Bradford - Prince's Theatre

Prince's Theatre
St John's Street / Little Horton Lane,

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Prince's Theatre 1960

In order to understand fully the location and building structure - which was quite unique as it was built at the same time and on top of the Star Music Hall (later Palace Theatre) as the only double-stacked theatres in the country - it is essential to read the Star Music Hall/Palace Theatre history notes first. The Prince's Theatre named after the Prince Of Wales who had visited India in 1875 following which he was constantly in the public eye and was later to become King Edward VII.


The auditorium and stage were directly on top of and in line with the Star Music Hall/ Palace Theatre below - the latter being partly underground but due to the slope of the land the Prince's Theatre was above ground with its own ingress/egress on the higher St John's Street near the bottom of Little Horton Lane. The street name derived from the short-lived St John's Church which previously occupied the site.


The Building
St John's Court was not a through road and was blocked off roughly in the middle. At the Manchester Road side it provided the entrance down to the Star/Palace Theatre which was almost underground.

St John's Court on the Little Horton Lane side opposite the Queen Victoria statue was a private road and delivery yard for the John Reddihough wool warehouses on either side.

St John's Street on the south side of the Prince's Theatre in Little Horton Lane was a cul-de-sac surrounded by offices, workshops and warehouses. Almost at the end of the cul-de-sac was the purpose built stone structure of the Prince's Theatre auditorium - quite some distance from the actual entrance. At this side, being higher ground, the Star/Palace was all below ground level.

Like the Star Music Hall, the Prince's was the idea of William Morgan - a city stationer/bookseller with some theatre experience. His Bradford architects were Samuel Jackson and William Longley designed the entire double-stacked structure. Whereas the Star was a rather plain two-deck music hall, the Prince's was to be a traditional three-deck and more ornate theatre. The purpose built auditorium and stage house with flytower was in local stone with slate clad pitched roof. Entrance was via arched doorways (similar to the Star below) at the side of the auditorium in St John's Street - a narrow cul-de-sac surrounded by wool warehouses and offices.


The Prince's interior was much more elaborate than the humble Star. With raked stalls, stepped dress circle and steep-stepped gallery both of horseshoe shape originally accommodated a staggering 2,880 persons both seated and standing.

It boasted 13 dressing rooms, spacious green room and ample storage rooms. Height from floor of Pit to ceiling was 46 feet. Auditorium length 66ft and 76ft at its widest point. The auditorium was horseshoe shaped narrowing towards the stage. The gallery had 16 rows of backless wooden benches and six rows in each side gallery. Wooden benches also in the pit (stalls) along with a wide promenade area at sides and rear.

The raked stage was 5ft above the floor of the pit and 68ft wide wall-to-wall with a proscenium opening of 30ft wide and 27ft high with a depth of 32 feet to back wall, ie. deeper than the Star stage below. Stage to grid was 51ft with 75ft to roof.

Lighting throughout was by gas and ventilation was much improved compared to the Star as the Prince's was all above ground level.


The Opening
William Morgan opened the Prince's Theatre on Easter Monday 17th April 1876 and advertised in the Bradford Observer . . .

Carl Rosa Opera Company
Monday - Zampa
Tuesday - Faust
Wednesday - The Water Carrier
Thursday - Il Travatore
Friday - Lily of Killarney
Saturday - Maritana

Dress Circle 5s; Pit Stalls 5s 6d; Pit 2s 6d; Gallery 6d.
Special trains every evening during the week to Ilkley,
Otley and Skipton calling at intermediate stations.

It was noted that the stage curtains and carpets by Brown, Muff & Co were in plain green overlapped by a tasteful border.

The following week - a different theme . . .

Monday 24th April 1876
Opening of the Dramatic Season
Shakespeare's sublime play HAMLET will be produced on a scale of magnificence never before attempted in Bradford.
For Christmas 1876 the first pantomime "Robinson Crusoe" was performed which had a successful run of 10 weeks.


Fire Disaster
At 11.30pm on the evening of Tuesday 16th July 1878 a disastrous fire broke out in a room in the Prince's stage tower and spread rapidly causing the roof to fall in. Most of the stage and the auditorium were affected but by 12.30pm the greater part of the theatres had been destroyed.

The origin of the fire was a mystery. That week a play "Simon, or More Ways than One" was being performed by James Taylor's visiting company who lost all of their costumes in the blaze. By coincidence both the Prince's and the Star Music Hall had been rented by William Morgan who had recently gone into liquidation. Only the day before, Charlie Rice, lessee of the Theatre Royal in Manningham Lane had just signed to take the lease of the Prince's for ten years and had plans to improve it. Although Rice had not yet taken control, it was his own staff from the Theatre Royal (then closed for alterations) who were working backstage as the Prince's regular crew were on strike.

The substantial iron and concrete floor of the Prince's separating it from the Star saved the music hall below from major damage but it was several months before the Star could reopen. The rebuild of the Prince's Theatre was to take much longer.


The rebuilt Prince's Theatre, again designed by Jackson & Longley and with a new lessee Alfred Davis, reopened on Christmas Eve Wednesday 24th December 1879 with a pantomime . . .

Under management of Alfred Davis
"Ye Fair One with the Golden Locks"
Prices from 6d.
After the opening night, the Bradford Observer noted . . .
"Not a crowded house and lacking in 'go'. A piece of wood fell on Mr Cowie, one of the scenic artists, and rather seriously injured his head."
The new theatre with reduced seating/standing capacity now had a proscenium opening of 36ft wide and 28ft high and 32ft deep to back wall. Height under flies 25ft and width between fly galleries 40ft with stage to grid 55ft. Hemp lines and without counterweights. It had 13 dressing rooms, chorus and orchestra room and a new orchestra pit.

Six months later a Mr Sinclair took over as lessee and he was soon followed by a Mr Sergenson.


Varied Use and New Lessee
It is recorded that the Prince's struggled along with a precarious existence during the 1880s. It is said that it was nicknamed locally as the 'Folly Theatre' for a while - though elsewhere it is noted that the Folly name was given to the Star Music Hall.

Prince's Theatre 1911

For a short time it was used as a barracks for the Salvation Army until their new headquarters were completed.

The Pullan family (of Pullan's Music Hall fame) had taken control of the Star in 1886 after the closure his theatre in Brunswick Place and his son Charles now took the lease of the Prince's.

Pullan made a lot of improvements, the most significant of which was to acquire adjoining older properties along the length of the north side of St John's Street and he created a new entrance in Little Horton Lane with its lengthy stepped narrow corridor-like lobby leading to the auditorium together with a booking office on the corner of St John's Street with its prominent original date-stone of 1850.

Whilst the Theatre Royal in Manningham Lane was the principal theatre for big touring companies, Pullan developed the Prince's as a successful melodrama house and it soon became very popular.

The Bradford Daily Telegraph advertised the visit of Arthur Lloyd . . .

Week commencing Monday 29th September 1890
Arthur Lloyd's Company in "Ballyvogan"
and following the opening night reviewed thus . . .
"Mr Arthur Lloyd's Company are paying a return visit to the Prince's Theatre this week and are producing the piece"Ballyvogan" with which Mr Lloyd's name is so well identified. This drama has a genuine smack of Hibernian taste and humour, is well mounted and well presented and well portrayed by a capable company.

Miss Katty King sustains her original character of Norah O'Sullivan in the most charming fashion, and her rendering of two songs was much appreciated by a very good house. Mr Arthur Lloyd was as versatile as ever in his impersonation of the naughty and humorous Mr McCrindle, and the other characters were well filled."


Reynolds, Piper and Laidler
In July 1896 the property including both the Prince's and the Palace Theatre was purchased by Walter Reynolds of the Theatre Royal in Leeds who continued the melodrama productions but from Monday 8th September 1902 he leased the Prince's Theatre to Walter J Piper, his son-in-law, and one Francis Laidler a newcomer to theatre. The Bradford Daily Telegraph advertised . . .

Monday 8th September 1902
Grand opening night under new proprietorship with
the most striking success of the season
"For the Defence"
A fine emotional play
Splendidly mounted and played.
Six months later Piper died and Laidler carried on as sole lessee. An astute businessman and financial wizard, he soon brought London touring productions to Bradford and started his run of spectacular pantomimes which have become legendary.


Theatre and Repertory
Prince's Theatre stage It remained a theatre with touring shows and Pantomimes until 1935 when Laidler permanently transferred the now famous pantomimes to his newer and better equipped Alhambra Theatre virtually across the road.

Repertory became popular from 1931 and from 1940 to 1960 it was the famous Harry Hanson Repertory Company (Harry Hanson Court Players) who dominated until closure was announced in June 1960 due to heavy financial losses and lack of public support - the first closure since Laidler took the lease in 1902. The final performance on Saturday 25th June 1960 was . . .

Bingley Little Theatre Presents
"Beginners Please"
An intimate revue devised by Kenneth Paine.

Prince's Theatre Bar and Auditorium

A short reopening from February 1961 featured the Barry O'Brian Players but this was short-lived as audiences dwindled.

There is no history of films and certainly not full-time cinema at the Prince's Theatre.


Final Closure
Prince's demolition The Prince's Theatre finally closed on Saturday 27th May 1961 having been sold by the Estate of Walter Reynolds who had retained ownership during its leasing to Francis laidler. Like the Palace beneath, it remained empty until 1964 when the entire building of two theatres was demolished to create the gardens in front of what is now the National Media Museum.


Prince's & Palace Myth
Peter Holdsworth, the longstanding Theatre Critic for the Telegraph & Argus in his otherwise excellent book "Domes of Delight" (in 1989) referred to the juxtaposition of the Prince's and Palace Theatres thus . . .

"Incidentally, the Prince's incorporated a feature which as far as I can discover was unique in that its stage was immediately above and back to back with the Palace, the two theatres facing in opposite directions. Many are the legends of visiting performers getting lost behind the scenes and stumbling into the wrong show in the wrong theatre!"
This is largely incorrect. The two theatres were indeed above one another but facing the same eastwards direction, not back-to-back and the stages were in line with one another. It would have been most unlikely, if not impossible, for a performer to have inadvertently got on to the wrong stage due to the great height difference and the positioning of the only connecting staircase relative to the dressing rooms.

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