History of the Citadel

The online heritage resource and the associated exhibition celebrates the culmination of an exciting Heritage Lottery Young Roots funded project that enabled local young people to research the heritage of the Citadel.


The first ‘Theatre Royal’ was a wooden barn like construction built near to the site of the current Running Horses public house (right). By 1856 this was deemed unsafe and the building which is home to the Citadel today was built in 1861 as the Theatre Royal, St. Helens.The permanent brick building was commissioned by a local solicitor Mr Thomas Haddock and designed by architects E Beattie & Sons. The building was based on the designs of the Liver Theatre on Church Street in Liverpool.

The theatre was managed at this time by Messrs, Johnson and Francis and was described in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser as a ‘Temple of Amusement’. One of the first performances referred to in the St. Helens Weekly News was The Gypsy King which opened on 5th April 1862.

The image to the left is an advert for the week of 26th April with a performance of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. The theatre is noted as having ‘boxes, pit and gallery’ which ‘command a full view of the amusements on all parts of the stage’. It is also mentioned that the building is ‘in keeping with the requirements of a populous district and will contain two thousand people’.

The Theatre Royal was operated on a stock company basis from 1862 until records show a Mr Charles Henry Du Val was the first lessee in September 1872.

On 1st September 1872 an advertisement in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser indicates that Charles Henry Du Val (right), an established music hall performer and experienced theatre manager, became the lessee of the Theatre Royal.

This was a significant change for the theatre and the way it was operated. During his time as lessee, Du Val brought many touring productions to the theatre and introduced pantomimes. Aladdin was performed in January 1872 and after closure for refurbishment in October 1873, Harlequin Sin Bad the Sailor opened in 1874 and was referred to in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser as ‘the most successful pantomime in St. Helens’.

Du Val performed a number of musical acts himself including Belle Dashaway and Captain Rattlecash and he would have most certainly performed these on the Theatre Royal stage.

The last record of Du Val as lessee was on 1st November 1880. Between November 1880 and June 1884 the records in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser reflect that the theatre came under the management of G. F. Charles. The theatre experienced several closures during this period and there is even reference to a riot on 18th December 1880.

June 23rd 1884 was a significant date for the Theatre Royal, St. Helens. Vesta Tilley (left), soon to become the most famous male impersonator of the music hall era graced the stage. Although the advert does not state which act Vesta performed she would soon be wowing the crowds of London with her male character acts including songs such as Berlington Bertie and Following in Father’s Footsteps.

On Saturday 30th August 1884 the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser proclaimed ‘Redecorated and improved the Theatre Royal and Opera House will reopen on Monday next with Miss May Holt’s Company in Men and Women’.

Wallace Revill (right), an experienced theatre manager responsible for running successful theatres across England, had taken over the lessee of the Theatre Royal, St. Helens. Revill embarked on a substantial refurbishment and it was noted in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser on the opening night ‘Previous to the performance the whole company assembled on stage in evening wear and sang God Save the Queen’. A subsequent article about the re opening in the St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser states ‘A new stage with modern appliance has been fitted by Mr W Harrison under the superintendence of Mr Richard Crowe. A New act-drop has been painted by Mr W McCulloch, and pretty scenery by Mr W Laffar. The auditory is painted and decorated by Messrs Critchley Brothers. The boxes and circle have been upholstered by Mr James Campbell. The pit seats have been rearranged and backs put in them. The general interior when lighted up is bright and pleasing. Externally the building has been pointed and painted’.

One of the key performances at this time was that of The Silver King and Revill engaged leading actor of worldwide fame Wilson Barret. This tells us something of Revill’s influence and also the theatre’s capabilities.

The success of Revill’s management was soon very apparent and prompted Revill to commission the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham to design a bigger, grander theatre that would be built on Corporation Street, the site of the current Theatre Royal.

The image to the left shows a period scene, depicting what a typical late 1800s theatre audience would have looked like.

The Theatre Royal, Milk Street was sold to the Salvation Army in 1889 (right).

In 1904 the building was significantly refurbished, removing many traces of its use as a theatre, and became a Salvation Army meeting place named Citadel.

On 18th May 1889, The St. Helens Newspaper and Advertiser printed a report on the building becoming The Salvation Army Citadel, ‘On Wednesday evening the members of the local corps of the Salvation Army went through the ceremony of hoisting the flag on the new barracks, lately in the possession of Mr Wallace Revill and known as The Theatre Royal’.

Captain and Mrs Wilshaw were featured in the article and may well have been the first Captain and wife to run the Citadel after the refurbishment. The image below left shows the auditorium as it was during its use by the Salvation Army.

The Citadel building remained as a Salvation Army Citadel for over 80 years. The history of the building as the town’s main theatre was largely forgotten.

The Salvation Army vacated the Citadel premises on Milk Street in the early 1980s and the building was put up for sale.

Between November 1983 and August 1984 two reports on arts provision in the borough were researched and written. ‘The Arts In St. Helens’ by Patrick Morefield and ‘Remaking a Generation’ by Roger Hill. Both argued detailed cases for an arts development strategy and special youth drama provision and were published together in 1984.

In April 1986 The Rainford Trust purchased the former Salvation Army Citadel with the intention of converting it into an arts centre for young people. They commissioned a feasibility study into the conversion and operation of the building as an arts centre (below left).

The Citadel Arts Centre was opened in April 1988 by Richard Luce MP, Minister for the Arts who subsequently singled it out as an example of excellent practice in the arts sector. It quickly developed a good reputation and was voted top music venue in the 1991 Liverpool Post and Echo Arts Awards. The Citadel became a Company Limited by Guarantee with an independent board in 1992.

By the end of 1995 the Citadel had become an annual revenue client of the North West Arts Board (Arts Council England) and had also acquired charitable status.

The Citadel developed its artistic programme including music, theatre and comedy moving towards a mix of bought in products, education projects, outreach and community arts.

In March 2000 the Citadel reopened after a £1m lottery funded refurbishment with an eclectic music programme and followed this with the launch of ‘Hands On’ the Citadel’s vibrant community arts programme in 2001.

The Citadel celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2003 with Johnny Vegas becoming patron and the Citadel was voted one of The Independent’s top ten jazz and blues venues in 2004.

In 2007 Arts Council England gave notice of RFO (Regularly Funded Organisations) disinvestment from the Citadel, however the Citadel continued to be supported by St Helens Council and The Rainford Trust.

In 2009 the Citadel celebrated it’s 21st anniversary. Since then nearly £1m in funding has been raised for arts projects with the local community.

In February 2013 the Citadel submitted a £2m Capital bid to Heritage Lottery Fund to reinstate the theatre to its 1860’s design. The bid was unfortunately unsuccessful, however subsequently in November 2014 the Citadel secured £46,000 from Heritage Lottery Young Roots for young people from the Citadel’s ‘Hands On’ groups to explore the history and heritage of the Citadel. This exhibition and performances are the result of that project.

In 2015 the Citadel continues to provide a high quality programme of participation and performance arts which attracts a local, regional and national audience (above).

For more information on community projects, please feel free to contact Daniel Woods at marketing@citadel.org.uk or 01744 753 201.