Swansea Palace

Occupying a triangular site with a four-storey tower at the apex, this once attractive and charming theatre was in public use for more than 100 years.

Swansea Palace Theatre from the road with railings around the ground floor, and shrubbery growing from the facade.
Address
156 High Street, Swansea, SA1 1NE
Risk Rating
4 (Community Value: 1 Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 1)
Local Authority
Swansea Council
Architect
Bucknall & Jennings
Date of Construction
1888
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
N/A

Significance

The charming Swansea Palace theatre opened in 1888 as a music hall named the Swansea Pavilion Theatre of Varieties. It is often compared architecturally for its similarity to the Flatiron building in New York, with its dramatic exterior on a triangular site. Despite later use as a cinema, bingo hall and nightclub the early form of the first-floor auditorium is still apparent. It is an intimate space with two steeply raked balconies that curve round to the proscenium, now without boxes, and retains its original gallery seating.

Swansea Palace interior from 2007 of the stalls and balcony railing when the venue was In night club useWhy is this theatre at risk?

Swansea Palace Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2006 when we started the list.

Swansea Palace theatre closed as a nightclub in 2006. The building was in private ownership and had been in a dangerous state of disrepair both internally and externally, becoming increasingly water and plant growth-damaged. Work part-funded by Swansea Council and completed in 2016 had rectified some of these issues rendering the building weathertight and vegetation-free. However, this and works to prevent unauthorised access to the building had blocked openings in such a way that there was danger of a lack of adequate natural ventilation to the building, compounding the risk of significant structure and fabric damage due to years of water ingress.

The building remained in the same private ownership, vacant and with a lack of any further maintenance until 2020. During this time there was significant regrowth of vegetation on the façade, reports of unauthorised access and in September 2019 the building was subject to a suspected arson attack.

In 2019 the council announced its intention to purchase the building to fully restore the exterior and repurpose the interior for retail, office and community use. The purchase completed in early 2020 and in April a design team was appointed to develop proposals. Planning permission has since been granted for restoration and reuse of the building for the community with office, event and small-scale performance space. While the reuse of the building is not theatre, Theatres Trust supported the proposals which provide a careful and sensitive restoration of the building, preserving the building’s heritage significance and, importantly, not precluding it from being returned to full-scale live performance use in the future.

However, until it is certain that development, repairs and restorations are complete the theatre is still considered to be at risk.

Theatre potential

A feasibility study carried out in 2016 had suggested that re-opening the Palace for theatre use would be unviable but that a mixed-use redevelopment of the site could include community use.

The Swansea Council scheme that has been granted planning permission retains the main body of the auditorium as a single volume and restores and reveals significant historic features including the proscenium arch, balcony railings, and sunburner. The building will provide some community use alongside office space. Importantly it is a restoration that is sympathetic to the original form of the building with any new insertions easily reversible, thereby retaining a future possibility of the Palace being returned to theatre use should demand arise.

Current situation

Theatres Trust has been in discussion with Swansea Council’s design team since their appointment, inputting to consultations on the building, including involvement in the pre-app for the building. Proposals were submitted for full planning permission and listed building consent in October 2020, which Theatres Trust supported. These were subsequently approved.

Theatres Trust will continue to engage with the council and its design team to see this important building saved for future generations to enjoy. Key to this will be ensuring that the full ambition of the council’s current proposals is realised and that any value engineering of the project that may occur in the future does not alter the current baseline aspiration that the heritage significance of the building is preserved and that the Palace can be returned to theatre use in the future.

While the future of the Palace is more secure and in October 2021 a contractor was appointed to undertake this project, Theatres Trust believes it is prudent to retain the theatre on the Theatres at Risk Register until the project has advanced further.

Main image: Swansea Palace, Rob Firman. Interior, Theatres Trust, 2007.