Edinburgh and the Empire

Moving up into Scotland for today’s post on British Theatres through the ages.

The Edinburgh Festival Theatre represents what is the longest continuous site of a theatre in Edinburgh. Previously on the site there was a mixed bunch of venues: Dunedin Hall, Royal Amphitheatre, Alhambra Music Hall, Queen’s Theatre, Pablo Fanque’s Amphitheatre, Newsome’s Circus and the Empire Palace Theatre, which opened in 1892.

The Empire Palace theatre was designed by Frank Matcham and included lavish décor – elephants with Nubian riders, nymphs and cherubs. He was responsible for ninety theatres over forty years in the UK. Born in Devon, he completed his first solo design in London – the Elephant and Castle Theatre in 1879; the front was squeezed in between shops, while the auditorium was much further back from the road.


Matcham worked for Moss Empires, a theatrical company and designed the London Coliseum, Tower Ballroom in Blackpool Tower and was especially good at theatre interiors. He removed the obscuring columns of the upper levels of the auditorium and replaced them with cantilevers.

In 1911 there was a fire on the stage at the Empire Palace. Three thousand people managed to exit the building in under three minutes. But there were eleven deaths back stage, including the illusionist Sigmund Neuburger, the Great Lafayette, who sadly burnt to death. His tall ghost, naturally, haunts the place. The theatre reopened three months later, so no major setback.

The theatre was renamed the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 and a glass front was added. The contrast between modern exterior and older interior is very apparent. The theatre’s primary purpose is performing ballet and opera. No illusions.



  1. I was planning a visit to the Edinburgh Festival this year and no doubt would have seen this iconic theatre. But I guess it’ll be cancelled. Next year maybe!

    E is for…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was planning on visiting Edinburgh at the end of this month, but the event has been cancelled. Will have to wait to next year. Maybe we’ll bump into each other. I’ll recognise you based on your extensive vocabulary.


      1. Actually I could do a stand-up based on those words! See you at the Fringe!


  2. It sounds like it was a great theatre in the old days! I’m glad they didn’t entirely tear down the old features when they added some modern touches. Past and present belong side-by-side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Remarkably, the interior of theatres haven’t changed over time, especially now many are listed buildings.


  3. That place is massive! I’d never expect 3,000 seats from the outside. It would be a nice bucket list, to visit all of the theaters in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many theatres added extra tiers to increase capacity. It’s a good one for the bucket list.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We’ll hopefully be in Edinburgh this fall. I’ll have to check out the theater. Weekends In Maine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fingers crossed you can still make it to Scotland.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know. I’m concerned life won’t be back to normal in time but we’ll see.


  5. It looks gorgeous. though I have to admit I adore that first vitage photo.

    The Old Shelter – Living the Twenties

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a great photo – maybe more vintage ones to come.


  6. We were at Edinburgh during Festival last year and walked by this facade. I had no idea what it looked like inside (and all the highbrows shows there were long sold out).
    (Click the Blog link on the second row) : E is for Eenie


    1. I was surprised how different the interior looked. A good blend of old and new.


  7. […] who built the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh, now the Festival theatre, was born in Devon. One of nine, his father was a brewer, but Frank was […]


  8. Coliseum Summit · · Reply

    It would be so nice touring to this place by now but sadly didn’t happen. Hopefully next year, though.


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