The Theatre Royal stands in the High Street at Chatham - one of the Medway Towns situated in north Kent some thirty miles south east of London. The towns comprise Strood, Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham and are known worldwide for their history and architectural gems. The novelist Charles Dickens lived nearby and many of his books are set in the area.
The Royal Navy was based at Chatham Dockyard for over four hundred years, and their former base is now open to the public, whilst the Napoleonic fort that protected it is an award-winning museum. The Cathedral at Rochester was founded in AD604 and is an outstanding example of eleventh and thirteenth century architecture, whilst the neighbouring castle stands guarding the long bridge over the River Medway - for many centuries the main road from the port of Dover to London.
The nineteenth century saw a great expansion of population in the Medway Towns, encouraged by the arrival of the railway, and many places of public entertainment were established - from public houses to pleasure gardens, music halls and sports facilities. It was within this context that the Theatre Royal was built in 1899.
The theatre served the Medway Towns for over fifty years, and played host to many of the greatest performers and shows, but by the 1950s it no longer attracted large enough audiences to keep it open. It closed in 1955 and was subdivided to form shops and a warehouse. To all intents and purposes it's original use was forgotten.
In the 1980s a campaign was started by local people to restore the building to its former glory and to reopen it as the largest theatre in the region. However, in 2002, the volunteers of the Theatre Royal Chatham Trust were forced to abandon their campaign. The building and site have reportedly been sold to a local housing association for redevelopment and the future of the building now remains more uncertain than ever.