A Victorian

The theater was in a flourishing state throughout Victoria's reign,: Temperley wrote in the exhibit catalog. Playbills bear witness to the astonishing enthusiasm of audiences for watching two or even three events on one evening, often lasting for five or six hours.

Theatre, Shows, and Venues

#Fashionable London concerts in the Victorian age, always featured the popular musical pieces written by the composers of the time, and catchy arias from the latest operatic successes at Her Majesty's Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre and the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden. The year of 1855 was no different. In this private concert L'Etoile du nord was heavily featured. The Romance "va dit elle" from Robert le Diable, sung by Clara Novello and Fanny Marai was a favorite concert piece since about 1840, when soprano Dorus Gras sang it. So was the Air: "En vain j'espere, idol de ma vie" in England, and the Romanza: "Quoi Napthali" sung in concert by Giulia Grisi, the most sought after soprano of the time. In some concerts Meyerbeer took his place alongside Beethoven's "quartetto" from Fidelio, Mozart's arias from the Zauberflote and popular arias from Nozze di Figaro. Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini's arias all were beloved by Victorians during the fifties. Concerts encouraged social intercourse, and London's affluent society indulged themselves constantly, morning, afternoon, and evening. Mutible choices were presented everywhere, from huge public affairs, to tiny gatherings in local halls, pubs, or private houses of the rich titled hostesses who lived out their lives entertaining.


Drury Lane Theatre

Drury Lane Theatre had its origin in a cockpit, which was converted into a theatre in the reign of James I., in whose reign it fell a sacrifice, from some unknown cause, to the fury of a mob; it was subsequently rebuilt, and called both the Cockpit, and the Phoenix Theatre, that fabulous bird having been adopted as the emblem of its re-edification. After the Restoration, a patent for stage performances was granted to Killegrew; who, in 1662, erected a more convenient theatre. The actors of that theatre, who formed part of the royal establishment, were then denominated the King's servants, an appellation that still appertains to the Drury-Lane company. In January, 1671, Killegrew's theatre was destroyed by fire, but was soon after rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. This fabric, a neat and pleasing edifice, underwent many alterations prior to the year 1793, when a vast, splendid, and magnificent theatre was erected in its place, from designs by the late Henry Holland, Esq., sufficiently capacious for 3,600 spectators. The pecuniary embarrassments of the proprietors, however, prevented its completion; and its exterior, consequently, presented a rude and ruinous appearance; and on the night of the 24th of February, 1809, a tremendous conflagration destroyed the entire building in the course of five hours. At the time of the fire, the whole concern was in a state of great embarrassment; through the great exertions, however, of the late Mr. Whitbread, a composition was effected with the creditors, and the theatre was rebuilt in the years 1811 and 1812, at an expense of 150,000 pounds, including scenery, wardrobe, lustres, &etc. This theatre was erected from designs by, and under the superintendence of, B. Wyatt, Esq.; the exterior has a heavy, though substantial, aspect. The front is of the Doric order; and the portico, surmounted by a statue of Shakspeare, was erected in 1820. An Ionic colonnade was added a few years since. The grand entrance leads through a spacious hall, supported by five Doric columns, to a rotunda, adorned with three statues; one of Shakspeare, another of Garrick, and a third of Edmund Kean, the great histrionic illustrator of the immortal bard; from hence a staircase of great elegance conducts to the boxes. The interior of the house was entirely reconstructed in 1822, under the direction of Mr. Samuel Beazley, at an expense, to the late Mr. Elliston, of 20,000 pounds. It presents about three-quarters of a circle from the stage, and has a splendid and elegant appearance. It is principally illumined by a gas chandelier, suspended over the centre of the pit. The stage, at the opening of the curtain, is 43 feet in width, and 38 in height. The diameter of the pit is 53 feet, and the height of the house, from the pit floor to the ceiling, is 50 feet 6 inches. There are three tiers of boxes. In the space on each side of the lower gallery, above the third tier, are the slips; and on a level with the pit are eight private boxes. It is estimated that the house will accommodate about 2,500 persons with seats. The grand saloon is an elegant room, about 86 feet in length. ... open from the middle of September to the latter end of May. Admission to the boxes, lower gallery, upper gallery.

--- Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

The first theatre on the site of the present edifice was opened on the 8th of April 1663... A new house, the third (very beautiful, but too large either for sight or hearing), was built by Henry Holland, opened March 12th, 1794, and destroyed by fire on the night of Feb.24th, 1809, when the present edifice, the fourth, was erected, and opened Oct. 10th, 1812, with a prologue by Lord Byron.

--- Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

As Drury Lane is a first class building, so are the actors of the very best class of performers.# The drama is here displayed in all of its perfection and legitimacy. In the admission, the prices coincide with those of the American theatres; but there is one portion of the interior system, that is entirely John Bull. The box-passage guide for walking with you to the box-keeper, humbly beseeches you for sixpence. The box- keeper for opening the door, requests sixpence. The "bill-boy," thrusts a programme at you and demands sixpence. If you accompany a lady, she is obliged to leave her bonnet in charge of a woman engaged for that purpose; said woman "according to the laws of the house, is entitled to one shilling. Should you decide on ice-cream between the plays, you receive a mixture of so "questionable a shape," that you find it very difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion as to whether it is inodorous bear's grease, or a mixture of lard, water, and bruised strawberries. One excellent apology may be made, however - for the miserable compound: -the people of London do not know what good cream or milk is. It is said that "figures will not lie;" from actual calculation there is more milk consumed in London in one day, than all the cows in England and Wales can give in three. Where does it come from?

--- W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859

Another part of the interior arrangement, particularly annoying, is the number of old women and boys allowed to roam at will through the building, selling "lemon y'ade, "gin - gcr be'y'eer, "bottle st-y'out, and yelling it with a peculiar nasal twang.

Drury Lane Theatre, Catherine-street, Strand. - The oldest, as it is also the largest and handsomest, of the theatres proper of London. It is the only house about which any historical flavour now lingers, and its stage has been trodden by Elliston, Dowton, Bannister, Wallack, Mrs. Glover, the Kembles, the Keans, Grimaldi, Braham Young, Mrs. Nisbett, Storace, Oxberry, Irish Johnstone, Farren, Harley, Keeley, Mdme Vestris, Helen Faucit, Ellen Tree, Macready, and many others. In the green-room, the windows of which look out on Vinegar-yard, are busts of Siddons, Kemble. and Kean, and here on Twelfth Night is rather a curious ceremony, when a cake provided by bequest of Baddeley the actor, is cut up and eaten by the company. In the hall are several other busts and statues. The modern taste for flimsy pieces, and the enormous runs to which the public are accustomed at the smaller houses, renders a theatre on the scale of Drury Lane a rather hazardous speculation nowadays, People forget that a three weeks' "run" at Drury Lane is equivalent to a hundred nights at many theatres, and as at least nine people out of ten go to see a piece simply because it is a success, the big building is apt to be left out in the cold. At the same time there is no stage in London where a play depending in any degree upon broad and massive effects can be presented to anything like the advantage which maybe given it at Drury Lane. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Route, Strand; Cab Rank, Opposite.

--- Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879 div
Covent Garden Theatre

#Covent Garden Theatre ~ had its rise from a patent granted in 1662, to Sir William D'Avenant; whose company was styled the "Duke's Servants," in compliment to the Duke of York, afterwards James II. The old theatre, which was built about 1733, was first opened by Mr. Rich, the celebrated harlequin and introducer of regular pantomimes. Like that in Drury Lane, it underwent many alterations and enlargements; and like that, also, it was destroyed by fire, together with several adjoining houses, on the morning of the 28th of September, 1808. This great ornament of the metropolis was erected, from designs by Sir Robert Smirke, within ten months from the laying of the foundations, at an expense of 150,000, exclusive of the scenery, wardrobe, and properties. Its principal front, in Bow Street, was designed from the Done temple of Minerva, in the Acropolis, at Athens; but its character is somewhat too solemn and massive for a theatre.

In itself, the portico is magnificent; but its proportions cannot be seen to advantage, for want of space; above the windows, on each side, are basso-relievos, representing the ancient and the modern drama; and within the niches of the terminating projections, or wings, are statues of Tragedy and Comedy.

--- Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

There is much grandeur in the vestibule and principal staircase; and the interior of the house, capable of containing about 3,000 persons, from its general form, a long horse-shoe, and judicious arrangements, is excellently adapted for theatrical display. It is also most elegantly decorated, its prevailing colour being yellow, interspersed with gold; the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock forming some of its prominent ornaments. A magnificent cut-glass chandelier, illuminated by gas, depends from the centre of the roof. An alteration was made in the year 1820 in the scenic department of this theatre, by which the upper part of the proscenium can be raised fourteen feet by machinery, so as to allow the most distant spectator a complete view of the stage. This was done in anticipation of a drama, produced at that period, under the title of the "Gnome King;" the scenery of which was the most superb and brilliant, and the mechanism the most ingenious, that was ever exhibited in a theatre. Covent Garden Theatre has, like its neighbour in Drury-Lane, been doomed to experience a sad reverse; from its first erection, in 1809, till within these last ten years, it possessed a company of actors, all of distinguished talent in their several departments; and tragedy, comedy, opera, farce, and pantomime, were performed with equal excellence; in proof of this position, it is only necessary to refer to the names of Munden, Farren, Fawcett, Jones, Incledon, Cooke, Emery, Johnstone, Blanchard, Simmons, Penson, Liston, Keely, Power, Grimaldi, Charles Kemble (in himself a host), Mrs. Gibbs, Mrs. Davenport, and Miss Paton, the leading performers of a company, whose surpassing excellence was, nevertheless, by a concatenation of events, rendered altogether unproductive. The cause of this decline, for, though gradual at the first, it at last came rapidly on, may be traced to the following circumstances: - In the first place, the patent theatres, erected upon the faith of government, suffered from the withdrawal of its protection; and through the tacit permission of the law's infringement, these properties were assailed by the formation of theatrical establishments in various pants of the metropolis, some proximate, others remote, with an extension of licenses to various others of a different description. Secondly, an alteration in the habits of the people, by the adoption of late dinners; and lastly, the march of music which may literally be said to have carried the assault, by force of arms, to the utter destruction of the two national theatres, the complete triumph of sound over sense, and consequent increase of demoralization.

The concluding remark of the editor on Covent Garden Theatre has, he regrets to say, been completely verified; that magnificent establishment, one of the finest in the world, having been degraded to the level of a shilling concert room, and appropriated to the meetings of the Anti-Corn-Law League

St. James's Theatre

The St. James's Theatre, in King Street, St. James's, was erected from designs by Mr. Samuel Beazley. The exterior presents an elevation in accordance with the recent improvements in its vicinity; and the interior, which consists of two rows of boxes, a gallery, and pit, is sumptuously and elegantly decorated: it is chiefly devoted to operatic representations. The performances commence at seven.

--- Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844
St. James's

-A medium-sized house at the back of Pall Mall; built by Braham the singer. For many years occupied during the season by a French company. At present undergoing alterations, and with no particular specialty. NEAREST Railway Station, St. James's-park; Omnibus Routes, Piccadilly, Regent-street, and Strand; Cab Rank, St. James's. street.
Opened in 1835, renamed the Prince's Theatre in 1840 but back to St. James's Theatre in 1842. Other names included Theatre Royal, St. James's, and Royal St. James's Theatre. Reopened in 1879 and also 1900 following some rebuilding in both cases.

--- Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879 div
Palace Theatre

It is generally admitted that the Palace Theatre is the most beautiful playhouse in London. "Regardless of expense'' it was built for Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte by Mr. P. E. Colcutt, the architect of the imperial institute, who was fortunate in obtaining such a splendid site as Cambridge Circus - where Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road meet - offers for display. The Royal English Opera House was opened with a great flourish of trumpets, and with the highest hopes, on January 31st, 1891, Sir Arthur Sullivan's grand opera "Ivanhoe" being then for the first time produced. But Mr. Carte's operatic scheme did not gain the support it deserved, and in July of the following year the name of the house was changed to the Palace Theatre As a variety theatre it enjoys a high reputation - and no promenade.

The Royal Victoria Theatre

The Royal Victoria Theatre, in Waterloo Road. The exterior is somewhat unattractive; the interior, the form of which is nearly circular, is admirably adapted for dramatic representation; the stage, being very extensive and capacious, is peculiarly suited to an imposing scenic display; while the audience part is constructed so as to afford a good view of the performance from every part of it. It consists of two tiers of boxes, a gallery, and pit. When first opened, it presented a very beautiful appearance, being unquestionably one of the most capacious and best built theatres in the metropolis; it is, however, at present, in a sadly dilapidated state.

--- Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

The Victoria Theatre was a wooden proscenium arch theatre with a seating capacity of 600 people. The proscenium arch, which was meant to give the stage a kind of picture frame effect, had been introduced to the English stage by Indigo Jones in the late 16th century, and most English theatres contained this innovation by the Victorian era. There were eight sets of painted scenery, which were to be used as needed in various productions, as was common on the London stage. Moveable scenery was also a device introduced to England by Jones. The addition of gas lighting was another manifestation of the British style, as English theatres were predominantly lit by gas beginning in 1827.

Upon entering the Victoria Theatre in 1861, audience members would have been astounded at what they saw. The exterior of the building did nothing to indicate the elegance which lay within. To the left of the wide entranceway was a ticket office, and to the right was a small room, apparently "intended as a fruit and cigar store." 1 The theatre was also equipped with a reservoir between the ceiling of the stage and the roof of the building, with a hose leading to a force-pump under the stage as a fire precaution. The risk of fire proved real in on June 25, 1861, when two fires broke out during a performance at the theatre.

The seating in the Victoria Theatre was clearly indicative of the class structure which existed in England as well as in Victoria during this period. There was a gallery or dress circle, which seated 200 people and comprised the most expensive seats, after those located in the two private boxes on each side of the stage. The parquet, which could seat 400 people, was divided into several gradations of seats with varying prices.

1- For example, at the rear, directly beneath the dress circle, there was an area "for the accommodation of the colored population."
This was known as the pit.

2- The cushioned seats of the theatre were perhaps another expression of British sensibilities, as comfortable seating was often used by English theatre managers in order to attract the more respectable members of society.

3- The theatre was a place to see and be seen, as house lights were not traditionally dimmed before the 1890s, and it was therefore an ideal gathering place for members of Victorian society in both England and Victoria.

4- The audiences were known to become quite raucous at times, which is perhaps a result of this desire for social attention at the theatre. The upstairs dress circle, in which seats were "conveniently arranged for an uninterrupted view of the stage"...

5- must have also given audience members an opportunity to display their affluence to the lower classes seated below them. Located behind the dress circle was a hall "suitable for a club or billiard room."

6- All of these factors pointed towards the theatre as a hub of Victorian social life, as well as a reflection of the British class system.

div div Linked to Images
Adelphi 411 Strand Alhambra Leicester Square Northumberland Av. Astley's Amphitheatre (Sanger's Westminster Bridge Rd.) Britannia Hoxton Street
Comedy Panton Street Court Sloane Square Covent Garden Bow Street Criterion Piccadilly
D'Oyley Carte's Shaftsbury Av. Drury Lane Catherine St. Strand Elephant & Castle New Kent Rd. Empire Leicester Square
Gaiety 345 Strand Garrick Charing Cross Rd. Globe Newcastle St. Strand Grand Islington
Haymarket Haymarket Her Majesty's Haymarket Holborn 81 High Holborn Imperial Tothill Street
Lyceum Strand Lyric* Shaftesbury Avenue Marylebone Church Street Novelty (Jodrell*) Great Queen Street
Olympic Wych St. Strand Opéra Comique* 299 Strand Pavilion 85 Whitechapel Rd. Prince of Wales's (late Princes) Coventry Street
Princess's Oxford Street Royalty Dean Street Soho St. James's King Street Sadler's Wells Islington
Sanger's* Westminster Bridge Rd. Savoy Beaufort Bdgs. Strand Shaftesbury* Shaftesbury Ave. Standard Shoreditch
Strand 168 Strand Surrey Blackfriars Road Terry's 105 Strand Vaudeville 404 Strand
Adelaide opened new Mar 1878 Croydon Grand 1896 Dalys 1893 Deptford Broadway 1897
Duke of York's 1892 Fulham Grand 1897 Palace Royal English Opera House
Stoll Theatre Royal Portugal Street

*Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue

Lyric Theatre at left, Apollo Theatre at right.

*Novelty Theatre (Jodrell, Great Queen Street)

The Theatre had another change of name, as the Jodrell Theatre on the 22-Oct-1888. The following year the Theatre reverted once again to its original name of the Novelty Theatre, 7-Jun-1889.

*Opéra Comique, 299 Strand

The Opéra Comique was a 19th-century theatre constructed between Wych Street and Holywell Street with entrances on the East Strand. It opened in 1870 and was demolished in 1902, to make way for the construction of the Aldwych and Kingsway. It is perhaps best remembered for hosting several of the early Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

*Sanger's, Westminster Bridge Rd.

In 1871 the control of the Astley's amphitheatre/theatre passed to the circus proprietor 'Lord' George Sanger. In 1893 the building was declared unsafe and closed, being finally demolished by 1895. No trace of it remains.

*Shaftesbury, Shaftesbury Ave.

Also as: D'Oyley Carte's, Shaftsbury Av.

Music Halls & Etc.

Cambridge, 135 Commercial St.

Canterbury, 143 Westminster Bridge Road

Deacon's, Sadlers Wells

Foresters, 93 Cambridge St.

Gatti's, Villiers Street, Strand, 214 Westminster Bridge Rd.

London Pavilion, Piccadilly

Metropolitan, 267 Edgeware Rd.

Middlesex, Drury Lane

Oxford, 14 Oxford Street

Royal, 242 High Holborn

South London, 92 London Rd.

Trocadero, Windmill St.

Victoria Coffee Palace, Waterloo Road

Tivoli, 68 Strand

The following offer various entertainments, particulars of which will be found in the daily papers.

Agricultural Hall, Islington

Albert Palace, Battersea

Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

Exeter Hall, Strand

Hengler's Circus, 7 Argyle St.

Myddelton Hall, Upper St.

National Agricultural Hall

Princes's Hall, 190 Piccadilly

Royal Aquarium

St. George's Hall, Langham Place

St. James's Hall, Piccadilly

Willis's Rooms, King St.


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