Skip to main content

Image showing updated signage for the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre

We’ve renamed our city centre venue, the Assembly Rooms Theatre, in honour of our former Chancellor and world-renowned opera singer, Sir Thomas Allen. The venue will now be known as the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre.

Enduring legacy

Sir Tom stepped down as Chancellor of the University in 2022, a role he held for a decade. On June 29 he took part in the ceremony to welcome his successor, foreign affairs expert Dr Fiona Hill.

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University, said: “The renaming of the Assembly Rooms Theatre after Sir Thomas Allen honours his commitment to the University, Durham city and our region.

“Sir Tom has done so much to support our students, as well as promote music and the arts regionally, nationally and globally. This is a fitting recognition of his enduring legacy.”

An inspirational life in music

Sir Tom was our 12th Chancellor, serving from 2012 to 2022.

He was born in Seaham Harbour, County Durham, and went on to attend the Royal College of Music.

His career as an opera singer earned him global acclaim. He performed in more than 50 roles at the Royal Opera House, including  Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee performance.

Described as the best British lyric baritone in the second half of the 20th Century, Sir Tom received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Durham University in 1988 and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2013.

His life story is said to have inspired the hit film and musical Billy Elliot.

Speaking about the renaming, Sir Tom said: “I am immensely honoured and proud of this decision to rename the Assembly Rooms Theatre.

“My professional life has been filled with some extraordinary memories, but none more so than those of the ten years with Durham University.”

Historic venue

The Assembly Rooms Theatre was built in the 18th Century and was acquired by Durham University in 1930.

Refurbishment work, including extensive work between 2007 and 2009 and 2018 and 2019 has seen it fully refurbished and modernised. 

It is open to the wider community, including students, staff and the general public.

The alteration to the name of the theatre was approved by Durham County Council in early July and an official unveiling ceremony with Sir Tom and representatives from the University will take place in due course.

We’ve also honoured Sir Tom by dedicating a Steinway Spirio piano to him and establishing the Sir Thomas Allen Appeal Fund to offer music and choral scholarships.

Find out more: