Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Old Chapel

As Darreners welcome Wetherspoons to Railway Road, let's not forget that next door (where Chippy's taxis can be found) stood a building which was an integral part of the town many moons ago, remembered perhaps by our senior citizens.

Built in the Italianate style at a cost of £10,000 the Theatre Royal opened its doors on 12th March 1877. With a large stage, dress circle, gallery and seven dressing rooms the building also included four shops on the ground floor and offices on the first floor. However, the post office took over from those shops in 1890.

It saw many name changes including the Hippodrome Cinema, the Darwen Picture Palace and others with a variety of owners and grand re-openings with various scene changes and a scandal or two. A famous one involved Jimmy Wearden who appeared in 1881 as "Owd Peg Leg." He had one wooden leg (some say two) and was noted for being a ladies' man. Nevertheless he did a runner (either on one leg or two) after assaulting a lady artiste in the middle of the night.

Umpteen famous stars appeared at the popular venue, many staying at Bank Street lodgings and included Stanley Jefferson (Stan Laurel) who starred in pantomimes between 1907 and 1909. Lily Langtry topped the bill in April of 1915 followed later by Jimmy Jewel and Sid Field. Curious acts included "talking pigs" performing cats and rats and boxing fights, all serving to entertain our townsfolk over the decades.

The music hall days were numbered with the introduction of 'the talkies' and the new fangled 'wireless' and so the popularity of music hall entertainment diminished as live shows were often coupled with short films. Entertainment was greatly changing along with its audience.

The last performance was the 'Waltz Dream' by the Musical Society in 1936 and during the second world war the building was used for storage. However, in 1960 the venue appeared in a Norman Wisdom film "There Was A Crooked Man" where it was seen as a Blackpool pub, The McKillup Arms.

Sadly it was demolished in 1961 but Darwen Days wonder if our old timers have kept any of the posters of shows in days gone by or any other mementos of our social history which would add to our fascinating account of changing times in the town..