The Market Hall – The Metropole Theatre.
I don’t know when the original Market Hall was constructed though I have seen it listed as a venue as early as the early 1880’s. It was featured on old maps, but I have never seen or heard of any known images of the old building.
The Abertillery Market and Public Hall Co Ltd.
In January 1885 a company was set up to build houses and a new market hall, the new company was the Abertillery Market and Public Hall Co Ltd. It was registered on the 19th of January 1885. The subscribers were – Mr W. Morgan, Abertillery Grocer; Mr W. P. Thomas, Abertillery Accountant; Mr L. R. Rogers, Abertillery Grocer; Mr W. M. Price, Abertillery; Mr J. Samuel, Abertillery Accountant; Mr F. Morgan, Pontypool Merchant; Mr H. P. Fikitel a Newport Builder: The company didn’t seem to achieve much and no more information could be found on them.
The Abertillery Market Hall, Land and Building Company Limited.
In January 1891 the new Abertillery Market Hall, Land and Building Company Limited was initiated.
In December 1891 the Abertillery Market Hall, Land and Building Company Limited was registered with their offices at 54 Cwm Street, Abertillery. Mr J. R. Webb; Mr J. E. Webb; Mr Jas Yendoll; Mr L. R. Rogers; and Mr Jas Samuel Directors: Mr J. A. Shepard Solicitor; Mr J. T Baker Secretary; Mr W. B. Harrison, Abertillery and Mr Theodore Vachell of Newport a large shareholder. The first meeting was held to discuss the draft agreement for the sale of the old Market Hall with all goods and chattels.
The Reconstruction of the Old Market Hall.
The new company stated they intended to entirely reconstruct the present old hall, it would be extended on all sides and built over the foundations of the original building. They stated that there has never been any performer that had appeared in the old hall that had come from there without complaining about the decrepit state of it and to even try to secure any good artistes for a first-class concert was out of the question. The new company said they would pay from 8 percent to 10 percent towards the building of the New Market Hall.
On Tuesday 14th of June 1892, the Market Hall Company had a meeting and they decided to accept the tender of Mr A. P. Williams to erect a new Market Hall, Abertillery, with shops and offices at Market Street, Abertillery at a cost of £3,750. They stated the work was to commence at once.
The Last Public Meeting at the Old Market Hall.
On Monday 11th of July 1892, the demolition of the old Market Hall began. The last public meeting held at the old hall was the demonstration held by the Liberal M.P. Mr Warmington, he had earlier been booked to speak there and has he attended and gave an oration the builders were outside erecting the scaffold. The stall holders who had been trading inside the old building were given spaces on near-by land owned by Mr Owen at Commercial Street.
The Contractor and Architect.
The contractor was Mr A. P. Williams. The architect was Mr Alfred Swash, M.S.A.
On Tuesday 14th of March 1893, the annual meeting of the Market Hall Company was chaired by Mr G. B. Hammond. Messrs Jas. Samuel of Aberbeeg and Mr L. R. Rogers were re-elected and Mr W. P. Musitano of Aberbeeg was re-elected as auditor.
The Official Opening of the New Market Hall.
On Wednesday 6th of September 1893, the new Market Hall was officially opened. The new Market Hall was constructed over the foundations of the old Market Hall building at Market Street, Abertillery.
The final cost of the construction was totalled up to £4,000. It was advised to have the main exterior walls rendered with Portland cement.
Description of the Building.
On the front and side portions on the ground floor were lock-up shops and offices, a balcony for poultry and dairy produce was arranged over the shops. The back portion was utilised for a committee room. The hall occupying the ground floor, was a spacious room which together with the balconies afforded accommodation for about 1,250 persons.
The interior was decorated and the scenery on the stage, painted by Mr Quick, the scenic artist of Cardiff. The hall was provided with heating apparatus on the high-pressure principle, supplied by Messrs Hampton, Limited of Abergavenny. There were ample provisions for entrances and exits.
The Market Hall Company said the contractor Mr A. P. Williams performed in a thorough manner and that it was gratifying to know that there was no need to go out of town for a builder, to erect the largest and most important building in the Western Valley’s.
The Opening Concert at the New Market Hall.
A concert was held on the opening evening, the hall was fully decorated by Messrs Morgan & Francis of the Pontlottyn Shop, Abertillery. At 8.00pm the concert was opened by Miss Llewela Davies with a pianoforte solo her reputation was a very high one, being the possessor of eight medals, besides winning three scholarships and two exhibitions. Songs followed by Mr William Evans; Miss Weasley accompanied by Mr J. Collier on the violin; Miss Mary Thomas; Mr Evan Evans; A harp solo by Miss Weasley; Miss Florence Armriding; A duet by Messrs W. and E. Evans; Miss Thomas ended the first part…… Second half was begun by Miss Llewela Davies with a pianoforte; Miss Florence Armriding; Mr William Evans; Miss Rosa Tilney; Mr E. Evans; A harp solo by Miss Weasley; Miss Mary Thomas: Finally, the National Anthem was sung by the quartet on stage.
The Metropole Opera House and Theatre.
In 1900 the New Market Hall was officially renamed The Metropole Opera House and Theatre. There was a “Grand Opening Night” held on Monday 17th of September 1900. The first performance was the drama “The Gamester of Metz” a romantic French drama by Mr Charles March. Starring Mr Charles March and Miss Marie North. The story of a French sergeant of the 17th Guards, he played Mr Paul Baldot and (Mr March) was a recognised quick-change artiste, the stage has known, during the third act he went through fourteen different changes in fifty seconds.
The Metropole Skating Rink.
In 1909 the Metropole Theatre along with many other public places at Abertillery began to cater for the then new pastime of roller skating.
On Tuesday 2nd of November 1909, the Market Hall Skating Rink opened. The South Wales Gazette reported it was the first rink opened at Abertillery. There was a charge of one-shilling for the use of the rink including the use of skates which was said to have been the Richardson ball-bearing skates. The rink was open for morning, afternoon and evening sessions with Mr Collier in charge of the rink’s orchestra. Mr C. J. Seabourne was the proprietor.
The Barto Brothers.
In September 1912 the “Stage” newspaper published an advertisement on the Barto Brothers. The Barto Brothers had appeared at the Metropole Theatre, Abertillery the previous week. The comedy duo included Mr Arthur Stanley Jefferson (Stan Laurel), they began a tour as the Barto Brothers with a show called the “Rum’uns of Rome”. They later toured the United Kingdom and performed at Abertillery (as seen above). The tour didn’t go down too well and Mr Arthur Stanley Jefferson was offered a place back in America, he accepted and returned to the States in October 1912, became known as Stan Laurel and the rest is history.
On Monday 19th of May 1913, a Kinemacolor movie documentary film was shown at the Metropole Theatre. The documentary was shown over six nights and featured – The Delhi of Dunbar, the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Carnarvon, the construction of the Panama Canal, a visit to the Pyramids, scenes of Flowers and Animals, Military scenes, the Balkan War and Comedy and Dramatics. The film was classed as educational and was a first of its kind shown at this time.
The colour movie concept was introduced in 1902, it was a sort of hand tinted method. In 1908 the Kinemacolor Kinematograph was invented by George Albert Smith UK 1864-1959. The design was a clear revolving disc with two transparent colour segments of red and green rotating in front of the camera lens giving the effect of a colour film being projected onto the screen. That wasn’t bad for Abertillery considering it would take another twenty-four years for the colour film industry to take off.
The Metropole Autograph Book.
During the Great War many artistes visited Abertillery and appeared at the Metropole Theatre, the shows that they appeared in ran for quite a few nights and the performers lodged at Mrs Willis’s Boarding House, Abertillery. Sadly the location of the boarding house cannot be found, though Mrs Willis kept a book in which she asked some of the acts to sign during their visit there between 1913 and 1922. I have recently acquired the book, which could be the only one or perhaps one of many that she kept while resident at the house. The autograph book with information on some of the artistes who signed it can be viewed in the link below.
Following is a link to – The Metropole Autograph Book 1913-1922.
Abertillery Operatic Society.
The Abertillery Operatic Society was formed on Wednesday 6th December 1916 after meeting held in the Church School, Abertillery. The meeting voted Dr Gordon Bennett to become the (President) along with a number of prominent ladies and gentlemen to be vice-presidents. Mr M. E. Thomas was (Chairman); Mr J. R. Powell as (Vice Chairman); Mr Edgar Hancock as (Treasurer); Miss Eunice Warfield and Mr C. W. Dawe as (Joint Secretaries); Mr Amos Harding was unanimously elected as (Musical Director). The Abertillery Operatic Society used the Metropole for their performances.
The first presentation by the Operatic Society in aid of St Dunstans Hostel was the Mikado at the Metropole Theatre on Monday 14th May 1917.
Following is a link to – The Abertillery Operatic Society.
The Renaming of the Abertillery Operatic Society.
In March 1922 the Abertillery Operatic Society became known as the Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
Fred Karno’s Follies.
On Monday 5th of October 1925, Mr Fred Karno came to the Metropole for six nights with his special attraction the Fred Karno’s Follies. This show was part of his “National Touring Campaign” which featured a prize – Fred Karno offered £1,000 engagement to the best artist discovered during the campaign. Abertillery was placed on the map of many touring companies, they played to packed houses and their standards were high and as entertainers had no competition in the district and the Metropole had been the place for which to see great artistes, many later rose to fame after treading its boards.
The 1920’s Economic Depression and the Birth of Cinema.
It was stated that the depression of 1926 and the birth of cinema put paid to to the Metropole as the centre for regular stage productions. The last of these weekly performances would appear to have been “Laughter Song and Dance” starring Robbie Burns, Rolls and Fall, Maple and May and the Melody Quartet. After being closed for five months the Metropole was re-opened as a cinema with screen performances of “Merry Wives of Windsor” and the “Coast Patrol”. The cinema had ousted treasured stage performances from the Metropole but with four cinemas in the town it was not possible to present films at the venue for long, then started the decay, peeling plaster and rotting woodwork gave it a derelict appearance. During the depression of the late 1920’s the Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society ended its activities.
The Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society Reformed.
During its decay – for six nights in each year, two groups of amateurs, the Abertillery Operatic Society and the Old Tyleryans Drama Group took over the hall to produce vastly differing types of entertainment, the Old Tyleryans with their straight drama and the Society with its light opera and musical comedy.
In 1934 the Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society reformed and performed the Pirates of Penzance, three more operas were produced, “The Yeoman of the Guard” in 1935, “The Mikado” in 1936 and “Merrie England” in 1939 though the latter was the last show that the society produced and performed at the Metropole Theatre, Abertillery. These companies played to packed and appreciative houses, then the start of World War II disrupted proceedings, although not knowing it at the time both groups had played to their last audiences at the Met.
The final production (as mentioned) was the Operatics Society’s “Merrie England” in 1939. The Old Tyleryans Group gave its last production at the hall in 1938 “The Late Christopher Bean” produced by Fred Carpenter with Mrs Peggy Newell-Lewis as leading lady. During the war years the dance hall beneath the theatre was opened but was eventually left to decay. Apart from the Saturday morning markets the Metropole was unused and was left dormant through the following years.
The Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and the Pavilion Years.
The Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society was disbanded over the war years and remained inactive until 1951 where they relocated to the Pavilion Theatre, Abertillery.
The Metropole Renovation and First Billing.
The Metropole was taken over by the Abertillery Council and was renovated. On Saturday 28th January 1961 the first billing for the theatre under council control was a “Youth for Christ” rally, the first of a series planned by the Abertillery Evangelistic Movement.
Back to the Metropole Theatre for the Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society in 1962.
In 1961 the Abertillery Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society stated their intentions to return to the Metropole Theatre and to re-establish the Met as the home of light opera for the district. Their first show for production back at the Metropole Theatre was Monday 25th March to Friday 30th March 1962 with their production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”. The society’s home for rehearsals at this time and their meeting place was the Queen Street School, Abertillery.
The cast members for the first show back at the Metropole Theatre were as follows :
Cast – Major General Stanley – Melvyn Cordey; The Pirate King – Greville Jones; Samuel – Tudor Barnett; Frederick – Harry Jones; Sergeant of Police – Jack Brickell; Mabel – Joyce Jones; Edith – Jeanette Langley; Kate – Sheila Abraham; Isabel – Shelagh Morris; and Ruth – Pam Cordy:
Gentlemen of the Chorus – Cyril Howarth; Ivor Evans; John Davies; Harry Smith; Tony Cummings; William Dyke; George Thomas; Trevor Winmill; Edgar Davies; George Blissard; Allan Thomas; Ken Hale; Edwin Jones; Phillip Davies; Trevor Cook; Bill Hinds; Gwyn Thomas; Peter Sharrem and Alan Jones:
Ladies of the Chorus – Phyllis Crook; Sally Williams; Betty Warrender; Mary Howarth; Anne White; Ruby Dyke; Shirley Winmill; Anne Morris; Daphne Brickell; Margaret Challenger; Sheila Pittaway; Melba Wells; Phyllis Needs; Mary Jones; Elaine Griffiths; Betty Hale; Iris Hart; Pat Vaughan; Iris Hinds; Suzanne Lawrence; Margaret Cook and Pat Jones:
Behind the Scenes – Clifford Winston (Stage Manager); Ivor White (Assistant Stage Manager); Derek Parsons and Eddie Jones (Electricians); Harry Burroughs (Stage Carpenter); Edgar Davies (Property Master); Maurice David (Musical Director); Jack Wells (Producer); David Emmanuel (Accompanist); Greville Jones (Assistant Accompanist); Marian James (Dialogue Director); Melba Wells (Dance Arrangement); Mrs L. Morris and Mr A. Baber (Prompters); Mr Gwyn Morris (House Manager):
Administration – Mr R. H. Eke (Chairman); Mr Ken Hale (Vice Chairman); Mr R. A. Frampton (Treasurer); Mr Ivor Evans (Secretary); Shelagh Morris (Assistant Secretary); Mrs D. Lucas (Contributions Secretary); Miss Phyllis Crook and Mrs Sally Williams (Ticket Secretaries):
Committee – M. Paul; E. Jeremiah; L. Handy; Mary Howarth; Cyril Howarth; Edgar Davies; Melvyn Cordy; Alan Thomas and Harry Jones:
They had performed this same show at the Abertillery Pavilion Theatre as their opening new venue show back in 1951.
Over the years the Metropole stayed an important venue, a market, skating rink, lecture hall, cinema and dance hall etc and has been renovated and refurbished on many occasions.
The Charlie Chaplin Rumour.
There were rumours that Charlie Chaplin performed at the Abertillery Metropole but again as with all other reports revolving around Mr Chaplin visiting the Abertillery Music Halls it’s just rumour and not true. There is an excellent fully detailed book on the stage performances of Charlie Chaplin called “Chaplin Stage by Stage”, written by former comedian Mr A. J. Marriot, he has painstakingly logged each of Charlie Chaplin’s performances throughout his life and the closest the Fred Karno company came to Abertillery at the time Chaplin was a player was when they visited Ebbw Vale. Earlier the Karno Company did visit Abertillery and the venue was the Pavilion Theatre, although that was before Charlie Chaplin joined the company. While everyone was talking about Chaplin – as seen above, Mr Arthur Stanley Jefferson, the great Stan Laurel once tread its boards!
Points of Interest – Mr Alfred Prosser Williams. A. P. Williams was one of Abertillery’s largest and most well-known building contractors. He was born on 25th March 1849, he was responsible for rebuilding St Michaels Church, the Market Hall, the Globe Hotel, the Abertillery Vicarage, Church Street, he built the Co-operative in Church Street, Blaentillery School, Queen Street School, Arael School, along with many other buildings and also rebuilt the Globe Picture House at Blaina.
He was the first person in Abertillery to have a private telephone installed in his residence Gwentland House, Oak Street, Abertillery. Upon his retirement he went to live at Herbert Hall, Crickhowell, he later came back to Blaina to supervise building work and whilst doing so lived at “Lismore House” New Bennett St.
Mr Alfred Prosser Williams sadly passed away in 1932.
Mr Williams mother was a direct descendant of the Vaughan’s of Tretower Court Crickhowell also Davy Gam who was killed at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, and Knighted on the battlefield by King Henry V. Sir Davy Gam was a Llewellyn by name and was descended from the Herbert and Vaughan families.