‘Sun burner discovery’ at Theatre Royal prompts need for design plan before major repairs can begin

Theatre Royal Photo Ian Grundy

The discovery of a ‘sun burner’ in the ceiling of Margate’s Theatre Royal means a masterplan will need to be drawn up to examine how the historic building will be ventilated.

In response to a question from Cllr Sam Bambridge about a timeline for the works, Thanet council’s Cabinet member for regeneration and property, Cllr Ruth Duckworth, told members at a full council meeting on Thursday (July 13) of the discovery and that the item is of “heritage significance.”

Sun burners were manufactured in the Victorian era as a means of both gas lighting and ventilating larger public and occasionally private, buildings.

Cllr Duckworth said: “As with all renovations you do not realise the full extent of what needs doing until proper surveys have been done.

“With the Theatre Royal we have discovered the sun burner in the ceiling, which has heritage significance. It is an early Victorian gaslight and ventilation system which needs careful investigation.

“In order to properly ventilate the theatre it is very likely modern plant and extraction will need to be located on the roof and will need to be included in the final designs.

“An overall masterplan is required with conservation principles applied to safeguard the heritage of the theatre. The building will be watertight before the Autumn/early Winter, safeguarding it before the major works begin.

“The council will be applying for National Heritage Lottery funding in the following six months for the project to begin.”

Theatre Royal Photo Sheradon Dublin

The Theatre Royal is allocated £2million for repairs from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal. Of this, urgent repairs are expected to cost £370,000 for minor roof work, removal of the asbestos stage curtain, and fire protection measures and the provision of a proper ventilation system.

Once the urgent works have been completed, the next step will be to complete other structure works including; window repairs and decorations, plastering in lime plaster where plaster has failed, and ceiling repairs to the value of £400,000.

The Theatre Royal and neighbouring 19 Hawley Square will then be marketed as a package to find an operator/commercial partner.

Thanet council bought 19 Hawley Square from Orbit Housing in 2011 with a view to expanding the Theatre’s facilities.

It is understood there was some discussion last year and early this year of taking space at 15-16 Hawley Square which developer Mcube Ltd is converting into a hotel. The renovation, which secured £125,000 from Kent County Council’s No Use Empty scheme via a charge on the building, was viewed as a possibility for providing the ground floor and basement on a long lease as part of the Theatre Royal project. That proposal was later discarded as not suitable.

Theatre Royal Margate

In 2014 Thanet council offered a long lease or freehold interest in the theatre, and buildings at 16a and 19 Hawley Square and there was an expression of interest from Soho Theatres.

Soho Theatres developed a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver an improved theatre alongside community, food and beverage and hotel space at 19 Hawley Square. However, this bid fell through due to being at the end of the funding period although there was sufficient support for the idea.

Your Leisure took the site on in what was supposed to be an interim measure but had been running it up until the closure in April 2022. All staff were made redundant and they have formed Phoenix Community Events.

Theatre Royal is the second oldest working theatre in the country and has 465 seats. The building is currently on the Theatres at Risk Register.

A second query from Cllr Bambridge asked if the £500,000 earmarked for The Oval Bandstand and Lawns could be redistributed to the Winter Gardens and Theatre Royal following a deadlock over signing a grant agreement.

However, Cllr Duckworth said the money was still allocated for GRASS, which heads the Oval project, and it is hoped issues can be resolved.

The Oval bandstand project ‘brought to stand-still’ in row over release of Margate Town Deal funding


  1. I was looking at some of things that need removing all theatres have fire curtains are all theatres the same in the west end and beyond as they successfully dtopmfited from spreading into the auditorium or visa versa another time waisting exercise.if they were dangerous all the years the theatre was working and open never been reports that these type of curtains are a health risk to patron’s.hopefully no change to the structure as it’s a listed building like some want to do if original should stay original.

  2. Without having any personal views or any technical knowledge on these particular issues I can’t help wondering why every single project involving TDC, even where the money is provided externally, gets delayed, postponed and mired in impenetrable complications. Once the council is involved it all seems to go down a black hole never to emerge.

    • No real surprise as it’s all part of civil service grand plan to create unpredictable problem, hire extra unsackable staff and keep it up until they require more staff to think of more problems – Only one answer, cut council staff back to basic requirements and return power to councillors who dare not criticise the incompetent officers.

  3. This is not a “discovery” and cannot be a surprise to anyone who knows the building, especially its owners. The Victorian ventilation system has always been known about and was often pointed out to the public on open days. Amazing that the architects weren’t made aware of something the general public already knew.

  4. How is it that Your Leisure were apparently able to walk away from from the theatre royal and the winter gardens without having maintained the properties in question.

  5. Surely tdc have the blue print on this building so why don’t they look in there own archives and see for themselves. Or are they that stupid

  6. Perhaps the £4 million could be recovered from the private company which now owns Dreamland because that was a Homer fiddle.Totally corrupt.

  7. The group GRASS should never have been awarded £500,000, when the secretary of that group was a serving member on the MTDB.
    Surely this was a conflict of interest.
    The money should have gone to the WG & TR both indoor all year round venues.

    • Same with the Dreamland Director on the board and receiving over £4 million. It’s all a scam on the Government as we never see any benefit to the area from these funds.

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