Final calls for Bath bingo hall.

The old facade of the Palace Theatre - tucked away in the corner.
The old facade of the Palace Theatre – tucked away in the corner.

The Gala Bingo hall in Bath’s Sawclose will be shutting up shop in less than a fortnight.

It brings to an end the most recent of many transformations for a Grade 11 building that dates back to the late 19th century.

Apart from what is left of the original facade, the building is due to be demolished as part of plans to bring Casino-style gambling back to Bath for the first time since the Georgian card playing days of Beau Nash.

The go ahead has been given for a 14 million pound re-development involving a casino, hotel and two restaurants.

An illustration of the new Bath Casino and other commercial units.
An illustration of the new Bath Casino and other commercial units.

Gala Bingo have been calling ‘house’ since 1986  but the building pre-dates them by a hundred years.

It had opened originally as The Pavilion Music Hall –  constructed by Frank Kirk on the site of what was Bath’s hay and straw market.

Then began a whole series of transformations and alterations.

The following information came via www.cinematreasures.org/theatres/34945

The Lyric Theatre from 1897. © Bath in Time
The Lyric Theatre from 1897. © Bath in Time . Click on the image to go through to the website.

“It was re-constructed by architectural firm Wylson & Long in 1895, and re-opened as a live theatre re-named Lyric Theatre.

Taken over by the MacNaghten Vaudeville Circuit of variety theatres in 1905, it was re-named Palace Theatre of Varieties.

A closer view of what would have been the circle seats
A closer view of what would have been the circle seats. Click on images to enlarge.
Palace Theatre Programme from 1906. © Bath in Time
Palace Theatre Programme from 1906. © Bath in Time. Click on the image to go through to the website.

Films were screened as part of the variety programme in the early days, projected from a Bioscope machine.

Films were screened until 1919, when it reverted back to variety theatre use – although occasional films were still screened in the 1920’s.

Looking down on the old auditorium towards where the stage would have been.
Looking down on the old auditorium towards where the stage would have been.

The Palace Theatre was altered in the 1930’s, and was given a single straight balcony.

It was closed as a variety theatre in 1955.

In 1956, it was converted into the Regency Ballroom, which removed the stage and side boxes in the auditorium.

In around 1968, the ballroom closed and was converted into a bingo club.

The entrance to Gala Bingo
The entrance to Gala Bingo

In 1976, while the bingo club was being operated by Zetters, they converted the former upstairs theatre bar into a 53 seat cinema, which was named the President Cinema.

This was a 16mm operation, having one show per evening, and operated until the mid-1980’s.

Today, Gala Bingo Club operates in the former Palace Theatre, which is a Grade II Listed building.”

The old Palace Theatre had a thousand seats, a stage with orchestra pit and eight dressing rooms. Rumour has it that Charlie Chaplin trod the boards here but – according to author and local historian Kirsten Elliott – it was his father taking a bow. “Charlie was only seven at the time,” says Kirsten.

However – she continued – “Gracie Fields made her name here in a show called Mr Tower of London (1921) which was a success here , went on to London and projected her to fame. She visited Bath on other occasions.”

Another big name at the time was Little Tich – alias Harry Relph – who at 4 feet and 6 inches – was an internationally famous music hall comedian and dancer. He’d come down from London in 1895 as the star turn for the opening of the re-named Lyric.

Love to hear your memories of this building and – if you have them – see photographs of programmes. Just leave your comments with the Virtual Museum.

Was enjoying reading up on British bingo slang including ‘Was she worth it – 5 and 6 – 56.’ Apparent five shillings and six pence was the price of a marriage licence years ago. Bingo players are required to call out ‘Yes she was!’ in reply.