Bristol Beacon (formerly Colston Hall) is Bristol’s largest concert hall, a venue presenting rock, pop, jazz, folk, classical music, choirs, orchestras, stand up, comedy and theatre. It has a complicated rebuilding history.
The first building on this site was opened to the public on the 20 September 1867 and was essentially a major concert hall modelled on St George’s Hall in Liverpool. The hall auditorium (not the foyer) was completely destroyed by fire in 1898. Rebuilding commenced swiftly and the hall reopened in 1900. Colston Hall was purchased by the Bristol Corporation (City Council) in 1919, and it converted a second smaller room, the Lesser Colston Hall, into a theatre for amateur use in 1923. It later modernised the Edwardian auditorium in 1936 to reflect the current Art deco style.
The concert hall auditorium was again gutted by fire in 1945 and rebuilt internally in 1950/51 in time for the ‘Festival of Britain’ celebrations. In 1987 the complex was refurbished by the Corporation and the Lesser Hall became a bar, a loss to the amateurs.
From 2007 to 2009, Colston Hall underwent another extensive refurbishment with the construction of a new foyer alongside the present building, topped by a wind turbine. The construction of the new foyer, with café bar, roof terrace, conferencing and education facilities allowed Lesser Hall to revert to being a performance space now known as 'Hall 2'.
The main 1900s rebuilding created a red brick pitched roofed concert hall, with stone dressings and a separate flat roofed stage area. Much of the 1867 building including the vaults is still evident. The 1867 foyer (which survived the fires) was built in the byzantine revival style and was constructed in yellow brick with limestone, sandstone, terracotta and faience dressings. There is an arched colonnade on the ground floor, while the arched windows above were filled in 1923 to create the theatre. The impressive original foyer is entered through the colonnade from Colston Street. The new glazed foyer extension (to the south) is clad in metal sheets and provides new access to both performance halls. What remains today therefore includes the 1867 entrance and grand stairs with theatre above to the East, concert hall to the West and front-of-house foyer the South.
The main concert hall now seats up to 2,075 people. The front stalls floor is flat and extends underneath the removable stage and front section of the seating so that the hall can also be used for dancing and standing concerts. The seating in the rear section of the stalls is gently raked. Steeply raked seating is also provided behind the stage, though this is often curtained off to create a more traditional theatre style arrangement. The balcony extends right down the sides of the hall giving access to the rear of the stage. Curved at the rear, it has three ziggurat-like projections until it meets the proscenium.
Dating from its 1951 rebuild, the ceiling and wall decorations are very plain, gently curving around the edges and a large curved reflector hangs above the stage and rear stage seating.
The organ was built by Messrs. Harrison & Harrison Ltd of Durham, who also built the Royal Festival Hall organ and sits behind a grille behind the stage, so little of it can be seen from the Hall. The organ extends upwards above the level of the panelling, and has 5,372 pipes, ranging from tiny ‘tin whistles’ measuring an inch or so long to 32-foot tall ones operated by the pedals.
The Lesser Hall (Hall 2) has now been returned to theatre use and has a capacity of 350 standing and 250 seated. The floor is flat so it can be used for variety of functions, and unlike the 1950s styling of the main hall, Hall 2 retains many of the original decorative Victorian features.
On Wednesday 23 September 2020 Colston Hall, named after the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, changed its name to Bristol Beacon.
- 1867 : Concert Hall, continuing
- Owner/Management: Bristol Corporation, owners
- 1867 Design/Construction:Foster & Wood- Architect
- 1867 Use: Concert Hall, continuing
- 1900 Alteration: rebuilt after gutting by fireUnknown- Architect
- 1960 Alteration: rebuilt internallyJ Nelson Meredith- Architect
- 1987 Alteration: major refurbishment; lesser hall (Little Theatre q.v.) converted to barBorough Architect- Architect
- 2011 Owner/Management: Bristol Music Trust, management, continuing