Old Courts team plans to bring historic Wigan theatre back to life

These pictures show the theatrical heyday of a major Wigan town centre venue and the arts enthusiasts hoping to bring it back.

Friday, 25th May 2018, 11:29 am
Updated Friday, 25th May 2018, 11:31 am
The Royal Court in its heyday. Picture courtesy of Wigan Archives and Local Studies

The Old Courts has bought the former Royal Court Theatre on King Street and intends to turn it back into a huge culture attraction for the borough.

Up to 3,000 Wiganers used to be accommodated in the massive theatre for shows and it also served as a cinema showing Hollywood blockbusters for decades.

The Crawford Street arts hub now wants to return to the days when big showbusiness names were brought to Wigan to perform there, with plans for national touring theatre productions, stand-up comedy tour dates and large-scale family pantomime shows.

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The Royal Court Theatre in King Street

The Old Courts says it had been looking for a larger venue for some time as it had received numerous suggestions for popular acts and events which just couldn’t be accommodated in the town’s ex-Victorian courthouse.

When it became clear the building, which most recently served as nightclubs Springbok and The Hub and was previously a bingo hall, was going under the hammer listed at £250,000 the team at The Old Courts decided to prepare a bid.

They are now awaiting the completion of legal paperwork and the keys handover and excitedly looking forward to the future.

Jonny Davenport, director at The Old Courts, said: “We have long been aware of the rich history of theatre in Wigan. You can spot various theatres around the town centre that have been repurposed.

Becky Davenport, Dave Jenkins and Jonny Davenport from The Old Courts outside the former Royal Court Theatre on King Street

“More recently King Street and surrounding areas have been occupied with bars and nightclubs but we really feel that there is a place in the town again for theatre on a large scale and we thought what better way of achieving this than to restore a Victorian theatre.

“Unsurprisingly, we plan to retain as much of the original features as we possibly can. These theatres were designed and built with a simple aim - to get large numbers of people into a grand setting to enjoy theatre - so that’s what we’re intending to achieve.

“There will of course be some necessary tweaks required in terms of disabled access but aside from this, it’s all about authenticity.

“There has been incredible positive interest from the public which we’re hugely thankful for. We’re going to make sure that everyone is kept up to date with the plans and we want everyone to be happy of the end result as it’s the towns to be proud of.

“The bar was set high having originally welcomed the likes of Charlie Chaplin so we feel even more determined to get it done right.

“This will take lots of consultation and planning but we also want it to happen as soon as possible.”

Revellers who attended for the high-volume music nights may be surprised to learn that above the ground floor, which was kitted out with a bar and dance floor, many of the original features remain.

That includes hundreds of seats in the upper tiers, which in some cases have simply been shut away behind doors and canvas partitions.

The Old Courts team is upbeat about the renovation task ahead, acknowledging it is a massive job but saying it will be easier than their original project which involved changing the use of the former seat of justice into concert halls, rehearsal rooms, a theatre, bars and art galleries.

The organisation will prepare a number of bids to bodies interested in boosting both heritage and culture and has already received offers of help from knowledgeable and skilled volunteers.

It is hoped that the work will be completed some time in 2019.