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.
- St James Street, Burnley, Lancashire, BB11 1NL
- Risk Rating
- 7 (risk rating: 3. star rating: 2. community rating: 2.)
- Local Authority
- Burnley Borough Council
- Local Group
- Burnley Empire Theatre Trust
- G B Rawcliffe, Bertie Crewe
- Date of Construction
- Grade II
- Currently estimated at 1,200
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
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.
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.
In June Burnley’s Planning Committee voted to overturn the planning officer’s recommendation and approved permanent permission for a café / bar within the original foyer of Burnley Empire.
In contrast to the planning decision, June also saw enthusiastic responses from key stakeholders within Burnley about a future life for the Empire. The reactions were in response to a workshop co-chaired by the Council and the National Trust and specifically organised to discuss the future of the theatre. The workshop, which had been set up after discussions between Theatres Trust, Theatreseach, the National Trust and the Council, was also attended by representatives from major public funding bodies.
The National Trust are continuing to support the Empire and are working alongside Theatres Trust and Burnley Empire Theatre Trust exploring opportunities and new routes for the restoration and reopening of the building.
A fire occurred on the ground floor of Burnley Empire on Monday 22 October, and Burnley Council installed solid steel shutters around the buildings perimeter to secure the site. We were saddened to hear about the reported arson.
At the beginning of November the owners, the Duchy of Lancaster, put the site up for auction. The auction was due to take place with Pugh Architects on 6 December.
Update January 2019
BBC Radio Lancashire caught up with Sophie from BETT on Monday 7 January, talking about their campaign, fast forward to 2:27:17 to hear the conversation.
Campaign video (from 2016)
Image: Burnley Empire, Eveleigh Photography