The Albert Hall is Mid Wales’ oldest theatre. Built in 1896, the Hall is a beautiful Victorian theatre in Llandrindod Wells.
In the 1890’s, 80 to 90,000 visitors came to Llandrindod each year for spa treatment and rest. Many were Welsh speakers. The Presbyterian Church needed somewhere to hold Welsh language services and social events. Owen Morris Roberts drew up the plans, and church members started fund-raising. The hall was completed in 1896 at a total cost of £2,000. It comprised:
– a large open space
– moveable seating for 750 people
– a small stage for choirs to assemble
– a small balcony at the back of the hall, with wooden seats.
The exterior was much as it is today, except for the main doors, canopy and steps. Edward Jenkins, a member of the church, suggested its name – the Albert Hall.
In 1905, the adjoining church was rebuilt. At the same time, the Albert Hall’s basement was converted into a church schoolroom.
First World War
In 1914, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) billeted 4,000 men in Llandrindod for training. They used the Hall for events and entertainment. Llandrindod held it’s second annual eisteddfod in March 1915 at the Albert Hall.
Between the wars
After the war, membership of the church began to decline, and the hall was no longer needed. The committee decided that a theatre and cinema would be of value to the town. So in 1922, the Albert Hall re-opened as a theatre and cinema. A foyer, with Art Deco detailing, designed by Owen Morris Roberts & Son was added. The exterior of the building, foyer and auditorium remain to this day much as they were then.
With the advent of “Talkies” – films with sound – in 1929, the Albert Hall discontinued its role as a cinema. The church gave the silent cinematograph unit to Bronllys sanatorium.
It was at this time that the Llandrindod Wells Drama festival was launched. The week-long festival ran every year (except for the war years) until 2013. But other than that, the Albert Hall, like the town, saw a downturn in its fortunes.
Second World War
In 1939, Llandrindod again became a training base for thousands of troops. With lectures in the day, and entertainment every evening, the Albert Hall was in full use once more. Many of the troops who graced the stage would become household names. But of course, as the troops withdrew at the end of the war, so the audiences dwindled.
The church continued to hold Welsh services in the Albert Hall until 1951. Then in 1958, a local firm, Campbell & Edwards bought it for use as an auction house.
In 1962, the townspeople of Llandrindod Wells bought the Albert Hall for £2,000. A management committee, comprised of representatives from local organisations would run the theatre. The community raised more money, but the necessary repairs and running costs took up most of it.
With help from the Welsh Arts Council, the Committee drew up a programme of improvements. It would cost £20,000, and so the fundraising started again.
In 1973, the “Friends of the Albert Hall” fund was launched, and brought in over £1,000 from local organisations. The Committee approached local councils and organisations, and the money was raised. The improvements included a central heating system, rewiring, repainting and decorating. Technical improvements, fire precautions and a new canopy were also added.
1980s and 90s
The local theatre company took over the management of the building. In 1981, the Albert Hall was Grade II listed, in order for the building to be preserved and protected. Regular events included a yearly pantomime, the drama festival and Young Farmers competitions. A bar was created between the kitchen and Lesser Hall, licensed to serve alcohol to audiences.
In 2007, a £115,000 restoration project began, which included a new roof. It was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Union, and other sponsors.
It was agreed that management of the theatre should revert to a management committee. Shortly after, the Albert Hall Management Committee was re-established. The theatre was registered as a charity (charity number 524464).
Since then, the theatre has undergone further improvement. The original asbestos was removed and the curtains replaced in 2016. A new heating system was installed in 2019, along with upgraded electrics.
In March of 2020, a brand new management committee took over the Albert Hall, and sadly just 2 weeks later, the Hall was closed due to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic. The Albert Hall took part in LightItInRed, and WeMakeEvents, which saw us stand united with thousands of venues, and production companies around the world, excluded from support during the pandemic. The new committee want to bring the hall back to what it was originally built for, to provide a space for local community groups to use.
Throughout 2020, and the beginning of 2021, maintenance work took place, thanks to the generous support of, the local people, Ah Friends, and committee members, as well as the Arts Council of Wales (ACW), and Theatres Trust. New toilet facilities were installed, and the dressing rooms were refurbished, as well as many other small, often unseen repair or maintenance tasks. The Albert Hall finally reopened on Saturday 10th July 2021, 476 days, or 68 weeks, after the pandemic forced it’s closure. Thanks to funding from ACW, new flooring was installed in the auditorium in the latter half of 2021.
At the end of 2021, The Albert Hall Management Committee received notification from The National Lottery Community Fund, that they were to receive a substantial amount of grant funding, to establish an ‘Accessible Cinema’. This meant a complete upgrade to the theatre’s sound system, and the installation of a projection system, and large scale screen. Work is currently being carried out to enable the launch of the project, hopefully in the latter half of 2022, which will see The Albert Hall step back into it’s roots as a cinema, but bringing a modern twist to ensure it is accessible by all.
2022 has seen the stage rigging, completely re-strung from the rafters, after not being inspected for nearly 40 years – something which should be done every 12 months! This, along with regular yearly inspections, will ensure we minimise the risk of an accident, and make sure everything is safe. We have also received funding from Tesco’s Community Grants scheme, which has enabled us to replace the rather dated tables in the lesser hall, and install a sound system. During the first half of the year, we also completed several sustainability goals, including swapping out halogen bulbs for LED equivalents, reducing our paper usage (such as removing one use menus from our bar), and switching to a waste collection service, that sorts the recyclables from the rubbish.
Our next big projects are to refurbish the kitchen area, and upgrade the stage lights, however until then, we are continuing carry out minor repairs. And of course, the theatre is constantly in need of redecoration! But, of course, it all costs money!