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Theatre Royal Wakefield


The Theatre Royal and Opera House was built on the site of the eighteenth century Theatre Royal, and is the smallest of Matcham's surviving theatres. The façade, as restored in 1986, is of red brick and cast stone of five bays and two storeys. The upper level has five circular windows with arched surrounds, each separated by a projecting bust of a composer in a circular frame with a scrolled top. The keystones of the window arches continue up, in the form of pilaster strips to a broad gable containing the name OPERA HOUSE. A canopy, reflecting the style of the original, was reinstated in 1986, extending around the frontage, which now incorporates a cafe/bar. This is lower, with a small copper dome above the curved corner. An inscription stone from 1994, marking the centenary of the building, unveiled by Brian Matcham, has replaced the original, removed to the interior for safe-keeping. The entrance vestibule with box-office has a richly decorated ceiling. A wide stone staircase to one side leads to the upper levels, and double doors to one side of the stalls. The theatre has a delightful auditorium typical of Matcham's earlier style and similar in scale to his Lyric, Hammersmith. The balcony fronts have frothy Rococo plasterwork. They are separated from the proscenium by elaborate plasterwork panels. Flat circular ceiling with oval panels recently repainted, depicting muses, surrounded by Rococo plasterwork. Original sunburner in situ. The painted panels on the lower balcony front have also been reinstated. Segmentally-arched proscenium with richly-banded frame and central grotesque mask. Boxes each side behind seating in the first balcony. After use as a cinema and then bingo, the Opera House was restored in 1986 to theatre use. A dressing-room block was added at the rear, and a full counterweight system installed. The stage was reinstated and an orchestra pit excavated. Many original features such as stained-glass panels and windows remained. The corner site was annexed to improve audience facilities, the stalls and first circle floors were re-raked, and the projection box removed. In 1995 the theatre was granted a Lottery award of £250,000, enabling further refurbishment comprising redecoration, re-seating and re-carpeting of the auditorium, and new technical equipment. Further awards in 2002 (this time from the HLF and ERDF), enabled the re-seating of the Gallery and installation of a new ventilation system in the auditorium. Further development of a Centre for Creativity is planned. Architect Halliday Clark’s proposals include a glazed extension to the side of the theatre to create a new entrance from Westgate, theatre bar, performance and education spaces.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1983 - 1986: occasional; 1986 continuing
Current state
Current use
Drury Lane/Westgate, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 2TE, England
Further details
Other names
Theatre Royal & Opera House , Wakefield Opera House , Essoldo
  • 1894 Design/Construction:
    Messrs Totterton & Co (Leeds)
    - Consultant
    Jonas Binns & Sons
    - Consultant
    interior decor
    Frank Matcham
    - Architect
  • 1894 Owner/Management: Benjamin Sherwood, owner
  • 1898 Alteration: electricity installed (consultant unknown).
  • 1900 Owner/Management: Sherwood & Co (Benjamin's wife Fanny, sons & daughters, following break-up of marriage), owners
  • 1903 Alteration: extensions; scene dock, offices and corner shop.
    J P Briggs
    - Architect
  • 1947 Owner/Management: Gateshead Empire Palace Co (Sol Sheckman), later continuing under Essoldo circuit, owners
  • 1955 Alteration: converted to cinema (architect unknown).
  • 1966 Owner/Management: Lucky Seven, lessees
  • 1966 Alteration: converted to bingo (architect unknown).
  • 1973 Owner/Management: Ladbrokes, owners
  • 1981 Owner/Management: Wakefield Metropolitan Festival Company, owner; Wakefield Theatre Trust, management
  • 1983 - 1986 Use: occasional; 1986 continuing
  • 1986 Alteration: restored internally and externally; backstage facilities improved; internal link with corner shop created; dressing room block at rear added.
    - Architect
    Lawrence Doyle
    - Consultant
    Kate Lyons
    - Consultant
    repainted muses in ceiling panels
  • 1996 Alteration: theatre redecorated; technical improvements made.
    Joe Parker
    - Architect
  • 2003 Alteration: re-seating of Gallery and new ventilation system.
  • Capacity
    c. 700
  • Capacity
    1907: 420
    1986: 508
  • Capacity
  • Listing
    Listed 1979
Stage type
Proscenium Rake 1:30
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 7.92m + 1.22 apron Width SL: 5.13m SR: 5.13m
Proscenium width: 7.26m
Height to grid: 11.53m u/s 11.89m d/s
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: From 1986 for 15