Alexandra Theatre and Opera House Lime Street Liverpool
The Alexandra Theatre and Opera House opened on the 15th October 1866. At the time it was Liverpool’s largest theatre. On July 29th 1867 its name changed to the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Opera House to honour the Princess of Wales. The theatre was demolished in 1924 to make way for the Empire Theatre opened on the 9th March 1925.
THE ALEXANDRA THEATRE AND OPERA HOUSE, THE FOUNDATION STONE LAID BY MADLLE. TIETJENS - Some months since, a Company was formed for the purpose of erecting a new theatre and opera house upon the most improved plans of theatrical architecture, on a vacant space of ground nearly opposite St. George's Hall, in Lime-street. From speech made Major Melly, the chairman of the finance committee, at the annual meeting of the Company, on Friday last, we learn that 3,840 out of the 5,000 shares have already been taken up, and that 50 more will be purchased as soon as men are employed on the new building, which will, in all probability, be in the course of a very few days. There is every reason to hope, therefore, that about a month at least 4.000 bona fide shares will have been subscribed for, on which per share will have been paid up, making a total of £28,000. It has been agreed to make a call of £3 per share, which will give about £11,000, and with this sum the Company will be able to pay off the whole of the debt on the land—£8,500, which involves an expenditure of 5 per cent, per annum on that amount; and pay for the building operations between now and June, by which time there will be £16,000 worth of land paid for, and £6,000 or £7,000 worth of buildings. It is intended, we believe, to raise a mortgage of £12,000 at 5 per cent., which will partly represent the un called up capital of the concern, so that by this means a capital of £40,000 will have been subscribed, which we have the authority of the gentleman already referred to for saying will £2,000 or £3,000 more than the Company will spend. We may state that the contract for the building has turned out be £2,000 less than was expected.
There probably no way in which the directors of the new enterprise could have successfully secured the development of their ideas; namely, the establishment of an independent place of amusement in the town, far as possible to the metropolitan standard of excellence and splendour, as in the selection of Mr Edward Salomons, of Manchester, as their architect. This gentleman has already proved, at the Princes Theatre, in Manchester, that be is fully acquainted with his profession, and, judging from the plans which he has designed, and the remarkable elegance with which he has conceived all the decorations, external and internal, of the theatre, the erection of which has been committed his able hands, we have no doubt that the Alexandra Theatre will be a notable addition to his triumphs as architect, alike equal to the most ornamental and practical department of his profession.
The facade of the building—the foundation stone of which was laid on Saturday last with great ceremony—will be exceedingly elegant. Three shops will be introduced, and a light, charming, graceful, and ornamental elevation will be secured. A wide carriage entrance leading drive, which will go through into Pudsey-street, will occupy the left hand corner, while the rest of the ground portion of the elevation will be twelve feet wide entrance to the pit and upper circle boxes. Above is entresole which will be devoted to the purposes of a separate room, not communicating with the theatre, but on the same level as the pit. Above this entresole are again five noble windows, which form the principal effect of the elevation. The windows will each contain two lights, with twisted stone columns running down the centre. In a niche above will be placed the heads of celebrated musical composers. These windows belong to the ladies' and gentlemen's retiring room at each end; and in the centre, occupying nearly the whole length of the building, will be a magnificent foyer, the proposed decorations of which are exceedingly handsome and tasteful. This foyer is the level of the dress circle, but it is so elevated that it reaches above the level of the upper circle of boxes; and Mr Salomons has ingeniously turned this circumstance into an adornment and an attraction, so far as we know, quite novel. At the back of the upper circle there are elegant arched apertures and balustrades, from which persons in the corridor behind the upper circle boxes may survey the foyer; and the effect of these arrangements is likely to lend both grace and excitement on fashionable nights to the saloon arrangements of the theatre. The dress circle foyer, however, which is easily reached from the pit stalls, is by no means the only convenience extended to the visitors of the superior portions of the house.
The entrances to the dress circle and pit-stalls will be from the carriage drive which passes under the archway from Lime-street to and nearly the whole length of this carriage way is occupied, in the interior of the theatre, with a couple of commodious crush-rooms, the whole length of which is about 70 feet, and one portion of it is 24 feet wide and the rest 20 feet. The conveniences of this splendid entrance will be very great; indeed, few theatres of any dimensions can boast of entrance and exit facilities equal either in convenience or splendour to those which Mr Salomons has provided for this house. Another great virtue of his plans is the extreme rapidity by which communication can be effected by the manager or anyone authorised to pass between different parts of the house. .Neither for those concerned in the business of the theatre, nor for those who desire to pay extra payments to pass from one portion of the house to another, will there be any difficulty in obtaining access to the part of the house to which they wish to arrive; and there will be no necessity, under any circumstances, to go into the street, as is too frequently necessary both in English and Continental theatres. The pit is bordered by a novel species of accommodation, certain seats being entitled "pit boxes” and skirting the pit under the dress circle at a level very little above that of the pit itself. We understand that the pit boxes are to be constructed in a somewhat temporary fashion, sufficiently so, at any rate, to be removed at great ease, and without detriment to the building, in the event of their introduction not answering. At each extremity of the gallery are side boxes, the price of admission to which will be the same as to the pit circle. The staircases are all of stone, the passages will be tiled, and the joists will all be iron, so that every precaution against fire has been taken. The passage leading to the stairs is entirely under cover, and is so capacious that a very large proportion of the number of persons required to fill the gallery will under shelter from the weather. On the dress circle level there will be five private boxes on each side; while the other private boxes —three, if we mistake not—on each side will erected on the level of the upper circle.
The only alteration on the original plan that the stage is to be carried further back than was at first intended, and instead of having the paint-room at the back, it is to be placed on one side, so as to give greater scope for stage effect. In this department, the most complete arrangements have been made. The stage is 78 feet from side to side, and about 64 feet deep, while the most capacious wings have been provided. The pitch of the building is exceedingly lofty, compared with the proscenium, which itself is of due dimensions. The total height of the theatre proper, from the floor to the roof, is 75 feet, while the back part will be 85 feet, and from the pit stalls to the ceiling will be about 40 feet. The diameter of the ceiling, which is circular and highly ornamented, will also be 40 feet. In the centre of the ceiling will be a massive chandelier 12 feet in diameter, with the lights enclosed in glass. The actors and actresses dressing-rooms and capacious scene rooms are provided in the most convenient position. In fact, so convenient is the paint-room, and so good are the arrangements for the placing of the scenery, that the latter can if necessary used before it is dry, by being lowered in the frame on which it is painted. Mr Salomons has also a number of stage arrangements and facilities for the introduction of which he has gained no little celebrity in dramatic circles, and which we presume will once more endeavour to have carried out to his mind in the Alexandra Theatre so soon as it commences operations.
One other point we may mention as of considerable interest, namely, the ventilation. It is usual for theatres be ventilated by means of the sun-light or chandelier, and in sun-lights especially perfect ventilation is supposed to be secured by the natural rush of air through the aperture which the sunlight is surrounded. It has been discovered, however, this method is a poor security for the ventilation of theatres, because whatever amount of artificial draught is introduced, the great supply of air comes at all times from the stage on the raising of the curtain; and the impetus of the volume of air thus coming from the stage carries it at once up towards the sunlight to the centre of the roof without changing the air of the greater portion of the auditorium. This is mentioned as one reason why in all theatres and opera houses persons occupying the front portion of the gallery find that that is the best location in the house for sound. On the principle which is to applied to this building, however, the sun-light is to have one aperture; and the consequence will be that the air from the stage will diffuse itself over the house, and be forced through flues especially prepared round the back of the auditorium up through the roof by other escapes.
Having given but a very imperfect idea of the very complete design which Mr Salomons has prepared, it remains to be stated what accommodation the directors of the Company have provided for the public. This will be gathered from the following figures: the gallery will contain 735 persons, pit-circle 510, pit stalls 115, dress circle 139, side boxes 99, private boxes 32, so that in all 1,600 persons can be comfortably seated, but in case extra demand should made for admission the house can be made to hold 250 additional persons. The theatre is to be finished and opened on the 1st of October next. It should be stated that Messrs Jones and Son are the builders.
As already incidentally mentioned the foundation stone of the new theatre and house was laid on Saturday morning last, the ceremony being very gracefully performed by Madlle Therese Tistjens in the presence of an exceedingly select audience. Unfortunately the weather was not very favourable to the occasion; still every provision was made for the comfort of the spectators. Over the spot on which the stone was laid an ample marquee was erected, the ground leading down to the bed was covered with crimson cloth. The excellent band of Major Melly's regiment, the 4th Lancashire Artillery Brigade, were stationed outside the marquee, and performed some excellent music. This attracted to the spot crowds of persons who were passing through Lime-street, but owing to the strict regulations which the police had received none were admitted inside the boarding who did not possess the privileged ticket. Mdlle. Tietjens and a party of ladies drove up to the ground shortly before twelve o'clock, and were escorted the marquee, where they were introduced to several of the directors and shareholders. Among the gentlemen present we noticed Mr B. H. Jones, chairman of the directors ; Major Melly, chairman the finance committee; Major Madden; Messrs Storss, F. Mozley, W. Marriott, Hugh Gladstone, F. Prange, A. Henderson, lessee of the Prince of Wales Theatre; Bushby; Mapleson, principal director of Her Majesty's Theatre, London; Kohn Seyer; Salomons, architect ; and H. Bardswell, solicitor for the company.
Mr B. H. Jones said, in the name of the proprietors and directors of the Alexandra Theatre and Opera Company, he had to thank the ladies and gentlemen around him for their attendance that day. The attendance assured him that the public were satisfied with the progress of the Company, and encouraged to Company to hope for the support of the public in the future. He would not make any remarks which were unnecessary, seeing the inclement weather which prevailed, but would simply observe that the directors fully hoped and expected that the theatre would be worthy the town Liverpool, worthy of the name it is to bear, and worthy of the compliment the Company received from Madlle Tietjens in honouring them that day to lay the foundation stone. He had to offer their thanks to that accomplished and distinguished lady for her kindness in coming forward to perform on such a day, what he was afraid was a somewhat unpleasant duty. Mr Jones then handed Madlle. Tietiens a handsome silver trowel. The trowel, which was supplied by Mr Mayer, of Lord Street, bears the following inscription " Presented Madle Therese Tietjens by the directors and shareholders the Alexandra Theatre and Opera House, limited, on the occasion of her laying the foundation stone of Theatre at Liverpool, on the 13th January, 1866."
Mr Jones having placed in a cavity in the bed of the stone a bottle containing some current coins of the realm, copies of newspapers in which the report of the annual meeting held on the previous day was published, and a document containing the names of the directors and shareholders led Madlle. Tietjens down to the stone, when the fair lady, after spreading the mortar and applying the usual masonic tests, declared the stone to be well and truly laid. This announcement was received with loud applause, and the band immediately afterward struck up the National Anthem, with which the interesting proceedings terminated. [Liverpool Daily Post 15 January 1866 page 7]
Reference Liverpool Daily Post 13 September 1864 page 5 – appointment of architect
Reference Liverpool Daily Post 15 January 1866 page 7 – foundation stone
Reference The Times (London, England), Thursday, 30 August 1866; page 9; Issue 25590
Reference Manchester Guardian 16 October 1866 page 5
Reference Builder 8 September 1866 Page 675
Reference Builder 13 October 1866 Page 764 - with extensive note
Reference Builder 27 October 1866 Page 800 - Lights in theatres
Reference Illustrated Times 2 February 1867 page 3-4 with illustration
Reference Salomons “Alexandra Theatre Liverpool.” RIBA Transactions 1st Series. Vol 21 1870-1 Page 131-143