THE purchase of the Citadel building by entrepreneur Ian Pitts has sparked plenty of interest among Star readers, who are keen to see the venue revived.

Mr Pitts is understood to be passionate about the building, which shut in the summer of 2019, once again hosting top class acts and emerging talent.

And there are many who hope the St Helens restaurant and bar owner’s ideas and ambition will inject a fresh dimension to the town centre’s night life, once we begin to see the clouds of the pandemic clearing.

The new owner is not just taking on bricks and mortar here. This building is a slice of the town’s history.

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Indeed, some local historians believe the building’s past as the town’s main theatre is not widely known or appreciated.

The Citadel arts organisation continues to operate in the community and its website superbly chronicles the venue’s history.

The timelines explains how back in the 19th century a wooden barn, near the site of the current Running Horses pub was St Helens’ “first Theatre Royal”. But by 1856 this was deemed unsafe and so the building on Milk Street/Waterloo Street where the Citadel still stands was built in 1861.

It became known as the Theatre Royal, St Helens. The Citadel’s history page states that the building was based on the designs of the Liver Theatre on Church Street in Liverpool.

It was described in the St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser as a “Temple of Amusement”.

The theatre was said to have boxes, a pit and gallery which gave a full view of the acts on all parts of the stage.

The Citadel’s historic record shows Mr Charles Henry Du Val was the first lessee in September 1872. He brought touring productions to the theatre, introducing pantomimes, including Aladdin, and he even took to the stage himself.

Just like now, there were periods of closure in the 1880s but the venue reopened in 1884 after a a lick of paint as Theatre Royal and Opera House.

Citadel records state that Wallace Revill, who was responsible for running successful theatres across England had taken over the reins and he embarked on a significant refurbishment, leading to performances of The Silver King and Revill featuring world famous actor Wilson Barret.

The success led to Revill commissioning the design of theatre on Corporation Street, the site of the current Theatre Royal.

According to the Citadel’s history page, in 1889, The Theatre Royal, Milk Street was sold to the Salvation Army

It was refurbished, removing many traces of its use as a theatre, and became a Salvation Army meeting place named Citadel.

The building remained as a Salvation Army Citadel for more than 80 years. But it was vacated in the early 1980s and the building was put up for sale.

Six years later The Rainford Trust bought the former Salvation Army Citadel to convert it into an arts centre.

The Citadel Arts Centre opened in April 1988 and swiftly gained a reputation as top regional music venue.

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In the 90s it acquired charitable status and started receiving arts funding, with its programme developing a mix of music, theatre, comedy and community arts. Johnny Vegas, one of the town’s most famous entertainment exports, began his journey to stardom by taking the stand up mic.

A £1m lottery funded refurbishment took place in 2000 and its growth as a community arts venue gathered pace, with Vegas becoming a patron in 2003, as the the Citadel marked its 15th anniversary.

Four years later the venue lost arts funding from the Arts Council, but support continued from St Helens Council and The Rainford Trust. In 2009 the Citadel celebrated its 21st anniversary and continued as hub for the arts and entertainment for another decade before the building closed.

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The arts organisation has continued to operate in the community, hosting productions and events.

The iconic building, however, has stood empty and was up for sale for more than 12 months. However, just as has happened in the past, it will be given a new lease of life.

We’d love to hear your memories of the Citadel? Who were the famous or up-and-coming acts you watched? Did you ever perform on the Citadel stage or do you remember Johnny cutting his comedy teeth there? Email