he Black & White Picture Place

Old Photographs & Drawings of Liverpool: The David Lewis Hostel & Theatre

The David Lewis Hostel, June 1977. Photograph by kind permission of Sirob.

david lewisDavid Lewis (1822-1885) was a successful businessman who founded his first shop in Liverpool in 1856 and opened his second, a major retail department store, in Manchester 1880. He left his fortune to be used for the benefit of the working class people of Manchester and Liverpool and The David Lewis Trust was founded by Benn Wolfe Levy, one of his executors, on 7th July 1893. Two committees were established, one for Liverpool and one for Manchester. A group of people in Manchester who wished to provide facilities for people with epilepsy applied to the David Lewis Trust for support. This must have caught the imagination of the Manchester Committee who purchased the land and established the Sandlebridge Campus which they donated by Trust Deed on 8th September 1904. The David Lewis Centre accepted its first two residents on the 11th October 1904 with the one hundredth resident arriving on 27th July 1905 and the thousandth resident arriving on 13th May 1916.

hall in david lewis hostelThe David Lewis Theatre (illustrated below) was erected as part of the David Lewis building in 1906, on the site of St. James' Market and it was intended primarily as a music hall for men using the hostel and club. It was first licensed (as a music hall) from January 1907, but, as it was a large and quite elaborate structure, it was felt it would be bad economy to limit its use to just a music hall, so arrangements were made with local amateur dramatic societies to stage their productions there. The first theatrical licence was issued in October, 1910.

Right: an ornately arched and tiled hallway inside the Davy Lou

Tuesday night shows were introduced and people from the local neighbourhood were charged much lower prices than they would pay elsewhere. There were concerts on Sunday evenings- "an hour and a half's good music for 2d". Films were shown as well, the first cinema licence was issued in January 1914. (The management of the soon to be opened St. James' Picturedrome objected, to no avail).
A scheme was also developed for the showing of films to school children. In the 1920s, a licence for boxing was obtained, and in the 1930s, billiards was introduced.
The ornately-decorated theatre could accommodate about 1000 people.
In 1936, two sound film projectors were installed. During the war it was described as the David Lewis Garrison Theatre.

In 1960, the floor was levelled and a new stacking system of 296 seats was used. Dancing was introduced but film shows and theatrical productions continued to be staged. The 470 seats in the balcony remained unaltered.
The David Lewis Theatre ceased being "a place of public resort" when the certificates expired on 30 November 1977, soon after the above photograph was taken.

Demolition of the complex was completed in October, 1980 and the site has been redeveloped.

Rob Ainsworth, Liverpool History Society

st. james's market
St James's Market, Great George's Place, which was demolished in 1899. The David Lewis Hostel was built on its site in 1906

davy lou and cathedral

david lewis theatre postcard

david lewis theatre postcard

david lewis theatre interior

great george place
Great George Place 23/2/1910. The 'Davy Lou' is on the right.

nile street
Nile Street seen from the Cathedral. The 'Davy Lou' is on the left.
All of these buildings, except for the tall bank in the middle distance, have now gone.

david lewis facade
The facade just before demolition in 1980

david lewis demolition
The end. Note the Anglican Cathedral on the left and the caged-in rooftop football pitch on the right.

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