Theatre Vaults, 16 Smithford Street
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This pub opened as a wine/spirit merchants. There is an 1861 transfer of license showing a liquor vaults at the bottom of Theatre Yard was transferred from M.A. Wittem to William Morris. Buchanan lists it as BOARD VAULTS in 1868, a license having been granted to John Dell in 1866, but by 1874 the establishment was known as the SPIRIT VAULTS and seven years later in 1881 was called the OLD VAULTS. That remained until 1886 when the name changed again to the THEATRE VAULTS. In 1889 the THEATRE ROYAL became the EMPIRE PALACE OF VARIETIES accessible through the THEATRE VAULTS. Although this was a period of music hall boom, audiences gradually dwindled to the point where the theatre became uneconomic to run. Competition from two pub music halls did not help. Ellen Terry played there in November 1880. Even stars like Charles Coborn and Arthur Lloyd in 1895 could not reverse the financial state and the Empire closed permanently at Christmas 1895 and was demolished in 1903 - but not the THEATRE VAULTS which remained trading until destroyed by enemy action in 1940. Our text includes concise descriptions taken from the book 'Coventry's Forgotten Theatre, The Theatre Royal and Empire' by Ted Bottle and published by Badger Press. The Theatre Royal later known as the Empire Palace of Varieties was set back some way from Smithford Street, and would appear to be accessible through the Theatre Vaults from Smithford Street into the Theatre yard, though the pub was not a permanent part of the theatre building. The first permanent theatre building was erected in 1819 by Sir Skears Rew, a local businessman. Like other theatres of the period, the Royal ran a stock company for about two months in the year and was part of a local circuit. It suffered the general downturn in attendances during the 1840s and 1850s but managed to stay afloat whereas many others closed permanently. The interior was modernised in 1857 along the lines of newer theatres but initial public enthusiasm soon faded and it became a music hall in 1865. Drama returned in 1868 with various stock companies but these gradually gave way to national touring companies who would stay for a week at a time and move on elsewhere. William Bennett, who took over in 1880, did much to improve the building but it was too small and inconvenient to provide for the elaborate productions then on the road. Bennett built the nearby Opera House for these shows and turned the Royal into the Empire Theatre of Varieties in 1889.
With thanks to Jo Roberts on Facebook for permission to use this wonderful family photograph, taken around 1915. Fred Wootton took over the licence for the pub in December 1914, and his wife's sister (Jo's great-grandmother) can be seen looking through the window.
LICENSEES:1886 - 1896 H. W. Thomas 1903 - 1905 G. Lawford 1909 Theresa S. Phipps 1909 - 1912 William Frederick Hodgkins 1912 - 1913 Charles H. Scattergood 1913 - 1914 Robert Chester (died 26th August 1914 aged 38 - licence transferred to wife, Edith, 19th October) 1914 Edith Mary Chester 1914 - 1920 Fred Wootton 1920 - 1925 Joseph Rivitt 1925 - 1940 Samuel Marston
Street plan of 1851