Theatres in Ayrshire ~ 1800 - 2014

Barrfields Pavilion, Largs

Barrfields is a public recreation space in Largs, originally gifted to the Largs Town Council in the 1920's, on the site of Mansefield House. The council subsequently built an extensive walled rose garden, a children's playpark, theatre, meeting rooms, tearooms, putting green and sports ground.  Only the sports ground, putting green and theatre remain.

Much of the site was redeveloped into Barrfields Sport and Leisure Centre from 1971-3 which now forms part of the Vikingar Visitor and Leisure Centre.  The land is now owned by North Ayrshire Council and a leisure trust whose main interest appears to be sport rather than culture.  Consequently, there is limited activity within the theatre although a group of enthusiasts are exploring the possibility of reviving the venue.

Barrfields Pavilion was opened as a seaside variety theatre in April 1930.  It was named after Robert Barr who gifted the site to the people of Largs with the money to build a theatre on the site.  The Pavilion became the centrepiece of the Barrfields Public Park.

The 1000-seater Pavilion, the white art-deco section to the north of the Vikingar tourist attraction and the leisure centre had a varied career as theatre, wartime aircraft facility, cinema and general purpose hall.  In the 1970's, a projection room was built in place of the gallery seating level, reducing numbers to 500, allowing cinema shows to take place in the theatre.  In the 1990's the leisure centre and visitor attraction (Vikingar) was added onto the Pavilion. Then in 2002, the cinema finally closed inside the Pavilion leaving the theatre.  However in the new Vikingar building there is a small 80-seater video theatre called the Valhalladrome, used as part of the Vikingar exhibition to show the history of the Vikings. This facility is designed for the presentation of video and DVD - there are no conventional film projection facilities.

Barrfields, the pride and joy of Largs was officially opened on the 11th April 1930. The opening events included a ‘traditional opening ceremony,‘ performed by Mrs Barr, ‘ a dinner in the former Hills Hotel and a free variety show with stars from radio, theatre and gramophone for ratepayers. In the two performances that evening over 2000 people attended.

The next show was ‘Bunty Pulls the Strings’ by the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players, followed by the Largs Choral Society’s ‘Rob Roy’ the following weekend.

The Theatre’s heyday was during the 1930's – 50,s, in the main due to promoter Harry Kemp. He leased the Pavilion during the Summer season, and brought shows featuring music hall stars like George West, Dave Willis, Pat Kirkwood, Jack Radcliffe and the Tiller Girls. 

Over these years, Largs was an expanding tourist resort, and the Barrfields Pavilion was seen as a place for holiday-makers to shelter on wet days, and for residents and visitors alike to enjoy all day entertainment. Barrfields reputation as a venue for dinner dances, exhibitions and social functions grew, and as a dance hall it was recognised as one of the best dance floors in Ayrshire.

In the post war years, the shows returned, under the leadership of the Bowie family. During the 1960s Rikki Fulton and Jack Milroy as ‘Francie and Josie’ were popular in Largs and in larger theatres all over Scotland. Other popular regulars included Johnny Beattie, Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy, Una McLean, the Alexander Brothers and Clark and Murray.

The library at Glasgow University holds many programmes, poster and other records in their Scottish Theatre Archive

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Barrfields 3
1.  Barrfields Pavilion and Vikingar, Largs   magnify   ©Mike Bailey 2010

Barrfields 1
2.  Barrfields Pavilion, Largs.   magnify  ©Mike Bailey  2010

3.  Catalina Flying Boat  magnify

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