New Cross Empire Theatre

483-489 New Cross Road,
London, SE14 6TQ

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 New Cross Empire Theatre

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The Deptford Empire Theatre of Varieties was built for Oswald Stoll and Edward Moss for the Moss Empire’s theatre chain. It was located on the corner of New Cross Road and Watson Street, opposite the Addey & Stanhope School, on the boundry of Deptford and New Cross in the southeast of London. It was later always refered to as the New Cross Empire Theatre. The Deptford Empire Theatre of Varieties opened on 31st July 1899.

Designed by noted theatre architect Frank Matcham in a Louis XIV style, with interior decoration by Messrs Waring Ltd. Seating was provided for 248 in the fauteuils (armchairs in the front orchestra stalls), 316 in the Royal stalls, 136 in the stalls, 287 in the dress circle, 240 in the upper circle and 500 in the gallery. There were two large boxes located each side of the theatre at dress circle level. The proscenium was 32 feet wide and the stage was 40 feet deep. There were four single dressing rooms and six chorus rooms that could accomodate 40 artistes. There was also a seperate room for the orchestra. There was a resident 12-piece orchestra, and the orchestra pit was capable of holding 16 musicians.

Films were shown as part of the variety bill from the opening day, and continued until the late-1920’s. In the early 1930’s it was converted into full time cinema use, with some variety acts on stage, but this was a short lived venture, and full time variety returned, making the New Cross Empire one of the most popular of London’s suburban variety theatres. Many stars appeared here including Vic Oliver, Old Mother Riley, Teddy Brown, Issy Bonn, Max Miller, Tesse O'Shea, and even Todd Slaughter, who returned several times with his melodramas such as "Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street", "Maria Marten, the Murder in the Red Barn" and "Jack the Ripper". Stoll Moss Theatres operated the Empire until 1947, when independent operators took over.

The New Cross Empire Theatre was closed on 10th July 1954. The closed theatre then became a location film set for three British made films; Errol Flynn and Anna Neagle in "King’s Rhapsody", when the auditorium ‘stood-in’ for an opera theatre, with an opera produced on-stage, which was filmed in Eastmancolour in 1955. Views of the auditorium, mainly the boxes can be seen in this one. In the Max Bygraves film "Charlie Moon" which was filmed in 1956, there are many scenes filmed in the auditorium, on-stage and brief exterior shots. In the 1956 film "The Long Arm" starring Jack Hawkins, there are brief exterior shots and a side alley, plus a scene in the auditorium.

The New Cross Empire Theatre was demolished in July 1958, and a petrol filling station was opened on the site. In 2009, the open space is used as Deptford Hand Car Wash.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 19, 2009 at 6:28 am

Historic photographs and more details of the New Cross Empire Theatre here:
http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/NewCross.htm#empire
A vintage postcard view from around 1905:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt1965/3567820174/

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