The Coliseum Chairs

In 1904, the gigantic London Coliseum opened as the ultimate variety theatre.  Designed by the then king among theatre architects Frank Matcham,  it was  –  and is  –  a queen of theatres and, just up the road from St Martin-in-the-Fields, has ever since been a major London landmark.

1968 was a momentous year in the history of the Coliseum  –  Sadlers Wells Opera moved into the dusty, virtually derelict monument which in 1973 became English National Opera and over the years has been transformed into the glorious venue we know today. (It was recently restored and refurbished by RHWL Architects, using furniture by Kirwin and Simpson.)

My father’s friends Eric Reynolds (of Camden Lock fame) and Richard Phillips (famous in Warwickshire for forty years of premier arts events) were the marketing staff who played a vital role in this huge regeneration project, and one of their tasks was to clear the debris of the building’s vast, dark and dingy basement.

This included the broken remains of a few of the red plush Edwardian chairs which were used in the auditorium boxes, and which we assume were to the design of Matcham himself.  These my Dad saved from the skip, and we have now reconstructed three of these delightfully individual Edwardian relics, and have the bits for a good three more.

They are birch and of dowelled construction; although elegant, they are rather too flimsy to withstand decades of shifting audient bottoms , and their eventual descent into the skip is sad but understandable. The design is a little Grecian, and the brass decorative fittings match the extravagantly neo-classical interior (Edwardian Up Pompei).

One chair was japanned; the others, however, were of a more typical Edwardian brown finish. The upholstery was deep red velvet plush. They were sprung.

The chairs could have been made by H. Lazarus, for among the adverts in the 1905 programme was this:

The Seating in Balcony and Grand Tier SUPPLIED BY H. LAZARUS & SON, 21, Great Eastern Street, LONDON, E.C.

(There was another advert for the Hackney Furnishing Company – a small history of which is here.)

Prices of Admission: The prices of the seats (all of which are numbered and reserved) are as follows: – Boxes (4 persons), 21/- ; Extra Seats, 5/- ; Royal Box, 42/- ; Extra Seats, 10/- ; Orchestra Stalls, 4/- ; Royal Stalls, 3/- ; Grand Tier Stalls 2/- ; Grand Tier 1/- ; Balcony, 6d. Children under 12 half price to all stalls.

All the seats are comfortable, richly upholstered, and provided with arm rests. Every seat in the house is numbered and reserved, and can be booked in advance.”

The Management will be greatly indebted if Ladies wearing large Hats would most kindly remove same in order not to obstruct the view of the Stage of Patrons seated behind them.

N.B. – There is no Fee of any kind in the Cloak Rooms.”

There is evidence of a re-upholstering, presumably from the mid-century refurbishment of the Coliseum.  The gimp, which is two-tone


red and purple, is nylon – which would suit the mid years rather than the early years of the century.


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