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The Alexandra Music Hall, Market Place, Wigan, Lancashire

Later - The Empire Palace Music Hall / Empire Cinema / Empire Social and Bingo Club

Wigan Theatres

This photo shows the roof of the Alexandra Hall and how it was tucked in behind buildings fronting Market place - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library.

Above - This photo shows the roof of the Alexandra Hall and how it was tucked in behind buildings fronting Market place - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library.

Theatreshire Books  - Click to View Inventory

The site of the Alexandra Music Hall, Wigan in March 2012 - Courtesy George Richmond.The old “Alex”, situated just off the Market Place was opened on the 6th April 1874. The opening of Wigan’s first custom–built music hall was brought to the notice of the public of Wigan the previous week by the following advertisement in the Wigan Observer: 'Alexandra Music Hall. Proprietor Mr William Johnson, General Manager Mr J.G. Lawrence.

Right - The site of the Alexandra Music Hall, Wigan in March 2012 - Courtesy George Richmond.

The Public of Wigan and the surrounding neighbourhood are respectfully informed that the above beautiful Hall will be opened on Monday, April 6th 1874. With a first–class array of Music Hall Star Artistes. Gorgeous Scenery and the magnificent Act Drop by P. Finley, the well-known Scenic Artist from the Alexandra Theatre Liverpool. Beautiful Decorations by the London Paper Mache Co. Refreshments of the best quality. Handsome bars on every floor. Admission: Balcony, 1s. Body of hall 6d. Gallery 3d. Half price to Balcony only at a quarter to nine. Doors open at 7 .O’ clock performance to commence at 7. 30. On Mondays and Saturdays the doors will be open at 6.30 commence at 7.' - The Wigan Observer.

The above announcement was followed in the same issue of the Wigan Observer by a description of the building and its amenities: 'On entering the building the first thing to attract attention will no doubt be the ingenious way in which the space, which on the ground floor seems very small, has been utilised for the accommodation of the public; and it will scarcely be credited that room is provided for nearly 1000 persons. This is done however by the house being divided into three parts: a commodious pit, eleven feet above that a balcony; and eight feet higher a gallery, the latter being fourteen feet from the ceiling. The proscenium is seventeen feet wide in the clear and twenty five feet high; and the manner in which it is decorated is one of the most attractive features of the hall. The style of decoration is Italian; a blue ground is brought out in elegant designs of crimson, white, gold and green, and the proscenium is surmounted with the national coat of arms.

The Act-Drop was in its place when our visit was made; it has been painted by Mr F. Finley of The Alexandra Theatre Liverpool, who has also painted the scenery. The drop represents crimson velvet curtains richly executed, and in the centre partially covered by the folds of the drapery is the figure of Apollo.

Mr E .T. Harrison has superintended the construction of the stage, which is brilliantly lighted, being fitted with float lights, ground lights, and three rows of footlights, each row of the latter being of a separate colour. In the auditorium the most striking object is the front of the balcony, on the ornamentation of which great care has been given. The horse-shoe form has been adopted with what is technically known as a bell front. The colour of the ground work is cobalt blue and the balcony front is divided into eight panels by cherubim’s supporting garlands of fruit and flowers, each panel is enriched with a centrepiece cartouche. These decorations and those of the proscenium are of Paper-Mache. The gallery front is divided into three panels; the colour of the ground work is in harmony with that of the balcony and the panels which are pink are neatly brought out with gilt bordering.

On each floor the sitting accommodation is admirable consisting of pitch pine seats on iron stands. For each class of patron, a handsome bar is provided; the tops are formed of encaustic tiles which have been extensively used in both the hall and the dressing rooms. Stage boxes are placed on each side of the proscenium. For the purposes of improving the acoustic properties of the hall, the ceiling has been specially constructed by Mr Meers, stage carpenter of the Alexandra Theatre Liverpool. Within the horse-shoe the ceiling consists of four panels, formed of profile boards and canvas, and these bear handsome decorations. In the centre is the “sun- light, which consists of nearly one hundred lights, and is very elaborately fitted. Care has been taken to secure efficient ventilation by an arrangement in the ceiling which is hoped will maintain a constant circulation of fresh air.

A separate means of access to the dressing rooms is provided, and in these every accommodation is provided for the artistes. Mr W. Johnson the proprietor of the hall will it is hoped meets with the success which his venture deserves. - The Wigan Observer.

The opening of the Alexandra was a great success, and the Observer in its account of the first night reported that “hundreds were turned away”. The report commented on the "very effective scenery, excellent acoustic properties, and a stage which gave a beautiful and striking appearance.” This report did not detail the scenery, but seventeen years later, and only ten months before the Alex closed for complete restoration, a new set of stock scenery was delivered to the hall. This was detailed in an edition of the Comet dated September 5th 1891: 'This week were hung for the first time the set of scenes which Mr D’Inglo has been commissioned to paint for the “Alex”. The set consists of seven separate cloths and may be described in brief as follows.

1: ACT DROP, A VENETIAN LAGOON, and turquoise blue and white satin drapery and bullion trimmings.
2: OLD COUNTRY STREET, a very pretty and realistic scene.
7: LANDSCAPE, descriptive of the lanes of Surrey.

The whole of the new cloths look exceedingly pretty and artistic and the rich and beautiful colouring of the ACT-DROP brightens up the old “Alex “in a wonderful manner. The really clever artist, Mr Fred D’Inglo, has done work here of which he may feel proud and I congratulate him upon it.' - The Comet.

Ten weeks later this scenery provided a backdrop to one of the great music hall artistes of the day; the following advertisement appeared in the Comet dated Saturday 28th November 1891: 'ALEXANDRA MUSIC HALL, Prop & Man. W.E. Murray, Every Mon. At 2.30 Each Evening at 7.30, Last Two Nights VESTA TILLEY.' - The Comet.

During Its lifetime the Alexandra presented many other famous names including artistes such as George Formby Senior, Madam Patti, Florrie Ford, and George Lashwood.

The old “Alex” served the people of Wigan as a venue for live entertainment and refreshment for forty four years. After the restoration, carried out in the summer of 1892 and costing over two thousand five hundred pounds, the name of the building was changed to “Empire Palace Music Hall”.

The Wigan Observer, Wednesday September 14th, 1892

“Today (Wednesday) the old Alexandra Music Hall, now The Empire Palace, will be reopened, and so great have been the alterations effected within the last few months, that visitors would scarcely recognise this now handsome and commodious hall. The very considerable structural alterations and decorations which have taken place are estimated to have cost £2600, and the work has been executed from the designs by Mr R.T. Johnson, architect of Wigan. Practically the "Alex" has ceased to exist, and in its stead a music hall on greatly improved principals, retaining little but the former external walls has been substituted. The contract for the whole of the work is in the hands of Mr Henry L. Gee, the well-known local builder and contractor, and the decorations, which pay a tribute to the executive ability of Mr Louis Dandy of Liverpool, enhance the reputation he gained in the decoration he gained in the decoration of “The Royal Court Theatre”. The plaster work has been done by Mr John Davis of Liverpool, a gentleman well known in that branch of the business, and exquisite designs, tastefully carried out and relieved in heavy gilt give the interior an appearance of grandeur which constitutes it one of the neatest and most beautifully decorated places of amusement in the country. The building is exceptionally well ventilated and to add to its comfort and enhance its elegant appearance a complete plant for electric lighting has been fixed by Corlett and Co. of Wigan, under whose capable management the successful working of the appliance will be guaranteed.

As we have before remarked, considerable constructional alteration has been engaged in, the evidence of these are to be seen on every hand. The hall will be entirely re-seated, the balcony being fitted with beautiful turn up seats in crimson plush. The gallery has been entirely reconstructed, and from all parts the visitor commands an uninterrupted view of the stage and the performance, and this in itself, apart from the additional comfort afforded, is an item of considerable importance to the frequenters of the music hall.

A sketch of a street lamp outside the Empire Star Bingo Hall - Courtesy George Richmond 1976. The pit, perhaps the most popular division of all theatres and music halls, has been made much more convenient than hitherto the case, having been lowered and re-seated in order that the auditor will whilst seated in any part; command an adequate view of every part of the stage. Two additional private boxes have been provided, and the seating accommodation thus afforded is far in excess of what was previously the case. The stage has been raised twelve feet higher than formerly, and recedes ten feet more than hitherto, several rooms and passages having been sacrificed in order to afford the increased area. The scenery and effects are entirely new, the scenery being the product of the ability of Mons. D’Inglo." - The Wigan Observer.

Right - A sketch of a street lamp outside the Empire Star Bingo Hall - Courtesy George Richmond 1976. The text reads: 'This ornate lamp standard still stands outside the former Alexandra Music Hall where once its spiralled upper portion was topped by a globe from which flickering gaslight illuminated the top hats and frock coats of Victorian theatregoers. Today the lamp's shabby dignity contrasts oddly with the plastic sign of the bingo hall. (Now demolished 1990).'

The report goes on to tell the reader of the enlarged orchestra, (seven musicians) under the direction of Mons. Bernini, and of the superb catering arrangements made under the direction of Mr Royal.

The name “Empire” was retained when, in 1918, the building was converted for use exclusively as a cinema. It remained in this form until 1961 when it became the “Empire Social and Bingo Club" and as such continued to provide entertainment for the public of Wigan for the next 20 years, after which it remained dark and neglected and was demolished about ten years later.

The Empire Theatre, Wigan, formerly the Alexandra Music Hall, being demolished in 1990 - Courtesy George Richmond.

Above - The Empire Theatre, Wigan, formerly the Alexandra Music Hall, being demolished in 1990 - Courtesy George Richmond.

This article on the Alexandra Music Hall, Wigan was first written in 1974 by George Richmond and has now been updated by him in 2012 and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site. The article is © copyright George Richmond 1974 - 2012.

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

Dick Barnes and the Empire Cinema, Wigan

Dick Barnes, manager of the Empire Cinema, Wigan, sitting on the steps of Bibby’s Haulage Firm - Courtesy Keith Bowen.A visitor to the site, Keith Bowen, has sent in some information on the former Alexandra Music Hall's reincarnation as the Empire Cinema. Keith says:- 'From 1950 my parents ran a pub in the Scholes district of Wigan and one of our customers was a very jovial and likeable man named Richard Barnes, known as Dick. He was the Manager, or perhaps guardian would be more appropriate, of the Empire Cinema in Wigan.

It was known for sometimes showing avent-garde films ("mucky pictures") and a main part of Dick's job was to turn away "under age" youngsters who were so eager to come in. This he did with firmness and alacrity, usually in a broad Wigan accent - as far as I'm aware he met with little or no protests since his sizeable presence was a deterrent in itself. He was a well known and well loved local figure. I suspect that 1961 was the date when “Dick” Barnes’s Managerial post at the Empire finished.

Right - Dick Barnes, manager of the Empire Cinema, Wigan, sitting on the steps of Bibby’s Haulage Firm - Courtesy Keith Bowen.

As I mentioned Dick was a regular at my father’s pub in Scholes, Wigan for many years, and a good friend of my fathers and the family. My father took the photo (shown right) of Dick sitting on the steps of Bibby’s Haulage Firm, whose Offices were opposite the pub in Birkett Bank - you can see the pub in the background and just make out myself aged (about 12), standing next to the half demolished pub which was undergoing a complete re-build - it never closed once during the whole of the re-build.

Dick Barnes, manager of the Empire Cinema, Wigan, and friends preparing for a road trip in 1954 - Courtesy Keith Bowen.Another photo (shown left) shows Dick again, second left, in the light suit (he always wore a suit), this time standing next to my pub Landlord father (extreme left) and two other customers as they prepared for a short holiday in Wales. They travelled in my father’s 1938 Hillman Minx which they are standing in front of, so I guess I must have been taking the photo with our box Brownie. At this time, 1954, the car was about 16 years old and not as reliable as today’s motors, however, they managed the 500 mile round trip successfully, and the journey was a popular topic of conversation for quite a while.

Left - Dick Barnes, manager of the Empire Cinema, Wigan, and friends preparing for a road trip in 1954 - Courtesy Keith Bowen.

If I was asked to sum up Dick in a few words I would say that he was larger than life to us as kids, genial, affable, and reassuring. A favourite kind of uncle character. Of course we were not the kind of children who would try to sneak into his Cinema underage so I’m not sure what the opinion of those kids who did would be!' - Keith Bowen 2015.

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