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85 years since Norwich lost the Theatre Royal to a massive fire

PUBLISHED: 16:48 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:48 21 June 2019

Norwich Theatre Royal fire?  pic taken june 1934   c12146   picto be used in edp2 15th june 2009

Norwich Theatre Royal fire? pic taken june 1934 c12146 picto be used in edp2 15th june 2009

It's 85 years ago on Saturday, June 22 that the people of Norwich gathered...to watch in horror as their beloved Theatre Royal burnt down. Derek James reports

SUBMITTED PICTURE FROM THE GEORGE PLUNKETT COLLECTION.
THEATRE ROYAL, NORWICH, AFTER THE FIRE OF 22 JUNE 1934.SUBMITTED PICTURE FROM THE GEORGE PLUNKETT COLLECTION. THEATRE ROYAL, NORWICH, AFTER THE FIRE OF 22 JUNE 1934.

It had been an extremely hot June in 1934...Alfredo and his famous Gipsy Orchestra were heading the bill for a variety show at the theatre.

On the afternoon of Friday June 22 it was reported that cashier, Miss Bardwell, thought she heard a clanging sound so she went to investigate...

"On entering the theatre I found flames licking under the safety curtain. I rushed out into the street and shouted for help," she told our reporter at the scene.

Mr W F Moore, of 61 Ber Street, was passing and he called fire brigade.

Evening News June 1934.  How the news of the fire that destroyed the Norwich theatre royal was reported.

Photo: 
Copy: Derek James
For: EN
Archant © 2009
(01603) 772434Evening News June 1934. How the news of the fire that destroyed the Norwich theatre royal was reported. Photo: Copy: Derek James For: EN Archant © 2009 (01603) 772434

Warm weather, strong winds. The theatre was in flames. A cry went up around the city....the Royal is on fire and people rushed to the scene.

It soon became clear that this palace of pleasure was doomed. Flames leapt from the roof, wrecking the interior but, thank goodness, no-one died or was injured.

The Trinity Presbyterian Church, opposite the theatre was also caught up in the blaze but we reported: "The firemen were rapidly able to grapple with this new danger, and brought it under control."

But the theatre could not be saved and in the high wind thick smoke crossed the city and the suburbs.

1934 fire at Norwich Theatre Royal  een 28/6/061934 fire at Norwich Theatre Royal een 28/6/06

"Seen from the top windows of their buildings, the fire was one of the fiercest outbreaks that Norwich has seen for many years," said our report on the day.

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The fierce wind drove the flames through the theatre as a wind tunnel. Masonry fell into neighbouring buildings which became to be cleared in case the fire spread. At one stage it was thought the historic Assembly House, which, at the time, had recently been used by the Norwich High School for Girls, was under threat. Fortunately this artistic treasure was safe.

Our reporter at the scene wrote: "From the passage at the back of what an hour ago was the stage we all knew so well, I have just been looking at a furnace area more awe inspiring than I can remember.

"The firemen around me are young men but I have no doubt their seniors would say that they have never taken part in fighting a more terrific blaze."

The building was reduced to rubble with stage manager Mr Leggett explain how all the stage scenery and the musical instruments had been lost.

But the British Bulldog spirit shone brightly with Alfredo and his orchestra along with the supporting company giving two performances at St Andrew's Hall on the Saturday night, the day after the fire.

They are managed to climb through the dressing room windows to save their costumes and instruments although those who lost theirs were lent some by the Corporation from the Municipal Orchestra.

We wrote: "The sympathy of the whole city is extended to the people for whom the fire has been nothing less than a calamity."

There were two shows with people able to use their tickets for the Theatre Royal performances at St Andrew's.

The proprietor of the Royal, the colourful Jack Gladwin, declared that the theatre would be rebuilt. An ultra-modern building had its grand opening was on September 30, 1935.

This, in the days of the deep depression of that decade, was a remarkable performance and the public flocked to the New Theatre Royal to see the likes of Harry Lauder, Sid Field, a young Hughie Green and one of the biggest stars of the day, Gracie Fields.

Today it is one of the finest provincial theatres in the land.



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