A History of Settle's Victoria Hall


Ian Smith

Settle's Music Hall, later to be renamed the Victoria Hall, is possibly the earliest in the country which has had continuous use as a performance venue since its inception. When Wilton's Music Hall in East London was restored in 1999, after being derelict for 40 years, the Daily Telegraph reported that it was said to be the oldest surviving music hall in the country, "having been opened In 1858". Settle's Music Hall was established in 1853!

The site occupied by the Victoria Hall started as a staked-out plot forming the west end of the yard and garden belonging to the Spreadeagle Inn in Kirkgate. When Settle's National School was being built on the plot in 1816, the plot and the building on it were demised to the Governors of "Giggleswick Free Grammar School". The National School remained there until 1853, when it moved to Upper Settle to new school buildings erected there by the Reverend John Robinson. In return Robinson (identified in a later document as John Gorges Robinson of Cragside) was given possession of the Kirkgate site. This exchange had been agreed two years earlier by the Giggleswick School managers, but it was not formalised until 1856.

Settle Music Hall was opened on the Kirkgate site on October 11th 1853 with a concert by Settle Choral Society, of which J Robinson (presumably the same) was secretary.

Here there is a gap in my knowledge. Was the Music Hall a new building or an adaptation of the old school building? Could a new building have been constructed within the year? Can anyone help?

The booklet "Settle's Victorian Music Hall" (SVMH), merely states in one place that "In 1853, James Winskill...completed works on the new Music Hall". Also I have seen recent statements that the School was converted to a Music Hall, but nothing to confirm this.

However there is evidence for the Music Hall being a new building:

  SVMH states elsewhere that the Hall was built by Winskill.

  Settle Choral Society's AGM in 1854 acknowledged the benefit "given to the neighbourhood by its Secretary [J Robinson] in building the Music Hall.

  T Brayshaw/R M Robinson's "The Ancient Parish of Giggleswick" (1932) states: "When the [National] School was removed to the slopes of Castleberg, the Victoria Hall (first called the Music Hall) was erected on its site (1853)".

  An early, pre-canopy, photograph of Hall front shows a datestone MDCCCLIII. Also recent work on the Hall revealed, on what had been an external wall, a damaged datestone with the same combination of Roman numerals visible.

  The photo also shows the front butting on to street as it does now, whereas the Tithe Map of 1844, as reproduced in the pamphlet "Settle Then and Now", shows the National School building set well back.

The formal document signed in 1856 refers to "the buildings" on it, but refers elsewhere to "the School room lately standing on [the site]", implying a different building from the [Music Hall] building standing on the site in 1856. " The Hall's architecture (?unlikely for an 1816 "school room"). In December 1858 the Choral Society announced that in the following January it would be giving a concert for the "reopening of the Music Hall" following alterations to it including enlargement of the gallery to seat almost 100 more persons. In 1892, a performance of HMS Pinafore was given on 23rd November, in aid of Settle Cricket Club, to mark "the opening of Victoria Hall (formerly the Music Hall of Settle)".

Settle Amateur Dramatic Society, a fore-runner of today's Settle Amateur Operatic Society, presented its first production in January 1880, some three years after the opening of the Settle-Carlisle line in 1876. The line had turned out to be "unhandy", the train service "being such that a visit to a Leeds or Bradford theatre necessitated an absence from home all night". With the Hall now available, the Society was set up to remedy this: "If Settle could not go to the theatre, the theatre would be established in Settle". The Society switched from plays to (mainly) Gilbert and Sullivan operas in 1898, and in the mid-thirties these gave way to the musicals which the Operatic Society have produced annually since then, barring the 1939-45 war years.

One of the leading lights of the Dramatic Society was Edmund Handby, who was to dominate the stage for many years. It was he who painted an "act drop" for the stage, based on an earlier painting by George Nicholson showing Settle Market Place as it was in 1822, prior to the building of the Town Hall. Theatre act drops were installed to be lowered during intervals in a performance instead of closing the stage curtains. Commonly they were repainted for successive productions: Settle's is one of only 5 or 6 left in the country which were not! As such it is a rarity with which English Heritage was sufficiently impressed to grant funding towards restoration when it was revealed (after being out of sight for many years) during the recent works on the Hall.

Robinson donated an organ to the Hall. According to SVMH this was in 1909. However an organ is mentioned in a report, annotated with the date 1886, reporting a Primrose League event in the Hall and describing the Hall as decorated with banners, etc., corresponding to those which are prominent in a photograph reproduced on the SVMH centrefold. The organ was re-built in Hellifield Church in 1914 and is still in regular use there.

Cinema came to Settle in 1912 at "The Picture House" in the Assembly Rooms (where Poppies' Cafe now is). But in 1919 the venue switched to the Victoria Hall as "The Picturedrome", later to become known as the "Vic". The first programme there included "BOBBIE: THE REVUE GIRL, a photoplay in 5 reels". Tanny Jerome was the Manager and Licensee, followed in 1927 by John Graham and subsequently (1933) by his nephew Arthur.

In 1920, the Hall was gifted by Robinson's executors/trustees, at his behest, to Settle Rural District Council, which in 1923 acquired the land on the east side of Hall on which an engine room for the cinema was built. In 1927, to meet cinema fire regulations, John Graham had the wooden balcony and stairs were replaced by concrete, and the wood floor by composition flooring. (The original floor was raked, with the seat rows angled to the stage.) The dressing room annexe was built on to the east side of the Hall in 1936. After the '39-'45 war the Hall was managed by the British Legion, during which time a dance floor was installed.

Settle RDC acquired land west and north of Hall in 1950 with a covenant not to build within 40 feet of its rear wall. This would have permitted rearward extension. Unfortunately the covenant was extinguished in 1962, so that when ownership of the whole site transferred to Craven District Council in the Local Government Reorganisation of 1974, a garage had already been built on and NYCC had acquired a continuing right to use it and an adjacent portion of the land behind the Hall.

And so we come to the present. In 1994 a steering Committee was set up by Settle Area Community Council to consider the need for and possible location of a Settle Community Centre. This led eventually to the major Victoria Hall development project of 2000/2001. For this and the subsequent operation of the Hall, CDC has granted a 99-year lease at a peppercorn rent to Settle Victoria Hall Ltd, a charitable company limited by guarantee. The Hall has been internally modified and refurbished and its east side extended to form a suite of community rooms. It was formally re-opened on 3rd March, 2001: the first public performance on 10th March was, appropriately, a "Music Hall" evening.

With thanks to Settle Museum for access to relevant documents in its possession.


Victoria Hall drawn by Margaret Robbins for Settle Town Trail

Entertainment Poster 1894. Donated to the Hall by the NCHT.