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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bradford

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Looking towards the auditorium
© City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
The show must go on!

Dome of the Alhambra
© City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
In 1913, Bradford's beautiful and flamboyant Alhambra Theatre was built on a desolate piece of waste ground. When first constructed, the elegance of its oriental domes and glamorous swirls rubbed shoulders with blackened industrial warehouses. The contrast symbolised the role of the theatre in people's lives: a flash of the exotic in the everyday existence of Bradford's working classes.

That the Alhambra remains one of Bradford's most distinctive buildings is testimony to the bold and extraordinary design undertaken in 1913. In the spirit of its namesake, the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, the Alhambra has an oriental flavour. It is a unique building with a colonnaded primary dome flanked by two smaller domes.

Queuing for auditions
© City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
In line with the opulent exterior, the Alhambra's interior was furnished with lavish luxury. The theatre was snug in the winter, thanks to the latest electric heating system and specially designed hot-water pipes. Seating in the pit was as comfortably padded as that in the orchestra stalls and dress circle. The audience's feet sank into the plush customized carpet.

The man responsible for Bradford's luxurious addition was Francis Laidler. In many northern cities during the Edwardian period, the new-found wealth of factory owners and industrialists was responsible for creating grand buildings. The Empire in Liverpool was a contemporary of the Alhambra; both were the dreams of successful industrialists.

Francis Laidler accumulated his wealth in Bradford's brewing and wool industries, but his real passion was the theatre. In his definitive history of the Alhambra, Domes of Delight, Peter Holdsworth devotes many pages to Francis Laidler's passion for theatre and pantomime. 'King of Pantomine', the nickname bestowed upon him, reflects his love of all things thespian.

Little rays of sunshine!

Central to Laidler's ideal theatre was the involvement of local people. A dance group of younger children called the 'Sunbeams' would perform in shows. This tradition still continues today.

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