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The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

Theatres and Halls in Tunbridge Wells, Kent

The Opera House - Tunbridge Wells Theatre - Corn Exchange - The Assembly Hall - The Trinity Theatre - The Forum - ABC Cinema / Ritz Building

The Opera House, Mount Pleasant Road, Tunbridge Wells

Alos See - 2008 Photographs - 2014 Photographs

The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From a Postcard sent in 1909

Above - The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From a Postcard sent in 1909

The Opera House in Mount Pleasant Road, Tunbridge Wells was built by J. Jarvis of Tunbridge Wells, and designed by the architect John P. Briggs, who also designed the Grand Theatre, Doncaster, the Grand Opera House, York, and altered the Royal Court, Wigan in 1899.

Three foundation stones were laid for the Tunbridge Wells Theatre on the 10th of October 1901, one by the town's Mayor W. H. Delves, the second by Mr. Fred Horner, and the third by the well known actor Beerbohm Tree, most often associated with His / Her Majesty's Theatre in London.

The Tunbridge Wells Opera House in August 2008 - Photo M.L. - For many external and internal images of the Theatre in 2008 Click Here.

Above - The Tunbridge Wells Opera House in August 2008 - Photo M.L. - For many external and internal images of the Theatre in 2008 Click Here and in 2014 Click Here.

The auditorium of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House in 2008. M.L. For many more internal images of the Theatre Click Here.The Tunbridge Wells Opera House opened in 1902 with a seating capacity of 1,100 and a surprisingly small and intimate auditorium considering the vast frontage of the building.

Right - The auditorium of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House in 2008. M.L. For many more internal images of the Theatre in 2008 Click Here and in 2014 Click Here.

The auditorium was on three levels, Stalls, four Boxes on either side, and two slightly curved Circles of eight and six rows each, the higher Circle reaching forward with slips on either side.

The Stage of the Opera House was not that large either with a depth of 32 feet and a Proscenium width of 28 feet. The Grid height was 44 feet.

The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From a Tinted Colour Postcard sent in 1905.

Above - The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From a Tinted Colour Postcard sent in 1905.

The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From an early Postcard.

Above - The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From an early Postcard.

Another postcard view of the Opera House, Tunbridge Wells

Above - Another postcard view of the Opera House, Tunbridge Wells

The Erection of the Opera House, Tunbridge Wells - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901

Sketch of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House, 1901, Now being erected - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - Sketch of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House, 1901, Now being erected - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

This fashionable resort is to be congratulated on the approaching erection, by Mr. J. Jarvis, of the imposing Opera House shown in our sketch.

A finer site for a theatre than the central and unique position selected could not have possibly been found in any provincial town, and there is every reason to believe that the house will be very popular, remunerative, and a source of great attraction to visitors.

The three foundation stones were laid - the first by the Mayor of the town, the second by Mr. Fred Horner, and the third by Mr. Beerbohm Tree - on the 10th of last month.

The managing director of the company is Mr. D. G. Cornwell, and Mr. Welton Dale will have charge of the Opera House.

Above text and images from 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

The auditorium and boxes of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House in 2008. M.L. For many more internal images of the Theatre Click Here.In 1996 the Opera House, a Grade II Listed Theatre, was converted into a Wetherspoon's Pub and although the conversion was sympathetic, and most of the original structure was retained, and is still on view to visitors of the pub, it seems astonishing that a town which has a thriving theatrical culture has over the years lost both of its purpose built Theatres, the Opera House and the earlier Tunbridge Wells Theatre, now the Corn Exchange, and now has to house its theatrical presentations in a converted church called the Trinity Theatre, a small entertainment venue called the Forum, and the 1939 unexceptional Assembly Hal.

Right - The auditorium and boxes of the Tunbridge Wells Opera House in 2008. M.L. For many more internal images of the Theatre in 2008 Click Here, and in 2014 Click Here.

The Theatres Trust Guide remarks on the situation the Tunbridge Wells Opera House finds itself in thus:

"'This is one of Britain’s finest ‘Sleeping Beauties’ and one which, in 1995-7 showed every promise of being awakened to active theatrical life. The fact that it is now a pub (albeit a splendid one, restored and furnished with unusual care) contains an object lesson about a major weakness in the protective measures applied to theatres, and also a warning that noisy conflict is not always the best way to get results... a number of serious tactical errors have resulted in a theatre which was ripe for recovery, of the right size and in the right place, being lost in favour of a use which could have found a perfectly acceptable home elsewhere... The theatre could have made an excellent home for a repertory company with occasional touring opera, ballet, etc." The Theatres Trust Guide.

For many external and internal images of the Theatre in 2008 Click Here, and in 2014 Click Here.

You may like to visit J. D. Wetherspoon's own Opera House Website here.

The Tunbridge Wells Theatre, The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells

The Frontage of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells during renovation in August 2008 - This was previously the Frontage of the 1802 Tunbridge Wells Theatre - Photo M. L.

Above - The Frontage of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells during renovation in August 2008 - This was previously the Frontage of the 1802 Tunbridge Wells Theatre - Photo M. L.

Right - A Plaque on the wall of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells, formerly the Tunbridge Wells Theatre.The Tunbridge Wells Theatre, situated in the Pantiles, was built in 1801 by Mrs. Sarah Baker and opened in 1802. The building survived as a Theatre for over fifty years but was eventually reconstructed as the Corn Exchange. The original frontage of the Theatre still forms the frontage of the Corn Exchange but its interior was lost in the reconstruction.

The Plaque on the wall of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells, formerly the Tunbridge Wells Theatre, reads: 'This building was formerly the Tunbridge Wells Theatre, built in 1802 by Sarah Baker. Many actors, later famous, played here, including Edmund Kean and Charles Kemble. Before the alteration of the County Boundary, the Theatre had the stage in Sussex and the Auditorium in Kent. It later became the Corn Exchange. The building was extensively reconstructed in 1989.'

Tunbridge Wells Theatre, 1802. - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901

The Tunbridge Wells Theatre - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - The Tunbridge Wells Theatre - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Tunbridge Wells Theatre, 1802. - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901Charles Kean once figured here at a salary of ten shillings per week, as well as Garrick and Dowton, who were afterwards transplanted to the London boards, on the recommendation of Richard Cumberland.

In 1737 an itinerant group of comedians exhibited in the town, and in 1753 an actor named Peters used a room belonging to a public house, now known as the "Sussex Shades."

A Plaque situated on the facade of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells which reads: Edmund Kean 1787 - 1833. Noted tragic actor performed frequently at the theatre in this Corn Exchange.  - Photo M.L. August 08.About 1770, a Mrs. Baker erected a "Temple to the Muses," and occupied this building for two seasons, whilst an opposition company exhibited their talents in a warehouse at Castle Street.

Left - A Plaque situated on the facade of the Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells which reads: Edmund Kean 1787 - 1833. Noted tragic actor performed frequently at the theatre in this Corn Exchange. - Photo M. L. August 08.

They both played on the same evenings, but the manager of the latter, finding his efforts unsuccessful, eventually joined Mrs. Baker, who, in 1801, erected the theatre which we are enabled to represent, at a cost of about £1,600. It existed for some fifty years or so, but the site was eventually used for the Corn Exchange.

Above text and Theatre images from 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

You may like to visit the Corn Exchange's own Website here.

Above - The Corn Exchange, Tunbridge Wells during renovation in August 2008 - This was previously the Frontage of the 1802 Tunbridge Wells Theatre - Photo M. L.

The Assembly Hall, Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells

The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M.L.

The Assembly Hall in Cresent Road, Tunbridge Wells was built in 1939 as a multi purpose Civic Hall and Theatre. The Hall was built next to the Town Hall and Council Offices and is of the plain brick frontage which was common for the period, although it does have some minor embellishments in the shape of three freezes above the three tall windows that dominate the otherwise bland exterior.

The Town Hall and, far right, The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Town Hall and, far right, The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M.L.

Because the only purpose built Theatre in the town, the Opera House, is now in use as a pub, the Assembly Hall is now Tunbridge Wells' main home for large touring productions, pantomimes, concerts, ballet, and other events.

The Theatre's raked stage is 11.89 metres wide with a grid height of 17.68 metres, and the auditorium has a seating capacity of 940, with a flexible orchestra pit for 22 musicians.

For more information on this Theatre you may like to visit the Assembly Hall's own Website here.

The Trinity Theatre, Church Road, Tunbridge Wells

The Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

The Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.The Trinity Theatre in Church Road, Tunbridge Wells is a conversion from the former Holy Trinity Church. The Theatre seats 300 and was first opened in the summer of 1982 with a two week season. The following year the Theatre was in production for nine months and this success prompted the local Council to fund the Theatre with a grant of £15,000 towards a proper conversion and installation of heating plant and an art gallery. In 1984 the Theatre gained a license for alcoholic liquor to be served.

The Theatre's running costs are now part funded by the Arts Council and in 1996 it won Lottery funding of £600,000 for internal improvements, a computerised box office, new seating, and disabled access. The Trinity also had funding from the Heritage Lottery fund in 2000 for structural restoration of the building's clock tower and its stained glass windows.

Right - The Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

The Trinity Theatre is well placed in the centre of Tunbridge Wells and is home to around 350 events every year. The Theatre has also staged events in collaboration with the National Theatre and been involved with productions with Steven Berkoff and many other notable figures in the Theatrical world.

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

The Forum, Fonthill Common, Tunbridge Wells

The Forum Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Forum Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

The Forum in Fonthill Common, Tunbridge Wells is a popular venue for young people who regularly enjoy concerts by musicians and groups who are either well established or still on their way up. The quite pretty exterior of the building, situated as it is in pleasant park land, does not give any hints as to its very simple interior and the fact that it is actually a conversion from a former public lavatory.

You may like to visit the Forum's own Website here.

The Forum Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Forum Theatre, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

The ABC Cinema, Ritz Building, Corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road, Tunbridge Wells

Formerly the Ritz Cinema / Essoldo / Cannon / MGM / Virgin

The former ABC Cinema, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

Above - The former ABC Cinema, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

The ABC Cinema was part of a prominent site opposite the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, called the Ritz Building and was opened on the 3rd of December 1934 as the Ritz Cinema with a showing of the Gracie Fields' film 'Sing as we Go.' The Cinema held 1,600 people when it first opened and sported a Compton Organ which was later removed when Essoldo took over the building. On its opening the Ritz was owned by the Union Cinemas Circuit.

In 1954 the Cinema was bought by the Essoldo Circuit and renamed the Essoldo and was then split into two Cinemas, one each in the former Stalls and Circle.

The Cinema was later tripled when Classic bought the building in 1972 and added the third screen in the former Florida Restaurant.

In 1982 Cannon Cinemas took over the building and it was then later to become an MGM Cinema, and for a short time a Virgin.

Finally in 1996 ABC took over and the Cinema was renamed again but it wasn't to last long. By 1999 Odeon Cinemas had built a new modern multiplex on the edge of the town and the ABC closed down on the 29th of October 2000 and remained vacant for many years.

Demolition of the Theatre finally began in June 2014 and was completed in October 2014.

The former ABC Cinema, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

Above - The former ABC Cinema, Tunbridge Wells in August 2008 - Photo M. L.

George Adney Payne, one time proprietor of the Britannia Theatre Hoxton, and the Canterbury Music Hall, who subsequently influenced most of the important London music halls, died in a motor accident at Tunbridge Wells in 1907.

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