Memory Lane: Search on for lost past

memory lane ''Linda and Geoff Tolson with the archive at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.
memory lane ''Linda and Geoff Tolson with the archive at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.
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BLACKPOOL’S Grand Theatre is suffering from memory loss or, to be more precise, some gaps in its archive.

Theatre archivists, Geoff and Linda Tolson, are concerned that they are missing years in the history of the Grand.

Geoff said: “There appear to be lost decades in the theatre’s historic record. We are looking for programmes and posters from the Victorian era, through to the 1920s and 1930s. From the 1940s onwards our collection is more complete, although there will always be gaps.

“We’ve contacted archivists from other theatres in the area of a similar vintage and the story is the same, material from these decades has vanished. It may be programmes and posters were pulped during the Second World War due to the scarcity of paper.”

The theatre is hoping Memory Lane readers can help fill in the gaps in its history by searching through any old programmes, photographs or posters they may have relating to the theatre from 1894 to 1940 and either donate or loan them to the archive.

Theatre bosses are preparing the huge collection of historic photographs, programmes and press cuttings ready to move over to the recently re-opened Blackpool Central Library.

The library is making space available for the collection in its Local Heritage section and the items will be available for public access. It is envisaged some of The Grand’s collection will go on display when plans proceed for a new box office and heritage centre on Church Street.

The theatre was opened on July 23, 1894 by Thomas Sergenson who immediately dubbed it Matcham’s Masterpiece. This title is even more merited now that there are few surviving examples of the work of Frank Matcham, the leading Victorian theatre architect. It took just nine months to build and cost £20,000.

In the early 1960s, theatres across Britain were closing due to loss of audience to television and in July 1972 the-then owners, the Blackpool Tower Company, applied for permission to demolish it. They proposed a department store in its place. By then, however, following an application to the Department of the Environment, the theatre had been listed as a Grade II* building and there had to be a full public enquiry.

Early in 1973 the Friends of the Grand was formed and after legal and financial wrangling, the Friends, together with the Tower Company’s parent group EMI and the local council, put together a deal involving leasing the theatre for £10,000 per annum and final purchase for £250,000.

Earlier this year the Grand celebrated its 30th anniversary, having re-opened on Wednesday March 23, 1981 with Timothy West and Prunella Scales in the Old Vic production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Many producers and stars continually support the Grand, including Bill Kenwright, who said: “I am always thrilled to bring productions to your wonderful theatre; probably my favourite theatre in the world.”

Friends of the Grand patron, Stephen Tompkinson, said: “Blackpool’s Grand Theatre is one of the most beautiful theatres in the world. It is also the first theatre I ever came to as a child.”