Update: The temporary sign, in use for filming, is now visible – revealing a bit of a clue as to what has been filmed for the last few weeks, with rumours of it being part of Magic Mike 3, aka Magic Mikes Last Dance (you can see the same rather smart Rolls Royce in this associated news article).
It’s hard to miss the Clapham Grand’s new front entrance. For a long time it has just been a series of doors, sometimes with a queue snaking down the road and round the corner. But in recent days it has acquired a platform, and a full replica Victorian cast iron entrance pavilion, complete with flamboyant ironmongery, ornate columns and glazed roof.
It certainly gives the Grand a bit more presence! The building has for a long time lacked any particular front awning, even though it had one when it was first built. This new front, which follows a careful cleanup of the brick and stonework and the windows right around the exterior of the building, gives it back some of its Victorian charm.
This pavilion echoes the shape of the front doors. It’s by no means the first pavilion the building has had over the years – the photo below from the Theatres Trust‘s database shows a glass & cast iron awning that was on the building from when it opened in 1900 as “The New Grand Theatre of Varieties”.
The original front was later altered to turn it in to something more akin to a cinema frontage, when the main hall was fitted out to also work as a cinema in 1927 – with a streamlined shape and neon lighting, as shown below. It was still called the Grand Theatre, as it continued to do theatre, music hall and cinema between 1927 and 1950, when it converted to a full-time cinema called the Essoldo Cinema.
We don’t know when this awning was removed; it was still there throughout the life of the Essoldo Cinema – but in 1963 the cinema closed and the building went in to a rather sad phase which saw it stripped of some of its original features – including the front awning. For those interested in a little more of the story of the Grand their website is worth a look – it notes that one of the more surprising proposed new uses at the time was a attempt to replace the venue with a petrol station – a use which may not seem so strange if you have seen our previous article on the stuff-of-nightmares plans for giant motorway flyovers around and indeed on top of Clapham Junction station at the time, which were very nearly actually built and which would likely have seen both the station and the Grand demolished.
Luckily the petrol station plans, and the motorway plans, fell through. But like a lot of older cinemas, theatres and music halls, the building was converted for use as a bingo club under a series of owners, and gradually lost parts of its original design. This saw various bits of the building fall in to disuse and included the upper parts of the theatre being boarded off. The poor building wasn’t used at all between 1978 and 1991, but it was listed in 1978 which probably prevented its demolition. In 1990 the Mean Fiddler Group – who we have written about in their new guise as Festival republic, who run events on Clapham Common – took it on and (to their significant credit) got it back back in to shape and took it back to its roots by fitting it out as a live music venue. Unfortunately for Mean Fiddler the refurbished venue wasn’t especially successful, closing in 1997 and being sold to Wetherspoons at a point where they were opening enormous pubs around the UK. But even in the hands of Wetherspoons it proved a complicated venture: Wetherspoons failed to get a license even following a public inquiry, and eventually rather reluctantly accepted it would become a pub (though the location stayed on their radar as a good place for a pub, as we found with their opening of the London & South Western).
So it has stayed true to its roots as a club, live music venue, theatre and event space, and indeed while the business has had its ups and downs, including a rough ride through the Coronavirus as one of the sectors worst hit by closures and cancellations, there’s no doubting that it has a strong and enthusiastic team behind it and has done pretty well in recent years. This new work to recreate some of its long-lost Victorian flair, with a new entrance shows we’re nowhere near the end of the story for the Clapham Grand.
Thanks to some of our keen readers’ on-site observations we know some of these works are serving for a major film underway at the moment. Will the new entrance, which counts as temporary (and doesn’t have planning, but which is properly built to an unusually good standard for a mere film prop), survive? We hope it does.