Great Yarmouth places of entertainment
These brief notes on the history of entertainment in Great Yarmouth do not include anything built more recently than 1939.
Great Yarmouth may boast the earliest documented purpose-built theatre in England.
The 'game place' is first mentioned in the Great Yarmouth Borough Court roll for 1492-93.
This presumably means an area where games or plays were performed: the area is part of what is now Priory Plain.
The Game Place House is first mentioned in 1539 when the bailiffs and chamberlain leased it to Robert Coppyng.
This is almost 40 years before the first London playhouse was established by James Burbage in 1577.
However, it is not certain that the house was actually a playhouse.
David Galloway has suggested it may just have been a house in which players and audiences could eat and drink while the plays may still have been performed in the open air game place.
Game Place House is described as 'decaied' in 1594-95, so it was presumably no longer being used.
Players probably performed at the Guildhall throughout the centuries, as they did in other towns.
The earliest specific reference to this in Great Yarmouth is in the Assembly Book of 1596.
There are earlier references in the Town accounts to payments, but it is not said where they played.
The earliest such reference known is to the Earl of Suffolk's players in 1445-46.
The Norwich Company of Comedians made visits to Great Yarmouth from 1710, using a warehouse where Middlegate Chapel was later built. From 1736 they used the Town Chamber.
A purpose-built theatre was erected on what is now Theatre Plain in 1778: there is an engraving of it in Preston's Picture of Yarmouth.
The Gem, Marine Parade
This was built in 1908 as a wild animal show, but opened as a cinema instead.
The town’s authorities insisted that men and women sit on separate sides of the auditorium.
A local newspaper stated:
“A unique feature is that the entertainment is proceeding all day. For a small payment, ranging from 2d to 6d, visitors can enter when they please, stay as long as they like and go out when they like. On Sundays a series of colour moving Tableaux depicting sacred subjects, will be on view.”
The Gem was renamed The Windmill in 1945 and later became Ripley's.
The Empire, Marine Parade (1911-91)
It was described on its opening as a “handsome terracotta elevation, the striking features of which are lofty columns and a large semi-circular balcony”.
It was later a bingo hall and a nightclub.
The Regent, Regent Road (1914-82)
This became a bingo hall which closed in 2011 and was then converted into a bar and nightclub.
The Central, Market Place
It was built in 1915, but closed in 1922 because of financial difficulties. It was renamed The Plaza in 1928 but closed again in 1939.
It was demolished in 1958 to make way for a Woolworths store.
The Aquarium, Marine Parade
As the name suggests, this opened as an aquarium in 1883. It became a theatre in 1896 and Oscar Wilde lectured there.
It became a cinema from 1914, was renamed The Royalty in 1982 and then The Hollywood in 1992.
The Regal, Regent Road
It opened in 1934 and closed in 1988. It was later demolished.
This was used for the circus in the summer and as a cinema in winter between 1903 and 1940. It went back to solely circus use after 1945.
Other places of entertainment
This was built in 1853 and rebuilt with a pavilion in 1903.
It was initially built in 1857 and then rebuilt several times following fires and other accidents. The present pavilion was built in 1958.
The Winter Gardens
The structure was built at Torquay between 1878 and 1881 at a cost of about £1,300.
It was purchased by Great Yarmouth Corporation for £130 and re-erected in 1903.
Great Yarmouth's first purpose-built amusement arcade was constructed in 1903. It later became Barron's Amusements.
This is one of only two purpose-built circus buildings in England (constructed in 1903) and is still working as such.
Lost places of entertainment
The Switchback and Bicycle Railway
Thompson's Gravity Switchback was opened on the beach opposite Norfolk Square in 1887.
It moved onto the Parade in 1887 and moved again in 1892, this time to a site just north of Cemetery (now Sandown) Road.
The Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway opened on the same site in 1895. Both ventures moved to a site between Beaconsfield and Salisbury Roads in 1900.
They remained there until the end of the 1909 season, when they were closed and moved to Honley in Yorkshire.
The Revolving Tower
This was at the corner of New Beach Gardens. It opened in 1897 and continued to operate until the First World War.
It reopened after the war, but the revolving gear no longer worked so it became merely an Observation Tower.
It was demolished in 1941 to supply metal for the war effort.