A hidden staircase, and a collapsing roof but Swansea's Palace Theatre comes back to life

Gwenno Jones, head of community at Palace Theatre anchor tenants Tramshed Tech
Gwenno Jones, head of community at Palace Theatre anchor tenants Tramshed Tech -Credit:Richard Youle

The company that will operate Swansea's new-look Palace Theatre has said it's honoured to breathe new life into the 136-year-old building. Tramshed Tech runs five co-working venues in Cardiff, Barry and Newport, supporting the businesses which rent space there and helping them grow.

The Palace Theatre is steeped in history and has risen, almost fallen and risen once more thanks to a £10 million-plus renovation which remains ongoing. A Tramshed Tech spokeswoman said it hoped to have the Palace Theatre ready for occupiers in September and that it was in talks with a number of businesses regarding office space and events. She said the company loved the grade two-listed building and looked forward to operating in Swansea.

"We feel incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to breathe new life into Swansea's Palace Theatre - a building that the community holds so dear," she said. "This historic gem has stood witness to many lifetimes, spanning the reigns of two queens and five kings, and even survived the devastation of the Blitz that left much of the city in ruins. We couldn't be more excited to open our sixth Tramshed Tech, providing a welcoming workspace and community hub designed to support tech, digital and creative business owners in and around Swansea." For the latest Swansea news, sign up to our newsletter here

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It has been a long road for Swansea Council, which bought the endangered building from its private owners before the Covid pandemic, and the architects, heritage experts, builders and other tradespeople who have made it structurally sound, replaced the roof, and are creating the new office and events space plus a ground floor coffee shop.

Men with plaster boards
It's full steam ahead for plasterers Phillip Davies and Alex Port (right) at Swansea's Palace Theatre as anchor tenants Tramshed Tech get ready to move in -Credit:Richard Youle
Building covered in scaffolding
The grade two-listed building is still clad in scaffolding
old staircase
An old hidden staircase found within the theatre in the early stages of the project -Credit:GWPA Architecture

Contractor R&M Williams Ltd began work on site in November, 2021. Among the surprises at the Palace Theatre were the discovery of a secret staircase and a fox which had made a home there.

The flat-iron building comprises a basement, ground floor and three storeys above. Rob Theophile, project manager at R&M Williams, said the work had been challenging. "A big part of the roof had collapsed, and we had to get steel trusses in while supporting the building," he said. "After that we had to demolish quite a few floors to get a lift shaft into the basement level. The longest sections of steel were ten-and-a-half metres."

Specialist contractors have been needed for several elements of the overhaul including lead work and lime plastering. Thousands of original bricks were saved, and iron pillars were restored. Some 60 workers have been on site at peak times. Want less ads? Download WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

Inside Swansea's Palace Theatre
There'll be flexible working and events space, and a coffee shop
Palace Theatre in Swansea
The building pictured in 2019 after years of neglect, prior to intervention by Swansea Council
inside swansea's Palace Theatre
The work has proved a challenge -Credit:GWPA Architecture

Built in 1888 for just under £10,000, the High Street building began life as a music hall before various incarnations including a bingo hall and nightclub. In 2009, while in private ownership, it was put on a theatre buildings risk register due to its deteriorating state - a far cry from the times when a boy called Charlie Chaplin appeared on stage and, later, a twenty-something Anthony Hopkins.

Mr Theophile added: "It's quite an important building for the community as a whole. There has been a lot of interest from the Friends of The Palace Theatre group and from people just walking past on the street." He said one visitor used to be a DJ who belted out tunes from a second floor balcony booth in the nightclub era.

inside swansea's Palace Theatre
A fire curtain in the stage area -Credit:GWPA Architecture
inside swansea's Palace Theatre
Old pulleys -Credit:GWPA Architecture
inside swansea's Palace Theatre
One of the old lighting consoles -Credit:GWPA Architecture

Cllr Rob Stewart, the leader of Swansea Council, said: "The new-look Palace will be a great addition to our fast-evolving city centre. This much-loved historic building had fallen into disrepair under private ownership before we saved it for future generations. It's great to have Tramshed Tech on board - and I look forward to the Palace being a dynamic new base for business; it'll play a key role in our £1 bililion regeneration of the city."

A Swansea man who occasionally attended the former late-night venue before the building closed said: "When it was gay bar you would have to knock on a large door and a slot would be pulled across so those inside could vet you - there were often cases of people coming and going to the club being 'gay-bashed'. But once inside there was a friendly vibe and you would be welcomed. It was dark and could be humid but there was a banging party atmosphere."