Theatres in Hull
Hull’s first theatres
Travelling players were recorded in Hull as early as the 16th
century and were probably accommodated in private houses. A theatre
is said to have existed in Whitefriargate at the end of that
century, but no references to it have been found.
By 1742, the New Theatre in Lowgate is listed,
but the date of its erection is unknown (the site was subsequently
occupied by the George Yard Methodist Chapel). In 1768 a new
theatre in Finkle Street was built by Tate Wilkinson, and after the
granting of a royal patent became the Theatre
After failed attempts to alter the original theatre, a second and
larger Theatre Royal was built by the Wilkinsons
in Humber Street, completed by 1810 to the designs of Charles
Mountain, the younger. It was destroyed by fire in 1859.
A small theatre was situated at the junction of Humber Street
and Queen Street, (the site formerly occupied by a circus). It was
known by several names over the years; the Minor
Theatre (1826), Humber Street
Theatre (1827), Summer Theatre (1828),
Sans Pareil (1830-1831), the Clarence, or
Royal Clarence (1832) and the Royal
Kingston Theatre (1833). It is said to have been
demolished in 1836.
It is likely that the staff of the former Minor Theatre moved to
the Royal Adelphi, which under the same management
and only a few metres away, on the corner of Wellington Street and
Queen Street. It was also converted from a circus and in use by
1831. It fare little better than the Minor Theatre and closed in
The Queen’s Theatre (previously the
Royal Amphitheatre) on Paragon Street was the
largest theatre in Hull at this time, and its stage is said to have
been larger than the modern day Covent Garden Theatre in London.
The interior was extensively redecorated in 1849 and 1863, but the
building was last used in 1869.
The first music hall opened in the saloon of the
Mechanics Institute, George Street from 1862. From
1867 until 1890 the saloon was used for musical and variety
entertainment under various names: the Mechanics Music
Hall (1867), Ringhams Music Hall (1868),
Canterbury Music Hall (1868), Alexandra
Theatre (1869), the Star Music Hall
(1878) and the New Mechanics Theatre (1885) From
1890 it was called the Empire and between 1909 and
1913 the Bijou. It was closed in 1913 on account
of its derelict condition and the site was occupied by a boxing
In 1864 the Hull Theatre and Concert Co. was
formed. It purchased the site of the ruined Theatre Royal from the
Wilkinson family and on it erected a (third) Theatre
Royal, which opened in 1865. It was very short-lived,
being destroyed by fire in 1869.
Within only two years, the (fourth and last) Theatre
Royal was rebuilt on part of the site of the Queens
Theatre (Paragon Street) and opened that year, with a capacity of
1500. Precautions against fire were a high priority, given the
disastrous theatre fires in Hull over the previous years, with
safety bolts to allow quick evacuation.
After some initial doubts about its respectability, the Theatre
Royal enjoyed prosperity until it closed in 1909. It was then
reopened as the Tivoli Music Hall
in 1912. The Tivoli was host to revues, plays and pantomimes until
well after WWII, despite closing for a year after severe air raid
damage in 1943.
The next major theatre to be built was the Grand
Opera House and Theatre (George Street) in 1893. It was
designed by the theatre architect Frank Matcham. It remained opened
until 1930 when it became a cinema, later becoming the Dorchester
The Alexandra Theatre, on the corner of George
Street and Charlotte Street was opened by the Morton family in
1902. The Alexandra remained a leading theatre until the 1930's
when attendances declined. In 1935, and unable to find a buyer,
Mortons leased it as a music hall where the entertainment included
boxing and wrestling. The landmark building, with its large corner
tower and revolving searchlight, was destroyed during the Hull
Blitz in May 1941.
In 1897 the New Palace Theatre of Varieties was
opened, also designed by Frank Matcham. It stood next to Henglar’s
Circus in Anlaby Road. It closed in 1939 but reopened in 1951. It
later became a ‘continental’ music hall and was renamed the
Continental Palace. Its popularity faded and it closed in 1965.
Little and New Theatres
In 1924 a group of
local enthusiasts founded the Hull Repertory Theatre Co. It used
the Lecture Hall in Kingston Square (next door to the Assembly
Rooms), for dramatic productions, renaming it the Little
Theatre. In 1928 a public limited company, the Little
Theatre (Hull) Ltd. was formed to buy the hall, which it did in
The early 1930s were a troubled time, but with the appointment
of Peppino Santangelo, the Little Theatre was on the road to
success. The two companies were amalgamated in 1933 and in 1939
acquired the Assembly Rooms: which were converted to the
New Theatre. The New Theatre’s opening performance
was Noel Gay’s ‘Me and My Girl’.
The theatre was bought by a London company in 1951, although the
management remained unaltered. In 1961 it was sold to the
Corporation and has been Hull’s largest theatre since then.
Hull Truck Theatre
Hull Truck Theatre was
opened in 1971 by actor Mike Bradwell who placed an advert in
Time Out: "Half-formed theatre company seeks other half".
It was originally known as Hull Arts Centre, then
Humberside Theatre. Hull Truck Theatre Company
(formed 1971) took the theatre over in 1983, after a brief closure,
and reopened it as Spring Street Theatre.
John Godber was appointed Creative Director in 1984 and his
formal association with Hull Truck continued for the next 26 years.
He was a key figure in helping Hull Truck to achieve popularity and
national importance, and he also oversaw the move from their Spring
Street premises to a new venue on Ferensway. The new Hull
Truck opened in 2009 with increased capacity and two
theatre spaces. Hull Truck focuses on showcasing the work of living
- Thomas Sheppard, Evolution of the Drama
in Hull and District (1927) L.792
- Peppino Santangelo, 21 Years of
Management with the Little and New Theatres (1954) L. 792
- Community Survey, Hull’s Cinema’s and
Theatres L. 971.4
- The records of Frank Matcham and
Company, Theatre Architects, held at the the V&A Museum.
These include original drawings for Hull's Palace Theatre, and the
reconstruction of the Tivoli Theatre