FROM 1722 to 1869, Saddler Street had been the home to Durham's Theatre Land, but it all came to an end with the disastrous Theatre Royal fire of 1869.

Durham's next theatre would not open until 1884, this time a little farther outside the city centre, near the ancient street of Framwellgate.

This was one of the main routes through the city, but was more run-down and a generally less appealing setting for a theatre than Saddler Street had been.

The new venue was located near the Framwellgate Gas Works and its proprietor was John Holliday, who owned a grocery shop in the street.

Holliday's theatre was a plain brick building named the Albany Theatre in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Albany, who visited the city that year.

It could hold up to 1,000 people, but was a short-lived concern.

Unfortunately, after only five years of entertaining local people, it lost its licence in 1889 after the heating was declared unsafe.

It was in this same year that theatre regained a foothold in the more genteel part of the city.

Thomas Rushworth, a Saddler Street resident with fond memories of Durham's Theatre Royal, saw potential in the nearby Assembly Rooms, just along the street in the adjoining Bailey.

The Assembly Rooms had been built in the 18th Century and had long been used for dancing, entertainment and singing by members of Durham's high society.

Rushworth undertook work to have the building restyled and redeveloped for theatrical entertainment. It reopened in 1891 with a performance of Il Travatore and The Assembly Rooms effectively became a theatre.

In fact, the students of Durham University still use it for that purpose today.

Only two years after the Assembly Rooms reopened, a new venue for entertainment opened in the city. This was Tudor's Circus, a wooden building erected in Court Lane, behind the Court Inn, between Old and New Elvet.

A large wooden stage was added to the building in 1894, and it became the People's Palace of Varieties.

It played host to all kinds of popular entertainment, with an emphasis on music hall, but does not appear to have been a focal point for drama.

However, like the Albany, the People's Palace proved to be a short-lived concern, lasting only four years.

Described as "a rotten old building", its suitability as a theatre was examined by the County Court Bench just before they retired to the neighbouring court to close the theatre down.

In 1902, there was talk of building a theatre in Claypath, on the corner of Providence Row. It was to seat 1,500 people and would be called the Coronation Theatre. Despite opposition from the neighbouring Congregational Church, permission was granted for its construction but, unfortunately, there was insufficient interest and the capital failed to materialise.

Durham's next theatre was called The Palace and opened in 1909. It was situated in Walkergate, near St Nicholas' Church, just off the market place, and occupied a redundant dye house that had belonged to Henderson's Carpet Factory.

The Palace was opened by TC Rawes, and was used for music hall rather than the production of plays but, significantly, it was also occasionally used for films.

By 1909, cinematic shows were well-established. The Assembly Rooms and Palace of Varieties, in Court Lane, were displaying moving images in the 1890s and even the Gilesgate Drill Hall was used as an occasional venue for cinema shows by 1902.

The first showing of cinematic images in Durham seems to have occurred in November 1896 at the Court Lane Theatre, with short films featuring a Spanish coastal cave, part of a football match and Newcastle fire brigade.

They were displayed using an instrument called a thatograph, with shows before 9pm so that people could catch the last train at Elvet Station.

The following month, a travelling minstrel show was demonstrating similar films at the Assembly Rooms using a vitagraph and, in 1897, Durham Camera Club displayed a moving picture show at the Shakespeare Community Hall, in North Road.

Other cinematic shows were seen in temporary booths at outdoor events such as the Sands Easter fair,.

However, more permanent purpose-built cinemas would not come to Durham until the early 1900s, as we shall find in next week's Past Times.