Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Joseph Rowntree Theatre was designed by the architect Barry Parker (who also designed part of New Earswick), and built in 1935. Mr Peter Rowntree was one of the Trustees of the firm responsible for its construction and is understood to have spent much time and care in making it one of the most up-to-date halls in the country (source: CWM: Christmas 1935).

It was opened on Monday 18th November 1935 by Seebohm Rowntree, then Chairman of the Rowntree & Co Limited, with the aim of: ‘providing a hall which may be a fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities which make for a full and happy life’.

Left to right: Mrs Seebohm Rowntree, the Sheriff of York (Councillor C.F. Sanderson), Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, the Lord Mayor of York (Councillor W.H. Shaw), the Lady Mayoress of York (Mrs. W.H. Shaw), the Sheriff's Lady (Mrs Sanderson) and the Mayor of Harrogate (Councillor S. Cartwright)

At the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Hall (J.R. Theatre)
Left to right: Mrs Seebohm Rowntree, the Sheriff of York (Councillor C.F. Sanderson), Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, the Lord Mayor of York (Councillor W.H. Shaw), the Lady Mayoress of York (Mrs. W.H. Shaw), the Sheriff’s Lady (Mrs Sanderson) and the Mayor of Harrogate (Councillor S. Cartwright)

The Christmas edition of the CWM describes the opening performance as a ” display of Greek dancing by the dancing section, and then Rowntree’s prize band played their test piece, a section of Wagner’s compositions with which they won the first prize and 50-guinea challenge cup at the May championship brass festival, held at Belle Vue Manchester. This was followed by an exhibition of gymnastics and pyramid building by some of the boys at the Works. A demonstration of the ingenious and wonderfully effective lighting system; a cameo play entitled “Beau of Bath”; a short programme of sound films and, finally, the execution scene from Hassan.”. 

It was then known as The Joseph Rowntree Hall, but renamed as The Joseph Rowntree Theatre in 1946. It was built at a total cost of £12,000, which was provided by the Joseph Rowntree Village Trustees. Simple architectural features, combined with a warm colour scheme and hidden lighting, were designed to give an intimate and welcoming atmosphere to the 450-seat auditorium . The hall was equipped with the most up to date acoustics, lighting and heating system and a magnificent curved cyclorama. The stage was designed to accommodate a sixteen-piece orchestra.

Stage JR theatre 1935

The Stage in 1935 at the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Hall (JR theatre)

Inside JR Theatre 1935

The Auditorium of the Joseph Rowntree Hall in 1935 (JR Theatre)

Apart from a period during Second World War, when the building was used for war work, the theatre has been in constant use for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.

Oral History

As part of our Oral History project, “York Remembers Rowntree” we have interviewed a number of people with a connection to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre. We will shortly be adding these memories to our website. To be part of the project, please contact us on 01904 543383

External Links

http://jrtheatre.co.uk/events/