Frank Matcham and Oswald Stoll
Frank Matcham (1854–1920)
Born in Devon, Frank Matcham was apprenticed to George Bridgman, a local builder and architect in 1868. In the 1870s he moved to London to join the architectural practice of Jethro Robinson who was consulting theatre architect to the Lord Chamberlain. Following the sudden death of Robinson in 1878 Matcham, by then married to Robinson’s daughter, took over the practice.
Probably the most prolific theatre architect of all times, Matcham built at least 80 theatres as original architect and was involved in minor and major rebuildings of around 80 more between 1873 and 1913. There was a building boom between 1890 and 1915 and Matcham designed theatres for many cities and towns. Notable London theatres include the Hackney Empire (1901), the London Palladium (1910) and the Victoria Palace (1911). He also designed pubs, cinemas and hotels as well as the County Arcade in Leeds and the Tower Ballroom and Circus in Blackpool.
Frank Matcham pioneered the use of cantilevered steel in his designs, and took out patents to protect his work. This allowed balconies to be built out into the auditorium without the use of the supporting pillars that had characterised the work of the previous generation of theatre architects. Without pillars, there were improved sightlines and, popular with theatre owners, an increased audience capacity
Each of Matcham’s theatres was unique and he had a reputation for building magnificent theatres on difficult sites both speedily and economically, which led to close relationships with many theatre owners and managers, including Oswald Stoll who commissioned him to design the London Coliseum in 1904. The building survives largely to Matcham’s plans which can be viewed in ENO’s Archive and was beautifully restored to the original plans in 2004. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery.
Sir Oswald Stoll (1866 – 1942)
Oswald Stoll was a British theatre manager and the co-founder of the Stoll Moss Group theatre company. By 1905, almost every large town in Great Britain had an “Empire” or a “Coliseum” theatre, managed by Stoll.
He was born in Australia but moved to England with his mother after his father’s death and took his stepfather’s last name. His interest in theatre came from helping his mother manage theatres. Stoll was a philanthropist: he founded the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation in Fulham which continues today to house disabled ex-Servicemen and women and provide support for veterans.
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