15 May 2020
FINAL MATCHAM THEATRE IN SUSSEX CELEBRATES 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF DEATH OF TRAILBLAZING THEATRICAL ARCHITECT
Frank Matcham, a celebrated architect who specialised in Theatres, music halls and opera Houses and is responsible for the internal look of the Devonshire Park Theatre, died 100 years ago this May. Matcham internally re-designed the grand Dame of all the Eastbourne Theatres, the Devonshire Park Theatre in 1903 making the changes which are so beloved and appreciated today. His death on 17 May 1920 from blood poisoning was rather bizarrely attributed by the Architects Journal from cutting his finger nails too short.
The theatre has been undergoing sensitive refurbishment over the last 20 years supported by the Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre, a charity group which was set up in 1984 with the aim to promote and preserve this special theatrical space.
Matcham also designed other South East theatres including: Kings Theatre in Portsmouth and the now demolished Grand Theatre (formerly the Hippodrome Circus) located in North Street Brighton and The Alhambra, also in Brighton, which was demolished in 1963 and replaced with the Brighton Centre.
Matcham was responsible for major reconstruction of the Brighton Hippodrome in 1901 (2 years before he upgraded the Devonshire Park), the Hippodrome closed its doors in 2007 and is now classed as the most at risk UK Theatre by the UK Theatre Trust.
He was also responsible for some of London’s most iconic venues including The Hippodrome, Coliseum, Hackney Empire, Palladium and Victoria Palace Theatres. And among his non-theatre works were a new wing, designed without charge, for the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund at Brinsworth House and the iconic Blackpool Palace Ballroom.
The exact number of theatres he designed is unknown, estimates range at design and construction of 90 theatres and re-development for a further 80 theatres, but it is accepted that his work was little respected or fully appreciated until the 1970’s. It is known that 111 of his theatres were bombed during the wars, destroyed by fire, or demolished as part of regeneration, mostly during the 1960’s.
Now of course he is appreciated for the genius that he was, pioneering and trailblazing new ideas and practises including rotating stage, cantilevered steel support systems which he patented which revolutionised the building of entertainment spaces.