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Here is what we think is the only comprehensive record of pubs and beerhouses within the Coventry city boundaries going back as far as available records allow. This is an ongoing project so contributions, corrections or additions to this archive, especially anecdotes, photos and media are most welcome. Feel free to contact us for a pint and a chat anytime.

The Theatre Vaults

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Smithford Street 1939

NAME THEATRE VAULTS
ADDRESS 16 SMITHFORD STREET
ALTERNATIVE ADDRESS 17 SMITHFORD STREET
THIS PREMISES WAS KNOWN BY DIFFERENT NAMES DURING ITS HISTORY FROM TO KNOWN AS
1861 1868 LIQUOR VAULTS
1868 BOARD VAULTS
    VAULTS
1874 1881 SPIRIT VAULTS
1881 1886 OLD VAULTS
1886 1940 THEATRE VAULTS

This pub opened as a wine/spirit merchants. There is an 1861 transfer of license showing a liqour vaults at the bottom of Theatre Yard was transferred from M.A. Wittem to William Morris. Buchanan lists it as BOARD VAULTS in 1868, a license having been granted to John Dell in 1866, but by 1874 the establishment was known as the SPIRIT VAULTS and seven years later in 1881 was called the OLD VAULTS. That remained until 1886 wwhen the name changed again to the THEATRE VAULTS. In 1889 the THEATRE ROYAL became the EMPIRE PALACE OF VARIETIES accesible through the THEATRE VAULTS.

Although this was a period of music hall boom, audiences gradually dwindled to the point where the theatre became uneconomic to run. Competition from two pub music halls did not help. Ellen Terry played there in November 1880. Even stars like Charles Coborn and Arthur Lloyd in 1895 could not reverse the financial state and the Empire closed permanently at Christmas 1895 and was demolished in 1903 - but not the THEATRE VAULTS which remained trading until destroyed by enemy action in 1940

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Our text includes concise descriptions taken from the book 'Coventry's Forgotten Theatre, The Theatre Royal and Empire' by Ted Bottle and published by Badger Press

The Theatre Royal later known as the Empire Palace of Varieties was set back some way from Smithford Street, and would appear to be accessible through the Theatre Vaults from Smithford Street into the Theatre yard, though the pub was not a permanent part of the theatre building.

The first permanent theatre building was erected in 1819 by Sir Skears Rew, a local businessman. Like other theatres of the period, the Royal ran a stock company for about two months in the year and was part of a local circuit. It suffered the general downturn in attendances during the 1840s and 1850s but managed to stay afloat whereas many others closed permanently. The interior was modernised in 1857 along the lines of newer theatres but initial public enthusiasm soon faded and it became a music hall in 1865.

Drama returned in 1868 with various stock companies but these gradually gave way to national touring companies who would stay for a week at a time and move on elsewhere. William Bennett, who took over in 1880, did much to improve the building but it was too small and inconvenient to provide for the elaborate productions then on the road. Bennett built the nearby Opera House for these shows and turned the Royal into the Empire Theatre of Varieties in 1889.

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Coventry, spring 1944: Everyday life in Coventry, Warwickshire, UK 1944 © IWM (D 18090) Westward along Smithford Street. Pedestrians can be seen on either side of the road. The rain-washed pavement is lined with wooden railings which run alongside empty spaces where shops and houses once stood. In the distance, the square tower of St John's (Bablake) Church can just be seen.

This was also coincidentally the site of the Bull Inn. Marvellous what these old maps bring up!
Licensees
? M.A. Wittem wine/spirit merchant
1861 - 1868 William Morris Liquor merchant
1866 J. Dell
1874 William Morris, Wine & Spirit Merchant
1881 J. Wade
1886 - 1896 H. W. Thomas
1903 - 1905 G. Lawford
1909 - 1912 William Frederick Hodgkins
1912 - 1913 C. H. Scattergood
1919 Fred Wooton
1921 - 1924 J. Revitt
1929 - 1940 S. Marston
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28.8.1878 LJ Vol 1 P22 BOARD, Smithford Street Alehouse Owner J. B. R. Ball, Hill Street, Coventry, later of Park Side
Licensee : Thomas Heap
7.11.1878 TOL to William Brough ( Old Vaults )
23.1.1879 TOL to Frederick Heap
20.1.1881 TOL to Thomas Wade
26.4.1883 TOL to Arthur Henry Masser
31.5.1883 TOL to James Eaves
13.3.1884 TOL to George Johnson
6.11.1884 TOL to Thomas Horley
11.1.1886 TOL to James Whitaker ( Theatre Vaults )
11.3.1886 TOL to Harry William Thomas
27.4.1888 TOL to William Growcock Wright
5.1.1899 TOL to John Henry Gee
27.4.1899 fined 10/- & costs selling to drunken person

JA100 John Ashby thinks that the Theatre Royal was accessible through the THEATRE VAULTS. It wasn't, it was accessed through Theatre Yard. See TRE.

1892 TRE P158 On Monday 22nd February, 1892, Henry William Thomas. aged 29, became the new lessee ( of the Theatre Royal ). Thomas had been ' mone host ' of the Theatre Vaults, a popular tavern on a corner of Smithford Street and Theatre Yard since the mid 1880's.

1895 JA 100 Empire Palace of Varieties closed Christmas 1895 and was demolished 1903 but THEATRE VAULTS remained open

1900 TRE P165 Thomas remained connected with the Covemtry Theatre Vaults umtil the end of the century.

1938 Cov Cameos P17 Phot - Atkinsons

1940 JA Destroyed by enemy action

LICENSEES

1886 LJ Vol 1 P22 James Whitaker
1886 LJ Vol 1 P22 Harry William Thomas
1886 C&B H. Thomas
1888 LJ Vol 1 P22 Harry William Thomas
1888 LJ Vol 1 P22 William Growcock Wright
1890/91 R&G H. Thomas

1893 Reporter H. Thomas ( Something wrong here with Thomas / Wright )

1894 R&G H. W. Thomas

1896 R&G H. W. Thomas
1899 LJ Vol 1 P22 William Growcock Wright
1899 LJ Vol 1 P22 John Henry Gee
1903 R&G G. Lawford

1905 R&G G. Lawford

1909 R&G W. H. Hodgkins

1911/12 Spennell William Frederick Hodgkins

1912/13 Spennell C. H. Scattergood

1919 Spennell Fred Wootton

1921/22 Spennell S. J. Revitt

1924 P. James J. Revitt

1926/27 P. James J. Revitt

1929 P. James S. Marston

1931/32 P. James S. Marston

1933/34 P. James S. Marston

1935/36 P. James S. Marston

1937/38 P. James S. Marston

1939/40 P. James S. Marston

OWNERS

1886 LJ Vol1 P 22 J. B. R. Ball, Hill Street, Coventry, later of Park Side
1898 LJ Vol1 P 22 J. B. R. Ball, Hill Street, Coventry, later of Park Side

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