Regent Hall: The long-gone venue which had a royal seal of approval
PUBLISHED: 12:36 04 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:36 04 August 2017
Peter Jones Collection
There will be no fanfare of trumpets, no civic reception, no pomp and ceremony, no bouquets and garlands, no reminiscing about memorable moments and star appearances. The 150th anniversary of Great Yarmouth’s Regent Hall will pass unnoticed.
Mind you, the 1867 building did not become the Regent Hall until the following year after a major conversion.
It stood at the town end of Regent Road, close to the Theatre Royal where audiences were entertained from 1778 until 1929; four years later the Theatre Royal was demolished, replaced by our dear old Regal Cinema.
In his 2007 book That’s Entertainment, local historian and author Colin Tooke writes that in 1867 it was reported “a substantial and commodious building capable of containing 2,000 people” was to be erected on land owned by auctioneer J W de Caux at the top of Regent Road.
The 100ft by 67ft wooden structure, designed for circuses, took local builder John Isaac 24 days to erect, and was lit by 310 gas burners. But after a three-month circus season, it was converted into a theatre, reopening the next year.
Interestingly, a much older book called Playhouses of East Anglia states the venue was run by de Caux... and Harry Goodwin, of the Yarmouth Indepenedent newspaper!
Opera was the first production, succeeded by minstrels, recitals, drama, magicians and burlesque. Local performers welcomed the new venue, including the Christy Minstrels and the Glee Society. A royal nod of approval was accorded by the Prince of Wales who was in the audience no fewer than three times in one week!
A circus winter season, followed by the provision of a new stage, preceded a change of role to a music hall, the first concert including the Band of the East Norfolk Militia. That might not have seemed very music-hallish, but variety bills and pantomime were to follow.
Indeed, audiences were treated to some unusual acts, including freak shows featuring Colonel Tom Thumb and his wife, and Chrissie Miller “a two-headed singer”.
In 1874 the Yarmouth Independent told readers the Regent Hall was in the process of demolition “to make room for a structure of a permanent character.” But that never happened, and the short-lived entertainment venue reverted to becoming part of de Caux’s garden!
Later a private house was built there, surviving until 1928 when the municipal electricity undertaking acquired the land for its handsome mock-Tudor offices and showrooms, named unsurprisingly Electric House.
That edifice survived until 1972 when the demolition teams moved in, clearing the land needed to accommodate part of the Market Gates Shopping Precinct.
Author Colin notes: “Due to its short life of only seven years, there is little recorded history of the Regent Hall, probably the town’s most unusual and short-lived entertainment venue.”
I know of no surviving photograph of the Regent Hall.
My recent jottings about pleasure flights from the North Denes airfield prompted reader Robin Hambling to tell me he believes founder “Wilbur” Wright first flew from a field in Browston.
Robin, of Lawn Avenue, Yarmouth, adds: “My Dad took me up for a flight for coming top of my class at the Technical School in my third year (1948?). When Wilbur flew from North Denes, he used to fly very low over the Yarmouth Stadium when speedway racing was on, and did the same when I worked briefly as a deck hand on Toby speedboats - we could almost touch his wheels.”
In a column about a Belgian trawler jammed under the Haven Bridge in 1969, I said helpers included Horning’s Reg Morgan in his cruiser. Adds Robin: “Surely that must have been our Reg who rode for the speedway team and lived in Horning.”
My recent old postcard of Gorleston’s Church Lane included a lad with a lamb on a lead. From Canada, ex-pat Danny Daniels suggests it was not a family pet but destined “for the chop” for dinner!