Monthly Archives: June 2017

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

This is one of the scenes photographed by my father in 1947 that is to me, a fascinating photo being 70 years old, however I am not sure if there was a specific reason, point of interest etc. to take this particular photo. The scene is Clerkenwell Close with the steps leading up to Robert’s Place at the end of the close, adjacent to the Pear Tree Court and Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The same scene in 2017:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

A view that has hardly changed apart from the two trees, cars and the buildings at the far end around and behind the steps.

To find this location, head north from Clerkenwell Road to Clerkenwell Green, then follow Clerkenwell Close around the edge of the church of St. James where you will find the site of the above photos. I have marked this with an orange circle in the 1940 map below (the streets here have hardly changed):

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Going up from the orange circle, there is a road to the left, this is Pear Tree Court. Just above this junction are the steps at the far end of the photos which lead up to Robert’s Place and then into Bowling Green Lane.

This is one of the photos were I can work out exactly where the original was taken, leaning up against the wall underneath the Clerkenwell Close sign.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The buildings seen in the photo are part of the Clerkenwell Estate built by the Peabody Trust. The estate runs along Clerkenwell Close and Pear Tree Court, and consists of a number of Victorian five storey blocks clustered around a central courtyard. Each block given a letter rather than a number which, along with their appearance, does give the impression of blocks of barracks. The entrance to block C from Clerkenwell Close:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The view along Pear Tree Court:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The Clerkenwell Estate was one of six estates built by the Peabody Trust in the late 19th century. The Peabody Trust emerged from the The Peabody Donation Fund which was set up by the American, George Peabody in 1862. He was born in Massachusetts in 1795 but moved to London in 1837 where he remained for the rest of his life.

Peabody wanted to do something to help alleviate the poverty that he saw across London. It was suggested to him that people needed better living conditions with an affordable rent so he set up the Peabody Donation Fund with the first housing being built in 1864 at Commercial Street, Spitalfields.

The Clerkenwell Estate came about through the clearance of a number of slum sites under the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 which allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy up and clear six sites across London. The area around Pear Tree Court had already been condemned as unfit for human habitation.

The architect of the new estate was Henry Darbishire. The model used for each of the blocks consisted of units of five flats around a central staircase. In the late 19th century it was still standard practice for many facilities to be shared so each unit of five flats had shared lavatories and sculleries.

Entrance to Block C:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block E – I do like the brick construction, however they do present a rather institutionalised appearance.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block D:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

On the side of the estate towards Farringdon Lane, there is an obvious change in construction where to the left a short terrace of two storey buildings run to the left. This terrace is the site of Block G which was badly damaged (along with Block H) by bombing in December 1940 with 12 people being killed in the attack.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Entrance to Block A – flowers and sunlight and I am startng to really appreciate these buildings.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The site is built on a considerable slope as can be seen in the photo below. The site slopes down towards Farringdon Road and the old route of the River Fleet.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Looking across the courtyard towards Blocks E and F. An air-raid shelter could still be found in the courtyard until 1985. The area is now occupied by a children’s playground.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The steps at the end of Clerkenwell Close were not that old in 1947 having been built as part of the Peabody development. Clerkenwell Close was extended towards the current position of the steps and a wall that blocked the route onward towards Bowling Green Lane was demolished to allow a route through via Robert’s Place.

There is much to discover in both Clerkenwell Close and the surrounding area which I hope to write about in more detail in the future. For example, the street was originally known as St. Mary’s Close after the old Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary, part of which was latter incorporated into the church of St. James on the corner of the close. Clerkenwell Close has also had a number of well known inhabitants including Oliver Cromwell and there is a story that the death warrant of Charles I was signed in his house on Clerkenwell Close.

Oliver Cromwell’s house:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

I am still no wiser as to why my father took the original photo, what interested him in the scene, although I am pleased he did as it is ordinary street scenes that I find so fascinating and they always lead me into looking at an area in a bit more detail.

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The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two posts covering a walk around the West End of London to find all the working theatres. There are also a number of buildings that were once theatres but have now taken on a different function. I had not intended to write about these yet, however there was one old theatre building where the light of an early afternoon in late May highlighted a wonderful architectural feature that runs along the facade of this building. This is the Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The facade is not what you would typically associate with a cinema and gives away the building’s original function. This building was originally the Saville Theatre.

The Saville Theatre opened in 1931 and according to an introduction to the theatre in one of the early theatre programmes was “built by Messrs Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, St. James’s Street, SW1 from plans of the Architects, Messrs T.P. Bennett and Son, of 41 Bedford Row, WC1 who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, furnishing etc.”

The exterior of the building looks much the same today as when it first opened as the Saville Theatre, apart from the canopy over the entrance and the glass blocks that now replace the wrought iron windows in the enclosed area above the canopy.

The cover from the 1934 programme for the production of Jill Darling shows the theatre entrance as built:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The Saville Theatre operated as a theatre until the end of 1969, however during the 1960s, as well as plays the theatre would also put on concerts by The Beatles, The Who, Elton John among many other big names from the period, and for a while was owned by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles.

In 1970 the theatre was purchased by EMI who converted the building into a cinema which opened as part of EMI’s ABC cinema chain at the end of the year. ABC cinemas went through a number of ownership changes, until the chain was owned by the same company that had brought Odeon cinemas from the Rank Group. The ABC cinemas were then gradually re-branded as Odeon Cinemas.

The interior of the theatre was a luxurious 1920s design that included an early example of how shopping could be integrated with other activities. The theatre featured the “Saville Theatre Salon”, described in the programme as “The Saville Theatre Salon is unique. Tea, Coffee and other Refreshments are served, whilst there is also a fine display of the latest costumes, coats and jewellery, by leading London West End Stores. It is, indeed, well worth a visit by our patrons in the Stalls and Dress Circle. There is no access to it from the Upper Circle.”

I assume the reference to having no access from the Upper Circle is to reserve access to those in the more expensive seats.

Whilst the interior decoration has been lost during the various cinema conversions, the facade of the building retains the magnificent frieze that runs the length of the facade along Shaftesbury Avenue, and it is this frieze that stood out so well as I walked past.

The frieze is titled “Drama through the Ages” and the sculptor was Gilbert Bayes.

Gilbert Bayes was a prolific artist and sculptor during the first half of the 20th Century. His works can still be found on buildings across the country and perhaps his most famous work is the large clock and statue combination “The Queen of Time” above the main entrance to Selfridges in Oxford Street.

The frieze is 129 feet in length and tells the story of drama across time and from left to right starts with Minstrels, Players and St. George:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Greek Chorus and Gladiators:Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Imperial Rome and Bacchanalia:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Bacchanalia and Harlequinade:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Harlequinade and Romantic:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Romantic and Twentieth Century:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The frieze is very detailed and it takes some time to look along the frieze and pick out so many individual features. Here is Gilbert Bayes name recorded in the very lower left of the frieze:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Punch and Judy:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The masks of a Greek Chorus:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Before being installed on the facade of the Saville Theatre, parts of the frieze were displayed at the Royal Academy during 1930 and 1931.

If you go back to the photo of the front of the theatre at the top of the post, there are also a series of round plaques. They are also the work of Gilbert Bayes and show Art through the Ages.

The theatre did suffer some limited bomb damage during the early 1940s, however the frieze survived this damage, along with the subsequent conversion of the Saville Theatre into the ABC then Odeon Cinemas.

Whatever forms of entertainment take place in the West End in the future, I hope that Gilbert Bayes magnificent frieze lasts for a very long time.

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Salisbury – Poultry Cross, High Street Gate And Cathedral

As long term readers will known, as well as London, my father also took lots of photos outside of London during National Service and through the only realistic travel option to see the country in the post war period – cycling between Youth Hostels.

There are a limited number of photos from each place visited, film was expensive and there was not much storage space when you were cycling away from home for several weeks. As well as the London photos, I am also trying to identify and visit the locations of all these photos.

Therefore, for this week’s post I am travelling down to Salisbury.

Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, located at the point where several rivers meet to join the River Avon. The cathedral is the focal point of the city, a beautiful medieval building with the highest spire in the country.

Although part of Salisbury has suffered from the mania of a few decades ago to rebuild city centres with pedestrianised shopping centres, much of Salisbury has survived and it does still retain the feel of a small country town.

My father cycled through Salisbury in 1949, whilst cycling from London to Cornwall and stopping at Youth Hostels along the way. The route has already passed through Winchester and Stonehenge and Salisbury was a short distance to cycle further south.

The first photo is of the Poultry Cross. Salisbury originally had four crosses, each marking the location where specific market produce was sold. As well as the Poultry Cross there was a Cheese Cross, a third cross marked the location for the sale of wool and a fourth cross, Barnwell Cross marked the location for the sale of livestock.

The Poultry Cross is the only surviving one of the four crosses. The first mention of a cross being here was in 1307 and the first written record of the name occurs in the following century.

The core of the cross is the original, the side wall, buttresses and canopy are later additions. There is a J.M.W. Turner painting of the cross from around 1800 which shows just the central cross and the side walls. The painting can be found here.

The Salisbury Poultry Cross in 1949:

Salisbury

And a view of the cross from the same location in 2017:

Salisbury

There have been minor changes to the surrounding buildings and the street in my father’s photo (Butcher Row that runs in the lower part of the photo from left to right) has now been pedestrianised.

Salisbury Cathedral is enclosed within a large space, part of which is the Cathedral Close. The entrance to the Close from the High Street is through the High Street Gate. This was built between 1327 and 1342 and is still in use as a gate, being closed at 11pm and opened at 6am. As well as controlling access to the Cathedral Close, the gate also housed a small lock-up for those committing a crime in the cathedral grounds.

View of the High Street Gate in 1949 from the Cathedral Close looking back towards the High Street:

Salisbury

The same view 68 years later:

Salisbury

The Cathedral Close leads into the grounds surrounding the cathedral. The western front to Salisbury Cathedral in 1949:
Salisbury

And the same view on a summer’s day in 2017:

Salisbury

Construction of Salisbury Cathedral started in 1220 in order to build a new church to replace the one at Old Sarum that had been built just after the Normal invasion in the centre of an Iron Age hill fort just a few miles to the north. The cathedral was consecrated in 1258 and rest of the cathedral (with the exception of the spire) completed by 1266.

Given that Salisbury Cathedral has been here for almost 800 years, the 68 years between my father’s photo and my visit is a relatively very short period of time. Standing here it does make you think about all the generations who have also looked at the same view of the cathedral.

The tower and spire were built between 1300 and 1320, and the spire is the highest cathedral spire in England at 404 feet. The spires of Lincoln Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral were originally higher, but as both these buildings have since lost their spires, Salisbury Cathedral now holds the record.

The tower and spire of Salisbury Cathedral:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral is a wonderful example of a medieval church, historically and architecturally impressive both inside and out. After a walk around the church it was time to explore inside.

The view along the Nave towards the west frount of the cathedral:

Salisbury

Turning round from the position of the above photo and this is the view of the Quire with the Altar at the far end:

Salisbury

Named seating along the side of the Quire:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral originally included a stand alone Bell Tower located between the Cathedral and the High Street Gate. The Bell Tower was demolished in 1792 and the original clock within the tower that dates from around 1386 was moved to the main cathedral building and worked in the cathedral tower until 1884. It was then stored, but rediscovered in 1929 when it was moved into the main body of the church. Repair work was needed in 1956 and following completion it was moved to its current position from where it has been in continuous operation.

The clock can still be seen in the cathedral, possibly the oldest working clock in existence:

Salisbury

18th century weather vane:

Salisbury

The artist and illustrator Rex Whistler lived in the Cathedral Close until his untimely death at the age of 39 whilst leading his troop of tanks into action on the Normandy Beaches in 1944.

A memorial to Rex Whistler in the form of an engraved prism can be found within the cathedral. The prism was engraved by Rex’s brother Laurence who died in the year 2000.

Salisbury

There is so much about the cathedral that can be classed as the finest remaining medieval example of its kind. This includes the tomb of Giles de Bridport who was the Bishop at Salisbury at the time of the cathedral’s consecration in 1258. He died in 1262 and his 13th century tomb is still well preserved in the cathedral.

Salisbury

During my visit to Salisbury Cathedral, the cathedral library was open for a small art exhibition, which was good however I always love seeing old books. The oldest book held by the library dates from the 9th century.

Salisbury

Many of the books were originally chained. This method of securing books is not is use today, although the original chains are still stored in the library.

Salisbury

Entrance to the library through a small circular staircase from the ground floor.

Salisbury

Wood to build the bookcases was donated by Henry VIII, although his bust at the top corner of the door in now obscured by the edge of one of these bookcases. I suspect he would not be pleased.

Salisbury

The Chapter House of the cathedral had on display Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the original 1215 Magna Carta. This is apparently the best of the four remaining copies and is protected within a small viewing gallery in the centre of the Chapter House so that the copy is protected from light. I have not seen the other three copies, however the copy on display is very well preserved and fascinating to see a document of such age and importance.

Salisbury

The roof of the Chapter House:

Salisbury

The Cloisters that run around an enclosed garden also add to Salisbury Cathedral’s list of records as they are apparently Britain’s largest Cloisters, and having walked along all sides I was in no position to argue.

Salisbury

Leaving the cathedral, I walked back through the Cathedral Close to see the other side of the High Street Gate.

Salisbury

The view down the High Street provides the impression of a small town decked out for summer.

Salisbury

Salisbury today has an affluent feel, although this has not always been the case for the many visitors who have descended on the city. Writing in 1934. J.B. Priestley in English Journey describes his arrival in Salisbury:

“So we descended upon Salisbury. Once in the city, I could not see the cathedral, but I saw the Labour Exchange and, outside it, as pitiful a little crowd of unemployed as ever I have seen. No building cathedrals for them, poor devils: they would think themselves lucky if they were given a job helping to build rabbit-hutches. We ran into the big square, into which coaches like ours were coming from all quarters, and anchored off Oatmeal Row.”

At the end of the High Street, turning right into Silver Street takes me back to the Poultry Cross.

Salisbury

I walked past the cross, along the now pedestrianised Butcher Row, then into Fish Row (wonderful names that indicate the trades that once worked in these streets),

It was in Fish Row that I found a connection to London, a plaque commemorating the dash by Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London in November 1805 to inform the Admiralty of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

The plaque records that it took 37 hours to cover the 271 miles between Falmouth and London with 21 changes of horse, Salisbury being the 14th change of horse on the afternoon of the 5th November 1805.

Salisbury

There are apparently many more plaques marking the route taken by Lieutenant Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London including a number of plaques in London which I have not noticed before, however the wonderful London Remembers site has found them.

My visit to Salisbury was all too brief, it is a fascinating city which deserves more time. I shall have to return, however I am pleased to have found three more of my father’s photos outside of London.

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West End Theatres – Donmar to Palladium

A bit later than planned, however here is part two of my walk around the theatres of London’s West End on Saturday 27th May 2017. My earlier post covered the background and why I wanted to complete this walk and in part two I continue with my next theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, before walking to all the remaining theatres in the West End, finishing at the London Palladium.

The following interactive map shows all the theatres covered in my two posts:

 

 

The Donmar Warehouse

After leaving the New London Theatre in Drury Lane, I then headed back to Seven Dials and in Earlham Street found the Donmar Warehouse:West End

The Donmar Warehouse occupies a building that, as the name suggests, was a former warehouse providing storage for the nearby Covent Garden market.

Donmar is derived from the first three letters of Donald Albery’s first name (the theatre producer who purchased the building in 1961) and the first three letters of his wife’s middle name of Margaret.

Donald Albery’s son Ian converted the building into a rehearsal space.

In 1977 the building was purchased by the Royal Shakespeare Company who converted the space into a small theatre for workshops and productions open to the public.

In 1990 Roger Wingate acquired the building and two years later it reopened as the Donmar Warehouse.

It continues to operate as a small, independent theatre, one of the West End’s smallest with a seating capacity of 251.

The Donmar Warehouse was presenting The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui

Cambridge Theatre

From the Donmar Warehouse it was a short walk along Earlham Street to find the Cambridge Theatre facing onto Seven Dials between Earlham Street and Mercer’s Walk:

West End

I am not sure what work is being carried out on the theatre building, but it was comprehensively covered scaffolding and sheeting.

The Cambridge Theatre is one of the relatively recent West End theatres having opened in 1930, since when it has hosted an almost continuous run of plays and musicals.

The Cambridge Theatre is currently showing Matilda by Roald Dahl

Tristan Bates Theatre

The Tristan Bates Theatre is very different to all the other theatres I have covered so far. The theatre is to be found in what appears to be an office block along Tower Street at the junction with Earlham Street:West End

The Tristan Bates Theatre is part of the Actors Centre, an organisation set up in 1978 to support actors throughout their careers. The Actors Centre moved to the current location in 1994. At this time the actor Sir Alan Bates became a Patron and the Tristan Bates Theatre was set-up as part of the new location. The theatre is named after his son Tristan who had died at the age of 19 in 1990.

The Ambassadors Theatre

From the Tristan Bates Theatre I then walked along Shaftesbury Avenue and down West Street to find the Ambassadors Theatre:West End

The Ambassadors Theatre was opened in June 1913 and has been run as a theatre since this time. The only period of change was for a short time during the late 1990s when the theatre was converted into two performance spaces allowing the Royal Court Theatre to be resident for three years. After the conversion back to a single performance space the theatre was renamed the New Ambassadors Theatre, but reverted back to the original name by dropping the “new” in 2007.

The St. Martin’s Theatre which is next door to the Ambassadors is best known for being the home of the long running play The Mousetrap, however The Mousetrap actually started its long run of performances at the Ambassadors Theatre, opening on the 25th November 1952 and continuing at the Ambassadors until 1973 when The Mousetrap moved to the theatre next door.

The Ambassadors Theatre is currently showing Stomp.

The St Martin’s Theatre

The St Martin’s Theatre is adjacent to the Ambassadors Theatre, separated by the alley way of Tower Court:West End

The St. Martin’s Theatre was designed by W.G.R. Sprague who was also responsible for the design of the Ambassadors, although St Martin’s opened three years later in 1916 with construction having been delayed by the start of the 1st World War.

The St. Martin’s Theatre is best known for the long running play by Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap and a plaque on the theatre commemorates the 50th anniversary performance in 2002, however the plaque is possibly not quite clear as for almost the first half of these 50 years The Mousetrap was playing at the adjacent theatre.West End

The Arts Theatre

A walk down Upper St. Martin’s Lane took me to Great Newport Street and the Arts Theatre:West End

The Arts Theatre was opened in 1927 as a private members club. This enabled the theatre to bypass censorship by the Lord Chamberlain.

The Arts Theatre is one of the smaller West End theatres with a maximum capacity of 350.

The Arts Theatre is currently showing Judy!

Wyndham’s Theatre

From Great Newport Street then down Charing Cross Road to the Leicester Square Underground Station where I found Wyndham’s Theatre:West End

Wyndham’s Theatre opened in 1899 and is named after the original owner of the theatre, the actor – manager Charles Wyndham. It was designed by the prolific theatre designer W.G.R. Sprague, who as well as being responsible for St. Martin’s and the Ambassadors which I have covered above, also designed the Noel Coward Theatre, the Aldwych, Novello, Gielgud and Queen’s Theatres.

Although hard to see due to the large tree that is covering part of the theatre facade, it has a lovely symmetrical design. The original design for the theatre included a winter garden on the roof space, however council approval for this feature was not granted so what would have been a rather unique feature for a West End Theatre did not get built.

Wyndham’s Theatre is currently showing Don Juan in Soho

Leicester Square Theatre

The Leicester Square Theatre is not in Leicester Square, but can be found up the side street of Leicester Place:West End

The Leicester Square Theatre is rather unusual as the theatre entrance is part of the church of Notre Dame de France.

The church is a French Catholic church consecrated in 1868 to serve the large French community of the area. The church was damaged badly during the war and went through a number of restorations and rebuilds with the main rebuilding being completed between 1953 and 1955.

The area occupied by the Leicester Square Theatre was used as a French cultural centre after the rebuild, but changed use in the 1960s to become a music venue hosting bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Who and in 1979 it was the location for the first performance of “London Calling” by the Clash – an album that seemed to perfectly sum up the final years of the 1970s.

It opened as the Leicester Square Theatre in 2008 and hosts a wide variety of performances including music and comedy.

Noel Coward Theatre

Back to Charing Cross Road, cross over to walk along St. Martin’s Court to reach St. Martin’s Lane and the Noel Coward Theatre:West End

The Noel Coward Theatre has been through a couple of name changes since it opened in 1903 as the New Theatre. The first production at the New Theatre was “Rosemary” in which Charles Wyndham (the original owner of Wyndham’s Theatre) and his future wife Mary Moore starred.

in 1920 Noel Coward made his debut here, but it would be several decades before the theatre took his name. In 1973 the theatre changed name from the New to the Albery after the son of Mary Moore, Bronson Albery who was a long standing manager of the theatre. Bronson was born during Mary’s earlier marriage to the dramatist James Albery who had died in 1889.

West End theatre in the couple of decades before and after 1900 seems to have been a very close knit community with the same names coming up for theatre design, theatre owners, actors and managers.

The theatre finally changed name to the Noel Coward Theatre on the 1st June 2006, so it has only had this name for a relatively short 11 years in the 114 year history of the theatre.

The Noel Coward Theatre is currently showing Half A Sixpence.

The Duke of York’s Theatre

Also in St Martin’s Lane is the Duke of York’s Theatre:West End

The theatre opened in 1892 and was known for a very short period as the Trafalgar Square Theatre, before changing name in 1895 to the Duke of York’s Theatre for the future king, George V.

West End Theatres have been through many different types of ownership over the decades, with many theatres originally owned by individuals, often directly involved either as actors or managers. Today, the majority of theatres are owned by organisations, for example the Duke of York’s is today owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group who also own in London the Apollo Victoria, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Harold Pinter, Lyceum, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy and Trafalgar Studios.

The Duke of York’s Theatre is unusual in that it is the only West End theatre I have found that was once owned by a radio station. From 1979 until 1992 the theatre was owned by Capital Radio.

Today, the Duke of York’s Theatre is showing Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour.

The London Coliseum

At the southern end of St Martin’s Lane is the London Coliseum:West End

The London Coliseum is perhaps better known as the home of the English National Opera and English National Ballet rather than as a traditional West End theatre, however this was not always so, and the London Coliseum has, and continues to be home to a broad range of productions.

Opened in 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties, the theatre was more in the tradition of music hall and variety acts and at the time held the record for the largest theatre in London with around 2,500 seats.

As with many other West End theatres, the London Coliseum has been through some changes since it opened. It has put on plays, musicals, comedies and pantomimes and for short periods has been used as a cinema.

The name has changed relatively little with “London” being dropped from the name between 1931 and 1968.

The theatre has been the West End home of the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company since 1968 when the company relocated to the London Coliseum, changing their name to the English National Opera in 1974.

The large tower above the theatre dominates the surrounding area. I assume the large globe with the name Coliseum on the top of the tower still rotates – one of those features you take for granted.

The advertising on the facade of the London Coliseum is for the June opening of the musical Bat Out Of Hell.

Garrick Theatre

From the London Coliseum I took a short walk back up Charing Cross Road to the Garrick Theatre:West End

The Garrick Theatre was opened in 1889 (it really is remarkable how many West End theatres were opened in the years around 1900 – the West End must have been a hive of theatrical activity around the turn of the century).

The theatre was named after the 18th century actor David Garrick and as far as I can tell, it has not changed name in the 128 years since the theatre opened. The Garrick Theatre has put on an almost continuous run of plays, musicals and comedies since opening.

The Garrick is currently showing The Miser.

The Adelphi

It was now time to leave the cluster of theatres around Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane and head to the next cluster of theatres in Aldwych via the Strand. The first theatre in the Strand is the Adelphi:West End

There has been a theatre at the location of the Adephi since 1806. The original theatre was called the The Sans Pareil, and the name changed to the Adelphi in 1819, then the Theatre Royal, Adephi from 1829, Theatre Royal, New Adelphi to mark the construction of a new theatre building in 1858, then the Royal Adelphi Theatre.

The “Royal” was finally dropped in 1940 which is strange as I would have thought that at the peak of the last war, theatres would have wanted to maintain patriotic connections.

The current theatre building dates from 1930 and is the fourth theatre building at this location.

The Adelphi Theatre was the location of the murder of the actor William Terriss in 1897 who was stabbed by a fellow actor as he entered the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre at the rear of the theatre in Maiden Lane. The murderer, Richard Prince was jealous of the popularity of Terriss. Whilst he was found guilty, he was also diagnosed as insane and died in Broadmoor.West End

The Maiden Lane entrance in the photo above. The ghost of William Terris is alleged to haunt the Adelphi and the nearby Covent Garden underground station.

There is a plaque to William Terriss at the rear of the Adelphi in Maiden Lane.West End

The Adelphi Theatre is currently showing Kinky Boots.

Vaudeville Theatre

A short distance further along the Strand is the Vaudeville Theatre:West End

The Vaudeville Theatre was originally built in 1870 with a narrow entrance onto the Strand as there were originally two houses on the site facing onto the Strand. These two houses were demolished in 1889 and replaced by the facade of the theatre. The exterior view of the Vaudeville has only had minor changes since.

The theatre has hosted an almost continuous run of productions since opening, and as far as I can tell has retained the original name.

The Vaudeville Theatre is currently hosting Stepping Out.

The Savoy Theatre

On the opposite side of the Strand can be found the Savoy Theatre, somewhat concealed alongside the entrance to the Savoy Hotel.West End

The Savoy Theatre was opened in 1881, eight years earlier than the adjacent, much larger, Savoy Hotel. Both the theatre and the hotel were built by Richard D’Oyly Carte.

The interior of the theatre has been through a number of major rebuilds and restorations including after a major fire in 1990 which resulted in the closure of the theatre for just over three years.

The best view of the size of the Savoy Theatre is through a short walk down Carting Lane where the large size of the theatre, which has a seating capacity of 1,158, can be appreciated.

West End

The Savoy Theatre was also the first public building to be lit by electricity, a fact recorded on a plaque on the side of the theatre in carting Lane.West End

The stage door entrance to the Savoy Theatre in Carting Lane.West End

The Savoy Theatre is currently showing Dreamgirls.

The Lyceum Theatre

North of the junction of the Strand and the approach to Waterloo Bridge is Wellington Street and a short distance along is the Lyceum Theatre:West End

The Lyceum Theatre was opened in 1834 with the name Theatre Royal Lyceum and English Opera House. The main body of the theatre was rebuilt in 1904 retaining only the facade and the large portico and the theatre continued to run until 1939 when it was purchased by the London County Council who intended to demolish the theatre to make way for road improvements.

The timing of the purchase resulted in nothing happening to the building due to the outbreak of war and following the war the original plans were abandoned.

The theatre was empty until 1951 when it reopened as the Lyceum Ballroom having been converted into a large ballroom. The Lyceum Ballroom would go on to host pop concerts throughout the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s for bands such as The Who, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis.

Closing again in 1986, it did not reopen until 1996 following a significant restoration project to return the building to a theatre capable of staging large scale musicals, a function it has performed ever since.

View of the Lyceum Theatre from the junction of Wellington and Exeter Streets showing the large size of the theatre which has a seating capacity of 2,100.West End

The Lyceum Theatre is currently showing The Lyon King which has been playing at the theatre since 1999.

The Novello Theatre

At the junction of Catherine Street and Aldwych is the Novello Theatre:West End

The Novello Theatre was originally opened in 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre, becoming the Strand Theatre in 1913.

The theatre was hit by bombs from a Zeppelin during a raid on London on the 13th October 1915 and although there was some damage to the theatre, it continued in operation with the production that night of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The theatre would also suffer some damage in 1940.

The theatre continued with the name of the Strand Theatre until 2005 when after a major refurbishment it reopened with the new name of the Novello Theatre in honour of the composer and actor Ivor Novello who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 until his death in 1951.

The Novello Theatre is currently hosting Mama Mia.

The Duchess Theatre

A short distance along Catherine Street from the Novello, is the Duchess Theatre:West End

The Duchess Theatre opened in 1929 and is one of the West End’s smaller theatres with seating for 494.

The theatre has seen an almost continuous run of productions and also appears to have retained the original name since the theatre opened.

The Duchess Theatre is the location of the shortest run for a West End production. On the 30th Match 1930 the first staging of “The Intimate Revue” was taking place, however as some scene changes were taking upwards of 20 minutes, a number of scenes were abandoned allowing the finale to be completed by midnight. The Intimate Revue did not have a second night and as several scenes were abandoned during the first night, technically it did not even complete a first night.

Perhaps appropriately, the Duchess Theatre is currently hosting The Play That Goes Wrong.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

At the junction of Catherine Street and Russell Street is the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane:West End

There has been a theatre on the site of the Theatre Royal for centuries. The first theatre was built by Thomas Killigrew in 1663 who had received a Royal Charter from King Charles II.

Killigrew replaced the original theatre with a second to occupy the site in 1674 and this building lasted until the third theatre building to occupy the site was constructed in 1794, designed by Henry Holland and with a capacity for 3,600 people.

The third version of the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1809, following which the final version of the theatre which we see today was built and opened in 1812.

The portico on the front of the building was an addition in 1820, and the long side colonnade along Russell Street was an addition in 1831.

The following print of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is from 1828, three years before the side colonnade was added.West End

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was the location of an assassination attempt on King George III in 1800.

The King was in the royal box in the theatre on the evening of the 15th May 1800, when during the singing of the national anthem, James Hadfield who was in the stalls, fired a pistol at the King.

Fortunately for both the King and Hadfield he missed. He was tried for high treason, but pleaded insanity. He had suffered a number of previous war injuries to the head, and it was these that supported his plea of insanity. He was acquitted of the charge, but was detained indefinitely in the Bedlam Hospital after the Criminal Lunatics Act was swiftly passed by parliament in 1800 in reaction to Hadfield’s trial and acquittal. He did have a brief period of freedom following an escape, but was quickly recaptured and lived for 41 years following his attempt on the King’s life, dying of tuberculosis in 1841.

The Canterbury Journal reported from George’s Coffee House that:

“Hadfield is cleared, it being fully proved that he was insane at the time he committed the offence of firing at the King. The trial commenced at nine o’clock this morning and ended between three and four. the Attorney General not being prepared to annul the insanity of the prisoner the court recommended the Jury to acquit him”

Print of the assassination attempt:West End

There is a memorial fountain to Augustus Harris on the front of the theatre. Harris was responsible for the theatre from 1879 to 1896, and during his tenure he put on a wide range of plays and pantomimes. The success of his pantomimes was considerable and they starred many of the musical hall stars of the day.

After his death, public subscriptions provided for the memorial fountain which was unveiled in 1897.West End

Music cover for the “The Pantomime Quadrille” dedicated to Augustus Harris with a photo of Harris who died at the relatively young age of 44.West End

Walking along the Russell Street side of the Theatre Royal, I found a couple of parish boundary markers, the first I have seen on a theatre. The marker on the left is St. Martin in the Fields, and on the right is St. Paul Covent Garden. Note the original boundary marking painted on the brickwork for St. Paul.West End

Stage door for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane:West End

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is currently showing 42nd Street.

Fortune Theatre

In Russell Street, opposite the side of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the Fortune Theatre:West End

The Fortune Theatre opened in November 1924 and is one of the West End’s smaller theatres with a capacity of 432. As far as I can tell, the theatre has retained its original name and has had an almost continuous run of productions since opening.

The facade of the theatre is mainly of concrete and high above the main entrance is a sculpture of Terpsichore (one of the nine muses in Greek mythology with an emphasis on dance). The sculpture was created by the arts and crafts artist M. H. Crichton.West End

The facade of the theatre is also shared by an entrance to a church which looks rather out of place in the lower left corner of the facade. The entrance is to the Crown Court Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church that has been here since 1719. The original church was replaced in 1909 so the current church predates the Fortune Theatre which must have integrated the entrance to the church within the new facade of the theatre in 1924.

The Fortune Theatre is currently hosting The Woman In Black

Aldwych Theatre

From Russell Street, turn right down Drury Lane to the junction with Aldwych where on the corner is to be found the Aldwych Theatre:West End

The Aldwych Theatre was built in 1905 at the same time and to the same design by the architect W. G. R. Sprague as the Novello Theatre which I visited earlier in this post.

Unlike the Novello, the Aldywych Theatre has retained the original name, and has seen an almost continuous run of productions, including a twenty one year period from 1960 when the Royal Shakespeare Company were in residence at the Aldwych.

The stage door of the Aldwych Theatre. Whilst the main frontage of the theatre onto Aldwych is of stone, the side walls of the theatre in which the main body of the auditorium and stage are located were built of brick to save money.

West End

The Aldwych Theatre is currently showing Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

The London Palladium

For my final theatre visit, I walked back along the Strand to Charing Cross to catch a Bakerloo train up to Oxford Circus to visit the theatre at the north west corner of my boundary of West End theatres, the London Palladium in Argyll Street:

West End

The Palladium dates from the turn of the century expansion of West End theatres having opened in 1910 on the former site of Argyll House.

Argyll House was built on land owned by the Duke of Argyll by his younger brother Lord Ilay. Construction started in 1737 and continued with the addition of various rooms and extensions for the next couple of decades.

Lord Ilay became the Duke of Argyll following the death of his older brother and the house passed down the Argyll family until being sold in 1808 to the Earl of Aberdeen. The house was sold in 1862 by the Earl of Aberdeen’s son, the last nobleman’s town house to survive in the area around Oxford Circus and Regent’s Street.

Argyll House as it appeared in 1854 from a drawing by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

West End

It was demolished soon after and over much of the site was built the Corinthian Bazaar and Exhibition Rooms.

The majority of the Corinthian Bazaar was demolished to make way for the Palladium, however the facade onto Argyll Street, although modified, is from the original Bazaar building.

The facade looks as if the theatre is directly behind, however it is an L shaped theatre with the entrance providing access to the rear of the auditorium which then runs to the stage behind the buildings down Argyll Street to the right of the main entrance.

The Palladium has hosted a wide range of events over the years, including plays and musicals, but has also hosted TV programmes such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium, many of the Royal Variety Performances, variety from performers such as Ken Dodd and Bruce Forsyth and shows by stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bob Hope Max Bygraves, Julie Andrews and Cilla Black.

On the day of my visit, the Saturday 27th May 2017, the London Palladium was hosting one night of Simple Minds Acoustic 2017 tour.

West End

And the London Palladium concludes my walk around the theatres of London’s West End for a snapshot of their history, appearance and productions on Saturday 27th May 2017.

In my two posts I have covered 41 theatres within my definition of the West End. I knew there were many theatres, but did not realise quite how many and I may have missed a couple of smaller theatres (please let me know if there are any I have missed).

I have only scratched the surface of their long and fascinating history and it is good to see buildings that are often over one hundred years old, with the earliest occupying theatrical sites that date back to the 17th century, still playing such an active part in the cultural and commercial life of the city.

They have survived threats from new forms of entertainment during their time, such as the cinema and television and still appear to be in fine health. The Society of London Theatre’s 2016 Box Office report stated that:

  • Gross revenue of £644,719,639
  • Attendances of 14,328,121
  • Weekly attendance set a new record during week commencing the 26th December 2016 at 439,103

The report also records that audiences have risen from 10,236,362 in 1986 to 14,328,121 in 2016 and that 44 was the average number of theatres open in 2016 (numbers have stayed reasonably static over the past 30 years). The number was slightly higher than my 41 theatres but may be due to slightly different geographic scope, or maybe I did indeed miss a couple.

It was a fascinating theme for a walk. The warm weather dictated a couple of stops at pubs along the way, which is perhaps a theme for a future walk around London, although I fear that the longevity of these will not be as good as the theatres of the West End.

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Old Swan Stairs

Following last Sunday’s post covering the first part of my walk around London’s West End theatres, I had been expecting to publish the second part a couple of days ago, however I must admit I have never really counted up how many theatres there are (over 40), so I am still working on the post. Therefore today, back to one of my father’s photos of London 70 years ago.

This is my father’s post war view of the stretch of the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Cannon Street Station:

Old Swan Stairs

The magnificent framework of the original glass roof of Cannon Street Station is in the rear of the photo, the glass had previously been removed so this is just the metal framework.

My father was standing on London Bridge to take the photo and the river front consists of space cleared of buildings damaged by wartime bombing and some of the remaining warehouse and wharf buildings.

I took a wider photo of the scene today to set the context as the side walls of Cannon Street Station are now obscured and the station has long since lost the original roof.

Old Swan Stairs

The scene has completely changed, and the perspective of the two photos looks different due to very different lens and camera types, however there are some features remaining that allow the buildings in the original photo to be located.

The following map extract is from the 1952 Ordnance Survey map of the area (published in 1952, surveyed the previous year).

Old Swan Stairs

In the map, Cannon Street Station is the large building, partly shown on the left of the map.

The first feature to identify on the photo is Old Swan Pier. In the map, this can be seen running from a small, rectangular indentation in the river wall. In the original photo, this is the metal walkway that can just be seen running out from the river wall, with the small indentation in the river wall also partly visible.

This allows the building to be identified adjacent to the pier, this is Swan Wharf, the building has a date on the very top which I can just make out as either 1896 or 1894.

Now follow the river wall from the pier and Swan Wharf back to the right hand edge of the photo and the river wall steps back twice, once alongside the edge of the Swan Wharf building, and the second slightly further along. These two steps backs in the river wall can also be seen in the 1952 map which identifies the building to the right of the crane as the building at the end of Old Swan Wharf in the map.

The definition of the original film is not sufficient to clearly read the white writing on the side of the crane, but it appears to read “The Swan Wharf & ———“. I cannot make out the last word.

Given the level of redevelopment in this area it would be surprising if any of these features (apart from the station) remain, however there are some that allow the location of the original buildings to be placed along the river’s edge today.

Firstly, look along the river wall in today’s photo and you will see an indention in the river wall. This is the same indentation as at the location of the pier in the original photo and was retained as this gap in the river wall is the location of Old Swan Stairs, one of the many historic stairs leading down to the river.

Two dolphin structures can also be seen in the river, these are a couple of the remaining supports from the Old Swan Pier.

To the right of the stairs in today’s photo is a large tree, this is the location of the Swan Wharf building in the original photo.

From the tree to the right of today’s photo there are two step backs in the river wall. These are the same as those in the post war photo, with the old building to the right of the crane being the building at the end of Old Swan Wharfe in the 1952 map.

Old Swan Stairs have been here for many centuries. The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Old Swan Stairs.

Old Swan Stairs

In the 1746 map, the stairs are at the end of Ebbgate Lane, in the 1952 map this lane was then Swan Lane with Old Swan Lane to the left in both maps.

Swan Stairs were mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and in Stow’s 1603 Survey of London there is a mention Old Swan: “This ward turneth into Thames streete westwarde, some ten houses on a side to the course of the Walbrooke, but East in Thames streets on both sides to Ebgate lane, or old Swan.” in his description of the boundaries of Downegate (Dowgate) Ward.

In Old and New London, Walter Thornbury writes about how Swan Stairs were used to avoid the dangers of passing under the old London Bridge by boat: “The Swan Stairs, a little ‘above bridge’ was the place where people coming by boat used to land to walk to the other side of Old London Bridge when the current was swift and narrow between the starlings, and ‘shooting the bridge’ was rather like going down the rapids. Citizens usually took boat again at Billingsgate, as we find Johnson and Boswell once doing, on their way to Greenwich in 1763.”

Old Swan Stairs were also the starting point for the Swan Upping ceremony when it started in central London. My father took some photos of Swan Upping starting around Old Swan Stairs and in the following photo is Mr Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master, with the Old Swan Pier in the background. The sign on the right of the piers indicates that boats to Greenwich could be boarded here. My full post on Swan Upping can be found here.

Old Swan Stairs

I am not sure exactly when Old Swan Pier opened, however the first adverts I can find for sailings from the pier are from 1838, when on the 21st May the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried an advert for “Steam – Cheap Fares from Old Swan Pier” . The sailings were:

  • To Gravesend – every morning at 9 o’clock, precisely. Cabin 1s: Saloon 1s 6d
  • To Richmond – Daily at half-past 9, calling at Hungerford at 10 o’clock, and to Twickenham every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Week days 1s 6d; on Sundays 2s.
  • To Woolwich – Every Sunday at 10, 2 and 5, calling at West India Dock Pier, Blackwall, at 11, 3 and 6. To Woolwich 1s, to Blackwall 9d, from Blackwall to Woolwich, 6d

The earliest newspaper report I could find referring to Old Swan Stairs is from the 9th August 1729, when it was reported that:

“Last Monday a Waterman, naked all but his shirt, rowed in a Butcher’s Tray from the Old Swan Stairs, to Greenwich, for a Wager of four Guineas, and won the same”

There are frequent mentions of Old Swan Stairs in newspaper reports since the early 18th century, and they describe the life and tragedies that must have been day to day experiences along this stretch of the Thames.

From the London reports of the Ipswich Journal on the 12th February 1743:

“Sunday Morning a young Man, dressed in a Sailor’s Jacket with Trowsers and a speckled Shirt was found in the Mud near the Old Swan Stairs; his Buckles, which were supposed to be Silver, were taken out of his Shoes. He was carried into the Church-yard, near the Stairs, till own’d, or a Warrant granted for his Burial”.

The implications being that either he was murdered for the silver shoe buckles, or he had died accidentally and his shoe buckles had been stolen.

Standing at Old Swan Stairs would have provided a fascinating view across to what would later be Southwark Cathedral with London Bridge to the left. John Cleverly made the following drawing  (©Trustees of the British Museum) of the view from Old Swan Stairs in 1792. Old Swan Stairs

Despite the land along the river having changed so dramatically over the last 70 years, we can still find features that date back hundreds of years and allow us to accurately place events from centuries of London’s history.

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West End Theatres – Playhouse to New London

West End Theatres, the subject of this week’s post, has come about for a number of reasons. Firstly whilst I love a random walk around London, I also like walking to find specific places or to follow a particular theme. Secondly, working with my father’s photos I often find myself wishing that he had taken more photos of other subjects and locations to those in his collection, it would have been interesting to see photos of so much else in the London of the time..

This week’s subject was also prompted when I scanned the following photo from 1981 from my own negatives showing the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand.

The West End of London has a large concentration of theatres. These have changed function over time, some have ceased to be theatres, some have spent periods of time as a cinema and occasionally new theatres have opened.

Theatres are also a snapshot of their time. The shows put on, the actors. the external advertising are all of their time. When I looked at the above photo appearing on the screen during scanning I recognised the names, but three of the four have since died and the theatres of the West End have since been populated by generations of new actors.

I therefore thought that an interesting theme for a walk would be to hunt down and photograph all the theatres of the West End and photograph them to provide a snapshot of West End theatres and their productions on a single day. This would have been an interesting series of photos I would have loved my father to have taken in the late 1940s and 1950s.

So last Saturday I worked out a route around the West End to try and hunt down as many theatres as I could find. I bounded the West End by the area enclosed by Oxford Circus, the southern end of Tottenham Court Road, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square – I hope this is a reasonable area to consider as the traditional West End Theatre Land.

There are many theatres to cover, so this will be in two posts, the first today and the second later in the week. There is only a brief history of each theatre, a single day’s view of the theatre and the production on the day was my main aim.

I have put together the following interactive map showing the theatre locations. In today’s post this has the first set of theatres covered and in the second post will have the complete set (for those receiving this post via e-mail, the map will appear as a picture, the interactive map can be found on the website).

 

 

So on Saturday 27th May 2017, I set out to find all the West End Theatres. I started at one of the edges of my boundary of West End Theatre land, on the Embankment looking at the:

Playhouse Theatre

The Playhouse Theatre is on Northumberland Avenue, almost at the junction with the Embankment. The current building dates from 1905 which was a rebuild of an earlier theatre from 1882 called the Royal Avenue Theatre.

 

West End Theatres

From 1951 to 1976 the Playhouse Theatre was run by the BBC as a live performance location. After 1976 the theatre fell into disrepair. I cannot remember the year, but in the early 1980s when I was working on the opposite side of the river there was a significant fire in the building.

In 1986 the derelict theatre was the location for Queen’s video for A Kind Of Magic. It was restored in 1987 to form the building we see today

Today the Playhouse Theatre is showing My Family: Not the Sitcom by David Baddiel.

Trafalgar Studios

From the Playhouse Theatre, I walked up Northumberland Avenue to Trafalgar Square and a short distance along Whitehall is the Trafalgar Studios.

West End Theatres

This theatre was originally the Whitehall Theatre and opened in 1930. The Whitehall Theatre presented plays, revues and farces until the mid 1970s when it was then closed until 1986. From 1997 it was used for TV and radio productions for a couple of years. The theatre was refurbished and reopened in 2004 with the new name of Trafalgar Studios.

Externally, the building looks rather plan, however internally the building retains many superb art deco features from its original design.

Today the Trafalgar Studios is showing The Philanthropist by Christopher Hampton.

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Leaving Whitehall, up Cockspur Street to Haymarket to find the Theatre Royal Haymarket:

West End Theatres

A theatre has been on this side of Haymarket since 1720 when John Potter established the Hay Market, or later the Little Theatre in the Hay.

The current theatre dates from 1821. Designed by John Nash who also arranged for the new theatre to be built slightly to the south of the original 1720 theatre so that it stood directly opposite Charles II Street, and if you stand in St. James Square and look down Charles II Street the view is of the theatre at the far end.

A view from 1822 of the Theatre Royal Haymarket is shown in the following print (©Trustees of the British Museum), which demonstrates that the theatre today is little changed from the original Nash building.

Today, the Theatre Royal Haymarket is showing “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia” by Edward Albee

Her Majesty’s Theatre

Opposite the Theatre Royal and at the junction with Charles II Street is Her Majesty’s Theatre:

West End Theatres

A theatre was opened on the site slightly earlier than the Theatre Royal as the first theatre was opened in 1705. Originally called The Queen’s after Queen Anne, the original theatre was used for the performance of opera rather than plays.

The theatre seemed to have changed name dependent on the sex of the monarch. After Queen Anne, the theatre changed name to The King’s Theatre for George I. It stayed the King’s Theatre until Queen Victoria’s accession when it changed name to Her Majesty’s Theatre, then in 1901 to His Majesty’s for King Edward VII, and the final change to Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1952 for Queen Elizabeth II, so I assume that at some point in the future it will change name again back to His Majesty’s Theatre.

Subscription tickets were used in the early 19th century to gain access to reserved seats and boxes in the theatre. The following photo (©Trustees of the British Museum) is of a subscription ticket for Her Majesty’s Theatre, or as it was known in 1824, the King’s Theatre.

There have been many different versions of the theatre building on the site since 1705. The current building dates from 1897.

West End Theatres

Her Majesty’s Theatre is currently showing “The Phantom of the Opera” which has been at the theatre since October 1986.

Harold Pinter Theatre

For the next theatre, I walked up Haymarket, turned down Panton Street to find the Harold Pinter Theatre at the junction with Oxendon Street:

West End Theatres

This theatre opened in October 1881 as the Royal Comedy Theatre, later abbreviated to the Comedy Theatre. It was renamed the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2011. Although there was significant reconstruction work carried out in the 1950s, much of the original 1881 theatre building remains.

The Stage Door of the Harold Pinter:

West End Theatres

The Harold Pinter Theatre is currently showing “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee.

Prince Of Wales

Continuing up Oxendon Street to the junction with Coventry Street to find the Prince of Wales Theatre:

West End Theatres

The current building is the second on the site bearing the name Prince of Wales. The first theatre was built in 1884 and called Prince’s Theatre before being renamed in 1886 as the Prince of Wales Theatre, after the Prince of Wales who would later become King Edward VII.

The current building dates from 1937 and the Prince of Wales Theatre is today showing “The Book of Mormon”.

The Criterion Theatre

From the Prince of Wales Theatre, I walked along Coventry Street to Piccadilly Circus to find the Criterion Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Criterion Theatre is part of a much larger complex that has been redeveloped a couple of times over the years.

The original theatre was opened in 1873 and as well as the theatre, the buildings included a restaurant, dining rooms, ballroom and concert hall. Apart from brief periods for development and restoration work, the Criterion has put on productions since opening apart from a break during the last war when the theatre was used by the BBC as a studio for live and recorded productions.

The theatre was at risk in the early 1970s when GLC development plans risked the loss of the theatre, however a high profile campaign ensured the theatre was retained, although renovation work between 1989 and 1992 resulted in significant changes to the substantial building that surrounds the Criterion. The auditorium is still substantially the original Victorian auditorium.

The Criterion Theatre is currently showing “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery” by the Mischief Theatre Company.

Piccadilly Theatre

The Piccadilly Theatre is not on Piccadilly, but is reached by walking from Piccadilly Circus up Glasshouse Street then Sherwood Street to reach the theatre in Denman Street

West End Theatres

The Piccadilly Theatre has rather a plain facade, but of the theatres I have visited so far has the most visible advertising – the large advert for Annie is a screen, not a poster so was continuously changing display.

The Piccadilly Theatre is also relatively recent having opened in 1928, and is also one of the largest theatres in central London capable of seating 1,232. Although rather plain from the outside, this hides an Art Deco interior.

The Piccadilly Theatre is currently showing Annie.

The Lyric Theatre

From the Piccadilly Theatre, I walked down Denman Street to perhaps the heart of West End Theatre land, Shaftsbury Avenue. There are a number of theatres along this street, the first of which is the Lyric Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Lyric Theatre is the oldest surviving theatre building on Shaftesbury Avenue having been built in 1888. The facade of the Lyric Theatre is different to the majority of other West End Theatres, being built of brick rather than stone.

Apollo Theatre

Next door to the Lyric Theatre is the Apollo Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Apollo Theatre opened in 1901 and has been putting on an almost continuous series of productions.

The design, materials used for the facade and slightly greater height of the Apollo Theatre are very different to the original Lyric Theatre next door, probably to make the new theatre stand out more than its earlier neighbour. The gleaming white stone and ornate decoration around the circular windows on either side of the top of building make the facade of this building one of the more opulent on Shaftesbury Avenue.

One thing i did find puzzling about the design of the building is that the windows are not symmetrical on either side. The pairs of windows are of the same height and alignment on the right of the building, but the pairs of windows are offset on the left. I am sure there is a good architectural reason for this, probably to be found in the interior.

West End Theatres

The Apollo Theatre is currently showing “Love In Idleness” by Terence Rattigan.

Gielgud Theatre

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Rupert Street is the Gielgud Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Gielgud Theatre originally opened in 1906 as the Hicks Theatre, named after the author of the first play (The Beauty of Bath by Seymour Hicks) that was performed in the theatre.

Unfortunately for Seymour Hicks, his place in West End theatre history was hidden when the theatre was renamed the Globe in 1909. It retained this name until 1994 when it was renamed the Gielgud Theatre to avoid confusion with the newly opened Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Bankside. The name was chosen as a tribute to Sir John Gielgud who had performed at the theatre in 1928.

The Gieldgud Theatre is currently hosting “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.

Queen’s Theatre

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Wardour Street is the Queen’s Theatre:

West End Theatres

A very different building to the other West End Theatres I have so far walked past. Originally opened in 1907 it was designed as a pair with the Gielgud Theatre, however the Queen’s Theatre was the first West End theatre to be put out of action by bombing on the 24th September 1940. This brought to an end the production of Rebecca with Owen Nares, Celia Johnson and Margaret Rutherford that was running at the time.

The Queen’s Theatre reopened in 1959 after a reconstruction project costing £250,000 and which explains the radically different appearance of the building to other theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.

The Queen’s Theatre is currently showing “Les Miserables”.

Soho Theatre

To visit my next destination I turned off Shaftesbury Avenue to walk down Dean Street to find the Soho Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Soho Theatre is one of the West End’s newer theatres, it has been the home of the Soho Theatre Company since 2000. It is also one of the smallest with a 150 seat auditorium. The building also has a smaller 90 seat performance space and houses the Soho Theatre Bar.

West End Theatres

The Soho Theatre was hosting two productions, “Blush” by Charlotte Josephine and “Roller Diner” by Stephen Jackson.

Prince Edward Theatre

I then walked back down Dean Street then turned into Old Compton Street to find the Prince Edward Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Prince Edward Theatre was opened in 1930 and has had a number of different uses in the following years.

In 1936 the building opened as the London Casino, running as a cabaret restaurant. During the war the building housed the Queensbury All Services Club  broadcasting shows to British Forces across the world. It was during this time that almost every well known war time performer was at the Prince Edward for one of these broadcasts including Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller, Tommy Handley, George Formby and Flanagan and Allan.

After the war the Prince Edward returned to theatrical productions until 1954 when it was converted to a cinema, a role it continued to perform until 1978 when the Prince Edward was restored to a theatre, a role it has continued to perform to this day.

The Prince Edward is currently hosting the musical “Aladdin”.

The Palace Theatre

Back down to Shaftesbury Avenue and at the junction with Charing Cross Road is the Palace Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Palace Theatre is a large, red brick building with a capacity for 1,400 theatre goers.

The theatre was opened in 1891 for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House. The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, however when this closed there was no follow up production and the Royal English Opera House closed.

D’Oyly sold the building and in 1911 it opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties, commencing a theme of musical productions which have run for most of the theatre’s time. With the emphasis on musicals rather than variety productions, the theatre dropped the last part of the name to become the Palace Theatre.

Today, the Palace Theatre is hosting probably one of the biggest productions in the West End for some years, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

Phoenix Theatre

Walking up Charing Cross Road, I found my next theatre, the Phoenix Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Phoenix Theatre has two main entrances, one on Phoenix Street (above) and the other on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Flitcroft Street (below).

West End Theatres

The Phoenix Theatre was opened in 1930 to a design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crewe and Cecil Masey. Since opening it has held an almost continuous run of plays and musicals.

The Phoenix Theatre is currently hosting the musical “The Girls” by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth.

The Dominion Theatre

Continuing along Charing Cross Road to the junction with Tottenham Court Road where the Dominion Theatre is located.

West End Theatres

Built in 1939, the Dominion Theatre has operated as a theatre, cinema and live music venue.

It did not last long as a theatre as by 1933 it was owned by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation as a cinema and with the occasional exception of a live performance, remained primarily as a cinema until the late 1970s. It then went through a period of hosting live music including David Bowie and Bon Jovi, before returning to a theatrical venue in the late 1980s.

My first visit to the Dominion Theatre was when it was a cinema. I cannot remember exactly how old I was, probably around 8 or 9, when my parents took me to the Dominion Theatre as a birthday treat to see the film The Battle of Britain (although it was also probably a rather clever ploy by my dad to get to see the film).

In 2014, the 12 year run of the musical We Will Rock You came to a close, ending the period when a giant gold statue of Freddy Mercury adorned the front of the theatre.

West End Theatres

The Dominion Theatre is now showing “An American In Paris”.

Shaftesbury Theatre

To reach my next theatre, I walked along New Oxford Street, and down Shaftesbury Avenue to find the Shaftesbury Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Shaftesbury Theatre occupies a prominent corner location. Opened in 1911 it was originally called The Princes Theatre. For over a century the Shaftesbury Theatre has hosted musicals, plays and comedies and in 1968 the run of the musical Hair commenced in September, made possible by the ending of theatre censorship laws on the 26th September 1968 when after 231 years of theatre censorship, the Lord Chamberlain had his powers to censor plays removed.

Hair ran for almost 2,000 performances before it was forced to close owing to structural problems in the building that required urgent restoration work. During closure, there were attempts to redevelop the building, however it was saved as a theatre and reopened in 1974.

The Shaftesbury Theatre is currently hosting “Motown The Musical”.

New London Theatre

Next on my route was the New London Theatre which I reached by walking along High Holborn then down Drury Lane:

West End Theatres

The New London Theatre opened in 1972 in a new building on the site of an earlier theatre.

The Middlesex Music Hall was on the site from 1851, and in 1911 this was replaced by a new theatre but with the similar name of the New Middlesex Theatre of Varieties. In 1919 it became The Winter Garden, a name which it retained until 1959 when the theatre closed.

The building stood empty for much of the 1960s until it was demolished and replaced with the building that is on the site today (although it is hard to get an idea of the building underneath the advertising).

The New London Theatre is currently showing “School of Rock, the Musical”.

And with the New London Theatre I complete my first post of West End Theatres. In my second post, later this coming week I will complete the set, having hopefully found all the theatres in London’s West End.

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