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Eerie remains of Burnley theatre where Houdini performed





  • The Empire Theatre in Burnley opened in 1894 with seats for 1,935 and hosted acts from around the world
  • But now the venue lies crumbling, its stalls riddled with moss and mould and light pouring through the roof
  • Houdini, who was famous for his seemingly impossible escape tricks, performed there in December 1902

By Rory Tingle For Mailonline

Published: 06:49 EST, 17 February 2017 | Updated: 07:41 EST, 17 February 2017

More than a hundred years ago, The Empire Theatre was packed with a sell-out crowd who watched transfixed as the legendary Harry Houdini performed his routine of seemingly impossible escape acts.

But now the Burnley venue lies crumbling, its stalls riddled with moss and mould, light pouring through the collapsed ceiling and floors piled high with rubble.

The stage, which Houdini graced in December 1902, is a broken mess of peeling paintwork, twisted girders and vividly coloured stage fittings turned to a uniform brown by the filth of over 20 years abandonment.

The Empire Theatre opened in 1894 with room for 1,935 people, who were seated in stalls, balconies and a gallery.

The four-storey building was designed by G. B. Rawcliffe and hosted acts from all over the world before being converted into a cinema in 1938.

It closed in 1995 after a spell as a bingo hall and fell into disrepair soon after. The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust was formed in 2015 and has been campaigning to save and restore the theatre.

The Empire Theatre in Burnley, which hosted Harry Houdini in December 1902, has been abandoned for more than 20 years. These seats are now riddled with moss and mould, and the floor is littered with rubble The Empire Theatre in Burnley, which hosted Harry Houdini in December 1902, has been abandoned for more than 20 years. These seats are now riddled with moss and mould, and the floor is littered with rubble

The Empire Theatre in Burnley, which hosted Harry Houdini in December 1902, has been abandoned for more than 20 years. These seats are now riddled with moss and mould, and the floor is littered with rubble

The Empire Theatre opened in 1894 with seats for 1935 people, consisting of stalls, balconies and gallery. The auditorium (pictured) is lined with decorated plasterwork, which has survived surprisingly well during the abandonment The Empire Theatre opened in 1894 with seats for 1935 people, consisting of stalls, balconies and gallery. The auditorium (pictured) is lined with decorated plasterwork, which has survived surprisingly well during the abandonment

The Empire Theatre opened in 1894 with seats for 1935 people, consisting of stalls, balconies and gallery. The auditorium (pictured) is lined with decorated plasterwork, which has survived surprisingly well during the abandonment

This is a view from the stage where Houdini performed more than a hundred years ago. One of his favourite tricks was to unlock a chain using a key hidden inside a false finger. He also escaped from handcuffs, leg irons and jail cells This is a view from the stage where Houdini performed more than a hundred years ago. One of his favourite tricks was to unlock a chain using a key hidden inside a false finger. He also escaped from handcuffs, leg irons and jail cells

This is a view from the stage where Houdini performed more than a hundred years ago. One of his favourite tricks was to unlock a chain using a key hidden inside a false finger. He also escaped from handcuffs, leg irons and jail cells

A ladder leading down to one of the backstage areas of The Empire. From here, behind-the-scenes staff would arrange props to bring in to the acts as they performed to the audience above A ladder leading down to one of the backstage areas of The Empire. From here, behind-the-scenes staff would arrange props to bring in to the acts as they performed to the audience above

A ladder leading down to one of the backstage areas of The Empire. From here, behind-the-scenes staff would arrange props to bring in to the acts as they performed to the audience above

Houdini died on October 31, 1926, aged 52. The Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer became world famous for his sensational escape acts Houdini died on October 31, 1926, aged 52. The Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer became world famous for his sensational escape acts
His grave in Queens, New York, has become a shrine for magicians inspired by his career His grave in Queens, New York, has become a shrine for magicians inspired by his career

Houdini died on October 31, 1926, aged 52. The Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer became world famous for his sensational escape acts

The stage, which Houdini graced in December 1902, is a broken mess of peeling paintwork, twisted girders and vividly coloured stage fittings turned to a uniform brown by the filth of over 20 years abandonment The stage, which Houdini graced in December 1902, is a broken mess of peeling paintwork, twisted girders and vividly coloured stage fittings turned to a uniform brown by the filth of over 20 years abandonment

The stage, which Houdini graced in December 1902, is a broken mess of peeling paintwork, twisted girders and vividly coloured stage fittings turned to a uniform brown by the filth of over 20 years abandonment

The venue was last used as a bingo hall in 1995. Last year, it was named the fifth most at risk theatre in the UK. Campaigners are determined to restore the venue to its former glory  The venue was last used as a bingo hall in 1995. Last year, it was named the fifth most at risk theatre in the UK. Campaigners are determined to restore the venue to its former glory 

The venue was last used as a bingo hall in 1995. Last year, it was named the fifth most at risk theatre in the UK. Campaigners are determined to restore the venue to its former glory 

Splintered wood beams poke down from the ceiling of the auditorium in a picture taken by Mark Smith, an amateur photographer. The Empire is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster  Splintered wood beams poke down from the ceiling of the auditorium in a picture taken by Mark Smith, an amateur photographer. The Empire is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster 

Splintered wood beams poke down from the ceiling of the auditorium in a picture taken by Mark Smith, an amateur photographer. The Empire is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster 

This photo shows a shaft of light beaming through the broken roof above the stage. Recent bad weather has taken it’s toll on the fabric of the building, according to the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust This photo shows a shaft of light beaming through the broken roof above the stage. Recent bad weather has taken it’s toll on the fabric of the building, according to the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust

This photo shows a shaft of light beaming through the broken roof above the stage. Recent bad weather has taken it’s toll on the fabric of the building, according to the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust

A crow perches on a shard of wood behind the moss-lined seats of the former theatre. The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust formed in 2015 and have been campaigning to save and restore the venue A crow perches on a shard of wood behind the moss-lined seats of the former theatre. The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust formed in 2015 and have been campaigning to save and restore the venue

A crow perches on a shard of wood behind the moss-lined seats of the former theatre. The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust formed in 2015 and have been campaigning to save and restore the venue

The four-storey building was designed by G. B. Rawcliffe and hosted acts from all over the world before being converted into a cinema in 1938. Pictured is a view of the stage from the stalls The four-storey building was designed by G. B. Rawcliffe and hosted acts from all over the world before being converted into a cinema in 1938. Pictured is a view of the stage from the stalls

The four-storey building was designed by G. B. Rawcliffe and hosted acts from all over the world before being converted into a cinema in 1938. Pictured is a view of the stage from the stalls

This image, which shows a backstage area at The Empire, gives an idea of the terrible condition the theatre has fallen into since it was abandoned more than 20 years ago This image, which shows a backstage area at The Empire, gives an idea of the terrible condition the theatre has fallen into since it was abandoned more than 20 years ago

This image, which shows a backstage area at The Empire, gives an idea of the terrible condition the theatre has fallen into since it was abandoned more than 20 years ago

This flight of stairs led down to another back-stage area. A spokesman for the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust said: 'As a purpose-built theatre it could one day be able to stage shows which no other venue of comparable size in the area could do' This flight of stairs led down to another back-stage area. A spokesman for the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust said: 'As a purpose-built theatre it could one day be able to stage shows which no other venue of comparable size in the area could do'

This flight of stairs led down to another back-stage area. A spokesman for the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust said: 'As a purpose-built theatre it could one day be able to stage shows which no other venue of comparable size in the area could do'

A side view of the Grade II-listed venue. Its entrance, on St James's Street, is now set between a pet store and a money shop A side view of the Grade II-listed venue. Its entrance, on St James's Street, is now set between a pet store and a money shop

A side view of the Grade II-listed venue. Its entrance, on St James's Street, is now set between a pet store and a money shop

 


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