Abbeydale Picture House

A striking white faience-clad building on a prominent site that remains largely unaltered and has served as a popular live performance and events venue for its local community.

Auditorium of Abbeydale Picture House in disused state
Address
Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 2, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 3)
Local Authority
Sheffield City Council
Owner
Private owner
Operator
Creative Arts Development Space (CADS)
Architect
Dixon & Stienlet
Date of Construction
1920
Listing
11
Capacity
1800 (original); 1560 by 1941

Significance

Grade II listed Abbeydale Picture House is an impressive building on a prominent corner site in Netheredge, Sheffield. Its exterior is faced with white faience and the prominent corner entrance topped by a round, domed tower with stained glass windows set behind a balustrade. The building originally included a ballroom and billiards hall within the basement, and lounge and café above the entrance foyer. It is a fine example of a 1920s’ cinema which was later converted to cine-variety with the addition of a new stage and dressing rooms.

The 1930s saw the building equipped for talkies. The building remained in cinema use until its closure in 1975. It then became an office furniture store, during which time the seats were removed and the balcony partitioned off.

Internally the original layout of the building remains largely intact, including the main circulatory spaces and access routes. The raked auditorium retains much of its original ornamental detail. This includes the barrel-vaulted coffered ceiling and single balcony which bows out into boxes on either side of the proscenium with decorative frieze depicting Grecian figures. The building also contains its iron safety curtain which is decorated with local advertisements. This dates back to at least the 1950s but may even be the original safety iron.

Exterior of Abbeydale Picture House, a large white building with a flytower.Why is this theatre at risk?

The theatre was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2024.

The furniture company ceased trading in 1991, leaving the building disused for a decade. In the early 2000s the Friends of Abbeydale Picture House restored the auditorium and built a new stage, reopening the theatre in September 2008. Operation ceased in 2012 and the building was sold at auction to a private owner, who had commenced works to restore the building, including initial investment in the roof. Restoration work has continued, with the building most recently leased to Creative Arts Development Space (CADS), a Sheffield-based charity committed to revitalising local buildings for the arts, cultural and creative industries. It has reopened an event space in the flytower, and a separate bar in the front of the building. The basement of the Picture House is leased separately to a bar / nightclub operator

Sadly, the building fabric has deteriorated greatly over the last few years; missing roof tiles and broken flashings contributing to damage to historic fibrous plasterwork of the barrel vault ceiling within the auditorium. This has resulted in this part of the building being unsafe for use for the last two years. Subsequently the operation of the venue has become unviable and CADS’ future within the building is uncertain. If CADS should end its lease, this already vulnerable historic venue will be vacant and, left without heating, likely to deteriorate even more-rapidly.

Urgent action to repair the roof and prevent further deterioration is required.

Theatre potential

Local arts and cultural organisation CADS has a 25-year lease on the ground floor and upper levels of the building. It has operated it as a live performance venue hosting music, comedy, film, and theatre performance for the last seven years. The building also proved a popular venue for events such as weddings.

CADS’ mixed performance / event use model proved both popular and viable and could be reinstated should a solution to the repairing and restoring the building be found.

Current situation

Despite the closure of the auditorium CADS has maintained a programme of live performance within the building, hosting live music and events within the stage house – the ‘Fly Tower’. It has also opened a ‘speakeasy’ bar in the front of house area of the building. However, without use of the main auditorium, the operation is not viable.

CADS has sought to purchase the venue from the landlord; a move that would have seen access to public funding and considered a positive route forward to help repair the roof and secure the building to allow for full restoration in the future. A mortgage had been approved with match funding being sought through an application to the Community Ownership Fund. Theatres Trust, the Music Venues Trust, and the National Trust all supported the application. However, despite this support and two submissions to the Community Ownership Fund, CADS have been unsuccessful in securing funding.

Theatres Trust will continue its conversations with CADS and the building’s owner, and in working collaboratively with other stakeholders to secure the future of this important building.

Update February 2024

The Abbeydale Picture House closed on 22 February 2024 after CADS took the decision that it could no longer support the partial operation of the venue. CADS has retained its tenancy of the building and it is hoped that a way forward can be found to restore the venue to allow it to fully reopen for the public in the future.

Image credits:

Main image Abbeydale Picturehouse auditorium by Matt Williamson
Exterior image by Andy Gallacher