ANYONE walking past St George’s Hall on a Saturday night in late spring, 1871, may have been tempted to join the audience sing-along that was in full swing.

Entertaining the crowd was Mr and Mrs Forster O’Neill, performing “Irish and Scottish songs and stories”, accompanied on the piano by their daughter, Flora.

The family was part of a varied line-up which included music, sketches and one Madam Tonnelier “performing songs in character from the Grand Duchess”.

A handbill promoting the show - billed as ‘Saturday Night Entertainment’ - was printed by J Clegg Printer by Steam Power of Infirmary Street, Bradford. St George’s Hall hadn’t even been standing for 20 years when that piece of paper was dropped between seats in the rear gallery.

Today the concert hall is over 160-years-old - and the 1871 handbill has been unearthed during renovation work at the historic venue. It is one of several items from the past discovered by workers carrying out the £8.5 million refurbishment of the Grade II listed building. Other finds include a pre-war cigarette tin, concert tickets and chocolate wrappers dating back 60 years or so and a newspaper from the 1920s, each providing a glimpse into the venue’s history and the types of entertainment popular over the years.

The items, found while removing old seats from the dress circle, will form part of the permanent archive display held by Bradford Theatres.

St George’s Hall is the third-oldest concert hall in Europe. Its official opening, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was on August 29, 1853 and over the years there have been many memorable moments in the building’s history.

In December 1854, Charles Dickens took to the stage to give his first-ever public reading of Bleak House. Half a century later, ‘For Positively One Week Only from Monday, February 13, 1905’, world-famous illusionist Harry Houdini thrilled a packed audience at the venue.

As well as being home to the longest-running orchestral season in the UK, St George’s Hall has hosted big names in rock and pop such as Queen, David Bowie, Genesis, Blondie, The Smiths and Bryan Adams. Some acts, such as Ken Dodd and Jools Holland, have had long-running annual shows at the venue. “It’s one of my favourites,” Jools told the T&A in 2012. “If we were going to do a tour DVD I’d want it filmed there. It’s like an old music hall, there’s something Wild West about it too.”

Over the years, audiences at St George’s Hall have chomped through countless chocolate bars and ice-creams, smoked packets and tins of cigarettes, cast their eyes over souvenir programmes and supped pints, spirits and cuppas between acts. Among items discovered during the current renovation of the dress circle are a wrapper from a Galaxy Milk Chocolate and a Cadbury’s Flake costing 6d, a Black Cat Cigarettes tin lid from the 1930s and Wild Woodbine, Ogden’s Robin and Craven A cigarette packs.

There are also concert tickets - one for a Bradford Subscription Concert and one for the 31st Annual Speech Night for The Priestman School held at St George’s Hall on Wednesday, March 14, 1956, with Ernest Cummins giving a speech and Mrs Cummins presenting the prizes.

The aforementioned Forster family visited St George’s Hall on a tour, and a review of their show found its way into the Waterford News, on Friday, June 5, 1868. “Mr and Mrs J.F. O’Neill, justly celebrated delineators of Irish character in its true form, accompanied by their young and interesting daughter, Miss Flora O’Neill, an accomplished pianist, have been drawing fashionable and crowded audiences to see their famed and laughter-creating comic and musical entertainment,” wrote the reviewer.

The article describes Mr O’Neill “as an Irish comedian, perhaps unrivalled, certainly not excelled, at the present day” and a performance given by Mrs O’Neill as “one of the best Irish delineations we have ever seen. Her song, My Love Dan, is hit off in such a true Irish nature that the house is in raptures.”

Workers renovating St George’s Hall have also unearthed the front page of a Daily Express newspaper from January 10, 1928, running an article about plans for a barrage following the Great Flood of London which had taken place a few days earlier, on January 7. The flood claimed 14 lives and left thousands of Londoners homeless.

The refurbishment of St George’s Hall, funded by Bradford Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, includes replacing the roof and windows, refurbishing auditorium seats, installing a new stage and lighting and revamping the front-of-house area. The removal of the huge roof took place last November. Work to fully restore the roof is expected to take several months, with the project said to be on schedule.

Previously, large parts of the concert hall’s roof were replaced in 1983 after it was destroyed by fire.

St George’s Hall is due to re-open towards the end of the year. Visit