17 Aug 2011

A tour of the newly refurbished City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds

I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the City Varieties today. What a building.

It was built in 1865 and it's a beautiful theatre, one of the last remaining and best preserved Victorian music halls. It's amazing to think Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini performed here.

A major refurbishment (costing almost £10m) has now just about been completed. During the building work over the past couple of years, they found lots of items under the floorboards beneath the seats - trivial everyday things like old sweet wrappers, cigarette packets and small glass containers (it's interesting to wonder, did theatre-goers carry medicinal liquids or alcoholic drinks in these little jars?).

These things might seem like unspectacular items, but I think it's really special to think each thing was left by someone who was sitting in the theatre enjoying a show at some point in the last hundred years or so, perhaps smoking and drinking as they watched a show in this beautiful gas-lit room, their presence frozen in time.

And I learned some more exciting news - the Swan pub next door to City Varieties (which has also been given a refurb) is almost ready to reopen - and it's going to be run by Leeds Brewery. It seems very fitting they'll be running this old coaching inn next to this great old music hall. Although they're a young company, they are carrying on the great brewing traditions established by Joshua Tetley here in Leeds. So with a respectful nod to the past, this old street in Leeds is all set to embark on an exciting new chapter.

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