Blackpool Heritage and The Grand – When Thomas Sergenson arrived in Blackpool from Preston in 1876 to take up a position at the public baths on Hygiene Terrace he little thought that by 1909 he would have become one of the North West’s leading theatre managers and making Blackpool history.
The baths were soon demolished to make way for the Prince of Wales Theatre, which later became the Alhambra, then The Palace and is now the site of Poundland on the Promenade.
Sergenson eventually leased the theatre, which launched his career as the People’s Showman. His theatre specialised in favourite melodramas, popular music and low comedy.
Throughout the early 1880s, Thomas Sergenson had been quietly saving the profits from his by now three rented theatres to fulfil his aim of building a full-size modern theatre in Blackpool. In 1887 he bought a site on the corner of Church Street and St Ann Street (later Corporation Street) a first-class position between the Winter Gardens and the Promenade on one of the best shopping streets in Blackpool.
The Winter Gardens, sensing competition, rebuilt their theatre and Sergenson decided to build five shops on the site and delay the theatre until he could see how the rival Opera House prospered. In place of a theatre, Sergenson erected a large wooden building with a corrugated iron roof and for five years he presented a circus during the summer months. When he heard that the proposed Blackpool Tower Buildings were to incorporate a circus he decided to proceed with his original ideas and in 1893 engaged Frank Matcham, the leading theatre architect of the day, to design the Grand Theatre.
Blackpool Heritage – The Grand Theatre was opened in 1894. Hailed as Matcham’s Masterpiece it had been built in nine months at a cost of £20,000.
The theatre opened with a production of Hamlet with Wilson Barrett in the starring role. The programme was printed on pure silk and perfumed with Tower Bouquet by a chemist in Church Street.
The opening of the Grand Theatre moved Sergenson into the Number One circuit of famous actors, spectacular musicals and high-class opera. Sergenson attracted Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtree, Beerbohm Tree, Seymour Hicks and Mrs Patrick Campbell before he sold out to the Tower Company for £47,500 in 1909. In today’s money that would be nearly £6million!
Visit the Grand Theatre website for more information on show listings. Driving to the theatre from The Hotel At Mill Farm takes just 20 minutes and we recommend parking at the Houndshill Shopping Centre.