The Hackney Empire History

The Hackney Empire is probably the best known theatre in the East End that is still open for business. This was one of the main music hall theatres to entertain local East Enders in Victorian times and it has seen more than a few past and present well-known names grace its stage during its time.

The building of the Hackney Empire

The theatre was originally constructed in 1901 as a music hall by the famous theatre architect, Frank Matcham. Music halls were an incredibly popular form of entertainment at the time, especially with the working classes, and anyone building a music hall could be sure of turning a profit.

The people behind the Empire really pulled out all the stops to give the theatre the WOW factor that would attract both artists and theatre goers. This was one of the most technologically advanced theatres of its time. It had electric lights, a built-in projector box and even central heating throughout the building. This plush and innovative theatre build attracted music hall acts from all over the world and also became popular with local audiences into the bargain.

East End Institutions – The Hackney Empire

During its time as a music hall venue the theatre put on shows that included some of the biggest music hall names of the time such as local Hackney girl Marie Lloyd and Stanley Holloway. Some performers moved on from music hall after appearing at the Hackney Empire to further their careers in film. Some became famous on a worldwide basis, including Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields and Stan Laurel.

The popularity of the theatre remained steady during the two world wars. It diversified into reviews, plays, concerts and burlesque shows as well as music hall variety. After the Second World War, people used to visiting the theatre as a regular form of entertainment would come down to see some of their favourite TV and radio stars perform live. Popular artists at this time included Tony Hancock and Charlie Chester. The Empire even hosted shows by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong and Liberace.

The Hackney Empire, TV, Bingo and Alternative Comedy

But, ultimately, film and TV replaced live theatre and music hall as a popular form of entertainment. People stopped going to music hall theatres and this industry slowly died out. In the 1950s, the theatre was purchased by the ATV company. They used the theatre’s stage to film and stage live shows. Some of the most popular TV shows of the time used the Empire’s stage, including Emergency Ward 10, Take Your Pick, Opportunity Knocks and Oh Boy!

By the 1960s, live performances were also not so popular and the Hackney Empire spent a couple of decades as a popular bingo hall run by Mecca. By the 1980s, the organisation wanted to move out of the building, however, as it was too expensive to run. The building was given a Grade II listing at this point and the owners were told that had to do some major restoration work on its exterior, so it was easier – and cheaper – to sell than to take on the renovation costs.

The Empire was taken over by a young touring theatre group, C.A.S.T, who ran variety comedy nights on the stage. These showcased the talents of up and coming comedians such as French and Saunders, Jo Brand, Arthur Smith and Ben Elton. The theatre became the permanent base of what was to become the main alternative comedy circuit in London and the company ran various comedy and theatre initiatives, including the New Variety Project

The campaign to save Hackney Empire

By 1986, there was a real threat that the theatre would be demolished and redeveloped and the leader of the theatre group started a campaign to save it. The plan was to turn it back into a permanent performance venue and to secure its future and its historic building.  The company that owned the theatre established the Hackney Empire Preservation Trust and the Hackney New Variety Management Company to help manage the project.

In 2001, the management of the theatre set in place a massive restoration project that was part funded by donations from famous people such as Sir Alan Sugar. The theatre was completely refurbished and renovated and did not reopen again until 2004. The refurbishment added to the theatre’s facilities, incorporating a new orchestra pit so that it could put on operatic and musical shows, giving it more options in terms of the shows it could put on.  The theatre’s facilities are also now much improved for people attending shows there.

The Hackney Empire seems to have survived its sometime troubled past and is once again a popular place to see a show, particularly at Christmas when it puts on some well-rated pantomimes. It also runs regular dramatic, comedy, ballet, variety and opera performances.


One comment on “The Hackney Empire History
  1. Maryanne Baldock says:

    My Grandad, Thomas Aldous born in 1869 appeared at the Hackney Empire as a Magician,not sure of dates, might be 1906 onwards. Word of mouth says he knew Marie Lloyd. Does anyone know anything of this,also he may have had a stage name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • Kevin Bell on History of Poplar East LondonMy Grandad and family drank in the 'Abbey' the Aberfeldy Tavern for many years - some might say he had shares in it lol.... I remember being taken to the pub and occasionally the chip shop you mention as a child.... although more often we would go to 'Wally reardons
  • MARIE HOLMES on History of Canning Town East LondonMy fatherinlaws harry holmes lived with his parents and three brother s three sisters doris rose maud during the bombing they lived agate street
  • Albert Smith on History of Canning Town East LondonPerhaps I should add that I was born in Chard Street which was located in what we used to call Old Canning Town, an area that was destroyed by incendiary bombing early in the war and,as far as I am aware, has remained an industrial site till this day. But
  • Albert Smith on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in 1932 Charles, and I went to the Queens many times as a schoolboy. I used to help a local greengrocer with his Saturday morning horse and cart round and my payment was a trip to the Queens in the evening. And I loved it.
  • Brian Miles on History of The East London CockneyThe actual address is 1, Bow Lane which is on Cheapside St Mary-le-Bow Historic Church St Mary-le-Bow St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren in the City of London on the main east–west thoroughfare, Cheapside. According to tradition a true
  • Maxine on Brick Lane History, East LondonTrying to find out some information about a fishmongers on 8-10 Brick Lane in the 1880's owned by a Jewish man named George Rush.
  • Cathie on History of Poplar East LondonI just recently became interested of Poplar because of the television show Call the Midwife and an upcoming visit to London. What a small world to hear about Poplar Street in Chicago. I live in Chicago and was excited to hear about the connection to the street and the town
  • Martha Holmes on History of The Prospect of Whitby in WappingHello I believe my great x 4 grandfather arrived on The Prospect sometime between 1761 and 1776 from his birthplace of Bridlington. I have records to show that he was married in London in 1776 and lived for the rest of his life in Clerkenwell. He was born in 1750
  • DAVID NIGHTINGALE on History of Tower Hamlets Cemetery ParkVery interesting, a good friend of mine is researching the history of this cemetery I would welcome any emails regarding the research that you have done so far. Thank You, Dr David Nightingale
  • Michelle Holgarth on History of Poplar East LondonMy great grandad ran a fish and chip shop at 90 Aberfeldy Street, his name was George Tucker.
  • Peter on Second World War Bombing Raid South Hallsville SchoolI have just found this article and shown it to my mother who is nearly 96. She remembers having her first hairdo at Stan's when she was 14 and went many times. She also thought that the Terrells had other businesses involving second hand comics and children's bicycles
  • David Pickles on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Lisa, My name is David Pickles, I was born in Stratford in 1955 (Queen Mary's Hospital), and lived in Plaistow (Falcon St) until 1989. I remember someone called Elaine Bruns who went to either Grange Rd school and/or Ravenscroft and wondered whether she was a relative of yours too,
  • Kathy on History of Canning Town East LondonPeggy leggy steps was on the other side of the road from Mansfield buildings
  • Terry Clark on World War 2 and East LondonJanet I have looked on street name change database and still have no Caley, Cayley or such. Good luck in finding it. https://www.maps.thehunthouse.com/Streets/Old_to_New_London_Street_Name_Changes.htm
  • Terry Clark on World War 2 and East LondonJanet I have searched name change records (sample attached) and can’t find that name anywhere. Good luck with your quest. https://www.maps.thehunthouse.com/Streets/Old_to_New_London_Street_Name_Changes.htm

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 182 other subscribers.

Top