The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
The Surrey Theatre.
This theatre was originally built in the year , for the display of equestrian and dramatic entertainments, on a plan similar to what Astley was then pursuing near Westminster-bridge; but it was intended that they should be conducted with greater elegance and with superior attractions. Mr. Charles Dibdin the elder, that
song writer and musical composer, devised the scheme for the new establishment; and, in conjunction with Mr. Davis, a surgeon of , St. James's, Messrs. Grant of , and Mr. Harborne, of Amen-corner, solicitor, they commenced by taking a lease of a plot of ground in fields, from the late colonel West, of , Rathbone-place; who, when made acquainted with the scheme, being himself a musical amateur, was admitted as a joint speculator. The new building was begun in February in the above year, and was opened in the November following, under the title of the
The performances were entirely by children; but through the house not being licensed, in the midst of success they were obliged to close it. On the , the Circus was re-opened, in the full expectation of obtaining a license from the Surrey magistrates at the next general quarter sessions, and was accordingly granted. The proprietors now looked forward for ample remuneration (having expended above on the house), when colonel West died, and the whole concern was in a little time thrown into a state of almost inextricable embarrassment. The management was now thrown upon Grimaldi, a Portuguese, and grandfather to the present clown of Covent-garden theatre.
The season of was not productive; and the shares having changed possessors, Delpini, the celebrated , was appointed manager in . He produced a splendid spectacle towards the end of the season, with a real stag-hunt, &c. but
and the proprietors, chagrined by their losses, deserted their property in succession; till at length, lady West, as grand landlady, put an execution in the house for arrears due, and thus became, by due course of law, possessor of the entire concern.
Afterwards, G. A. Steevens delivered his celebrated lecture on heads, and many pantomimic and local pieces were performed with indifferent success; among the latter may be noticed the
&c. Hughes, however, notwithstanding all the changes which had occurred, still annually renewed the license in his own name, and in , he prevailed on the late Mr. James Jones to take a repairing lease from lady West, at an annual rental of The house was opened on Easter Monday, , and obtained an enlarged portion of public favour. Mr. J. C. Cross, a celebrated writer of spectacles and pantomimes at Covent-garden theatre, subsequently became a partner, through marrying the daughter of Mr. James Jones. He exerted himself strenuously for the advantage of the theatre, which he raised to a deserved popularity. His efforts were, however, checked in , when the edifice was totally destroyed by conflagration. The property was insured to the amount of only, which scarcely covered - of the loss.
The present theatre was commenced in , by Mr. Donaldson, from the designs of Mr. Cabanel, jun. at the expense of l, and opened on the Easter Monday following. Mr. Cross continued manager, under a committee of trustees, for the creditors; but after his decease, and subsequently to the destruction of theatre by fire in , the house was let to Mr. Elliston for years, at a rent of This gentleman carried his speculations to too great an extent; and, becoming a loser, he relinquished the concern in . It was next tenanted by Messrs. Dunn, Heywood, and Branscomb, by whom the ride (which had been closed by Elliston) was re-opened, and equestrian performances again introduced. But this failed, and the house was tenanted successively by Mr. T. Dibdin, who lost l, Mr. Watkins Burroughs; Mr. James Amherst, who took the house at a monthly rent of ; Mr. Williams; and Mr. Honeyman, the proprietor of the Surrey coffee-house, who retained it till the latter end of . It is now in the possession of Mr. Elliston, jun. who has succeeded in a most extraordinary manner; his performers and performances being of the order.
The exterior of the house is plain but neat, and the approaches are very convenient. The auditorium of the theatre, which is nearly square in form, is exceedingly spacious. The upper part of the proscenium is formed on the segment of an ellipsis; it is supported by gilt fluted composite columns on each side, with intervening stage doors and boxes. The stage doors are richly gilt. The pit measures ft. in. from the orchestra to the front of the boxes, and contains eighteen seats, every alternate seat having a back. It will hold about persons. There is only full circle of boxes, which consist of private boxes on each side, each containing seats; and open boxes, having seats in each. The fronts are painted French white, with gold scroll work, and other ornaments. There are side boxes above the lower tier, the fronts of which are ornamented with gilt scroll work, in oblong
|compartments, each alternate division having a lyre in its centre, and the intermediate ones an eagle with extended wings on a cup or vase. The gallery, as customary in minor theatres, is remarkably spacious, and will hold above a persons. It descends to a level with the side boxes in the centre, but from its principal elevation it is continued along both sides over them. The front decorations are the same as those of the side boxes. Capacious lobbies are attached both to the boxes and pit, and also to the gallery, with a room for refreshment in each.|
The ceiling springs from the extremities of the front of the side galleries. The centre is painted in imitation of a sky, with genii on the verge and in the angles. At the springing points are circular tablets, on which also are painted cupids or genii, in various attitudes. A handsome chandelier depends from the centre, and there are smaller ones suspended from brackets over the stage doors, which are continued round the boxes. All the lighting is by gas.
The prices of admission are the same as at the other minor theatres, and half price is taken. The receipts of the house when completely filled, amount to about The present rent is per annum; the taxes are about ; and the insurance yearly.
Returning to the High-streeet, and near is