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The Twentieth Century Theatre, 21 Archer Street, Bayswater, London (Now 291 Westbourne Grove)

Formerly - The Victoria Hall / Bijou Theatre / Century Theatre

A Photograph of the exterior of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Above - A Photograph of the exterior of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

A map showing the location of the Twentieth Century Theatre, printed on the reverse of a piece of headed stationery - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The Twentieth Century Theatre, at 21 Archer Street, Bayswater, London, (now 291 Westbourne Grove,) was built in 1863 for John Robert Burgoyne and was part of a small complex of buildings called The Victoria Hall. When the Theatre first opened it was itself known as the Victoria Hall and seated around 300 people. It was not until 1866 that the Theatre was re-named The Bijou Theatre when under the management of William Trist Bailey.

Right - A map showing the location of the Twentieth Century Theatre, printed on the reverse of a piece of headed stationery - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

By 1871 the Manager was recorded as Samuel Thomas Wadham but by 1873 the license had lapsed, and it is thought that the Theatre may have then been closed.

In 1893, the complex, including the Theatre, was completely refurbished, under the management of Peter Joseph George.

A Photograph of the interior, taken from the stage, showing the rear gallery of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The Kensington News reported on the Theatre in their 30th of December 1893 edition saying:- 'The Bijou Theatre, Archer Street, was crowded with holiday folks on Tuesday evening to witness the representation of "Aladdin" as written by Mr. John W. White, and described in the programme as a Comic Christmas Pantomime Extravaganza.

Left - A Photograph of the interior, taken from the stage, showing the rear gallery of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

So great was the demand for seats that money had actually to be refused at the doors, a not too frequent occurrence at this local place of amusement, but one which tends to show that under Mr. George's regime the Victoria Hall is growing in public favour.

Aladdin will be played every evening until January 6th, and there will be a morning performance to-day (Saturday) at 3.30.' - The Kensington News' - 30th of December 1893.

The Kensington News went on to describe the newly refurbished Theatre saying:- 'The Victoria Hall, of which the Bijou Theatre is an integral part, has, since its renovation, been extensively patronised as a locale for social gatherings of every kind, for which the accommodation is most ample; and the recent granting by the London County Council of a full and unconditional refreshment licenses to the premises has given an additional fillip to its popularity. A brief description of the hall may here, perhaps, be not out of place.

A Photograph of the interior and stage of the former Twentieth Century Theatre taken from the rear of the hall in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The grand hall is upwards of 60ft long by nearly 30ft wide. It is lofty, well lighted, and ventilated. The decorations are very handsome, being beautifully relieved with blue and gold. The floor is superb for dancing, and the stage a most magnificent, being nearly 30ft square, fitted with foot-lights and batten lights, and every convenience. There is a fine stock of well painted scenery, and one of the handsomest drop scenes ever painted on fireproof material.

Left - A Photograph of the interior and stage of the former Twentieth Century Theatre taken from the rear of the hall in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

At the back of the stage there are two large well lighted dressing rooms for ladies. The gentlemen's dressing-rooms are below the ladies, with every convenience and fireproof throughout.

A Photograph of the ceiling of the foyer of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The grand hall is capable of seating between 400 and 500 persons; the combined accommodation for dancing purposes affords room for between 40 and 50 sets.

Right - A Photograph of the ceiling of the foyer of the former Twentieth Century Theatre in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

The foyer, or minor hall, has every accommodation, and is lofty, well decorated, ventilated, and lighted, being suitable for "at homes" and small gatherings &c. The ladies boudoir, or Masonic room, is very select and reserved, being well-lighted and fitted with every convenience. There is a draw curtain in the centre so that if only half the room is required the curtain can be drawn across and two separate rooms made.

The supper room, or lower hall, is most elaborately fitted up, as well as being prettily decorated. It is very large and capable of seating close upon 300 persons for supper. Well-lighted and ventilated there is ample accommodation for large parties, with every convenience.

A Photograph of the interior and stage of the former Twentieth Century Theatre taken from the gallery in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The refreshment room adjoining the large hall, is luxuriously appointed and most commodious. All the gas lights are enclosed, and are chiefly on the "Fulton Light" principle.

Left - A Photograph of the interior and stage of the former Twentieth Century Theatre taken from the gallery in 1998 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

As a precaution against fire there are no less than nine exits, but little danger is to be apprehended from this source, as the hall has been made fire-proof throughout, and all the requirements of the London County Council have been so liberally carried out that the Council have granted to Mr. George a certificate expressing their entire satisfaction with the building.

Should any of our readers contemplate giving a concert , entertainment, ball, dramatic performance, tableaux vivants, an "at home," or wedding party, &c., &c., we can confidently recommend them to hire the Victoria Hall, where they will find every convenience imaginable, and receive the greatest courtesy from the proprietor and officials.'

The above text in quotes was first published in 'The Kensington News' - 30th of December 1893.

A Programme for 'The Lena Ashwell Players' forthcoming productions at the Century Theatre in the Spring of 1927 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.By 1911 the Theatre was being used as a cinema and the entrance fee at the time was stated as being one penny for children. Not only did they get to see a film, but they were each given a bag of sweets or an orange on their way out!

Some records show that the Theatre's use as a cinema finished sometime at the end of the First World War, but there are apparently no details of what occurred between then and 1925 when the Theatre become the Headquarters of The Lena Ashwell Players Ltd., and was renamed The Century Theatre.

(In 1925 Sir Laurence Olivier was a member of The Lena Ashwell Players based at the Theatre in Archer Street. However, he was soon fired by Lena Ashwell for giggling. See 'Confessions of an Actor' Olivier's Autobiography. M. L.)

Right - A Programme for 'The Lena Ashwell Players' forthcoming productions at the Century Theatre in the Spring of 1927 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

From 1929, the Theatre become the established venue for amateur productions, with the Dramatic Societies of Harrods, D.H. Evans, the BBC, and possibly others, who were performing there on a regular basis.

1936 saw another change of name, this time to the Twentieth Century Theatre. It was at this time that Rudolf Steiner Associates Ltd. took over the Theatre to enable visits by artists and lecturers from Steiner's Headquarters in Switzerland to take place. The Theatre was still available for hire, but with "due discrimination as to the class of entertainment"!

A photograph of the Gordon Players production of Emlyn Williams 'Night Must Fall' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in April 1947 - Courtesy Jan Mackay .

A signed programme for the Gordon Players' production of Emlyn Williams 'Night Must Fall' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in April 1947 - Courtesy Jan Mackay . A signed programme for the Gordon Players' production of Emlyn Williams 'Night Must Fall' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in April 1947 - Courtesy Jan Mackay .

 

Above - A photograph and signed programme for the Gordon Players' production of Emlyn Williams 'Night Must Fall' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in April 1947 - Courtesy Jan Mackay whose father Roderick Mackay was in the production playing Inspector Belsize and can be seen in the photograph.

A Programme for "Spug" at the Twentieth Century Theatre in late 1937 or early 1938It is supposed that when the Rudolf Steiner Hall opened in Baker Street, (date unknown,) the Twentieth Century Theatre became redundant, and it was allowed to remain as it was until part of the original complex was turned into an antiques warehouse in the 1960s.

Right - A Programme for "Spug" at the Twentieth Century Theatre in late 1937 or early 1938 - Note the invitation to authors who might wish their play be considered for production at the Twentieth Century Theatre - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

A Programme for "Spug" at the Twentieth Century Theatre in late 1937 or early 1938The then owner, Mr Jones, made successful representations to the GLC to have English Heritage agree to listing the building, and it is now Grade II listed.

Left - A Programme for "Spug" at the Twentieth Century Theatre in late 1937 or early 1938 - Note the invitation to authors who might wish their play be considered for production at the Twentieth Century Theatre - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

A Programme for the 'Kensington Players' production of 'Such Things Happen' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in May 1949It is easy to understand why this listing is in place when it is realised that this Theatre is an extremely rare example of the early rectangular type of theatre, with a gallery across the end, facing the stage. Luckily, the foyer survives with a lovely moulded plaster ceiling.

Right - A Programme for the 'Kensington Players' production of 'Such Things Happen' at the Twentieth Century Theatre in May 1949. At that time the proprietors of the Theatre were The Rudolf Steiner Association Ltd. - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

It does appear that this lovely little theatre has been saved, not just as an ornament, but as a living space, suitable for conferences and meetings. From the list of companies which have taken advantage of the facilities offered, it is obvious that the "Theatre" has a secure future.

The text on this page was edited from material kindly sent in by Brian Knight. Images are from the Margaret & Brian Knight Collection unless otherwise stated.

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

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