OLD EAST STONEHOUSE . UK
www.oldeaststonehouse.uk
 

©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 13, 2018
Webpage updated: March 31, 2018

 
OLD EAST STONEHOUSE.UK

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GRAND THEATRE

The Grand Theatre in Union Street, East Stonehouse, was erected by Mr Henry E Reed, after he lost the lease to the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.  It was to be managed by his son, Mr John H Reed, and was intended to be competition for the Theatre Royal.  It was designed by Mr H J Snell, of 8 Courtenay Street, Plymouth.

The blitzed Grand Theatre in Stonehouse, Plymouth.
 

Sixteen tenders were received from: Mr J P Berry, Plymouth - £8,995; Mr T May, Plymouth - £8,190; Mr J Finch, Plymouth - £8,185; Messrs Taylor & Taylor, Stonehouse - £8,083; Mr W Trevena, Plymouth - £8,050; Messrs Pethick Brothers, Plymouth - £7,844; Mr P Blowey, Plymouth - £7,700; Mr G Shellabear, Plymouth - £7,650; Messrs Lapthorne & Goad, Plymouth - £7,590; Mr T Crews, Stonehouse - £7,550; Mr Tozer and Son, Plymouth - £7,500; Messrs A R Lethbridge & Son, Plymouth - £7,480; Mr John  Reed, Plymouth - £7,478; Mr A R Debnam, Plymouth - £7,286; Mr John Williams, Stonehouse - £6,988; and Mr Samuel Roberts, Plymouth - £6,598.

The lowest tender was accepted, Mr S Roberts, of Plymouth, having been the contractor several other buildings in the Three Towns.  The tender was for the structural part of the building, including the walls, woodwork, and plastering, but did not include gas and other fittings, decorations, seating, or the stage floor or the various accessories needed for theatrical productions.

Work was started on the afternoon of Thursday July 11th 1889, shortly after the contract had been signed.  The terms of the contract stipulated that the theatre must be completed, under heavy penalties, by Christmas, in time for the pantomime, which was already being planned.  To achieve that Mr Roberts proposed to have two sets of workmen engaged on the work for eighteen hours daily (nine hours each set).

Those involved in the construction and fitting out were: Mr Samuel Roberts, of Mount Plym, Regent Street, Plymouth, contractor; Messrs Collins and Hocking, of Saltash Street, Plymouth, supplied and fixed the heating and sanitary arrangements; Mr George Cawdrey, stage carpenter, fixed the stage appliances; Mr Cole, attended to the painting; and Messrs Snawdon & Sons, supplied the curtains, seating and upholstery.

Whilst excavating beneath the stage a spring was tapped and the water has to be pumped out day and night.  It was intended to fix a hydraulic engine to enable the water to be used for spectacular stage effects and sanitary purposes.

Description

The imposing Italian-style frontage of the Grand Theatre in Union Street, Stonehouse, measured about 85 feet in length, with a depth of 140 feet in Battery Street.  At the corner of Union Street and Battery Street there were two shops, quite independent of the Theatre.  The stage entrance was in Union Place.  Over the main and Battery Street entrances were large lamps, each bearing the legend: "Totus mundus agit histronem" - 'All the World's a Stage'.

Internally there were the Pit, Orchestra Stalls and Dress Circle on the ground floor; the Amphitheatre on the first floor and the Gallery on the second floor.  Access to the Pit, Orchestra Stalls and Gallery was from beneath a verandah in Battery Street.

In the Orchestra Stalls were six rows of coninuous seats covered with Utrecht crimson velvet and black.  The Dress Circle had seven rows of chairs, seating 190, all covered with crimson plush and was carpeted throughout.  Upstairs, the Amphitheatre consisted of only two rows of seats of continuous seats with ebonised frames and covered in crimson Utrecht velvet, holding about 180 people.  At the rear was a large refreshment saloon, ladies's drawing-room and smoking lounge for the occupants of the boxes, dress circle and amphitheatre.

The Gallery was reached by a staircase from Battery Street.  The seats were divided up by four gangways.  At the rear was a very large refreshment saloon along with doors leading to three flats at the top of the builidng.

Around the proscenium archway, which was 27 feet wide, were carved in fibrous plaster representations of tragedy and comedy, founded on ancient stories.  The proscenium opening was fitted with a 'water curtain of great power' (actually this was a series of sprinkler valves on each side of the stage, about ten inches apart) and a hydrant, fed from a four inch pipe with 50 feet of hose attached, was in the flies.  At the back of the stage a door 8 feet wide communicated with Union Place and provided access for the scenery.  Two cellars, one below the other, were fitted with traps, slides and other appliances.  An iron spiral staircase descended from the stage to these cellars, from which an iron door gave access to the orchestra.   On each side of the proscenium there were boxes, ten in all.

Facing Battery Street were twelve suites of dressing rooms.  The stage measured 48 feet in length and 60 feet in width.  A spiral staircase on the prompterís side reached the flies.  The curtains, beautifully designed, cost nearly £100.  They were made of gold silk and silk plush, relieved with crimson and gold trimmings, hangings and tassels.

Opening

The Grand Theatre opened its doors on Thursday December 26th 1889, Boxing Night.  When the doors opened at 6pm there was such a rush to get in that the Theatre was soon filled to capacity and the pantomime, "Cinderella", was started thirty minutes early.  Many people had to have their money refunded because they could not get into the Dress Circle. 

Written by Mr G V Keast, the author of many enjoyable pantomimes, the show was stage managed by Mr Augustus Connelly.  The principal parts were played by Miss Bella Bashall as Cinderella, Miss Hetty Chapman as Prince Charming, and Mr Connelly, presumably as Buttons.  The famous Rose and Violet Tyrrel ballet troupe and the Leopold Leglere acrobats also appeared. 

The panto was acted in 17 scenes and the backdrops depicted familiar local places: Cremyll Beach, Mount Edgcumbe Park and Devonport Market.   Clever and spectacular effects were produced and the transformation scene, ĎThe Birth of Venusí, in which a large number of fairies appeared with electric light stars, was described as 'charming'. 

Mr Frank Reed, the Theatre's musical director, composed the overture and incidental music and conducted the orchestra.

The show finished at 11pm and it was reported at the time that the Theatre was emptied in less than three minutes.

"Cinderella" ended its run on February 15th 1890 and during the last week the instructors from HMS Cambridge provided the cutlass drill during the palace scene.  Also during that week the boys from the training ships HMS Lion and HMS Impregnable were invited to see the show and they marched to the Theatre with banners and bands.  Afterwards the panto company were entertained on board HMS Impregnable by the officers and in the evening the ladies of the company appeared on the stage with Impregnable ribbons pinned on their breasts in recognition of the compliment.

The Coming of Films

In November 1896 the management introduced the cinematograph before Mr George Du Maurier's play "Trilby" and, soon afterwards, Poole's Myriorama.

Under the new ownership of Messrs United Counties Theatres Ltd, it re-opened on Monday March 1st 1909 as the Grand Theatre and Picture Place, with variety acts included to relieve the eyes!  In about 1915 the lease passed to Mr George S King and Mr H D Parry of the Repertory Theatre and then in September 1922 it was announced that the Grand had been bought by a syndicate formed by Mr G Hamilton Baines of the Theatre Royal in Cardiff. 

On May 14th 1930 its then owner, Mr E F H Davey, was granted the Grand's first cinema licence and it went over to showing films, although it was never classified as a cinema.  There were three performances, at 2.30, 6.30 and 8.35pm.  The lease and the licence passed in December 1932 to Mr H B Mather.

Closure

The Grand Theatre was still showing films when it was destroyed in March 1941.  Although permission was given for it to be rebuilt, it was destined to be used for a variety of purposes (this was where Mr A G Hurley started building boats for the American market in January 1958) before it was finally demolished in March 1963.