Leeds Heritage Theatres – where every seat tells a story. Find out more about how you can name a seat at one of our venues.

Settle Victoria Hall, City Varieties Music Hall and Britannia Panopticon, Glasgow

Our Music Hall Friends

A Victorian cultural phenomenon that made live performance entertainment affordable to the masses, music halls were the runaway successes of the late 1800s. So much so, that by 1875, there were 375 of them in London alone!

Sadly nowadays, there are only a handful of these original Victorian beauties still standing or operating. Over the decades, some of them have changed functionality to become cinemas, bingo halls, war offices and more. City Varieties Music Hall opened in 1865, and is the Guinness World Record holder for the ‘longest running’ music hall, so titled because our doors have stayed open and showing variety performances since 1865, without closing (apart from in 2020 due to Covid) or changing our function. Thankfully, there are music halls still going which are even older.

We reached out to several music halls to share their stories, including Wilton’s Music Hall, Hoxton Hall and Malt Cross, Nottingham, and we were thrilled to hear back from two – Settle Victoria Hall – our Yorkshire neighbour – and Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow. Here’s a little about them!

Written by Bryony Jameson.

Settle Victoria Hall

Tell us a little about Settle Victoria Hall.

Our hall was opened in October 1853. The shows were a mixture of classical and variety-style entertainment, with a mixture of local and travelling acts. Notable early performers included General Tom Thumb, Wiljalba Frikell, Sir John Hare, Benjamin Waugh, General Booth, and Kathleen Ferrier. It’s likely that Elgar visited as his close friend Dr Buck was a regular performer on the stage, and possible that Elgar himself may have performed here.

What other lives has your venue lived since its initial music hall days?

Victoria Hall has been a music hall continuously since opening. Other secondary uses alongside live entertainment have been as a WWI recruitment centre, a cinema, an ARP training station, and a community response centre during Covid, but our primary function has always been as a music hall.

What can audiences expect from your venue in 2023?

Today, we have a programme of around 170 events per year, including music, theatre, films, comedy, talks, dance, community events, and more, plus our daytime use as a community venue.

Describe your venue in three words.

Friendly, relevant, diverse.

Settle Victoria Hall and the playbill for their very first night, October 11th 1853

Settle Victoria Hall and the playbill for their very first night, October 11th 1853. Credit: Settle Victoria Hall

Britannia Panopticon, Glasgow

Tell us about Britannia Panopticon.

Opening in 1857 in room above a pub, the music hall held over 1500 punters who were deemed ‘wild’ with a reputation for ‘leaving no stone un-turned’. Britannia was also a cinema from 1896, a freakshow, carnival, waxwork museum, zoo, hall of mirrors and art gallery from 1906 as well as a music hall. Hence, Panopticon (Greek for ‘see everything’).

Tell us a little about your restoration work.

We are a conservation project due to the fact that Britannia is the only early music hall that survives in original condition and as yet we have not started the internal work at all, apart from rescuing the stage from beneath a 1960s toilet block. The outside of the  building was restored in 2006 (new roof), 2008 (facade) and 2011 (West elevation). As a result, our audiences experience a slightly decrepit, peeling, creaky old music hall with all her resident ghosts.

What can audiences expect from your venue in 2023?

Our audiences can see silent films with live bands, drag shows, variety shows, burlesque, music hall shows, craft fairs, storytelling events and all sorts of other events, as well as seeing our displays of ephemera and rubbish rescued from beneath floors and balcony benches, costumes and general music hall and variety history.

Describe your venue in three words.

Atmospheric, unique, fabulous.

Britannia Panopticon, Glasgow, and a programme from the 1800s

Britannia Panopticon, Glasgow, and a programme from the 1800s. Credit Britannia Panopticon, Programme University of Glasgow Library, STA JLC 39/23

City Varieties Music Hall Building Fund

The City Varieties Music Hall is the gem in Leeds’ crown. As the city’s oldest theatre, we want to ensure that Britain’s longest, continuously operating music hall is here for future generations, making it more accessible, sustainable, and comfortable. All donations will be fully invested in the building and equipment and will enhance your experience as a customer.

Select an amount to donate