The Theatres Trust

Empire (Liverpool)

  • Theatre ID
  • Built / Converted
  • Dates of use
    • 1925: continuing
  • Current state
  • Current use
  • Address
    Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE, England


The Milburn theatre was built on the site of an earlier Empire as a variety house. This is, in national terms, one of the most striking regional theatres of the inter-war years and an outstandingly important element in the theatre resources of Liverpool and the region. It is also one of the best surviving works of W & T R Milburn, who are gaining recognition as being amongst the most competent theatre architects in a period when consensus over the design of such buildings had all but collapsed. It is a Liverpool landmark, in a group which includes St George’s Hall and the Walker Art Gallery. The Classical façe, with its order of coupled Ionic columns in antis above a tall ashlar base, is modest in comparison with the powerful facing elevation of St George’s Hall. In 2002 the corner buildings were incorporated which gives a descending roof level and a largely glass façe, and creates a more impressive façe than heretofor. The Milburns were not natural heirs to the design traditions of the late Victorian theatre building boom. By this time, at least, they were looking to North America for exemplars. The auditorium of the Empire is a great space with a curving and nodding frame to the proscenium arch, with an ante-proscenium which embraces the boxes and is flanked by pendentives in the form of fan vaults supporting the ceiling. The ceiling itself is divided by beams into variously shaped areas, with an oval dome at the centre. The seating slopes up at the row ends, so that the stalls form a shallow saucer, improving sightlines and maintaining audience contact in what might otherwise have been cold, nearly straight rows, in a space which is considerably wider than it is deep. There are interesting ‘standing room boxes’ enclosed by balustrades on either side of the stalls. There is a simple flat-fronted balcony with curving ends, raking down towards the proscenium. Extensive improvements were carried out in 1998, including the extension of the stage over a former street at the rear. The 2002 additions utilised adjacent land to provide more bar space at two levels in contemporary style.

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  • Other names
    New Prince of Wales & Opera House, Royal Alexandra Theatre & Opera House, Alexandra Theatre, Empire
  • Events
    • Owner/Management: Latterly: Apollo Leisure UK Ltd, lessees
    • 1866 Owner/Management: Alexandra Theatre and Opera House Co Ltd, owners
    • 1866 Design/Construction:
      • Edward Solomons - Architect
    • 1866 Owner/Management: Alexander Henderson, lessee
    • 1867 Alteration: minor work (gas lighting)
      • C J Phipps - Architect
    • 1867 Owner/Management: H J Byron, lessee
    • 1895 Owner/Management: Empire Theatre Liverpool Ltd, owners; HJ Byron, lessee
    • 1896 Alteration: major alterations
      • Frank Matcham - Architect
    • 1896 Owner/Management: Moss Thornton, owners
    • 1899 Owner/Management: Moss Empires Ltd, owners
    • 1925 Use: continuing
    • 1925 Design/Construction:
      • W M Griffiths - Consultant: Sons And Cromwell Ltd, Engineering
      • Rea Metal Casements - Consultant: Metalwork, Stained Glass, Leaded Glazing
      • E O Griffiths - Consultant: Interior Design
      • Goodalls (Manchester) - Consultant: Draperies, Seating
      • J G Nicholls Ltd - Consultant: Mirrors, Lights
      • John Stubbs & Sons - Consultant: Marble, Alabaster, Venetian Terrazo
      • Kirkoid & Ruboleum Tile Co - Consultant: Floors, Stairs, Steppings
    • 1925 Alteration:
      • W & T R Milburn - Architect
    • 1979 Alteration: backstage area and dressing rooms improved
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 1979 Owner/Management: Merseyside County Council, owners
    • 1980 Alteration: stage and orchestra pit extended
      • TACP - Architect
    • 1998 Alteration: major improvements and extension
      • Ellis Williams - Architect
    • 2002 Alteration: corner extension, providing new box office and bars
      • Ellis Williams - Architect
    • 2009 Owner/Management: Bought by Ambassador Theatre Group
  • Capacities
    • Original: 2450
    • Later: 1979: 2312
    • Current: 2348
  • Listings
    • Grade II
  • Dimensions
    • Proscenium width: 13.86m
    • Height to grid: 22.2m
    • Orchestra pit: Original for 30 plus additional platform for musicians for opera etc

Of the period

View of the North Pier, Blackpool, 1996
North Pier Pavilion

Have you seen?

Facade of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 2011
Theatre Royal (Newcastle upon Tyne)
Newcastle upon Tyne

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