Early designs and a projected 2027 reopening date revealed for Margate’s Theatre Royal

Early design for the Theatre Royal by Lee Evans Partnership

Early designs for a ‘performing arts hub’ with Margate Theatre Royal and neighbouring 19 Hawley Square have now [December 7] gone on display at the historic venue at a drop-in that remains open until 7pm.

The aim is to secure £3.2m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, in addition to the £2.2m allocated from Margate’s Town Deal, to renovate the Grade II* listed theatre and link it to 19 Hawley Square which will be developed into a theatre production space with a bar, café, studio theatre, recording studio and rehearsal rooms.

The Hawley Square venue, which was believed to have historically been The London Hotel, will also have offices and accommodation for touring theatre companies.

Proposals to fund the project also include applying to the Arts Council for the Cultural Development Fund, which will be launched in 2024.

A projected reopening date has been set for May 2027.

Today is also the launch by Thanet council of the search for a new operator, with an invite to register interest in the Theatre Royal’s future.

Three potential operator models are being considered; a commercial venture, an existing theatre company (charitable venture) looking to relocate, or a local consortium (to set up a new trust).

Public consultation over the designs is now also open via a survey on Your Voice Thanet or in paper format.

Nick Lee Evans

Initial designs presented by Nick Lee Evans, a Specialist Conservation Architect from Lee Evans Partnership, show an extension to the Addington Street theatre building, widened pavement, reinstated signage and a new box office entrance.

For the five floor building in Hawley Square designs show rehearsal space in the basement; on the ground floor plans show a studio theatre for 50 people, sound studio, green room, bar and coffee area; first floor plan show offices, meeting spaces and a roof garden and, on the two upper floors, accommodation for the theatre companies.

The proposals have been drawn up by working with TDC’s Theatre Royal project manager Hayley White, who was previously involved in the Ellington Park project and the scheme to renovate London’s Hoxton Hall, a Victorian grade II* listed music hall theatre built in 1863.

Nick Lee Evans said: “The initial design, working with Hayley, goes forward with her vision for the heritage lottery bid.

“There will be a development phase but this is testing out the ideas and part of that is to try and use 19 Hawley Square.

“One problem with the theatre is there is not enough bar and backstage space. By using 19 Hawley Square we are trying to create rehearsal space, which is virtually the same size as the [Theatre Royal] stage, and a studio theatre which continues the theatre’s long history of training people. The Theatre Royal had probably the first theatre school in the country under Sarah Thorne in the late 19th Century who used her house in Hawley Square.

“We think 19 Hawley was The London Hotel and had quite a pivotal relationship with the theatre.”

Those responding to the consultation will also be asked for views on a reduction to a single lane and closure with timed bollards in Hawley Square to create a link between the two buildings.

Nick added: “The idea is to make the theatre work as having that [extra] space will mean being able to do more than just have productions landing here, you could initiate them, and make the theatre more viable.”

Cllr Ruth Duckworth, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Property, said the initial response to plans for applying to the National Lottery Heritage Fund had been “positive” with an expression of interest accepted.

It means the £3.2m two-phase bid can be made in February next year with a decision on the first phase expected in July. A second round submission would then be made in May 2025 with a decision in September of that year. Works on site would be expected to begin in 2026 up until the projected May 2027 reopening.

Inside Theatre Royal circa 1957 Image Thanet council/Theatres Trust Archives

Part of the £2m town deal allocation will be used for urgent repairs which 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.

Other structure works including; window repairs and decorations, plastering in lime plaster where plaster has failed, and ceiling repairs have been estimated at £400,000.

The discovery earlier this year of a ‘sun burner’ in the ceiling of the theatre means a masterplan will need to be drawn up to examine how the historic building will be ventilated.

Cllr Duckworth [pictured] said: “ Having the town deal money means we can apply for match funding and that opens up so much more opportunity. We need 19 Hawley Square to make it work as it is a small theatre. Having the expression of interest accepted [by the National Lottery Heritage Fund] means we can now make a full application which is positive. Being a Grade II* listed building makes them much more interested.

“19 Hawley Square is a bit of a state. It is listed but it was previously converted to flats which means we have to keep the outside but the inside has a lot more scope.”

Cllr Duckworth said it is important for people to get involved and give their views before the deadline at 4pm on December 20.

She added: “We are very keen to hear from people. This is the right time to be doing this.”

Jethro T. Robinson’s original drawings that were lodged with the Office of the Lord Chamberlain in 1874 but resubmitted with alterations in 1904 Image Thanet council

The Theatre Royal Margate is the UK’s second oldest working theatre. It was originally designed and built in 1787, then significantly altered in 1874 by J.T. Robinson, father-in-law to Frank Matcham, celebrated theatre architect. It is one of only two surviving Robinson theatres; the second is The Old Vic Theatre in London, whose auditorium has undergone significant alterations. The Theatre Royal Margate was listed  in 1955.

It was added to the Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk register in 2018. In April this year Thanet council was awarded £10,000 of grant funding from the Theatres Trust towards the Margate Theatre Royal project.

The funding, from the Resilient Theatres: Resilient Communities project, is in recognition of Theatre Royal’s heritage and ‘at risk’ status.

Hayley White [pictured] says although the process for the renovation and hub project is lengthy it is necessary to make sure there is a sustainable maintenance and conservation plan.

The process would involve funding bids, hiring a design team including access consultants and interpretation specialists, further investigations on conserving and restoring the sun burner and going through RIBA stages.

She said: “It’s really robust but it helps you manage the resources and design a project so it can be delivered.”

She added: “This building [theatre] is beautiful and really important but it has so many restrictions. 19 Hawley Square  will be the financial and creative engine for what happens here. It is very much a working building bringing together the idea of the performing arts hub.”

Circa 1957 Image Thanet council/Theatres Trust Archives

Discussions have taken place with ARK in Cliftonville, based at the former shul, about working with the Theatre Royal operator and there will also be a focus on opportunities for young people.

Plans for use include creating Margate/ Thanet employment, engagement and training of young people in performing arts and creative careers; programming to provide a unique heritage stage for local, national and international performances and multi arts and using homegrown talent and locally made high quality theatre productions with national and international reach.

Give your view

Information boards are on display in poster sites on the exterior of the Theatre Royal in addition to today’s drop-in.

You can collect a paper survey from reception at the council offices in Cecil Square, Margate between Friday 8 and Wednesday 20 December, between 10am and 4pm or go to  Your Voice Thanet. The survey closes at 4pm on Wednesday 20 December.

Further details can also be found at https://www.thanet.gov.uk/info-pages/theatre-royal/

The road to renovation

Image Thanet council

The Theatre was bought by Thanet council as ‘owner of last resort’ in 2007. The building was shut for a six month refurb programme and all staff were made redundant. It was then leased back to the Margate Theatre Royal Trust on a peppercorn rent until 2012 when the Trust went into administration.

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

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.

Theatre Royal (Image Thanet council heritage statement)

Before closure, the Theatre attracted some 36,000 ticket sales annually (including 11,000 for the pantomime) from 168 performances, generating income of £106k.

Currently the theatre has 465 seats (stalls, circle and gallery), with several small bars and WC’s  around the building, and a small box office area. Back of the house hosts five dressing rooms with capacity for 29, two unisex toilets and a shower. There is no separate greenroom. The stage measures 9.3m by 6.3m, with fly space and 2.4m by 1.6m level stage access for get-in.

Application for works to make Margate’s Theatre Royal ‘watertight’ submitted to council

18 Comments

  1. 112 years ago, Margate Winter Gardens took 11 months, from a scale model on the council offices desk to the grand opening – despite the tons of chalk being dug out by pick axe and shovel. Now, it takes 4 years to convert a building!

    Progress, eh?

  2. I do have to question the morals of a plan to spend just sky of £5.5 million on a building for an act form that few will benefit from, when the story next to this one is about a food bank receiving a £1300 boost.
    Perhaps it’s just me.

    • I’d much rather the money was spent on The Winter Gardens – a multi-purpose building that hosted concerts, commemorative events, weddings, job fairs, beer festivals and just about everything else. I agree that The Theatre Royal benefits relatively few in comparison – but it is STILL money better spent than the endless funding the free-to-enter Turner Contemporary gets.

      • Ms pink ,totally agree,get someone who ,knows the business ,to run the theatres,not a council owned,company like ,Your Leisure

        • Yes 100% agree , thanks very much YOUR LEISURE, and thanks for keeping the lights on , yet a quasi third sector operator like YOUR LEISURE, have done their part , it’s a great day that they step out the way now and allow the private sector ( hopefully) or at least a third sector operator with the experience to not just haemorrhage millions gleefully, in the absence of a private sector operator with experience a charity mob who mean business will have to do.

          Theatres hardly sustain, they stop because people don’t want them , however the cultural value outweighs the profits

      • Creative sector nepotism is what allows organisations to take millions, they all know each other,
        Agreed miss pink , if I may say YOUR LEISURE, was not proactive, the acts that did perform found the winter gardens, a private sector no nonsense big hitting director would track down ACTS , and easily every weekend something would be on stage , trade shows , etc etc,
        In my opinion ( not that it’s been asked for ) the winter gardens needs breaking up into a dozen and one separate premises, and allowing national operators who simply know what they are doing, independents are welcome, but let’s not foresake local job creation by pretending everything can be run by independents ,

  3. Here we go again the usual suspects anti this anti that the wintergardens was built as a multi use building mainly for conferences years ago the theatre royal is a theatre not a conference centre it’s not selective as a former friend and supporter of both venues negative comments are not welcome the fault was with your leasure restricting local talent from using both venues at least Margate operatic society performing there kept it open at a high cost to them this plan has been proposed before the council should get an operator in place now not wait years to get the royal open that’s more important than developing the other expensive part of the plan yes over a period of time for that but who’s going to take on all that expense leave the bars alone and the box office that’s original the stalls bar and circle bar are sufficient it worked well for years and the entrance is ok they were told about that when first came to light not many attended i got ignored by some of them only spoke with Mr Evans a true lover of theatre where was the councillors to talk to people.

      • Some of us can’t always see the full stop make a constructive comments instead of being rude I have been involved with theatre for over 50 years recently collected money for out of work performers through the show must go on how long have you lived in Margate? I have had this kind of nonsense from critics for years and put it down to rudeness and pure arrogance I have seen many people making mistakes in diction nobody cries about that.

        • Thankfully, I’ve never lived in Margate. However, I’ve lived in Garlinge, Westbrook, Westgate and Birchington for nearly 40 years, and I worked at Margate Winter Gardens for several years.

    • Agreed again, thanks a lot YOUR LEISURE, for example, you go to the Bar , they sold out of drinks within half an hour, we have to at least be grateful to YOUR LEISURE, in the absence of any caretakers , but now is the time,
      Personally I propose the winter gardens needs breaking up into a dozen separate leases , let’s welcome national operators , and yes I mean Costa coffee in the absence of an independent, a fair comparison is service stations on the motorway, managed in-house a disaster, farmed out to national operators like mc Donald’s or WAITROSE OR MARKS AND SPENCERS, suddenly it works well

  4. Once the consultants get their teeth into this there will be little money left over. Let the national lottery fund it if its important to save but if the theatre trust only gave it 10k I don’t think there is much hope.

    • Wisdom from decades of consultation fatigue,
      Consultation needs banning, once they get their teeth into any public money they drag out lashings of ginger beer and biscuits, resulting in revealing what we knew the last dozen times we was hoodwinked by consultation dragging out their salaries over months if not years ,

  5. The Theatre Royal is far and away the most attractive theatrical venue in east Kent, perhaps in the county as a whole. This is wonderful news, and the boorish naysayers on this thread can eat their words when this splendid initiative comes to fruition. You can’t think much of Margate if you don’t think it deserves both the Winter Gardens AND the Theatre Royal. Thanks and congratulations to all involved in this inspiring project.

    • Of course it deserves both… but would you choose to save the theatres if it meant taking away funding from the Turner, forcing them to charge an entrance fee? I would! Xx

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