Lancashire theatres designed by Frank Matcham

Frank Matcham was born in Devon the son of a brewery clerk. He was brought up in Torquay where he went to Babbacombe school. In 1868 he became apprenticed to George Bridgman a local builder and architect. In the mid 1870’s he moved to London to join the architectural practice of Jethro Robinson who was consulting theatre architect to the Lord Chamberlain.

In 1877 Matcham married Robinson’s daughter and the following year when Robinson died suddenly, the 24 year old Matcham found himself taking over the practice.

His first major job was to complete the Elephant and Castle Theatre which Robinson had started. Following this, Matcham went from success to success and over the next 30 years he became unrivalled as the most prolific theatre architect of all time.

It is impossible to be definitive as to his total output, but on current research we can say that he designed at least 80 theatres as original architect and he refitted or worked on at least as many again. He also designed some pubs, cinemas, hotels and notably the County Arcade in Leeds, and the Tower Ballroom and Circus in Blackpool.

Sadly, only some two dozen of his theatres survive with a further dozen having been drastically altered as bingo halls, nightclubs, cinemas, etc.

Matcham never qualified as an architect and was snubbed by many in his profession, but he became the supreme example of his craft. Despite his vast output each theatre was unique, and his ability to produce magnificent theatres on difficult sites speedily and economically led him to become highly respected by theatre owners and managers. He developed close relationships with several, especially Sir Oswald Stoll for whom he designed his supreme masterpiece the London Coliseum in 1904 as the flagship venue for his chain of theatres and Music Halls. Happily this theatre survives largely intact as the home of the English National Opera and was magnificently restored for the centenary in 2004.

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1888 Bolton, Theatre Royal

The original Theatre Royal was built on Churchgate in 1853. It was destroyed by fire in January 1888. Architect Frank Matcham was employed to design a new Theatre Royal, which opened on 19th November 1888. In 1902 it was screening films as part of the programme.In February 1928 it was reconstructed as a cinema, the plans incorporated the reconstruction of the adjacent Princess Cinema. The new Theatre Royal opened on 5th November 1928, and presented variety and cinema performances. It was equipped with a Western Electric (WE) sound system and the first ‘talkie’ shown here was “Broadway” on 16th January 1930. By 1937 it had been taken over by the H.D. Moorhouse Circuit. The Theatre Royal was closed in 1962. The closed building was destroyed by a fire. An office building named Stone Cross House now stands on the site.


1889 Blackpool, Opera House

Now in its third construction, the Opera House, who entrance is to the left on this picture was first built in 1889, at a cost of £9,098 but is now part of the Winter Gardens.





1889 St Helens, Theatre Royal

Destroyed by fire in the 1890's the present building was designed by Matcham and was open on the 20th of May 1901, seating 1400 people in stalls, a lower and upper circle and private boxes.  It closed down in the 1960's before being bought by the Pilkington Brothers who refurbished it for use by the company employees before donating it in the 1980's to the local County Council who established The Theatre Royal (St Helens) Trust who still run the now 702 capacity theatre today.

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1890 Bury, Theatre Royal

Opened on the 29th of December 1989 and designed by Matcham it was an extremely attractive theatre in the Centre of the Bury, Lancashire, opposite the famous Market Hall at the corner of Market Street and Princess Street. It had a commanding facade in brick and dressed stone with a pediment projection of three storeys in the centre and two at the sides, containing the principal entrances. It was modernised in 1919 before becoming a picture house in 1933 and remained so, in various forms for 96 years before being demolished after it closed in May 1985.



1891 Ashton-under-Lyne, Theatre Royal

Opened on the 14th of September 1891 on Oldham Road as a drama theatre with a capacity for 3000, both standing and sitting, was briefly a cinema, bingo hall and office premises before closing in 1963 when it was demolished.


1891 Southport, Opera House

Opened on the 7th of September 1891 on Lord Street Southport, sitting 2000 people at a cost of around £20,000 to build and considered one of Matchams' better creations. Was destroyed by fire in 1929









1894 Blackpool Grand Theatre

The theatre was opened in 1894 at a cost of £20.000 and was the first theatre to use the "cantilever" design to support the tiers and making it easier for all audience to see the performance. Now a Grade II listed building, was briefly a bingo hall in the 1970 before being taken over by The Friends of The Grand in October 1980, with help from Blackpool Borough Council and re-opening as a theatre once more on the 23rd of March 1981 and has gone on from strength to strength since.




1894  Bolton Grand Theatre

Being built first for the New Grand Circus of Varieties Theatre for the Bolton Theatre and Entertainments Company (Limited) on Churchgate Bolton for around £16.000 it opened on Monday the 27th of August 1894 principally as a circus venue but by the early 1900' moved to being a Variety theatre.  The invention of the television led to it's downfall and the theatre became a bingo hall in the 1960's before being demolished in 1963.


1885 Salford Regent Theatre

Built at a cost of £14.000 in 1885  on Cross Lane, Salford, with a capacity for 1.700 people  it was also known as the Regent Opera House. The theatre started showing films in 1901 to its audiences which took over from theatre productions, before being renovated in 1919 and turning into two cinemas by 1929.  A brief theatre revival was stopped by a fire in 1952 and it was finally demolished in 1963


1898 Morecambe Royalty


The photograph shows the building in the 1960's when it was being used as a cinema,  Opened on the 14th of April 1898 having been built on the site of the former Assembly Rooms with a capacity for 1,555 people both standing and sitting in stalls, circles and private boxes. It held Theatre performances throughout the year and showed films during the winter seasons. It became a cinema in 1961, then a bingo hall before closing as a cinema again in 1967 and demolished to make way for the Arndale Centre in 1972



1899 Salford Broadway

No photographs found


1904 Manchester Ardwick Green Empire

Situated on the corner of Stockport Road and Hyde Road it opened its doors on the 18th of July 1904 enjoying success with live theatre before showing some films from 1930.  It was updated in 1935 and re-branded the New Manchester Hippodrome continuing until it closed on the 22nd of April 1961 and left empty until damaged by fire in 1964 and demolished. 




1904 Manchester Hippodrome

Opened on Boxing Day 1904 in Oxford Street Manchester, this theatre had a short life span before being closed in March 1935 and demolished to make way for The Gaumount Theatre on the same site.





1905 Liverpool Olympia

 Opened on the 24th of April 1904 as an indoor circus and theatre it had the largest auditorium in Liverpool with stalls and three balconies capable of holding up to 4000 people.  It was a marvel of indoor engineering with internal hoists to raise up animals to the stage and a water tank with a capacity of 80,000 gallons to be used for aquatic events. However in 1925 in was converted to a cinema, then a Bingo Hall and Discotheque before once more being returned to the theatre its today. For more information