Theatre Royal Hanley

"The first Theatre was a small structure ; it was on the same ground as it is now, only the entrance was in Brunswick Street, and the front faced up Frederick Street—then a cul-de-sac, but it contained, in 1857, the first Mechanics’ Institution, now the School of the Primitive Methodists.
This Theatre was of poor appearance. It was the old Chapel of the Primitive Methodists. In the front of it, at one time, it had a small approach, fenced off; and two small windows; towards the apex of the gable, or roof a round hole, for ventilation.
The populace were still prejudiced with regard to these places, a prejudice inherited from the time of the Rebellion, at which time - by Act of Parliament - all ‘Theatres were suppressed.
The advent of Railways soon made possible the quicker modes of conveyance, and the discontinuance of the old “Stock” Companies.
Mr. James Rodgers was the lessee for some years, then his principal (Mr. John Windley). About 1875 a new construction was commenced which was of larger dimensions and more convenient. To this succeeded the present structure, with its entrance in Pall Mall. This latter alteration caused other fine buildings in lower Pall Mall to supersede the small yellow-washed cottages it still contained, so that this street would be unrecognisable to an absentee native, as it is to-day, with its lofty elevations."

Old Times in the Potteries, W Scarratt, 1906

date event
1840 In 1840, a Methodist chapel in Brunswick Street, Hanley - which was originally built as a colliery winding house - ceased to be used as a place of worship. It was converted to a lecture hall by Thomas Hinde, renamed "The People's Theatre", and began to put on public entertainment.
1851 "The PEOPLE'S HALL in Brunswick street, Shelton, was formerly a Primitive Methodist Chapel, but was lately sold by the owner, Mr. Burndred, to about eighty working men, at a very moderate price, to be paid by yearly instalments. The interior has been judiciously altered so as to adapt it for lectures, public meetings, tea parties, etc. The gallery will seat about 450, and the floor as many more. A school-room and other out-buildings are attached. The large china letters in front, "People's Hall," were the gift of W.S. Kennedy, Esq., of Burslem.
A majority of the shareholders are democratic, but they disclaim any party spirit in the use of the hall, and permit nothing tending to immorality or inebriety. They display great discrimination in managing the institution, and in engaging talented lecturers, etc. Mr. R. Hopkinson is the secretary.
A Branch Bank of the Manchester and Liverpool District Banking Company was established here in 1830" - White's Directory, 1851
1851 Originally the 'Potteries Royal Theatre' was established in the former People's Hall, Brunswick Street. Said to be "Dingy and inconvenient".

"The first anniversary of the opening of this building was celebrated by a public tea party on Monday last" - Staffordshire Advertiser April 19th 1851*
c.1852 James Rogers was the first lessee of the theatre - because of Rodgers reputation the magistrates granted a license (which had been previously refused) for the theatre. Rodgers had to put up a bond of £500 and two securities of £50 and had "to maintain proper order and decorum during performances".

"The Peoples Hall having undergone a variety of alterations and improvements will open in the course of a few days for theatrical performances under the management of Mr James Rogers"
- The Era November 14th 1852*

"Fitted up with centre and side boxes and a gallery, the latter occupying the ground floor and rising in the form of anamphitheatre to the boxes. The centre boxes are elegantly fitted a la boudoir"
- Staffordshire Advertiser December 4th 1852*
1854 James Rodgers left the theatre and moved out of the area.
1859 James Rodgers returned to The Potteries and took up the lease of the theatre again.
1860 James Elphinstone, who was later to become the proprietor of the theatre was billed at the 'Potteries Royal Theatre' as the 'celebrated London actor'
1869 In 1869 Thomas Hinde commissioned the building of a new larger theatre on the same site.
The old theatre was demolished in 1870 - along with adjacent cottages and a shop to allow room for the building of a new theatre.
1871 The first brick was laid on March 6th 1871, and the theatre was opened as the "Theatre Royal" seven months later. The main entrance was still in Brunswick Street.
1873 Not long after the rebuilding James Rodgers moved to Birmingham and James Elphinstone became his successor.
1887 The popularity of the Theatre led to it being further enlarged (the stage of the new theatre covered the whole area of the old theatre).
Land to the rear of the existing building was acquired and the great theatre architect Frank Matcham with C.F. Phipps supervised the building of a new theatre to accommodate 2,600 people. It opened on August 6th 1887, with a new entrance in Pall Mall, and served its enthusiastic audiences well for over sixty years.
1892 James Elphinstone died and his son Charles Elphinstone became proprietor.
1894 Theatre partially reconstructed. Charles Elphinstone employed Frank Matcham to carry out redesign which included increasing the seating capacity and installing private boxes.
1898 "The Free Library, the North Staffs. Technical and Art Museum, the Government School of Art, the Potteries Mechanics’ Institution, and the Theatre Royal are situated in Pall Mall."
Cassell's 'Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland'
1934 "It should be pointed out with some interest that in 1934 a "New lantern box, for cinema projection, opened at the rear of the hall"
(90 years of Cinema in the Potteries - Brian Hornsey)
1945 The owners - Potteries Theatres Ltd - sold out to Frederick Peake; owner of a local bus company.
1949 On June 2nd 1949 a tragic fire destroyed the entire auditorium - leaving only the perimeter walls standing. Manager Percy Hughes entered the building during the fire dressed in pyjamas and an overcoat to save valuable paperwork from his office, but the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company (who were performing there) lost scenery, costumes, props and their entire collection of musical instruments.
1950 In 1950 a petition of 52,000 signatures was handed to the Minister of Works requesting permission to build a new theatre (post-war restrictions only allowing essential building work at that time). Permission was granted, and rebuilding work began in May 1950.

"The Theatre Royal was the first theatre to be constructed in this country after the war. It's interior design closely resembles the Birmingham Alexandra and, to a lesser extent Hulme Hippodrome in that it is conceived on an oblong pattern"
1950-51 Rebuilding of the theatre. "Recently rebuilt and luxuriously appointed, the Theatre Royal, Hanley, presents variety, revues, plays and musical comedies."

On 14th August 1951, the Theatre re-opened with Newcastle Operatic Society's production of "Annie Get Your Gun". The Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire - H. Wallace-Copeland, performed the opening ceremony. Local born Gertie Gitana was one of the many stars who sent messages of goodwill to the new theatre.
1954 Audiences declined, and Frederick Peake sold out to Moss Empires in 1954.
1961 Plans by Moss Empires to develop the theatre came to nothing, and the building was sold to Mecca in 1961 and it became a bingo hall - bringing an end to the 120 year tradition of live theatre on that site.
1981 Closed down by Mecca and it remained empty for a year.
1982 In 1982 a trust was set up by Theatre enthusiasts and on December 13th the Royal re-opened with the pantomime "Babes in the Wood".
1983 A new trust was set up in 1983 - the "Theatre Royal Restoration Trust" - which continued to lease the building from Mecca until it had raised the £246,000 to purchase the theatre.
1994 In 1994 Potteries Theatre (Management) Ltd announced plans to put the building into voluntary liquidation. It was acquired by London business man Don Stewart on November 1st.
1996 The closure of the Theatre was announced on 23rd April 1996. An application to "List" the building was turned down. The Theatre's contents were auctioned on August 3.
On November 1st 1996, Mike Lloyd announced that he was the new owner of the Theatre
1997 By June of 1997 a major £1.2 million refurbishment commenced to bring the venue back in line with many venues across the country.
This included the complete rewiring of the venue, (Stage Electric alone cost over £100,000) replacing of all the seats in the stalls with brand new seating which, if required could be removed and stored thus giving the venue a "multi purpose" capacity allowing it for the first time in its history to promote standing Pop and Rock shows.
The auditorium was completely repainted and a brand new "Royal" crest was positioned above the Proscenium heralding in the venue's new name of simply "The Royal".
The entire dressing room block was refurbished and all of this was done in time for the official opening ceremony performed on stage at just after 3pm on Saturday 29th November 1997 by Ken Dodd.
2000 Mike Lloyds 'business empire' collapsed with debts of £850,000. The Royal was placed in the hands of the receivers along with the rest of Mr Lloyds business interests.
July 2001 The Stoke-on-Trent council gave planning permission for the building to be converted into a a nightclub and live music venue, despite objections that it should be kept as a theatre.
Aug 2001 Fixtures and fittings of the theatre sold.
2002 Luton-based 'Luminar Leisure' plan to spend £5.6 million converting the Royal into two separate theme bars including a "Jumpin' Jaks" venue which offers live music ranging from blues to rock and roll.

Members of Mandy Actors UK who have worked for Theatre Royal Hanley

  • Nigel Peever
    Nigel Peever , Jack
    • Up the Blue Stalk
    • Theatre Royal Hanley + tour

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