St George's Hall in Bradford celebrating 160 years since 1853
Built as a public performance space for 'notable speakers and performers', the venue still thrives today.
The concept of St George's Hall was proposed in February 1849 during a meeting with subscribers to the Bradford Infirmary and Alderman Samuel Smith. Through issuing £10 shares more than £16,000 in capital was generated before the foundation stone was laid on 22 September 1851. So great was this occasion, the residents of Bradford were awarded a public holiday!
Designed by Henry Lockwood and William Mawson (architects of City Hall, the Wool Exchange, Salts Mill, Saltaire Village), St George's Hall was officially opened on 29 August 1853 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, along with the Earl of Harewood. The total cost of the building works was £35,000 and the venue could seat 3,500 people, although it is said that on occasions, the Hall held nearly 5,000! To celebrate the opening, a Music Festival was held from 31 August to 2 September 1853 and a variety of concerts continued to take place during September 1853 and beyond.
Today St George's Hall is still renowned for its exceptional acoustics and intimate atmosphere. The venue is a popular choice for leading names from the music world as well as top stand-up comedians. The Hall also attracts big names in variety entertainment, receives regular children's shows and amateur productions and still continues to offer an increasingly exciting and diverse programme.
The Hallé orchestra has been a regular at the Hall since 1865 under the baton of Charles Hallé (although some archived records state that the first subscription concert by Charles Hallé was in 1867; others show that he had already appeared at St George's Hall with his "full band" in 1858). On the day of one particular concert in October 1895, Charles Hallé had died unexpectedly and when the concert was due to commence the rostrum remained empty, but from his place as orchestra leader, Brodsky conducted the Dead March. After a small interval he then conducted the rest of the concert.
Sir Mark Elder, currently the Hallé's Music Director says:
"It is always a pleasure to return to Bradford with its wonderful hall. The relationship between the Hallé and Bradford reaches back over a century to the era of Charles Hallé himself, and is something the players and I are particularly proud of."
St George's Hall has enjoyed a colourful and varied use over the last 160 years with its long list of 'notable speakers and performers' (including the Revd Dr Livingstone in relation to his discoveries in Central Africa in 1857 and Mr Henry Irving in scenes from various plays in 1878) but also with a vast number of operas and choral concerts taking place there. Bradford Festival Choral Society first performed there in 1857 and other choral visitors have included the famous singer and conductor, Madame Clara Novello (mother of Ivor Novello) on 29 November 1855.
Lesley Garrett, opera singer and Patron of the Bradford International Orchestral Concert Season says:
"St George's Hall in Bradford is one of the UK's greatest concert halls and I always jump at the chance to experience its magnificent acoustic as both performer and audience member. The calibre of artists and orchestras and the variety of programming at St George's Hall will take your breath away."
In 1861 the Hall became adaptable for stage plays and it was advertised that Mr and Mrs Charles Kean appeared in Hamlet and A Kiss in the Dark on 23 October 1861; followed a few years later in 1864 by a substantial season of 13 plays presented from 22 August to 10 September by the Haymarket Company.
In 1898 the venue showed its first film and by 1901 it was used for regular film shows. In 1926 it officially became a cinema and was operated by New Century Pictures for 23 years. On 25 March 1949, Bradford Council purchased the Hall and started to modernise the venue, with new tip-up seats and a more flexible stage. The organ (which had been installed originally in 1856) was also completely rebuilt. The Dressing Rooms were also improved to accommodate "continental ensuite facilities". St George's Hall was officially re-opened on Wednesday 30 September 1953.
Bradford Theatres are keen to hear from members of the public who have memories or anecdotes they would like to share about St George's Hall. Souvenir programmes, newspaper clippings or playbills about concerts at St George's Hall that could be loaned to Bradford Theatres to put on display during a celebratory open weekend in September would be very gratefully received. Please contact the Marketing Team on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01274 432375. The 160th celebratory weekend will be on Saturday 14 September and Sunday 15 September. Further details will be announced in due course.
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