Hyde Theatre Royal is a beautiful Edwardian theatre opened in 1902. It stands on Corporation Street in the centre of Hyde in Cheshire. The building is largely as it was when first built and is architecturally and in heritage terms the finest and most important theatre in the borough.

We are delighted that our prime objective has been achieved - that the Theatre Royal building, once threatened with demolition, has been saved.


Theatre Royal Onward has been working for some years to preserve, restore and re-open the theatre. The current owner has done extensive preservation work on the building, the roof has been repaired, dry rot removed and new windows fitted. The main change is that a level floor has been installed on the ground floor. This opens up many other uses for the theatre, and follows the blueprint that has been used by many other disused urban theatres around the country that has led to very successful multi-use futures. We firmly believe that a venue of this kind would be a success for Hyde and Tameside, attracting people into the borough, bringing in much needed commerce. The building would also have community uses, contributing to community cohesion. It is envisaged that the restored theatre could be used for theatre and film, of course, but also weddings, conferences, dinner dances, commercial business launches, sporting events, live music, touring art exhibitions, fashion shows and so much more. An options appraisal carried out for the group confirms the project is viable and is supported by the Theatres Trust and David Wilmore, one of the country’s leading theatre restoration experts.

Your support is essential. Become a Friend of Theatre Royal Hyde, like the facebook page, spread the word as far and wide as you can, and support the fundraising initiatives we will be announcing this year.

History of the Theatre Royal

The age of philanthropy
The opening of the Theatre Royal
The Mayor's opening speech
First performance review
Cinema arrives
Stars on stage
Live performances cease
Theatre Royal closes completely
The Theatre slumbers

Theatre given listed building status
The listing process

Can the theatre be 'de-listed' and knocked down?
The future

The age of philanthropy

The 19th and early twentieth century was a time of violent crime and ways to rectify this were constantly being explored. The working day had recently been shortened for children under fourteen, causing concern to some mill owners as to how the youngsters would spend their time. They envisaged teenage gangs and a wave of crime as a result of just two hours free-time in the evening. Some opposed the changes vehemently, while others decided it was time to provide more education and leisure. It is known that most crime was physical abuse of some type but it was also an age where young Constables had to prove their worth by stating how many arrests had been made - no further details, so spitting received as much attention as burglary.

Throughout this early age of technology Philanthropists were growing, from the ranks of those worried mill owners to provide schools, libraries, swimming pools, educational institutions - such as Hyde's Mechanics Institute and, of course, theatres.

Planning permission to build a new theatre in Hyde was passed by Hyde Town Council in 1901 and work begun, with the theatre opening in November 1902; licensed as a theatre, not merely a Playhouse for vaudeville acts. The opening play was a Victorian French melodrama, which could have been dubbed rather above the taste of the ordinary working people of the area. This was followed by Shakespeare and other classics, during this age of philanthropy when the fear that education would seriously deplete the workforce, had died down. Shakespeare, as the proscenium arch proclaims, was not beneath the understanding of the working class.

The opening of the Theatre Royal - 3rd November 1902
(extract from the North Cheshire Herald)

"The site provides frontage for the new structure on all four sides, thus rendering it practically isolated. The auditorium consists of the pit, with the rows of seating accommodating 600 persons; the pit stalls with eight rows will seat three hundred persons; the dress and rear circles, in six rows provide chairs for 300. The gallery and amphi contain twelve rows, with capacity for 800 persons.

The dress circle is reached from the entrance hall in the centre of the front by a wide staircase ending in a spacious landing, off which, is a small foyer leading to the front and side circles and two private boxes. The pit is entered from the main front by two short corridors and the pit stalls by a separate corridor running along the side of, but apart from, the pit, these two portions of the auditorium being served by six means of exit. The amphi and the gallery have each two entrances from the front street by means of two self-contained staircases, which would in the case of emergency be ample to ensure perfect safety to its occupants.

Refreshments will be served in spacious saloons situated in all parts of the house.

R. Dean Ltd., Birmingham. The lighting is by means of gas, assisted by limelights for stage effects etc. The heating and ventilation have been well considered, and an installation of sprinklers, fire appliances etc. have been provided. Messrs Campbell and Horsley of Manchester were the architects and Messrs S. Robinson and Sons of Hyde, the contractors".

The Mayor's opening speech

The Mayor said in his speech... "there was provided not only better accommodation but better plays would be given by better players. But that depended upon themselves [addressed to the audience] whether they came there and frequented the Theatre as it should be frequented - as an educating medium" ... "The Theatre would be made not only to amuse them and enable them to spend a pleasant hour; but that its trend would be towards good and to the education and elevation of the people. He hoped that all the more because there were large numbers of people week by week [presumable reference to the earlier Theatre Royal]. The Theatre must of necessity form a distinct part of the life of the people".

After the Mayor's opening speech the play Little Jim was performed before the audience including a balcony packed full of dignitaries.

First performance review
North Cheshire Herald of 8th November 1902

"Little Jim is a French play called 'Le Petit Muet' by Henri Karoul adapted by Arthur Shirley and Ben Landeck. The decision to stage this play was made by the management of the Theatre, produced by Mr J.F. Elliston's company"...

the article continues to announce ten further plays booked for the Theatre, all professional companies which include Julius Caesar, Othello and School for Scandal showing how absolutely determined the Town Council were to educate the town.

Cinema arrives

In 1911 moving pictures came to the area and the 230 seat Alexandra Cinema and its first floor Victoria Billiard Hall was built alongside the Theatre Royal to address the demand. However, three years later, the Theatre Royal had to purchase a screen, which could be moved to accommodate live shows, owing to the demand for cinema theatres. It was a new era when footage of the first World War was shown. Though, generally, the news was aimed at stirring more loyalty and winning more troops, it was only a thin disguise. It was the start of being in touch with events worldwide.

When the screen was in place along came all the great films of each era, when everyone wanted to visit America and own a car. During the thirties cinemas were built to deal with this lust, in the most amazing style. A person could enter to be flooded with sunshine by a huge lamp; or to view elephants and tigers in relief on the walls and briefly relax in India.

During this era of change, many Victorian and Edwardian cinemas were altered beyond belief to cater for the modern Art Deco style. Some lost all their original features; some fortunate ones had their gilded plasterwork boarded over but the Theatre Royal was left in its original style with its original features untouched. Changes which did occur, such as widening the aisles, were beneficial and still are today.

By the 1950s there were eight cinemas and theatre/cinemas in Hyde and crime was reduced in favour of leisure and learning, because people did benefit from their theatres. The Theatre Royal was offering sport such as boxing and wrestling and circus with elephants, tigers and escopologists! In fact the stage was strengthened for the elephants by the replacement of the wooden supports by brick. A change which would, later in its history, defy fungal invasion.

Stars on stage

The Theatre Royal continued to entertain the public through happy times, the depression and a second World War, whilst giving the opportunity for the lower classes to enjoy famous stars, at affordable prices. Such stars included Enrico Caruso and Richard Tauber and Laurel & Hardy (not recorded but who probably visited while touring Manchester) and daring comedian Frank Randle, along with the stars of many touring companies, names unfamiliar today, such as Olive Kilner, a star of her time. Some of these visits are not authenticated but are classed as within living memory. The young Julie Andrews visited in the early fifties when her mother and stepfather appeared in concerts. She 'played' at being a star, staff had to raise and lower the curtain as she danced across the stage learning to be one of Britain's greatest divas.

In the 1960s live theatre was declining in favour of cinema, still affordable to every 'with-it' teenager, but the amateur Operatic and Musical Societies were in their hey-day with many a well-known star cutting their teeth in their productions. And what wonderful productions too; they could only be called professional, given its meaning of expertise and hands-on experience.

In Hyde the Theatre Royal offered the largest stage in the area, the finest auditorium and a fly gallery offering the means to employ the best scenery and swiftest scene changes available. It was not the only theatre to offer such facilities but is now the ONLY one remaining in the area; such buildings as the Davenport in Stockport having been reduced to ashes.

Live performances cease

In 1972 live entertainment ceased at the Theatre Royal Hyde and a part of the stage and two dressing rooms were used to accommodate a second cinema. At the same time other theatres and cinemas began to close leaving people to travel, mainly to Manchester, for live shows. In 1952 the Alexandra Cinema had been purchased by the charitable Festival Association to accommodate the smaller local amateur dramatic groups from Tameside and Stockport and is still going strong today, showing what the voluntary sector can do. Hyde Musical Society and Hyde Light Opera moved next door into the former cinema, performing miracles with their productions, with the greatly reduced stage facilities, whilst having to turn away their followers from the smaller auditorium. Romiley Operatic Society, from over the border in Stockport, made their home the Davenport Theatre Stockport, until its closure followed by demolition, then moved to the modern, circular Romiley Forum until the Plaza Cinema in Stockport was saved from demolition, re-opening after use as a bingo hall, with some provision for live productions.

Theatre Royal closes completely

In 1992 the Theatre Royal cinemas closed completely The reason was fraud beyond the knowledge of the London owners and the theatre manager, which led to closure as a liability. At one point people were still coming to the pictures sitting with their coats on, and even hugging hot water bottles, because the heating had been cut off due to non-payment of the bills. They continued, however, to support their last local cinema.

The Theatre slumbers

Seventeen years since the then owner placed the Theatre Royal on the market it still stands, unfortunately suffering increasing decay, but still exuding the same thrill whenever you go inside. Over the years it has been looked after by the dedicated former chief projectionist, who has worked there for fifty years and has certainly not yet decayed, and people now come to Heritage Open Days to tour from the foyer, right up to the Fly Gallery.

Theatre given listed building status

In 2000 the Theatre Royal was given listed building status and a Building Preservation Trust formed to save it. It was registered in 2001 with Companies House, as Theatre Royal Onward. using the wording of the Hyde Coat-of-Arms. In 2002 Theatre Royal Onward became a registered incorporate charity and, in the Theatre Royal's centenary year, a new era of its history began

The Official Listing reads:

"Former theatre, later cinema. 1901-2 by Campbell and Horsley of Manchester. Red brick and terracotta; some render old stock brick to rear; slate roof, Three storeys and attics. Elaborate symmetrical frontage, nine bays wide with broad and elaborate central bay under round terracotta arch with keystone. Piliasters to both sides and three central bays have a distinguished composition with windows in terracotta surrounds to second storey, two oeuils de boeufs above flanked by balustrading. Elaborate moulded and cut brick decoration in pediment, flanked by finials. Simpler short pilasters and keystones to the remaining three bays and these features are continued on the Henry Street elevation. Sash windows in timber frames throughout. Doors under projecting ground-floor canopy blocked. Roof with lantern.

Interior. Substantial intact auditorium of stalls, circle and gallery, supported on cast-iron columns in circle, which also has a plaster ceiling. Large coved ceiling forms central dome over auditorium, with steeply raked gallery continuing behind. Elaborate balcony fronts with plaster swag decoration. Proscenium arch survives, with top cresting, blocked by later inserted cinema screen. Theatrical flies, grid and 13.4m deep raked stage survive behind this.

The Theatre Royal was opened in 1902 as a replacement for an early Theatre Royal nearby in Frank Street. It first showed films in 1914, which were combined with live shows until 1972. Included as a complete Edwardian theatre, its balconies and decorative areas-remain intact, with proscenium arch. The exterior is notable for its lavish terracotta and brick decoration."

(Source: Curtains!!! A New Life for Old Theatres Trust, 1982)

Signed by the authority of the Secretary of State
Eleanor Hodge
Department of Culture, Media and Sport
13 April 2000

The listing process

Listing began in Britain on January 1st 1950 in the austere post-war years. Sadly we were not the pioneers in the field; the French had been classifying historic buildings for the previous years while we in Britain relied on pressure groups such as the Georgian Group, formed in the 1930's to prevent the wholesale destruction of our Georgian architecture, perceived at that time as dull and lacking in merit.

English Heritage states: Historic buildings are a precious and finite asset and powerful reminders to us of the work and way of life of earlier generations. The richness of this country's architectural heritage plays an influential part in our sense of national and regional identity. Your favourite views of England - street, village, town or city - almost certainly contains buildings protected by the process called 'listing'.

A decision to list a building is taken solely on the grounds of architectural or historic interest. There is no formal right of appeal against this decision, at the moment of listing, but an owner may at any time put to the Secretary of State evidence that his building does not possess the architectural or historic interest identified. If the Secretary of State accepts that the original assessment of a buildings' interest was wrong in this way and that it does not possess special interest, he will then de-list the building (details from English Heritage website about listed buildings).

Can the theatre be 'de-listed' and knocked down?

A decision to list a building is taken solely on the grounds of architectural or historic interest. There is no formal right of appeal against this decision, at the moment of listing, but an owner may at any time put to the Secretary of State evidence that his building does not possess the architectural or historic interest identified. If the Secretary of State accepts that the original assessment of a building's interest was wrong in this way and that it does not possess special interest, he will then de-list the building (details from English Heritage website about listed buildings).
The Theatre Royal is a unique survivor in so many ways, virtually untouched since it was built, and still retaining most of its original features. As such, it is very unlikely that it would ever be de-listed. Furthermore, all theatres also come under the care of the Theatres Trust, which is a statutory consultee on any changes to any theatre building in the UK (working or not) - and they would strongly oppose any works that in any way caused permanent damage to the fabric of the building.

Listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to the building which might affect its special interest. The local authority uses listed building consent to make decisions that balance the site's historic significance against other issues such as its function, condition or viability.

Future use of the Theatre Royal in the community

It is hoped to save and re-open this magnificent theatre, a gem of our national heritage. The options appraisal document states that the project is viable. It is envisaged that the following groups could benefit from and make use of a refurbished and reopened Theatre Royal in Hyde:

  • Professional touring companies
  • Amateur societies
  • Dancing groups and choirs
  • Opportunities for education in the arts and stage management
  • Schools and college events
  • Charity galas
  • Cinema
  • Children's events
  • Use by businesses for corporate entertaining
  • Multicultural events
  • Events aimed at specific sectors such as the elderly
  • Fan club weeks
  • Provision of rehearsal rooms

..... and so on and so on!

All profits will, naturally, be ploughed back into the Theatre and it is hoped that costs may be kept to a minimum.

There are also great opportunities to create a focus point for the local youth community and also there is the likelihood of creating jobs for the local area.

In our aims we have the backing of:

  • The Greater Manchester Police (especially with regard to the Crime Prevention Initiative - both kids off the street and jobs for young offenders)
  • Clarendon Square Shopping Mall, Hyde.

With your support we can make it happen - Join us.



Theatre Royal Hyde