ROTUNDA THEATRE


ROTUNDA THEATRE PROGRAMME 1928

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We feel sure that readers will find this Rotunda Theatre Programme to be of interest, especially the range of advertisements. The Programme dates from Monday, August 13th, 1928 and features cast and scene details for Jazon and Montgomery's Comedy Revue 'Mirth Control'


THEATRE PROGRAMMES

THEATRE PROGRAMME THEATRE PROGRAMME

We are grateful to a website reader for providing two copies of programmes for the Rotunda Theatre which we feel may date from around 1884. We welcome hearing from readers if they can put a more accurate date on the programmes and who may have other such programmes. We would like to help locate Rotunda Theatre programmes for June/July 1900/1901 - showing details of a play 'Sisters Sacrifice'.


ROTUNDA THEATRE IN NEW NOVEL

Dear Scottie Press, My name is Maureen Lee, I was born in Bootle, and I write novels. I am currently writing a new novel that will feature The Rotunda Theatre. I have read about the Rotunda Theatre on your website's Archive section and found it very helpful. The novel I am writing is set in the Scotland Road area beginning in 1925 and I want my main character to be a fan of the music hall. I wonder if anyone can provide information about the acts that appeared there? Do you know anyone who actually went to the Rotunda? Can anyone remember what it was like? What was the atmosphere like? What where the surroundings like? How much did you pay for the seats? With best wishes, Maureen Lee.

Rotunda Theatre

for more information about the Rotunda Theatre click here

Our thanks go to Maureen Lee for contacting the Scottie Press with regards to her new novel. Maureen is a very well established author and you can read more about Maureen and her previous written works by visiting her website http://www.maureenlee.co.uk



ROTUNDA THEATRE

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Many of Liverpool's fine and famous buildings were destroyed by blitz bombing during the second world war. One of these buildings was the Rotunda Theatre which stood at the junction of Scotland Road and Stanley Road.

We would like to add the history of the Rotunda Theatre onto the Archive section of this website and we welcome hearing from readers who may have memories and or photographs which they think will be of interest. Of interest would be information about the acts appearing at the Rotunda Theatre and perhaps photographs of the entertainers etc. To read more about the Rotunda Theatre visit our Archives section Rotunda Theatre click here to visit now.

With so much currently being written about Liverpool (in the run up to the city being Capital of Culture in 2008), it's vital that the recorded history of the Scotland Road and Vauxhall areas of Liverpool includes memories and photographs from past and present resident as they are the people to tell this fascinating story.

We welcome hearing from readers who may like to suggest themes on and about the history of the Scotland Road and Vauxhall areas for inclusion onto our Archive section.


THE ROTUNDA THEATRE

Rotunda Theatre Programme Rotunda Theatre Poster

It is recorded that the Rotunda Theatre started off as a public house and became very popular as a 'free and easy' in 1854. Then due to its popularity the owner a Mr Gannell opened a large room upstairs to present his shows. The first pantomime was 'Jack the Giant-killer' in 1869. In 1873, a new balcony, gallery and stage was constructed. There was also 16 private boxes installed. In 1877 a disastrous fire destroyed the building. A new theatre was built and opened on 20th September 1878. Bent's Brewery took control of the theatre in 1898 and later the interior was reconstructed.

It is recorded that in April 1933 the Arthur Jeffries 'Wembley Empire Circus' performed at the Rotunda Theatre when the artistes included clowns: Sqibbs, Yo-Yo, Pom-Pom, Jo-Jo, Teddy and Bi-Bi. The Metteos, riding act, the Belle Marie Sisters, daring tricks on the high trapeze, the Allen Troupe, performing terriers, Jaap Van Laren and Wilhelmina, slack wire act, George Batty's midget pony, Teddy and Ivy Raymond comedy juggling, Capt John Forrest's elephant 'Lizzie', the Three Glissons, balancing and contortion act, Mille Florence, riding and Capt Arthur Overland, monkeys and baboons.

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ROTUNDA MUSIC HALL ROTUNDA THEATRE (1869 1940)

The site at the junction of Stanley Road and Scotland Road was first occupied in 1863 as a public house, where what were described as 'free and easy' entertainments were presented nightly by vocalists appearing on a small stage. About 1866, the proprietor, Mr Dennis Grannell introduced plans for the re-siting of the entertainment on a more extensive upper floor where a larger stage was constructed at the Scotland Road end of the building. The largely musical fare was then supplemented by sketches. At the new entrance in Scotland Road the prices of admission were; boxes 1/6d, stalls 1/-, and pit 6d.

After further reconstruction with the addition of a gallery, the establishment was opened as the Rotunda Theatre on 23rd November 1869 with a Grand Concert, given under the patronage of His Worship the Mayor, J. Hubback, Esq. Two days later on 25th November, a performance by specially engaged first class artists commenced at precisely 7.00pm. On that evening it was reported the exterior of the building was brilliantly illuminated by fireworks, and there was also a grand magnesium balloon ascent prior to the opening. Prices of admission were similar to those previously charged but with the addition of gallery seats at 3d and reserved seats at 6d at the entrance in Stanley Road. The proceeds from the performance were in aid of the nearby Stanley Hospital.

Mr Charles Wood, for five years musical director at the Adelphi Theatre, Christian Street, came to the Rotunda on 1st August 1870 to take up the position of musical and stage director, and was associated with the theatre for over 25 years. For the Christmas of 1870 the attraction was the pantomime Dick Whittington, and following its run, concert and vaudeville companies were interspersed with dramatic plays from 1874 when the first stock company was inaugurated. This became the regular form of entertainment due to increased public demand and to provide for this, a new gallery, balcony, stage and sixteen private boxes were constructed during which the theatre remained open by the use of tarpaulins as a roof covering.

With the exception of concerts from 17th August 1874 and the Christmas pantomime Puss In Boots, which ran from 26th December for four weeks, plays by the stock company were continued for four seasons. During this time, in 1875, Mr James Kieran, who was destined to become a leading figure in the sphere of 'live' entertainment in Liverpool, commenced as the check taker at the Rotunda for a salary of nine shillings per week, and after subsequent promotions was appointed to the position of assistant to Charles Wood.

Plays by the stock company at the old Rotunda came to and end on Saturday 7th July 1877 with The Shaughraun, the theatre was destroyed by fire early on the following Monday. The proprietor was immediately desirous of building a new and larger theatre, but he was aware that due to the destruction of the old theatre by fire the manner of entrance to and exit from the theatre in any future plans would be of utmost importance. In order to obtain the best arrangements in this respect, the proprietor, Mr Grannell, consulted an entertainment architect. From his plans the building contractors constructed a most imposing five storey building with principal elevations to Stanley Road and Scotland Road connected by a curved corner, surmounted by a dome at the end nearest Scotland Road.

The frontages were of light and dark brick, and a huge canopy extended along that adjacent to Scotland Road. Internally, above the basement area in which were two bowling alley's and a carpenter's workshop, the ground floor was allocated for a foyer connecting the Stanley Road and Scotland Road entrances. Also a billiard room and public house at the Scotland Road end. From the foyer, staircases led up to the stalls at first floor level, and from the landings continued up to the dress circle, amphicircle and the gallery. The auditorium was about 60ft in length and greatest width with the orchestra pit in the front of the 40ft deep stage. On the stalls floor this was flanked on either side by a box, whilst above, the front of the dress circle curved around the sides terminating with three boxes, a line of these also being constructed at the rear. The amphicircle, also with a curved front, terminated with a ox at either side of the stage, and high above, the gallery front curved to the side walls. The stalls floor accommodated about 700 persons. The first tier comprising of the dress circle and boxes, about 740, and the upper circle and gallery about 350, made a total capacity of 1,790. There was also ample standing room in the various parts for about 400 persons, and for those patrons desirous of drink before the performance or during the interval, a licensed bar was provided at the reat on all floors with the exception of the gallery.

The grand opening of the new Rotunda Theatre took place on Friday 20th December 1878, under the patronage of His Worship the Mayor of Bootle, Edward Grindley. The doors were opened at 7.00pm for the performance at 8.00pm of Sir Julius Benedict's Grand Romantic Opera The Lily of Killarney by the Carl Rosa Opera Company of distinguished artistes, and full orchestra conducted by Mr Carl Rosa. On the 21st December 1878 there was a change to Balfe's opera The Bohemian Girl and prices of admission were private boxes from two to five guineas, dress circle and orchestra stalls 6/-, pit stalls 4/-, pit and amphicircle 2/- and gallery 1/-. Entrances to the boxes, dress circle and orchestra stalls were in Stanley Road, whilst patrons of the lower priced parts of the house used the Scotland Road entrance.

On the following Monday, plays which had been the principal attractions at the old theatre, returned with Irish drams presented by Charles Sullivan and Company, later followed by plays again by the stock company, the first in the new theatre where the pantomime Dick Whittington commenced on 26th December 1879.

In March 1888 the theatre became one of the limited liability companies under the title Rotunda Theatre Ltd, of which the directorate included the Mayor of Bootle, then John Howard, Captain R.B. Bainbridge, Charles Wood and Dennis Grannell the former proprietor who sold the property to the company for the sum of 25,000 of which 5,000 in 1 shares was allotted to Mr Grannell in part payment of the purchase price, for which he transferred the theatre, the billiard room and the American style bowling alleys to the new syndicate.

The next change of ownership was in 1898, when the theatre was acquired by Messrs. Bent's Brewery Co. Ltd, and Charles Wood, then Manager was succeeded by Matthew Montgomery. The interior was re-constructed in 1899 and although no details of this appear to have been recorded, it was reported that so great was the transformation that returning patrons gazed around in sheer wonderment. The re-opening on 4th September 1899 was with the play, The Fenian, performed by Hubert O'Grady and Company.

In 1903 Matthew Montgomery retired and was succeeded by his son Matthew, who continued to advance the reputation of the Rotunda as one of the leading centres of melodrama in the provinces. This type of entertainment attracted large numbers of sailors due to the closeness of the theatre to the north Liverpool docks. The policy of plays and a pantomime at Christmas was continued until 1917 during which time the repertoire was not entirely devoted to melodrama, since it included, Hamlet, Jim the Penman, Mary Queen of Scots, and East Lynne etc. Stage plays with motion pictures on the bioscope as an added attraction were presented between 1912 and 1917, when following the end of a special return visit of the pantomime Robinson Crusoe on 24th February, the change was made to revues and variety performances. The well known comedian Robb Wilton, whose Liverpool debut had been at the Theatre Royal, Anfield in 1890 appeared at the Rotunda Theatre in March 1917. This brought forth the comment in the local press that the Rotunda Theatre had made a capital entry into the new form of entertainment. This was to continue throughout the 1920s and 1930s and until week ending 21st September 1940, during which the theatre was completely destroyed by enemy action. The last performances at the Rotunda were of Star Variety with a bill of first class acts once nightly at 7.00pm. The site of the Rotunda Theatre was cleared some time after the war and was subsequently laid out with grass and small trees as it remains to date.



MONTGOMERY FAMILY LINK WITH THE ROTUNDA THEATRE

We are very grateful to David Montgomery for providing this web page with information about a link that members of the Montgomery family had with Bent's Brewery and the Rotunda Theatre.

David's Great Grandfather, Thomas Montgomery's career in the brewing industry began in 1878 when he was given a public house by his father-in-law, Roger Molloy, on his marriage to Mary Molloy. The public house in question was 'The Woodman', 103 Tithebarn Street. Apparently, he prospered and acquired further licensed properties.

At some as-yet undetermined date in the 1880s, he acquired or built a brewery in Liverpool, probably in Holly Street. At the same time, he built a brewery at Stone, Staffordshire, advertising his 'Montgomery Stone Ales'. This brought him into conflict with John Joule & Sons, whose 'Stone Ales' were already established. Joule won the ensuing legal battle, probably decided in the house of Lords in 1881.

Thomas Montgomery was at the same time developing his interest in Music Halls. In April 1887, he and James Kiernan opened the Westminster Music Hall at 85-87 Smith Street, Kirkdale. On Christmas Eve 1888, Thomas opened the Theatre Royal, 158-162, Breck Road, Anfield. This reopened as the Theatre Royal Palace of Varieties in August 1891, with comedian Robb Wilton being among the first performers.

In 1889, Bent's Brewery acquired Thomas Montgomery's Stone Brewery, along with an estate of 23 tied houses. The company was registered as Bent's Brewery Co. Ltd. from this date and its head office was the New Brewery in Johnson Street, Liverpool. Thomas Montgomery became a joint managing director of Bent's at this time.

In 1892, Thomas Montgomery bought Chester Lion Brewery in Pepper Street, Chester, and this was registered in 1896 as The Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd.

Bent's acquired the Rotunda Theatre, on the corner of Scotland Road and Stanley Road, in 1898. Thomas Montgomery took the decision to purchase the building. At this time Matthew Montgomery (Thomas's brother) was made Manager of the Rotunda, and his son Matthew junior, took over as Manager of the Westminster Music Hall.

Matthew Montgomery retired as Manager of the Rotunda Theatre in 1903, to be succeeded by Matthew junior. Matthew Montgomery (Senior) died 1st July 1906, and Thomas Montgomery died on 19th June, 1911.


BENT'S BREWERY CO LTD JOHNSON STREET, LIVERPOOL

William Theodore Bent opened the brewery at 30/32 Johnson Street, Liverpool prior to 1877 after which it traded as Rowland Bent & Co. In July 1899 Bent's Brewery Co Ltd was registered as a limited liability company to purchase the brewery and wine and spirit business of R Bent & Co for 400,000. The estate comprised the freehold brewery, wine and spirit stores in Fontenoy Street, Liverpool, 90 freehold copyhold and long leasehold houses, 32 short leases and annual tenancies and 4 freehold beer houses. The company then purchased the freehold brewery and 23 licensed houses of Thomas Montgomery, New Brewery, Stone, Staffordshire, and in 1902 took over the properties of Chester Lion Brewery Co Ltd, Lion Brewery, Pepper Street, Chester, Cheshire. It acquired control of Gartsides (Brookside Brewery) Ltd in 1939 and was taken over, along with its 514 licensed houses, by Bass, Mitchells and Butlers Ltd, Birmingham in 1967. The New Brewery in Johnson Street, Liverpool, closed in March 1975

We are very keen to build up a much more comprehensive record of what the Rotunda Theatre was and what it meant to the Scotland Road area and its residents. We would like as much information, memories and if possible photographs of and about the Rotunda Theatre as possible so that a much better understanding can be gained as to the role the theatre played in the history, heritage and culture of the Scotland Road area and indeed the city of Liverpool.

To accompany the information we place on this webpage we also hope to have a good variety of links to theatre and music hall historical society websites.

British Music Hall
19th and 20th century Circus People
People Play
Stars of the Edwardian Stage
Sir Harry Lauder
Birkenhead Operatic Society
Crosby Gilbert and Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society
Lucilla Dramatic Society
Liverpool Network Theatre Group
Bents Brewery
Brewery History Society