Site of the former ABC Theatre/Syndicate nightclub today
The building last known as the Syndicate nightclub on Church Street in Blackpool had a long history before being demolished in 2015.
It’s now known as East Topping Street car park.
It had been a music hall, a circus, theatre, cinema and nightclub. The Beatles had famously played there in their early days.
Have a look into the history of this site, and a ponder at what might have happened there in years gone by, next time you pass.
History of the ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub
In 2013, discussion was raging over what was to become of the Syndicate Nightclub in Blackpool.
Local man Steve Foster delved into the past of the building, presenting this view from the people who were campaigning to save the building. Here’s the past and future according to Steve:
Empire Theatre and Opera House
In 1894 Blackpool was booming with visitors, so another Theatre was to be built, costing £30,000, and designed as a large Ballroom and Music hall by its designer John Dent Harker of Manchester. When completed it was opened on 4th July 1895 as The Empire Theatre and Opera House.
Many thanks to our Visit Fylde Coast team member Juliette Gregson for sharing this photo. She thinks it was the original building. Can anyone confirm that?
Unlike all the other theatres in Blackpool, the Empire had a very small stage that separated itself safely from the auditorium by a special fire-proof curtain made from asbestos. The auditorium had a flat floor with a gallery around three sides, beautifully decorated in the old Italian Renaissance style. There was also very special provision made for the comfort for the artists, with dressing-rooms fitted with hot & cold water heated by electricity as well as electric lighting throughout the Theatre. Most of its entertainers came up from London making it the only music hall in Blackpool.
The company’s original intention was to provide dancing and variety shows for holiday makers every summer, but the magistrates refusal to grant them a licence for singing and dancing caused the directors of the theatre to change their plans. Due to poor profits The Empire’s financial problems caused it to closed down.
In 1900 The Empire Theatre was to become The Hippodrome Theatre in which was a circus, with The Louis Tussaud Waxwork Exhibition in the basement.
Blackpool has had its fair share of circuses in the town, as well as the Tower in 1894 and the Hippodrome in 1900, there was also a circus on the site of the Grand Theatre which was run by Thomas Sergenson for several years. After meeting the Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham, he decided to demolish the circus and with the help of his friend Frank Matcham they built the Grand Theatre and presented it as being the “prettiest theatre in all the land” and it still is in my opinion.
But back at the Hippodrome Theatre however, in 1910 the theatre was still struggling, so the circus arena was removed and the floor raked and converted back into a theatre to seat 2,500 people, staging a Variety season in the summer months.
Taken over by ABC
In April 1929 the theatre was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC).
The ABC increased the seating capacity to 2,820 although they still showed live performance on the stage, with The Crazy Gang and George Formby. They would also show silent films and the latest news reels from abroad and it was at this cinema that the first talking pictures in Blackpool were shown in a film staring Al Johnson called “The Singing Fool”.
Plans were proposed to rebuild The Hippodrome Theatre 1939, but the outbreak of WWII put a stop to that and the theatre carried on as it was through the War, helping to keep morale going with shows going on such as “Coconut Grove” starring Julie Andrews & Jimmy Jewel in 1949 or “Latin Quarter” starring Max Bygrave and Hylda Baker in 1953, but eventually the Hippodrome Theatre had to close in 1960.
Much of the old theatre was demolished, except the outer walls and was almost completely rebuilt to the designs of C. J. Foster, who was the chief architect for the ABC at the time.
On 31st May 1963 The ABC Theatre opened with the Summer Season Stage Show “Holiday Carnival” starring Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
This was to be the golden years of the ABC with seating for 1,934 in the stalls and the circle. It was a very modern theatre with gold seats and tabs (stage curtains) and was used for stage shows during the summer months, films and concerts during the winter season.
It was even fitted with its own permanent revolving stage. Prior to it’s demolition it was still one of the few remaining theatres in Britain to have a revolving stage.
Peter Holden emailed Live Blackpool to add “I took a group of budding DJs to the Syndicate and we were told by our guide that the revolving dance floor was made from the original stage. So everyone stood in a spot that Paul or John etc (the Beatles) had once stood in, possibly.”
He said “I wonder what happened to it.” So do we. Do you know whether it was scrapped or sold on? Please get in touch with that particular piece of the jigsaw – email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
The theatre was also wired up for TV transmissions and during the 1960’s ABC Weekend Television transmitted their “Blackpool Night Out” show form the ABC hosted by Mike & Bernie Winters.
There were other popular summer shows that the ABC attracted, stars like Morecambe & Wise, Tommy Cooper, Cilla Black, Tommy Steele, Jimmy Hendrix, Englebert Humperdink and then there was “Holiday Startime” with Frank Ifield and Jimmy Tarbuck, with guest stars like The Barron Knights.
But the ABC Television studio in Blackpool didn’t just do big Summer Shows they also did the “Bruce Forsyth Show” a comedy sketch show with co-star Harry Secombe. “ABC Armchair Theatre” a thriller, and “Haunted” a suspense.
Famous Faces in Blackpool
Cliff Richard played at the ABC, apparently on his 21st birthday.
Even the Beatles played a concert at the ABC Theatre in 1963.
It was rumoured that Beatles history was made at the Theatre when Paul McCartney who had written new song here in Blackpool, called “Yesterday” sang it for the first time on the ABC stage.
(Steve said) I don’t know if it was ever true or not, its up to you if you wish to believe it, but its a nice thought anyway. It was also said that Elvis Presley played at the ABC Theatre as well, but I have yet to find any proof of this to be true.
Eventually in 1981 the ABC Theatre finally closed its doors for good as a Theatre and became a 3 screen Cinema.
The soul of the theatre was hidden behind the screen, never to be seen again, bringing to an end its former theatre life. The stage, orchestra pit, the 1963 proscenium, safety curtain, front stalls, and dressing-rooms were all left intact behind the screen of number 2 & 3 cinemas, slowly dying along with the heart of the building, never to see performers once again upon her stage in front of an audience and filling the theatre’s lunges with laughter and applauses.
Cannon, MGM… and back to ABC
In 1986 the Cinema changed its name to The Cannon and again in 1993 to The MGM but in December 1998 it was re-named The ABC and closed again.
Four years later two local business partners decided to convert the building at the cost of £4 million into a nightclub and called it “The Syndicate” which opened in December 2002.
It wasn’t to last, in 2005 it lost its late night drinks licence, an important thing to have if you’re a night club, so it had to close down for a month in October as a result. It was eventually sold on in May to a company called Nexum Leisure costing them a further £2 million and opened in June 2007 as a Polish Club, but it too closed on the 10th August 2011 and never opened again.
Syndicate Nightclub, Church Street, Blackpool. Photos from 2013
The end of the road
The Empire Theatre had gone through many names with many faces but always with one heart and that was the heart of a theatre of entertainment and wonder for all the family.
In December 2012 word got out that the building was under threat of being demolished by Blackpool Council, which sparked a campaign to save it from demolition.
However, it wasn’t to be. Most of the features of architectural significance had been removed over the years. The ones that were left had been neglected beyond the point at which they could be saved.
Demolition of the Syndicate
It was demolished in 2015. Many thanks again to Visit Fylde Coast team member Juliette Gregcon for these photos of the demolition.
Look at the window arches, exposed on the above photo when the cladding was removed. See how they clearly correspond to the windows on the original building below.
The land is currently being used as a car park, prior to any plans for its re-development.
Have you got anything to add?
If you’ve got any photos of the building going back over the years that you’d like to add to the article please send them to us.
Just email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
As always, we will fully credit them to you/the source.