Reflecting on our Local Theatre
& Performing Arts Scenes

Local theatre and music venues have been closed temporarily because of the coronavirus restrictions. So, to provide some consolation, we thought we’d bring you a blog especially devoted to celebrating some of our favourite performing arts venues in the area.

Attractions such as Burnley Mechanics and the Oldham Coliseum offer so much to audiences throughout the year and have provided important platforms for the careers of many actors and musicians.

Our local theatre and concert venues are also great sources of civic pride. They put our towns on the arts and entertainment map and attract visitors from far and wide, just like our local football clubs.

Some of these venues have been theatres for many years while others have had different purposes over time. These venues have significant importance, both for their architectural value and as distinctive landmarks in our town centres.

Originally called Burnley Mechanics Institute, this building was first opened in 1855 to provide adult education and skills to working class people in the fast-growing industrial town.

The very first mechanics institutes were established in Scotland, in Edinburgh and Glasgow, followed by English cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and London. Some were partly funded by local businesses or employers, who saw the benefits of educating their workforces. Others were funded by philanthropists, charities or co-operatives of working people.

In those early days, we didn’t have free public libraries. There were some libraries that charged fees for membership and were aimed at wealthier people. The school system was also much more basic, with people leaving school at an earlier age to work. As a result, working people up and down the country had a thirst for knowledge, entertainment and culture.

Similarly, to the mechanics institute movement, trade unions and political parties placed emphasis on adult education, night classes, study groups and other opportunities to learn or enjoy some recreation.

Eventually, hundreds of mechanics institutes or other types of working people’s organisations were established across the UK. Some later became public libraries, ran by local councils or were taken over by universities or adult education colleges.

Burnley Mechanics Institute is a great example – and a beautiful building, which was designed by Todmorden-based architect James Green.  It is a Grade II* listed building and a landmark of Burnley. In its early years, it offered classes in subjects such as arts, science and technology and it soon became a centre for the town’s cultural activity.

Because of changes to social and economic life after the Second World War, the original Mechanics Institute closed in 1959. In the early 1960s, the building was bought by the local council and given a new role as an entertainment venue. A number of well-known performers appeared there over the years including the young singer Tom Jones.

It was re-opened in 1986 by The Queen and has since hosted some of the world’s best performing arts and music with examples including the Burnley International Blues Festival. Burnley Mechanics also plays an important role in nurturing new talent too.

The people of Burnley and surrounding areas have played a key role in its success and popularity. They supported its redevelopment and have supported its arts and entertainment events throughout its history. Along with Burnley Football Club, the much-loved Burnley Mechanics is a source of deep civic pride and helps maintain the area’s profile.

Burnley has produced some fine actors over the years too.

Mary McKenzie – the first person born in Burnley who played a leading role on a TV drama programme. She played the main role in the first serialisation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She later appeared in The History of Mr Polly, based on an HG Wells novel, and has gone on to star in other TV programmes.

Sir Ian McKellen’s career spans theatre, film and TV and he has won multiple awards for his work. He loved theatre as a boy and visited theatres across the north-west with his family. His career includes the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre along with Coronation Street and The Simpson. How’s that for variety? His early TV appearances included David Copperfield in 1966 then led to Hamlet, Craven Arms, Cold Comfort Farm, Richard II, Edward II and Walter and June in later years.

Today, Burnley Mechanics hosts a wide spectrum of musicals, shows, concerts, drama, talks and comedy. There’s something for everyone and all ages – children, families and adults.

Because of the current coronavirus restrictions, all shows at Burnley Mechanics from now up to June have been re-scheduled. It’ll be great to welcome audiences and performers back to the Mechanics as soon as possible. For anyone with a ticket for a performance during this period, Burnley Leisure will be in touch as soon as possible with updates.

Burnley Mechanics has undoubtedly played a significant role in the history of the town and wider area. So much so that it is the focus of a Heritage Lottery-funded research project.

The project is designed to promote awareness of its fascinating and varied history, its architectural importance and its role within the mechanics movement. In addition, it aims to conserve, enhance and investigate opportunities for the future. You can see more details including old plans and photographs at the website burnleymechanics.co.uk.

Keep in touch with our website, blogs and social media for all the latest news, advice and resources. We’ll also keep you updated with membership details, bookings, tickets and other customer information.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Check-out the others on this website which are all designed to keep you well, informed, engaged and entertained at home amid the coronavirus restrictions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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