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Empire Music Hall

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Important events

(detail)1890 | construction
It was designed by the Architects Oliver and Leeson and its auditorium could accommodate some 2000 people.
(detail)1.12.1890 | opening

(detail)1903 | Alteration
Altered to the designs by Frank Matcham .
(detail)1963 | demolition



To illustrate and describe only the seminal, new and expensive theatres of the period would be misleading. Hundreds of new theatres were built around the country in a traditional and well-loved manner, and the work of local architects such as Oliver and Leeson in Newcastle had a remarkable assurance and control. No cantilevers here, but the simplest rectangle containing two tiers supported by iron columns, one lyre-shaped, the other squared off parallel to the outside wall - a late but not unusual hangover from the concert hall period of music hall design. The applied decoration was rich and powerful: Flemish Renaissance strapwork at the proscenium, adjacent to walls covered in Lincrusta paper, the whole made cosy and homely by gilt-framed mirrors and neatly-placed pictures. The exterior of the Empire was in the style of the early Flemish Renaissance, a facade that was preserved by Matcham when he made over the auditorium in 1901. The rich and comfortable cosiness extended to all parts of the house and even the corridors had a plush domestic quality shows the entrance to the balcony slips; fortunately there was never a panic here, for the table would have presented a splendid hazard. The piece de resistance of the auditorium was its superb ceiling. A central saucer dome of Flemish strapwork is surrounded by a lattice-work border, touched with gilt. Five electroliers enliven the whole. The Empire was unusual in having no gallery; it had instead private boxes at the upper balcony level, probably indicating that the audience was of one social class, divided only by slight financial distinctions. The most expensive seats were the padded stalls, followed by the boxes with loose chairs, the less padded dress circle, finally the undivided pit benches and, in the Empire, the balcony slips and upper slips.


In: Glasstone, Victor: Victorian and Edwardian Theatres: An Architectural and Social Survey. Harvard 1975 p. 87 -88



Author: Victor Glasstone

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