Towards the end of the 19th Century, the movement for a substantial and prestigious concert hall in the centre of Halifax, led by a group of local businessmen, gained momentum.
In March 1897, the “Halifax Concert Hall and Public Rooms Company Limited” was formed, having Alderman George H Smith (later Sir George Fisher-Smith JP) as its first chairman. The site at the junction of Commercial Street and Fountain Street was purchased for £8,169. Work began and Alderman Smith laid the foundation stone on 06 May 1899. The Victoria Theatre (then called the Victoria Hall) was named after Queen Victoria but, sadly, she died just after it was completed in 1901.
(A fine oil painting of Alderman Smith’s portrait, from the 1920s, was discovered in the Theatre’s basement in June 2005 and is now hanging in the entrance hall.)
The local architect, W Clement Williams, faced the challenge of a site which is a parallelogram on only three sides; the fourth side being the shape of a wedge. His innovative solution to this conundrum is still a fascinating aspect of the building to this day.
The foyer retains the original features: an extremely artistic structure with a broad staircase, surmounted by a stained glass dome of ornate design. Standing on a pedestal in prominent position under this dome is a bust of the late Queen Victoria – described in the local press of the day as “a very beautiful specimen of the sculptor’s art and a striking portrait of our lamented Queen”.
The Victoria Hall opened on the 8th February 1901 with a concert by the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Hans Richter. Since then the Victoria Theatre has evolved with the times and developments in entertainment.
The Victoria Hall was also used as a cinema with the first motion pictures shown in 1904. Pictures with sound were first shown in 1931 and the capacity of the auditorium at this time was stated to be 2,500 seats. He Victoria Hall ceased to be a cinema in 1953 and in 1960 the Halifax Corporation purchased the theatre, modernised it and replaced the sloping platform with the stage, as it is today.
In 1972 the theatre was renamed The Halifax Civic Theatre and many local people in Halifax still know the theatre as ‘the Civic’.
Over the years the Victoria Theatre has played host some of the biggest names in entertainment, including The Stone Roses, Status Quo, Morrissey, and The Jackson 5.
Since it was re-named The Victoria Theatre in 1993 the venue has undergone some significant developments, including new entrances to accommodate wheelchair access, new ‘get in’ lift to the stage, new spaces and lounges created and removable raked seating in the stalls. More recently the theatre has invested in Wi-Fi throughout the building, state of the art lighting and sound facilities, a new Green Room for touring companies, and a new box office system.