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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Haymarket Theatre in Regency London

Old Haymarket Theatre from Old and New London (1873)
Old Haymarket Theatre from Old and New London (1873)
In Georgian London, it was necessary to have a licence in order to perform plays. In 1766, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, was granted a royal patent, allowing it to put on plays, but only during the summer season. There were only two theatres licensed to put on plays during the winter: The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

The First Haymarket Theatre

The first theatre in the Haymarket was built by John Potter in 1720 and was known as The First Haymarket Theatre or Little Theatre. The Licensing Act of 1737 meant that theatre companies needed a licence or patent in order to perform plays. The Haymarket had no such licence and was forced to operate under temporary licences or by trying to circumvent the law by putting on a concert with a ‘free’ play afterwards.

Interior of the Little Theatre, Haymarket,  from the Complete Works of Henry Fielding (1902)
Interior of the Little Theatre, Haymarket,
from the Complete Works of Henry Fielding (1902)
The Theatre Royal, Haymarket

From 1746, comic actor and satirical playwright Samuel Foote sporadically rented the Haymarket Theatre. In 1766, whilst the guest of his noble patrons, the Earl and Countess of Mexborough, Foote was goaded into riding a rather lively horse belonging to George III’s brother, Edward, Duke of York. The horse threw him and Foote broke his leg so badly that it had to be amputated. Undeterred, Foote continued to act with a wooden leg:
Strange as it may appear, with the aid of a cork leg he performed his former characters with no less agility and spirit than before, and continued by his laughable performances to draw together crowded houses.1
The accident brought about a change in fortunes for the Haymarket Theatre. Foote requested a royal patent from the Duke of York and on 5 July 1766, a limited patent was granted, for the duration of Foote’s life. The Haymarket Theatre was permitted to show plays during the summer, between 10 May and 15 September.

Foote purchased the theatre outright and immediately set about enlarging it, adding an upper gallery. It reopened as the Theatre Royal on 14 May 1767.

Samuel Foote  from Old and New London (1873)
Samuel Foote
from Old and New London (1873)
George Colman the elder

Playwright George Colman bought the theatre in 1777, but the patent expired on Foote’s death in the same year, forcing him to apply annually for a licence for the summer season. The Haymarket flourished under his management and he amassed a considerable fortune, only to discover that his banker had embezzled it. His son, also called George Colman, gradually took over the management from 1785 due to his father’s ill health.

Sheridan’s Drury Lane Theatre company performed at the Haymarket during the winter season of 1793-4 whilst his theatre was being rebuilt.

Death at the theatre

During this time, a dreadful tragedy took place. On 3 February 1794, George III and Queen Charlotte attended the Haymarket Theatre for the first time that season, and the royal command performance attracted vast numbers of people. The crowds were so huge that when the door was opened, those in the front of the queue were pushed down the stairs leading to the pit. More than 70 people fell and at least 15 people were fatally crushed to death or suffocated.

George Colman the younger

George Colman the younger inherited the theatre on his father’s death in 1794, along with massive debts. Although a successful playwright, he was forced to mortgage the business to repay his father’s debts and finally, in 1805, to sell shares in the theatre. In 1806, he was arrested for debt but he continued to manage the theatre from the King’s Bench Prison until he was discharged in 1817.

King's Bench Prison from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
King's Bench Prison from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
The shareholders included his argumentative brother-in-law, David Morris, who involved Colman in such lengthy litigation which forced the theatre to stay closed during the summer of 1813.

According to The Picture of London for 1809, the season at the Haymarket Theatre ran from 15 May to 15 September. It wrote of the Haymarket Theatre:
This theatre, though not so elegant and spacious as either of the winter houses, is fitted up in a neat and tasteful style, and is capable of containing a numerous audience.2
This house contained three tiers of boxes, a pit, and two galleries.

The Haymarket Theatre presented plays and English operas. The Picture of London for 1813 stated that the Haymarket was putting on plays and farces rather than operas.

Visiting the theatre

According to the Picture of London for 1809, the prices at the Haymarket were as follows:

Prices for Haymarket Theatre in 1809

The doors opened at six o'clock, and the performance began at seven. Unlike the winter theatres, there was no half-price entry at the Haymarket part the way through the evening’s performance.

The post-Regency years

After his release from prison, Colman sold the remainder of his interest in the theatre. Under the management of David Morris, the theatre was completely rebuilt in 1820, in a slightly different place, according to the design of architect John Nash. It reopened on 4 July 1821 with a production of Sheridan’s The Rivals.

New Haymarket Theatre from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
New Haymarket Theatre from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
Old and New London wrote:
The front is of stone, and is about sixty feet in length, and nearly fifty in height. The entrance is through a handsome portico, the entablature and pediment being supported by six columns of the Corinthian order; above are circular windows connected by sculpture of an ornamental character. Under the portico are five doors, leading respectively to the boxes, pit, galleries, and box-office. The shape of the interior differs from that of every other theatre in London, being nearly a square, with the side facing the stage very slightly curved. The expense of the new building was about £20,000. It is a remarkably neat and pretty house, having two tiers of boxes, besides other half-tiers parallel with the lower gallery, and will seat about 1,500 persons with comfort.3
Haymarket Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
Haymarket Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
The Theatre Royal, Haymarket, remains part of the thriving London theatre scene today.

Notes
(1) From Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4.
(2) From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809).
(3) From Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Baldwin, Olive and Wilson, Thelma, Colman, George, the elder (bap1732, d1794), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 12 April 2017)
Birling, William J, Colman, George, the younger (1762-1836), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 12 April 2017)
Dircks, Phyllils T, Foote, Samuel (bap 1721, d 1777), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Sept 2015, accessed 12 April 2017)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1813 (1813)
Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 4

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Drury Lane Theatre in Regency London

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from The Microcosm of London (1808)
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from The Microcosm of London Vol 1 (1808)
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was one of the two theatres with a patent to perform plays in Georgian London. The other was the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The Haymarket Theatre could also put on plays, but only during the summer.

Early history

The first theatre (1663-72)

The first theatre on the Drury Lane site opened in 1663. It was built by Thomas Killigrew on an area known as the Riding Yard but seems to have had no particular name at this time, being variously referred to as the King’s Theatre or the King’s House or, confusingly, the Covent Garden Theatre, as it was in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden. It burnt down in 1672.

The second theatre (1674-1791)

Killigrew rebuilt the theatre on the same site and it opened in 1674 as the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. According to Old and New London, this new theatre was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but this claim was based on slim evidence and is now thought to be unlikely.

From 1747, the theatre was managed and part-owned by the actor David Garrick, and on his retirement in 1776, it passed into the joint ownership of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Thomas Linley and Doctor James Ford. Sheridan pulled down the theatre in 1791 in order to build a larger one, during which time the company performed at the Haymarket Theatre.

Drury Lane Theatre in 1775 from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
Drury Lane Theatre in 1775 from Shakespere to Sheridan by A Thaler (1922)
Sheridan’s theatre (1794-1809)

The third theatre was designed by Henry Holland. It opened for the first time on 12 March 1794 with ‘a grand selection of sacred music, from the works of Handel’1 rather than a play, because it was Lent.

The exterior of Sheridan’s theatre

The Microcosm of London described the outside of the theatre:
The buildings which surround the theatre are faced with Portland stone, but will be finished with balustrade. The theatre, which rises above them, is cased with plaister in imitation of stone, and finished with a balustrade. Through the roof rises a turret, making a large ventilator. On the summit is placed a figure of Apollo, more than ten feet high; but this is to be removed to the west front when finished, and replaced by one of Shakspeare.2 
Drury Lane Theatre burnt down in 1809  from The Beauties of England and Wales by EW Brayley et al (1810)
Drury Lane Theatre burnt down in 1809
from The Beauties of England and Wales (1810)
The stage

The new theatre was much bigger than the previous one. The Microcosm of London wrote:
The accommodations for the stage are upon a much larger scale than those of any other theatre in Europe. The stage is 105 feet in length, 75 wide, and 45 feet between the stage-doors.
In the roof of the theatre is contained, besides the barrel-loft, ample room for scene-painters, and four very large reservoirs, from which water is distributed over every part of the house, for the purpose of instantly extinguishing fire in any part where such accident is possible.

Over the stage is a double range of galleries, called flies, containing machinery, and where the greatest part of the scenery is worked; but which, from the number of blocks, wheels, and ropes crossing each other in every direction, give it very much the appearance of a ship's deck.3
The Picture of London for 1809 wrote:
To facilitate the working some scenery, and light machinery, there is a stage about ten feet below the upper one, where the carpenters attend either to raise ghosts, pantomime demons, or to obey the magic wand which consigns them to oblivion. Under this second stage there is a depth of about forty feet, furnished with various mechanical engines, requisite for raising the splendid and massy pillars, temples, &c. which enrich the scenery, and contribute so essentially to the effect produced by the grand ballets and pantomimes exhibited at this theatre.4
The Microcosm of London added:
There are two green-rooms, one for the use of chorus-singers, supernumeraries, and figurants; the other for the principal performers: the latter of which is fitted up in the first style of elegance, and occasionally visited by persons of the highest distinction.5
The interior of Sheridan’s theatre

Inside Drury LaneTheatre in 1804 from Old and New London (1873)
Inside Drury Lane Theatre in 1804 from Old and New London (1873)
According to The Microcosm of London:
The audience part of the theatre is formed nearly on a semi-circular plan. It contains a pit, four tiers of boxes on each side of the house, and two galleries, which command a full view of every part of the stage.6
The Picture of London for 1809 stated that there were also 'a number of private boxes, ranged on each side the pit, and constructed so as to afford a perfect view of the stage, and yet conceal the occupiers from observation.'7

The Microcosm of London continued:
The pit is 54 feet in length, 46 in breadth, has twenty-five rows of benches, and contains eight hundred persons. The benches are so well constructed, that those next the orchestra command an uninterrupted view of the whole stage, and the avenues to it are very commodious and safe.

The prevailing colours of the boxes are blue and white, relieved with richly fancied embellishments of decorative ornament. The compartments into which the front of each tier is divided, have centrally a highly finished cameo, the ground of cornelian-stone colour, with exquisitely drawn figures, raised in white; the subjects are chiefly from Ovid, and painted by Rebecca. The stage-boxes project about two feet, and have a rich silver lattice-work, of excellent taste and workmanship. The boxes are supported by cast-iron candalabras, fluted and silver-lackered, resting on elegantly executed feet; from the top of each pillar a branch projects three feet, from which is suspended a brilliant cut-glass chandelier. A circular mirror, about five feet diameter, is placed at each end of the dress-boxes, next the stage, that produces a pleasing reflected view of the audience.8
The Royal Box
On the nights when this theatre is honoured with their Majesties presence, the partitions of the stage-box are taken down, and it is brought forward nearly two feet, a canopy is erected superbly decorated with crimson velvet, richly embroidered with gold, and adjoining them sit the princesses. Their box is usually lined with light blue satin, fancifully festooned and elegantly decorated with silver fringe and rich tassels.9
The entrance

Front of Old Drury Lane Theatre from Old and New London (1873)
Front of Old Drury Lane Theatre from
Old and New London (1873)
There are three entrances to the boxes, two to the pit and galleries. The one in Brydges-street leads to a saloon 75 feet by 21, called the Egyptian Hall. Sixteen pillars, of the Doric order, beautifully painted, in imitation of porphyry, are at once a splendid ornament, and support the back boxes, to which a flight of stairs at each end leads.
At the back of the front boxes there is a semi-circular saloon 41 feet long, containing, at a proper elevation, a handsome statue of Garrick, between the tragic and comic muse. In this place proper persons attend with refreshments. Over this there is a smaller one for the same purpose.10
There are also large saloons on the north and south sides of the theatre, and handsome square rooms, one of which is intended for the use of his Majesty, and the other for the Prince of Wales.11
Visiting the theatre

The seating capacity was around 3,950 in total. The Picture of London for 1809 stated the capacities and prices as follows:

Prices and capacities for Sheridan's Drury Lane Theatre

The 1,960 people in the boxes included the free list, but excluded private boxes.

The Microcosm of London stated the capacities somewhat differently – 675 in the two-shilling gallery and 308 in the one-shilling gallery, with 3,611 spectators in total.

The doors opened at 5.30 pm and the performances started promptly at 6.30 pm. Half-price tickets were available for entry after the third act of the play, usually around 8 o’clock. Boxes could be reserved by paying a shilling to the box office on the morning of the performance.

A sad end to Sheridan's theatre

The Microcosm of London claimed that:
This magnificent structure unites a splendid combination of taste, grandeur, and elegance, which renders it a monument of fame to Mr. Holland, the architect, and when its exterior is completely finished, it will be a national ornament.12
Alas! The theatre never was completely finished. Despite its elaborate fire precautions, this theatre burnt down on 24 February 1809, less than 6 months after its rival at Covent Garden had suffered the same fate. The fire ruined Sheridan who had borrowed heavily to finance his new theatre. The ownership passed into the hands of a committee headed up by the brewer, Samuel Whitbread, who forbade Sheridan to take any part in the management going forward.

Whilst the theatre was, yet again, being rebuilt, the Drury Lane Company performed at the Opera House and then at the Lyceum.

The Regency theatre (1812-present)

Drury Lane Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
Drury Lane Theatre from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
The fourth Drury Lane Theatre was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and opened on Saturday 10 October 1812 with a production of Hamlet and an address written by Lord Byron.

The Green Room at Drury Lane (1822) by G Cruikshank  from Life in Regency and Early Victorian Times by EB Chancellor (1926)
The Green Room at Drury Lane (1822) by G Cruikshank
from Life in Regency and Early Victorian Times by EB Chancellor (1926)
The Picture of London for 1813 stated:
The stage is about thirty-three feet wide, the proscenium nineteen and a half. The part usually appropriated to doors, is judiciously occupied by two magnificent lamps, with tripods on triangular pedestals. This theatre is altogether a master-piece of art, and an ornament of the metropolis. Its coup d’oeil is delightful beyond the power of description.
The grand entrance to this theatre is from Brydges-street, through a spacious hall, leading to the boxes and pit. Three large doors lead from this hall into the house, and into a rotunda of great beauty and elegance. On each side of the rotunda are passages to the great stairs, which are peculiarly grand and spacious.

The grand saloon is eighty-six feet long, circular at each extremity, and separated from the box-corridors by the rotunda and grand staircase. The ceiling is arched, and the general effect of two massy Corinthian columns of verd antique at each end, with ten corresponding pilasters on each side, is grand and pleasing. The rooms for coffee and refreshments at the ends of the saloon are convenient.

The body of the theatre presents nearly three-fourths of a circle from the stage. The color of the interior is gold upon green, and the relief of the boxes is by a rich crimson. There are three circles of boxes, each containing twenty-four boxes.13 
Some alterations were later made to the design. The Picture of London for 1818 stated that there were 26 boxes in each circle and complained that the grand saloon had been 'converted into what is called a Chinese temple, with two holes for staircases from the hall below. It is impossible to say whether the man who planned this ridiculous alteration, or the architect who executed it, has shewn most want of taste.'14

Kean as King Richard; Royalty in the box (1823) by W Heath  from Life in Regency and Early Victorian Times by EB Chancellor (1926)
Kean as King Richard; Royalty in the box (1823) by W Heath
from Life in Regency and Early Victorian Times by EB Chancellor (1926)
 Visiting the theatre

The seating capacity of this theatre was around 2,810 – still large, but some 1,000 seats less than the 1794 theatre that it replaced. The Picture of London for 1813 stated the terms and capacities as follows:


Prices and capacities for the 1812 Drury Lane Theatre

In 1813, the season was advertised to run from September to June; in 1818, it was advertised to run until July. Around 1818, the performances moved from a start time of 6.30 pm to 7 pm in order to accommodate later dinner hours.

Behind the scenes

The Picture of London for 1818 stated:
The details of the business of this Theatre present a system worthy of imitation in all similar concerns, of which a competent judgment can alone be formed by persons, who on formal application, for the purpose, obtain permission to see the vast interior in the day-time. The wardrobe, the painting rooms, the machinery above and below the stage, the provisions for preventing and extinguishing fire, all excite the just admiration of those who have the opportunity of beholding them.15
After the Regency

Drury Lane Theatre (2015)
Drury Lane Theatre (2015)
The Drury Lane Theatre today is still the 1812 building, though various alterations and renovations have been made over the years. The Doric portico in Catherine Street was added in 1820, and ‘the interior of the house … was entirely rebuilt in 1822.’16 The colonnade along the side of the building in Little Russell Street was added in 1831.

Drury Lane Theatre (2015)
Drury Lane Theatre (2015)
In 2013, the theatre underwent major renovations and the front of house areas were returned, as far as possible, to their original 1812 design. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane continues to be a thriving part of the West End theatre scene.

Notes
1. From The Times, 12 March 1794, The Times Digital Archive. The Microcosm of London stated that the new theatre opened on 13 March 1793 but The Times Digital Archive advertised its opening on 12 March 1794.
2. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
3. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
4. From The Picture of London for 1809.
5. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
6. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
7. From The Picture of London for 1809.
8. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
9. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
10. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
11. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
12. From The Microcosm of London Volume I.
13. From The Picture of London for 1813.
14. From The Picture of London for 1818.
15. From The Picture of London for 1818.
16. From Leigh’s New Picture of London (1830).

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Brayley, Edward Wedlake, Nightingale, J and Brewer, J, et al, The Beauties of England and Wales(1810-16)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1807 (1807)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1813 (1813)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
Leigh, Samuel, Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
Leigh, Samuel, Leigh's New Picture of London (1830)
The Gentleman’s Magazine (1809)
Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 3

Photographs © Regencyhistory.net

Friday, 10 March 2017

The life and career of Horatio Nelson

Admiral Lord Nelson after the painting by John Hoppner  in Miller's edition of Robert Southey's Life of Nelson (1896)
Admiral Lord Nelson after the painting by John Hoppner
in Miller's edition of Robert Southey's Life of Nelson (1896)
Profile

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) is probably the most well-known of all the heroes of late Georgian England. He can’t match Mr Darcy in popularity, but Nelson did have the benefit of being a real person!

Nelson’s early naval career 1771-1792

Born in 1758, the sixth of eleven children living in Norfolk, his father was a rector and his mother died when he was age nine. Three years later he decided to join the navy having read of his uncle taking command of a sixty-four gun warship.

He joined his uncle’s ship, the Raisonnable, at Chatham in 1771, as a midshipman. Keen to give the boy more experience, his uncle arranged for him to serve on other ships, taking him to North America and to India. In 1777 the 18-year-old Nelson applied for, and was given, promotion to Lieutenant.

For the next few years, Nelson spent much of his time in and around the Caribbean. Promoted again to Post-Captain, he was given his first command, HMS Badger, in late 1778. He took part in several military engagements, both at sea and on land. 

Nelson's marriage 1787
On 11 March 1787, on the Caribbean island of Nevis, he married 29-year-old Frances Nisbet, a widow with a young son. The bride was given away by Prince William (later William IV), at that time a junior officer in the navy and a friend of Nelson. 

Lady Nelson © National Maritime Museum
Lady Nelson © National Maritime Museum
In a letter to Captain William Locker dated 21 March 1787, 10 days after his marriage to Frances Nisbet, Nelson wrote:
I am married to an amiable woman, that far makes amends for everything: indeed till I married her I never knew happiness. And I am morally certain she will continue to make me a happy man for the rest of my days.1
Later that year the couple returned to England and as the nation was enjoying a period of peace, Nelson’s services were no longer required by the navy. He was put on half-pay and spent the next few years badgering to be given a new command.

Mediterranean service 1793-1797

Peace did not last long. Revolutionary France was threatening war and in January 1793 Nelson was given command of the sixty-four gun HMS Agamemnon. Within weeks, the French declared war and Nelson began a long period of service in the Mediterranean.

In late 1793 he arrived in Naples, where he met Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples. He also met Hamilton’s attractive young wife, Emma. 

Sir William Hamilton from Horatio Nelson and   the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Sir William Hamilton from Horatio Nelson and 
the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
He was soon engaged in military action against the French, including an assault on the island of Corsica. It was during this, in 1794, that his right eye was permanently damaged by flying debris.

In 1796 Nelson was promoted to Commodore, as he continued to conduct operations against the French and their allies. A year later he was made a Knight of the Bath for his contribution to the victory during the Battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797. This action won him recognition for his unorthodox tactics, and he became a hero in the eyes of the public. A week later he was promoted again, to Rear Admiral.

Colonel John Drinkwater Bethune was an eye witness at the battle of St Vincent and discussed it with Nelson afterwards. This is part of his published account of the action:
The Commodore’s [Nelson] impatience would not permit him to remain an inactive spectator of the event. He knew the attempt was hazardous; and his presence, he thought, might contribute to its success. He therefore accompanied the party in this attack, passing from the fore chains of his own ship into the enemy’s quarter gallery, and thence through the cabin to the quarter-deck, where he arrived in time to receive the sword of the dying commander, who was mortally wounded by the boarders … But this labor was no sooner achieved, than he found himself involved in another and more arduous one … the undaunted Commodore headed himself the assailants in this new attack, and success crowned the enterprise. Such, indeed, was the panic occasioned by his preceding conduct, that the British no sooner appeared on the quarter-deck of their new opponent, than the Commandant advanced, and asking for the British commanding officer, dropped on one knee, and presented to him his sword; making, at the same time, an excuse for the Spanish Admiral’s not appearing, as he was dangerously wounded.2
Later that year, on 22-25 July 1797, Nelson led a failed attempt to capture Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. During the attack his right arm was injured and subsequently amputated. He returned to England to recuperate.

Victory, fame and Emma Hamilton 1798-1799

Within a few months, Nelson’s reputation as a national hero was cemented by the dramatic defeat of the French at the Battle of the Nile, 1-3 August 1798. 

The French had just delivered Napoleon and his army to Egypt and they felt secure, having more guns than the British. Having spent months searching for the French, and despite discovering them late in the afternoon, Nelson ordered an immediate attack. The result was a naval battle at night, which included the spectacular explosion of the French flagship Orient. 

The Battle of the Nile from Horatio Nelson and   the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
The Battle of the Nile from Horatio Nelson and 
the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Nelson’s victory stranded Napoleon in Egypt and won him huge recognition in Britain, where the public celebrated enthusiastically once the news arrived. Nelson was made Baron Nelson of the Nile.
His victory was also celebrated in the Kingdom of Naples, where he received a particularly enthusiastic reception from Emma Hamilton, wife of the British ambassador. Nelson and Emma became lovers.
Emma Hamilton from Horatio Nelson and   the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Emma Hamilton from Horatio Nelson and 
the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
The Kingdom of Naples declared war on France, and his army got as far as capturing Rome before being driven back. By late 1798 the French were threatening Naples itself, and Nelson oversaw the evacuation of the Neapolitan royal family, along with William and Emma Hamilton.

The following year saw the French driven from Naples, which Nelson had blockaded. He then oversaw the imprisonment and execution of many supporters of the French. For his support of the Neapolitan monarchy, Nelson was given the Dukedom of Bronte.

Return to England and another victory 1800-1801

Lord Nelson KB after a painting by AW Devis  from Horatio Nelson and the Naval   Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Lord Nelson KB after a painting by AW Devis from Horatio 
Nelson and the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
With both Nelson and Sir William Hamilton being recalled to England, they chose to travel home together, along with Emma, now pregnant by Nelson. The four-month journey was overland, via Florence, Prague and Hamburg. They arrived in Great Yarmouth on 6 November 1800.

Nelson received a hero’s welcome, but there was more than a whiff of scandal around his relationship with Lady Hamilton. Meetings with his wife, Frances, were frosty and soon Nelson made it clear his commitment was to his lover.

Nelson wrote to Emma:
You need not fear all the women in this world; for all others, except yourself, are pests to me. I know but one; for, who can be like my Emma? I am confident, you will do nothing which can hurt my feelings; and I will die by torture, sooner than do any thing which could offend you.3
On 29 January 1801, Emma gave birth to Horatia, Nelson’s daughter. In the same month, he was promoted to Vice Admiral, and went on to lead an attack on Denmark. Victory at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801 saw him made Viscount Nelson of the Nile and Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic fleet.

In October 1801 Nelson and the Hamiltons toured central England and parts of Wales, where they were met by enthusiastic crowds and numerous accolades.

Nelson’s final years and the Battle of Trafalgar 1802-1805

  Merton Place in Surrey  in The Seats of the Nobility and Gentry by W Angus (c1801)
Merton Place in Surrey
in The Seats of the Nobility and Gentry by W Angus (c1801)
Anxious to settle down with Emma, effectively as a married couple, Nelson bought Merton Place in 1802. But as war was again brewing, he was soon called to serve with the fleet. For much of 1803 and 1804 he took part in the naval blockade of Toulon.
Never was any commander more beloved. He governed men by their reason and their affections; they knew that he was incapable of caprice or tyranny and they obeyed him with alacrity and joy, because he possessed their confidence as well as their love. “Our Nel,” they used to say, “is as brave as a lion and as gentle as a lamb. Severe discipline he detested, though he had been bred in a severe school. He never inflicted corporal punishment if it were possible to avoid it; and when compelled to enforce it, he, who was familiar with wounds and death, suffered like a woman. In his whole life, Nelson was never known to act unkindly towards an officer. If he was asked to prosecute one for ill behaviour, he used to answer, “That there was no occasion for him to ruin a poor devil who was sufficiently his own enemy to ruin himself.”4
Early 1805 brought the news of a major French fleet setting sail into the Atlantic. Nelson was anxious to engage them in a major battle and spent months searching for them. He returned to London in the summer, frustrated at not discovering them, but in September, news arrived of the French and Spanish fleets having combined, and being anchored at Cadiz.

On 14 September 1805 Nelson left Portsmouth for the last time, aboard his flagship, HMS Victory. On 21 October Nelson raised his famous signal “England expects that every man will his duty” and engaged the enemy fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, using novel tactics he had devised.

Nelson's signal at Trafalgar from Horatio Nelson   and the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Nelson's signal at Trafalgar from Horatio Nelson
 and the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
In the early afternoon, as he stood on the deck of the Victory, Nelson was struck by a musket ball. He was taken below deck and remained conscious for some time, giving instructions for the fleet and asking for his possessions to be given to Lady Hamilton. He died around three hours after being hit.

Death of Nelson from the painting by Ernest Slingeneyer from Horatio   Nelson  and the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Death of Nelson from the painting by Ernest Slingeneyer from Horatio 
Nelson  and the Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
The British fleet won a decisive victory at Trafalgar. 

The Battle of Trafalgar from Horatio Nelson and the   Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
The Battle of Trafalgar from Horatio Nelson and the 
Naval Supremacy of England by W Clark (1890)
Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was given a hero’s funeral and lies entombed in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. A number of monuments were erected to remember him, including the landmark Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

Monument erected in St Paul's Cathedral to   the memory of Nelson from the European   Magazine and London Review (1818)
Monument erected in St Paul's Cathedral to
the memory of Nelson from the European
 Magazine and London Review (1818)
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Detail from frieze on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Detail from frieze on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London
Notes

(1) From Nelson, Horatio, Dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson vol 1, 1777-1794 (1814, London)
(2) From Bethune, Colonel Drinkwater, A narrative of the battle of St Vincent with anecdotes of Nelson (1840, London)
(3) In a letter to Emma Hamilton from Nelson, July 1 1801, in Nelson, Horatio, The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton vol 1 (1814)
(4) From Southey, Robert, The life of Horatio Lord Nelson vol 2 (1814)

Sources used include:
Bethune, Colonel Drinkwater, A narrative of the battle of St Vincent with anecdotes of Nelson (1840, London)
Hibbert, Christopher, Nelson, A Personal History (1994)
Miller, Edwin L, Robert Southey's Life of Nelson (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896)
Nelson, Horatio, Dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson vol 1, 1777-1794 (1814, London)
Nelson, Horatio, The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton vol 1 (1814)
Southey, Robert, The life of Horatio Lord Nelson vol 1 (1813) vol 2 (1814)

All photographs © RegencyHistory.net

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Covent Garden Theatre in Regency London

Theatre Royal, Covent Garden from The Microcosm of London Vol 1 (1808)
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, from The Microcosm of London Vol 1 (1808)
The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, was one of only two theatres licensed to perform plays in Georgian London. The other was the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and there was intense competition between the two. In addition, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, had a limited patent that allowed it to perform plays during the summer.

The first theatre (1732-1808)

The first Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, opened in 1732. It was built by the actor John Rich, the manager of The Duke’s Company – one of the only two theatre companies then licensed to perform plays. Rich had commissioned John Gay to write the highly successful The Beggar’s Opera and made sufficient money from the performances in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to invest in a new theatre building. Rich moved his company and their licence to the newly completed Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, which opened on 7 December 1732 with a production of William Congreve’s The Way of the World.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was appointed musical director and many of his operas and oratorios were first performed at Covent Garden.

Theatre improvements in 1792

In 1792, the stage-manager and part-owner Thomas Harris employed the architect Henry Holland to give the theatre a makeover. According to The Microcosm of London, Harris spent £25,000 on internal and external refurbishments.

The Microcosm of London described the new improved theatre:
The principal entrance is in Bow-street, under an antique Doric portico, through a large and spacious saloon, handsomely fitted up and warmed by stoves, leading to the lower circle of boxes, and a double staircase that leads to the upper circles.
The amphitheatre is entirely new, and contains three circles of boxes and a spacious gallery: the form is that of a truncated ellipse, or an egg flattened at one end; the effect of which upon the stage, and upon the sound (not always to be determined by rules) is certainly good. The front of the stage advances something more than the old one into the pit, and is in a straight line.
The boxes are separated from each other by partitions, which are low in front, rise behind, and are placed in a new and commodious direction. They are lined and ceiled with wainscot, but are not papered, for the advantage of sound: their fronts project in a manner very accommodating to those who sit in the first rows.1
Inside Covent Garden Theatre in 1804 from Old and New London (1873)
Inside Covent Garden Theatre in 1804 from Old and New London (1873)
Feltham’s The Picture of London for 1807 also described the theatre:
The internal form of this building is that of a horse-shoe. It contains four tiers of boxes, that hold about twelve hundred persons; the fronts of which are painted white, bordered with gold and green, and the partitions are coloured in green, and relieved with a fanciful variety of bordering, which has a delicate and pleasing effect.
The pit holds six hundred and thirty-two persons, is forty feet in breadth, and thirty-eight in depth, and contains twenty benches, which are so conveniently raised, as to give the audience a full view of every part of the stage.
The principal lobby, or lounging-room, to this theatre, is of an octagon form, and is thirty-eight feet each way. In this place women attend with tea, coffee, and fruit.
The Covent Garden stage is ninety-two feet in length, and thirty-four feet in breadth, between the stage doors, and is decorated with expensive and splendid scenery. Mr. Richards, secretary to the Royal Academy, and Mr. Phillips, are the principal scene painters of the theatre, who stand high in public opinion from the excellent labours of their pencil.2
The King’s box

Special provisions were made for the royal family, including a separate entrance:
There is a room elegantly fitted up for the reception of their Majesties, which is twenty-two feet square, and situated near the King's entrance in Hart-street. The stage-box, when occupied by their Majesties, is most superbly decorated with rich silk, and velvet hangings, which are fancifully adorned with gold fringe and tassels.2
The private entrance for the royal family was through a large building in Hart-street ‘erected for the scene-painters, scene-rooms, green-room, dressing-room, &c.’2 The stage-door and box-office were also in Hart Street.

The first price riots

The theatre reopened on 17 September 1792 to scenes of heckling and disruption. The managers had raised the prices to the same level as Drury Lane Theatre to help cover the cost of the improvements and had failed to install a one-shilling gallery. As a result, the opening performances were interrupted by the audience’s noisy complaints. When the management promised to erect a one-shilling gallery as soon as possible, however, the opposition to the new prices dissolved.

Visiting the theatre

According to Feltham’s The Picture of London for 1807 the numbers of people that could be accommodated in the theatre and the prices for each type of seat were:


The doors opened at 5.30pm and the performance started at 6.30pm. People could be admitted for half price at the end of the third act of the play which, according to the The Picture of London (1809), was ‘generally a little after eight o’clock.’3 The Picture of London (1813) went into a little more detail, specifying that half-price began at the end of the third act of a five-act play but at the end of the second of a three-act play.

Feltham’s The Picture of London for 1818 stated that
… the modern dinner hours of 7, 8, and 9 o'clock, have doubtless interfered with the frequent attendance of a large portion of the population, at entertainments which take place between the hours of 6 and 11; yet two theatres, through a season of 200 playing nights, each capable of containing 3000 persons, are moderately filled, and often crowded. To accommodate the public, the theatres have altered their times of beginning to seven o'clock.4
The box book

The Picture of London for 1813 stated that ‘places for the boxes may be taken in the morning at the Box-Office, on paying 1s. for a party; or a private box may be takes for a family, on paying for six places.’5

The box book was kept by Mr Brandon. There appear to have been two Mr Brandons – James and John
… who are remarkable for their attention to the public, and ever ready to render each applicant for a box as comfortable as the arrangement of their box-book will allow. They particularly distinguished themselves by their impartiality and justice to the public, when the boxes of Covent-Garden were in great request during the zenith of Master Betty’s theatrical glory.6
Behind-the-scenes tours

According to The Picture of London for 1807, behind-the-scenes tours were available for a small payment ‘on proper application at the stage door, and to persons who never saw the machinery of a theatre, they afford a most interesting spectacle.’

It added that: ‘Constables always attend at the doors, to take improper persons into custody.’7

The first theatre burns down

On 20 September 1808, the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, was completely destroyed by fire. It was estimated that the loss of property was around £150,000 of which only £50,000 was covered by insurance. To raise sufficient funds to rebuild the theatre, the management issued subscription shares of £500 each.

George, Prince of Wales, laid the foundation stone of the new theatre on 31 December 1808, and within ten months, the theatre was finished. Whilst the theatre was being rebuilt, the Covent Garden Theatre Company performed at the Opera House and then at the Haymarket Theatre.

The second Theatre Royal (1809-1856)

Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
The new theatre was designed by the architect Robert Smirke and modelled on the Temple of Minerva in the Athenian Acropolis. The Picture of London for 1818 stated that Smirke had ‘reared a theatre more elegant and more majestic than any this nation has hitherto possessed.’8

The main fa├žade was on Bow Street:
The Doric portico in Bow Street, with its four fluted columns, and statues of Tragedy and Comedy, were by Flaxman, and the two long panels in the upper part, with representations in basso-relievo of ancient and modern drama, were by Flaxman and Rossi.9
The theatre entrance
The principal entrance to the boxes is under the portico in Bow-street. On the left side of the vestibule is the grand staircase, which, with its landing, forms the central third part of an hall, divided longitudinally by two rows of insulated columns, coloured after porphyry. This leads to the anti-room, with porphyry pilasters, and a statue of Shakspeare on a pedestal. The doors on the right open into the box-lobby, which is decorated in a similar manner. There is another entrance from Covent-Garden, by a staircase with a double flight.
The royal entrance is by the open court from Hart-street, which will admit the royal carriages to the door of the private staircase that leads to the apartments provided for their Majesties.10
The interior of the new theatre

The saloon leading to the private boxes, Covent Garden Theatre,  from Ackermann's Repository (1810)
The saloon leading to the private boxes, Covent Garden Theatre,
from Ackermann's Repository (1810)
The Microcosm of London described the inside of the new theatre:
The interior of the Theatre is rather larger than that of the late structure; and differs from those hitherto constructed, by approaching nearer to a circle. There are three circles of boxes, with a row of side-boxes above them, on a level with the two-shilling gallery. These upper side-boxes are without roof or canopy. Immediately behind them rise the slips, their fronts forming a perpendicular line with the back of the upper side-boxes. The one-shilling gallery in the center ranges with the fronts of the slips, the whole assuming the circular form, and upholding a range of arches, which support the circular ceiling : the latter is painted to imitate a cupola, in square compartments, in a light relief. The pannels are of a grey colour, with wreaths of honeysuckles, &c. in gold. The box fronts are perpendicular, and their ornaments are painted on canvas, and fixed on the fronts. Each circle is supported by slender reeded pillars, in burnished gold. The covering of the seats is of a light blue.
The Theatre is lighted by patent lamps and elegant chandeliers.10
The Picture of London for 1818 wrote:
The stage is large, and well calculated by its depth for the exhibition of processions and extensive scenery. Two very elegant and lofty pilasters support a semi-elliptical arch, over which is the royal arms. Two figures are painted on each side of the arch in relief; they are females, holding wreaths of laurel, trumpets, &c. A crimson fall of drapery, in rich folds, is painted within the arch, and covers the supporters of the curtain. The ceiling is painted to resemble a cupola, divided into square compartments, and surmounted with the figure of an ancient lyre. The shape of the house before the curtain is that of a rounded horse-shoe, wide at the heel. This shape is continued from the bottom to the top of the house, with an unbroken uniformity, and by that means every sound, as it enters, is regularly diffused, and the slightest whisper is rendered audible. Still the width of the proscenium is sufficiently ample to present all the scenery to the view of those in the sides of the pit, or the side boxes.11
New Covent Garden Theatre from The Microcosm of London Vol 3 (1810)
New Covent Garden Theatre from The Microcosm of London Vol 3 (1810)
The OP War

The new Covent Garden Theatre opened on 18 September 1809. In a desperate attempt to recoup some of the costs of rebuilding, the theatre management decided to increase the prices of the boxes from 6s to 7s and the pit from 3s 6d to 4s. This was a big mistake. The opening performance of Macbeth, with Mrs Siddons playing her iconic role of Lady Macbeth, was disrupted by the audience loudly protesting about the price increases. People also complained about the increased number of private boxes. This disruption lasted for around six weeks and became known as the ‘Old Price’ riots or OP War. The OP War finally ended when the management agreed to reduce the price of the pit back to the old price of 3s 6d and reduce the number of private boxes to the same as before.

Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth  after painting by GH Harlow from    Shakespeare on stage by W Winter (1911)
Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth
after painting by GH Harlow from  
Shakespeare on stage by W Winter (1911)
Theatre improvements in 1813

The theatre was redecorated and embellished in 1813.
The Rose, the Thistle, and the Shamrock, in burnished gold, adorn the different circles of the boxes; and the arch over the proscenium was formed into an elegant cove, enriched with the same national ornaments. The hearing of the house has been thus made perfect; and it is now generally esteemed the most tasteful and most comfortable theatre in Europe. The introduction of gas, from a magnificent chandelier in the centre of the ceiling, forms a new era in lighting theatres.11
The performers

The main performers were contracted to the theatre for a period of three to five years, but the lesser performers were employed on a season to season basis. All the actors were paid weekly and subject to fines if they missed rehearsals or performances unless they were genuinely ill.

The top performers had an additional perk:
NB All performers whose salaries are above six pounds per week, are entitled to four ivory tickets for the free admission of their friends to the theatre, viz. a double and single order for the boxes, and two double orders for the first gallery. All performers whose salaries do not amount to six pounds per week, are totally excluded from any similar privilege.12
Later history

Covent Garden Theatre in 1850 from Old and New London (1873)
Covent Garden Theatre in 1850 from Old and New London (1873)
The Theatres Act was passed in 1843 breaking the monopoly of the patent theatres – Covent Garden and Drury Lane – and enabling other theatres to put on plays. The Covent Garden Theatre was remodelled as the Royal Italian Opera House and reopened on 6 April 1847. However, it lasted for less than ten years in this form as the theatre was again burnt down on 5 March 1856.

Burning of Covent Garden Theatre in 1856 from Old and New London (1873)
Burning of Covent Garden Theatre in 1856 from Old and New London (1873)
The new theatre opened on 15 May 1858 and this building remains at the centre of today’s Royal Opera House.

Notes
1. From Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
2. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1807 (1807)
3. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
4. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
5. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1813 (1813)
6. From Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
7. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1807 (1807)
8. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
9. From Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 3
10. From Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
11. From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
12. From Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1807 (1807)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1813 (1813)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
The Gentleman’s Magazine (1809)
Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London) Vol 3