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Bingo moved out of the theatre in 1995, and it was statutory listed Grade II in February 1996. By 1997 the disused upper level already showed signs of fairly extensive water penetration. The more immediate risk, however, seemed to be that it would be sold for some highly profitable non-theatre activity, removing a splendid building from any prospect of a return to its designed use. There was much local pressure to reopen the theatre and the local authority, Burnley Light Opera Society and The Theatres Trust contributed to the cost of a feasibility study. However, the theatre remained empty and unused, and continues to deteriorate. The theatre's frontage is somewhat obscured by an adjacent development and it is only the rear of the auditorium which has a public face. This is narrow and rendered, with evidence of original mouldings and panels. Its main entrance is on St James’s Street, a shopping street. A long and narrow entrance and foyer lead to the auditorium. The frontage is clad in sheet panelling. The auditorium is elaborately detailed with robust and richly formed plasterwork in the Classical style. As reconstructed by Crewe in 1911, it has two slightly curved wide and deep balconies, terminating in superimposed stage boxes framed between massive Corinthian columns supporting a deep cornice. Segmental-arched proscenium, with richly decorated spandrels and heraldic cartouche. Side walls feature plaster panels, pilasters and drops. Flat, panelled ceiling with circular centre panel and central sun burner. Restrained heraldic and Greek plasterwork on balcony and box fronts. Three boxes and the upper balcony have been partitioned off. If the theatre was to be restored to use, the narrow stage would need to be extended and front of house would need improvement. The council has undertaken some works to the building to ensure public safety but does not have the resources to to restore the theatre. The full extent of the condition of the building is not known however there are concerns that sections of the building could suffer structural failure and potential loss of historic fabric as a result of neglect and decay. Water ingress appears to be accelerating the decay of the structure. Externally the building appears to be failing, particularly the roof which is not water tight and this will undoubtedly have impacted on the condition of the interior. A local group, Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT), has been formed and is working closely with Theatres Trust and other stakeholders to restore and reopen the theatre. This has included commissioning a viability study which concluded that there is a clear opportunity for the restoration of the theatre through a long-term venture with partnership and training at its core. 2018 saw BETT finally realise the first step to its ambition and took ownership of the building. This momentous step was enabled through the continued support from the Theatres Trust, National Trust and David Wilmore at historic theatre consultancy, Theatresearch – and the generosity of an anonymous donor. The Duchy, who kindly honoured its original offer to allow the group to buy the building for £1, transferred ownership to Burnley Empire Ltd (the company set up by BETT) on 5 December 2018. BET has also managed to acquire the linking block between the main foyer and auditorium. The foyer and dressing room blocks however remain in different ownerships. BET has commenced works to stabilise the building and make it watertight as well as removing asbestos and debris around the stage and in previously inaccessible areas. Funding has also enabled some initial works to the historic decorative plaster ceiling and box fronts.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1894 - 1938: Theatre
  • 1938 - 1970: Cinema
  • 1970 - 1995: Bingo
Current state
Current use
Disused (Currently at risk)
St James Street, Burnley, Lancashire, BB11 1NL, England
Further details
Other names
Empire Music Hall , Empire Theatre of Varieties , New Empire , Gala Bingo
  • Owner/Management: New owner Burnley Empire Ltd
    - Owner
    Burnley Empire Ltd
  • 1894 Design/Construction:
    G B Rawcliffe
    - Architect
  • 1894 Owner/Management: W C Horner of the Victoria Opera House, Burnley
  • 1894 - 1938 Use: Theatre
  • 1911 Alteration: auditorium reconstructed
    Bertie Crewe
    - Architect
  • 1938 Alteration: converted to cinema
    Possibly Lewis & Co Of Liverpool
    - Architect
  • 1938 - 1970 Use: Cinema
  • 1970 - 1995 Use: Bingo
  • 2013 Owner/Management: Lancashire Theatre Company
  • 2014 Owner/Management: The Duchy of Lancaster
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    1912: 2100
    1945: 1808
  • Capacity
  • Listing
Stage type
Building dimensions: 1894: 97ft x 49ft 6in
Stage dimensions: Depth: 8m (26ft) at centre Width: 65ft
Proscenium width: 1894: 26ft 8in1911: c.11.5m (c.38ft)
Height to grid: est. 19.8m (50ft)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -