Work to restore one of Wigan town centre’s most iconic historic buildings has commenced. The original theatre seats at The Royal Court Theatre on King Street – owned by Arts at the Mill CIC – have been taken away for refurbishment as part of Wigan Council’s Heritage Action Zone project, funded by Historic England.
The seats, which date back to at least the 1930’s, are located in the theatre’s upper circle and have not been used in approximately 45 years. On Saturday 13th March, the seats were removed by a company specialising in historic restoration. After being stripped back and refurbished using fire safe materials, the seats will be reinstated back in their original place ready for future use.
Speaking about this significant move, Councillor Terry Halliwell, heritage champion at Wigan Council said: “Before the pandemic, I walked around the theatre and learned about the plans intended for the space. “Frankly, it was inspiring. Many of our residents will have memories dating back years from when this was a working theatre to a night-time entertainment establishment. “I bet revellers over the years had absolutely no idea that they were spending time in such a historic gem with these original chairs sitting right above their heads the whole time. “I am so excited about the work taking place on King Street and can’t wait to see more of these changes come to fruition.”
The refurbishment of the Royal Court Theatre is seen as one of the key catalysts for the regeneration of King Street. The area has traditionally been a focal point for entertainment and commercial uses but in recent times its historic character has deteriorated.
After securing funding from Historic England, Wigan Council is leading the delivery of a Heritage Action Zone on King Street in partnership with a range of community, education, cultural partners. Director of Arts at the Mill CIC (known locally as The Old Courts), Rebecca Davenport said: “From the off, our vision for the building has always been to bring it back for public enjoyment in as close to its original splendour as possible.
Along with Historic England, Wigan Council and the people of Wigan, we are delighted that this seating is being given an extended lease of life. There’s something about original fixtures that totally captures the imagination and it will be fascinating enjoying upcoming shows in the very seats taken by Wigan audiences over the last century.”
Overall, the project will help to bring three unused buildings on King Street back into active use. Grant funding from Historic England, plus match funding from the council means that the area will benefit from an investment of around £2.5m.
The plan aligns with the council’s Strategic Regeneration Framework for the town centre, which outline long-term ambitions for a more diverse offer for residents and visitors, as well as the borough’s five-year cultural manifesto, The Fire Within. Councillor Halliwell added: “Creating a Heritage Action Zone will help us retain the character of our town centre in line with our commitment to conserving buildings and putting them at the heart of our regeneration and growth plans. “We look forward to working closely with our partners to deliver this ambition.”
Val Smith, Stakeholder Engagement Advisor at Historic England, said: “It’s always exciting when discoveries of hidden treasures like these theatre seats are made during the restoration of an historic building.
The refurbishment and reinstatement of the seats will offer memories of past times and enjoyment whilst becoming part of the Royal Court Theatre’s transformation.
It’s exciting to see work start on this iconic building.”
For more information, please visit www.historicengland.org.uk and search ‘Wigan Heritage Action Zone.’