Donation of the Month: autograph book kept by Bury Hippodrome.

We are so pleased to announce our latest donation! Kindly donated to us by Mr Raymond Wilson, the autograph book contains delightful entries from many performers who visited the theatre between the years of 1920-1925.


Raymond with the Hippodrome Autograph Book

Raymond was keen to inform us of how his wife, Valerie, acquired this unique record which forms part of Bury’s cultural history in the 1920s:

“My wife, Valerie, retired from teaching due to ill-health in 1998 and was searching around for a project to ‘sink her teeth into’ when an elderly gentleman called Burt Briggs got in contact with her. He had a considerable archive of papers, books and photographs that centred on three different stages in his life. He was looking for someone to put this material into order so that it could perhaps be published. Val took on the job and spent one day a week with Burt for about 5 years until his death, aged 92, in 2004. By this time Val’s work was over, but the material was never published. It is now with Burt’s granddaughter, Viki Mason, who lives at Ribchester and who makes it available for research purposes.

 The three areas of Burt’s archives were:

(a) His successful fight to save the Blackpool Grand Theatre from demolition in the 1970s as inaugural Chairman of the Friends of the Grand. It is for this work that he is best known in the Blackpool area and there is a bronze bust of Burt in the theatre’s bar.

(b) His time as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II and his subsequent work with FEPOW (Far Eastern Prisoner of War Association).

(c) Burt’s grandfather was William Henry Broadhead who built up the Broadhead Circuit of about 17 theatres in the early part of the last century. The Bury Hippodrome was one of these theatres and there are two references at the back of the autograph album to ‘The Bury Broadhead Players’. The autograph album must have been part of Burt’s archive material.

Message from one of the 'Broadhead Players'. 1925.

Message from one of the ‘Broadhead Players’. 1925.

 When Burt died suddenly in 2004, the family invited Val to take mementos from his home in his memory. She chose a barometer and an old framed photograph of Blackpool from Burt’s possessions. I can only assume that the autograph album was also chosen at that time.


Val herself died suddenly on July 11th 2013 and I recently found the album in our loft as I was sorting through all the ‘stuff’ up there. I decided that the best home for it should be in your own archive.”

Photograph and message from performers, 'Bobbie & Babs'.

Photograph and message from performers, ‘Bobbie & Babs’. 1921.

We are delighted that Raymond brought the book back home to Bury to be preserved in the Borough’s Archive for future researchers of local and cultural history. Inside its covers you will find signatures and messages – some simple and heartfelt; others more profound – as well as photographs, drawings and delicately rendered artwork. It really is a beautiful little album!

Photograph of Mr Raymond Furniss on the first page of the album. 11 years manager at the Hippodrome.

Photograph of Mr Raymond Furniss on the first page of the album. 11 years manager at the Hippodrome.


History of Bury Hippodrome

Situated on Garden Street, the building was erected in 1875 and used as a political assembly room until 1904 when it was opened to the public by Messrs Broadhead and Sons as ‘The Bury Hippodrome’. The opening, in October 1904, generated rave reviews in the local press: The Bury Times described the matinee performances on 10th October as ‘excellent … novel and clever’. The report goes on to announce that ‘there was a large audience and everyone present was delighted with the excellence of the arrangements made not only for their ease and comfort but also for their entertainment.’ The Bury Guardian offers a vivid picture of just how comfortable and luxurious the venue was for its customers:

For comfort, elegance and richness of appearance the interior of the new Hippodrome is certainly one of the best halls we have seen. For a shilling the visitor is provided with a comfortable plush covered chair in which he can witness the performance in luxurious ease, ash trays are provided for his convenience, and his feet sink into a richly coloured, warm looking, beautifully figured carpet; whilst the nimble sixpence entitles him to a hardly less comfortable seat and pretty surroundings in the grand circle; and there is ample accommodation in the pit for those to whom amusement at an even cheaper rate appeals.
Signed photograph of performer, Joyce Lyn, dated 29/9/1920

Signed photograph of performer, Joyce Lyn dated 29/9/1920

The Hippodrome appears to have closed for refurbishment during the early 1920s as confirmed by a report in The Bury Times on the 6th September 1924 stating its reopening and an announcement of The Bury Broadhead Players to perform ‘repertory productions’ as a regular feature.

Painting of a boat by performer, Billy Dale, May 1922.

Painting of a boat by performer, Billy Dale, May 1922.

By 1930, Broadhead had decided to introduce films until 1937 when the Scala Theodrome Co. Ltd became proprietors and although continued with films, the company included children’s pantomimes at Christmas. By 1941 regular variety performances were re-introduced until March 10th, 1956, when the building was finally closed as a theatre. In complete contrast with the splendid coverage given by the local press at its opening, The Bury Times reported the closure in simple terms alongside the closure of The Star Cinema:

Last performances will be given at the Star Cinema and the Hippodrome Theatre this evening before the premises close – the Star for good and the Hippodrome until its future is decided.
The Hippodrome. Circa early 1950s/CfCC Photgraphic collection

The Hippodrome. Circa early 1950s/CfCC Photgraphic collection.

A year later, the Hippodrome became a cabaret venue and was renamed, ‘The Barbary Club’, attracting over a thousand members before its opening on the 21st December 1957. Heralding the official opening of the club was star of TV, radio and stage, Hylda Baker! Hylda was reported to have given a ‘sparkling’ performance using Mickey – her six years old monkey in a supporting role. She was full of praise for the new venue and said to the audience, “I think Bury is very fortunate indeed to have such an enterprise, and hope it will be well supported. It must be grand to have something Bolton hasn’t got!”

Hylda Baker introducing Mickey the monkey to club secretary, Mr. R Salisbury. Bury Times 21/12/57

Hylda Baker introducing Mickey the monkey to club secretary, Mr. R Salisbury. Bury Times 21/12/57

By 1960 the building had transformed into the Palace Theatre Club. With a membership of over 3,000, it became one of Bury’s top night-spots which featured many entertainers and personalities. The club closed in 1963 and remained unused until, in December 1966, a fire completely gutted the building.




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6 Responses to Donation of the Month: autograph book kept by Bury Hippodrome.

  1. buryculture says:

    From Andrew McElvenney:
    Well where do i start. I’ve been looking for pictures of my Great Grandfather Raymond Furniss for many years without sucess as there arn’t any within the family and you have one on your “recent donations” section from last month in an autograph book. I don’t suppose there are/you have any further details on Raymond or even his wife Sophia who i know aslo appeared at the Bury Hippodrome while he was manager there?

    • buryculture says:

      Thank you for getting in touch with us through our blog!

      The autograph book is the only record we hold from the Bury Hippodrome and we were so pleased to have received it as a donation. Your Great Grandfather’s photograph appears on the front page alongside two newspaper clippings reporting his death. Although there are no dates given, we checked our indexes for Bury Cemetery and find he was buried there on the 10th May 1932. The obituaries would have appeared in the Bury Times or Bury Guardian.

      Although we don’t have an index for our newspaper archive – we do have a catalogue entry stating that Mrs Furniss’ obituary was reported in the Bury Times on the 3rd April 1920.

      While doing my research for the blog posting on The Bury Hippodrome, I noticed that Raymond Furness was mentioned a few times in the local press in relation to him being the manager of The Hippodrome.

      All the newspaper archive is held on microfilm and is available for viewing by appointment.

      Once again, thank you for contacting our service.

  2. Sid Barker says:

    What a wonderful find ! I am trying to put together a short biography of the actress Joan Carrington who appeared with the Broadhead Players in “The Real Jeff Carbury” “The Prince and the Beggermaid” “Mrs Grundy” “Daddylonglegs” “The Black Moth” “Hot Pot”and “What every Girl Can Do” in 1926/27. Is there anyway somebody could see whether information on Joan Carrington is contained in the book? I live down south in Maidenhead so personal research is out of the question.

    • buryculture says:

      Hello Sid, Thanks for reading our post – we’re really fond of the autograph book. I will have a look to see if there is any information on Joan Carrington and get back to you!

  3. Robert Woodley says:

    … the State Library of New south Wales in Sydney, Australia has a collection relating to Raymond Furness’s son Harry.
    “Harry W. Furniss was the son of Raymond Furniss, manager of the Bury Hippodrome Theatre, near Manchester. During his career his name was sometimes spelt “Furness” and he called himself Paul Furniss in Australia. He danced with the Imperial Russian Ballet (which starred Pavlova) in Britain as Paul d’Este or Paul d’Esti in the 1920’s. His father was a cousin of Harry Furniss (1854-1925), the famous caricaturist who worked with Thomas Edison in film in the US, helping pioneer animated cartoon film.”
    Further information is available on the Catalog record:
    Some photographs of Harry here, about halfway down the page :

  4. buryculture says:

    Thank you Robert for the links and the information and for taking time to comment. This will be useful for both family and local historians.

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