As the engineering technology of the late 1890s became more complex, the construction of machine tools became more specialised and a trained workforce was needed.
In response, Coventry 's new Technical Institute was opened in 1888 in an old textile warehouse in Earl Street which David Spencer had dedicated to the City Council on the condition that it should be used for technical schools and a school of science. Local industry was responsible for supplying the major equipment needed for these courses, often free of charge, and The American Writing Machine Company loaned typewriters to the commercial department until 1893.
The Institute's Earl Street buildings were never really fully suitable for use, and so in the early 1900s, plans were drawn up to flatten the building and build a new one on the same site, but this proved to be too expensive. Various other sites were considered and Pool Meadow was selected. However, with the outbreak of the First World War, no further progress could be made.
In 1919, the City Council acquired three acres of land at the corner of Albany Road and The Butts – as a site for the new building (bringing together the Junior Technical School, providing apprenticeships for boys who were not academic enough for the National Diploma, and the Institute).
The name Butts comes from when the land was used by archers for practice – involving mounds of earth known as butts up to 200m long, forming a range along which the archers could shoot – Edward IV having passed a law in 1477 making it compulsory for all males to own a longbow and to practice on Sundays after church!!
In 1926 the Institute qualified as a Technical College and changed its name accordingly – free from fees for children aged 5-11 and a senior school for over 11s. Coventry led the country in day release apprenticeships with 500 registered in 1931. The Institute was now providing courses for every level up to final honours degree.
Work began on the building of the new college in August 1933, and a time capsule (messages in a bottle) was buried under the front steps by the workmen – this was later discovered in 1995.
On 10th July 1934, HRH the Prince of Wales visited the building whilst it was still under construction and the new building was opened on 10th December 1935 by the then Duke of York who became George VI.
During the Second World War, trenches were dug in the sports ground and special courses were run in fuel efficiency, economical bread production and the making of wartime gym shoes. The iron railings at the front (which had cost £600) were lost to the War effort and the nation's need for scrap iron for a paltry £30. The College never closed during this time and after the heavy bombing in November 1940, hundreds of homeless citizens were housed at the college. A number of bombs were dropped on the building, but it escaped with little damage.
The theatre was originally used as a lecture theatre, called the Great Hall, when the college was first opened. Later the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts used the Theatre through the War Years to entertain the public with concerts and other events.
The birth of the Albany Theatre
The College building theatre, known to its regulars as the Butts Theatre, closed its doors behind the last audience member in January 2009, following the acquisition of the (then-named) City College site by developers.
For years its future had been in doubt, but thanks to the care and resolution of CoventryCity Council it re-opened its doors on 1st February 2013. The Council's intervention - requiring the site owners to retain and support the re-named Albany Theatre for at least 25 years through the creation of a charitable trust - made it possible for a vast team of highly-valued volunteers to undertake a considerable amount of work revamping, replacing and renovating services and facilities to provide safe and up-to-date equipment, an impressive array of dressing rooms and new sound and lighting systems.
Running a professional theatre is extremely demanding and after a year of development everyone involved realised that to grow further the theatre needed to emply professional staff. Adam Durnin was appointed as Theatre Manager, taking the Albany's development through its next stages until once again the demands on the theatre - and the ambitions of the community - meant a bigger professional team was required. By October 2016, a team of 8 full and part-time staff, supported by 4 apprentices, had taken responsiblity for the day to day management of the theatre - but still supported by an excellent and growing team of volunteers (meet the team here).
Whilst the Albany Theatre now operates as a professional theatre, and its repuation for excellence is attracting a growing high quality repertoire whilst at the same time our work with and for the community is deepening and widening. The Albany remains ‘home’ to a range of local schools, musical theatre societies and community groups.
If you’ve been before, why not come back down and remind yourselves why the Albany used to be one of your favourite places to be? If you’ve never had the opportunity to see the superb Art-Deco interior and the high quality productions staged here, why not pay the Albany a visit and see its charms for yourself?
Support independent local business – support local theatre – support Coventry - support The Albany