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Rosemount Viaduct, His Majesty's Theatre

A Category A Listed Building in Aberdeen, Aberdeen

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.1482 / 57°8'53"N

Longitude: -2.1049 / 2°6'17"W

OS Eastings: 393748

OS Northings: 806368

OS Grid: NJ937063

Mapcode National: GBR SBG.WX

Mapcode Global: WH9QQ.MLVH

Entry Name: Rosemount Viaduct, His Majesty's Theatre

Listing Date: 8 November 1973

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 355594

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB20605

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Aberdeen

County: Aberdeen

Town: Aberdeen

Electoral Ward: Midstocket/Rosemount

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

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Description

Frank Matcham 1904-6; masonry by A Anderson, slating G Farquhar, joinery Henry & Keith, sculpture Mr Arrowsmith and W Buchan. 1933, refurbished D MacAndrew & Co; 1980-82 refurbishment city architect Ian Ferguson, project manager Bill Moir, building contractor Taylor Woodrow Construction (Scotland); 2005 refurbishment and extension Trevor Smith city architect's department; building contractor Robertson Construction Group, project manager David Steel; painting and decoration contractor Lawrence Milne & Sons of Ellon.

Remarkable finely detailed Free Renaissance style, 4-storey theatre with domed 4-stage tower, on steeply falling ground to N, retaining outstanding interior, overlooking sunken gardens at heart of Aberdeen City. Symmetrical 7-bay façade and 2-bay tower; giant order dividing pilasters, dominant copper capped dome, portico, pierced stonework and ball-finialled balcony, 6-light tripartite window over 2 floors below oval window in segmental-arched and keystoned frame over 3 floors, semicircular pediment crowned by reinforced concrete statue of Tragedy and Comedy. Kemnay granite ashlar front, with Tillyfourie granite to sides and rear. Ground floor cornice, frieze and 1st floor cill course, eaves cornice with panelled blocking course and ball finials. Round-arched doors and windows; Some Gibbsean style window surrounds, some to tower with stylised pediments; oculi, keystones, voussoirs.

FURTHER DESCRIPTION: principal S elevation with arcade-effect window and door openings at ground, part-glazed 2-leaf panelled timber doors; regular fenestration to 1st and 2nd floors with taller windows at 2nd oculi to outer bays at 3rd floor. Tower at outer right has similar door and window detail, latter with additional pediments in keystoned frames over both floors giving way to corbelled aedicules at drum. Later E wing adjoining beyond to right.

Multi-pane glazing patterns in timber sash and case windows; much coloured glass throughout.

INTERIOR: spacious well preserved interior, handsomely treated throughout in mixed baroque and neo-Jacobean strapwork decoration, much alabaster and marble. Panelled foyer with Ionic columns, richly decorated ceiling and bronze bust of Frank Matcham leads directly to the dress circle. Large auditorium with 3 cantilevered galleries, dress circle also with 2 columns, raked stalls area has decorative ceramic tiling around stalls area for enhanced acoustics. Elaborate aedicular treatment of boxes, with statues of Tragedy and Comedy above, flanking proscenium arch with frieze depicting 'The Goddess of Drama'. Circular Dress Circle Bar with marble counter enclosing gantry. Horseshoe-shaped Stalls Bar copied from original.

Statement of Interest

The very high quality of design exhibited at His Majesty's Theatre is supported by an outstanding interior in almost original condition. It is an important work by the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham. The building contributes significantly to the streetscape with the strong visual impact of the iconic façade owing much to its elevated position on Rosemount Viaduct overlooking Union Terrace Gardens, with a steep drop behind to the Denburn Valley.

Originally designed in 1901 with two small towers flanking a centre pediment, the final design has a single much larger dome, possibly to balance the dome on the nearby church. The building, which cost £35,000, was complete by 26 November 1906. The opening show on 3 December was a pantomime, Sweet Red Riding Hood, which played to a full house. After the show Mr Robert Arthur, who had written a complementary booklet entitled The Playhouse of Bon Accord told the audience "This is an Aberdeen playhouse built by Aberdeen workmen and is a credit to their handywork". At that time "the backstage accommodation was of the highest standard. A wide stage, running from the proscenium to the back wall, was graced by an onstage paint frame with a glazed sloping roof. The flying grid, with forty-two sets of lines of hemp rope, towered some sixty feet above the stage. A tall scenery dock door at stage level alongside the property store allowed easy access for awkward scenery arriving from the Schoolhill Station next door. Twelve dressing rooms at the Prompt Side of the stage..." (Swan, pp39-40).

After passing into Local Authority ownership, the 1974 Health & Safety Act led to necessary changes and in 1980 the theatre closed for refurbishment. New technical equipment was introduced and the auditorium was redecorated, seats were re-padded and repositioned and a new chandelier designed by Peter Rice was commissioned from the Royal Opera House workshop. Other changes included new lettering above the main door and replacement of some 200 panes of stained glass. HRH the Prince of Wales re-opened the building on 17 September 1982. His Majesty's was again closed for refurbishment and extension in 2005 at a cost of £7.8 million.

Prolific theatre designer Frank Matcham trained in Torquay before joining Jethro T Robinson in London and he took over the firm in 1878. Swan states that "he developed a very personal style that is instantly recognisable. He was a supreme example of the unacademic architect who became a master of his craft". Matcham kept costs under control and was technically skilled. He took out patents on lifts and concentric cantilevers for theatre balconies.

List description updated as part of the Theatres Thematic Study 2010.

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