Theatre History

The site for Shanklin Theatre was gifted to the people of Shanklin by the Lord of the Manor, Mr. Popham-White, and “Shanklin Literary Institute” funded by public subscription, opened in 1879. The Institute was designed by E G Cooper, in classical style with a pedimented Corinthian portico. The original Institute contained an entertainments hall and meeting rooms, together with the Town Hall and Mayor’s Parlour for Shanklin Urban District Council; additional rooms including an amusements room were added in 1884. After an edict from the Town Council in 1913 the entire building became known as “Shanklin Town Hall” rather than “Shanklin Institute”.

After a serious fire in the early 1930s, the damaged part of the building was rebuilt incorporating Shanklin Theatre, to a design by Cooper & Corbett, Architects, and “Shanklin Theatre” was opened in 1934. The original fabric of the Town Hall and reading room survived, and the original walls and windows of the lower floor are clearly evident and were retained in the basement areas, with the new Theatre being built over them. The “Town Hall” is identifiably part of the 1878 design, and continued to be used as the Town Hall for Shanklin Urban District Council until the formation of Sandown-Shanklin Urban District Council in 1933. It continued to be used as the Town Hall when South Wight Council was created in 1974, but ceased to be an active Town Hall from the formation of the Isle of Wight Council as a Unitary Authority in 1995.
The present Theatre façade is a three-storeyed classical design, finished in stucco, taking the form of a five bay mansion in French style set upon an advanced ground floor podium. This floor consists of two channelled pavilions with modillion cornice and blocking, each having a central semi-circular headed window with a keystone, modillion cornice and blocking. Between the pavilions, slightly set back and approached by a wide flight of steps are glazed metal doors beneath a canopy. The ‘mansion’ has a three bay centre with giant Ionic columns supporting an entablature and pediment. On either side, single bays are defined by broad pilasters with carved cartouches at their heads.
The auditorium, which is possibly an adaptation of the original dance hall with added balcony, is decorated with plain plaster panels. The original seating could be removed for dances, and although the current seating is new, it can still be removed if required.
A fly tower was added in the 1933 rebuild, and Shanklin Theatre is the only Theatre left on the Isle of Wight with such a feature. The theatre is an all-year touring house and also serves local amateur dramatic companies. Set away from the beach, on the hill at the top of town, within the Shanklin Conservation Area and on the edge of Shanklin Old Village. The original reading room now serves as the theatre Box Office.

ENGLISH HERITAGE – Legacy Record – click here