Empire Theatre

Park Street,
Wombwell, S73

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Empire Theatre

Located in Wombwell, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire. The Empire Theatre opened on 12th May 1910 as a skating rink on the first floor with a cinema below it on the ground floor. The cinema proved to be far more popular than skating and on 5th January 1911 the skating Rink was also converted into a cinema (could this be the first twin?).

In early-1913 the building was entirely rebuilt and the new Empire Theatre reopened on 22nd September 1913 and was to be used as a Variety Theatre, Drama House and Picture Palace with seating for 975. Built of local quarried ‘naive’ stone and bricks from Earl Fitzwilliam’s Skiers Springs quarry, the Empire Theatre had ten exits enabling it to be cleared very quickly. All steps were in stone as a fire precaution.The main entrance hall was very large and could accommodate three hundred standing people, designed as a waiting area for when the two house policy was in practice. A mosaic floor matched the mosaics on the front facade. Two staircases led off from the foyer. The right hand side to the stalls and the left up to the grand circle where tier upon tier of crimson plush seats in a semi-circle swept across the building. The circle was of the cantilever system enabling the back stalls patrons a perfect view of the stage and screen. The auditorium was decorated in red and white with gold ornamentations to the proscenium arch, boxes and circle front. A fully equipped stage with fly tower meant the largest of productions could be staged and an operating box was built to the rear of the circle. There were four large dressing rooms backstage and a fireproof safety curtain. The Empire’s own set of scenery was painted by Mr T.C. Daly of Manchester who was scenic artist to the giant Moss Empire circuit.

The Empire Theatre closed on 14th December 1929 for sound installation, reopening on Christmas Day with “Movietone Follies of 1929”.

In 1937 it was sold to the Leeds based Star Cinema circuit, though they sold it on later to a private company. By 1944, the Empire Cinema was listed with a seating capacity of 1,118.

Bingo arrived on 7th October 1962 with sessions held on Sundays,Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Films were still shown for a while on Tuesday,Wednesday & Thursdays until 1st December 1962, when the Empire Theatre became a full time Bingo hall. The local Wombwell Amateur Operatic Society were still allowed to present their yearly productions here though, and on Sunday 7th March 1965, following their dress rehearsal of “The King And I”, a beam fell from the stage fly tower and rendered the building unsafe and beyond repair. Luckily no one was hurt. The “King And I” production had to be postponed and was staged later that year at the Barnsley Civic Hall. The Wombwell Empire was demolished within a few weeks due to its dangerous condition.

Contributed by Richard Roper (abcman)

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

maggymay on November 17, 2012 at 9:29 pm

We learned at my dads funeral[Russ Oughton] service that as a young boy he sold chocolates at the Empire.This was a surprise to everybody.

maggymay on November 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I was wondering if there are any photographs taken inside the theatre?

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