Theatre Royal


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND


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Statutory Address:
Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Nottingham (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Theatre built in 1865 to designs by Charles J Phipps with later alterations by Phipps in 1884 and Frank Matcham in 1896-97. Extensively remodelled and extended in 1976-78 by Nicholas Thompson and Clare Ferraby of the Renton Howard Wood Levin Partnership and Iain Mackintosh of Theatre Projects Consultants Ltd.

The two-storeyed gridshell canopy which was added to the South Sherwood Street elevation in 2016/7 is excluded from the listing.

Reasons for Designation

The Theatre Royal, Nottingham, built in 1865 to the designs of Charles Phipps, with alterations by Phipps in 1884 and Frank Matcham in 1896-7, along with extensive remodelling and additions in 1976-78 by Nicholas Thompson and Clare Ferraby of the Renton Howard Wood Levin Partnership and Iain Mackintosh of Theatre Projects Consultants Ltd, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a significant example of a provincial theatre which shows evolution in theatre design across four main phases, all by notable theatre architects;

* Phipps’s neoclassical entrance front is a well-realised composition which projects a forceful but refined presence on the street scene, successfully crowning, as originally intended, the steep vista up Market Street as an eye-catching ‘temple of drama’;

* the extensions of 1976-8 are significant in their own right, illustrating the successful combination of the classic principles of theatre design with the architectural themes and principles of a modern playhouse; * its auditorium, which remains little altered since Matcham's remodelling in 1895, is considered to be one of the finest medium scale theatres in England in terms of the relationship of the audience to the stage.

Historic interest:

* as Nottingham's sole-surviving Victorian theatre which continues the tradition of entertainment that was established on this site in 1865;

* as an early example of a thoughtful and sensitive restoration of an historic theatre; the model devised at Nottingham was repeated with success at other Victorian playhouses in England in the late C20.


The Theatre Royal, Nottingham’s lone surviving Victorian theatre, opened on 25 September 1865 to a design by Charles J Phipps, the country's first great theatre architect. It was financed at a cost of £15,000 by local lace factory owners and philanthropists John and William Lambert. In 1864/5 the city council, with the Lambert brothers sitting as councillors, demolished a narrow alley called Sheep Lane and redeveloped it into a wide thoroughfare called Market Street. A group of derelict buildings standing on the north side of its newly created junction with Upper Parliament Street were subsequently demolished to make way for the new theatre. The location was deliberately chosen by the Lambert's as they wanted their theatre to crown the vista up the steep gradient of Market Street as a 'temple of drama'. Although Phipps was the Lambert’s architect of choice, with the theatre being only his second such work after the Theatre Royal in Bath (1862-63), its neoclassical façade, which was modelled on the Salle Favart in Paris, was insisted upon by the brothers themselves. An article published in the Nottingham Journal on 26 September 1865 chronicling the theatre's inauguration also accounts for Phipps's displeasure with the design. It states that 'the architect wishes us to mention, however, that the style of the façade was fixed by his clients, and not suggested or relished by him; consequently whatever merit attaches to it must be awarded to them’. Internally, Phipps designed a circular-shaped auditorium with three tiers of horseshoe-shaped balconies accommodating 2,220 patrons: 850 in the pit, 250 in the dress circle, 250 in the upper circle, 800 in the balcony and 50 in six private boxes. Backstage facilities included three dressing rooms along with a scene dock, a green room and an office for the theatre manager.

In 1876, capitalising on the draw of the newly developed Market Street and Theatre Royal, the Lambert’s built the Clarendon Hotel on land to the west of the theatre. Later renamed the County Hotel, its construction required the demolition of the left-hand return bay of the theatre's entrance block.

The theatre was renovated over a three week period in June/July 1884, again to designs by Phipps. The stage was completely rebuilt and increased in size, and extra seats were added throughout the auditorium. The boxes were also enlarged and the columns of the proscenium, which interfered with views from those who sat in the boxes or side seats, were removed and replaced with an architrave.

In 1895, with the theatre requiring expensive renovations, Robert Arthur, its then manager, made a deal with the entrepreneur Henry Moss, owner of the Empire chain, to refurbish it. As part of the agreement an undeveloped piece of land on the east side of the theatre was ceded to Moss to build a second theatre, the Empire Palace of Varieties, which opened on 28 February 1898 to a design by Frank Matcham, another eminent theatre architect. Prior to this, between 1896 and 1897, the Theatre Royal was remodelled by Matcham, with its backstage facilities and the entrance block's right-hand return bay being demolished to make way for Moss's new theatre. In the auditorium, which was redecorated throughout with Rococo plasterwork, Matcham replaced Phipps's tiered seating with cantilevered balconies and renewed all the stage boxes. The stage and orchestra pit were both lowered and new staircases were constructed to access the upper circle and balcony, the latter being built outside the theatre. However, as Matcham was undoubtedly tasked to provide more seats with a better view, but for a limited budget, some of the modifications were crudely done. An example of this was the new backstage facilities and dressing rooms which, being built to a standard below that of the original facilities, were often cited as the major reason for touring companies having doubts about appearing at the venue.

After standing side-by-side for 70 years, the Empire Theatre, which had become a cinema in 1946, was demolished in 1968. South Sherwood Street was subsequently widened and the Theatre Royal was provided with a new box office, stalls’ bar and offices.

In 1969, following a local campaign to save the venue, the Theatre Royal was bought by the labour-controlled city council. The council then took the bold view that a redeveloped Theatre Royal combined with two new venues, a large concert hall and a smaller multi-purpose hall, could draw a broad range of entertainment and cultural activities to the city. However, with an estimated price tag of £4.6 million, the ‘Festival Hall Complex’, as it's named, soon became embroiled in local politics, with opponents suggesting that the proposed expenditure was both reckless and unnecessary. Public groups for and against the development also petitioned their cases, especially when it emerged that the County Hotel would be demolished. Given the local hostility, it was not until July 1975 when the council commissioned architects Renton Howard Wood Levin (RHWL) to undertake a feasibility study of the site. Two months later, with the County Hotel having been demolished, they commenced with designs for a 2,000 seat concert hall and a 400 seat multi-purpose hall, along with new foyers and backstage facilities for the Theatre Royal. In early 1976 contracts were signed and the development was scheduled to proceed as planned. However, when the Conservatives gained control of the city council in May 1976, plans for the two new auditoriums were cancelled, though the refurbishment of the Theatre Royal proceeded as planned, primarily as work had commenced two months earlier.

The restoration of the theatre, which was undertaken by Nicholas Thompson and Clare Ferraby of RHWL and Iain Mackintosh of Theatre Projects Consultants Ltd, was broken down into three main stages. The first phase involved the construction of a new range on the west side, on the site of the former County Hotel, to accommodate administration offices and backstage facilities. A large addition on the east side, housing three new foyers, comprised the second stage, along with the renovation of the auditorium and stage. In the auditorium, where Mackintosh attempted to 'restore a "Phippsian" sense of unity and enclosure', the seats were refurbished and re-installed, the wooden benches in the balcony were replaced with proper seats and three boxes were installed at the rear of the dress circle. Matcham's stage boxes and proscenium were replaced with new versions and his ornate plaster ceiling and balcony fronts were restored. The existing auditorium walls were also made good, new entrances and exits were formed and the ceilings were reformed in fibrous plaster to revised sightlines. A full size orchestra pit was excavated, a new steel structure was built inside the walls of the fly tower with new machinery for the flying of scenery, and the original stage roof of slate on board timber trusses was replaced with a new structural steel frame and roof. The third and final phase involved the restoration of the portico, including the reinstatement of the two return bays. Its original timber floors, however, which connected this range to the auditorium were replaced with concrete floors. After 23 months building work, the remodelled and extended theatre reopened on 7 February 1978.

With the return of a Labour-controlled city council in 1979, the original project for a 'Festival Hall Complex' was reinstated, albeit in a revised form. In 1982, the Theatre Royal was joined by the Royal Concert Hall, a 2,500 seat venue, to form the Royal Centre entertainment complex. In 2016 to 2017 the theatre, along with the Royal Concert Hall, underwent a series of renovations to designs by Marsh:Grochowski of Nottingham. A two-storeyed gridshell canopy (not of special interest) was added to the South Sherwood Street elevation, while the stalls' bar and upper floor roof terraces were enlarged and improved. Prior to this a new passenger lift had been installed in 2015 to link the three foyer levels.


Theatre built in 1865 to designs by Charles J Phipps with later alterations by Phipps in 1884 and Frank Matcham in 1896-97. It was extensively remodelled and extended in 1976-78 by Nicholas Thompson and Clare Ferraby of the Renton Howard Wood Levin Partnership and Iain Mackintosh of Theatre Projects Consultants Ltd.

MATERIALS: the entrance block has a stuccoed façade along with a portico of Mansfield and Ancaster stone while the additions of 1976-78 are concrete framed with mosaic tile cladding on brick. The roofs are of structural steel with wood wool slabs covered with bituminous felt.

PLAN: the Theatre Royal forms part of an entertainment complex with the Royal Concert Hall (1980-82) which adjoins it on the north side. It has a rectangular-shaped entrance block, aligned east to west, behind which is a north-west to south-east aligned rectangular range accommodating the auditorium and stage. Large additions of 1977-78 adjoin the east and west sides, with the former accommodating front-of-house facilities and the latter administrative offices and backstage facilities.

EXTERIOR: the theatre's entrance front is comprised of a five-bay portico supported by six Corinthian columns with renewed pendant lamps in each bay. The column bases are of Mansfield stone while the shafts, which taper in height to carved Corinthian capitals, are of Ancaster stone. The columns support an entablature with a moulded architrave, plain frieze with applied metal lettering spelling ‘THEATRE ROYAL’ and a dentilled and bracketed cornice. Above is a deep attic storey divided into five blind bays by panelled pilasters topped by restored ornamental urns. The two-storey façade behind the portico is divided into seven bays by Corinthian pilasters, of which the two end bays are wider and extend beyond the width of the portico. The five centre bays contain round-arched double doors on the ground floor and round-arched French windows with cast-iron balconies above. The end bays, which have an entablature identical to that of the portico along with a balustraded parapet, have identical round-arched French windows arranged in pairs on both floors, though those on the first floor have pilastered surrounds. The two return bays, which were rebuilt in 1976-78, are framed by Corinthian pilasters and have identical window and door openings to the end bays. The left-hand return has a single recessed doorway on the ground floor and a single French window above, while the right-hand return has paired French windows on each floor. All the openings have moulded lintels with elongated keystones.

The eastern elevation to South Sherwood Street is formed of a mosaic tile-clad addition of 1976-78 date. Of three stepped levels with roof terraces, its undulating façade with rounded corners is divided into three sections by narrow floor to ceiling windows. Its window opening at the right-hand end, behind which lies the stalls' bar, was enlarged in 2016-17 to accommodate a larger ribbon window. Also of the same early-C21 date is the gridshell canopy (not of special interest) which projects over the dress circle roof terrace and street-level pavement area at the northern end of the façade. To the right again a mosaic tile-clad link block of 1980-82 date, formerly known as ‘the undercroft’, connects the theatre to the Royal Concert Hall to the north.

A further mosaic tile-clad addition of 1976-78 adjoins the western side to Goldsmith Street. It is also of three stepped levels above a basement, with an undulating façade with rounded corners and narrow floor to ceiling windows. A blind staircase tower forms the left-hand section, to the right of which are double-height, steel, loading-bay doors. To the right again is a dressing room block with curved walls receding towards the entrance block. An office suite with extruded aluminium-framed windows projects at second-floor level, running across the top of the loading-bay doors and dressing room block. Rising above this range is the upper section of the stage wing, which has rounded corners and is clad with metal sheeting. The basement area is enclosed by mosaic tile-clad dwarf walls topped by metal railings. INTERIOR: the three foyers levels, which have been created by opening out the original front-of-house circulation spaces into a large addition of 1976-78 date, occupy inverted L-shape spaces on the south and east sides of the auditorium. Linking the three levels is an Art Deco style dog-leg staircase of reinforced concrete with marble cladding and brass handrails; a glazed lift was inserted in 2015. Unless otherwise stated the features described below date from the theatre’s remodelling in 1976-78.

The ground-floor (stalls) foyer has a deep, moulded cornice marking out the extent of the original theatre walls, with the circular wall of the auditorium being divided by round-headed recesses occupied by large mirrors with wooden frames on fluted brackets. On its east side, a sunken seating area of circular shape lies beneath the staircase. A later-C20 Art Deco style kiosk stands immediately to the north of the seating area, on the east side of the foyer, in the position formerly occupied by the box office and box office manager’s office. Its design, which replicates that of the original kiosks and foyer bars of 1976-78, comprises a wooden counter top, fascia and tambour doors along with a marble-clad counter front. Directly facing this kiosk, on the auditorium side of the foyer, is the front section of an original Art Deco style kiosk. Constructed from the same materials as the later-C20 kiosk, it originally housed a cloakroom and confectionery kiosk, but these were removed in the later-C20/early-C21 and replaced with a toilet block. Placed immediately behind the toilet block is the ‘stalls right’ entrance to the auditorium. It has double raised and fielded two panelled doors and a dentilled entablature surmounted by scrolled and foliated cresting. An identical doorway, minus the cresting, is situated at the point where the foyer narrows on its west side, providing access to the ‘stalls left’. The northern end of the foyer is occupied by a bar which was remodelled in 2016-17. While the original bar still survives in situ, its polished wooden counter top, bar back and kickboard have now been painted and its brass footrail removed. At the same time the bar was extended northwards into the former 1980-82 ‘undercroft’.

The principal features on the first-floor (dress circle) and second-floor (upper circle) foyers are the original Art Deco style bars. Of a curvilinear form, they have marble-clad counter fronts with wooden counter tops, fascias, bar backs and kickboards with brass footrails. The auditorium entrance doorways from these two levels, of which there are two to each level, are also comprised of raised and fielded two panel double doors with dentilled entablatures. A section of original banquette seating still survives in situ on the upper circle foyer level. Access to the upper balcony level is gained from the upper circle foyer by way of a stepped vomitorium (secondary passage). It is accessed through wooden double doors with applied panelling placed at the centre of the rear wall of the auditorium.

The circular auditorium, which is accessed from the foyers through break-lobbies, has three tiers of horseshoe-shaped cantilevered balconies (1896-97). Each level has fibrous plaster mouldings and cornices, with moulded skirting boards and dado rails. At the rear of the stalls an encircling line of ten fluted columns with Corinthian capitals separates the seating from a curved walkway. Four of the columns are of cast-iron and support the cantilevers of the dress circle balcony, while the rest are false. On either side of the stage there are two sets of boxes at dress circle level while the other three levels have single boxes, all of 1976-78. The sweeping box fronts and S-curved balcony fronts are decorated with fibrous plaster mouldings: putti on the dress circle boxes, cartouches to the other boxes and dress and upper circle balcony fronts, and cartouches to the upper balcony. The balcony front plasterwork is largely of 1896-97, while that to the renewed boxes was designed to match the existing balcony fronts. The proscenium frame of 1976-78 is comprised of two fibre glass Corinthian columns, from the capitals of which spring the proscenium arch. The safety curtain of 1976-78 features a painting of a cherubim orchestra, painted by Henry Bardon. The circular, shallow-domed ceiling is ornately decorated with Rococo plasterwork, with the original board timber roof trusses visible through the plaster. At its centre is an elaborate, winch-operated chandelier of 1976-78.

The rear brick wall of the stage was largely rebuilt in 1976-78, but some elements of Phipps's stage wall of 1884 are visible in several areas.

The backstage facilities, comprising dressing rooms, band rooms, green room, wardrobe and workshops, are accommodated over three levels of the 1976-78 addition on the west side, while the administration offices occupy the second floor of this block. Internal finishes in these areas are kept to a minimum with fair-faced block walls, some painted, and storey-height wooden doors with architraves. The administration offices are separated from a corridor by timber and glazed screens with slatted timber ceilings.


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Books and journals
Harwood, E, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Nottingham, (2008), 135-136
'Encore at Nottingham Royal: Old meets new in a very convincing manner in the rehabilitation of Nottingham's Theatre Royal' in Building, , Vol. 236, (25 May 1979), 47-54
'Royal Pastiche: Theatre Royal, Nottingham' in Architectural Review, , Vol. 163 (975), (May 1978), 277-87
Nottingham Evening Post, 22 July 1884, p4
Nottingham Journal, 26 September, 1865, p3
The Era, 28 August 1897, p17


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

End of official listing

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Date: 05 Apr 2006
Reference: IOE01/15252/29
Rights: Copyright IoE Dr Eric Ritchie. Source Historic England Archive
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