The Princess Theatre

The Vickers management recognised that a large centre of entertainment was essential to maintain the morale of both the workers and local population if the very high level of munitions production was to be maintained to satisfy the demands of the Armed Forces. The only places of recreation and entertainment then available were the old British Workman, local public houses and the new Rodney Hut. A London architect, Edward Keynes FRIBA, was commissioned to design a building to seat 1,000 people for the presentation of cinematograph entertainment, concerts, and stage shows, the cost of the project to be borne by Vickers.

A site was chosen for the building on the north bank of the River Cray about 100 metres downstream from the High Street and approached along a lane called Waterside. The plot was part of an orchard on land owned by Vickers who were developing the farmland to the east as a housing estate for their workers. Work on the building started in January 1916.

By the Spring of 1916 a foundation stone was laid by Princess Helena, widow of Prince Christian of Schleswig Holstein. A stone, which can be seen on the wall of Princesses Parade, built in 1961 on the theatre site, marks the occasion.

The building was described as ‘palatial’. It was built of brick covered with plaster, and the steel framed roof had a covering of red tiles. At the front six steps led up to a three-door entrance flanked with four Doric columns and leading off the foyer was the Theatre CafĂ©. The auditorium had a sloping floor so that the rear seats were about 18 inches higher than the stage, affording the audience of 1,000 an uninterrupted view of the large stage. There was also accommodation for a large orchestra and dressing room facilities comparable to many large theatres. A small circle holding about fifty people and a box holding four people were on either side of the auditorium.

The internal fittings were luxurious. The walls were panelled in oak with heavy mouldings, each panel containing a Chinese style tapestry picture. The seats, draperies and curtains were a pleasant green. To the left of the stage was a pipe organ built by Norman and Beard of Norwich. It had sixteen stops, two manuals and one pedal. The dark oak casework matched the internal panelling of the auditorium.

The cinematograph room was placed at the rear of the stage and housed three Gaumont lanterns, one being for the projection of Kinemacolour pictures. Frederick Dale was appointed Entertainments Manager. He said his aim was to provide a programme of entertainment by well know artists, the finest cinema films, concerts and a Christmas pantomime “To suit the people of Crayford and also the munitioners of Crayford.”

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