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Neville Malkin's "Grand Tour" of the Potteries

buildings in Longton

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No 104 -  The Empire Theatre, Longton

Empire Theatre, Commerce Street, Longton - c.1910's
Postcard of the Empire Theatre, Commerce Street, Longton - c.1910's

This Theatre stands on the site of the old Theatre, which was completely demolished by fire in 1894. The present building was opened in 1896.

Seating capacity, 3,000. 
Proprietors The New Longton Theatre, Ltd. 
Manager, Sheriff Howard


from: 1907 Staffordshire Sentinel 'Business Reference Guide to The Potteries, Newcastle & District'

Built as the Queen's Theatre in 1896 after a fire in 1894 had destroyed the previous building, later renamed the Empire Theatre. 

In 1919 the pottery company Cartwright & Edwards bought the Empire Theatre. William Hall the Managing Director of Cartwright & Edwards became M.D. of the theatre.

"...his public spirited control of that house of entertainment will be well remembered. He determined to let the people of Longton have an opportunity of seeing and hearing the best fare obtainable. 

He was faced with numerous difficulties, and not least among these was the fact that the theatre at the time had not a very high reputation among the best producers. 

Although it was an ideal building in every way - one of the prettiest, most comfortable and best appointed in the provinces - the managers of the best touring companies were reluctant to include it on their lists, fearing that it would not get sufficient support to make a visit worth while. 

Mr. Hall overcame this by making a definite guarantee, and some of the finest companies, including Henry Baynton and his Shakespearian players, the O'Mara and Allington-Charsley opera companies, and first-class dramatic and comedy productions were engaged.

Unfortunately, the support forthcoming did not justify the enterprise, largely through the ever-increasing popularity of the cinematograph, and the Empire Theatre for the time being has become a picture house"

The Staffordshire Sentinel, 11 June 1923

It was a theatre until 1921, when it was converted into a cinema.  It closed as a cinema in April 1966 it was converted into a bingo hall. 

The building had stood empty and boarded up for a number of years and a fire on New Years Eve, 1992 destroyed the building apart from the frontage.

Attempts were later made to save the frontage of the building, with a view to incorporating it into another building, but the plans came to nothing and this was eventually demolished in 1997. 



The Empire Theatre, Longton
pen drawing by Neville Malkin - August 1975

The Empire, Commerce Street, Longton
The Empire, Commerce Street, Longton
after an arson attack on New Year's Eve 1992

photo: 1st January 1993 - Eileen Hallam



"The Empire, Longton has been the venue for various forms of entertainment for about 100 years - variety, cinema, and currently, bingo. Thanks to the staff of the Tudor Bingo Hall, the auditorium is still a perfect example of a Victorian theatre.

The boxes, circle, balcony and gallery are still in their original state and, like the ceiling and stage perimeter, richly embellished with decorative mouldings. Below the large stage there is a pit some 20ft. by 40ft. where animals were kept and raised from to perform their acts. 

The dressing-rooms run under the stalls, between the stage and the main entrance. Refreshment rooms were situated on each floor at the back of the auditorium.

The building is reputed to be haunted. One night, years ago, during the theatre's heyday as a place of live entertainment, a devoted local couple who used to patronise it every week, were seated in the circle. During the show the lady died. Some time later the husband returned to the theatre. Seated alone in the balcony he was overcome with emotion and, taking one sudden leap, threw himself from the balcony to his death in the stalls. Their presence can still be felt in the quiet early hours, so I am told."


20th August 1975





Evening Sentinel newspaper - front page, Friday, January 1st, 1993.


Longton’s historic Empire theatre hall has been gutted in a spectacular blaze, which police believe may have been started by arsonists. Today, structural experts fear the 100-year-old listed building will have to be demolished.

The former ABC cinema and Coral bingo hall became a raging inferno as 100-foot flames engulfed the property at tea-time yesterday. Part of Longton was cordoned off by police as more than 100 firefighters from all over Staffordshire battled to bring the blaze under control. 

The fire is a tragedy for the Stoke Repertory Theatre, which had been planning to buy the building. Today, treasurer Stuart Campbell said: “The fire is a devastating blow, both to the planned revival of Longton’s town centre and the exciting future of the company”.

At the height of the inferno, water was jetted over the adjacent bus station to prevent the blaze spreading and buses and traffic re-routed from the scene. Heat from the fire could be felt more than 500 yards away as the roof was brought crashing down by the ferocity of the inferno. It raised pavements around the property and showered adjoining premises with burning debris. Firefighters using three hydraulic platforms took more than four hours to bring the flames under control. Nobody was injured.

Crews were still at the scene 18 hours after the blaze broke out. Mr Peter Dale, Staffordshire’s Chief Fire Officer, said it was one of the most serious fires in the county for a number of years. “It was extremely dangerous and hazardous for firemen dealing with the blaze, which spread rapidly through the whole building from the basement right through the roof”, he said. New Year revellers and other people passing through the town stopped to watch the spectacular blaze.

Today, police at Longton said they were treating the blaze as suspicious. The blaze was also a blow for up to 1,000 youngsters due to attend a rave party at the nearbly Leisurebowl – because of the danger of the building collapsing the event had to be cancelled.

Dianne Gibbons






next: The Sutherland Institute, Longton
previous: The Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton
contents: index of buildings in Longton






Related Pages

Empire Cinema, Longton

Empire Bingo, Longton