Monday, November 20, 2017

The Leicester music hall where The Elephant Man was displayed

Next to 74a and 74b Wharf Street in Leicester lies a derelict plot with an interesting history. You can find it on the Arthur Lloyd website.

It begins:
The Gladstone Hotel and Concert Hall was built in 1862 for Mr Fred Bakewell, and stood on the corner of Wharf Street and Gladstone Street, Leicester. The building was three stories high of brick construction.
This building changed hands regularly, but was never really a success as a music hall. For a while it was given over to religious missions and a ragged school.

In 1880 it was brought back into use as a music hall, and the Arthur Lloyd site records:
On Monday September 3rd 1883 records show Sam Torr opening the Gladstone Hotel as 'The Gaiety Palace of Varieties' with Vesta Tilley topping the bill. 
A description of the Hall states that there was a bar, with numerous tables and chairs, an area by the chairman’s table for about 50 people, and the body of the hall could accommodate about 200 people. Upstairs a promenade Gallery also could accommodate a further 200 people. 
On May 5th 1885 the Hall was put up for sale again by Thomas Ridge of Nottingham, described as the owner, but was withdrawn from sale. The description of the hall at this time states that the Hall was 45 feet long by 31 feet wide, tastefully decorated, with two refreshment bars and a capacity of 500 people.
Early in the 20th century the building became a cinema, and by the 1950s it had become a motor business with its top floor removed.

You can see a picture on the building in its latter days on the Robert Lees site. It was demolished in March 2009, but by then acquired a blue plaque.

That was because it was Sam Torr who exhibited Joseph Merrick - "The Elephant Man" - at venues around the country, and it is widely assumed (though not proved) that this Leicester venue was one of the first of them.

Merrick was born in Lee Street, which began just across the road from the theatre. It's name survives, but it used for the road that surrounds Lee Circle, the city's threatened multi-storey car park and supermarket.

Arthur Lloyd said in 2011 that the derelict site was:
awaiting the building of a block of flats to be named Merrick House. Some of the Theatre's decorative plaster roses which adorned the exterior of the Theatre have been salvaged, and plans are to incorporate some of them on the exterior of the new block of flats. Until then there is nothing to suggest the rich theatrical history of this sad derelict site.
Nothing came of this and the site now looks very sad indeed. Merrick's blue plaque can now be found Moat Community College in the city, close to the site of the workhouse from which he wrote to Torr asking if he could make use of his infirmities to escape it.

But you can still see where the staircases took patrons to the upper floors of the theatre in the plaster of the end wall of 74a and 74b Wharf Street.

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