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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 17:01 GMT
Oldest theatre under hammer
The Palace Theatre, Swansea
Curtain call: The Palace Theatre showed Wales' first silent movie
The oldest theatre in Wales - where acting greats like Anthony Hopkins and Charlie Chaplin once trod the boards - has been sold at auction for 340,000.

The Grade II listed Palace Theatre in Swansea is one of only two purpose-built music halls in the UK and was also the first place in Wales to screen a moving picture.

Auctioneers in London are not yet revealing who is behind the purchase.

Its owners, brothers Paul and Chris James, have used the venue - built in 1888 - as a nightclub for the past 10 years.

But the pair spent six months researching the history of the wedge-shaped theatre which still boasts original gas lighting fittings on some walls and controls above the stage.

It is a lovely property to have but we made the decision that it is time to move on
Paul James

"We found one or two posters - not as old as we would have liked but going back to the 1950s when it was used as a cinema."

Research in the city's reference library unearthed more than 1,000 articles stored on microfiche which detailed performances almost weekly from its opening.

This was how they learnt that some of the great names of music hall entertainment - Charlie Chaplin, George Robey, Lilly Langtry, Marie Lloyd and Little Titch - had all appeared at the Palace.

When the brothers wrote to a number of Welsh stars about the theatre, Hollywood's Sir Anthony Hopkins was the first to reply.

"He said he did his first professional role there in 1960 for Swansea Little Theatre when he starred in Have A Cigarette," said Mr James.

The brothers had considered restoring the venue to a working theatre but were daunted by the bureaucracy they believed would be involved in winning grant aid.

Sir Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins made his professional debut at the Palace

"I would rather give someone else the opportunity.

"It is a lovely property to have but we made the decision that it is time to move on."

David Margolis, of auctioneers Cushman, Wakefield, Healey and Baker, said the theatre, which survived the wartime bombing of central Swansea, had proved a popular item on the auction list.

"It has caused a lot of interest. It is such an unusual building, a landmark building.

"My guess is that it will be bought by a local buyer. Someone will buy it either to restore it as a theatre or for its development potential."

The auction was held at the BAFTA building in London.

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