The Venue for Harrogate’s G&S Festival

08/08/2014

 The Story of Harrogate’s Royal Hall, Malcolm Neesam, historian, The Crown Hotel, Harrogate, West Yorkshire. 4.8.2014 (RJW)

Photo: The Royal Hall c. 1908

Photo: The Royal Hall c. 1908

To put the Festival’s surroundings in context a talk about the start of entertainment in Harrogate and its building of local theatres provided a good introduction for those visiting the spa town for the first time.

Once the spa facilities had been established in the 18th Century the local hoteliers decided that their guests needed a venue for special occasions and evening entertainment, since entertainment was regarded as essential for a cure for all ills along with the new spa treatments.

By 1788 the only facility was provided by hotels like the Crown, which could welcome strolling players to entertain the gentry to a maximum of 80 persons.

A Town Hall theatre came into being which played The Mikado and Cox & Box along with other Victorian musical delights of the period. Later, a consortium decided that a larger multipurpose venue with hall and park based on the German Kursaal (a ‘cure’ hall for mental refreshment) should be opened. Thus the Royal Hall/Kursaal came into being. Famous theatre architect, Frank Matcham, was engaged along with a local planner Robert Beale to oversee the scheme.

Opened in 1903, little time was lost before the Royal Hall was attracting large touring companies. The Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1904 presented an ambitious Wagner season. Up to 1930 the Hall sported an orchestra of 50 players and even had Claude Verity presenting his new talking film in 1921, long before the famous Vitaphone’s talking film came into being. The Jazz Singer was hailed the first talkie in 1927, yet in fact Verity went over to America to work with Vitaphone to develop their system.

The Royal Hall after renovation 2008

The Royal Hall after renovation 2008

A period of restoration took place between 2005-8 to provide today’s excellent ‘palace of variety’, following a mammoth money raising series of events.
Its multi-purpose use required that the Hall’s main stalls area be flat for accommodating dances and dinners and so a circle had to be situated a fair distance from the stage. Although not ideal for theatre use the Hall stage has a generous proscenium width of 34ft and adequate raked depth, the only disappointment being a total lack of wing space and absence of a fly tower.

Raymond J Walker

Photo: The Royal Hall c. 1908
The Royal Hall after renovation 2008

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