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 eighteenth century 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’.
During this period the theatre was owned and run by Charlie Colbourne and John Smith, the latter being a well known figure round the town with his bowler hat and umbrella. In slightly mysterious circumstances the theatre was put up for auction in 1926 and bought by the Albany Ward Group. It was extensively refurbished and 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, and 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. The lease was then taken by a Michael Blakemore who renamed it The Savoy. He negotiated with locals to form a Trust in order to get much needed grants to refurbish the interior. ‘The Savoy Development Trust’ was formed to try and save the building and after an ESF funded refurbishment in 2005 it became fully operational with 400 seats.
The Savoy Theatre became a Grade II Listed building in 1989.
In 2009 the Savoy Theatre Development Trust went into liquidation and there was a real prospect of prolonged closure. A group of volunteers took on the theatre to see if it could be made to pay its way and The Monmouth Savoy Trust was formed. The Trust re-instated high quality live performance which now combines with new films to make a much more cohesive use of the building. In 2012 the cinema became fully digital and further improvements have been made to sound and technical facilities. The future of the Savoy looks much more rosy now than it has at any time in the last fifty years.
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 1990’s was then leased to the then Manager. Mr Mike Blakemore and re-named THe Savoy.
- Leased by ‘The Savoy Development Trust’. Refurbished and refurbished
- Listed Grade II 9TH Feb. 1989.
- 2010 to present: Operated by ‘The Savoy Theatre Trust’.