The Assembly Rooms’ Historical Past

Thanks to a recently completed archeological report, The Assembly Rooms Theatre has been dated as building at around 300 years old! 

An archeological survey of the site during our renovations have unearthed some amazing information. The above map comes from the survey’s report, suggesting that parts of the theatre have been around since the 1820’s and likely before as the city’s Assembly Rooms. 

The survey also explored bits of pottery, glass, and animal bone dating from the 18th century. A jar was found with the inscription: ‘Thomas Fentiman of Gateshead’, most likely used to sell ginger beer or soda in the early 1900’s. 

The above picture shows what the front of the Assembly Rooms originally looked like! While the windows above appear to have changed very little, the doors below the archway show a very different layout. 

In 1909, the theatre was altered to a picturehouse by the owner Thomas Rushworth. The Durham County Advertiser reported: ‘The interior presents a very attractive appearance, and looks quite warm and cosy with its buff-coloured ceiling and walls and smart crimson dado’. Rushworth continued to use the Assembly Rooms as a picture house, until Durham University bought the building in 1930 from his daughter Grace. 

This picture from the report is of a exposed sandstone block, previously hidden underneath the floor of the Assembly Rooms’ basement. Work on the basement and the rest of the building continues, with exciting computer-generated images of the complete build available below.

The Assembly Rooms Theatre is planned to open in October 2019.


Thank you to Archeological Services Durham University, Derek Dodds, and PH Partnership Architects for the information and images used in this piece.