The Groundlings Theatre
The three storey building of red brick in Flemish bond with a Welsh slate roof was built in 1784 to house a school for boys, run by the Beneficial Society, on the ground floor. It was enlarged in 1836 to take girls, and again in 1873 with the addition of a junior school. The upstairs rooms were used as a public hall for concerts, theatre and meetings. Anecdotes and ghost stories abound about the building’s history. Externally the stucco ground floor front has a central recessed entrance with a 2-leaf door, 12 fielded panels under large fanlight with radial looped glazing bars running into it from centre, panelled reveal and soffit, flanking engaged Doric columns, broken entablature and broken pediment. To the left and right is a 6-pane sash set under rusticated flat arch. At the centre of the first floor is a large Venetian window running through the first and second floors with full width outer arch light, centre 15-pane unequal sash, 3-pane round-headed light over set under round stuccoed arch and flanking 8-pane sashes. The articulating pilasters have fluting and leaf decorations to necking, broken entablature has frieze with flukes and paterae, sill has consoles in line with pilasters and 12-pane sashes flanking set under flat gauged brick arches. The west elevation has 22 bays, the seven to the right being the extent of the original school. The school was closed temporarily during the Second World War and permanently in 1962, when another school was built alongside. Almost destroyed by fire in 2004, the building was restored in 2010. ‘The Old Benny’ was renamed Groundlings after the name given to Elizabethan theatre patrons who frequented the 'ground' or yard of the theatre because they could not afford the balconies. The flat floored theatre space currently has a stage with proscenium arch. Versatile tiered seating or steel deck staging allows the space to be used in the round or used for studio space or dinner theatre. There are rehearsal rooms, offices and a dance studio that can be hired and the costume department offers over 10,000 items that can be borrowed. A drama school and TV studio with green screen and an editing suite are also based in the theatre.
- 1784 Design/Construction: as a school downstairs and public rooms upstairs
- 2010 Owner/Management: Richard Stride
- 2010 Alteration: restoration as a theatre
- 2020 Owner/Management: The Groundlings Theatre Trust was set up in December 2019, and the organisation formally took over the lease the building and operational responsibility from Richard Stride in April 2020.