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Reference code


Level of description



The Mayflower Theatre


from 1928

Scope and content

The majority of the collection relates to the publicity and marketing activities of the theatre. The collection comprises leaflets, posters, programmes, photographs, VHS videos and press cuttings. The Mayflower Theatre was formerly known as the Empire Theatre and the Gaumont Theatre. The name of the theatre at the time of the creation of the item in question has been recorded in the notes field.

Extent and medium

72 boxes, 12 wallets and 28 volumes of press cuttings

Administrative / Biographical history

The Empire Theatre opened on 22 December 1928 as part of the Moss Empire Theatre Group. It formed a part of the company's expansion in the late 1920s, which also saw theatres being built in Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxford. It was built by William and TR Miburn of Sunderland. It was managed by Ernest Lepard from its opening until his death in 1950. At the time of construction, it was the largest theatre in the south of England. In 1933 a projection box was installed and the venue began to show films from 14th May of that year. By 1942, the theatre was mainly used as a cinema and was taken over by The Gaumont British Picture Corporation, which was later taken over by the Rank Organisation. In 1950 the venue was renamed The Gaumont Theatre, and began to add more live shows to its bill. This was due in part to the declining popularity of cinema. In 1970, due to falling audience numbers, an application was made to convert the building into a bingo hall. This application was met with public protest and was not pursued. In 1982, the Rank Organisation again applied to Southampton City Council for a change of license in order to turn the venue into a bingo hall. This was refused, and the application then went to appeal. A public inquiry was set up. The inquiry was presented with a petition with 93,000 signatures from members of the public who wanted the building to remain a theatre. In 1983, the building achieved grade II listed status, which meant that its original theatre design and features could not be altered. The Council offered to buy the building for £650,000 and invest £3 million in refurbishment. The Council gave the management of the refurbishment contract to the Rank Organisation. Hampshire County Council and the Arts Council of Great Britain contributed to the cost. A separate company was set up to manage the theatre on behalf of the Council. The Council pledged to later turn the company into a charitable trust. The theatre closed for refurbishment in January 1986. The Mayflower Theatre Trust was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee on 9th June 1986 and was registered as a charity on 30th June 1986. Its charitable aims were: ‘The encouragement of the arts, the promotion and advancement of education and the cultivation and improvement of public education in drama, mime, opera, singing, music, dance, painting and sculpture, cinema, literature and other arts.’ During the theatre’s closure period, members of the public were asked what the newly refurbished venue should be called. A panel chose ‘The Mayflower Theatre’ from the suggestions. On 24 February 1987, the theatre reopened. Music and comedy were gradually phased out as large scale touring musicals became more frequent. The theatre was closed in 2003 for five months for refurbishment. In 2013 the Mayflower Engage Department came into existence. This department leads outreach programmes which seek to develop the creative skills of young people in order to fulfil the Trust’s charitable aims.


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