Brighton history


Hove's never-never theatres

Not only did none of the plans for a pier for Hove ever come to fruition (see Pierless Hove), neither did the plans to build a theatre, despite the involvement of some eminent theatre architects.

The first scheme emerged in 1905 when a planning application for an 'opera house and theatre' were submitted to Hove Borough Council1. The promoter of the project was Mrs Lewis Woolf and the architects were the London firm of Ernest Runtz & Ford. The site was to be the covered tennis court on the west side towards the southern end of Holland Road.
      Ernest Augustus Runtz, whose family background was in finance (he himself was a director of banking and insurance companies) was admitted ARIBA in 1892, the same year as George McLean Ford, and developed a large practice concentrating on commercial and theatre properties. He was among those selected to compete for the Aldwych/Strand improvements in 1900. The partnership with Ford was formed in 1903. Runtz was elevated to FRIBA in 1908 but was badly affected by the Finance Act 1909, which he said made 'real property an unpopular and uncertain investment'.
      Hove's Works Committee discussed the project in July 1905, decided there was insufficient detail and concluded that 'in so far as the plans submitted are concerned the committee are prepared to recommend the Council to approve the same, but before they can do so finally full details must be submiited'2. The Brighton Gazette reported nearly a month later that the plans had been approved3.
      The theatre was to seat 950-1,000 people and would cost in the region of £20,000. Objections that the site was the wrong shape and too small for a theatre and that the insufficient air space would contravene the bye-laws were withdrawn when it was reported that council officers had confirmed that this was not the case. It was argued both that the position was not suitable for a theatre and that it might be an inducement to encourage people to live at Gwydyr Mansions. The Brighton Gazette4 reported that Councillor Bull could not understand why members of the Works Committee could ignore bye-laws when considering churches and schoolrooms but relied on them to object to theatres. 'Councillor Bull concluded with the parting shot that theatres paid rates and churches did not, and if the bye-laws were to be strained in any direction, personally he should be inclined to strain them in favour of a theatre.'

      Nothing much happened after that, although the solicitor for the freeholder of the tennis court wrote to the Gazette in April 19065 to say the scheme had not been abandoned. He added a postscript: 'This scheme is not to confounded with the circular-letter recently issued referring to a proposed "King's Theatre" in Holland Road, and opposite my clients' property.' Nothing more can be found about this latter scheme.

By the time the next theatre proposal was made in 1912 cinemas were springing up in Brighton and, indeed, Hove. The site this time was a little further north up Holland Road on the corner of Lansdowne Road, where the law courts now stand. The northern part of Holland Road had still not yet been developed. The architects were another London firm, [Horace] Gilbert & [Stephanos] Constanduros, whose best-known work was the original Academy Cinema in London's Oxford Street (1913). [Constanduros' sister-in-law was the actress Mabel Constanduros, daughter of the managing director of the Thomas Tilling bus company and from 1925 a stalwart of the BBC Drama Repertory Company.] A planning application was submitted6 but the project was never developed.
      A theatre was included in the plans for the seafront Kursaal scheme (see Pierless Hove) designed by Henry Hoyne Fox FRIBA for the Hove Pier Theatre and Kursaal Company in 1912 and again in 1920-21, when a report was written by the Scottish civil engineer Charles Scott Meik7.
      Finally, when Melrose Hall, just north of Church Road on the west side of Wilbury Road, went on the market again in 1936, a theatre was proposed for the site. The architects were Verity & Beverley but, once again, the planning application8 was never pursued. However, Samuel Beverly of that firm did design the Imperial Theatre in North Street, Brighton in 1938. Brighton's gain, Hove's loss.

1ESRO DO/C/6/2642 (11 March 1905) and /2699 (5 July 1905)
2Brighton Gazette, 15 July 1905: 8d
3Brighton Gazette, 10 August 1905: 8a
4Brighton Gazette, 12 August 1905: 8a
5Brighton Gazette, 28 April 1906: 5e
6ESRO DO/C/6/3625
7ESRO BOT/1/14774
8ESRO DC/C/6/10062a.

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