Victoria Theatre

An architecturally important theatre designed by eminent theatre architect Bertie Crewe, with rare substage machinery believed to be the only complete surviving example of its kind in the British Isles.

Streetscape showing the full facade of the red brick Salford Victoria Theatre from across the street.
Address
Great Clowes Street, Lower Broughton, Salford, Greater Manchester, M7 1RE
Risk Rating
8 (Community Rating: 2, Star Value: 3, Risk Factor: 3)
Local Authority
Salford City Council
Owner
Private Owner
Architect
Bertie Crewe
Date of Construction
1899
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
775 (estimated)

Significance

Built in 1899 and designed by Bertie Crewe, the Victoria Theatre in Salford is Grade II listed. This architecturally important theatre has a fine terracotta façade with much stained glass and a beautiful and intimate auditorium featuring richly scrolled plasterwork.

There are substantial remains of wooden sub-stage machinery including a complete grave trap. A visit to the theatre in autumn 2019 uncovered what is believed to be the only surviving example in the UK of a ‘scruto’ stage, as explained by historical theatre experts Theatresearch: The stage was originally designed along the English Wood Stage principles whereby the sliders for the cuts and bridges slid off under the wings. However, because the wings were too narrow the sliders curved downwards in the manner of a roll-top desk. This was a technique used in the construction of a Corsican Trap, but it is now the only complete surviving example in the British Isles.’

It is also remarkable for its early use as a cinema, hosting moving pictures as early as 1901.

In January 2021 Theatres Trust applied to Historic England to upgrade the listing of the Victoria from II to II*. A decision is still pending.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Victoria Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since we started the list in 2006.

The Victoria Theatre closed as a bingo hall in 2007 and has remained unoccupied ever since. It was bought by a local developer in 2018 and the building left neglected and in a serious state of dilapidation. It was put up for auction in October 2020 with a guide price of £400,000. The theatre was purchased by a private owner who has confirmed that their intent is to restore the building although the scale of the works, the restrictions due to the building’s listed status and the capital costs are all hurdles still to overcome.

When the new owner acquired the Victoria it was in a very poor state of repair; rapidly deteriorating, with considerable vegetation growth on the façade and substantial damage to the building fabric. This included holes in the auditorium roof that had led to water damage including the partial collapse of some of the historic decorative plaster. The building had also been targeted by vandalism, with several forced entries.

The current owner has commenced urgent repairs to the building, fixing holes in the roof, removing the vegetation growth and clearing debris. They have also installed new security shutters and CCTV to better secure the building, although forced entry continues to be a problem. Unaware of the restrictions regarding carrying out works to a listed building this has been carried out without consent, however, the local authority has agreed that retrospective consent can be submitted for the works. The owner has acted on this and has commissioned an architect to produce the planning application required. Both Theatres Trust and the council Conservation Officer have been in discussion with the owner to make them aware of their duties and responsibilities as custodian of a listed building.

The auditorium of Salford Victoria, with its 3 balconies but no seats. Balcony fronts are either swagged or balustraded in beige,and gold with red accents

Theatre potential

The building requires a new use that would preserve its special interest and allow the possibility of a return to theatre use.

The area of Salford in which the Victoria is situated is in need of regeneration; the theatre is one of the few historic buildings remaining. Salford, once a city in decline, is now one of the fastest-growing and there are plans for the redevelopment of neighbouring sites Mocha Parade (where building works have commenced) and Cambridge Industrial Estate. However, without a joined-up approach and overall masterplan for the area opportunities could be missed and the potential of the Victoria to contribute to the regeneration of its local community lost. The Salford Victoria Theatre Trust (SVTT) has taken part in consultations on the Draft Local Plan with the Mayor of Salford and the head of the council’s planning department and Heritage Officer to discuss this and to emphasise the benefits to the community of including the Victoria in the regeneration plan, as a significant heritage building that would encourage footfall, inclusive community activities and the night-time economy in the area as well as having a wider national appeal.

In 2019 SVTT was awarded funding through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, and secured additional funding through the East Salford Community Committee and Standing Together Fund. The group commissioned Colliers International, working with Foster Wilson Architects and Theatresearch, to carry out a viability study to determine the best use for the building. The viability study concluded that the theatre has potential as a multi-purpose space that includes live performance and that a phased approach to the works would most likely be needed. This would first reactivate the building frontage, including shops and bar space, with the auditorium in a viable meanwhile use as a multi-purpose space hosting events such as weddings, conferences, banquets, secret cinema, live music etc. This would allow the future of the building to be secured until funding can be found to fully restore the historic venue.

The study has been shared with the new owner who appears sympathetic to the ambitions of seeing the building restored and reopened with a long-term ambition for a return to theatre use. It is hoped that a way forward can be found to work with them to see this ambition fulfilled.

Current situation

With Theatres Trust’s advice and support, SVTT has been campaigning to save the theatre for many years, raising public awareness of the building, fundraising for early-stage viability work and options appraisals and broadening its engagement with the local community.

Work on the viability study for the Victoria concluded in March 2020 and the results shared with both the council and the then owner, 19th Salford Limited. The council broadly welcomed the conclusions, indicating support for the scheme and a meeting had been planned between all parties to discuss a way forward. Covid and national lockdown put discussions on hold and, after a long period of silence from the owner, the building was put up for auction.

However, new ownership has brought new hope. The owner has been open to meeting with both the SVTT and Theatres Trust and appears to share the ambition to see the building restored and reopened. While the owner has experience in the restoration and reviving of historic properties, the Victoria is the first listed building and the first theatre that they have owned. The extent and cost of the works and the limitations of reuse due to the building’s historic significance and listed status had, at first, been unrealised. However, it is hoped that through collaborative working these challenges can be overcome, the opportunities within the viability study realised and the building restored and reopened as a vibrant hub within its local community.

Theatres Trust will continue to work with the new owner and SVTT to find a way forward for the restoration and rejuvenation of the theatre and to liaise with the council and wider stakeholders on the future of this building.

Main photo Victoria Theatre, Theatres Trust. Interior, Salford Victoria Theatre Trust