Bedford Park Festival online talk: Frank Matcham and the Chiswick Empire

Images: Empire House, photograph Jon Perry; Chiswick Empire

The man who built Chiswick’s music hall theatre was Victorian architect Frank Matcham, the most important and influential of all theatre designers in Britain to date.

The Chiswick Empire, built in 1912, was one of 100 – 150 which he either built himself or in which he played some part in the design. They are immediately recognisable as his theatres from their lavish interiors, all red velvet gold flourishes, but also for his clever use of the available space.

A lot of those theatres still exist, 26 to be precise, but the Chiswick Empire was pulled down in 1959 and the site redeveloped as an office block. In its time the Chiswick Empire saw some of the greatest music hall names and best known variety acts.

Comedian Billy Mersin led the opening programme in 1912. Huge acts such as Laurel and Hardy and Max Miller went on to perform there.

Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, George Formby, Arthur Askey, Wee Georgie Wood, Tommy Hensley. Albert Whelan, Donald Peers, Kenn Dodd, Terry-Thomas and Dickie Valentine, Vera Lynn, Alma Cohan and Cliff Richard were amongst the Variety stars to headline at the Chiswick Empire.

This year is the centenary of Frank Matcham’s death. Chairman of the Frank Matcham Society, Mark Fox has searched the Society’s records for all that he can find about the Chiswick Empire, and it’s fascinating.

Listen to Mark’s talk from 7.00pm on Monday 22 June, as part of the Bedford Park Festival online.

 

Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Theatres mark the centenary of the death of the greatest theatre architect

See also: Peter Blake’s Chiswick Empire montage of music hall artists