The Savoy occupies the oldest known theatre site in Wales.
The site has had a splendidly varied history. The Flannel Exchange and Assembly Rooms were built at the old Bell Inn in the 1830s (a former granary, now a workshop, still standing at the rear bears the date 1751).
The building in which the present theatre is housed was constructed on the foundations of the earlier Bell Inn. Originally known as the Assembly Rooms, Opened in around 1832 as the Bell Assembly Rooms, part of the Bell Hotel. The theatre was first granted an entertainment licence in 1832.
It was refurbished as the Theatre Royal in 1850 under J. F. Rogers, and later became the town’s Corn Exchange. It went through many owners and name changes in it’s early years; Flannel Exchange & Assembly Rooms, Oddfellow’s Hall, Bell Assembly Rooms, New Theatre/Theatre Royal, Corn Exchange, The Bell Rinkeries Living Picture Palace, Palace, Scala Cinema, New Picture House, Magic Lantern Theatre
It became the Bell Rink in the late-1890’s when the roller skating craze hit the UK.
In 1907 to 1909 it screened films between skating sessions. In June 1910, The skating craze had faded and The Rinkeries, as it was then known, was re-opened under the name of the new ‘Picture Palace and Variety Theatre” with a showing of ‘The Funeral Procession of Edward VII’.
Over the next few years, The Palace continued to show variety acts which featured conjurors, comedians, soloists and singing troupes in addition to silent films, such as ‘Woman’s Martyrdom’, ‘The Riding Master’s Perfidy’ and ‘Captain Blood’. Clearly Monmouth audiences had not lost their taste for blood-curdling melodrama!
In 1917 Albany Ward took over the management and it became part of the Albany Ward circuit he was building up. Albany Ward was ultimately taken over by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) in 1927 and the auditorium was demolished, to be rebuilt as a 600 seat cinema. The Grand Opening of the ‘New Picture House’ was held on March 5th 1928 with Syd Chaplin in “The Better ‘Ole”. It was later taken over by Gaumont British Theatres in February 1929. The last known live variety act performed in April 1930 after which talking pictures became the vogue and the golden era of cinemas began.
It led an uneventful life, in 1955 CinemaScope was installed, it now operated with 522 seats.
Leased by an independent operator from 5th January 1958, after some redecoration it was re-named Regal Cinema from 4th April 1971.
By the 1980’s it was operating with only 200 seats and closed as a cinema later reopening as a bingo hall and again closing in 1983
After some years closed it was then taken over and by a group named ‘Save Britain’s Heritage’ and re-opened as the ‘Magic Lantern Theatre’. This was a failure and closed in around 1994. A local group formed ‘The Savoy Development Trust’ to try and save the building and after a National Lottery funded refurbishment it was re-opened on 28th July 1995 as the 450 seat ‘Savoy Theatre’ at first only screening films, but now regular live shows are programmed.
The Savoy Theatre is now a Grade II Listed building, listed in 1989.
The 1928 building is still entered through an altered late Georgian three storey three-bay building which has a plain rendered façe with a shop front to the left of the cinema entrance. It is a fine and complete example of a richly detailed Ciné Variety house with a single balcony, Segmental vaulted ceiling with enriched ribs and grilles. Plaster panelled walls with garlanded figure medallions.
On the seventieth anniversary of the New Picture House, in March 1998, the Monmouth Operatic Society presented a tribute to Gilbert & Sullivan. This celebration was notable as it marked the use, once again, of the original raked stage, tabs and back-stage facilities available in this unusually fine provincial theatre
- Key Events
- 1832. Design/Construction: as Flannel Exchange and Assembly Rooms.
- 1849 – 1851. Alteration: Converted to Assembly Rooms and New Theatre.
- 1875. Alteration: converted to skating rink.
- 1910. Alteration: converted to cinema.
- 1917. Alteration: redecorated and entrance moved to Church Street.
- 1927. Alteration: completely rebuilt as Ciné-Variety.
- 1958. It was taken over by a Birmingham Cinema Operator B.T. Davis. (The Theatre is still owned by his Daughter and grandsons).
- In the late 70’s was then leased to the then Manager. Mr Mike Blakemore.
- 1995 Leased by ‘The Savoy Development Trust’. Refurbished and re-named the “Savoy Theatre” July 1995. (The Trust failed in 2010.)
- Listed Grade II 9TH Feb. 1989.
- 2010 to present: Operated by ‘The Savoy Theatre Trust’.