Davenport Theatre (Stockport)
The Davenport Theatre was built as the Davenport Cinema in 1937 and was for around its first 20 years primarily a cinema with limited stage facilities for variety artists and some local shows such as those by operatic societies. Originally owned by a Mrs Esther Burns, it later came into the ownership of her nephew, Jack Edge, who developed the venue as Stockport's leading live theatre in addition to continuing the film performances, and it became the headquarters of the Tatton theatre group which also ran some other cinemas in the region, including the Savoy, Heaton Moor, Stockport; the Tatton, Gatley; and the Mayfair, Whitefield, and also briefly, the former Odeon (originally Pyramid), Sale where live attractions were also tried. With some extensions to its dressing room facilities, the Davenport itself became famous for one-night shows of all kinds as well as its annual long-running professional Christmas pantomime. The Davenport had very much the character of a suburban 1930s super cinema in a leafy area, with its frontage set back from the main A6 road and quite attractive with typically 1930s faience tiling, some period art deco touches including around the windows, and a central entrance with curved steps. Its appearance was later marred by being partly encased in some orange plastic sheeting following deterioration of some of the tilework. Typically for a cinema building of this period, the frontage disguised a much more bulky and functional brick and concrete rear block with sloping roof panels which was more tastefully fitted out internally than externally! There was a very generous car park. The Davenport had a superb and very generous foyer (the finest I have ever seen in a cinema building of this size and location) which I believe was capable of accommodating a full audience for the next performance and in later years included bar facilities. It was notable for its fountain feature between the twin staircases. The auditorium seated around 1700 people and consisted of Stalls and Circle in the art deco style and originally featured a Holophane colour-changing lighting system reflecting on a shell-pattern feature on the ceiling above the proscenium arch. The stage, although restricted by theatre standards, included a fly tower and accommodated many famous artists and high quality shows over the years. The top of the rear of the fly-tower incorporated the large letter 'D' which was visible from the car park and the nearby Manchester-Buxton railway line. There was originally an upstairs café with a small dance floor which was in the 1960s run as a Stannylands Steak House, before being converted around the 1970s to a studio cinema called the Davenport Minor. The main auditorium, which was largely unchanged, became the Davenport Major, but the existence of the Minor meant that the Davenport was able to maintain a cinema programme when the main auditorium was in use for live shows or rehearsals. Another well-known feature of the Davenport was the Compton cinema organ which rose into view on a lift to the left of the orchestra pit and was one of the last cinema organs in the country to remain in use, still being featured periodically right up to the venue's closure. Originally opened by Harold Betts, it was played by many organists over the years but perhaps most famously by Joyce Alldred who was resident organist there for some 17 years, right into the 1980s, and continues as an internationally known organist and music teacher in the area. The last resident organist was Charles Brown, now well known as organist for the dances at Stockport Town Hall, and the last organist to play the organ in public was another local organist, Michael Holmes, who has since also made his mark as one of the organists at the reopened Plaza Cinema Theatre in Stockport. A farewell CD was recorded on the Davenport organ just before it was removed with the building stripped for demolition. The end of the Davenport Theatre came as a shock to many locally. In 1992 the owner, Jack Edge, retired, and the building along with the remainder of the Tatton circuit was sold to Manchester Theatres, part of the Apollo Leisure group. Things continued with little apparent change for a while, but in autumn 1996 it was suddenly announced that the building had sometime previously been sold to the neighbouring Stockport Grammar School for site redevelopment, and that the closure of the venue would take place in March 1997. There were attempts to save the building but the fatal deed had already been done by its prior sale. Requests to English Heritage to have the building listed failed. The final week-long show was a production of 'Me and My Girl' by Romiley Operatic Society, which along with the Stockport Operatic Society had long been associated with the venue, followed by a variety presentation called 'The Final Curtain' on the closing night headlined by Bill Tarmey of 'Coronation Street', and which ended with the Romiley Operatic Society and orchestra, accompanied by Michael Holmes at the organ performing the hit number of their show, 'The Lambeth Walk'. The building was immediately stripped and then demolished over the spring and early summer period. The loss of 'the Davvy' had many repercussions locally and is still regretted by many. From an historical point of view, it was probably the last classic 1930s suburban super cinema, of which there were once many, operating in the country in something like its original form, and it had a character all its own. Perhaps the biggest effect locally was that it deprived the sizeable Borough of Stockport of a full-scale live theatre of its own, which stunned many in the local community. But in some respects what seemed like an irreparable and disastrous move was ultimately to prove a story with a happy ending. Thanks to the efforts of very many people, out of the ashes of 'the Davvy' was to rise the revived Stockport Plaza which had languished for many years in the town centre as a bingo hall and was Stockport's other notable surviving 1930s cinema building, in this case recognised as being of importance on a national scale. The last General Manager of the Davenport, Ted Doan, was in 2006 appointed as the first General Manager of the Plaza (which is largely run by volunteer staff), and the sound system is maintained by Graham Sykes who was for many years Chief Operator at the Davenport. The revival of the Plaza is a story in itself but suffice it to say that on the Plaza's reopening night in October 2000 there were many echoes of 'the Davvy', Michael Holmes was there at the Plaza's own fine Compton organ to play the first notes of Stockport's return to the show scene, and in a touching link with the Davenport's closing night, at the finale of the show Michael and the cast of Romiley Operatic Society were back on stage in their home borough to perform, once again, 'The Lambeth Walk'. And to this day, by a strange quirk of fate, the counterweight system which works much of the scenery at the Plaza is the same as that which performed the same job at the Davenport for 60 years, and the interval bell at the Plaza is the same one which used to call audiences back to their seats at Stockport's affectionately remembered 'Davvy'. David Blake (submitted 29.05.07) David Pearson adds: The Davvy was used byStockport School, the local state grammar, for its annual Speech Days. For many years the school's Director of Music, Geoffrey Barber, would play the Compton as the parents and boys of the school assembled in the cinema. The official roll of the Head Boy on these occasions was to make a speech at the end of the proceedings thanking the the visiting speaker. The unofficial role of the Deputy Head Boy, which position I myself held in 1963-64, was to lean into the orchestra pit and throw the switch to cause the organ console to rise. Geoffrey reliably feigned anger at being brought almost literally into the spot light - but of course he loved every minute of it!