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.

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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
19TH SALFORD LIMITED
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.

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 was put up for auction in October 2020 with a guide price of £400,000. Although not sold at auction, the current owner has suggested that it is in negotiations with a potential purchaser and that a sale could be imminent. No further detail has been forthcoming.

Work is required to remove the considerable vegetation growth on the façade and prevent substantial damage to the building fabric. There are holes in the auditorium roof that have led to water damage including the partial collapse of some of the historic decorative plaster. It is feared that should the roof not be repaired soon that the internal damage will be irreparable. The building has also been targeted by vandalism, with several forced entries over the past year. The current owner has shown little interest in securing the property or in ascertaining what damage may have been caused. Theatres Trust and campaign group, Salford Victoria Theatre Trust (SVTT) have subsequently requested that the Salford City Council’s building control department carry out the necessary works to secure it.

Salfrod Victoria interior

Theatre potential

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

In 2019 SVTT, using funding awarded through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, 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 a a multi-purpose space that includes live performance. 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 area of Salford in which the Victoria is situated is in need of regeneration; the theatre 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 redevelopment of neighbouring sites Mocha Parade 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.

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.

In early 2019 SVTT arranged a meeting between Theatres Trust, SVTT and the new owner 19TH SALFORD LIMITED to discuss its ambitions for the building and to make it aware of the historic importance of the theatre and the local support for the theatre. From the meeting, it was understood that the owner had bought the building speculatively with no current plans to redevelop. The owner did give consent for SVTT to commission a viability study to find a sustainable use for the building and, at the time, suggested that it may be open to accepting a reduced return on the building to enable a community project. The meeting also raised the issue of necessary repairs to the building and both SVTT and Theatres Trust have since been lobbying the owner and, subsequently Salford City Council, to carry out essential repair works to prevent further deterioration of the fabric.

As well as receiving funding through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, SVTT also secured additional funding for the study from the East Salford Community Committee and Standing Together Fund for the viability study with work commencing in October 2019.

The results of the viability study have been shared with both the council and the owner. The council has broadly welcomed the conclusions, indicating support for the scheme. A meeting between the council, owner, SVTT and Theatres Trust had been arranged for March 2020 but was postponed due to the national lockdown and has yet to be rescheduled.

During 2020 it appeared that some progress had been made by the council with regards repairs, when the owner suggested that it may be engaging a contractor to carry out essential works to the main roof. However, news of the auction in October and then of a potential new owner seems to have halted any intended works and the building remains extremely vulnerable and in an increasingly poor state of repair.

Throughout 2020 SVTT has been progressing governance and fundraising scoping with Prosper North, as well as continuing to monitor the building, including reporting attempted break-ins to the owner and the council. The group has also continued to engage with local organisations and stakeholders in readiness to pursue the ambitions of the viability study.

In January 2021 Theatres Trust applied to Historic England to upgrade the listing of the Victoria from II to II* as it is the earliest surviving theatre wholly designed by Bertie Crewe, with an excellent interior and unique sub-stage machinery and its early use as a cinema.

Theatres Trust will continue to provide advice and support to the group 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