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Joseph Rowntree Theatre


A free-standing building set back from the road in gardens on a corner of the Rowntree (now Nestlé) factory site a couple of miles from York city centre. It opened in 1935 principally for the factory workers – “The aim has been to build a hall which may be a fitting centre of those recreational and educational activities which make for a full and happy life” (from the opening programme).

A simple, dignified thirties façade in three blocks is symmetrically pierced by small steel windows. The two lower, projecting blocks are the circle stairs. Three second floor windows in the centre illuminate the former projection suite. Behind the plain brick auditorium block with its pitched tiled roof rises the tall fly tower. The building is gloriously and unmistakably a theatre.

Front of house space is limited but includes the box office, toilets (including an accessible toilet) and space to sell refreshments.

The stalls (seventeen rows) are unusually steeply raked giving outstanding sightlines. There is a high dado panelled in light wood. The severely elegant lines are almost unaltered, the only addition being two lighting platforms high on the walls above the front stalls. The ceiling slopes down, with deep plaster ribs originally containing concealed lighting, until the final one before the proscenium which is considerably higher than the preceding level to allow for more stage lighting positions. The circle front is covered by a curtain which parts to reveal more stage lighting positions. Sightlines from the circle are excellent. The stage is generous with a sunken orchestra pit which can be covered over to form a forestage. Backstage are four dressing rooms.

The theatre has been run since 2001 by a group of over 150 volunteers and was established as a charity and limited company in 2003 (Joseph Rowntree Theatre Limited). Since 2003 a major series of refurbishments have been undertaken, including replacing the auditorium seats and carpets, redecorating the interior, upgrading the stage lighting and overhauling the sound system.

The lease the charity agreed with Nestlé UK in 2003 transferred to York St John University when they purchased the property in 2012, however, that lease was due to expire in 2025 with no right to renew. In August 2017 the board of trustees of the charity bought the Theatre premises from the university.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1935 : Theatre, continuing
Current state
Current use
Nestle Rowntree, Haxby Road, York, North Yorkshire, YO91 1RT, England
Further details
Other names
  • 1935 Use: Theatre, continuing
  • 1935 Design/Construction:
    Barry Parker
    - Architect
  • 1935 - 2012 Owner/Management: Rowntree's, later Nestlé, owner
  • 2003 - 2017 Owner/Management: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Limited, lessee
  • 2012 - 2017 Owner/Management: York St John University, owner
  • 2017 Owner/Management: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Limited, owner, continuing
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    in 2013
  • Listing
Stage type
Proscenium flat
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 7.6m Width SL: 6.1m SR: 6.1m
Proscenium width: 8.32m
Height to grid: 16.46m
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -