Opened in 1899 as the Lyceum in Eccles, this iconic theatre was designed as a home for Shakespearian performances. With the advent of popular music it very quickly became home to variety shows changing ownership and names in 1907 when it became the Crown Theatre. In 1932 the 2,500 capacity theatre was converted into a cinema but in 1963 it went the way of many such buildings and became a bingo hall until finally in 1980 a section of the theatre was demolished before closing forever. The site has been closed ever since, having already begun to fall into ruin. The theatre was listed in 2003 and added to the Theatre's trust at Risk list in 2012. From then on, it seems a brick wall has been met regarding any further salvation.
The once stunning proscenium arch inside the theatre depicted Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man but stained glass windows of poets and playwrights installed by the original owner in his bid to educate the poor were removed during a refit several decades ago and sent to America. In 2013 fire crew were called to an arson attack on the building which effected the first and second floor balconies. The Crown is a landmark building in the town of Eccles in a vaguely Elizabethan Style with pilasters and mullioned windows. The facade is constructed of moulded red brick of five storeys with terracotta dressings to three high arched windows at first floor. It is richly decorated, and has an asymmetrically placed short corner tower. This once had a pyramidal roof and the parapet was topped with square pinnacles. Becoming a cinema in 1932, it was later adapted for Cinemascope, ending stage use. Converted for bingo in 1963, by the late 1980s it was reported to be falling into disrepair internally. The exterior is largely intact, apart from the stage house which has been partly demolished. Planning permission was given in 2005 – and again in 2008 – for partial demolition (retaining the facade) and development of apartments behind. These works never started, and the building remains empty and increasingly derelict.
Throughout every corner of the theatre are signs of people living inside – sleeping bags, litter and food waste cover much of the floor in areas that are still covered from the rain. We have visited many theatres over the past decade, and each one has been at a slightly different stage of deterioration despite closing in similar circumstances and within the same era. Above all else, the crown theatre is a symbol of neglect and it represents the downward spiral that Eccles as a town has suffered in the past four decades – becoming one of the more deprived regions of Greater Manchester, in other words the time for attending grand theatres and local shows has long gone. Nevertheless, the campaign group ‘Save the Crown Theatre’ have worked towards protecting the sentimentality of the theatre in order to save it from demolition over the years. Posters and artwork can be seen on what was once the front entrance, and a frequently updated online presence keeps petitions alive and therefore some small glimpse of hope. To see the Crown restored would be a brilliant sight indeed, but a mammoth task if ever there was one. Theatres like this are now a staple of the Northern landscape, but one of the past rather than the future.