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History

1850

In the beginning

The building that we see today began life in 1850 as The Market Hotel. It was used as a convenient stop-over point for farmers on their way to sell cattle and buy implements and provisions from the Corn Exchange (now Winchester Discovery Centre).

1912

From hotel to theatre

The building was bought by the Simpkins brothers who converted it by extending into the yard at the rear of the hotel.

1914

Variety the spice of life

The building opened as a cine variety theatre. A typical evening’s entertainment consisted of variety acts and melodramas, interspersed with screenings of silent films and the Pathé Gazette newsreels.

1922

The theatre was converted into a permanent cinema.

1934

The Simpkins family sell the cinema to County Cinemas Ltd.

1937

Odeon Theatres Ltd takes over ownership.

1954

The first city cinema to show CinemaScope films.

1971

The Star Group of Cinemas takes over ownership.

1974

Theatre under threat

In June 1974 the owners closed the cinema and applied for a demolition order with a view to erecting commercial premises. Winchester City Council responded by securing a Grade II listing for the building. Within two months the Winchester Theatre Fund was formed, its aim to “restore live theatre in Winchester”, with the theatre as its first project.

1977

A new lease of life

With the help of the City Council, various trusts and a programme of fundraising, Winchester Theatre Fund purchased the building in April 1977 for £35,000 and pressed ahead with plans for restoration.

1978

Let there be light

After four years of darkness, the lights came on again in November 1978. The building reopened as Theatre Royal Winchester.

1979

The two adjoining buildings (22 & 23 Jewry Street) were purchased, extending the theatre.

1981

Refurbishment of foyer, a new Circle bar and creation of a Box Office.

1985

Further improvements including re-design of seating in stalls and circle, five new dressing rooms added and extension of stage and flyer tower.

1987

Projection facilities were added and the Royal once again became both theatre and ‘picture palace’.

1991

Cinderella became the first professional pantomime to be staged at the theatre in 71 years.

1996

Heritage and modernity

In January 1996 the doors closed one more time for an extensive refurbishment, made possible by the support of the National Lottery Board of the Arts Council of England, Winchester City Council, Hampshire County Council Southern Arts Board, local businesses and private donations.

The scheme included a sympathetic restoration of period details including the proscenium arch, decorative pilasters and original plasterwork in the auditorium. It also included a contemporary curved wall with glazed inserts, based on the west window of Winchester Cathedral, by artist Sue Kennington.

1999

Live Theatre Winchster Trust is formed.

2001

A theatre for today and the future

After five years of hard work, the refurbishment was completed in 2001 and the theatre re-opened. It is still owned by the Winchester Arts Trust Ltd and is now operated by Live Theatre Winchester Trust Ltd. The theatre offers a dynamic programme of drama, music, dance and comedy, making it a focal point for the cultural life of the city and beyond.

2013

Hat Fair joins Live Theatre Winchester Trust.

2014

We celebrate our 100th year as a theatre.

2018

40th anniversary of the building being saved from demolition and re-opening as a performance venue.

2019

The charity name became Play to the Crowd, incorporating Theatre Royal Winchester, Hat Fair and Playmakers.