Frank Matcham, Theatre Architect Extraordinaire

On Wednesday 5th October, a packed house at City College were introduced to Frank Matcham, 1854-1920 "Theatre Architect Extraordinaire". Regency Society members mingled with members of the Frank Matcham Society.
The lecture was delivered by Mike Sell, Vice President of the Frank Matcham Society. (Matcham is believed to be the only British Architect with a society devoted just to him!). Members of the audience enthusiastically contributed memories of various theatres.

Matcham was born in Newton Abbott, started his architectural career in Paignton & Torquay, and moved to London where he took over the practice of his late Father in Law. His work spanned a long period, "From candle light to cinema".
Influenced by seaside, circus design, ice palaces, and ideas from Empire (hence the many elephants in his designs), but he travelled widely and designed buildings in many styles, including Renaissance, Louis XVI, Italianate and Baroque. He was able to do this partially because he had an interest in the development of fibrous plaster techniques with which so many auditoria are finished. Matcham was responsible for more than 200 theatre designs, about 25% of the theatres built in this country, including the Coliseum in London and Blackpool Tower Circus and Ballroom, and our own Hippodrome.

In designing so many theatres it was obviously necessary for Matcham to be able to take some short cuts, and have some work pre-planned. In particular Matcham developed the use of steelwork. Earlier theatres had been characterised by each tier being supported by pillars which badly interfered with sighting; those of Matcham are characterised by an increasing use of the cantilever principle for supporting balconies, for which he took out patents to enable him to remain in the forefront of theatre design. The use of this type of design had great advantages for the audience and it was particularly pleasing to the eye for it was possible to produce an uncluttered effect. Fire and crowd control had also been a problem for theatre designers, and Matcham adopted techniques to alleviate these, including the development of the panic bolt for use in public buildings.

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Matcham's interiors: Southsea theatre (above) interior of Brighton Hippodrome (below)


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