St George's Hall through the ages...
St George’s Hall opens with a
three-day musical festival
Alderman Samuel Smith is the founder and it is paid for by public shares. St George's Hall is to have the effect of ‘suppressing the immorality and vice prevalent among our population’. It goes on to host ‘Grand’ events e.g. Grand Musical Soirees, Grand Masonic Balls, Grand Concerts.
Charles Dickens reads his famous story A Christmas Carol to a packed auditorium. The money raised goes to an educational institute in Bradford. The press describes the audience as ‘riveted from first to last… as was manifest by their frequent cheers and their loud laughter!’
Charles Dickens gives a reading
First performance of the
Bradford Festival Choral Society
Drawn from a choir of over 200 who performed at
St George's Hall’s opening, they present Handel’s
The Messiah. The start of a long standing relationship with the venue.
Sir Charles Hallé, the founder of the orchestra, first plays at St George’s Hall as soloist pianist in 1854. Then in 1858 on their first tour Mr. Charles Hallé and his full band comprising 70 musicians perform. The Hallé Orchestra play at the venue to this day.
The Hallé Orchestra plays for the first time
The First Subscription Concert
To help raise funds for the running of St George's Hall, the first subscription Grand Concert presents vocalists Miss Edmonds and Mr Sims Reeves.
Bradford MP W E Forster explains his Primary Education Act, meaning that from the age of 5, it is now law that children should attend school, laying out the framework for our school system used to this day. Strong disapproval and scuffles with the police follow.
Local MP W E Forster presents the Education Act
The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform,
the first of 6 performances
One of the earliest and most famous African American vocal groups, the Jubilee Singers were made up of mainly freed slaves from Fisk University in Nashville. ‘The Fisk Jubilee Singers changed the spiritual into an art form and introduced it to the world’.
The Shah of Persia, His Imperial Majesty Naser al-Din, attends a grand reception at St George's Hall.
His entourage includes 3 viziers, 6 Amirs
and 33 Persian notables.
The Shah of Persia visits
Legendary Victorian actors perform
Mr. Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry play the lead roles in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. This touring version of their hugely successful production is supported by a full orchestra.
This event spills over into disturbances.
The Riot Act is read on the Town Hall steps
and the Durham Light Infantry called.
This is hugely significant in political history
and the trade union movement.
The Lister’s Mill strikers hold a meeting and thousands attend
Dame Nellie Melba sings
One of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era, Dame Nellie Melba sings at St George’s Hall. This is one of her many performances at the venue.
Sydney Carter, the manager of St George’s Hall, is a pioneer in cinema. Moving pictures are first presented here in the late 1890s. In 1902 he forms New Century Pictures and a programme of films are regularly shown at the venue.
New Century Pictures at St George’s Hall
Prince and Princess of Wales visit
The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary) attend a Grand Reception at St George’s Hall, after opening Cartwright Hall, the Bradford Exhibition in Lister Park, the Technical College and unveiling a statue of Queen Victoria.
Harry Houdini, the famous magician and escape artist, appears for one week only. His percentage of the house earns him a $2,150 salary, the highest he has ever received. Whilst in Bradford, Houdini also performs his jail breaking act by escaping from the cells in City Hall.
Harry Houdini, the escapologist, performs
Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst speaks at St George's Hall
Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst of the Women's Social and Political Union is heckled as she speaks at a meeting in support of votes for women.VIEW EXHIBITION
Prime Minister Asquith speaks at St George's Hall, and two suffragettes, who have been hiding under the stage for 24 hours, interrupt him with a demand for 'justice for women and freedom.' They are escorted from the Hall.VIEW EXHIBITION
The Prime Minister’s speech is interrupted by suffragettes
Independent Labour Party meeting
with Keir Hardie
The Independent Labour Party (ILP), later to become the Labour Party, was founded in Bradford in 1893. Many of their meetings, including this one celebrating the 21st birthday of the ILP with Labour leader Keir Hardie, are held at St George’s Hall.
St George’s Hall is used to recruit local men, known as the Bradford Pals, to fight in the First World War. Many of the Bradford Pals go on to fight and lose their lives in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Recruitment of the Bradford Pals
New Century Pictures buys
St George’s Hall
New Century Pictures buys St George's Hall. After work on the interior it re-opens as a cinema. The main feature for its first showing is The Eagle starring Rudolph Valentino.
Gaumont buys St George’s Hall and runs it as a cinema until 1949. Throughout the 1930s Gaumont has 3 other cinemas in Bradford city centre: The New Victoria, The Empire and The Morley Street Picture House which is now The Studio behind the Alhambra Theatre.
Gaumont British Film Company buys
St George's Hall
St George’s Hall is purchased by
In danger of being demolished, Bradford Civic Society offers to buy the site from Gaumont for £35,000. Bradford Corporation completes the sale.
St George's Hall re-opens as a municipal concert hall 100 years after its original opening. : A concert is given to celebrate, which includes performances from BBC Northern Orchestra and Bradford Festival Choral Society.
The site re-opens as a civic concert hall
Sir John Barbirolli conducts the Hallé
for his 100th subscription concert
The conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, Barbirolli appears at St George’s Hall for his 100th subscription concert. A celebration supper is given in his honour. He describes the venue as ‘having the finest acoustics of any concert Hall in Europe and its non-echo perfection makes my conducting of music therein a pleasure.’
In the 1950s blues artists, jazz orchestras and big bands perform. A young Shirley Bassey sings Kiss Me Honey with the Eric Winstone Orchestra and is described in the programme as ‘a charming person of fantastic talent.’VIEW EXHIBITION
Shirley Bassey with the
Eric Winstone Orchestra
Rock ‘n’ roll star Jerry Lee Lewis performs
In the 1960s rock ‘n’ roll bands play at St George’s Hall. Audiences go wild dancing to hits such as
Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire.
Formed in 1962 this was the band’s second British tour. Playing covers, their hard-driven sound came to represent the youthful rebellious counter-culture of the day.VIEW EXHIBITION
The Rolling Stones perform two shows
Leeds/Bradford airport terminal is opened at the venue
Air travellers check in with their luggage at St George’s Hall, relax in the lounge, then take a coach to the airport at Yeadon to fly out to destinations around the world. The terminal remains at the venue for 5 years.
Big Mama Thornton, influential African American blues singer/songwriter performs alongside some of the greatest blues artists in the world at the American Folk Blues Festival.VIEW EXHIBITION
Big Mama Thornton appears at the American Folk Blues Festival event
Professional Wrestling Matches
St George’s Hall hosts a wide variety of events including brass band championships, religious meetings, magic shows, cookery demonstrations, flower shows, school speech days and, on Monday evenings, a highly popular programme of wrestling matches.
Heavy rock band Led Zeppelin performs, as does legendary artist David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust with The Spiders from Mars. A golden age of rock and pop at the venue.VIEW EXHIBITION
Rock legends perform at St George's Hall
Queen, Hawkwind, Status Quo and Slade
Young audiences enjoy live performances of their music providing unforgettable experiences.
‘It was very magical...I was 15 when I first went and it was there I saw all my heroes… it was magic!'
Jeff Willacy - Audience member
Punk band The Clash rocks the venue as heavy metal gives way to punk, new wave, ska, reggae, bhangra, rap and pop at St George’s Hall. The Clash goes on to play here for a third time in 1985.VIEW EXHIBITION
The Clash perform at St George's Hall
St George's Hall re-opens
after major refurbishment
After a year-long closure and £2m of work the venue re-opens. The renovations include new ramped access along Bridge Street, clean-up and repair to the exterior and re-configured front of house areas.
Following the tragedy of the fire at Valley Parade football ground in Bradford, three nights of benefit concerts are given to raise money for the victims. Kiki Dee, The Cult and Smokie perform.
Three nights of benefit concerts
British bhangra band Alaap performs
Along with other hugely popular British bhangra bands such as Heera and The Sahotas, Alaap performs British bhangra which combines roots in the Punjab with Western, rock-influenced beats; a music which affirms the identity of young British Asian audiences in Bradford.
A great number of LGBT+ artists and performers have appeared at the venue over the years. In this era performers begin openly celebrating their sexual orientation through performances on stage. Erasure is hugely popular with LGBT+ audiences, for whom the openly gay singer Andy Bell is an icon.VIEW EXHIBITION
Synth pop duo Erasure performs
Take That performs
Take That performs as part of their first ever tour, and to promote their first album, Take That & Party. They go on to have 12 number one hits, including Back for Good, Never Forget, Patience and Greatest Day, and are the most successful boy band in UK chart history!VIEW EXHIBITION
Comedy becomes the new rock ‘n’ roll with sell out shows filling the auditorium. Alongside the ever popular Ken Dodd, new comedians such as... Lee Evans, Lenny Henry, Lily Savage, Jack Dee and Jo Brand appear.VIEW EXHIBITION
Stand-up comedian Jo Brand performs
Benazir Bhutto speaks
Thousands of people pack St George’s Hall to hear politician and former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto speak.
Welsh rock band Stereophonics play. Despite a change in the music business meaning popular bands play to vast crowds in huge arenas, emerging bands continue to draw new, young audiences to the Victorian venue.VIEW EXHIBITION
The Sugababes perform
Pop and rock bands like the Sugababes, James and Ash perform. Soloists Dionne Warwick, Boy George and Hayley Westerna pack out the venue.VIEW EXHIBITION
Comedy continues to take centre stage as comedy legend Billy Connolly performs a show which sells out in hours. Part of his Vetruvian man tour.VIEW EXHIBITION
Billy Connolly gives a sell out performance
Yorkshire Regional Brass Band Championships
One of the last events held at St Georges Hall prior to its major refurbishment is the Yorkshire Regional Brass Band Championships. This involves 58 bands (and over 1700 bandsmen and women) competing to represent Yorkshire at the finals of the National Brass Band Championships at the Royal Albert Hall. The winner in 2016 is the Black Dyke Band.
Following a much needed multi-million pound refurbishment, St George’s Hall re-opens with a gala celebration. Beverley Knight, Sarah Millican, Collabro and Escala star, as well as some of Bradford’s local groups and performers. The Bradford Festival Choral Society and other local artists sing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s The Messiah.
St George’s Hall re-opens to the public after a 3 year closure
St George’s Hall closes to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic
The venue is later used as a Covid testing hub. Members of the public without obvious symptoms of Covid can walk in and have a test, with results delivered in 30 minutes. Part of the strategy to fight the pandemic on a local level.
After first opening in 1853 and having survived two world wars, change of ownership and a global pandemic, staff prepare for re-opening the venue once more. St George’s Hall continues as its founder intended to provide for our ‘instruction, amusement and entertainment’ and to reflect the spirit of the day.
St George’s Hall looks to re-open for public performances
The majority of images featured above are courtesy of Bradford Museums and Galleries, Bradford Local Studies Library, West Yorkshire Archives Service and Bradford Theatres own archives.
Image credits: 1988 image of Erasure - credit David Scheinmann, 1999 image of Benazir Bhutto - credit Tim Smith, 2003 image of Stereophonics - credit Kekslover, 2016 image of The Black Dyke Band - credit Black Dyke Band, 2020 image of St George's Hall - credit Nigel Hillier, 2021 image of Bastille gig at St George's Hall - credit Nigel Hillier