‘H922, Regal Cinema, Barrow-in-Furness’. C.1920.

© Sankey Family Photography Collection.

'4456, Grand Theatre Winter Gardens Hippodrome, Blackpool. Edward and Raymond Sankey

© Sankey Family Photography Collection.

rRegal Cinema, Barrow-in-Furness (top) 

rGrand Theatre Winter Gardens Hippodrome (bottom)

November 1906

Written by Rod White

Signor Rino Pepi became a theatre entrepreneur in the north of England, and owned the Tivoli Theatre in Forshaw Street, Barrow-in-Furness. This later became the Regal (shown in the photo above) and is now on the site of Portland Walk shopping centre.

Signor Pepi was born in 1872 as the son of a merchant in Florence, Italy.  By his early 20s he was a star across Europe. Queen Victoria liked him so much she gave him a diamond scarf pin. Pepi was one of the leading quick-change artistes of the late 19th century. He met and married Mary, Countess de Rossetti a widow of Italian and Irish parentage who taught him English. He topped the bill at the Pavilion Theatre in Piccadilly London with ‘Love Always Victorious’ playing 7 roles both male and female. He toured Europe before coming to Barrow as a performer on a tour of the English provinces.

After finding out that Barrow theatre was for sale, he embarked on the acquiring of what would become a northern theatrical empire. At the age of thirty he bought the Star Theatre of Varieties in Barrow – later the Tivoli in Forshaw Street. After Barrow came the Hippodrome in Blackpool (seen in the second photographs) (acquired by ABC and rebuilt as such in 1963), ‘Europe’s most luxurious theatre’ and from where many lavish live shows were televised) and then Carlisle.

By the outbreak of the First World War, our principal character owned just two theatres: Darlington and Barrow. He became bankrupt and to make matters worse, on December 7, 1915, his wife Mary, Countess de Rossetti, died at their modest mid-terrace home in Barrow. She was only 46. Rino died in Darlington of lung cancer in 1927 aged 55 and was buried next to his beloved Mary in St Marys Churchyard, Duke Street, Barrow.

He had strong links with the development of the theatre in the North East and his story is told in Of Fish and Actors: 100 Years of Darlington Civic Theatre by Chris Lloyd. (2007)

Find out more about Rod White’s research via his website Furness – Stories behind the Stones: https://furnessstoriesbehindthestones.co.uk/