Two Theatrical Establishments That Were Never Recovered
Our work in the Theatre and Cinema industries often finds us travelling to London, a veritable graveyard of forgotten theatres and cinemas.
Although it’s often tempting to cite the changing habits of the paying public as the reason for the decline and eventual closure of such storied entertainment establishments as the Crouch End Hippodrome (now a Virgin Health Club) and the East Ham Palace Theatre (demolished in 1958) – it would be remiss of us to forget the massive amount of destruction that the targeted bombing campaign known as The Blitz, wreaked on the city.
Over 32,000 civilian lives were claimed during the 8-month bombing campaign that saw nearly as many bombs dropped across a number of major industrial cities. However, the targets of the bombs were not strictly kept to industrial locations. In the face of a resilient enemy, Adolf Hitler made a concerted effort to also attack the places where Brits would be relaxing – hoping to create terror amongst a population that were still set on enjoying themselves during the most deadly world conflict in history.
These three theatres did not survive The Blitz, but their legacies and stories still live on today:
The Holborn Empire
Like many of London’s Theatres, The Holborn Empire was inaugurated on the site of a former Music Hall. Once known as the Royal Holborn Theatre of Varieties, the Empire was reopened in late January 1906, after costing its owners £30,000 in renovations. This was no small expense for the time and, upon it’s opening, journalists praised the lavish design and materials used in it’s construction.
On the nights of the 14th and 15th October, London very nearly lost two icons. Bombs fell over the Holborn area, including a time-delayed bomb that lodged itself in the roof of the building. Many ‘duds’ were dropped at the time and there was a discussion as to whether or not to continue performances. In the end, stage icon Vera Lynn moved her show to the Palladium – whilst the Holborn Empire was obliterated in a second wave.
Perhaps better remembered than the Holborn Empire, the Queen’s Hall, with it’s 2500 capacity was the capital’s principal venue. The building was opened in 1893 and hosted The Proms from 1895 right up to it’s untimely destruction in 1941. Although criticised for it’s uninspired design and uncomfortable seating arrangement, the Hall was famed for it’s excellent acoustics.
Thanks to The Proms bringing classical music to thousands of Londonders for a nearly 50-year tenure, the loss of the Hall during the Blitz was mourned greatly. For decades after committees lobbied for the rebuilding of the Hall, but the decision was made that the construction of a new hall would inevitably take away too much custom from competing halls that had taken up the slack. Today, The Proms are held in The Royal Albert Hall.
Despite the loss of these establishments, it’s safe to say that their spirit lives on in the dozens of other theatres that litter the West End and further reaches of London.