Royal Victoria Hall
England’s first municipal theatre, opened on the 17th of January, 1900 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Sir David Lionel Salomons, a local philanthropist, gave 3000 of the £5000 to build Southborough’s Royal Victoria Hall, wanting to build a venue “exclusively for purposes of amusement…whether it be stage plays, tableaux vivants, amateur theatricals, concerts, bazaars, dances or other entertainments or meetings, political or otherwise”.
In an article taken from the Courier on 26th October, 1898, you can see the builders who tendered for the contract to erect the theatre. Below that excerpt is a photograph of Sir David proudly standing in front of the hall published 29th October, 1909.
A detailed description of the interior, published in dee’s southborough, january, 1900
The Royal Victoria Hall is at last ready to open its doors. For months past we have watched its erection with feelings of considerable curiosity, and now that it is finished these feelings have turned to wonderment. A glance at the somewhat austere looking building gives no idea of the really beautiful and costly work which the Hall contains; it is a marvel of neatness, comfort, and, we almost said, elegance. Objection has in some quarters been taken to the word theatre, but anyone who views Southborough's new building cannot fail to be of the opinion that a nicer little theatre it would be impossible to find. There is not a thing wanting; not a single item has been overlooked; the stage is made on the latest and most approved principles; the scenery and furniture would do credit to a building thrice as large, whilst the general arrangement of the whole place is calculated to give every satisfaction.
In order to give our readers a detailed description of the entire building, we will start at the main entrance. This is situated on the right-hand side of the present Council building, facing the London Road, and on the other side is protected by an ornamental verandah of glass and iron, which was specially designed and erected by Messrs. Macfarlane & Co., of Glasgow. Passing through the massive pitch-pine doors into what may be termed the outer lobby, the first thing that strikes the observer is the completeness of the arrangements which have been made. To the left are a couple of light and airy ticket offices, which are provided with every necessary, even large, well-made tills; whilst all round is ample space for any object which may be found necessary. The floor of the Hall is laid with plain glazed Staffordshire tiles, whilst the walls are handsomely dadoed, to a height of three feet from the floor, with delicate glazed tiles in harmonizing tints of green and amber. From this portion of the building the visitor passes to the inner lobby through a pair of handsome doors of pitch pine and stained glass. Here a most elaborate floor of ornamental tiles has been laid down, which gives the whole place a very effective appearance. On the left is a well-arranged refreshment bar, fitted with every requisite; whilst opposite are lavatories and conveniences, the former with both hot and cold water.
Passing into the Hall proper, even a casual survey gives the impression of a perfect arrangement, and on carefully looking into things this idea is fully confirmed. With the balcony above there is seating accommodation for something like six hundred people, and if a fault can be found it is here; in most quarters it is felt that more room should have been provided. Behind the orchestra come, of course, the stalls. These are fifty-four in number, are of the latest folding pattern, and are richly upholstered in deep crimson plush. The reserve seats, to the number of 133, are of the best bent-wood description, and are provided with springs so that each chair folds up as the visitor leaves. The rest of the seating accommodation is composed of the ordinary bent-wood chairs. Before proceeding further, it should be mentioned that the whole of the gallery, the sides of the walls, and the ceiling are of varnished pitchpine; in fact, no other wood has been used in the whole building, and inside there is not a single inch of paint. At either side of the Hall are two large emergency exits, which have the Board of Trade fittings and fly open immediately they are touched, whilst the whole place is lighted by a large sun-burner of 350 c.p.
The next item which claims our attention is the proscenium. This has an opening of 28 ft. by 18 ft., and the work is carried out in pure white and gold. At either flank are imitation pillars having scrolls of gold, and the three panels on either side go to make up a pretty picture. The two highest panels at each end are artistically picked out with gilded trophies, which give a very fine effect, and the whole proscenium is surmounted by the Royal Arms, which has been erected by special permission of Her Majesty. To give a finishing touch to the view from the Hall, a pair of handsome drop curtains have been provided. These are rich crimson plush, whilst at the lower part are two wide bands of white braid of pretty design, between which is a width of plush of a greenish hue. Above is a series of festooned drapery in plush, lined and trimmed to match. It may be mentioned that the whole of this work, together with the providing of the chairs, was left in the hands of Messrs. Maple & Co., of London, who are to be commended upon the excellent way in which everything has been carried out. In front of the drop-curtain proper, a large Asbestos fireproof curtain has been erected at the cost of about £70, by the British Asbestos Co., which, when let down, effectually separates the stage from the hall. Coming to the stage, which is 40 ft. by 25 ft., it may be mentioned that every arrangement has been made to make it thoroughly up-to-date.
Some really beautiful scenery is provided, there being in all six separate scenes, including a quaint street scene, a romantic forest retreat, an inspiring garden scene, whilst the drawing and dining-room sets are likely to prove especial favourites. The furniture for these has been provided with a very generous hand, and there is a wealth of luxury about it all which seems almost too good for mere stage representatives. White and gold is the prevailing feature in the drawing-room furniture, the chairs and settees of the Cromwell style being of pure white enamel, and upholstered in a lovely dark blue plushette. There are heavy curtains of a similar material to match, the carpet for the scene being a rich terra-cotta of the same material. With a view to economy, well-made cretonne covers have been provided, so that in a few minutes this suite can be turned into a very serviceable morning-room set.
The dining-room furniture is in dark oak, upholstered in tapestry. At each side of the stage are doors leading into the ladies' and gentlemen's dressing rooms. These are provided with everything that is necessary for the comfort and convenience of the performers, including well-arranged lavatories. Between two sets of dressing rooms is a light and airy green room, the whole, it should be mentioned, being on a level with the stage. Brief reference must also be made to the excellent arrangements which have been made for the orchestra, who will be placed immediately in front of the stage, but a considerable distance below the footlights. The members of the orchestra will take up their positions from a separate entrance beneath the level of the hall. Here, in this underground portion, is also provided the necessary utensils for working the trap-door from the stage; there is the Renton Gibbs patent boiler for heating the entire premises, and a complete kitchen (with gas stove and Kitchener) is provided, which has already been made use of by the Kent County Council for the purposes of its Cooking Classes.
One more thing remains. With reference to the balcony it should be stated that the designer has thoughtfully provided it with a sloping floor, so that those at the back will have as good a view as those in the front; whilst arrangements have been made so that in the centre of the floor Sir David Salomon's large lantern can be erected which will throw a light on to the specially prepared wall at the back of the stage. This, briefly, is a description of the Hall; to fully realise what a splendid place it is, one must visit it for himself, and we trust, whenever its doors are thrown open to the public, the entertainment providers may have cause to be amply satisfied with the share of patronage meted out to them. In concluding, the writer may be allowed to express the hope that the Royal Victoria Hall may prove one more step in the social advancement of Southborough, and that the place which will have such an auspicious opening on the 24th January, may ever have a bright and prosperous future.