Darlington, County Durham
Darlington Theatre Royal
29 Sept 2023
Darlington, County Durham
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You can see the sheer scale of the theatre at the rear, which first opened in 1881 to a design by William Hodgson. It was replaced in the late 30s with the Regal, which evolved into the Odeon. The Odeon itself is now closed and awaiting a new lease of life or demolition.
This is the third theatre on the site and was erected for George Hunter of Gateshead, constructed out of polished Dunhouse stone at a height of 50ft. The interior sounds just as grand - a ticket office relieved with gold and French grey. Brass handrails and rich upholstery too. The private boxes were spacious and “beautifully furnished”, with the acoustic properties of the theatre specially designed to match the ambitions of the architect.
The first was a small hall, first erected in 1875. This was later expanded in 1881, but was gutted by a large fire. As a result it was later rebuilt in 1887.
The backdrop to the stage was produced by Mr T Hemsley, depicting an Italian landscape scene (foreign to many a Darlingtonite in the 1880s) surrounded by the town’s coat of arms, Shakespeare, and figures of Puck and Ariel from The Tempest and Midsummer Nights Dream.
The first performance was Lady of Lyon’s by the Darlington Medley Dramatic Club to a packed out audience - an 1830s romantic melodrama by Edward Bulwer Lytton. Gracie Fields had also performed here, playing "Mr Tower of London" in 1926.
The theatre continued to present plays was converted into a cinema in 1932, leaving Darlington without a theatre. Control had passed to Councillor T H Pallor of Hartlepool. Just before this, it had already diversified though. Boxing contests were held here until as late as 1931 when Leeds born Joe Lowther beat Jack Bottomley of South Bank in a 15 rounds contest.
6 years after conversion, Associated British Cinemas opened the Regal on the site of the old theatre on January 31st. It was opened by the Mayor of Darlington J H Taylor, and was said to have been equal to any such place of entertainment in the provinces and surpassed by none. Seating accomodation topped 1600 capacity. Percy L Browne and Son and Harding were the architects.
Listing Description (if available)
Both Ordnance Survey maps above illustrate the Theatre Royal site from the 1890s to the 1910s. The area saw intense development just before the 1890s with the advent of the railway and widespread industrialisation on the banks of the Skerne through the latter half of the century. This only continued into the 1900s, when the common fields at Hope Town were turned into terraces between the illustration of these maps.
As the northern peripheries of the town grew, the tramway also became double track throughout rather than a passing loop outside the theatre.
The 1947 map was illustrated only a year after the rebuilding to the ABC Regal in 1938, hence its labelling as "picture theatre" in these days. There are notable changes from the 1910s, including the constructed of the Labour Exchange and social club next door as well as the construction of St Luke's Church on Corporation Road. A new Saw Mill was also opened on Chesnut Street on the Skerne.
The Odeon in 2023, built in the 1930s as the Regal
The Theatre Royal c1930s, with the Simpson Grocers directly adjacent which is also still standing. Unknown original source.
The Regal just after opening in the 1930s, with Simpson's still operation. The ABC credit can be seen on the front elevation. Unknown original source.