Bradford - Star / Palace Theatre

Star Music Hall / Peoples' Palace / Palace Theatre
Concert Hall Court (St John's Court),
Manchester Road, Bradford.

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Palace 1950


Almost hidden away on the south side of Concert Hall Court (St John's Court) - a narrow roadway between tall shops, offices and wool warehouses. This location near the bottom of the busy Manchester Road on its western side was once the site of St John's Church giving its name to adjacent streets. St John's Court was a very narrow and street connecting Manchester Road with Little Horton Lane but the road was blocked off midway along its curved length and the stretch nearest Little Horton Lane retained its original name but became the delivery access (and a gated private road) to the wool warehouses on either side. It was the stretch nearest to Manchester Road which became Concert Hall Court on the erection of the music hall.
[ For the record: St John's Church of 1839 was not very successful and, for reasons not known, was never consecrated. Subsequently offered for sale after only five years then later demolished. ]


William Morgan
Palace/Prince's Section The site was of interest to William Morgan - a wholesale and retail bookseller, stationer and proprietor of newsrooms with premises at 31 Kirkgate. In 1872 Morgan promoted Saturday Night Entertainments at the St George's Hall and in 1873 he was running the original Alhambra Music Hall in Canal Road which advertised itself as "The Most Fashionable Promenade in Bradford".

In 1875 he had the vision of a Music Hall and a Theatre as a double-stacked construction (ie. two halls - one on top of the other) making maximum usage of the sloping ground and separate means of ingress and egress. It was believed to be the only theatre construction of its kind in the country. The design for the two theatres was entrusted to Jackson & Longley (Samuel Jackson of Kirkgate and William Longley of Bermondsey, Bradford.) where basically the lower part was to be a two-deck music hall and the upper part a three-deck theatre with their respective stages and auditoria directly in line above one another and facing in the same eastwards direction.


The Building
The purpose-built Music Hall in local Yorkshire Stone was erected fairly rapidly. The plain main façade in the form of a curve to follow the shape of the ground and St John's Court. Strength and simplicity with no ornamentation was preferred by the architect.

The entrance was two arched doors each 15feet wide and 15ft 6ins high, one leading to the pit and the other to the gallery - there was no dress circle in the music hall. Other smaller arched doors at 11feet wide were the stage door and exit door from the pit. The total height of the building at point was 78feet from St John's Court level.


Palace auditorium The pit (stalls) was below street level and accessed by 28 wide steps to the wooden paybox. The ascent to the gallery and promenade was easier as it was almost at ground level. The raked floor of the pit had a fall of 4ft 6ins back to front ensuring good sightlines with seating in two blocks with centre and side aisles accommodating 1,100 persons seated and standing at rear.

The steep stepped gallery with 6 rows of 400 seats plus 600 standing giving 2,100 in total. There were six private boxes, three at each side and the walls either side of the stage splayed to allow better viewing from the side gallery end seats. Both pit and gallery each had a refreshment room/bar at the rear of their promenades.

The raked stage was 6ft above the floor of the pit with a proscenium opening 26ft wide and 21ft high with a wall-to-wall width of 50ft and 19ft deep to back and without any fly facilities. There were five dressing rooms and the whole theatre lit by gas. The auditorium was lit by 12 sunlights - three at each side of the gallery and the same in the pit; the hot air carried off by sheet iron flues.

The gallery and flat ceiling were supported by many substantial cast iron pillars and above the 35ft high ceiling were girders and thick concrete to form the floor of the theatre to be built above in the continuing second phase of construction. There would be no transfer of sound from one hall to the other.


Conditional Opening
The Star Music Hall with lessees William Morgan and Ellis Cowgill were granted a licence for 3 months by Manoah Rhodes, local jeweller and chairman of the Borough Magistrates - this was to allow some modifications to be carried out as this was a unique and ambitious project.

Star Music Hall opened on Monday 23rd August 1875 with . . .

Amy Ellis, H.F Juleene, Fritz Troupe
Laura Honey, Fred Caddoch, Miss H. Watson
J.H Arnold and Lily Howard, R Craven
Patti Goddard, La Petit Sarah, Jim Arcus.

Admission: Private Boxes 1s 6d. Side Boxes 1s.
Gallery chairs and Promenade 6d. Pit 3d.
Doors open at 6.30. Overture at 7 o'clock.

A complaint from the opening night was of the poor ventilation which Morgan promised to address. Indeed ventilation shafts were included in the design and being built in conjunction with the Prince's Theatre above whose construction work continued during the daytime.


Fire Disaster Above
The unique double-stacked theatre construction was soon to produce a problem for the Star Music Hall for on the evening of Tuesday 16th July 1878 a disasterous fire destroyed the stage and a large part of the auditorium of the Prince's Theatre above. The substantial concrete ceiling of the Star separating the two halls prevented the fire from penetrating downwards. However, due to the falling debris and damage to upper storey walls, the Star had to close. Five months later the Star Music Hall re-opened on Monday 23rd December 1878 with . . .

Lesee: Mr A Kershaw.
Director of Entertainments: Mr G.F Crowley.
Splendid Band under the direction of Mr J Walker.
Herr Blitz, the Brothers Edwards and Ernest Robson
topping the bill.


Electric lighting was installed in 1894. The Livermore Brothers had taken the lease and The Peoples' Palace as it had now become has a particular place in the history of cinema in Bradford for it was here that on Easter Monday 6th April 1896 that Lumière's Cinématographe of projected moving images was demonstrated for the first time in the area. Advertising for the event . . .

Peoples' Palace, Bradford
A wonderful attraction has been engaged
for the Easter week programme
Monday, 6th April 1896.
It consists of the most wonderful invention of the
the age - The Cinématographe - now packing the
London Halls at every performance.
Once nightly. 6d to 10/-d

The pictures shown included:
Barber's Shop; A Dentist's Operating Room;
Blacksmith's Forge; the Nautch Dancers;
and a Regimental Band in evolutions.
Whilst on-stage eleven music hall acts completed the variety bill.

It is believed that the Cinématographe apparatus was operated by Matt Raymond (1874-1941), the Lanternist from the London Polytechnic Institute who had been trained by the Lumière Brothers.

This special week-long attraction was reported in the Bradford Observer . . .

"The visit of the Cinématographe to Bradford (Peoples' Palace) will give the curious an opportunity of becoming acquainted with one of the most remarkable and suggestive of all scientific toys that have been provided for a generation which has almost ceased to believe in any scientific impossibility.

The principle of this instrument is that same as that of Edison's Kinetoscope, which has become completely familiar. A series of photographs of a scene depicting moving figures are presented to the eye in such rapid succession that the movements seem lifelike and natural.

The difference between the Kinetoscope and the Cinématographe is that the figures in the latter are magnified to full size, so that they may be seen by a large audience."

[ For the record: Edison's machine was previously show in Bradford's Kinetoscope Parlour installed in an art shop in Town Hall Square in 1895 - the moving images were seen peepshow fashion (not projected) rather like the later 'What the Butler Saw' type machines. ]

The Bradford Daily Telegraph similarly enthused . . .

"Enormous Attraction for the Easter Holidays at
enormous expense of the Original Cinématographe.
The greatest of all inventions.
The rage of all London at present.
See the Animated Pictures depicting
every movement as in real life.
Supported by a splendid company of Star Artistes.
Lessee and manager Andrew Roberton.

Briefly, this invention is supplementary to, and a development of, Edison's Kinetoscope, being an arrangement for reproducing life size on a lantern screen the views seen through the contrivance which has been already familiarised to the public."

Andrew Roberton, a lessee of the Peoples' Palace along with his manager, R. Ernest Liston, arranged with Henry Hibbert to hire the hall on Sundays for his famous lanternslide lectures. Hibbert was noted for his connections with the Temperance Movement and the PSA (People's Sobriety Association) in Bradford. Hibbert was later to pioneer both films and cinemas and more can be found on Temperance Hall and Towers Hall cinema history webpages.


Folly - or not?
'Mr Dangle' (local actor Victor Tandy) the Telegraph & Argus theatre critic wrote in 1960 . . .

"It had a varied career and in 1881 its name was changed to the Folly, an appropriate name, for it had been a folly to change it, and it was soon back to the Star".
In later years, another T & A theatre writer had a different view on the name 'Folly' but this time applied to the Prince's Theatre above - see Prince's history page for more details; so which version is correct?

A later Lessee was the Pullan family where Henry Pullan had previously run their Pullan's Music Hall (1868-1889) in Brunswick Place (off Westgate) and he took control of both the Star Music Hall and the Prince's Theatre in 1887 when Charles Pullan was to succeed his father Henry Pullan.


Frank MacNaghten acquired the lease of the Peoples' Palace for his MacNaghten Vaudeville Circuit on 2nd January 1899 and he employed George Bernard Mozley (1870-1957) as his stage manager. In the same month the Empire Theatre had opened and MacNaghten quickly changed to 'twice nightly' in order to compete and shortened its name to simply the Palace.

In 1911 MacNaghten opened the Hippodrome in a converted roller skating rink in Barkerend Road; this was for his new Kine-Variety venture and Mozley was to take over as general manager there.


Around 1911 more cinemas were being purpose built or converted from existing halls specifically to show films and to become full-time cinemas.

The Palace continued its rôle as a variety theatre although some films from the 'war front' of the 1914-18 First World War were shown as part of the variety bill on the now commonplace Bioscope apparatus. Seating capacity was now a more comfortable 1,200.

The Palace boasted that it was one of the first in England to be heated by electricity claiming "This is not only cleaner and safer but it has the advantage of being able to control the temperature of the theatre much quicker and easier from the switchboard than it would be from a hot water boiler".


Palace demolition 1964 After a notable theatre history, the Palace found it difficult to complete with the more modern and popular Alhambra Theatre just round the corner in Victoria Square and, of course, competition from the increasing number of 'talkie' cinemas in the city centre. By coincidence the new and luxurious 2,685 seater Odeon Theatre was under construction at the bottom of Manchester Road and almost opposite the entrance to the Palace.

However, closure was forced on the Palace by order of the Watch Committee for Saturday 28th May 1938 for alleged "structural defects" which were not clarified - an interesting reason as the Palace structure supported the Prince's Theatre above which remained in use for another 23 years.

There is another story that the very 'straight-laced' Francis Laidler running the successful Prince's Theatre above (and his nearby Alhambra) had objected to "seedy nature" of the Palace promenade areas which had now gained a notorious reputation. Perhaps this might have influenced the refusal of a licence.

Palace Gallery demolition 1964

The Palace closed on Saturday 28th May 1938 with "Paulo - the singing clown and BBC Palace of Varieties sensation" as top of the bill.

After auctioning off the fixtures and fittings, the building was then used for the storage of wool for the adjacent warehouses and also for storing scenery for the Prince's Theatre above.

The former Star/Palace and Prince's Theatre were demolished in 1964 as part of the road widening scheme and the site is now part of the garden area in front of the National Media Museum.

Palace & Prince's demolition 1964

Location Myth
Theatres - Ground Plan The National Media Museum has a plaque on the wall at the foot of the main staircase claiming "this was the site of the Palace Theatre" remembering that it was underneath the Prince's Theatre.

This is not strictly correct. The actual site of the Palace was north (towards city) of the Museum where the gardens slope away by the J.B Priestley statue and extending eastwards across the corner of Pictureville Cinema into what is now Prince's Way - the new road created westwards of the original continuation of Manchester Road.


Further Reading
An interesting essay and brief history of the Star Music Hall / Palace Theatre by Kenneth A. Webster is reproduced here with his kind permission.

Copyright ©1980/2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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