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Theatres and Music Halls in Swansea, South Wales

Grand Theatre - Palace Theatre - Pavilion Music Hall - Pavilion Theatre of Varieties - Early Empire - Palace Bioscope - Popular Palace Hall - Empire Theatre - Theatre Royal - Albert Hall - Adelina Patti Theatre

The Grand Theatre, Singleton Street, Swansea

Also Known as - The New Grand Cinema

A Google Street View image of the Grand Theatre, Swansea - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Street View image of the Grand Theatre, Swansea - Click to Interact

Frederick Mouillot and H.H. 'Mackenzie' Morell, two entrepreneur actor managers, seized an opportunity to build a Theatre in Swansea in 1897. They purchased the former Drill Hall in Singleton Street from Colonel Pike, demolished the building, and employed architect William Hope of Newcastle to design the Grand Theatre. The opening production being 'The Geisha', a Japanese Musical Comedy, on Wednesday July 28th 1897. This being their own production, which they mounted to tour the country.

William Hope had much experience in Theatre design, having previously designed the Grand Theatre Newcastle upon Tyne, the Metropole at Gateshead, the Gaiety Music Hall in Birmingham, and new Theatres in South Shields, North Shields, and Blyth. He had also had a hand in the design of Theatres at Southampton, Kilburn, and Margate.

His Theatre in Swansea, was in the Renaissance style. The exterior walls were of White stone and red brick, faced with rough-plaster. Dark red bricks were used at all the angles, and terra-cotta freely used for the ornamental sections. The roofs and towers employed Swansea terne plates instead of slates.

The auditorium was square in shape being 65 feet each side. It had three tiers, Stalls and Pit on the ground floor, above which was the Dress Circle, rising to the Gallery above. The estimated capacity at the time of building was 2,500 people. There were ample exits and it was recorded that the Theatre could be cleared within two minutes in an emergency. There were exits on each side of the auditorium. All stairs were constructed of fireproof materials and exit doors were all fitted with panic bolts. There being hydrants in every part of the building.

The principal entrance was in Singleton Street which led to the Stalls and Dress Circle. A fine marble staircase led upwards to the Dress Circle and the walls were richly decorated. The floors of the entrance lobby, landings and foyer were all paved with Mosaic tiles.

The auditorium had rich plaster work carried out by Messrs A.R. Dean Limited of Birmingham and was described in the ERA of 31st July 1897 as follows: 'The modelling of the figures and forms in plaster is decidedly artistic in the lower tier, cupids holding festoons of flowers, etc., with bold cartouche ornaments, and in the upper tier grotesque masks form the plastic treatment. These are decidedly coloured in Ivory tones relieved with Terra-cottas and blue tints lavishly gilded.'

The ceiling also had florid French Renaissance style moulded plaster work, again richly gilded.

The Dress Circle was fitted with 300 comfortable tip up chairs in red plush upholstery, each one being described as having a perfect view of the stage.

The Pit seating was described as being thoroughly comfortable, being padded and upholstered in tapestry.

Each section of the auditorium was provided with male and female lavatories, with a convenient refreshment room.

The stage being most completely equipped was 80 feet from cellar floor to the roof. Fitted with electric and gas lighting. The switchboard situated upon a platform 8 feet above the stage.

The dressing rooms were light and airy being thoroughly ventilated.

The building contractor was Mr D. Jenkins of Swansea, with all furniture upholstery and auditorium seating being supplied also by Messrs A.R.Dean Limited of Birmingham.

The opening ceremony took place in the afternoon of Monday July 26th 1897 by Madam Adelina Patti-Nicoloni, a famous Opera singer, who resided nearby at Craig-y-Nos. She arrived by train at 1.30pm, and was met at the station by Sir Robert A. Morris Lord Mayor, and with a police escort accompanied her through the streets, lined with the local populous to the Theatre. As she arrived the specially invited audience were being treated to the Overture 'Raymonde' by Ambrose Thomas, played by the Theatre orchestra under the baton of Mr W.F.Hulley resident musical director. The Choral Society then sang 'Hail! Bright Abode' by Wagner. Mr Frederick Mouillot then stepped forward to deliver the opening speech specially written by Mr F.C.T. Naylor, (a solicitor of the town). Madam Patti was then invited up on stage where bouquets of flowers were presented, and then Madam Patti proceeded to lay the memorial stone of white polished marble which read:

'This stone was laid July 26th 1897 by Madam Adelina Patti-Nicolini
H.H. Morell and F. Mouillot, proprietors:
Wm Hope, architect:
D. Jenkins, Contractor.'

A special polished mahogany mallet was presented by the architect to Madam Patti for the purpose.

The ERA of 31st July 1897 says: 'The stone declared by Madam 'Well and truly laid,' christened with the orthodox bottle of wine, she said, 'I name this building the Grand Theatre,' and the ceremony was completed.' After further speeches the National Anthem was sung by the Choral Society, and the proceedings closed. The audience then inspected the new Theatre and refreshments were served on stage whilst the orchestra played. The Theatre was in the capable hands of Mr Frank Boyce resident manager, who was formerly of the Theatre Royal York.'

Early artists to play the Grand were, Fred Terry & Julia Neilson in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. In 1914 Sarah Bernhardt appeared on Friday July 10th in 'Nana'. Bernard Shaw's 'Pygmalion', shocked Swansea audiences by the words 'Not Bloody Likely' uttered by Eliza Doolittle in January 1915. Frank Benson's Shakespearean company visited, as did Oscar Ashe with his wife Lily Brayton in 'Spanish Main', and there were visits by the Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company.

By the 1920's, Forbes Robertson appeared in 'The passing of the 3rd floor back.' Bransby Williams appeared in 'David Copperfield, Matheson Lang in 'The Wandering Jew' and Tom Walls and Leslie Henson in 'Tons of Money. On February 8th 1924 Ivor Novello, Madelaine Seymour and Hannah Jones appeared in 'The Rat'. By 1926 the musical 'Rose Marie' played, and toward the end of the twenties, 'The Desert Song' played, and Gladys Cooper appeared in 'The Sacred Flame'.

By 1931 the Theatre became a full time repertory theatre with its first season playing for 14 months from April 13th until June 25th 1932 with the Alfred Denville's Premier company who presented over 60 different productions. This was followed by a visit of Joseph O'Mara Opera Company presenting 37 performances of 14 different Opera's, but by August 9th for a further 15 weeks Alfred Denville was back for a second season of Repertory. Unfortunately audiences dropped off and the Theatre returned to receiving touring shows, but this still failed. A production of 'Lilac Time' played at the Theatre over the Christmas period but on 26th January 1933 the Theatre closed due to the Flu epidemic, reopening on May 29th 1933 with the Jack O'Shea and George Lawrence Repertory company in a 'Shilling Theatre Season'. Every seat cost just one shilling, but 6 weeks later the season was terminated.

On August 14th 1933 the Theatre reopened as a Cine Variety Theatre, 'East of Fifth Avenue' being the first film. Cine Variety continued until the Pantomime 'Babes in the Wood.' Christmas 1934, but on 12th January the curtain fell after 36 years of live Theatre and the Grand Theatre closed.

Willis (Cinema's) Ltd reopened the Grand Theatre, now known as the' New Grand Cinema', on the 26th March 1934. Captain W.E.Willis bought the Grand in 1947, and by the end of that year the Willis Family re-opened the Grand as a Theatre again with the Pantomime 'Babes in the Wood' which was a great success, playing from 18th December 1947 until March 6th 1948, to be followed by the 'Harry Hansen Court Players' again with a Repertory season.

By 1951 the Theatre was again a touring house for a time but again reverted to a repertory season this time by Maudie Edwards who continued for the next 2 years. However there was a dispute, resulting in the Maudie Edwards moving her company over to the Palace Theatre, as a direct rival to the Grand Theatre who opened a new repertory company led by Terrance Dudley.

In 1955 the Theatre was threatened by demolition for a road widening scheme, however this fell through and the Grand survived, but by now was suffering for audiences due to the popularity of Television.

In 1957 John Chilvers presented a repertory season, which was successful leading to him being asked to become manager. He was to stay at the helm for the next 25 years,directing many plays and summer variety seasons. He introduced the Theatre's own Pantomimes from which the profits subsidised further play seasons.

In 1959 the Theatre again became a cinema for 4 months showing 'X' Rated films.

In 1968 The Grand made a loss of £5000. The Willis family decided to close and convert to Bingo. However in February 1969 the Town Council turned down the application for Bingo conversion. Also the Council made overtures to purchase the Theatre, but the Willis family wanted to demolish the Grand and sell the site for development. Thankfully a deal was struck whereby the Council would take a ten year lease on the Grand for £5,000 per year for the first 7 years then £6,000 for the remaining 3 years. The Council would also pay for a renovation. £35,000 was spent. This included remodelling the Foyer, new seating and carpeting, re-upholstery, redecoration of dressing rooms and a new canopy. £5,000 was also spent on new lighting and sound equipment. The Theatre re-opened on the 22nd September 1969 with 'Spiders Web' starring Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert.

At the end of the 10 year lease the Council finally bought the Theatre and in 1978 redecoration took place costing £20,000.

In 1982 to 1987 extensive alterations and additions were made. Everything behind the proscenium was demolished and a new large stage house and fly tower were built, new dressing rooms and a rehearsal room created, an hydraulic lifting orchestra pit installed, which could seat either a small orchestra or a 90 piece orchestra for grand opera (However, this means a loss of 35 Stalls seats for this large set up). The auditorium was renovated and the ceiling and proscenium lifted by 3 metres. The Gallery was reseated with tip up chairs. Two new extensions were built either side of the auditorium providing ante-rooms to the stage boxes, and each side extension was linked at the front of the Theatre by a large glass fronted conservatory running the width of the Theatre. The Theatre re-opened on 17th December 1986 after a £5 million investment with the pantomime 'Mother Goose' starring Christopher Biggins and Les Denis.

In 1997 at the Grand's centenary, a Royal visit by Princess Margaret took place.

In 1999 a new arts wing was added on the site of the former adjacent bus station. This incorporated a state of the art new box office, Studio Theatre seating 150 people which doubles up as a dance studio, an exhibition area, rehearsal rooms and a roof top café and bar terrace.

Current technical details are: Audience capacity now 1,019 in the Grand Theatre, and 150 in the Studio. The stage dimensions are: Depth 45 feet. Width stage left, 40 feet. Stage right, 50 feet. Proscenium width 29 feet and inside proscenium height 34 feet. Height from stage to grid is 70 feet.

The Grand Theatre, although altered, is the only surviving Theatre by William Hope the architect.

The Grand Theatre is a story of dogged survival and is a modernised Victorian gem of a Theatre providing Swansea and its surrounding area with the very best in touring shows, and Grand Opera.

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

The above article on the Grand Theatre, Swansea was written for this site by David Garratt in September 2011, and compiled from various sources including the archives of the ERA newspaper, the Theatres Trust, the Theatre's own Website, and Ian Parson's excellent book 'Swansea's Grand' (Bryngold Books 2010). The article is © David Garratt 2011.

If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Palace Theatre, High Street and Prince of Wales Road, Swansea

Formerly - The Pavilion Music Hall / Empire Swansea / The Pavilion Theatre of Varieties / Palace Bioscope / Popular Palace Hall

A Sketch of the Swansea Pavilion - From the Western Mail, 26 October 1888

Above - A Sketch of the Swansea Pavilion - From the Western Mail, 26 October 1888

The 'Pavilion Theatre of Varieties', opened on Christmas Eve 1888, as a Music Hall and Variety Theatre. The building cost £12,000 and was built on a small triangular site previously occupied by the 'Ancient Briton' public house, being framed by High Street, and Prince of Wales Road. The Theatre was built as a joint venture by the tramway company and a Mr Almond. The architects were Messrs Bucknall and Jennings of Swansea, Bristol, and London. Alfred Bucknall was very experienced in designing buildings having previously designed parts of the local Craig-y-Nos Castle and Summer Pavilion for Madam Adelina Patti, a famous Opera Star of the day, who lived at Craig-y-Nos Castle.

A Google Street View image of the Palace Theatre, Swansea - Click to interact.The Theatre still stands, however it's now a sorry sight, having fallen into a state of decay and badly needs saving before it's too late. The Theatre is currently high on the Theatres Trust's TBAR list (Theatre Buildings At Risk). Windows are boarded up and trees and vegetation are growing in it's guttering and roof.

Right - A Google Street View image of the Palace Theatre, Swansea - Click to interact.

The triangular site of the new Pavilion Music Hall, posed problems, which were resolved by having a large restaurant. A Bar Parlour, Smoking Room, Managers Office, Property room, and dressing rooms, together with kitchen and cellars all on the ground floor. The Music Hall auditorium was sited on the first and second floors above.

The exterior of the Theatre is dramatic and imposing, being on a triangular site, built of brick with stone dressings, with a circular tower at the apex (stage end), which originally had a truncated spire on top, there being a square tower at each end of the other two corners. As the building elevation spreads away from the road junction both sides of the auditorium are viewed, and consist of semi circular arched doorways and windows. On the Theatre's two upper floors there are giant Doric pilasters forming bays in which are sculptured busts.

The stage is small (although large enough for variety and music hall turns). Proscenium being 28 feet wide by 26 feet high, and is sited at the corner of the building where High Street and Prince of Wales Road meet, with the auditorium spread out before it in a fan shape. The auditorium consists of the stalls, seating 375 people, above which is a balcony which spreads away from the proscenium arch at each side, seating 256 people, above this is the gallery of a similar shape to the balcony, seating 262 people, giving an original capacity of 893 patrons. The whole of the floors of the restaurant, music hall including balcony, and gallery are constructed of concrete and iron girders, for safety, and ample exit room allowed from every exit. Great attention also being paid to the ventilation of the auditorium. The balcony and gallery fronts consist of wrought iron ornamental railings, and are not solid and plastered as in most Theatres and music halls.

The opening production on Christmas Eve 1888 is described as follows by the 'Western Mail' dated 26th December 1888: 'There was a large appreciative audience and the first performance went off with eclat' 'On Monday night despite it's unfinished state, it produced a good impression on the audience. It was quite 'In the rough' No attempt had been made at ornamentation and the contractor had evidently been hurried on with a view to redeeming the company's promise to the public. Amongst those present at the opening were Mr D.F. Sugrue (Chairman) Mr John Thomas (town clerk), and Dr Howell Thomas. The first artist, Miss Alice Melville, produced a capital impression. Mr George Belview followed, his chief song being attired in military attire with sword exercises, which was greeted with tumultuous applause. Perhaps the greatest success of the evening, however, was the juggling performance of Jules Poule. His feats of balancing pyramids of fragile articles brought down the house. Fred Griffin, Negro comedian, was only second in the receptions accorded. Other artists producing favourable impressions were Ashford and German, variety performers, Miss Polly Randall, and Miss Madick.'

A postcard showing the newly renamed Empire Theatre on the High Street Swansea, later the Palace Theatre

Above - A postcard showing the newly renamed Empire Theatre on the High Street Swansea, later the Palace Theatre

After four years, Mr Almond leased the Theatre to Mrs Stoll and her son Oswald Stoll who re-opened the Music Hall on Easter Monday April 16th 1892 as the 'Empire' Swansea. The Music Hall had been refurbished by them and the stalls were now crimson plush with large gilded mirrors around the walls. There was cork carpeting, and the old boxes had been removed from the balcony, which also now had crimson semi-circular cushioned loungers and large gilded mirrors on the walls. The auditorium had been repainted and decorated. New scenery had also been painted for the stage.

Stoll ran the Theatre for eight years but in 1900 built a new larger 'Empire' in Oxford street, and then moved there. A new company then moved into the old Empire. However, Stoll insisted in keeping the 'Empire' name for his new Theatre, and so an alternative had to be found for the old 'Empire'. 'The Palace Theatre of Varieties' was decided upon.

There was now much competition between the various Theatres in Swansea, and the Palace Theatre struggled to survive. In 1905 William Coutts the popular manager at the Star Theatre in Wind Street took over the Palace, and ran the Star and Palace together. The Palace became a drama house opening on 3rd September 1906, but it was not a success, and very quickly reverted to variety. The Palace became the 'Palace Bioscope' and in 1912 was renamed the 'Popular Palace Hall'.

It continued as a picture house for the next 10 years, but in 1923 reverted again to its old name of 'The Palace Theatre of Varieties' owing to there now being many purpose built cinemas in Swansea, and the 'Palace' had never been built for showing films anyway. The new cinemas were more comfortable and suited for their purpose.

In 1928 the management changed hands again, run now by the Cambrian Agency. Another name change to 'The Palace (Wales)', which continued with live shows, followed by films again, and there were also periods of closure.

In 1941 during the three nights Blitz of bombs dropped on Swansea it was used as a temporary Morgue.

In 1942 the Theatre re-opened with Mr S. M. Lipman at the helm, Cine-Variety was now the fare. In 1944 the Theatre became a full time Cinema operating until 1949, when a serious fire broke out damaging the backstage area mainly, and part of the stage roof collapsed. Remedial work was carried out to make the Theatre watertight again, but it remained closed and empty for some time.

The Palace Theatre, Swansea looking very sorry for itself in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood.In January 1953 it was hastily renovated by Maudie Edwards and became the home of her Repertory Company opening on January 26th 1953 with the play 'Dear Evelyn.' Maudie Edwards had successfully run the repertory company at the Grand Theatre, but due to a disagreement with the management at the Grand, decided to open her own company in direct competition to the Grand.

Right - The Palace Theatre, Swansea looking very sorry for itself in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood.

The theatrical days of the Palace came to an end in December 1955 when Maudie Edwards decided to end her repertory seasons. The Theatre then had a period of Bingo, and later became a Nightclub. However it now stands empty and decaying and in a very sad state. There was talk of a campaign to save this historic Theatre, but this seems to have come to an end, and the building just stands awaiting its fate. It was put up for auction in July 2007 with a starting price of £250,000 but so far with no takers for this Grade II Listed Theatre.

It would be a great shame if Swansea, were to loose this historic building, having been part of Swansea's entertainment scene since 1888 and also being one of only a few surviving purpose built Music Halls.

The above article on the Palace Theatre, Swansea was written for this site by David Garratt in October 2011, and compiled from various sources including the archives of the ERA newspaper and Western Press, the Theatres Trust, and Ian Parson's excellent book 'Swansea's Grand' (Bryngold Books 2010). The article is © David Garratt 2011.

In 2013 the Palace was put on the Theatres Trust Buildings at Risk Register, and in September a public meeting to help save the Theatre was held and hailed as a success by the organisers who hope to establish a Building Preservation Trust for the Theatre.

In 2014 Swansea Council provided a grant of £75.000 to preserve the exterior of the Theatre and it is hoped that this will be just the beginning with a full restoration in the near future.

There are some images of the interior of the Theatre in 2011 at the 28 Days Later Website here.

If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Empire Theatre, Oxford Street, Swansea

The Empire Theatre, Oxford Street, Swansea

Above - The Empire Theatre, Oxford Street, Swansea

A new Theatre was built in Oxford Street, Swansea for Adelaide and Oswald Stoll, opening on December 10th 1900. It was called 'The Empire Theatre', and was designed by Theatre architects Walter Emden and Mr W.L. Griffiths of Newport and London, at a cost of £40,000. This 'Empire' superseded the Stoll's previous 'Empire Theatre' which they ran at the junction of High Street and Prince of Wales Road, from 1892 till 1900. (see Palace Theatre Swansea).

The Theatre was built in the Italian renaissance style, having a large stage with a rectangular picture frame proscenium arch featuring two stage boxes each side. It was a three tier Theatre having stalls and pit, with a dress circle above, and the gallery above the circle, featuring rich plasterwork on the circle and gallery fronts, boxes, and around the proscenium.

The Theatre's frontage spanned 72 feet of Oxford Street, and great care had been taken over the whole building by using fireproof materials and the use of hydrants at each level of the auditorium, as well as on stage and in the dressing room block. A fireproof curtain was fitted with a row of sprinklers along the top.

The ceiling of the auditorium had a large dome incorporated in it, with rich paintings in panels and the dome had a sliding roof section for fast ventilation, controlled from backstage.

The hangings of the Private boxes, Tableaux curtain, and covering of the seats were in electric blue, and the auditorium was decorated in cream and gold on a terra cotta background.

The Swansea Empire - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

Above - The Swansea Empire - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

The stage dimensions were – proscenium 30 feet wide by 30 feet high. The stage depth from curtain line to the back wall was 32 feet, and the overall stage width was 62 feet. The height of the flying grid from the stage floor was 57 feet 6 inches.

The opening production of Variety starred Ida Rene, a famous songstress of the day. Mr Milner Verren – vocalist, Jerry Hart and Beatrice Leo, who were American burlesque artists. Gibbon Bio-Tableaux showed special short films from Pretoria. Mdlle De Dio danced 'She in the fire of life,' Mons Patty was an equilibrist. Alf Chester a vocal comedian, La Tosca an expert mandolin soloist, La Belle Maie performed a wire act, and a sketch by Jules and Ella Garrison called 'A bit of Nonsense'.

The technical team who worked on the Theatre's construction were. - Mr John Linton of Newport being the contractor, the work being overseen by Mr Moon. Messrs Dawney & Co of London provided the ironwork. Messrs De Jong & Co of London – the decorative plasterwork and paintings. Messrs Merryweather of London – the fire appliances and fireproof curtain. Mr Cawdery of London – the stage. Messrs Edwards and Armstrong of Cardiff – the electric lighting. Messrs Vaughan & Brown of London – the gas work, heating and speaking tubes and electric bells. Messrs Lazarus of London – the seating.

From it's inception the Theatre presented top quality Music Hall and Variety turns, the programme changing each week, and featured all the top artists of the day, being part of the Moss Empires circuit of Theatres which were run by Edward Moss and Oswald Stoll.

Early artists to appear featured, Harry Tate, Bransby Williams, Fred Russell, George Robey, Marie Lloyd, and young Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin being part of Fred Karno's Army troupe.

In the 1920's Revue was the bill of fare, progressing in the 1930s/40s to the Dance Band Era, with visits by Henry Hall, and Harry Roy.

The Theatre was temporarily closed by government decree (as all Theatres were) at the outbreak of war, but this was quickly rescinded, and although Swansea suffered greatly during the Blitz, the 'Empire' survived un-hit. However the war damage around it was severe and the Theatre had a period of closure for six weeks due to rubble strewn streets surrounding the area.

In the 1940's and early 1950's the Empire became famous for its top quality Pantomimes, such as 'Cinderella' in 1944/5 with Ford and Sheen as the Ugly sisters, 1948 with 'Goody Two Shoes' with Sonny Jenks as the Dame, and a young Morecambe and Wise. 1950 saw 'Robinson Crusoe' with Max Wall, and in 1952 'Puss in Boots' featuring Harry Secombe. Stan Stennett played Silly Billy in 'Babes in the Wood' in 1954.

A Google StreetView image of the site of the Swansea Empire today - Click to interact.The 1950's saw audiences fall due to the onslaught of television, and the Theatre presented risqué plays and nude shows featuring artists such as Phyllis Dixie.

In August 1956 it was announced that the Theatre was to close after the Pantomime season of 'Jack and the Beanstalk' starring Ossie Morris and Wyn Calvin as Dame. Thus on the 20th February 1957 the Theatre closed for the last time, after almost 57 years of entertainment.

The Theatre was finally demolished in 1960 and a supermarket was built on the site.

Right - A Google StreetView image of the site of the Swansea Empire today - Click to interact.

The Empire was the first Theatre to be closed and demolished in the Moss Empire chain, and is still fondly remembered by the public of Swansea, for its many years of entertainment enjoyment.

The above article on the Empire Theatre, Swansea was written for this site by David Garratt in November 2011 and compiled from various sources including Ian Parson's excellent book 'Swansea's Grand' (Bryngold Books 2010). The article is © David Garratt 2011.

There used to be an anecdote about the Swansea Empire and Cissie Williams, the Moss Empires booking controller:-

"We're trying something new at Swansea next week," Said Cissie, "and if it works, we will carry it out throughout the circuit."
"What's that then?"
"We're closing!"'

Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Theatre Royal, Bank Street, Swansea

The Theatre Royal Swansea opened on July 6th 1807 with a grand gala concert. It was built on a site in Bank Street which was later renamed Temple Street. The Theatre's 'take', if all seats were sold, was reckoned to be £80. The first Manager was Andrew Cherry who was an actor and playwright, his most famous play being 'The Soldiers Daughter.'

As with most Theatres of this period, they were not in full use as we know it today, and played short seasons of plays for three nights a week, and then stood empty and unused until the next season which could be several months later. These seasons often coincided with town events, such as the races or town fairs which drew in large crowds, thus ensuring hopefully large audiences looking for entertainment.

In 1809 Cherry employed an unknown actor, one Edmund Kean who made his début as 'Hamlet.' Kean played a couple of seasons in Swansea, before moving on to make his name, and fame. Another actor to grace the stage of the Theatre Royal was Sheridan Knowles, who became a popular playwright.

Cherry died in 1812, and the Theatre declined, but in July 1820 William M'Cready became manager and later brought his own son W. C. Macready to star in productions, having made his name at Drury Lane Theatre London. He was back again in August 1833 appearing in 'Othello', 'William Tell', 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear'.

The Theatre Royal had many managers who tried to successfully operate the Theatre, many failed. However in 1834 the season was a success, and the Theatre expanded by exchanging productions with the Theatre Royal in Bath.

In 1855 John Chute, who had previously been at Bristol, engaged a season of Grand Opera by the English National Opera Company, together with presenting spectacular productions, and engaging Mr and Mrs Charles Kean who appeared in Hamlet. In 1857 he engaged General Tom Thumb who was only 30 inches tall. However by 1861 Chute relinquished his managership.

The next manager was Wybert Reeve. He engaged Charles Pitt and his company who appeared in 'Hamlet', 'Othello', and 'Macbeth', but by 1864, the Swansea Music Hall had opened in Craddock Street and by now the Theatre Royal was tired and shabby, and badly in need of renovation. However the owners would not spend any money on the Theatre and so Reeve left in 1867.

The next Manager was Mrs Charles Pitt who made it a condition that she would only take on the Theatre providing renovations and redecorations were carried out. These were done, the Theatre closing on April 13th 1867 to facilitate them. The ERA newspaper dated 16th June 1867 states, 'The whole of the alterations have been executed from designs, under the direction of C. J. Phipps, Esq., F.S.A, architect, of London and Bath. The decorations were entrusted to Mr George Gordon, of Bristol, and were executed under the superintendence of the architect. The stage, like the pit, has been lowered five feet, and everything is new and substantial; the proscenium opening is eighteen feet by twenty-two feet nine inches; a green baize curtain has been added, and also a new and very beautiful act-drop, representing Lago Maggiore, by Mr J.S.Lennox. This is certainly the prettiest picture, as far as its artistic properties are concerned, that has ever adorned this stage, and reflects highly on the artist. The old stage, scenery, and appointments have been entirely swept away, and been replaced by new, as far as we have seen, very artistic and beautiful scenery, from the pencils of Mr J. S. Lennox and Mr W.S. Small. Under the whole extent of the pit, and approached from the floor under the stage, are new and commodious dressing rooms. The old rooms, such as the green, property, Manager's, stars, and dressing rooms, all remain, but are thoroughly repaired and rendered more comfortable. The Theatre is now really worthy of being called a temple of the Drama, and we unhesitatingly record our approval of all that has been done to make it such.'

The ERA edition of 16th June 1867 goes on to list the company as follows, 'Mesdames Minnie Montague, Emma Ritta, Ellen Ritta, Bisson, Parker, Brindsley, Jenny de Brent, L Brooks, K Brooks, Ellen Egan, Jenny Graham, Phoebe Prior, and Mrs Charles Pitt; also Messrs, W.R.Clifton, F.Clements, Noel Austin, Henry Clay, O.'Cromwell, H. Pitt, John Harvey, Carl Rowella, E.W.Travers, Wilson Parker, G.Brindsley; Orchestra, Mr R.Daly (leader), Mr W. Kirk, Mr.Goodison, Mr Hughes; machinist, Mr Charles Ridgway; property master, Mr J. Antcliffe. The opening pieces were 'All that Glitters is Not Gold,' 'Elixir of Love,' and 'The Steeple Chase'.

The new Summer season described above opened on 10th June 1867 and the winter season opened on 21st October 1867.

The ERA of 6th October 1867 carried the following advert for the Winter season of 1867:

'Theatre Royal Swansea – (Sole lessee, Mrs Charles Pitt; Director, Mr W.R.Clifton), WANTED, for the Winter Season, commencing October 21st, Gentlemen for Juvenile Lead, Second Low Comedian, Principal Chambermaid and Burlesque, First Old Woman and Heavies (combined), Second Walking Lady and Second Chambermaid, Leader of the Orchestra, Second Violin and Violincello, Master Carpenter. Address, Mr W.R.Clifton, Theatre Royal Swansea.'

In 1869 George Melville, an old tragedian actor, who was manager at the Cardiff Theatre, took over the Theatre Royal, and also the old Amphitheatre in Wind Street, which he rebuilt as a Music Hall 'The Star Amphitheatre.' His son Andrew ran the Music Hall for him. George gradually through the years wound down the Theatre Royal in favour of 'The Star Music Hall', and eventually the Theatre Royal was closed for most of the 1880's. In 1893 efforts were made to get the Theatre Royal back into full operation, but it was no longer attractive to touring companies, and was only occasionally used. The Theatre then stood derelict for several years, and the ERA of the 8th April 1899 states it's demise as follows: 'The Theatre Royal Swansea, the oldest Theatre in Wales, is being pulled down to make a site for shops'.

Thus this old Theatre was demolished, having served its part in the history of entertainment of the public of Swansea from 1806 until 1899 (93 years). Superseded by Music Halls and Variety Theatres.

The above article on the Theatre Royal, Swansea was written for this site by David Garratt in December 2011. The article is © David Garratt 2011.

If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Albert Hall, Cradock Street, Swansea

Formerly - The Music Hall Swansea - Later - Albert Cinema / Top Rank / Mecca Bingo

A Google Streetview Image of the former Albert Hall, Swansea - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Streetview Image of the former Albert Hall, Swansea - Click to Interact

The building on the corner of Cradock Street and Mansell Street, Swansea, that people may remember today as a Cinema and later a Bingo Hall was first built in 1864 with a capacity of around 2,500 people. The building opened in the first week of May 1864 and was known simply as 'The Music Hall Swansea' when it opened with a 'Grand Concert' featuring the well known operatic tenor Sims Reeves singing 'Come Into the Garden Maud' and 'My Pretty Jane'. So enamored with his performance were the audience on the night that they demanded an encore and Reeves was forced to sing both songs again, something he wouldn't normally do. Amongst other performers for the opening Concert were Madame Raderadorff, Miss Palmer, Mr. Merrick, and Miss Freeth, who was a favourite with the locals already and had lived in the town for years, she played the Piano and Harp for an adoring audience, accompanied by Miss Edmonds.

An early View of Swansea's Albert Hall - Courtesy Ian Howells.The ERA of the 29th of May 1864 printed a short report on the opening of the Music Hall saying that: 'the Hall presented a most brilliant appearance; the lighting and ventilation proved to be all that could be desired, while the acoustic properties left nothing to be wished for, every place from floor to the ceiling being within range of the lowest note. With prices varying from half a guinea to a shilling, all classes were able to enjoy the treat afforded them.' The ERA, 29th May 1864.

Right - An early View of Swansea's Albert Hall - Courtesy Ian Howells.

Charles Dickens is known to have appeared here in the latter part of the 1860s, reading from his own works. The Hall was used from its opening as a Public Hall, Concert Hall, and Music Hall, and was known simply as 'The Music Hall, Swansea' until late January 1882 when the name was changed to the 'Albert Hall', although this wasn't officially ratified until February 1882. The Western Mail reported on the change of name in their 7th of February edition saying: 'Change of Name. The Swansea Public Hall Company give notice that the building hitherto known as the 'Music Hall'; will hereafter be called and known as the Albert Hall, Cradock-street. Applications for letting to be made to George Phelps, Secretary, Albert House, 19, Delabeche-street, Swansea.' - The Western Mail, 7th Feb, 1882.

An advertisement in the Western Mail of the time promoted one of the shows at the Hall which included a 'Powerful Company of Variety Artists' and the 'Largest Diorama in Great Britain or Ireland', which was said to cover some 85,560 feet of canvas and each view being 450 square feet. These Dioramas, or Panoramas' as they were sometimes called, were very popular at the time and this particular show, 'Pooles New Panorama of the World', with a show at 3pm and 7pm, was advertised as 'Depicting the most important events of the last three years, including the Zulu and Afghan Wars, starting from England, through France, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, the Holy Land, Egypt, Arabia... Afghanistan, Russia, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, &c., and home again.'

Also every year from September 1882, Madame Adelina Patti performed a benefit concert at the Albert Hall, Swansea in aid of the local infirmary or hospital. She was at the time one of the famous opera singers, and described in the local press as being endowed with beauty.

The auditorium of the Albert Hall, Swansea in its Bingo incarnation - Courtesy Ian Howells, who took the photo 3 days after its closure in 2007.Many great names appeared at the Albert Hall over the years and it was often used for social and political speakers, church services, and even the occasional marriage service. Oscar Wilde is said to have appeared there, on the 29th of March 1884, in a performance entitled 'How to arrange your household furniture.'

Left - The auditorium of the Albert Hall, Swansea in its Bingo incarnation - Courtesy Ian Howells, who took the photo 3 days after its closure in 2007.

In 1901 the Albert Hall was chosen as the best place in Swansea to stage a memorial celebrating the life and reign of Queen Victoria after her death that year. Between 1895 and 1910 the hall was also used frequently as a chapel by the Reverend Oscar Thompson Snelling. And a memorial concert was held there after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

The Albert Hall continued in this vein for many years but then began showing early films in 1914 including Pool's Myriorama, and in August 1922 the Hall was remodeled by the architect Charles Tamlin Ruthin to better accommodate Cinema proper. In 1929 the Hall was fitted out for 'Talkie Pictures' with the installation of sound equipment and a projection box hung under the front of the circle so that it could have a straight throw to the screen situated at the front of the stage. This projection box would later be utilised as a staff room when the exterior was fitted with a numbers board for the Hall's Bingo years.

In 1935 the Albert Hall was furthur altered when the foyer was remodeled in the Art Deco style and a new canopy was fitted around the front of the building and the original exterior arches were removed. In this form it began life as Swansea's largest and grandest Cinema with a seating capacity of 2,200 people.

Cinema continued at the Albert Hall for the next 50 years and was leased to Union Cinemas from March 1937 and then taken over by them in October the same year and managed by ABC. Two years later South Wales Cinemas Ltd took over again, they had run the Cinema in its earlier years. In 1955 the Cardiff based Jackson Withers Circuit took over the Cinema and ran it until November 1976 when it was taken over by Rank. By this time the building had seen several decades of neglect and was looking very tired, indeed several areas of the auditorium were closed off due to falling brick work and much of the seating had become unusable. Rank bought the Albert Hall the following year, in 1977, and promised to renovate it but sadly this didn't happen and they closed it instead on the 3rd of December 1977, probably to protect their interest in their nearby Odeon, built on the site of the former Plaza Cinema ten years earlier.

The auditorium of the Albert Hall, Swansea in its Bingo incarnation - Courtesy Ian Howells, who took the photo 3 days after its closure in 2007.Rank then set to work refurbishing the auditorium of the Albert and converting it for Bingo which opened in March 1978. The refurbishment of the auditorium was quite successful and restored it to its former Victorian grandeur, albeit in gaudy Bingo colours, but the Hall's stage was removed and replaced with a bar and cafe with a suspended seating area above, and the wonderful Art Deco Foyer spaces and bar above were closed off and used for office space instead.

Right - The auditorium of the Albert Hall, Swansea in its Bingo incarnation - Courtesy Ian Howells, who took the photo 3 days after its closure in 2007.

Bingo continued at the Albert Hall for the next 30 years, firstly by Rank, and then by Mecca in the 1990s but despite this some of the top names in variety would perform there between the games including the Three Degrees, Faith Brown, Frankie Vaughan, Little And Large, Tammy Jones, and Windsor Davies.

Sadly, and probably due to the smoking ban of 2007 which closed many Bingo Halls throughout the Country, the Albert Hall's Bingo days came to an end on the 31st of March the same year. Mecca cleared out all signs of the Hall's Bingo years and boarded up the building and so it remains today, although luckily Mecca had fitted a new roof some years earlier so the building was protected from the weather.

However, in 2011 a campaign by Ian Howells to set up a Trust to restore and reopen the building as a Music Venue capable of entertaining some 3,000 people was begun, and he has received much encouragement from the Press and Local Public alike. Ian has built his own website detailing the plans and all the latest news which you are encouraged to visit here.

Early newspaper reports for this venue were kindly collated and sent in by B.F. And much of the information on the later history of the building, and its accompanying images, were kindly sent in by Ian Howells. The article was first written by Matthew Lloyd in December 2011.

If you have any more images or information for the Albert Hall that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Adelina Patti Theatre, Craig Y Nos Castle, Abercrave, Powys Wales

A Google StreetView image of Craig Y Nos Castle and Adelina Patti Theatre - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView image of Craig Y Nos Castle and Adelina Patti Theatre - Click to Interact

The Adelina Patti Theatre is situated at Craig Y Nos Castle at Abercrave, Powys, Wales, a few miles outside Swansea. It is a private Theatre built in 1891, added onto Craig Y Nos Castle, a neo Gothic house, owned by Dame Adelina Patti, who was a famous Victorian Opera Singer, and her husband, the tenor Nocolini. The name Craig Y Nos translates in English to 'Rock of the Night'.

The architects of the Theatre were Bucknall and Jennings, who also designed the Pavilion Theatre in Swansea, and the plasterwork was carried out by Jackson and Sons. The Theatre is today a Grade I Listed building.

The Theatre has a small rectangular auditorium, which currently seats 150 people, but also doubles up as a ballroom, with a raised stage at one end, complete with fly tower, together with original stage machinery and scenery. The walls of the auditorium have ten giant fluted Corinthian columns situated around it, with a coved and panelled ceiling. There is no fixed seating but the auditorium floor can be lowered towards the stage, thus creating a seating rake. There is also a sunken orchestra pit which can be opened up for performances, seating 24 musicians.

The auditorium and stage of the Adelina Patti Theatre set up for a wedding reception in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Adelina Patti Theatre set up for a wedding reception in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood

The proscenium is flanked by columns on each side and has a central pediment tablet with the names of Verdi, Rossini and Mozart featured, originally gilded. The stage has an original Act Drop of Patti riding a chariot as Semiramide (an opera by Rossini) and is attributed to having been painted by Hawes Craven, the famous Victorian scenic artist.

The stage dimensions are as follows:-
Stage width being 6 metres (20 feet) and 6.46 metres (21 feet) deep.
The proscenium width is 6 metres also (20 feet).
The wing space at the proscenium is – stage left 2.8 metres (9 feet) and stage right 3.19 metres 10.46 feet.
Height to the grid being approximately 7.93 metres (26 feet).
The auditorium is 10.48 metres (34 feet) long by 7.46 metres wide (24.47 feet), and 24 feet high.

At the rear of the auditorium is a balcony from which domestic servants could watch the performances on stage.

The original decoration of the auditorium was in pale blue with cream and gold panels between the columns. The house tabs (curtains) were of blue silk.

The Theatre originally had an organ which was given to Patti in America in appreciation of her talent. It was however dismantled in the 1920's when the Castle became a Hospital.

The Adelina Patti Theatre, Swansea in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood

Above - The Adelina Patti Theatre, Swansea in 2008 - Courtesy Mike Wood

The Theatre opened on the 12th of July 1891 with a special performance given by Adelina Patti and the Swansea Opera Company before a specially invited audience, who were transported to the Castle by a specially chartered train arriving at Penwylit. Two types of guests were invited, some as house guests staying at Craig Y Nos, and others invited specially for the performance. Among the house guests were the Spanish Ambassador, Baron and Baroness Julius De Reuter (founder of Reuters News Agency), and Baron and Lady Vivian Hussey Vivian Bart. Journalists invited to cover the opening were from the Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro, and the Boston Herald. The performance was billed to commence at 8.0pm but did not commence until 8.30pm owing to guests being treated to a light tea. Sir Henry Irving was to give the opening address, but unfortunately could not make it, and so William Terris gave the address. Adelina Patti sang the prelude to Act 1 of 'La Traviata,' followed by the second half of the Garden Scene from 'Faust.' The performance was followed by a buffet supper in the Conservatory, during which 450 bottles of Champagne were consumed.

Adelina Patti was born on the 19th February 1843 and died on the 27th September 1919 of natural causes. She is buried in Pere Lanchaise Cemetery in Paris. She was a very famous Opera singer of Victorian times earning huge fees at the height of her career, singing in Europe and America. She first sang as child in 1851. She is reputed to have had a lyrical voice of purity and beauty with an unmatched quality of Bel-Canto technique. Verdi in 1877 described her as the finest singer who had ever lived, a 'stupendous artist'. She was born Adela Juana Maria Patti in Madrid. The daughter of tenor, Salvatore Patti (18001869) and soprano Caterina Barilli (who died in 1870), both Italian Opera singers working in Madrid. Adelina Patti last sang in public in October 1914 in a Red Cross concert at London's Albert Hall.

After her death in 1919, the castle grounds were sold to the Welsh National Memorial Trust for £11,000 in March 1921. The house, at her husbands request, reconstructed as a Sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis, renamed as The Adelina Patti Hospital. Patients were first admitted from August 1922. In 1959 the hospital became a hospital for the elderly until the Castle closed on 31st March 1986, and the patients were transferred to the New Community Hospital at Ystradgynlais.

The Welsh Office maintained Craig Y Nos and the Theatre until the castle was bought, on a long term lease by a consortium of businessmen who formed Craig Y Nos Castle Company. A long period of restoration commenced, but eventually the Castle was bought by SelClene Ltd, who continued the restoration, and opened part of the Castle as an Hotel.

The Theatre is licensed for Weddings and is still occasionally used for public performance.

The above article on the Adelina Patti Theatre was written for this site by David Garratt in November 2012. The article is © David Garratt 2012.

If you have any more images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.