The former Carlton Theatre
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- 63-65 Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4RL
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- Statutory Address:
- 63-65 Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4RL
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- City of Westminster (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Cinema, 1927, by Frank Verity and Sam Beverley. Demolition of stage and back-of-house, and internal subdivision carried out in the late 1970s.
Reasons for Designation
The former Carlton Theatre, Haymarket, London, 1927 by Verity and Beverley for Paramount Pictures, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for its fine, palazzo-style exterior, which includes the Paramount logo and masks of the architects; * for the high quality of its surviving interior, including the Adam-style plasterwork and elaborate joinery of its foyer, richly decorated auditorium ceiling and first-floor and basement bars; * for its American-influenced loge-plan, which though masked by later alteration, is evident in elements of its visible fabric.
* as the sole surviving loge-plan cinema in England; a seating arrangement brought this country by Paramount, the only American film studio to build a chain of cinemas in the UK; * as the only surviving cinema interior designed by Frank Verity, credited with bringing the ‘cinema-de-lux’ to Britain through his work for Paramount; * as one of a small handful of London’s large, luxurious West End cinemas from the area’s heyday as the city’s entertainment centre to survive with an interior reflective of this period.
The Carlton Theatre opened in 1927 as a principal West End venue for Paramount Pictures, designed by their consulting architect, Frank Verity, and Sam Beverley (Verity’s son-in-law and partner from 1930). As was common in this period, it was built to be capable of showing live theatre as well as screening films. The first-night performance was a stage production, and the first film was not shown until spring 1928. However in 1929, with the advent of sound films, the auditorium was wired for sound transmission and the building’s primary use as a cinema was sealed. The stage went dark until 1960, when the stage facilities were briefly put to use again for a live production.
Paramount was the first Hollywood studio to build its own cinemas in London, and indeed was the only American studio to invest in a chain of cinemas in the UK before the late C20. The Carlton was Paramount’s second premises; the first was the Carlton’s sister cinema, also by Verity and Beverley, the Paramount and Universal cinema (or Plaza), built in 1926 on Lower Regent Street, and now listed at Grade II. The Plaza had the bigger audience capacity, the Carlton the bigger stage and scene dock, but they shared certain features of their interior plan, design and decoration. The Carlton was less opulent than the Plaza, but nevertheless, had extensive plasterwork by G Jackson and Sons in the auditorium and other front-of-house spaces, including the foyer, with its elaborate Adam-style ceiling, a first floor bar and a basement foyer and bar (later used as a restaurant). The ceiling over the auditorium was richly decorated and interestingly constructed, with ventilators built into the ceiling beams. The auditorium seating included two Venetian style boxes on the side walls, stalls, a main balcony and a ‘royal circle’ as it was termed at the Carlton. The latter was a feature common in the plan-form of larger American cinemas, there known as a ‘loge’: a shallow circle with a small number of seats beneath the main balcony which offered the best views in the house and commanded a premium price. Although given the more familiar name of ‘royal circle’ at the Carlton, Verity’s drawings refer to the ‘loge’, as well as the ‘parterre’ and ‘marquise’ (American terms for stalls and external canopy). The loge-plan was not common in the England, but was used in three of Paramount’s cinemas: the Plaza, the Carlton and the Paramount, Manchester, reflecting a clear transatlantic influence.
In the mid-1950s Paramount sold the Carlton to Twentieth Century Fox, and by the late 1960s a drawn-out battle over the building’s future had begun. Fox looked first to increase the capacity, then to subdivide it, and then to demolish the back-of-house facilities and subdivide the auditorium. The threat these proposals posed to the survival of Verity and Beverley’s architectural scheme prompted several unsuccessful requests during the1970s to the Department of the Environment for the building to be listed, variously by the Greater London Council, Save London’s Theatres, The Theatres’ Advisory Council and the Victorian Society. In 1977 Fox withdrew from the UK and the Carlton closed, but by then the fight to repurpose the building was drawing to an end. When it reopened in January 1979, the stage end of the building, behind the proscenium arch, had been demolished and replaced with an office block, and the cinema, now operated by Classic, had had its auditorium split into three. Later the same year the cinema was taken over by Cannon.
The building’s interior, in particular the foyer, was damaged by fire in 1985 and subsequently restored. The full extent of the fire damage is not certain, but pre-restoration photographs suggest the work was more restoration than renewal. That notwithstanding, the foyer chandeliers are known to be replicas and the stair balustrade to the right was replaced as a result of the fire damage.
The Carlton is part of a second generation of purpose-built British cinemas, coming after the simply-planned halls of the pre-First World War period, and marking the start of the move to large, exotic and eclectic picture palaces influenced by American design which followed the arrival of talking pictures in 1928, and the rise of the big cinema chains. West End cinemas like the Carlton were some of the most lavish built, designed to serve as showcases for new films and to host national premiers. In the late 1920s, their planning and design owed much to the gilded elegance of Victorian and Edwardian theatres, a fact particularly apposite in the case of Frank Verity’s work. Verity’s father, Thomas Verity, was the architect of several notable theatres, and Verity himself designed a number of theatres before focussing on the cinema design for which he is best known.
Frank Verity (1864-1937) was a pupil of R Phené Spiers. Having studied in London and Paris he was articled to his father, joining his practice in 1886. He won the RIBA Tite prize in 1889, and became a fellow of the RIBA in 1899. He had a number of prestigious commissions, and between 1891 and 1900 served as Surveyor of Theatres to the Lord Chamberlain, and architect to the Lord Chamberlain’s Department from 1901. He had designed theatres in London, Windsor and Bath, and several central London cinemas, when in 1925 he was awarded the RIBA Medal for best street façade in London for his Shepherd’s Bush Pavilion cinema. This was the first time a cinema building was acknowledged as 'architecture'. Cinema design became an important aspect of Verity’s later career, he went into formal partnership with his son-in-law, Samuel Beverley in 1930, and together they worked for Paramount in Europe, designing the Vaudeville Theatre in Paris, and a small chain of luxurious cinemas in the UK. Also working for other cinema operators, Verity’s last commission was the Ritz in Richmond, which he did not live to see opened. The practice carried on after Verity’s death, and after that of Beverley in 1959. Frank Verity’s work was highly regarded during his lifetime and he is now recognised to be the first British cinema architect of international importance, credited with introducing the ‘cinema-de-lux’ to Britain through his work for Paramount, his work was instrumental in bringing cinema design into the architectural mainstream. The former Carlton is the only one of Verity’s cinema interiors to remain with a significant level of survival.
Cinema, 1927, by Frank Verity and Sam Beverley. Demolition of stage and back-of-house, and internal subdivision carried out in the late 1970s.
MATERIALS: Portland stone façade, timber and steel windows and heavy timber fire escape doors. The main entrance doors are a later replacement: glass with brass and timber door furniture.
PLAN: the building is situated on the west side of Haymarket, its principal, and only, visible elevation facing east. Its plan can be broadly divided into two parts. There is a frontage block to the east, containing the public foyers, offices and staff rooms; these are spread over six levels, including a basement, and some half-levels containing the WCs, all linked by stairs to the north and south running up through the building.
Behind, is the former auditorium, now divided into three. The principal auditorium is on the first floor, the seating occupying the original main balcony, the upper part of the proscenium providing the back wall and the projection room being in its original location. The former stalls are divided into two small auditoriums, one north, one south, their screens set just in front of the lower part of the proscenium. The projection rooms for these screens are within the former royal circle at entrance level (behind the main foyer), which has been enclosed roughly along the line of its original balcony front and now also contains a bar and lounge area, accessed from the main foyer. The routes which originally led through the royal circle, around the side of the auditorium, and gave access to the boxes, have been partly reconfigured and are now for staff use only.
EXTERIOR: the building’s Portland stone façade has seven bays, the central five advancing forward and arranged in a palazzo-style composition. A large illuminated hoarding now screens the centre of the elevation, however the original architectural arrangement is believed to survive behind and so is described here, but noted where it is not visible. Above the entrance canopy is a piano nobile of three round-headed windows with carved tympana and balustrading (all screened by the hoarding), flanked by two windows with swan neck pediments and cartouches bearing the Paramount logo: a ring of stars around a mountain peak. The windows above, expressed as the second floor but actually the third floor, are linked by a richly carved stone balconette (the latter also hidden by the hoarding), and keystones to the window lintels carved with masks. The masks are portraits of the two architects and Verity’s daughter, Beverley’s wife, who undertook some of the interior decoration of the building. Two elliptical windows and two square-headed windows with a heavy lattice grille flank this arrangement, and the whole is terminated above by a prominent dentil cornice and deep parapet. The principal windows are glazed with small circular leaded lights in a Spanish style.
Verity and Beverley were commissioned to create a wider canopy over the main entrance in the 1950s and this was further altered in the 1970s, along with the renewal of the entrance doors. What is visible of the canopy, and main doors with their tiled surrounds, is believed to date from the 1970s. However, slender metal braces, possibly belonging to the original 1927 canopy, are still in place above. Flanking the entrance doors are panels with advertising space above pierced ventilation panels. This is an original arrangement, but with modern illuminated box signage. The façade is flanked by two one-bay staircase towers in a Modern style. Ashlar, with unadorned window openings and a plain cornice, the only embellishments are the two heavy panelled doors with carved exit signs.
INTERIOR: the building’s frontage block survives to a large degree in its original form and with much of its original decorative scheme. There is a good survival of joinery and plasterwork. The auditorium, owing to its subdivision, has suffered a greater degree of attrition and there are some instances where original joinery seems to have been relocated into new positions.
Frontage block The most notable survival here is the building’s main entrance foyer, which has a shallow barrel-vaulted ceiling, richly decorated with finely detailed plasterwork panels. There is a deep cornice at the wall head supported on enriched pilasters. On the back wall, opposite the entrance doors, is a pair of ornate polished mahogany surrounds with Baroque styling which formed the outer part of ticket booths, now without their counter fronts. Between them is the original door into the royal circle, now a bar and lounge. To either side of the foyer (north and south) are staircases with heavy, enriched, turned hardwood vase balusters and a heavily moulded handrail (the balustrade to the north is a replica of the original, replaced after the fire of 1985). To the landings are mirrors and hardwood doors with enriched surrounds, and several decorative radiator casings.
The first-floor foyer bar, which served the main balcony (now main auditorium) has a decorative plasterwork cornice and deep coving behind the bar. The hardwood bar counter and bar-back survives with a small degree of remodelling, and there is a drinks shelf, for standing drinkers, around the wall. The basement foyer bar was later used as a restaurant and has long been disused. Approximately half of the ceiling plasterwork survives and this features large ceiling roses-cum-ventilation grilles. One of the large glass pendant lights survives adjacent to the hardwood bar. Much of the bar and bar-back appears to survive.
Linking the foyer spaces are the stairs and circulation spaces, with WCs on the half landings. Most of these areas, including some now closed off from public access, retain their hardwood doors and door surrounds, plasterwork (a simple stepped cornice in some areas, more decorative plasterwork in others), brass handrails and mirrors with decorative surrounds. In the staff areas on the upper floors the original fittings and plasterwork is of simple good quality and generally survives well, but has been replaced in some areas.
Auditorium The main auditorium appears to retain the original rake of the seats, although the seating has been renewed. The principal feature of note is the original ventilated ceiling, which is neo-renaissance in style, divided and subdivided by heavy beams, extensively enriched with hierarchies of decorative plasterwork. Around the walls is a dentil course and a deep plaster frieze enriched with mouldings. Below the frieze the walls are lined in acoustic material, part of the later conversion.
There is currently (2018) a stage erected at the front of the auditorium, in place of where, until recently, the cinema screen had been installed as the space is being used for live performance. The back wall (at the back of the stage) is clad in acoustic material, but where this is coming away the top part of the proscenium arch can be seen. The opening of the arch has been in-filed with blockwork but parts of the flat plaster frame can be seen, as can the fragments of the plasterwork decoration to the tympanum. The full extent of survival is not possible to ascertain because of later coverings but the bottom edge of the tympanum plasterwork is rough and damaged, indicating the lower part has been hacked off. At the sides of the stage, the top part of the flat plaster frames of the original boxes can be seen; the space once occupied by the decorative tympanum is now filled with blockwork.
The former stalls are now divided into two small auditoriums, one north, one south, with the screens positioned in front of where the proscenium arch was, in the approximate location of the boxes. The walls of the former stalls were originally lined with full-height decorative panelling, a stretch of which survives in a corridor created along the north wall. Some of this panelling can also be seen to survive on the walls to the north and south of the respective cinema screens – the area originally beneath the boxes. Here the panelling is plaster, however it is believed to have been of timber construction elsewhere. The extent of survival in these areas is unclear as the material is now largely hidden behind later acoustic material, and what is visible has been damaged. No other decorative work is visible in the former stalls. The doors to the rear of the two auditoria are original, and a third one with its decorative architrave survives in the corridor to the north (originally part of the stalls).
The central part of the former royal circle has been formed into a bar and lounge area, with all finishes being modern. At either end of this space however (north and south), are doors into what are now staff-access only spaces. Immediately adjacent to the lounge, to either side, a modern projector room has been created for the lower auditoria, but beyond these are the circulation spaces which gave access to the boxes around the side of the auditorium. The north and south sides were not symmetrical originally, and have undergone different level of alteration since. To the south, a bottle store has been created in the corner, adjacent to one of the original doors into the circle; the decorative architrave survives here, but not the door. Further westwards, towards where the access to the box would have been, and the fire escape beyond, there has been reconfiguration and finishes are not original and very plain. On the north side however, the configuration survives well, with decorative door architraves, the stairs (now recovered) which ran down beside the raked seating of the royal circle and the ceiling plasterwork and plasterwork pilasters on the walls. The small triangular lobby which gave access to the box is now a store cupboard, the door to the box blocked, but again the ceiling plasterwork survives.
On both sides of the former royal circle are hatches which give some understanding of how the auditorium was reconfigured. In the hatch to the south, a sinuous curve near the floor suggests the line of the royal circle balcony front, and an inserted ceiling over the lower auditorium rises upwards form here in the direction of the proscenium. Above, is the concrete underside of the upper auditorium floor. In the hatch to the north, the engaged columns and pilasters of the north box can be seen, as can the diamond and fleur-de-lys pattern of the box’s back wall. The column capitals have been removed, and above is the floor of the upper auditorium. Although it cannot be stated with absolute certainty because of limited access to these spaces, it is likely that the balcony front of the royal circle has been entirely lost; there is fragmentary survival of the north box, and no evidence of any survival of the south box has been identified.
Books and journals
Atwell, D, Cathedral of the Movies: A History of British Cinemas and their Audiences, (1980)
Eyles, A, Skone, K, London's West End Cinemas, (2014), pp.80-85
Gray, R, Cinemas in Britain: One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture, (1996)
'The Carlton Theatre Haymarket' in The Builder, (April 29 1927), pp. 677, 679, 682
Unger, A, 'Verity's Survivor: The Carlton' in Picture House, , Vol. 38, (2013), pp. 3-9
Atwell, D, 'Gone but not forgotten ... the Carlton Theatre in the Haymarket reopened recently as a triple cinema' in Bulding Design, , Vol. 430, (26 Jan 1979), pp 21
'Obituary, F T Verity' in RIBA Journal, , Vol. 44, (11 September 1937), p. 1008
Goodhart-Rendel, H S, 'Obituary' in RIBA Journal, , Vol. 44, (16 October 1937), p. 1071
A Brochure produced by Cannon Cinemas to celebrate 60 years of the former Carlton Theatre, accessed 18 April 2018 from http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Carlton/Brochure/CannonHaymarket19281988.htm
historic images, accessed 18 April 2018 from https://database.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/2093-carlton
Architect's plans for the building; file no: GLC/AR/BR/19/3286, held at the London Metropolitan Archives
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing