Thomas Sergenson came to the seaside town of Blackpool in 1876 to be Treasurer of the Prince of Wales Theatre. In October 1880, he took a lease on the theatre for five years. Later he leased the Theatre Royal (later to be known as the Tivoli Cinema). Sergenson appears to have had an ability to make theatres succeed in Blackpool, even theatres with which others had apparently failed.
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Throughout the early 1880s, Thomas Sergenson had been saving his profits from his three theatre leases which included the Prince’s Theatre in Bradford. His ambition was to construct a large and up-to-date theatre in Blackpool, designed upon the most modern principles. In October 1887, he bought a block of old property on the corner of Church Street and St. Ann’s Street, later Corporation Street, a first-class position between the Winter Gardens and the Promenade on one of the best shopping streets in Blackpool. In November 1888, he announced that he would start to build his new Grand Theatre, together with five shops. The rent from the shops would allow him to run the new theatre at no more than he paid for his existing Blackpool leases.
The Winter Gardens Company had decided to build an Opera House designed by the eminent theatre architect, Frank Matcham. The new building opened on 10th June 1889, whilst Sergenson decided to build the five shops on the site and leave the construction of his new theatre until he could assess the new competition. In the meantime, Sergenson erected a large wooden circus building with a corrugated iron roof which opened on 11th July 1889.
The following year, Sergenson began construction of a more permanent structure and a circus ring was erected within it, although in doing so he fell foul of the Corporation for breaking the local building bye-laws. In 1891, the foundation stone was laid for the Blackpool Tower, the intention being to complete the building for an opening in the Spring of 1894.
Thomas Sergenson immediately realised that the introduction of a large, modern circus located on the seafront heralded the end of his circus enterprise. In consequence, he decided to accelerate the construction of his new theatre, and commissioned Frank Matcham complete the project with a brief to design “the best, prettiest and cosiest theatre possible”.
The Grand Theatre and Opera was completed a few weeks after the Tower and opened in July 1894. Sergenson christened it “Matcham’s masterpiece”; it had cost him £20,000 to construct.
Discover more about Architect Frank Matcham.
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