Friends of the Doncaster Grand Theatre
Some years ago the Friends of the Grand Theatre were the people responsible for saving the Grand Theatre from demolition with some 60,000 signatures and the help of Doncaster Civic Trust we succeeded in obtaining a Grade II listing order on this lovely old theatre.
The Grand was opened on the 27th March 1899. It started its life as a Circus Hall and then became the home of the Salvation Army, it was used for Political Speakers and eventually it was bought and turned into a theatre by a Mr J W Chapman, who at that time was the Lessee of the Old Theatre which stood in the Market Place alongside the Town Hall. It was designed by J P Briggs, who for many years had worked with Frank Matcham. It was built by a local firm of builders, namely Arnold & Sons, who incidently, were in business up until a few years ago. It was one of the first theatres in the country to have electric lights and also a sprinkler system installed by Dawson & Taylor of Leeds. All staircases in the building are in stone as fire was a great hazard in those days.
Many famous names ‘trod the boards’ at the Grand including Charlie Chaplin, Sandy Powell, Nellie Wallace, Albert Modley, Max Miller, Henry Hall and his band with Betty Driver (who went on to play Betty Williams in Coronation Street, Tommy Handley, Frank Randle, Elsie & Doris Waters (Gert & Daisy), their Brother Jack Warner, Julie Andrews, Wilfred Pickles, Norman Evans and Morecambe & Wise to name but a few. Julie Andrews’ mother and father, Ted and Barbara Andrews appeared in Pantomime in December 1935, Julie was born in October 1935 and she was carried onto the stage as a baby and then appeared there again when she was 16 years old.
It is our intention not only to use the building for theatrical productions but also for Seminars, Conferences and Exhibitions. We have already had requests from various large theatrical companies throughout the country, wishing to perform when we are open, including Ballet and Opera companies. At present, to see any of the big shows we either have to go to Leeds, Sheffield or Bradford and only a few of the children in the town have ever been to a proper theatre, let alone had the chance to perform in one, this will encourage visitors to buy meals and to shop in our town. We also intend to open an up-market coffee shop, which would be open all day and would generate continual income and double-up as a Licensed Bar in the evenings. We have also had requests for it to be used as a Concert Hall as we do not have anything like that in Doncaster town centre and we have a wealth of talent in and around the town. These include Bands, Orchestras, Choirs, Amateur Dramatic Societies, Jazz and Swing Orchestras all of which want to see the theatre restored and back to its former glory. Our aim is to bring art, music and culture back into the town with Ballet, Light Opera, Variety Shows and Touring Companies etc.