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Stanford Hall Theatre
The Falcon Players performed approximately 3 shows every year at Stanford Hall Theatre from 1958 until the theatres' unfortunate closure in 2004. The aim of this page is to highlight some of the reasons why Falcon Players consider Stanford Hall to be our "home". Please click on any images for a larger view.

Firstly, a bit of history about the theatre. Built in 1937/8, the 352 seat theatre was commissioned by the then owner of Stanford Hall Sir Julian Cahn. He employed the cinema architect Cecil Aubrey Massey to design the building and the interior was designed by J.E. Redding with the auditorium walls decorated by Beatrice MacDermott. The theatre cost an eye-watering £73,000 to build which is approximately £4 million in todays money!

stanford hall wurlitzer
On 25th May 1937, a 2 Manual / 5 Rank Wurlitzer theatre organ was installed. It was built at their Tonawanda factory and despatched on 20th July 1926 to the Theatre Madeleine in Paris. From there it was purchased by Sir Julian at a cost of £20,000. Certain modifications and enlargements were made to the organ at this time although the exact nature of the modifications has been lost in the annals of time.

Sir Julian died in 1944 and the hall was purchased by the Co-operative Union Limited. The Hall housed their training centre until the sale of the hall and grounds in 2001 to Raynsway Properties. It was then purchased by Chek Whyte in 2007. Both companies failed to perform their promised re-development and it was eventually sold again in 2011 to the Duke of Westminster Estates who plan to convert the hall into a National Rehabilitation Centre for injured members of the British Armed Forces.

The interior of the theatre is resplendant with painted murals over the walls and ceiling depicting horses and figures. The auditorium doors are decorated with gilt cornices and glass panels which depict signs of the zodiac.

A unique feature of the theatre is that both the front and back rows of the stage-right seating areas have one less seat than all of the other rows. This was to accommodate wider and more comfortable seats for the Cahn family. Presumably the front row was for when watching theatre/magic shows and the back row for when opeating as a cinema?

safety curtainAt the front of the stage is a counterbalanced safety curtain affectionately known as the "iron" that operates with a motor lift and gravity drop. Behind the "iron" is a sparge pipe that in the event of fire can flood the front stage area effectively cooling the safety curtain and increasing it's fire retarding capability. The safety curtain depicts Stanford Hall as illustrated in the Vitruvius Britannicus (1734) although plastic "No Smoking" signs either side of the curtain are an unfortunate modern day addition.

lighting deskThe lighting installation was state-of-the-art (for 1937) being installed by Furse of Notti
ngham with switchgear and dimmer controls provided by Blackburn Starling. A fountain effect for the house lighting was achieved with a mercury tilt switch mechanism causing the house lights to "cascade" as each of the switches caused the circuit to be broken in sequence. This unique effect was unfortunately lost when the stage lighting system was replaced in the early 1980's, it is interesting to note that using modern (DMX) lighting systems this effect would still be very difficult to achieve and would require individual control of each of the 100s of house lights.

A Brenograph effects projector was also installed (manufactured by Brenkert of Switzerland). This was a twin carbon-arc based slide projector which could project a number of different effects. These were commonly installed in cinemas of the day

The observant among you will notice that a number of the features above are more commonly seen in cinemas rather than theatres, this is because it was also designed as a fully-functional cinema. A pair of GB Magnus 35mm movie projectors with Peerless carbon arc lamphouses were located in the projection room alongside the Brenograph. The projectors and brenograph all required a high voltage DC power supply which was supplied by a large glass domed mercury rectifier (located in an adjacent room). Later in their life, the projectors were converted to "transistor" sound.

flysMoving to the backstage area, stage left is dominated by the fly tower containing 40 manually operated flys. The majority of which are of the full-height counterbalanced variety although a number of half-height "hemp" flys are also available, these are usually used to hang black "teaser" curtains (used to mask lighting bars and reduce the visible height of the stage. Black side leg curtains (or tormentors) are also located behind the house tabs to effectively reduce the stage width.

The house-tabs are of the drop-and-draw variety with the ability to be manually raised and lowered on a counterbalance. During the dry winter months, the tabs could sometimes be seen to "creep" up and required the removal of thin weights to perfectly match the weight of the curtain. As the tabs are usually operated at ground level, the brake lever (located on the fly gallery) is always left disengaged so perfect counterbalance is essential. They can also be drawn using a motorised system although for anything other than a cinema show, this was rarely used due to the slow speed of the draw.

A large number of other curtains were originally available (grey/blue/gold etc) although when I last visited the "tab store" many of them had rotted or succumbed to moth attacks.

A number of other fly "barrels" are available for hanging lamps, scenery, curtains etc some of which are IWB (internally wired bars) to facilitate easy connection of lamps. Some are permanently used for a particular function, namely the cinema screen is hung from one and at the centre and rear of the stage, the full length of the bar contains red, green, amber and blue "batten" flood lights.

Across the front of the stage are a bank of recessed "footlights" running the full width of the stage. In addition to the already mentioned lighting there are "perches" mounted stage left and stage right just behind the main house tabs, perches are also mounted either side of the auditorium wall. A set of 6 holes in the auditorium ceiling provide the main front-of-house spotlights.

In 1983, the original Blackburn Starling lighting console and dimmers were retired and replaced by a Strand AMC (Advanced Manual Control) 60 channel modular lighting console. This has 3 sets of presets (red, white and blue). A fairly unique feature of this console is the ability to set each channel to IND (independent) this allows the red fader to control the channel independent of the group AND master faders. This was ideal for houselights which were controlled by 3 faders which had usefully been grouped together with a piece of aluminum plate bent around them! A plate mounted on the console proudly proclaims that it was installed by Joe Pepper and Ron Smith (with a lot of help from Ken Onions!). Both Ken and Ron were previously the theatre manager there.

My main role for the Falcon Players (for over 20 years!) was as Sound Engineer and Designer so I suppose that I had better mention something about the audio facilities at the theatre!

When  I first worked at the theatre (in 1989) much of the original sound equipment had been replaced many times but of particular note was the "Panotrope". This was basically an early record player with 2 separate "decks" housed in a metal cabinet. From memory, the decks appeared to be Garrard SP25's which I assume replaced the original ones at some point in the 60's?

Much of the remaining equipment was donated by various people over the years and is not really of any note and in later years I found myself using nothing but the 13A sockets as I used all of my own mixers, amplifiers and speakers.

I am hoping to visit the theatre in the coming months to photograph some of the areas above and I will update this article when I have.

Please accept my apologies if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies in this article, much of it is written from memory owing to the fact that I have not worked in this beautiful theatre for over 8 years now. I would welcome corrections though so please email me with any comments: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Phil Taylor