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Theatre Royal (with Borough Hall)


The history of the site is complex.

After the closure of Thornton’s Theatre in Market Street, Guildford had no purpose-built theatre. In 1846 the Guildford Mechanics’ Institute opened on North Street and this building was greatly enlarged in 1861 by an additional 80ft long hall extending on the west side down Leapale Road. The County & Borough Halls, as the building was now known, retained the old hall. In 1912 the large (County) hall was rebuilt internally and further extended to become the 1050 seat Theatre Royal.

The theatre had a raked floor of steel and concrete, a circle and gallery and a new roof. At the same time the old Borough Hall was given a new stage and an enlarged gallery, but at opposite ends to the original stage and gallery.

The Theatre Royal closed in 1933, having failed to meet the local authority’s structural and safety requirements, some of which (for example, the insistence on a reinforced concrete stage) seem to have been quite unreasonable. The Guildford Cooperative Society, having bought the entire property, used the building as a shop and store but left the theatre auditorium disused, in situ. Around the 1950s, however, the circle and gallery were removed.

The Borough Hall/Guildford Theatre was gutted by a fire in 1963 which also destroyed the roof of the old Theatre Royal. The Borough Hall had had occasional use by professional theatre companies in 1933 and 1942, but from 1946 to 1963, as the Guildford Theatre, it housed the successful and highly-regarded Guildford Repertory Company. Following the 1963 fire, the Coop store was extended into the Theatre Royal site.

The original 1845 and 1861 elevations were in Bargate Stone with ashlar dressings in a pleasant, gabled Tudor manner. Subsequent alterations made rather a mess of the gables and fenestration.

Internally, the theatre was an odd hybrid, more like a cinema than a theatre, with a rather uncomfortably detailed tunnel vaulted ceiling, two curved balconies, one above the other, with the briefest of side slips, no boxes and no architectural link between balcony fronts and proscenium.

The Borough Hall, in its final form, had a proscenium with the borough coat of arms. The destruction of the old Theatre Royal and Borough Hall accelerated plans for the building of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1912 - 1933: (TR); 1933, 1942, 1946-63 (Borough Hall)
Current state
Current use
Converted to other use (Co-operative Society Store)
North Street/Leapale Road, Guildford, Surrey, England
Further details
Other names
Public Hall , West Hall , Guildford Theatre , (Borough Hall)
  • 1845 Design/Construction: Guildford Mechanics’ Institute
    - Architect
  • 1861 Alteration: County & Borough Halls erected, retaining the old hall
    Robert Goodchild
    - Architect
  • 1861 Owner/Management: County & Borough Halls Co
  • 1912 Alteration: County Hall rebuilt internally and extended to accommodate stage house. Borough Hall remodelled, with stage at opposite end and balcony.
    Frank Cox (Grays Inn)
    - Architect
  • 1912 Design/Construction:
    Bowden & Higlett
    - Consultant
    stage lighting
    Willcox & Co
    - Consultant
    electrical installation
  • 1912 - 1933 Use: (TR); 1933, 1942, 1946-63 (Borough Hall)
  • 1932 Owner/Management: Guildford Co-operative Society
  • 1933 Alteration: probably minor works
    Bethell & Swannell
    - Architect
  • 1950 - 1959 Alteration: circle and gallery demolished
    - Architect
  • Capacity
    TR: 1050
    BH: 800
  • Listing
    Not listed
Stage type
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: d: 30ft w: SL wing 12ft 6in SR wing 12ft 6in
Proscenium width: 31ft
Height to grid: 57ft
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: Original 9 Dressing rooms