Co-op Hall

Built as an integral part of an extension to the Ramsbottom Industrial and Provident Society’s estate, the theatre is a rare surviving example from the Co-operative movement.

Sepia streetscape postcard of Ramsbottom Co-op Hall
Address
53 Bolton Street, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 9HU
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 1, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 3)
Local Authority
Bury District Council
Owner
Private owner of freehold – Starcrest Developments Ltd, private owner of leasehold – Landa Corporation Ltd
Architect
Bird and Whittenbury
Date of Construction
1876
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
800 (original)

Significance

Ramsbottom Co-op Hall was built in 1874-1876 when the Ramsbottom Industrial and Provident Society built a three-story extension alongside its existing (1863) building. The new extension was constructed to house shops on the ground floor with offices, stores and an entertainments hall above. It was designed by Bird and Whittenbury of Manchester and was the chief social and entertainments venue in the town. The hall seated 800 people and cost £4,300.

The hall is similar in appearance to early music halls. The Co-operative movement pledged to make provision for education, culture and the arts. This included lectures, Guild meetings, Temperance Services and grand concerts. During the 1920s the hall was used by travelling theatre groups and players. The Co-operative Wholesale Society ran promotional films and smoking concerts in the 1930s. During World War II it was used as an army training centre and the seating was removed. In 1944 it was taken over by the Labour Exchange and has remained unused since.

Externally, the building was constructed of Ashlar. The three-storey façade facing Bolton Street has five original, uniformly placed timber sliding sash windows on the first floor. The second floor features roundels over casement windows. Eaves cornices and blocking courses, along with quoins, chimneys, pitched slate roof, and shopfronts across the ground floor (later) are all features. The entrance to the hall features gabled cornices, corbels, circular fanlights, and original timber doors.

The hall was approached by a stone staircase directly from Bolton Street featuring decorative metal scrolled balustrade and stained mahogany handrail. The auditorium had a full gallery around three sides. The side tiered ranges have arcades of decorative cast-iron columns. There are moulded arch braces and hammer beams carrying basket-arched roof trusses. The auditorium’s upper ceiling had ornate cast-iron ventilator sun burners. The balcony had gilded panels of open ironwork (now stored on site). The fourth side contained a stage area. The original decoration was a French grey colour with the walls stencilled and the furniture was stained and varnished pitched pine.

The hall itself was typical of smaller music halls, with a long rectangular flat-floored room with rows of cast-iron columns supporting a gallery. In the 1870s music halls were steadily moving away from the ‘supper room and promenade’ style, with an open concert platform, to a more theatrical configuration with rows of benches and a simple proscenium stage and galleries. It is known that the Co-op Hall had a portable proscenium and scenery, which suggests a mid-point transitional form. Music halls were once numerous, but only a handful of those of the 1850 to 1880 period now remain. The Co-op Hall represents a historically significant building type of a provisional nature. It must also be important for the history of the Co-op.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Ramsbottom Co-op Hall was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2021.

The building’s freehold is owned by Starcrest Developments Ltd. It has a long-term lease of 999 years dating back to 1862. The lease is currently owned by Landa Corporation Ltd, a development company, purchased in July 2019.

In June 2020 Landa Corporation Ltd submitted a planning application to convert the upper levels of the building into apartments. The scheme would have seen the complete removal of the interior of the upper levels of the building, which would have resulted in the complete loss of the interior of this historically significant music hall. These types of buildings are rare in the UK and the Co-op Hall is intact and a well preserved, undivided example that retains nearly all its original features including paintwork.

A building preservation order was placed on the building and the planning application was withdrawn; however, the building is still extremely vulnerable, and its future is still uncertain.

View across the balcony with its iron columns and wooden ceiling at Ramsbottom Co-op HallTheatre potential

There is much of the original structure of the theatre remaining and the venue could be fairly easily restored. There has been previous interest for the theatre to be restored and reopened as a music venue.

Current situation

Ramsbottom Co-op Hall has been vacant for many years and there have been previous ambitions for redevelopment as residential, including a scheme in 1999 that would have seen the upper levels converted into flats.

The 2020 planning application proposed converting the historic building into residential apartments. Theatres Trust strongly opposed the application and recommended its refusal. The building is also in the Ramsbottom Conservation Area.

In September 2020 Theatres Trust applied for the Co-op Hall to be listed. In the same month, Bury Council placed a Building Preservation Order on the building, thereby giving it the same status as a listed building for the next six months. A local authority can serve a Building Preservation Notice if it considers that a building has architectural or historic interest and is in danger of being lost. The planning application has since been withdrawn; however, the building is still considered extremely vulnerable.

In February 2021 our application to Historic England was successful and Ramsbottom Co-op Hall is now listed at Grade II. And campaign group, Ramsbottom Co-op Hall Heritage Trust Ltd was set up to raise awareness of the hall and to work to bring it back into community use.

The group was one of the recipients of our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme in 2021, receiving £19,000 to commission a market appraisal and a building valuation survey. The valuation has been completed by Lea Hough & Co. Bonnar Keenlyside has been appointed to complete the market appraisal. These are vital first steps in the project to return the building to community performance. The group has also been successful in an Architectural Heritage Fund bid for an architectural feasibility study and associated cost report for the building. The grant will also be used to support governance and training.

Leasehold owner Landa Corporation Ltd supports and is in regular contact with Ramsbottom Co-op Hall Heritage Trust regarding the progress of the reports and gaining access to the building for surveys etc to take place.

Theatres Trust will continue to advise and support the campaign group to ensure the preservation of this important theatre.

Main image from Ken Howarth www.heritagephotoarchive.co.uk, 1973. Interior Theatres Trust, 2017.