Although a multi-purpose hall, a kursaal (that is, a place of promenade as well as a concert room) on the continental model, rather than a theatre, the Royal Hall’s inclusion here is justified by its use of many of the elements of theatre architecture, and as an outstanding example of its type and an unusual example of Frank Matcham’s architecture of entertainment.
It is quite unlike any other piece of extant work by Matcham. He was originally appointed by the Harrogate Corporation to be the judge of an architectural competition to design a new place of entertainment within the town. The winning entry was submitted by Robert Beale, and the designs appeared in The Builder. The Corporation’s expectation could not be realised within their budget figure and the site was drastically reduced before the scheme was developed. The final building bears little resemblance to Beale’s competition drawings and owes much more (especially in the interior) to the direct involvement of Matcham as a notably ‘hands-on’ consulting architect.
The Royal Hall was originally designed as a kursaal (and so named until the First World War), linked to the pre-existing Spa Concert Room and open on two sides to the landscaped grounds. It provided a meeting and promenading space for visitors taking the waters in the town, as well as being a centre for daytime and evening entertainments. Much of its kursaal character has been lost since the 1970s when it was crowded in on three sides by the International Centre, whose design paid little attention to its presence. The encircling ambulatory, in particular, now has no external views and is interrupted by modifications made at various times around the stage house.
The building has a richly decorated rectangular auditorium with six bow-fronted boxes on either side, below three bow-fronted sections of the single balcony. The stalls area is, in truth, a flat floored ballroom accessed from marble staircases at the front of the stalls and oak staircases at the rear. A major contribution to the ambience is provided by the conscious admission of daylight into the auditorium. Six clerestory windows at upper circle level, originally glazed with leaded lights of ‘progressive’ design, a central auditorium dome (in some ways reminiscent of the London Hippodrome q.v.), and a sliding glazed lantern at the rear of the upper circle all provide opportunities for natural daylight. The corporation employed a full time orchestra.
The stage house was recognised as being too small before construction work was complete, the Corporation having decided late in the day that they wished to present a wider range of stage entertainments than had been envisaged in the original brief. It was originally equipped with choir steps and a pipe organ, the stage forming a restricted ‘D’ shape expressly for this purpose, with no flying height. Subsequent ad hoc alterations and improvements have created a stage of increased technical capacity, but will always be extremely restricted. Enlargement of the stage, whether or not accompanied by the highly desirable restoration of the encircling ambulatory would necessitate a complete redesign.
The auditorium has been little altered since its construction, although the original fresco panels which once adorned the large rectangular panels flanking the proscenium were over-painted in the 1950s, the originals (it was said) having ‘faded away’. Similarly the triangular panels at each corner of the ceiling have been over-painted, having once contained the heraldic shields of the Borough of Harrogate and the Duchy of Lancaster.
A biograph box was installed shortly after the building opened though this was removed in the 1930s. A new technical control room has now been built in this location, copying the footprint and style of the biograph box.
In 2001, English Heritage put the building on the national “buildings at risk” register. Harrogate Borough Council formed the Royal Hall Restoration Trust to raise funds for the restoration and in 2008 an authentic interior redecoration and restoration of the dress circle was completed.
- 1903 : continuing
- Owner/Management: Harrogate Corporation
- 1903 Design/Construction:Robert J Beale & Frank Matcham- Architect
- 1903 Design/Construction:Sparrow & Sons- ConsultantpaintersCalverley- ConsultantplasterersStott- Consultantheating and ventilationA R Dean- Consultantseating and furnishings
- 1903 Use: continuing
- 1960 - 1969 Alteration: public bar area modified and modernisedUnknown- Architect
- 1980 Alteration: original canopy removed and new canopy erectedUnknown- Architect
- 1990 - 1997 Design/Construction: ArrayTheatresearch- Consultantprogressive improvements including restoration of entrance canopy to original design
- 1997 Alteration: entrance canopy reinstated to original designUnknown- Architect
- 2008 Alteration: Burrell Foley Fischer LLP, architects - conservation and restoration projectBurrell Foley Fischerconservation and restoration project