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The Trams of Manchester's Oxford Street

Local History

The Trams of Manchester’s Oxford Street

Trams often queued in Manchester’s Oxford Street in the early 1900s – and for good reason.

From the late 19th century, the popular street had developed into an important entertainment and shopping centre – and the tram was the best way to get there.

Trams can be seen waiting on Oxford Street with the Palace in the background - Source: The Changing Face of Manchester - iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix
Trams can be seen waiting on Oxford Street with the Palace in the background – Source: The Changing Face of Manchester – iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

People flocked to attractions like the Palace Theatre, which has been an Oxford Street landmark since its opening on May 18th 1891.

Known as the Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street, the theatre was designed by architect Alfred Darbyshire and cost £40,500 to build.

As a sop to church protesters who labelled it a den of iniquity, the Palace focused on classical works when it opened. The first production was the grand ballet Cleopatra, direct from the London Empire.

Although the opening night was packed to the rafters with a capacity audience of 3,675, the management soon dropped its highbrow programme.

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From 1894 it was variety all the way with the biggest names of the day coming to Manchester. Performers included the legendary Charlie Chaplin and music hall favourites Vesta Tilley and Harry Lauder.

Stars who played the Palace from the 1930s onward included Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Gracie Fields and Laurel and Hardy.

Ballet and opera returned on a regular basis in the 1950s – and the 1960s saw the advent of London-bound musicals. There were also the ever-popular Christmas pantomimes.

The Odeon Cinema which started life as a theatre and later gave way to an office block. - Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix
The Odeon Cinema which started life as a theatre and later gave way to an office block. – Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

Operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group, who also own the Opera House on Quay Street, the Palace is today recognised as one of the most popular and well-equipped theatres outside London.

Many West End shows have opened there, including The Producers in 2007 starring Peter Kay. Other regional tour premieres have included Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Keeping the classical tradition alive, the Palace staged the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna during the Manchester International Festival in July 2009.

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Another Oxford Street entertainment venue – the Odeon cinema – was demolished n April 2017 to be replaced by an office building.

Building work in 2016, with the Palace Theatre to the Right - Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix
Building work in 2016, with the Palace Theatre to the Right – Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

The Odeon started life as the Paramount Theatre in October 1930 showing the movie The Love Parade accompanied by a variety show on stage.

Capable of seating 2,920 people on two levels – the stalls and the balcony – the Paramount had a fully equipped stage, dressing rooms, orchestra pit, organ and café.

Written By

Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to the iNostalgia National History with a love for our national heritage.

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