The Theatre Royal

Facade of the Theatre Royal in the late 1880s

Facade of the Theatre Royal in the late 1880s

The Leamington Theatre Company was formed in 1881 and it commissioned London architect C J Phipps to design a 1,200 seat theatre for its site adjoining Denby Buildings in Regent Grove.

Charles John Phipps was the foremost theatre architect of his day and in a long career designed over thirty theatres including some of the most prestigious in the land. Sadly for Phipps, his career suffered a major setback when one of his theatres, the Theatre Royal in Exeter, was destroyed by fire with the loss of 140 lives. He later confessed that though he had incorporated many fire precautions in the design he ‘did not allow for smoke.’ Local builder John Fell was awarded the contract for building the theatre at a cost of £10,000. The foundation stone of the new Theatre Royal was laid by Lord Brooke on May 23rd 1882 and it opened on October 2nd of that year with a performance of ‘The Lily of Killarney’ directed by Sir Julius Benedict.

Interior of the Theatre Royal

Interior of the Theatre Royal

The theatre hosted performances of all sorts over the fifty years of its existence with visiting repertory companies a staple of the programme. Many local people recall how on one occasion a large elephant was taken onto the stage which caused no little concern when it put one of its huge feet through the stage flooring.

The Theatre closed as a live entertainment venue in 1934 and in 1935 was reopened as the Regent cinema, the town’s fourth, with a magnificent Compton organ. Never financially successful however and with declining audiences due mainly to the great increase in the availability of television sets,the the cinema struggled on until the last film was shown in the 1970’s The building was demolished in 1984 and the site used as a car park before being developed in recent years for private housing.

Alan Griffin April 2013

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