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Victoria Theatre - Jubilee Year Celebration

Finding the site

Plans to build a new theatre for the Potteries & North Staffordshire region began in the 1950’s when visionary theatre director Stephen Joseph brought his Studio Theatre Company on annual visits to the old Municipal Hall in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Lack of government funding meant those early plans for a new civic theatre had to be abandoned.  But in 1962 a temporary home for the company’s work was found over the border in Stoke-on-Trent, at the Victoria Theatre in Hartshill.  Local architect Peter Fisher of the firm Hollins Jones and Oldacre drew up the plans to convert the former cinema and variety club into an in-the-round auditorium.
Here the Victoria Theatre Company was to stay for the next 23 years making the best of inadequate facilities, while the theatre’s reputation and influence grew from local to national significance.

During the 1960s and 1970s the search went on for a suitable site to build a new theatre-in-the-round.  But in a crowded urban environment it proved difficult to find a plot large enough for a purpose-built theatre with production workshops, storage facilities, a rehearsal room and space for a car park.  

Eventually, in 1981, the Stoneyfields site belonging to Newcastle Borough Council was proposed for the new theatre scheme.  When Vic Theatre Director Peter Cheeseman first climbed over the sandstone wall on Etruria Road and peered through the hedge, he felt he had discovered a “magical garden”.  

Once the lease for the land had been agreed, architects John Sambrook and Peter Fisher of Hollins Jones and Oldacre began work in detail with Peter Cheeseman to design the new building.

Theatre designer Alison Chitty researched the workshop & backstage facilities and assisted on the original colour scheme of the interior.  By 1983 John Sambrook had become chief architect and saw the building through to completion.  Since then he has overseen all the architect designs for additional building projects at the New Vic.

aerial photo of the land the new vic was built onThe New Vic Theatre stands in the former grounds of Stoneyfields House - a large 18th Century home with a garden of nearly 3 acres - as seen in the picture taken in Summer 1983.  The theatre car park occupies part of the open green area, formerly a paddock used for domestic horses.

By the 1980s the land was in the ownership of Newcastle Borough Council and Stoneyfields House had become home to the offices of Morgan Insurance Limited, whose director Ken Morgan became a good friend of the new theatre project.  

Once the architectural plans had been completed the building firm of G Percy Trentham agreed to manage the site with respect for a “conservation zone” which was written into the contract.  Advice from Landscape & Conservation consultant Chris Baines ensured that, during the building process, over 100 mature trees were protected by fences as part of the plan to create an urban nature reserve in the theatre grounds.

Photographs taken of the Betteley family horses in the paddock at Stoneyfields in 1951.

On the left is Mrs Betteley (senior) with their horse Monty. On the right is Mrs Kathleen Pepper (daughter) as a child with their horse Ricky. 

 The house at Stoneyfields is what is now the Polite Vicar public house immediately next door to the theatre. 

The Appeal

The estimated cost of the New Victoria Theatre project was £3.2 million.  Towards this the Arts Council agreed a grant of £640,000, with a total vote of £1.5 million from the local authorities of Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle.  Public Aid Schemes would help raise £260,000.  Approaches to industry, commerce and Charitable Trusts, as well as to the general public, would raise a further £750,000.   

new vic appeal convenant schemeIn 1982, the New Victoria Theatre Appeal Team was formed, with Mrs Joan Levitt as its Chairperson, to generate additional local community funding.  

The Vic Appeal Volunteers led by Albert Cooper as its treasurer set to work organising fundraising events involving hundreds of local people.  The Community and Schools committees chaired by Keith Plant ran sponsored lunches & parties, discos, craft fairs and barn dances.  

Kathleen Webb of the Leek Group of Volunteers remembers “It was all great fun!”  

By March 1984 community fundraising had reached £20,000.  
Fundraising continued for the next 10 years to pay off outstanding loans and in total, the Vic Appeal raised over £1 million from the local community.


poster for the potteries marathon      team of potteries marathon runners

1982 - The Potteries Marathon raises over £3,000 for the Appeal. Some of the Vic team in the photograph are: Nigel Bryant, James Earls-Davis, Max Pierscala and David Bowen.
(photo: Victoria Theatre Archive)

handing over the marathon cheque

Handing over the Marathon cheque 

Albert Cooper (l.) of Shelton Steelworks – Treasurer of Vic Appeal hands the cheque to David Ings (r.) Vic Theatre Business Manager with Appeal Vol & cake-baker Glenys Cooper looking on.  Note: the cake was baked by Glenys for 'Oak Tree Day 1982'

(photo: Victoria Theatre Archive)


Vic Appeal chairperson, Joan Levitt,  and theatre director, Peter Cheeseman receive  a cheque


Well potted, Sir!  Vic Appeal chairperson, Mrs Joan Levitt, 
and theatre director, Peter Cheeseman gratefully receive 
a cheque for £1,500 from Gordon Sambrook, 
chairman of BSC General Steels Division
(The iconic Vic Appeal teapots decorated in slipware
were donated by K & A Rodgers of Alsager Pottery)

(photo: Victoria Theatre Archive)

This teapot, manufactured by Price Kensington of Longport, was decorated by Alsager Pottery and subsequently donated to the Vic Appeal to help raise funds for the building of the New Vic.  It never contained any tea – it was used to hold monetary donations and could generally be found sitting on the Bar at the Vic awaiting contributions from theatre-goers.

appeal teapot full view      detail of the appeal teapot

donation from hem heath miners


1983 – The Vic Appeal is officially launched on The Vic’s 21st Birthday
Miners from Hem Heath Colliery donate their prize money from the National Pit Safety Competition
photo: John Beswick
(The miners in conjunction with the Vic produced the mines safety variety show Jowl Jowl and Listen Lads)

(photo: Victoria Theatre Archive)


Ben Kingsley and Robert Powell, both actors who started their careers at the Vic in the 1960s, became patrons of the New Vic Appeal and were featured in the appeal video “Give Us Your Money!”, where they encouraged people to contribute towards the appeal fund. Ben and Robert went on to become international stars of stage and screen.

1984 - Filminben kingsleyg the Appeal Video – “Give Us Your Money!”
Featuring contributions from patrons & supporters

Ray Johnson(l) Ben Kingsley (centre) and film producer Philip Donnellan (r)     
(photo: Vic Theatre Archive)

robert powell at a muddy construction site



Robert Powell (r) with architect John Sambrook (l) at the rather muddy New Vic site in 1984.
(photo: Mike Daniels)

Signing the Agreement

signing the lease agreement

Signing the Heads of Agreement – 21st November 1981

The Mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme signs the Agreement for the 125 year Lease of Stoneyfields for the New Vic site
(l.) Ken Cooper, Chairman of Victoria Theatre Trust;
(r. of table) Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Leslie Sillitoe
(photo: Don McNeil)

The signing  of the lease agreement was commemorated by the planting of an oak tree.  The tree, donated by former Vic Theatre resident designer, Alison Chitty, has a plaque naming it 'The Mayor's Oak' and Oak Tree Day continued to be a fundraising event at the New Vic well into the 1990s. 


inside audotorium




October 1984 – Inside the Auditorium Floor slab nearly completed

(photo: Gerald Wells - Northern Counties Photographers)

Last section of Auditorium Drum to first floor being cast





Last section of Auditorium Drum to first floor being cast

(photo: Gerald Wells - Northern Counties Photographers)

Designers and builders

New Vic Floor Plans: The theatre seats 600 in five rows, a set of boxes and a two-row balcony.  There are promenade places behind the boxes for another 70.

Ground Floor plan drawn by Susan Annis with notes by Peter Cheeseman


Architects: Hollins Jones Oldacre & Partners of Newcastle-under –Lyme

Structural Engineering – Hunt Wilton & Powell Hotham of Leeds
Mechanical Engineering – Edwards & Blackie of London
Acoustics – Rupert Taylor FIOA
Stage Lighting – Geoffrey Joyce
Stage Sound – Peter Barham

Main Contractors: G Percy Trentham Ltd of Longton Stoke-on-Trent

Image show the Ground Floor plan drawn by Susan Annis with notes by Peter Cheeseman

ground floor architects drawingThe Ground Floor

The theatre entrance leads past the ticket office to a foyer with a bar, coffee bar, bookstall, cloakroom and toilets.  There two entrance doors to the auditorium at ground floor level, a staircase and a lift to the first floor.  The main storage areas are on the ground floor.  The single storey workshop and rehearsal block is at the East end of the theatre facing the actors’ dressing rooms across garden courtyards.

architects drawing first floor

The First Floor

At first floor level is a self-service restaurant and the main bar, also more toilets.  Windows and a balcony overlook the garden with a staircase leading down through the trees.  Past the bar is a reception room and library for meetings and educational work.  The Vic’s offices are also on the first floor.

aerial view of the completed building


August 1985 –  Aerial view showing the New Victoria Theatre buildings and carpark in their surroundings with Stoneyfields House on the left

(photo: Visual Arts)


A key aspect of the design was the focus on the conservation of the grounds.  To this end, the New Victoria Theatre Conservation Committee was formed with Mary Pratt as the Chairperson.  

Young Ornithologists young ornothologistsfrom the Y.O.C. with nature conservation volunteers New Vic site - 1983

Adults from l. to r.  
Keith Morris (Newcastle Countryside Project)
Mark Dornford-May (Assistant Director Vic Theatre)
Jane Atkinson (Assistant to Theatre Director)
Margaret Bolton
Derek Bolton (Leader of Y.O.C – later appointed Conservation Officer for the New Vic)
(photo: R.Lawton)

planting wild flowers



Planting wild flowers in the woodland edge (Spring 1985)
(l.) Mary Pratt - Chair of New Vic Conservation Committee
(r.) Pat Callaghan - Chair of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust

traditional hedge layer


Carl Liebscher (traditional hedge-layer) 5th October 1984

Five months into the building process Carl completes work on the laying of the hedge along the front of the New Vic in the traditional Midland style wielding his Staffordshire bill hook.

Site Engineer Kevin McLoughlin takes levels for the new building (seen in the background) with a modern theodolite.

(photo: Gerald Wells - Northern Counties Photographers)

Topping Out

When the structure of a building is finished it is traditional to hold a “Topping Out” ceremony.

After a long campaign to build a new theatre-in-the-round in North Staffordshire the go-ahead was finally given and in 1984 work began on its construction.  By Autumn 1985 the fabric of the building was complete and on the 25th October of that year the “Topping Out” Ceremony was held.

Mrs Joan Levitt, the Chairperson of the Victoria Theatre Appeal Fund, uses the ceremonial trowel to lay a ceremonial tile atop the roof.

(photos: Victoria Theatre Archive)

joan lewitt at the topping out ceremonyPeter Cheeseman and Joan Levitt at the topping out ceremony


ceremonial trowel   ceremonial trowel detail showing inscription

Photos show the ceremonial trowel used in the 'topping out' ceremony.

Opening night

Opening Night – Wednesday 13th August 1986

programme from opening night

     list of opening season shows

Programme note - August 1986

It is with great delight that we welcome you to the New Victoria Theatre.
It has taken many years but has finally been realised and duly opens with St. George of Scotia Road by Arthur Berry
Closely followed by Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.
Enter the New Vic !

actor Freddy Jones on the opening night

“To have built a theatre like this

At such a time,

When the future is filled with doubts and anxieties,

Is a brave and marvellous gesture

A yes-saying to life.

It is a vote of confidence

In the civilised values art represents,

Extending to the future,

To generations to come

And so we are all privileged to be here tonight

To make a mark, a moment of significance

In the life of this Borough and this City

As this building begins its life as a theatre

And makes the first of its memories.”

Extract from ‘YES!’ by Arthur Berry 

Read by Potteries-born actor Freddie Jones at the Opening Ceremony - Tuesday 12 August 1986. Freddie was a pupil at Longton High School and for ten years, before becoming an actor, worked at the British Ceramic Research Association in Penkhull. Freddie's son, Toby Jones, took the part of Neil Baldwin in the film Marvellous (2014). 
(photo: Northern Counties Photographers)

audience on opening night

The audience waiting expectantly on the first night of the opening play - 
St. George of Scotia Road  by Arthur Berry

Music by Stuart Johnson

Design by Eve Stewart

Directed by Peter Cheeseman

Opening of the New Vic: reactions

When the New Vic opened in 1986, critics hailed the theatre as a triumph.  The Financial Times declared the new venue 
"a 20th Century version of Shakespeare's Globe".

The New Victoria Theatre Building received a regional design award from the Royal Institute of British Architects - 1989

new building almost complete


The theatre just prior to opening
(photo: Hollins Jones Oldacre & Partners)

view from Stoneyfield


The view from Stoneyfields’ orchard - the theatre and part of the grounds nearing completion of the construction phase  - May 1986

(photo: Gerald Wells - Northern Counties Photographers)

interior just prior to opening


The auditorium in the final stages of completion in 1986


group photo of New Vic staff


New Vic Theatre Staff and Acting Company March 1997

(photo: Paul Harrison, Northern Counties Photographers)


Oak Tree Day through the years

The first Oak Tree Day was 21 November 1981. An oak tree was planted on the Stoneyfields site on the occasion of signing the Heads of Agreement with the Mayor of Newcastle Borough Council.

The tree, donated by former Vic Theatre resident designer, Alison Chitty, has a plaque naming it 'The Mayor's Oak' (the tree is now over 40 years old) and Oak Tree Day continued to be a fundraising event at the New Vic well into the 1990s. 

Peter Cheeseman always organised some kind of ceremonial aspect to the day.

planting the first oak tree



Planting the ‘Mayor’s Oak’ on the Stoneyfields site November 1981
(l) Peter Cheeseman - tree planter; (r) Steven Granville – actor
(photo: Don McNeil)

Oak tree day 1992


Oak Tree Day 1982: Celebrating on Stoneyfields site
Dancers include David Bowen, Colin Harper and Mary-Jo Randle

Others in the picture: 
Ceremonial musician John Kirkpatrick; actors Brian Hickey, David Plimmer  and Steven Granville; Dr Jim Heron, Ken Cooper, Sue Barlow, Albert Cooper and Betty Owens

(photo: Gerald Wells for Northern Counties Photographers)

Oak trte day 1991



Oak Tree Day 7th December 1991
New Vic conservation officer, Derek Bolton, dressing the Mayor’s Oak and unveiling the plaque. At the time it was unique for a theatre to employ someone in the role of conservationsist.


the mayors plaque in 2022


Photo of plaque taken in November 2022