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 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.