Early theatres

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Early theatres' page

Theatre in Kettering began with the 'Penny Gaffs', notably Wild's and Payne's, which were rough and ready portable affairs, with planks laid over barrels for seats. They were certainly ingenious-Payne's had an open backdrop in Summer which looked across the fields to the railway line, and one of his productions incorporated a real train as part of the plot, with the actors praying that the timetable would be followed exactly.
The gaffs died out with the opening of the Victoria Hall theatre in Gold Street in 1888. It seated 900, and hosted musicals, , plays, variety shows, and even dinners and dances. It later became a cinema.
Motion pictures first came to Kettering with the bioscopes (short movies) displayed at the Feast in 1897. The first feature film was shown at the Victoria Hall in 1901.

This page was added by Chris Leuchars on 14/02/2008.
Comments about this page

When we talk about 'theatre' it represents two isues, Performance and the buildings themselves.  The above covers the subject partially.  Performance theatre may have started even earlier than the penny gaffs as the affluent of the burgeoning industrial town would have had soiree's or recitals, even readings, in their drawing rooms.   Public Houses were known also to have performance of popular songs of the day etc.   Then along came the gaffs.

Theatres: Mention of the Victoria Hall staging theatre is correct however it cannot be regarded as a theatre as such.  It was a public hall licenced for a multitude of events etc.  It became a cinema in 1920.  It was never a theatre as such although the Alfred Baily years could have used it in that way.   The first purpose-built theatre was the one built by the Paynes (penny gaff proprietors) The Avenue Theatre in Russell Street later Coliseum/Savoy)l opened 3rd August 1903. which is not mentioned in the above text.  Oddly enough it was listed as a Music Hall for many years.  It never was.

As for cinema.  True the Victoria Hall did show 'living pictures' first with visiting Bioscopes.  It had no cinematograph equipment installed.  The first purpose-converted cinema building was the Corn Market Hall on the Market Place which became Vint's Electric Palace in 1909 which by the way also staged variety.

First feature film at the Victoria Hall was probably a religious subject, silent with live accompaniment and singers.  If over 30 minutes in showing time it would have been classed as a feature.   It would have been projected by a visiting Bioscope as afore stated.



By Maurice Thornton
On 23/07/2016

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