In 1848, William Schuking Thorne opened his New Theatre (Princess theatre) in a small wooden building in King Charles Croft. Joseph Hobson rented the plot of land next to the theatre from Thorne, and built the Leeds Casino and Concert Hall, one of the first music halls in Britain. It cost 2pence to get into the Casino, and the money was returned in light refreshments. During the day Mrs. Hobson made ginger beer and confectionary to sell in the Casino in the evening, where she also managed the bar.
The Casino had a bad name among the middle classes. When the Reverend Stalker and Samuel Barbour visited in 1851 to distribute religious literature, they found the audience 'gazing with zest on scenes, and listening with delight to sounds, which to us, at least, were both humiliating and appalling'. One of the acts at Hobson's Casino in late 1849 featured James Ellis, a gymnast. Later he became manager of the Theatre Royal.
In about 1856 Hobson extended the Casino into Lands Lane and re-named it The Royal Alhambra. A playbill from 1859 gives an example of the kind of entertainment put on there; it features, among other things, 'Mr. Edwin and his performing Dogs'. Hobson wanted to put on plays rather than music hall items, and he obtained a dramatic licence to do this in 1861, when he changed the name of the theatre to the New Amphitheatre. Sometime between 1862 and 1864 the name was changed to the Royal Amphitheatre.
Various kinds of play were performed, often with special effects which were pictured on the playbills to draw in the crowds. Some had a local flavour, such as the 1865 Christmas pantomime Mother Goose of Woodhouse Moor. For the Christmas holidays in 1861 there was Mr. Alf Palmer, bare-back rider, and Mr. W F Wallet, Shakespearian clown.
Horses seem to have been popular as in the 'grand equestrian spectacle', put on in 1870 and in the 'Amazonian Warriors' in 1861. In 1867, the Amphitheatre staged 'The Mariner's Compass' which must have been a spectacular performance if the illustration on the playbill is to be believed!
The Royal Amphitheatre was destroyed by fire in 1876, just a year after the old Theatre Royal on Hunslet Lane was burned down. Hobson rebuilt The Amphitheatre, and re-named it the Theatre Royal.
The Theatre Royal
Just seven months after the fire which had destroyed the Amphitheatre, Hobson's new Theatre Royal opened. Photographs taken in 1956 show the exterior of the theatre, the interior layout, and the ornate decoration. A programme from 1905 shows part of the interior, and a picture of the manager, Mr.Frank McNaghten.
In October 1884 Hobson put on the popular play 'It's Never too Late to Mend', which had had its premiere in Leeds at the Theatre Royal in Hunslet Lane in 1865.
The Theatre Royal had a long tradition of pantomime. In 1897-98 two pantomimes were put on, Babes in the Wood followed by Cinderella. Edith St. Clair was the Principal Boy in Babes in the Wood.
The Bradford theatre manager Francis Laidler leased the theatre in 1909, which was re-decorated for Laidler's first Christmas production, 'Babes in the Wood', starring Florrie Ford. Under Laidler's management, the Theatre Royal became famous for its pantomimes which were considered to be the most successful in the north of England. In 1945 Humpty Dumpty ran for a record 22 weeks.
In 1957 Francis Laidler died, leaving his wife to run the theatre. She carried on for two more years, but was forced to sell the theatre in 1959. It was bought by Schofields, and demolished two months later. The site is now part of the Headrow Shopping Centre.
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Mr. Edwin and his dogs
Playbill, Mariner's compass
The Theatre Royal, 1956