The Theatre Royal, Chatham

The Theatre Royal was a 3,000 seat theatre built in 1899 at the western end of Chatham High Street (number 102). It was owned by C and L Barnard, who also owned the music hall at the other end of the High Street.

The theatre closed in 1955 and was converted into shops and a warehouse. In the 1980s a campaign was started to convert the building back to its original use. Sadly in 2002 this had to be abandoned, and the building is now in the process of being demolished.

From the High Street

The front of the Theatre Royal from the north. The building in the High Street was deceptively small - really it was just a narrow entrance hall which led to the main theatre situated behind the High Street's buildings. As you can see, it had a classically styled front, with columns and arches now covered with the remnants of anti-pigeon netting.

The green metal structure in front of the building is one of a number erected by the council at various places along the High Street. I think it's a gatepost, but if you know better, feel free to email me.

The front of the Theatre Royal from the north west. Looking up towards the top of the building, you can see just how ornate the building was. Bearing in mind that when it openend, less than a mile away around The Brook were a selection of slums with open sewers running less than a foot under the floor, the building must have been even more impressive.

At the top of the front of the building, you can see an empty plinth. This used to have a large winged figure of Victory, which was basically a tribute to Queen Victoria.

The anti-pigeon netting has obviously seen better days. Surprisingly the glass in the doors to the balcony seems in good condition.

The front of the Theatre Royal from the north west. Apparently, when the theatre was opened, a new road had to be built to accommodate the increase in carriages bringing people to the area. I assume that the new road was Manor Road, which runs from New Road down to the High Street alongside the theatre, and can be seen to the right of this photo.

You can also see the way that the ornate front of the building is just a facade on a plain brick structure. The tall building on the extreme right of the photo is part of the main auditorium building.

To the left of the photo is the gap in the High Street left by the demolition of parts of the theatre.

The site of the Theatre Royal from the north east. Moving eastwards along the High Street, this is the view across the gap in the High Street buildings, where Perrings Department Store used to stand. Most of the theatre building is in the process of demolition, and you can see one of the doors opening to nowhere. It doesn't look as though the whole site is going to be totally cleared though - there are two patches of waterproof felt fixed to the buildings on the right, so presumably these will be patched up later.

The newly bricked up gap on the left end wall blocks access to the main auditorium.

Views From Manor Road

Looking up Manor Road at the side of the Theatre. Moving back to the corner of the High Street and Manor Road, looking up the hill you can see how far the theatre stretches. The car on the right is parked roughly alongside the end of the building.

Boarded up windows and a strange circular hole in the wall of the Theatre Royal. Walking up Manor Road, most of the theatre's windows and doors have been boarded up to keep vandals out.

The circular hole in the wall looks like some sort of air vent, but it's at a strange height if it is.

Blocked doors on the north west side of the Theatre Royal. These doors show just how much the paintwork has faded in the years since the building was last decorated.

A blocked door into the Theatre Royal, seen from Manor Road. A close-up of the same door shown in the previous photo. Unsurprisingly there's no glass left in the window frame above it.

The rounded vertical edges of this door's surround are repeated on all of the other door frames on this side of the building.

One of the Theatre Royal's smashed semi-circular windows. The building has a variety of differently-shaped windows, including semi-circular ones.

A view of the north west side of the Theatre Royal seen from part way up Manor Road, Chatham. Turning back to look down Manor Road towards the High Street shows the boarded up windows and doors again. Above the door behind the lamp post in the middle of the photograph, there is evidence of a window which has been bricked up. Judging by how close the window is to the top of the door, and the concrete surround and lintel which don't match the brick surrounds of the other doors and windows, it looks like the door was a newer addition to the building.

A view of the upper part of the north west side of the Theatre Royal seen from part way up Manor Road, Chatham. Looking upwards from the same position, this photo shows more of the semi-circular windows, and one of the round louvred windows. You can also see the trees which have taken root on the building.

Another rotten, blocked door into the Theatre Royal. A little further up Manor Road is the last rotten, faded, boarded up door. As with all of the other doors, the surround has rounded vertical edges. The edges don't look carved, so presumably the bricks used to make them were custom made.

The Theatre Roayl from the other side of Manor Road, showing signs of its demolition. Moving back, across the road, the state of the building becomes more obvious. There are trees growing on the walls and roof, the frame of the long-ignored estate agent's sign is still fixed to the wall, and the much of the building has already been demolished.

The Demolition Site

The Theatre Royal from the south west, showing how much of the building is now completely gone. Looking over the hoarding, the extent of the demolition is obvious. It also seems to have come to a halt, at least for the moment.

The round window at the top of the rear of the theatre. Another round window at the top of the building.

An extended round window in a very thick wall - to provide roof access? This window was just above the roof - you can see the row of holes where the joists fitted. It looks like someone's cut through what is a very thick brick wall to turn it into a doorway. Maybe it was so that the demolition men could get onto the roof easily to remove it.

Closed double doors into the empty space which was part of the Theatre Royal. Just under the round window hole is the set of double doors, which now open onto nothing. Judging by the surrounding brickwork and joist holes, this doorway was at the end of a corridor.

An open doorway to nowhere in the Theatre Royal. Moving to the right, another doorway opens into thin air. The bricks to the right show how the auditorium seems to have just been ripped away from the rest of the building.

Inside the Building

Sadly I never had the chance to look around the inside of the building, but others were more lucky.

Graham White's Theatre Royal Chatham site has detailed history and news of the theatre.

In-Site Links:

All photographs copyright 2008 Jason Ross