Glossop's Theatres and Cinemas.

This article is based mainly on research in contemporary newspapers and the minutes of Glossop Borough Council.

The Travelling Theatres.

Hamnett dismissed theatres in his newspaper columns somewhat, merely saying (when describing the Wakes) “Occasionally a travelling theatre would come and entertain Glossopians with Blood and Thunder dramas”. He was correct in that the early theatres were of the travelling variety but the productions were more wide ranging, including Shakespeare's works as well as contemporary dramas and comedies.

The first documentary evidence which we have of these travelling theatres comes from the Glossop Record of 15 September 1860 which carried an advertisement stating that Duval's Royal Mammoth Pavilion would visit Glossop at the Wakes and claiming that “It is allowed by the public press to be the largest and best Dramatic Pavilion now travelling, and is capable of holding 2,000 persons.”. The following week, in reporting on the Wakes, the Record described Duval's mammoth pavilion as “by far the most rational attraction of the Wakes” and saying “his large, commodious, and comfortably fitted up building has been crowded every night since it opened, and has evidently given great satisfaction to the lovers of the drama, who so seldom have an opportunity of seeing in this town “a miniature representation of the world's great drama,” as a theatre has been called. The company is powerful and deserving of support.”. Subsequent reports gave a glowing account of the plays which had been presented.
The theatre wasn't just used for dramas. The Rev. W. Telfer, newly ordained as minister of the Congregationalists who met in Charles Street, preached two sermons in the theatre each Sunday from 14 October to 4 November. All were apparently very well attended.
Neither did the theatre just stay for Wakes week. The Record of 17 November carried an advertisement reviewing the theatre's stay (which included Shakespeare, popular dramas and (it was claimed) the first pantomime to be performed in Glossop) and stating that it had closed its performances, for the present season, on the previous Monday evening.

Poster for Duval's Mammoth Pavilion
Poster for Duval's Mammoth Pavilion

Given the circumstances of the cotton strike in 1861 and the Cotton Panic which followed almost immediately it is, perhaps, not surprising that there appears to have been no more visits by a travelling theatre for some years. It was the Glossop Record of 14 September 1867 which next carried news of such a visit with an advertisement that the Prince of Wales Theatre would be opened that evening, on the Market Ground “with a first class Company, who will perform the celebrated Drama, in three acts, entitled The Widow and Orphans”. Admission prices were: Boxes 1s, Pit 6d, Gallery 3d. Once again, the theatre stayed for several weeks (its final performance being on 28 October) and included Shakespeare's Richard III and Macbeth in addition to lighter works.
During the 1940s an old poster was found when alterations were being made to the Old Dover Mill - “Prince of Wales Theatre. Market Ground, Glossop. Monday evening, April 26th, 1869, commencing at 7-30 p.m. Pantomime and burlesque! A real treat! By desire! The evening's entertainment will begin with a laughable farce, A Day at the Fair!”.

Similar visits by travelling theatres occurred for several decades. For instance:
10 September 1887 - The Era reported that the Pavilion Theatre - Proprietor, Mr T. Russell - had opened for the season with a specially organised company on Saturday evening. Plays included The Octoroon and Never Too Late to Mend. Short reviews in The Era and The Stage indicate that the season lasted into January 1888 at least.
20 February 1891 – The Glossopdale Chronicle reported that, at the Town Hall on Monday, John Snape obtained a license for three months to produce stage plays at a pavilion theatre to be erected on the Market ground and at present at Altrincham.
7 and 14 March 1891 - The Era, in its “On The Road” column, reported that the O'Beirne Opera Company was in Glossop
3 May 1894 - The Stage carried an advertisement from Clegg's Princess's Theatre of Royton near Oldham for a Leading Lady, Juvenile and Responsible Gents, Pianist, and Cornet. They were to open May 12, Glossop. In the issue of 7 July they wanted a Good Leading Lady (Must dress well) to open July 23rd. Applications were to be sent to Clegg and Hodgkinson, Clegg's Princess's Theatre, Glossop. The issue of 20 September announced that the Princess's Theatre (Proprietor, Mr. Clegg) was to present Peep of Day for the week, which is the “old Glossop wakes week,” and “good houses are expected throughout the stay”.
In December 1895, the Princess Theatre, Market Ground, Glossop advertised “a grand Christmas Pantomime, front seats 1s., second seats, 6d., and gallery. 3d.”. Although not permanent it was a wooden structure, and had an orchestra.
The London Gazette of 10 November 1896 reported the dissolving of the partnership of Elizabeth Clegg and William Hodgkinson, Glossop, Prince's (sic) Theatre proprietors but that seems to have cleared the way for a replacement.

The Stage of 7 January 1897 carried an advertisement for several bookings and vacant dates at the Theatre Royal, Glossop (Manager, John Brown. Stage, 28ft. by 35ft). A similar advertisement in the issue of 10 June stated “Several Autumn Dates open for Theatre Royal (wooden building) and new Victoria Theatre” and that of 5 August, “Roof raised, Stage enlarged. Comfortable Dressing-rooms. Auditorium re-floored, re-seated, and re-upholstered.”.
Sadly the improvements seem not to have been successful as The Stage of 4 November 1897 advertised “Wanted to Sell, good Portable Theatre now situated at Glossop. - C.C. Care of Percy Warlow, Esq,, Grand Theatre, Stalybridge.” and that of 23 December, “Wanted to Sell, Large Portable Theatre at Glossop. Seven wagons, plenty of scenery - Must be moved - Offers to Crichton, 23, Howard Street. Salford.”.

1897 Map
1919 Map
1879 Map
As the 1897 map (above left) shows, although only temporary the theatre of the day was permanent enough to feature.
The larger area occupied by Spencer's Theatre Royal can be seen in the 1919 map (above centre).
The 1879 map (above right) shows that there was no space for a theatre until Glossop Brook was culverted.

In addition to these theatres, several of the public houses of the town booked performers and companies, especially at Wakes time. It is likely that the “Standard Theatre” located in the yard of the Hare and Hounds on Hall Street, Old Glossop, which could hold up to 500 people, came into this category.

The First Permanent Theatres.

Despite the failure of the portable theatre, moves to open a permanent establishment gained ground after the turn of the century. The Glossop Chronicle of 14 November 1902 reported that Lord Howard had been approached, on more than one occasion, with requests for the lease of land on which to erect a permanent theatre. He asked the Council for its view and the first of several discussions took place at the meeting of the General Purposes Committee Wednesday 12 November. Some councillors supported the move and others opposed it. The Free Churches and temperance societies were against the proposal, on the grounds of the risk of lowering moral standards and that a full licence would increase the drinking facilities of the town, but many of the townsfolk were for it. After several months (which included the delegation of powers to grant licences for stage plays by the County Council to the borough) a licence was granted to Mr. George Testo Sante, who already had theatres at Radcliffe and Chorley, at the council meting in July 1903..

Mr Sante initially planned to build a “Grand Theatre” in Edward Street but Lord Howard did not even acknowledge his request for land. As an alternative he decided that he would build a theatre to hold 1,400 people on King Street (where the land was freehold), even going so far as to request permission to make a short access road off Derby Street in September 1903, but protests by those whom the Chronicle described as the “caretakers of morality” prevented him from doing so. It actually took almost two years before the Theatre Royal opened, on 6 March 1905, on the market ground (on the same site as the Princess Theatre), not by George Sante but by Sydney Spenser and his wife Lizzie who had been running running their business, with limited success, near Nottingham for a number of years. The theatre might have been permanent but it was actually dismantled on its previous site and carried to Glossop by train. The building was made of corrugated iron lined with wood, with four dressing rooms and ample accommodation provided for the artistes, and was lit with electric light. The council meeting which granted Mr Spenser's application also considered a letter from Mr Sante, in response to an enquiry from the Town Clerk, in which he stated that he had not abandoned his intention of giving the town a theatre but that "the terrible slump in theatrical business and the depression in trade generally" had prevented him from going on with the matter for the present. When Mr Spenser applied for renewal of his licence, in February 1906, he reported that an average of 2,500 people per week had attended the theatre during its first 37 weeks of opening.

The Theatre Royal about 1906
The Theatre Royal about 1906
The Theatre Royal from the back
Undated view of the market ground showing the rear of the Theatre Royal

The question of the refreshment licence was to re-occur on an annual basis, when Mr Spenser applied for renewal of the theatre licence, but the Council stuck to its guns and continued to refuse, taking into account objections from the Glossop and Hadfield Independent Labour Party; the Licensed Victuallers' Association; and a number of Teachers, Congregations, etc., of Sunday Schools, Churches, and Chapels. In 1907 the Council also required that more dressing rooms, lavatory, W.C., etc., should be provided. In 1908 Mr Spenser suggested that if he had a full licence he could afford to provide "a properly constructed brick and stone building" which would be "an ornament to the town", would pay more rates and provide more employment, but the council was unmoved.

Reports in The Era in January 1910 give a flavour of the variety of productions. After being closed for a short season, the theatre had reopened on Friday, 24th December, with Mr. and Mrs. Spenser's own company in the romantic comedy, Peggy; or Masks and Faces. This was followed on 10 January by Mr. G. Carlton Wallace's company with The Lancashire Lad and, two weeks later, with Dick Whittington, presented by Miss Lena Stanton's company. A depression in the cotton industry meant that trade (in general) suffered and The Era reported, on 12 March 1910, that Mr. Spenser had decided to run the theatre as a picturedrome up to the close of the season. Half prices were charged (gallery 2d, pit 4d, pit stalls 6d, stalls 9d.), and a number of variety turns were included alongside the films. That did the trick because it was reported four weeks later that “Good houses are still patronising this theatre nightly, and the pictures seem to have caught on."

Within a few years of its opening, the Theatre Royal gained two rivals - The Woolley Bridge Picture Palace, which was built on the site of Lees' Woolley Bridge mill, followed by The (Electric) Palace on George Street (which opened on 23 December 1911).
The Council's Building Committee approved the “Plans of Electric Theatre proposed to be erected in George Street, Glossop.” on 28th June 1911 and the “ plans of the proposed alterations to the Woolley Bridge Picture Palace” on 19th February, 1913.

The Woolley Bridge Palace and Electric Palace had initially started as cinemas only but the General Purposes Committee of the Council on 21st January, 1914 received an application of Harris Palmer for a license for the performance of stage plays at the Woolley Bridge Palace and an application for a license for the performance of stage plays at the Glossop Electric Palace. The response was to set up a Sub-Committee (consisting of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Alderman W. Holdgate, Councillors T. Braddock, W. Newton, L. Lee, G. Kinder, W. Jackson, and W. Isherwood) to inspect the premises which were the subject of the two applications and report; also that the Town Clerk require the applicants to furnish the Committee with plans of the respective premises and to appear personally before the Committee at the next meeting.

At that next meeting, on 18th February, 1914, three applications were made for Licenses for the Performance of Stage Plays :
     1. Harris Palmer for a new licence for the Woolley Bridge Palace, Glossop.
     2. John Windsor Stevenson for a new licence for the Glossop Electric Palace, George Street, Glossop.
     3. Sydney Spenser for a renewal of his licence for the Theatre Royal, Victoria Street, Glossop.
The three licences were approved (with no excise licence of course) subject to certain conditions:
1. The Woolley Bridge Palace was to be provided with additional dressing rooms, lighting of exit notices and entrance passages, improvement of lavatory accommodation, and fixing of panic bolts to outside doors.
2. The Glossop Electric Palace was to be provided with a two-stall urinal and a spring door in the gentlemen's toilet room, an increase in the depth of the stage accommodation, alterations to the partitions between the dressing rooms under the stage making them sight-proof, a water supply near the stage for fire purposes, and a W.C. on the south side of the stage to be built out from the main wall.
3. The Theatre Royal was to have panic crush bolts fitted to the four exit doors of the Theatre.

Other people who ran the theatres were Frederick Yarnold and Thomas Allan Edwardes at the Electric Palace; John Joseph Pickford at the Theatre Royal and Irvine Dearnaley at the Woolley Bridge Palace.

The Theatre Royal, which had become part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres chain, closed in 1920 and the site was eventually sold to Glossop Council in November 1936. The Council planned to make up the roadway between Victoria Street and Philip Howard Road and to erect a bus station, including shelter and public conveniences for both sexes at the corner of Philip Howard Road as part of the commemorations of the coronation of King George VI. However, after discussions with the North Western Road Car Company, the Council decided not to build a bus station and that the site should be used as a continuation of the lay-out of Philip Howard Road and planted with shrubs, and public conveniences erected as originally suggested. The telephone exchange was subsequently built there.

Glossop Electric Palace
Glossop Palace
Glossop Palace, George Street, in its early years and about 1923.

Tragedy struck the Electric Palace on 20 May 1920 when the then manager, Sinclair Neill, fell onto the railway line at Guide Bridge Station, in front of an oncoming Sheffield train, and was killed. The Electric Palace lost much of its business when the Empire Cinema was opened in 1921 and closed within 10 years (both businesses had also become part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres chain). After standing empty for nearly 30 years the Electric Palace was bought and demolished (in February 1959) by the Derbyshire County Council, which wanted the site for building a clinic. The plan at the time was for a scheme also encompassing an ambulance station and fire station. It is now the site of the Glossop Primary Care Centre.

The Woolley Bridge Picture Palace (which stayed in private hands rather than becoming part of a chain) was burnt down in 1929 and never rebuilt.

Woolley Bridge Palace after the fire
Woolley Bridge Palace after the fire
Woolley Bridge Palace after the fire. Second on the left in the first photo is Alderman Sellers.

The New Cinemas.

Hadfield Picturedrome opened at the corner of Bank Street and Wesley Street on 5 February 1923. One of its first employees was Joseph Clement Moore (father of Donald Moore who was Mayor of Glossop in 1965-66), who had started working, aged 11, as an assistant operator at the Theatre Royal before moving to the Electric Palace during World War 1. He became the manager after a few years, a job he held until his death in 1957.
The first modernisation of Hadfield Picturedrome came in 1929 with the installation of the first sound equipment to cater for the first "talkies". In 1950 modern projection and sound equipment was installed with improved screen lighting, a modern and larger screen and modernised seating.
That could not stop the inevitable consequences of changing habits though. On 4 April 1958 the chronicle reported that the Picturedrome had become a victim of the television era and had closed the previous week after attendances had fallen badly in recent months.
The building, which was empty for several years, opened again on Thursday June 12 1963 as the Hadfield Bingo Club but closed for good after only a few years.
The site is now occupied by houses.

Hadfield Picturedrome
Hadfield Picturedrome
Hadfield Picturedrome about 1950 and 1971.

The Empire had opened in High Street West on 25 April 1921 with a production of the musical comedy Gay Fleurette. Although always thought of as a cinema, it also had a licence for the performance of stage plays which allowed it to supplement films with live acts. For most of its life it was owned by the Rank Organisation, which had bought Gaumont British Theatres in 1941 (the latter having purchased the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres chain in 1926).
It was as a result of the Rank Organisation “rationalisation” scheme that the Empire closed, the final film being Sparrows Can't Sing on Saturday 27 July 1963.
One of the Empire staff members at the time of closure, Mrs Minnie Yates, of Mount Street, had (like Mr Moore) initially started work at the Theatre Royal before moving to the Electric Palace and then to the Empire in 1927.
Following the closure of the cinema, the building was demolished and replaced by a shop which was initially occupied by an Ethel Austin clothing store and is now a branch of Poundstretcher.

Empire Cinema
Empire Cinema
Empire Cinema
The Empire Cinema about 1927, 1933 and 1962.

Modern Theatre in Glossop.

The story of theatre in Glossop can not conclude without mention of the work of Glossop residents to maintain the presence of live theatre and film in the town.
In addition to the travelling and permanent theatres, Glossop had a long tradition (as evidenced by the abundance of temporary theatre licences approved by the Council) of amateur theatre performed in the Victoria Hall and various church and chapel halls.
The Glossop Repertory Club, which was formed in 1954, amalgamated with the Glossop Liberal Club on December 31 1956 to form the Partington Social Club, taking over the Liberal Club building as the home of the Partington Players. Over the next year the members transformed the old clubroom into what the Chronicle of 3 January 1958 described as “a cosy, well-furnished little theatre, newly carpeted and raked, so that everyone in the audience will have a good view of the stage.”. The theatre opened on 14 January 1958 with a presentation of the play A Hundred Years Old.
The Partington Players, and the Partington Theatre, are still going strong more than 60 years later.

Partington Theatre
Partington Theatre
Partington Theatre.

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Last updated: 23 September 2020