The Monday Photo
This pub is on the Market Square, Aylesbury. It’s not particularly old or noteworthy, but for many years if you wanted entertainment, through the arch on the side of the pub to the building that stood behind it was the place to go.
At different times over the years there you could see performers like Genesis, The Who, Roxy Music, David Bowie, or Ronnie Barker, or even watched a film.
There’s been plenty of live music. Ronnie Barker might not have sung on stage there, but like David Bowie, there’s a statue of him in the town.
When Ronnie Barker made his first ever appearance on stage, it was 1948; he was 19. The building was then called The Market Theatre and had been built in 1924.
By 1963 the building has had three name changes and it is now called The Borough Assembly Hall.
The Who played there in 1965, one of many live acts in the 1960s. Genesis, Roxy Music, and David Bowie played there between 1971 and 1975, when it was the home of the Friars music club.
I looked at many sources to try and find out about this building, and a lot of them contradict each other, but this, I think, is the timeline:
The Market Theatre is opened on 21st January, by the Aylesbury Electric Theatre Company. That is, it was a cinema.
The cinema is destroyed by fire on Easter Saturday, but quickly rebuilt and reopens on 22nd December the same year.
By now, the cinema is being operated by the London and District Cinemas chain. The rival Odeon opened in this year.
1939 to 1945 (approx)
The cinema is requisitioned by the Ministry of Food to be used as a food warehouse. The building is stripped out; even the stage is removed.
Actor Bill Stephens of the famous BBC comedy show ITMA takes on the management of the theatre. He restores the building and establishes a repertory company there.
The building is reopened as The New Market Theatre.
It closes again. The auditorium floor is levelled, and the building renamed The Grosvenor Rink and Ballroom.
1959 to 1968
Many live blues acts perform there, until about 1965. But from 1960 there are more and more rock acts playing. In 1963 the building is closed for refurbishment, again. When it opens it’s been renamed as The Borough Assembly Hall.
1969 to 1975
Many live gigs are performed there under the name of the Friars music club, usually just known as ‘Friars’.
The Borough Assembly Hall is knocked down to make way for part of the Hale Leys shopping centre. Friars gigs continued until 1985 in the new Civic Centre.
I saw Ian Dury and the Blockheads at Friars in the Civic Centre on Saturday November 15th 1980, the only time I ever went. I wish I'd gone to see more bands there (Sigh).
But Friars gigs will return after the lockdown ends.
In researching for this post I found many references to the Manchester Repertory Company playing at the theatre, but only on pages about Ronnie Barker.
I’m wondering now if this is some sort of misunderstanding that’s been often copied but never checked. When I wrote about Ronnie Barker before I concluded it was true, but I’m not so sure now.
(Edited September 2021)
While checking this post, I've ordered a copy of the book above to see if I can find out about his time in Aylesbury. If you order this book from the link above or anything at all from Amazon when you got there via this link, I get a small percentage from them. It costs you nothing but means you are supporting the NBW.
If you can put the record straight about this, or if I’ve made an error in the timeline for what began as The Market Theatre, please comment below.
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