Frank Matcham was born in Devon the son of a brewery clerk. He was brought up in Torquay where he went to Babbacombe school. In 1868 he became apprenticed to George Bridgman a local builder and architect. In the mid 1870’s he moved to London to join the architectural practice of Jethro Robinson who was consulting theatre architect to the Lord Chamberlain.
In 1877 Matcham married Robinson’s daughter and the following year when Robinson died suddenly, the 24 year old Matcham found himself taking over the practise.
His first major job was to complete the Elephant and Castle Theatre which Robinson had started. Following this, Matcham went from success to success and over the next 30 years he became unrivalled as the most prolific theatre architect of all time.
It is impossible to be definitive as to his total output, but on current research we can say that he designed at least 80 theatres as original architect and he refitted or worked on at least as many again. He also designed some pubs, cinemas, hotels and notably the County Arcade in Leeds, and the Tower Ballroom and Circus in Blackpool.
Sadly, only some two dozen of his theatres survive with a further dozen having been drastically altered as bingo halls, nightclubs, cinemas, etc.
Matcham never qualified as an architect and was snubbed by many in his profession, but he became the supreme example of his craft. Despite his vast output each theatre was unique, and his ability to produce magnificent theatres on difficult sites speedily and economically led him to become highly respected by theatre owners and managers. He developed close relationships with several, especially Sir Oswald Stoll for whom he designed his supreme masterpiece the London Coliseum in 1904 as the flagship venue for his chain of theatres and Music Halls. Happily this theatre survives largely intact as the home of the English National Opera and was magnificently restored for the centenary in 2004.