Take a tour of our historic theatre…
Our 122 year old theatre has a fascinating and colourful history, as you’ll read below. We offer tours of the theatre with tea for small and large groups. Pre-booking essential. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01297 442 394
The history of a building affects its atmosphere, and the stories that play out within its walls are as important to its feel as bricks, mortar and lampshades. You can tell as soon as you walk into the Marine Theatre that a lot has happened here.
It hasn’t always been a theatre. The site has been many things to many people for many years. Bazaars, elections, dinners, Victorian holiday visitors stepping out of hot sea baths, fossil displays, public meetings, music, theatre, dance… a babble of people and scenes make up the atmosphere of this rare and charismatic venue.
The original building on the site was a sea water baths, opened in 1806 by Mr Giles Davies. The first of its kind in Lyme Regis, it pumped water directly from the ocean below. The baths and the fashionable reading room were a busy meeting place for visitors and locals alike. The only remaining part of the original baths is the pumphouse, which now makes-up one of our dressing rooms, looking out over the coast.
Sea water was a popular cure for all ailments, but the healing powers of these baths was said to go beyond the normal doctor’s prescription. In 1890 the Dorset County Chronicle reported that ‘…a saline spring has been lately discovered at Haye’s Hot & Cold sea baths (formerly known as Jefferd’s baths) which seems to possess extraordinary healing powers’. The claim went that a ‘highly respectable trademan’ had been wholly cured by these miraculous waters.
The baths fell into disuse but in March of 1894 a new drill hall was opened on the site. Paid for by a local benefactor this was a training facility for local soldiers, but included the stage and many of the features you see in the theatre today. On the right is a picture of the drill hall in 1903, featuring Sergeant Britton and a training gun. The beams behind the gun are still visible in the theatre today.
After World War One the building became The Drill Hall Theatre, and then in the late 1930s became the Marine Cinema.
The large tower on the front sea side corner was removed and the front of the building started to look at lot more like the theatre you see today. In later years the front of the building was rendered and painted white.
During World War Two the Marine Cinema was used as an American forces canteen and hosted performances from the likes of James Cagney, who brought with him American heavyweight boxing legend Joe Louise.
In 1960 the Lyme Regis Town Council bought the building, and it reopened in 1962 as the Marine Theatre.
The 60s saw appearances from bands such as The Troggs and Status Quo, and as the decades rolled on, so the list of national and international stars who had visited Lyme Regis grew and grew.
In 2003 the theatre was handed over to the Lyme Arts Community Trust, who have run it, employing a professional staff, ever since. We think the future of this unique venue, with its incredible views, and rich history, is very exciting. Come along and continue to enjoy this piece of Lyme history.