World’s leading ceiling walker.

The 19th century was an age of oil and candlelit “theatres”.

Inns had been favourite venues for performances since Shakespeare’s day and in 1814 in Burnley, you could see “Othello” at the Hall Inn.

There was the first “Theatre Royal” where you could marvel at the “World’s Leading Ceiling Walker,” although it’s hard to imagine there were all that many of them. There was the New Theatre, which also became a “Theatre Royal”.  Pickle’s Theatre which didn’t and burnt down. The New Market Music Hall where you could also see boxing. Another “Theatre Royal”. Then Lichfield’s Theatre and Howarth’s Mill in which there was was another “Theatre Royal.”

If you’ve lost count that was 4 “Theatre Royals.”

After the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Royal Patent theatres were licensed to perform, “serious, spoken drama,” as opposed to comedy, pantomime or melodrama.A way round this was for the management to present dramas that had singing or dancing in them so they couldn’t be defined as serious. Anything to get bottoms on seats and if calling your theatre, “Royal” helped, why not? In any case, the monopoly granted by a Royal Patent to perform serious plays was ended by the Theatre Act of 1843. So Burnley’s theatres could get as serious as they wanted after that and you couldn’t get more serious than having “The World’s Leading Ceiling Walker” top your bill, could you?

Mr. Culeen had a theatre and circus which he set up in a wooden shed on the town’s old cattle market, an establishment he later rebuilt and renamed the Gaiety Theatre and Opera House, a much grander place where you could sup ale and take your own fish and chips in, bought from one of the town’s 80 “chippies”. The locals had none of Mr Culleen’s pretensions and referred to the place as, “The Blood Bucket,” owing to the amount of fighting that took place there.

There was the Empire Music Hall, playing twice nightly at 7 and 9.

Best of all, the Victoria Assembly Rooms, later known as the Victoria Theatre, the first proper, permanent theatre in Burnley which opened on the 14th September 1886. The “Vic” was, like the Empire Music Hall, lit by the revolutionary new gaslights. They were theatres where you could now dim the auditorium lights and bathe your star performer in a “Limelight.”

Only London’s Savoy Theatre had electric lighting but Burnley wouldn’t be far behind.


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