An Open Air Theatre

Scarborough was once a treasure trove of theatrical venues. Scarborough Opera House opened on St. Thomas Street in 1876, the Spa Theatre in 1879 and there was also live entertainment at the Aquarium, which opened in 1877.

Scarborough’s oldest theatre was the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1771, and there were many more not mentioned here, since demolished and/or redeveloped.

Some, like the Futurist (1920) and the Palladium Picture House (1912) served first as cinemas before accommodating live entertainment, and the outdoor performance space in Alexandra Gardens (1908) proved so popular that a roof was added, later becoming a full-blown theatre that could accommodate visitors during all weather conditions.

You can read more about Scarborough’s many former theatres by visiting this link.

The Open Air Theatre in Northstead Manor Gardens, however, was a little different. Once described as ‘The Drury Lane of the open air’, there was no protection here from the unpredictable British weather. It opened in 1932, and performances took place on a stage that was in fact located on an island in the middle of the lake at the centre of the gardens. This was truly an ambitious and exciting project for Scarborough…

Open Air Theatre

Above: The Open Air Theatre (source)

The site in question was purchased by the Scarborough Corporation in 1926, to be developed into pleasure gardens, which would include a water chute, boating lake and miniature railway line. Known locally as Hodgson’s Slack, this natural ampitheatre offered an ideal setting for live entertainment, and would eventually accommodate as many as eight thousand audience members. For sell-out performances some would even sit on the nearby grassy banks, when seating proved insufficient to meet demand.

Open Air Theatre

Above: From the opening night (source)

The first performance was a grand affair, opened by the Lord Mayor of London in the summer of 1932. He reportedly said:

The setting is ideal and constitutes a wonderful tribute to the imagination of whoever realised the possibilities to be derived from this particular park of the park, and also to the engineers who carried out the necessary embellishments and alterations which provide such a picturesque stage and background and also such splendid accommodation.

 
Merrie England, a well-known light opera penned by Sir Edward German, was the first production to be performed at the theatre, and one of many ambitious performances by Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society over the following decades. First performed in London, in 1902, the story is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Open Air Theatre

Above: Cast members from Merrie England at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre (source)

Many productions enjoyed success here – West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Carmen, Bohemian Girl, Hiawatha….

Open Air Theatre

Above: Annie Get Your Gun (source)

Below: King’s Rhapsody (source)

Open Air Theatre

In the 1950s It’s a Knockout became a popular addition to the theatre’s repertoire, continuing well after the last musical – West Side Story – was staged in 1968. The latter featured Hi-di-Hi actress Ruth Madoc in a starring role. Nine years later the dressing rooms and much of the scenery buildings on the island were removed, as was the seating, and, following the complete closure of the venue in 1986, the remaining structures fell into gradual decay.

Open Air Theatre

Above: The theatre during its heyday (source)

In 2008, the go-ahead was received for a major redevelopment, and in 2010 the rejuvinated theatre was re-opened by the Queen. With a slightly reduced seating capacity of 6, 500, the venue has hosted, to date, a range of different acts, including Boyzone, Tom Jones and Elaine Paige in 2015, as well as community events in the past and even televised showings of England World Cup Matches in 2010, via a large screen.

You can see a list of upcoming events here.

Have you ever been to the Open Air Theatre? How do old and new compare? See any mistakes in the history above? If so please comment or get in touch. For more pictures and memories see the Facebook Page.

Sources

A brief history of the theatre

Scarborough theatre history

Scarborough News

Scarborough Civic Society

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library

Floral Hall: An Introduction

Floral Hall was a popular Scarborough entertainment venue, characterised by its resemblance to a large ornate conservatory. Located within Alexandra Gardens on Scarborough’s North side, this former attraction has recently been added to Stories From Scarborough at the request of readers.

Floral Hall

Above: An early picture of the theatre, before it acquired a roof (source)

In 1889, the Scarborough Corporation purchased the site under the name of Alexandra Field, as a protective measure to save the land from prospective building. Comprising a four acre site, the field remained little changed until Borough Engineer Harry W. Smith – architect of many a Scarborough treasure (the South Bay Pool, Peasholme Park, Northstead Manor Gardens etc) proposed a complex containing bowling greens, tennis courts and a space for open air entertainment.

At a cost of £4000, the renamed Alexandra Gardens opened on June 27th, 1908.

As a entertainment space, Floral Hall had humble beginnings, being completely uncovered and often showcasing the popular pierrot shows that typically took place on the beach.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: The popular pierrot show that often took place on Scarborough’s South Bay (source)

However, in 1911, Floral Hall, as depicted on many a picture postcard, was born. A more substantial concert pavilion was built, seating 1500 and with further space for standing audience members. The name was coined due to the hanging baskets, flowers and sub-tropical plants that decorated the venue.

Floral Hall

Above: Floral Hall exterior view (source)

The addition of a ceiling prompted the development of a full scale, indoor concert hall, and presumably offered more adequate protection from the unpredictable British weather. Furthermore, as the popularity and complexity of shows grew, the flowers and shrubs were phased out to accommodate lighting and production equipment.

Floral Hall

Above: Inside the venue before the gradual removal of the floral decorations (source)

During its heyday, Floral Hall attracted some of the top names in British entertainment, including Barbara Windsor and Kirsten Cooke. On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, Beverley has kindly shared imagery and information about this, which are reproduced below:

floralhallposter

Above: Image contributed by Beverley via the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page.

1983 “The Mating Game” tour resumed after Pantomime in April. In July the show opened for the Summer Season at Scarborough’s Floral Hall- a 1,600 seater. Presented by Charles Vance in association with Newpalm Productions it starred Barbara Windsor, Jack Smethurst, Kathy Staff, Ian Masters and Kirsten Cook.http://www.its-behind-you.com/spotlightbarbarawindsor.html

This was probably the summer Barbara Windsor met her future husband, a Yorkshire (Scarborough I think) chef who was 19 years younger than herself. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3583375/Bar-lady.html

Kirsten Cooke also appeared at the Floral Hall in a season of ‘Allo Allo, also in the 80’s but I can’t find much info about that. There is a ref. here to the stage show https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/’Allo_’Allo!

(Above text: from the same source as above)

However, these lively years of excited audiences and popular performances eventually took their toll on the venue. Eventually the concert pavilion became structurally unstable, as noted by Susan on the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page:

I worked there the last year it was open ’86 and it was in need of some serious tlc

By 1987 Floral Hall had closed, and, with funds lacking for the necessary restoration work to make it safe, the structure was demolished two years later. The site is now occupied by Scarborough Bowls Centre.

Huge thanks to Beverley for the image and information, and to Susan and all the other people who have offered comments about Floral Hall on the Facebook Page. New comments, information and pictures are always welcome!

Sources

Scarborough Civic Society

Scarborough News

Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website