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An early theatre, remarkable in that, although it has been through a succession of alterations and extensions at various times over a period of 200 years, much of the basic stone shell of the original building survives.

It opened in 1782 with pit, upper and lower boxes and gallery and a capacity of about 500. It was managed from 1791-94 by Stephen Kemble and enjoyed a Sarah Siddons season in 1799. Edmund Sharpe, a local architect, acquired it in 1843 and extended and reopened it in 1848 as a concert hall with added dwellings and a museum for the local Literary and Natural History Society. The Georgian stage was probably removed at this time and windows opened in the outer walls. He later extended it to the rear and installed an organ. From 1860 it was owned by the Lancaster Athenaeum Company but was closed as unsafe in 1882. A new owner, Henry Wilkinson, improved the staircases, altered the galleries, rebuilt the stage and reopened in 1884 as the Athenaeum Theatre. It was altered by Frank Matcham in 1897 and given a new stage with a small fly tower. Unfortunately, all this was lost in 1908 when a fire gutted the building. A new interior, designed by Albert Winstanley, was constructed within the Georgian shell and the theatre reopened, renamed the Grand, in the same year.

Subsequent remodellings have not been radical and the building as now seen is still recognisable as a partly eighteenth century structure externally, with Winstanley’s Edwardian, four-bay stucco façade and his pleasing interior. The auditorium has one balcony with rich plasterwork on its front, curving around to stage boxes flanking an elliptically arched proscenium. Flat ceiling with raised, moulded frame and restrained ornament. Wedge-shaped stage. The theatre is an amateur producing house owned by the Lancaster Footlights Club.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1782 : continuing
Current state
Current use
Theatre (Mainly amateur theatre)
St Leonardsgate, Lancaster, Lancashire, England
Further details
Other names
The Theatre , Theatre Royal , Music Hall , after Athenaeum , Athenaeum Theatre
  • Owner/Management: later: Union Cinemas
  • Owner/Management: : ABC
  • 1782 Owner/Management: Austin & Whitelock, owners
  • 1782 Use: continuing
  • 1782 Design/Construction:
    - Architect
  • 1791 - 1794 Owner/Management: Stephen Kemble, manager
  • 1801 Owner/Management: before Elizabeth Wilson, owner
  • 1801 Owner/Management: Lodge Family, owners
  • 1843 Owner/Management: Edmund Sharpe, owner (and architect)
  • 1848 Alteration: converted to concert hall; added dwellings to front
    Edmund Sharpe
    - Architect
  • 1857 Alteration: extended to rear and installed organ
    Edmund Sharpe
    - Architect
  • 1860 Owner/Management: Lancaster Athenaeum Co, owner
  • 1884 Owner/Management: Henry Wilkinson (of Black Cat Public House), owner
  • 1884 Alteration: staircase improved, galleries and stage altered
    - Architect
  • 1897 Alteration: remodelled, rebuilt stage with small fly tower
    Frank Matcham
    - Architect
  • 1908 Alteration: reinstated after fire gutted the building
    Albert Winstanley
    - Architect
  • 1919 Owner/Management: Stanley Rogers, who sold to:-
  • 1919 Owner/Management: John McLaughlin & James McVey, owners
  • 1921 Owner/Management: Grand Empire Theatre Ltd (McLaughlin & McVey), owners
  • 1931 Alteration: projection box added, minor alterations to front of house
    - Architect
  • 1951 Owner/Management: Lancaster Footlights Club, owners
  • 1978 Alteration: & various improvements
    - Architect
  • Capacity
    c. 500
  • Capacity
    1856: c.900
    1908: 570
    1912: 720
  • Capacity
  • Listing
Stage type
Proscenium Rake 1:25
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 6.4m (22ft) (variable, wedge-shape) Width SL: 5.6m SR: 4.1m-7.8m
Proscenium width: 6.4m (22ft)
Height to grid: 12m (46ft)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: Enlarged, 9.6m x 2.2m for 14