Theatre, Southend Pier, in the 1950s - Courtesy Jan Davies and Robert Frise.
A visitor to this site, Robert Frise, has sent in some information about the programmes shown above saying:- 'Zip-a-Hoy was a variety show that was held in the Sun Deck Theatre on the end of Southend Pier.
There were usually three shows that rotated on Thursdays. Holiday makers staying two weeks could therefore catch all three shows.
In the early years Jerry Jerome actually appeared in the show but later concentrated on it's production.
Right - A page from a 'Zip-a-Hoy- programme from the 1950s with details and a photograph of Jerry Jerome - Courtesy Robert Frise.
The leading lady was Roberta Pett who was Jerry's partner. Apart from appearing in the show she was responsible for all the dance arrangements.
The resident pianist was Nancy Mount, sister of the actress Peggy Mount.' Robert Frise.
In May 2012 a new Cultural Centre designed by White Arkitekter and called the Royal Pavilion was added to the Pier Head. The building was constructed off site at Tilbury Docks and then lowered into place on the Pier Head almost in one piece by a giant crane.
The Pavilion cost £3m to construct and is used for theatrical productions and concerts, with seating for 185 people, bringing live theatre back to the pier for the first time since the Sundeck Theatre was lost in the 1970s. The Pavilion also houses a small Artists Studio and Café. The Royal Pavilion was officially opened on the 19th of July 2012 and then officially named by HRH the Duke of Kent on the 16th July 2013.
You may like to visit the Royal Pavilion's own website here.
Above - A 1930s programme for the Floral Hall, Westcliff on Sea - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies
The Floral Hall, Westcliff on Sea was built in 1920 and replaced the former Happy Valley bandstand. It was situated almost opposite the site of the current Westcliff Leisure Centre and was used as a location for various entertainments such as concerts and musical productions such as the one shown in the programme above and below.
Sadly the Floral Hall was destroyed by fire in 1937 although apparently parts of it still survive today.
Above - A 1930s programme for Fred Beck' 'The Modern Follies' at the Floral Hall, Westcliff on Sea - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies
Above - The Odeon Cinema Complex, Southend-on-Sea in August 2009 - Photo ML
The Odeon Cinema Complex in Victoria Cross, Southend, is situated at the end of the High Street which is now paved over and a pedestrian street only. The complex which has 8 screens with a total capacity of 1,909, including 374 in the largest auditorium and 145 in the smallest, opened on the 22nd of November 1997. The complex was built to replace Odeon's earlier Theatre in Southend which opened as the Astoria Theatre in 1935 and closed in 1998.
You may like to visit the Southend Odeon's own website here.
Later - The Plaza Centre
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Plaza Theatre, Southend - Click to Interact
The Plaza Theatre opened on Wednesday the 6th of March 1929, and was built primarily as a Cinema although over the years it was used for live theatre too, most notably in 1948 when it was home to the Plaza Repertory Theatre Company, whose plays were performed Monday through Saturday, with films still shown on Sundays.
Right - A programme for the Plaza Repertory Company's production of 'Double Door' at the Plaza Theatre, Southend for the week of Monday 31st of May 1948 - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
The final film shown at the Plaza was on the 21st of November 1959, the Theatre was then closed down and stripped of its equipment. The building then stood empty until it was bought by Hobday Bros and turned over to retail use as an electrical wholesalers. The Theatre was sold to Hasley's Electrical in 1963.
Left - The back of a programme for the Plaza Repertory Company's production of 'Double Door' at the Plaza Theatre, Southend for the week of Monday 31st of May 1948, and advertising 'The Age of Youth' to be played at the Theatre the following week - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
After a period of disuse the Theatre was bought in 1990 by the Southend Christian Fellowship who refurbished the building and now use the auditorium as a place of worship, and the foyer as a community cafe.
Above - A programme for the Plaza Repertory Company's production of 'Double Door' at the Plaza Theatre, Southend for the week of Monday 31st of May 1948 - Kindly Donated by Jan Davies.
Above - An early photograph of Theatre Staff standing in front of the Theatre De Luxe, Southend during the showing of the silent film serial 'The Lost City' produced in 1920 - Courtesy Graham Mee who says 'My Grandmother Muriel Harvey (known by all as 'Lu') is shown standing 5th from right in the white coat in the photograph, she used to play organ for the Southend Theatre in the silent movie days.'
The Theatre De Luxe was designed by the architects C. Cooke & Son, and built for B. Tolhurst. The Theatre opened in October 1909 as a Cinema, mostly showing low budget British Films.
The Theatre was destroyed by a fire in 1923 and subsequently demolished.
There is an aerial photograph showing the position of the Theatre here.
The Theatre Royal was originally built in 1790 as a Barn Theatre on the Common at Southend. The Theatre was rebuilt in 1804 and ran as a legitimate Theatre until the 1840s. The Theatre was converted in 1842 and demolished in 1849.
Above - A detail from an early postcard showing Garon's Imperial Bioscope and Masonic Hall, Southend
Garon's Imperial Bioscope was situated on the High Street in Southend and was designed by the well known Theatre Architect Bertie Crew who also designed the Southend Hippodrome, which opened two years earlier. The Imperial opened in July 1911 with seating for 500 and had its own cafe. Garon's themselves were also well known in the town for having several grocery shops selling meat and the like.
Above - An early postcard showing Southend High Street and Garon's Imperial Bioscope and Masonic Hall
The Imperial was enlarged in 1920 and the Southend Freemasons had their Masonic Hall above the Cinema by 1948 until they moved to larger premises in Woodgrange Drive in 1957.
The Cinema was demolished in 1963.
The Talza was opened in the mid 1920s and was demolished in the 1970s.
Later - The Princes Picturedrome / The Avenue / The Lyric
The Prince's Hall was built in 1896 and occupied a site on Tyler's Avenue behind the 'London Public House'.
Cinema use ceased in 1929 and the former Prince's Hall was demolished in 1963.
The Victoria Hall in Southend was built in 1904 and was used as a variety Theatre for some time before it began to be used as an early bioscope Cinema in 1908, although seasonal Theatre did still run in the building. The small stage was just 17 foot deep by 16 foot wide with a proscenium opening of 15 foot.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
Rameses the Wonderworker was born Albert Marchinski in Kvorno Poland in 1876. Due to the pogroms the family moved to London carrying on the respected family business of manufacturing military clothing and it was hoped that Albert the eldest of eight children would go into the family business. Albert had other ideas. He was stage struck with a fair helping of talent to go with it. He acquired the tricks and illusions from the widow of deceased Professor Harcourt and his favourite, entitled Ayesha, was the floating lady who also skipped in midair.
He first played the Palladium in April 1911 with seven successful seasons thereafter the highlight being in May 1914 when he was chosen to appear in a special matinee performance attended by King George and Queen Mary. A very high honour indeed!
Right - Rameses in Costume - Courtesy Chris Woodward.
He also appeared at The Coliseum for at least eight seasons and it was whilst here that he was talent spotted by N.Y. impresario Martin Beck. He was immediately booked for successful long seasons in North and South America as well as South Africa and extensive tours of Europe.
Back home and flushed with success, with an equal amount of money, he took a lease on the Empire Theatre Southend. He reupholstered the seating, redecorated the premises and recarpeted it too. As a business venture it failed, big time, leaving him almost broke and so he went back to doing what he knew best.... performing!
Although success followed again he never really achieved his earlier triumphs. His last days were spent in decline in poor health presenting magic and illusions in The Palace of Illusions, a side show setting at the Kursaal Southend. It was here that his young assistant was the teenage Maurice Fogel who learned so much about showmanship from the master. Thanks due in part to Rameses. The Amazing Fogel went on to top many a bill in the late forties fifties and sixties.
Albert Rameses Marchinski died of colon cancer in July 1930 aged just 54.
I suppose to sum up his life it was a rags to riches story and then sadly back to rags again but his colourful and fast moving illusion show created quite a stir and great reviews on all of the major theatre stages wherever he went.
He really was a Forgotten Star in the true sense of the word.
The above text on Ramesis was written by Chris Woodward for this site in May 2014. Chris Woodward is the prize winning author of 'Rameses The Forgotten Star' published by Squash Publishing Chicago USA.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: