Burnley Empire

Burnley’s only Grade II listed purpose-built Victorian theatre. The auditorium was reconstructed in 1911 by eminent theatre architect Bertie Crewe, and survives in its original, elaborate form.

June2016 eveleigh side pano burnleyempire cropped detail
St James Street, Burnley, Lancashire, BB11 1NL
Risk Rating
7 (risk rating: 3. star rating: 2. community rating: 2.)
G B Rawcliffe, Bertie Crewe
Date of Construction
Grade II
Currently estimated at 1,200


The 1,200-seat Burnley Empire was built in 1894, with the auditorium reconstructed in 1911 by Bertie Crewe. It is Burnley’s only Grade II listed purpose-built Victorian theatre. It has a high level of architectural interest, the principal feature being the Crewe interior. At the time of statutory listing, it retained most of the original structure and elaborate detail with robust and richly formed plasterwork in the Classical style. Although in poor condition, the theatre could be restored to use.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The theatre has been empty since 1995, when bingo moved out. By 1997, the disused upper level showed signs of fairly significant water penetration. More recently, the building has been subject to unauthorised access rendering it vulnerable to further damage and risk of arson. The building is under the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Lancaster which wishes to dispose of the theatre. Theatres Trust has been liaising with the Duchy regarding the potential acquisition of the theatre and has negotiated a period of time for local group, Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT), which wishes to see the theatre restored and reopened, to determine a route to formal ownership.

Current situation

In 2016 Theatres Trust and BETT working closely with other stakeholders including Burnley Borough Council commissioned a viability study on the future of the Empire.

The study by Bonnar Keenlyside and Theatresearch was conducted in two phases and has concluded that there is a clear opportunity for the restoration of this Grade II listed theatre through a long-term venture with partnership and training at its core. The proposal, which includes restoring the historic auditorium to its original splendour, is seen as a great opportunity for local heritage skills education and vocational training for young people.

The report identified a preferred option – an innovative and incremental approach to the renovation of the building. In the short term it would allow the development of the stage house into a fully independent night club / events space, with a long term vision to fully restore the auditorium through an initiative with heritage skills training and to reopen it as a working venue.

Theatres Trust, Theatresearch and BETT are currently investigating partnerships to take the scheme forward to the next stage which will include ownership and the first steps towards restoration.

Download Burnley Empire Viability Study Phase One

Download Burnley Empire Viability Study Phase Two

Campaign video (from 2016)


Image: Burnley Empire, Eveleigh Photography