WITH RESEARCH FOR A
LOCAL HISTORY BOOK
ON THE SUBJECT OF THE THEATRES OF
Are you from a theatrical family? Did any of your relatives appear at Ashton?
Do you have a fond memory of visiting the theatres?
Have you any photographs?
After the closure of the Tameside Hippodrome in April 2008 the town was left with no professional theatres. The Tameside Hippodrome first saw the light of day as the Empire-Hippodrome in 1904 while the Theatre Royal preceded it by thirteen years opening in 1891.
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, also designed the Theatre Royal. The Ashton theatre was built for the Revill family, who were well-known in the town having already operated the Star Theatre for several years. Mr Revill had converted the Star, from the old Israelite Sanctuary of the Johannas and operated it successfully.
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.
In the early 1900s, grand opera attracted large audiences. J. W. Turner, a famous tenor and Covent Garden star, was a favourite with the crowds as was Lizzie Burgess, a native of Ashton, who sang with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company were regular visitors. Among famous music hall artistes to appear at the theatre were Vesta Tilley, Nellie Wallace and Albert Chevalier.
The Theatre Royal had a period of difficulty as a live venue and was subsequently turned over to cinema use during the 1940s. Live shows were reintroduced when the Bert Loman Repertory Players made a home there. In the early 1950s the Jack Rose Repertory Players took it over. Unfortunately, even though variety was reintroduced audiences, by 1955, had declined so much that the theatre was closed. It came back to life again for a few months with the eventual final show being presented by Lancashire’s own Frank Randle. After a period as a bingo hall the building was demolished in 1963.
The Empire-Hippodrome was built for the Broadhead’s, another well-known theatre family. Their first purpose built theatre had been the Osbourne Theatre at Oldham. This was followed by several more in Manchester. The Empire-Hippodrome at Ashton-under-Lyne opened to a capacity audience of 2,000 people on 21st November 1904. Much like the Theatre Royal the Empire-Hippodrome’s opening night was a civic affair with the Mayor and members of the council in attendance along with the MP for the town. An extract from a local newspaper report of the opening night said,“the programme this week is of an excellent character, and particularly varied. George Chanti, in his unique speciality turn, is an entertainment in himself with lightning like rapidity he changes from one character to another and during his turn gives exhibitions of a Chinaman, Russian, Scotchman, a bull fight scene in Naples and others, carrying out the particular dance of the country he represents and accompanying most of his characters with national music. The effect of his turn is greatly heightened by the limelights. Shawlene, who is billed as the world’s greatest and sweetest whistler, gives a striking performance in which he imitates with wonderful exactness the noises of various birds, accompanying the orchestra in ‘The Bohemian Girl’. There is an excellent orchestra under the leadership of Mr. C. Lawrence.
With the advent of ‘The Talkies’ the theatre was changed over to cinema use in 1939, for a while the place presented cine-variety until the films finally ousted the live shows altogether. The Empire-Hippodrome remained as a cinema until the mid-70s when it again became a live theatre. Today it is well known as the Tameside-Hippodrome.