A history of the music halls and theatres of Ashton-under-Lyne
The book ‘For your Delectation and Delight’ is the first comprehensive account of popular live entertainment in Ashton-under-Lyne.
Beginning in the early 1800s when theatres were housed in simple wooden structures temporarily erected on the market ground or fashioned from old stables, churches or numerous industrial
premises. The book also covers the rise and fall of the town’s music halls including amongst others the ‘People’s Hall and Palace of Varieties’, ‘The Grand Palace and Fairyland’ and the ‘Grand
Illuminated Grotto’. The lives of both the magnificent Frank Matcham designed Theatre Royal and the Empire-Hippodrome are both fully covered from their opening days to their final
Buy locally from
Hari Market Newsagent - Stall 31 Ashton Market Hall.
Tameside Local Studies Library, Cotton Street East, Ashton.
There are many people today who remember with affection their visits to the Tameside Theatre (later the Tameside Hippodrome) situated on Oldham Road and there may
still be some older residents who remember the Theatre Royal, Ashton which stood almost opposite.
Of course, these two venues weren’t the first theatres in town. The earliest reference to a theatre in Ashton comes from 1802 – though it is probable that there had been earlier ones.
As stated in the book ‘For Your Delectation and Delight: A History of the Music Halls and Theatres of Ashton-under-Lyne, “…most, provincial towns like Ashton did not have a permanent all-year round theatre. Instead it was left to visiting theatrical troupes to establish and set up their own theatre. Initially, most were not purpose built but were adapted from suitable buildings. The exterior of these were simple with no adornments - other than advertising playbills - they carried no name usually being known simply as ‘The Theatre’. From the main entrance there would probably have been a vestibule with a paybox and doors to the pit, while a stairway would have led to the boxes and gallery. The number of boxes would be dependent on the size of the building. Some places may have had a separate entrance for the gallery. Apart from upholstered chairs in the boxes, seating in the rest of the building would have been rudimentary usually consisting of plain wooden benches. Decoration too was minimal with the walls merely carrying a coat of paint”.
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The first Theatre Royal in town was not the grand edifice that stood on Oldham Road but one which was located on Fleet Street. There was also the ‘Gas Works
Theatre’ on Oldham Road and the Star Theatre on Church Street.
The Tameside Theatre/Hippodrome’ was originally built as a variety theatre ‘The Empire-Hippodrome’ which opened to a capacity audience of 2,000 people on 21st November 1904. It had been erected for the family-owned Broadhead Circuit of theatres. Their first purpose-built theatre had been the Osbourne Theatre at Oldham. This was followed by several more in Manchester. During the 1930s it became a cinema and remained as such through various owners until its acquisition by Tameside MBC in 1975.
The ‘Theatre Royal’ preceded the ‘Empire-Hippodrome’ by thirteen years opening in 1891. It was designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, who was also responsible for designing the old Palladium in Oxford Street, Manchester, the Ardwick Empire, the Buxton Opera House and the London Palladium. The Ashton theatre was built for the Revill family, who were well-known in the town having for several years operated the Fleet Street theatre – which had originally been converted from the old Israelite Sanctuary of the Johannas.
The Revill’s new 1,000 seat Theatre Royal was opened on September 14th, 1891 and its opening was described in the local paper as "brilliant and successful". The
first show was a melodrama, ‘Fate and Fortune’ and the theatre soon became a popular touring venue.
The Theatre Royal had a period of difficulty as a live venue and was subsequently turned over to cinema use returning to live shows later in its life.
In the early 1950s the Jack Rose Repertory Players took it over before a return to variety. Unfortunately, the return of variety failed to stem the decline in audience numbers and in 1955 after a final show presented by Lancashire’s own Frank Randle the theatre was closed.
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