Michael Hammet, The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds, under the management of Wilson Henry Barrett, 1876 to 1895, unpublished PhD thesis, Leeds, University of Leeds, 1975. James Thomas, The Art of the Actor-Manager: Wilson Barrett and the Victorian Theatre, Ann Arbour, UMI Research Press, 1984. Stuart Leeks, Opera North: 25 Years, Leeds, Opera North, 2003. Ronald Wilkinson, The Grand Theatre and Opera House Leeds, 1878-1978: First Hundred Years, Leeds, For the theatre, 1978. Patricia Lennon and David Joy, Grand Memories: The Life and Times of the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds, Great Northern Books, 2007. Anthony Field, 'Wilson Barrett at the Leeds Grand Theatre 1886', Journal of Arts Policy and Management, London, City University, Vol. One, February 1984, pp. 14-15.
Michael Hammet, The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds, under the management of Wilson Henry Barrett, 1876 to 1895, unpublished PhD thesis, Leeds, University of Leeds, 1975.
James Thomas, The Art of the Actor-Manager: Wilson Barrett and the Victorian Theatre, Ann Arbour, UMI Research Press, 1984.
Stuart Leeks, Opera North: 25 Years, Leeds, Opera North, 2003.
Ronald Wilkinson, The Grand Theatre and Opera House Leeds, 1878-1978: First Hundred Years, Leeds, For the theatre, 1978.
Patricia Lennon and David Joy, Grand Memories: The Life and Times of the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds, Great Northern Books, 2007.
Anthony Field, 'Wilson Barrett at the Leeds Grand Theatre 1886', Journal of Arts Policy and Management, London, City University, Vol. One, February 1984, pp. 14-15.
The Grand Theatre and Opera House (Architects: George Corson and James Robertson Watson, 1878), with 1,500+ seats over five levels, is probably the finest of its size in Britain. Home to Opera North since 1978 (which now rehearses and performs in the theatre for approximately twenty weeks), the theatre underwent a £32 million restoration in 2006-07, since when the Howard Assembly Rooms have also been restored. The theatre is governed by Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Limited, the company that also runs Leeds City Varieties and Hyde Park Picture House. With a company turnover of £8.4 million in 2008, the Grand sells over 230,000 tickets annually. One of the best supported touring houses, especially for musical theatre, as shown in this chart:
Paul Iles is a board member of Leeds Grand Theatre.
See the Grand Theatre annual report and accounts at this link.
See the Leodis collection of Leeds Grand Theatre playbills here.
Wilson Barrett (1846-1904)
Actor-manager Wilson Barrett, famous for his religious melodrama The Sign of the Cross (1895) and 'volcanic energy', was the first manager & lessee of the Grand Theatre, from 1878 to 1895. Barrett had previously run the Leeds Amphitheatre and the Theatre Royal at Hull, with his wife Caroline Heath. With wide experience of Yorkshire and Lancashire theatre, having made his debut at Halifax in 1865 - followed by roles at the Adelphi, Liverpool and Theatre Royal, Blackpool - he first ventured (unsuccessfully) into management at Burnley, Chorley and Preston; then, under John Coleman on the Yorkshire circuit, he was made manager of the Theatre Royal at Halifax. This was not a prosperous theatre town - an actor's saying went, "From Hull, Hell and Halifax Good Lord deliver us". Barrett took the town seriously, raising production standards above what theatregoers had been used to, and became the first manager to make a profit there, from 1868-1875. It was from Halifax that Barrett began his 'stock' touring company, with 25 actors performing 20 plays in repertoire through 16-to-20 northern towns, returning to produce sensational Christmas pantomimes. Barrett's first lease at the Grand Theatre stipulated a yearly rent of £1,700 plus an annual increase of £100, with an option to renew after three years. The ten Directors and shareholders, who had raised the £65,000 capital cost (equivalent to £27 million today) for the new 'civic' theatre, under the leadership of Chairman Sir Andrew Fairburn, provided £800 worth of scenery and a house manager. Barrett received 50 per cent of gross box office receipts. After sixteen years, during which time his management had expanded to run London theatres such as the Court Theatre, Princess's Theatre and tours to North America, South Africa and Australia, he was forced to relinquish management of the Grand when the Directors chose to contract a manager who would be domiciled in Leeds, John Hart from the Bradford Theatre Royal.
Though the earliest example among the English playhouses presented in this work, the Grand Theatre at Leeds is by no means the least important establishment of its class to be found in the United Kingdom. Its conception comprises the somewhat unusual combination of a theatre, concert hall and an assembly-room, in the same block. There may be doubts as to the advisability of thus uniting in one group these various places of entertainment, together with a number of shops and offices, since the safety of the audience is certainly lessened by such an arrangement. Nevertheless, for a provincial town, the breadth of the conception is noteworthy, and, as will be observed in the plans, no little skill has been bestowed on the endeavour partially to divide the block into two separate buildings, so that the one contains the theatre only while the other is devoted to the various halls, together with the business premises. It is only to be regretted that the main approach to the auditorium had to be constructed through that part of the block containing the shops.
The intention of those responsible for the Grand Theatre was to provide Leeds with a large and well-equipped playhouse, and after making allowance for the date of its erection, and the little attention which was paid at the protection against fire, I hold that the original purpose has, to a great extent, been attained in the design of this structure. In its architectural rendering, also it stands above the average buildings of its class. The Leeds Theatre, I might mention, took the place of two establishments, which had been successively burnt down within ten months of each other. Building operations were commenced in 1875, and the inauguration took place on the 18th November 1876. The cost of the erection was £60,000 and seating accommodation was provided in the auditorium for 2600 persons, besides standing room for an additional 600. The commission mission was placed in the hands of a local architect, George Corson, who designed and executed the building in collaboration with J. R. Watson.
The plans are sufficiently clear to explain themselves, and I need only add that the general lines of the auditorium are very effective. There are few features that call for special comment, but the staircase accommodation must be said to be insufficient. The façade gives the structure the character of a public building, but scarcely explains its purpose as a place of entertainment. As I have already indicated, the early date of the erection must not be overlooked if we would form a true estimate of the value of this playhouse.
- Edwin O. Sachs, Modern Opera Houses and Theatres, London, Batsford, 1897, Vol II, p.44.