Theatre Royal, Hanley | Buildings of Stoke-on-Trent


Theatre Royal

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Theatre Royal
Pall Mall, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

 "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.

The Royal - after refurbishment and renaming in 1997
The Royal - after refurbishment and renaming in 1997


Sentinel 31-05-2000

Final curtain for the Royal?
The future of The Royal theatre is hanging in the balance after the announcement yesterday that owner Mike Lloyd's entertainment business empire had folded.
All shows and events booked for the venue have been cancelled and a new buyer is now being sought.
Yesterday the famous theatre on Pall Mall, Hanley was boarded up to prevent vandalism to the building.
Receivers KPMG have been called in to take over the Mike Lloyd music empire - which include the record shops, ticket promotions and the Royal - after his three companies ceased trading.
Ironically the music impresario had rescued The Royal from receivers in 1996 and then oversaw a massive £1.1 million refurbishment of the famous old building, returning it to its former glory.
If a creditors meeting, which will take place within the next three weeks, agrees to sell all the companies assets - as is expected - The Royal will be sold again.
David Chadwick, a public relations officer for KPMG, has vowed every effort will be made to save the theatre.
He said: ‘‘If at all possible it will be sold on as a theatre. If we cannot do this it will be sold for other uses.''
‘‘Our job is to realise the highest price for the assets of the business to pay the creditors.''
Mr Lloyd said he hoped the theatre could be saved but said the city could only support three theatres ‘with great difficulty'.
He said: ‘‘There is a lack of shows of quality which we can put on and there is a lack of product to go round.
‘‘In Stoke-on-Trent we haven't got a large theatre-going audience because people have lost the habit of going.''
He also said it was difficult when the Victoria Hall and The Regent had received lottery grants and council funding but The Royal had been given nothing. But he added: ‘‘I think The Royal could carry on now we have done so much to it. I think there will be a lot of buyers in the market place.''
A feasibility study used to prepare the Cultural Quarter lottery bid in 1994 warned that Stoke-on-Trent would only be able to support one large theatre for touring shows.
The report from the consultants The Arts Business said Stoke-on-Trent City Council needed to make a choice between whether to refurbish the Theatre Royal or The Regent.
Mr Lloyd did not buy the Royal until November 1996, after lottery funding had been agreed for The Regent and Victoria Hall.
Councillor Tony Pattie said he would not have thought The Regent's public funding would have led to the demise of The Royal as they catered for different audiences.

Mike Lloyd outside The Royal

PICTURED: Mike Lloyd outside The Royal which he restored at a personal cost of £1 million

Battler who won friends and admirers in cut throat world of showbiz
By Dianne Gibbons
Mike Lloyd's life has revolved around the music industry for almost 40 years. He knows his subject intimately and has literally thousands of enthralling tales to tell. The entrepreneur tells them with the same mixture of wit and infectious enthusiasm which he puts into his work.

Mr Lloyd is passionate about the Fifties when rock 'n' roll was raw and exciting and blasted its way into Britain. By 1963, when he was just 20, the youth from Walsall was playing guitar in a rock 'n' roll band. Not just any band, but a group called The Shouts, who supported US singer Gene Vincent when he toured the UK. But life on the road travelling took its toll and Mike was diagnosed as suffering from an ulcer.
It was at this point that local businessman Terry Blood joined forces with Mike and together they formed Blood-Lloyd - a company which owned record shops and was involved in concert promotion and ticket sales.
In 1974, Blood-Lloyd split and the business was shared. Mike took control of two of the shops and the concert promotion side and the rest is history.

What North Staffordshire really has to thank Mike Lloyd for is bringing top live acts to the area.
Central to the success of this was the Victoria Hall in Hanley where big names such as The Police, Big Country, Elkie Brookes, Alison Moyet, INXS and David Essex to name but a few took centre stage. As well as rock and pop music Mike has other interests in other sections of the arts and is closely involved with the Stoke and Newcastle Musical Festival.

In November, 1996, he increased his empire by snapping up the historic Theatre Royal.
It was revamped at a cost of £1.1 million, renamed The Royal, and opened as an attractive venue for North Staffordshire's theatregoers.
Pantomime, variety, musicals - it was all there, a tempting menu to keep the punters happy.
But even his entrepreneural skills could not fight against the competition which came from the newly-opened Regent and the newly-refurbished Victoria Hall.
Just three months ago he said: ‘‘When The Regent re-opened last year many people wondered what would happen to The Royal and whether the city was big enough for the two of them.
‘‘Audiences are down but not phenomenally so, and I have no intention of closing the theatre.''
Unfortunately the pressure of the subsidised competition told and the result was this week's closure.

At the height of his success Mike was operating stores in Hanley, Newcastle, Stafford and Wolverhampton, as well as The Royal. He employed 25 full-time and 30 part-time staff.
Promoter Tony Claymore who was due to bring American singer Jack Jones to The Royal in two weeks time said: ‘‘I am totally shocked. I have dealt with Mike for 10 years and there has never been a problem.''
Mike Massey, former managing director of the former Jollees nightclub in Longton and friend of Mike Lloyd, said: ‘‘I am totally shocked.''
Angie Stevenson, a theatre historian, said: ‘‘I am completely knocked out by the news but it's not unexpected - we live in a city which just cannot support three live theatres. I have stood in the ruins of many theatres, and it chokes me to say I believe I'll be standing in the ruins of the Royal by the end of this year. Mike is the only man in the country who could make it work.''
Peter Cheeseman, a former resident director at the New Vic Theatre, said: ‘‘I have known Mike for many years and have always been a great admirer. As well as being a businessman he did a lot of voluntary work for the music industry in Stoke and Newcastle.''
‘‘This is a real shame.''

Terry King, of the former 50's rock and roll band Terry King of the Saints, staged a revival night at the Royal on Friday evening which featured rock and roll acts to an audience of 1,100.
Terry said: ‘‘I remember Mike looked deep in thought and very worried that evening - when I heard the news, it was almost like I'd had some sort of premonition.
‘‘I knew Mike from the sixties and this is just a terrible disaster. It is hard to see the Royal Theatre surviving after this - Mike is the only person I know who could make a go of it.''


Man who polished Royal's crown
By John Woodhouse
A dirty, damp, smelly theatre well past its sell by date - that was the Theatre Royal four years ago.
So it took a brave man to chuck a million at its crumbling form when most envisaged its next big production would be of a big pile of bricks in Pall Mall.
Step forward into the spotlight Mike Lloyd - a man driven by the buzz of the stage as much as the ring of the cash tills.
He had an idea to make the place live again. Forget the dusty cliched old shows, the same old plays delivered to an ever-decreasing audience, the theatre needed a fresh modern image to appeal to new audiences.
He dropped the Theatre Royal tag and instead installed a bright neon frontage proclaiming simply The Royal.
Bills included bright alternative pop acts like Super Furry Animals and Cast, as well as top quality comedians including Mark Lamarr and Paul Merton - big names which started to inject some air into an entertainment world stifled for years between Manchester and Birmingham. At the same time he never forgot the traditionalists, the rock and rollers, the Quo fans, the Ken Dodd crowd, and, importantly, the local amateur dramatists who will be shedding a collective and heartfelt tear for the loss of a treasured venue today.
But the cranes in the sky round Hanley spelt competition. Lottery handouts were seeing the transformation of the Victoria Hall and Regent Theatre.
In the space of a few months Hanley had gone from cultural void to ‘Cultural Quarter' and while Lloyd was proclaiming they could all run in tandem with each other, not everyone was convinced.
Two celebrity pantomimes would have a battle in the West End, so how could it ever work in Hanley?
The demise of The Royal will leave a gap in the city. OK, Lloyd's bookings may not have been everybody's cup of tea and the high-browed will hardly be spilling tears at The Royal's demise.
But bookings is bookings and entertainment is entertainment. For the city to lose such a large slab of its nightlife is sad.
By its very nature theatre is a risky business, and that's why venues are now generally owned by large corporations who can cover the cost of the odd knockback.
Lloyd's vision for The Royal was inflamed by his long involvement with North Staffordshire. How many others would do the same?

Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, W. White, 1851; 1898 Cassell's 'Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland';
Old Times in the Potteries, W Scarratt, 1906; City of Stoke-on-Trent Handbook 1957; The Sentinel newspaper - Aug 16 2001; "The Royal Story" by Ray Johnson; Ted Bottle "Peoples Hall/Royal Pottery Theatre/Theatre Royal" 1995

updated: 25 Feb 2003