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Heritage and History Month

This April Blackpool’s Grand Theatre is looking back at its heritage and history, as well as some of the incredible occasions that have taken place.

To engage and inform local, regional and national visitors the theatre has launched a month-long campaign #ThisIsHeritage to tell people a little bit more about this historic and outstanding building, built in 1894.

This will involve digital stories looking back, video, blogs

Throughout the early 1880’s Thomas Sergenson had been quietly saving the profits from his by now three rented theatres to fulfil his aim of building a full size modern theatre in Blackpool. In 1887 he bought a site on the corner of Church Street and St Ann Street (later Corporation Street) a first-class position between the Winter Gardens and the Promenade on one of the best shopping streets in Blackpool.

The Winter Gardens, sensing competition, rebuilt their theatre and Sergenson decided to build five shops on the site and delay the theatre until he could see how the rival Opera House prospered.  In place of a theatre Sergenson erected a large wooden building with a corrugated iron roof and for five years he presented a Circus during the summer months.  When he heard that the proposed Blackpool Tower Buildings were to incorporate a Circus he decided to proceed with his original ideas and in 1893 engaged Frank Matcham, the leading theatre architect of the day, to design Blackpool Grand Theatre.

The glorious and beautiful Blackpool Grand has hosted many a Royal occasion including Her Majesty The Queen, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

In May 1981, the theatre had a prestigious two-week visit by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company with their Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, and on Friday 29 May the ultimate theatrical honour of a Royal Variety Performance in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales.

The Royal performance was produced by Robert Nesbitt and included such stars as; Barbara Windsor (who also starred in the summer show that year The Mating Game), Anita Harris, Ray Cornell and his Dancers, Danny La Rue, Petula Clarke, Lennie Bennett, and local chorus Blackpool Operatic Players,

Blackpool and Fylde Light Opera Company and Thornton Cleveleys Operatic Society, all hosted by then TV legend Russell Harty.

Moving forward to the 1990’s a five-year programme of improvements saw the stonework and the dome cleaned and repaired, many windows were also replaced or restored.  The theatre was re-carpeted and the annexe provided a self-contained Studio Theatre and office space.

On 22 July 1994 on the eve of the Grand Theatre’s centenary Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh attended the theatre.

Her Majesty was greeted and accompanied throughout by Samuel Lee the then Chairman of the Grand Theatre Trust Board. Mr Lee introduced Her Majesty to a selection of people including; George Thomson Vice Chair of The Trust Board and Chair of the Friends of The Grand, Mr David Coupe Chairman of the Arts and Entertainment Board and Mr Will Quekett Theatre Manager. Miss Rebecca Brookes (Aged 5) presented Her Majesty with a posy.

The Royal part was then escorted to the Stalls for an opportunity to view the Theatre and see a dress rehearsal for the Centenary Gala to be held the following evening. After the rehearsal an informal meeting of some of the artists. Her Majesty then had the opportunity to view a small display of archive materials of the theatre’s history.

Finally, in the Dress Circle Samuel Lee invited Her Majesty to unveil a plaque commemorating the Centenary of the Theatre.

The Centenary Appeal in 1994 focussed on re-slating the roof and the replacement of the front canopy with a faithful reproduction in cast iron and stained glass of the Victorian original. In 2002 phase one of the Glorious Grand Appeal was completed and featured the restoration of the ceiling, plasterwork and the many paintings and gilt work in the auditorium, the replacement of the stage curtain and other auditorium drapes.

Phase two of The Glorious Grand Appeal – The Sam Lee Appeal in 2004/05 involved improving the amenities of the theatre with new seating, and the provision of better facilities for people with disabilities. As a part of the restoration there had been a change in the colour scheme back to Frank Matcham’s original blue. Phase two of the Glorious Grand Appeal was completed in 2008.

In 2016, the owner of the shops under the theatre building approached the Grand Theatre Trust and a purchase was negotiated, funded by the Friends of The Grand who then gifted them to the Trust.

Blackpool’s Grand continues to provide a wide and varied programme of products, both in the main house and in the Studio, appealing to all age groups. It continues to rely heavily on grants, donations and sponsorship so that we can bring Blackpool the finest companies presenting high quality drama, opera and ballet.

The Grand Theatre is one of the most beautiful theatre buildings in England; a graceful, stylish, grand treasure which deserves the loyalty and support of us all.  The greatest tribute we can pay to those who had the vision to build it and to those who had the determination to save it, is to secure the theatres structural and artistic future.

Part of our #ThisIsHeritage series. You can see our Heritage and History Timeline of The Grand by clicking here.

If you would like to #PlayYourPart and donate to The Grand click here.