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The Plymouth Athenaeum Theatre


The Athenaeum was the first permanent theatre built in Plymouth after the Second World War and was partially funded by war damage compensation. It took its name from the Athenaeum built by Foulston in 1819 (next to his 1813 Theatre Royal) which had housed "The Plymouth Institution". This building was partially destroyed during the Blitz in 1941 and the replacement, opened in 1961, was designed by local architects Walls and Pearn, who also designed the Grade II listed Pannier Market. It was built as a lecture hall, library, 340 seat theatre and a studio for Westward Television Studios. Externally, the principal (north) elevation is symmetrical and dominated by the projecting glass fronted lounge area which overhangs the entrance and is supported on two round concrete piloti with mosaic facing. The recessed central entrance to the ground floor has three steps with tubular steel handrails and splayed concrete walls to either side. The projecting first floor has a steel frame with blue mosaic facing to the vertical struts which divides the window into eight bays. To the side elevations of the projection are rectangular concrete slabs. Above is the central brick-faced wall of the auditorium with the lettering "The Athenaeum". Internally, the auditorium is rectangular and largely in its original condition with no interior decoration. The fixed raked seating is on two levels, stalls and balcony, and consists of a central block with steps to either side and wooden panelling to the rear wall of each level. The main auditorium is roofed in a lightweight steel space frame which provides a clear span and fixing points for lighting. The proscenium arch stage has a maple floor with revolve, small fly tower including a flying cinema screen, understage crossover and four dressing rooms. The theatre closed in 2009 having been running at a loss but was available for hire by local groups. Refused listed status by English Heritage in 2010, the auditorium was recently upgraded with new spot lights, digital sound cabling, and stage electrics to allow concerts and touring theatre productions.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1961 : Continuing 
Current state
Current use
Derry's Cross, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2SW, England
Further details
Other names
  • Owner/Management: The Plymouth Athenaeum Society, lessees
  • Owner/Management: Plymouth City Council, owners
  • 1819 Design/Construction: Institute building opened.
    John Foulston
    - Architect
  • 1941 Demolition: Institute building destroyed in blitz
  • 1961 Use: Continuing 
  • 1961 Design/Construction: Athenaeum built on the same site, containing library, lecture room, lounges and theatre
    Walls & Pearn
    - Architect
  • Capacity
    340 in 2017
  • Listing
    Not listed
Stage type
Pros flat
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 7.62m Width SL: 7.24m SR: 7.24m
Proscenium width: 7.87m
Height to grid: 8.15m
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: Original, 2.31m in front of stage with rail