The Theatre Royal, Halifax

There have been two theatres on the Ward's End site

The Halifax Theatre

The old Theatre Royal – known as the Halifax Theatre – was built in 1789-90. The foundation stone was laid on 12th September 1789.

The theatre shared a frontage with the original Shakespeare Hotel.

The Hotel is discussed in the book Halifax Pubs: Volume Two.

There was a passage connecting the theatre and the pub and this was known as Ammonia Avenue

The theatre was built by voluntary subscription at a cost of £1300. The subscribers or proprietors included

- and they were each given a perpetual silver ticket in the shape of a half-crown and bearing the words Halifax Theatre.

The theatre opened in October 1790, and the first production was Cymbeline.

The first pantomime – Harlequin Fortunatus – was presented in 1794.

In April 1820, an advertisement for a Subscription Concert in aid of the Halifax General Dispensary published prices for single tickets

In 1824, gas lighting replaced the earlier candles.

In 1840, a production of Dennis & the Gibbet Law was staged.

The theatre was improved in 1841 and upper galleries were added in 1853. It was possibly the best theatre in West Yorkshire at the time.

In 1896, the attractions included animated photographs or living pictures, a forerunner of the films to come.

It later became known as the Theatre Royal.

The old theatre closed in March 1904 – with the last production being Old Kentucky on 5th March 1904 - and was demolished later that year.

Many popular and well-known actors and speakers appeared at the theatre, including

The Theatre Royal

The new Theatre Royal – designed by Richard Horsfall & Sons to accommodate 2000 people – was opened by Mayor Enoch Robinson on 4th August 1905 on the site which had previously been occupied by the old Theatre Royal and the Shakespeare Hotel.

The first production was The Mikado [4th August 1905].

The Shakespeare pub was rebuilt around the corner in Horton Street.

The auditorium was 54 ft long, 57 ft wide and 50 ft high. There was a capacity of 1900. There were around 1000 seats in the stalls, and there was a dress circle and an upper circle with private boxes. The proscenium arch was 30 ft wide and 30 ft high. The stage was 69 ft wide and 37 ft deep. There were 11 dressing-rooms for the actors. The theatre cost £40,000.

The theatre opened with a controversial decision to present a performance of The Mikado by the Halifax Amateur Operatic Society. The new owners were Northern Theatres Company Limited.

At the beginning of the 20th century, it could claim to be one of the world's oldest playhouses still in use.

A skull used in Hamlet and other productions was that of a murderer who had been hung in chains on Beacon Hill.

The stage, scenery and dressing rooms in the building were seriously damaged by fire on 5th February 1927. The total damage was estimated at £10,000 to £15,000. The theatre reopened on 12th September 1927 with a production of The Student Prince.

In the repairs, the stage was extended to a depth of 42 ft.

In September 1929, the Covent Garden Opera Company – conducted by John Barbirolli – came to the Theatre Royal for a week of operas including Turandot, The Mastersingers and The Barber of Seville [The first talkie opened at the Picture House in the same week].

In February 1931, the Covent Garden Opera Company – again under John Barbirolli – returned for a series of opera, including Strauss's Die Fledermaus and Verdi's Aida with Walter Widdop, as Radames, making his first appearance as an opera star in his home town.

In July 1932, Eric Portman played the part of John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, the last theatrical production at the Royal.

In 1933, Horsfall's converted the building to a cinema with a capacity of 1900. The dress circle, the upper circle, the gallery and boxes were removed and replaced by a single large gallery seating 600. Much of the interior decoration was lost at this time. The stage was reduced in depth. In addition to the news-reel and a cartoon, the first presentation was The Last of Mrs Cheyney starring Joan Crawford and William Powell.

A Crompton cinema organ was installed in 1937 and opened by Sidney Torch. Details can be found in the National Pipe Organ Register.

For a time, the theatre played host to some of the amateur societies who had used the Palace Theatre until it closed in May 1959.

In 1966, it became a bingo hall – the Essoldo Club.

In 1992, it finally closed. The building remained empty and unused for some time.

In Summer 1999, it was converted to a themed entertainment Café, La Manía.

In 2002, the name was changed to Club Platinum.

In 2004, the name was changed to The Theatre Club.

The club closed in 2005.

In July 2006, the licensing authorities turned down an application to open a lap-dancing, pole-dancing bar in the premises.

In July 2008, there were proposals to demolish the rear of the building and create a 103-bedroom hotel with a restaurant, conference rooms and a gym. The proposals were approved in July 2009. It is still For sale/To let [September 2010].

In March 2018, a proposal was approved to convert the building into a 91-bedroom Holiday Inn Express Hotel

Lessees of the Theatre

Lessees of the Theatre have included

See Dennis & the Gibbet Law of Halifax, Harry Joy, John Moseley, Frank Rawlings and Shakespeare Street, Halifax

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:13 / 15th May 2021 / 11343

Page Ref: MMT272

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