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Walter Lawrence Emden (1847 – 1913) was one of the leading Englishmarker theatre and music hall architects in the building boom of 1885 to 1915.


Emden was the second son of William S. Emden, lessee of Londonmarker's Olympic Theatremarker, and was born in the vicinity of the theatre in The Strandmarker. Originally studying as a civil engineer, he joined architects Kelly and Lawes in 1870 in the burgeoning construction of theatres. He was immediately given the commission of designing the Globe Theatremarker. Emden also became a member of the Strand District Board of Works, a forerunner of local councils, and for seven years acted as chair. In 1890, he was elected to the London County Council.

In 1880, W. G. R. Sprague, a former pupil of Frank Matcham, joined Emden's practice as an apprentice for three years. From 1889, Emden entered a partnership with Charles J. Phipps building the Tivoli, Garrick Theatremarker and Duke of York'smarker. His most important work, The Tivoli, in the Strandmarker became the archetype for music hall and variety theatre architecture.

His worked extended to hotels, restaurants and, as it became popular, cinemas. He also had a younger half–brother, Henry (1852–1930), who was a leading scenic artist, painting the stage curtain for Walter's Trafalgar Theatre in 1892.


The Guide to British Theatres describes Emden's early work as "the epitome of architectural illiteracy" betraying his lack of formal training in architecture. He benefited from his collaborations and the Guide describes a "well behaved, precise quality to Emden's later work which properly reflects his social achievements in the world of affairs" Sadly, theatre and music-hall design was not accorded the same accolades accorded to civic and church architecture when they were built, it was not until the late 20th century that they were accorded any importance and many of Emden's surviving buildings have now been listed as being of architectural significance.

He formally retired in 1906, passing the practice to Emden, Egan and Co., a partnership formed from his four principal assistants; Stephen H. Egan, his son William S. Emden, A. J. Croughton and T. C. Overtone. They remained in offices in Lancaster Place, off the Strand and designed many suburban London cinemas and hotels, including the iconic "State Cinema" (1910) in Leytonstonemarker. Most of these large cinemas have now succumbed, as music-hall did to them, to television and been modified to other uses, or demolished. Emden died in London in 1913.


His list of theatre designs include:

Theatre Location Build Date Original Seating Capacity Status Notes
Globe Theatremarker Newcastle Street 1870 1,800 Demolished 1902
Civic Theatre Barnsleymarker 1877 800
Terry's Theatremarker Strandmarker 1887 800 Demolished 1923
Royal Court Theatremarker Sloane Squaremarker 1888 642 Grade II
Garrick Theatremarker Charing Cross Roadmarker 1889 800 Grade II*
City Theatre

Sheffieldmarker c1890 Burnt down 1893
Tivoli Theatre of Varieties The Strandmarker 1890 1,500 Demolished 1916
Trafalgar Theatre
later, the Duke of York's
St Martin's Lane 1890 900 Grade II
Palace Theatremarker Cambridge Circusmarker 1892 1,400 Grade II*
Royalty Theatremarker Sohomarker 1895 657 Demolished 1953
war damaged
Imperial Theatre Tothill Street, Westminstermarker 1898 Rebuilt 1901


  1. His birth was registered in the last quarter of the year. EMDEN, Walter Lawrence Births Dec 1847 Strand Vol I, pp. 383 (BMD)
  2. Earl, John and Michael Sell (2000) Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, pp.272–73
  3. State Cinema (Cinema Treasures) accessed 26 May 2008
  4. Earl and Sell (2000) pp. 125–6
  5. Earl and Sell (2000) pp. 111
  6. Earl and Sell (2000) pp. 108–9
  7. Earl and Sell (2000) pp. 130
  8. "Mrs Langtry sold the theatre to Weslyan Methodists who in turn sold it to the company owning the Royal Albert Music Hall, Canning Town, who re-erected it stone by stone as the Music Hall of Dockland" (Source: Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury)
  • Theatre London: An Architectural Guide, Edwin Heathcote, ISBN 1-84166-047-7
  • Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, Earl, John and Michael Sell pp. 272–273 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3

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