Clearing up the halls

In the days before fast and reliable transport, entertainment was a necessarily a local affair, and Lambton had a multitude of halls.  This month I clear up misconceptions about two of Lambton’s venues.

In the 1880s roller-skating was wildly popular, and in August 1888, Nathaniel Elliott opened the Criterion Skating Rink in Morehead St. As well as skating, the building was used for social and community events, including the banquet to celebrate the opening of the electric light scheme in 1890. The skating craze soon waned, and Elliott installed a stage and re-opened his rink as the Star Theatre on 3 May 1892.

For the next nine years the theatre was regularly used for dramas, concerts, political meetings, exhibitions and lectures. From 1901 it fell in to disuse and by 1906 was described as “dilapidated”, and Lambton Council called for the owner to make repairs. The theatre was demolished and a new building erected in 1909.

Two years later in May 1911, the proprietor of the Northumberland Hotel, George Smith, invited tenders for “the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead St.” His building opened in December 1911 as the Coronation Hall, in honour of King George V. The building later became Kings Theatre and is now Lizotte’s. Because George V became king in 1910 on the death of his father, the hall is often erroneously dated to that year. However, the coronation ceremony took place the following year on 22 June 1911.

In the 1920s roller-skating had a resurgence, and the hall was briefly known as the “Coronation Skating Rink”. The similarity of name with the “Criterion Skating Rink” of 1888 led to some confusion, with some books incorrectly stating that the Criterion Rink/Star Theatre was located on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets.  However, contemporary newspaper reports and a Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s make it clear that the Star Theatre was located on the south-west corner of De Vitre and Morehead Streets.

1890s Hunter Water Board map showing the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre (1888-1909) on the southwest corner of De Vitre and Morehead St, Lambton. Newcastle Region Library.
The Coronation Hall (now Lizottte’s), corner of Kendall and Morehead St, Lambton, erected in 1911. Photo from April 2019.

The article above was first published in the May 2019 edition of The Local.


Clearing up the confusion

I’m not sure when or where the conflation of the Coronation Hall with the Criterion Skating Rink began, but I was introduced to it when I first started researching and writing on Lambton’s history in 2015. Although a number of modern sources stated that the Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink I could find no early evidence for this. Over the next few years I kept expecting that at some time I’d stumble across something to confirm the location, but nothing turned up. In 2018 I found a couple of newspaper articles that were suggestive that the Star Theatre was NOT on the corner of Kendall and Morehead St, but not definitive.

By 2019 I was also increasingly frustrated with the conflicting dates reported for the construction of the Coronation Hall, so I made a concerted effort to pin down the dates and locations of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre/Coronation Hall. A key component in this investigation was to compile a spreadsheet of references to newspaper articles that referred to these venues. As clues to the location/dates of the venues emerged, I overlaid key information into Google Earth.

I was eventually able to confirm the location of the Star Theatre with the following information:

  • A 3 May 1892 article makes it clear that the Criterion Skating Rink became the Star Theatre.
  • A 24 January 1889 article states that the skating rink was on De Vitre St.
  • A advertisement from 18 February 1903 indicates that the Star Theatre was near the corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets.
  • A couple of articles about footpath and kerb maintenance (23 November 1893 and 21 June 1894) indicate that the Star Theatre was on Morehead St, probably on the west side.

The evidence thus far points strongly to the theatre being on one of the corners of De Vitre and Morehead St, but which of the four corners?

  • The advertisement from 18 February 1903 is for a house and property on one of the corners. By comparing the dimensions of the blocks of land with property boundaries available from the NSW Globe KML I could determine that the land for sale was on the north-west corner.
  • The north-east corner was ruled out as maps were clear that it was part of the block of land allocated for the Post and Telegraph Office.
  • The south-east corner was a promising possibility. To this day there is a hall standing on this location (now a private residence). Could this hall have been the Star Theatre? However newspaper articles and photos from Newcastle Library Photobank make it clear that this hall was the Masonic hall, constructed in August 1906, prior to council calling on the owners of the Star Theatre to make repairs in September 1906.

By a process of elimination, the Star Theatre must have been located on the south-west corner. Having come to this conclusion, shortly afterwards Julie Keating provided me with confirming evidence by pointing me to the 1890s Water Board maps, which showed a theatre on that location, just as I had deduced it should be.

Regarding the Coronation Hall, references to that name only started appearing in the newspapers in late 1911. But there was some doubt as to whether that was because it was newly erected building, or the renaming of an existing building. I confirmed that it was a new building when I found the advertisement from 10 May 1911 where “Tenders are invited for the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr George Smith.”

Other halls

Lambton has had a large number of different halls, theatres, and entertainment venues over the years. Some of the halls were associated with hotels, and often the hall was named after the hotelier at the time. Consequently the same hall could be referred to by many different names over the years. To help keep track of the different halls I have created a spreadsheet with references to relevant newspaper articles. Note that this is a work in progress, and not a definitive list.

Star Theatre

The Star Theatre was used for many different purposes. The following list is a sample of the kinds of events held there.

  • 3 May 1892 – Drama
  • 8 June 1892 – comedy, music, dancing, and phrenology!
  • 25 June 1892 – Anniversary service and public tea for the Lay Methodist Sabbath School
  • 25 July 1892 – Political meetings, on this occasion an address by George Houston Reid, then leader of the NSW opposition, who later became Premier of NSW (1894-1899) and Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905).
  • 30 July 1892 – Benefit concert, to aid an invalid miner.
  • 17 December 1892 – Lecture – “The Story of C. H. Spurgeon.”
  • 26 August 1893 – Church of England social.
  • 5 June 1897 – Wakely’s Cinematograph
  • 14 September 1897 – Photographic exhibition by Herr Gustav Paul
  • 28 October 1898 – Spiritualism and Clairvoyance
  • 16 February 1899 – “Chippeway” the Indian Healer – Lectures and Public Cures.
  • 30 June 1899 – wedding reception.
  • 10 November 1899 – meeting of Lambton ratepayers
  • 26 February 1900 – “CAPTAIN JOHN RUSSELL, the world renowned Explorer, will give one of his popular and amusing Entertainments, illustrated by one of the most powerful Syopticans in the world.” (A sciopticon was also known as a magic lantern.)

The Victoria Hall

For reasons of space and simplicity, one detail I omitted from the published article was what was built on the site of the Star Theatre in 1909. An article from 7 June 1890 reported on a dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall.

The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets. It occupies a floor space of 50ft by 24ft., with a stage on the western end. Ventilation has been well arranged, and with high walls the sounding propensities are good. Mr. J. Hutton was congratulated on his enterprise.

For the next year, there are a few references to this hall, until a final mention on 21 July 1910. What happened to this hall is unknown. As is often the case in researching local history, as one mystery is solved, another rises in its place.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Aug 1888"Two of our enterprising townsmen are about to erect large skating rinks. Mr. N. Elliott's, in Morehead-street, when complete will be about 50 x 50, and will certainly surpass any building for size in the town." (There is no evidence that the second rink, planned to be erected by Mr Cairns, was ever built.)
14 Aug 1888First mention of the Crriterion skatin rink by name. In an advertisement: "CRITERION SKATING RINK, Lambton.-Skating Match between two local amateurs will take place TO-NIGHT; £5 stakes, and half-mile race."
24 Jan 1889In a council meeting … "Alderman PALMER asked who supervised the repairs to the end of De Vitre-street, near the skating rink ?"
3 May 1892
3 May 1892
Opening of Mr. ELLIOTT'S STAR THEATRE, Lambton, with a performance by Sample's Dramatic Company of the Great Romantic Hunter River Drama, entitled "The Dagworth Mystery, and Anthony's Dream."
3 May 1892"Mr. Elliott, the proprietor of the Criterion Skating Rink, has decided to make a change in his building, which deserves special mention. A stage has been fitted up with the necessary appliances added, also the floor covered with commodious forms, and additional electric lamps have been arranged suitably, which gives the building quite a changed and taking appearance. It now bears the name of the Star Theatre."
23 Nov 1893In a council meeting … "Alderman Conn called attention to bad state of the kerbing between his shop and the Star Theatre."
21 Jun 1894In a council meeting … "Alderman Coleman called attention to the bad state of the footpath from the Star Theatre to the Prince of Wales Hotel."
2 Mar 1901The last time the Star Theatre is mentioned in an advertisement.
18 Feb 1903"For Absolute Sale. LAMBTON. A Very Comfortable 6-Roomed Cottage, Fronting Morehead and De Vitre Streets, near the Star Theatre." This house was on the north west corner of the intersection.
23 Oct 1903"The old Star Theatre has become very much delapidated, and, since the demolition of the Music Hall, the suburb stands in need of a large hall."
9 Jan 1905
7 Jan 1905
Last mention of the Star Theatre being used. (For a miners' meeting.)
24 May 1906At a council meeting … "Alderman Burg suggested that the attention of the owners be drawn to the dilapidated condition of the building in Morehead-street, known as the Star Theatre."
12 Sep 1906At a council meeting … "Dr. Dick also advised that the owners of the old Star Theatre be requested to make certain repairs to the building."
7 Jun 1909
4 Jun 1909
"A dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall, Lambton, was held on Friday evening. The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets."
21 Jul 1910
20 Jul 1910
Last mention of the Victoria Hall in Lambon.
10 May 1911"TENDERS are invited for the ERECTION and COMPLETION of LARGE BRICK HALL, in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr. George Smith."
25 Oct 1911"The Coronation Hall, Lambton (near tram terminus), will shortly be opened as the Adelphi Picture Palace, under the direction of the lessees, Messrs. A. F. Ralph and Son. There will be seating for 600 to 700 persons. Provision is also made to enable a large picture to be produced by a powerful electric plant and cinematograph."
25 Dec 1911
23 Dec 1911
"There was a fairly large and appreciative audience at the Coronation Hall at the opening of Ralph's Adelphi Pictures on Saturday evening."
23 Mar 1912
20 May 1912
"A social was tendered to Mr. H. J. Noble by his relatives and Lambton friends on Wednesday evening in Smith's Coronation Hall, as a send-off prior to his departure for Bowral."
25 Jun 1921Report on the jubilee of Lambton Council. "Until the erection of the Coronation Hall, the principal places of amusement were the music hall and the Star Theatre, which were demolished many years ago."
19 May 1925"SKATING To-day and To-night. Coronation Hall, Morehead-st., Lambton. Good skates, good floor, good music."
15 Jun 1925"SKATING CARNIVAL, Plain, Fancy, Comic, and Poster Dress. At the Coronation Skating Rink."
23 Jun 1925"Success attended the skating carnival which was held in the Lambton Skating Rink, in Morehead-street."
16 Jul 1930Last mention of roller skating in the Coronation Hall.
14 Jul 1937First mention of Coronation Café.
25 Jun 1938"Messrs. Castleden and Sara invite tenders for repairs and alterations to the Coronation Theatre, at Lambton."
12 Jul 1938Last mention of Coronation Hall.
16 Jan 1939"Lambton King's NEWCASTLE'S COOLEST THEATRE. OPENING TO-NIGHT AT 8 O'CLOCK"
17 Jan 1939
16 Jan 1939
"The remodelled Lambton Theatre was opened last night by Mr. L. J. Copeland. A big crowd was present for the first screening in the building since it was closed some months ago for alterations. The building shows a tasteful use of the modern architectural style without unnecessary adornment."

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