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Old Vic Theatre, Lambeth

Description: Old Vic Theatre

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 19 October 1951
English Heritage Building ID: 204779

OS Grid Reference: TQ3132779813
OS Grid Coordinates: 531327, 179813
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5020, -0.1093

Locality: Lambeth
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SE1 8BL

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Listing Text

(East side)
963/3/1051 Old Vic Theatre

GV 19.10.51 II*

Built in 1816-18, architect Rudolph Cabanel of Aachen. Remodelled 1871 by J T Robinson; in 1880 and 1902 by Elijah Hoole as the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall for Emma Cons; in 1922-3 and 1927-9 by Frank Matcham and Company (F G M Chancellor); in 1933-8 by F Green and Co; in 1950 by Pierre Sonrel; in 1960 by Sean Kenny; major restoration in 1983 by Renton, Howard, Wood and Levine. Brick, with rendered facade to The Cut remodelled in 1983 with open pediment based on c.1818 engraving, of three storeys and five bays with projecting five-bay colonnade. Elevation to Waterloo Road of eleven bays is clearly that of 1818 with giant order of brick pilasters incorporating rendered roundels under contrasting brick arcading, and with blocked first-floor windows. At stage end large round-headed openings created in the late C19 when the building was adapted for shared use with Morley College. Memorial plaque to Emma Cons on north-west angle. Webber Street elevation similar but with projecting four-bay front with small paned windows housing dressing rooms. Asphalted roof with flats of 1927-8, projecting `haystack' over stage.
The interior is remarkable as Robinson's horseshoe balconies on iron columns essentially survive, with convex moulded fronts, cartouches and much moulded decoration; although the boxes are restorations by RHWL after the originals were removed by Frank Matcham and Co. By RHWL, too, is the proscenium arch, after this was remodelled in 1950 and 1960. The ceiling, with its thick leaf decoration concealing ventilation ducts, is probably by Robinson, while above it Cabanel's complex system of timber roof trusses survives. The front of house was remodelled to a much simplified plan by RHWL in 1983 so that all parts of the theatre can be reached from a common entrance. Stage with flytower, fly floors and grid, with carpenters' bay to rear; above which are two rooms shown on old plans as the `museum' and thought to have been the `library' of Morley College opened here in 1894. These are top-lit, with timber truss roofs.
The Old Vic is one of the oldest theatres to survive in England. The auditorium is recognisably that of J T Robinson, one of the first theatre architects, first consultant architect to the Lord Chamberlain and Frank Matcham's father-in-law. A pre-1890s theatre in this condition is an exceptional rarity in England, and this with the Theatre Royal, Margate, is his principal surviving work. The Old Vic is significant too as the progenitor of the modern subsidised theatre, since it was acquired in 1879-80 by Emma Cons, first woman Alderman of the London County Council, social reformer and principal of the coffee tavern movement. She endeavoured to bring `a purified entertainment' to the working and lower middle classes, a policy expanded after 1912 by her niece Lilian Baylis, who introduced opera, operetta and - most successfully - Shakespeare to a wider audience. Her work was continued in the 1930s by Tyrone Guthrie and in 1963 it became the first home of the National Theatre Company under Laurence Olivier. The historical significance of the Old Vic as a leading centre of opera, ballet and serious theatre in the twentieth century is exceptional in English theatre, though it is in recognition of its architectural quality and rarity that it is listed in a high grade.

London Metropolitan Archives, theatre plans GLC/AR/BR/19/291
Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, The Theatres of London, London, 1963, pp.237-43
D F Cheshire, Sean McCarthy and Hilary Norris, The Old Vic refurbished, London, 1983

Listing NGR: TQ3132779813

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.