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The Old Penzance Theatre

A Grade II Listed Building in Penzance, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.118 / 50°7'4"N

Longitude: -5.5354 / 5°32'7"W

OS Eastings: 147368

OS Northings: 30204

OS Grid: SW473302

Mapcode National: GBR DXQC.M8V

Mapcode Global: VH12Z.09JC

Plus Code: 9C2P4F97+6V

Entry Name: The Old Penzance Theatre

Listing Date: 8 April 1970

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1143963

English Heritage Legacy ID: 69475

Location: Penzance, Cornwall, TR18

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Penzance

Built-Up Area: Penzance

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Penzance St Mary the Virgin with St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Truro

Tagged with: Theatre

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(North East Side)

The Old Penzance Theatre
(at rear of Union Hotel)
SW 4730 5/33A 8.4.70.


The Old Theatre Penzance, constructed around 1787, of stone rubble and a grey slate gable roof. It has a simple rectangular plan.

EXTERIOR: The roughly coursed rubble walls have large granite long and short quoins to the corners and around the original openings. The front gable elevation has central double doors with rectangular fanlight, giving access the ground or basement floor and a single timber panelled door to the right with rectangular fanlight, giving access to the first floor via a side staircase. The north elevation, to the left, has several later windows of different styles inserted on the first floor. At ground or basement level, the north side walls have been pierced through with girders inserted to create car parking spaces beneath the building. This area was formerly used for coaches or carriages, and is illustrated on an early sketch of the theatre, now in Harvard University archives. The rear gable has two 12 pain sash windows either side of the chimney on the first floor. The right elevation is built against, although the presence of several blocked openings in the interior of this wall suggest the building was formerly free standing.

INTERIOR: Internally the building has been much altered, although it retains the original raked stage with trapdoors and parts (encased and largely hidden) of the galleries and rear galleries. Other fragments of the proscenium and galleries survive within the building although these are not fixed nor in their original position. On the first floor are two rooms with passage and former gallery. Some original internal joinery survives in situ, such as the tongue and groove wainscoting in the stairwell, and timber panelled exterior doors. Other features have been reused, however, such as the two original gallery support columns later fixed either side of the inserted arched window, possibly during the period of use as a Masonic Hall. The pit excavated in the ground floor level immediately adjacent to the entrance lobby, which has timber access stairs, is believed to have been used as a cockpit, although it may have originally been constructed as an ice house or storage area.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The late C19/early C20 timber and corrugated iron gable roof structure constructed to cover the open yard between The Old Theatre and the former Net Loft, which has supports inserted into the north wall of the theatre is not of historic importance. The theatre forms a strong visual and functional group with the listed buildings on the north east side of Chapel Street, particularly The Union Hotel.

HISTORY: The Old Theatre Penzance is one of a small number of early Georgian theatres known to survive from this period of theatre development. Opened in 1787, by Richard Hughes, an actor turned manger who went on to have interests in 8 other theatres in the South West and was known as the `father of Provincial Drama'. The Old Theatre is the same size as the Theatre Royal Richmond and strongly resembles it in plan and may have been designed by the same architect along with the Georgian Theatre in Stockton on Tees. Approximately 500 people could be accommodated in two ranks of galleries around the perimeter of a central pit. The raked stage occupied around half the floor space and approximately 70 productions were held each season.
Its location, built partially above additional stabling to the rear of the former coaching inn the Union Hotel , is typical of small provincial theatres and reflects the status of theatre during the period. The Inn and its theatre are locally associated with the first public announcement of the victory at Trafalgar During the 19th century its fortunes faltered as theatre going fell out of favour, and despite the appearance of celebrity Actor Edmund Keane in 1828, the Theatre failed and closed in 1831. The building was later used as a Masonic Halland billiard room and its roof was lowered following storm damage in 1880.

Sherborn D. A Georgian Theatre At Penzance, Architectural Review 1961 Vol 130.

Earl J & Sell M.( Eds) . Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950 A Gazetteer, Theatres Trust. 2000 .

Listing NGR: SW4736830204

Listing NGR: SW4736830204

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