The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas

1827

Covent Garden Theatre.

This handsome theatre possesses a patent, originally granted to sir William Davenant, and under which successive companies acted at the theatres in , Lincoln's-inn-fields; nor was it until , that a theatre was opened in , Covent Garden. In , Mr. Rich, who had formerly had the direction of theatre, and afterwards that of Lincoln's-inn-fields, took the lease of the site of the present theatre at the rent of

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per annum, and opened his house in . It held before the curtain about ; the longitudinal diameter of the auditory from the stage to the back wall of the boxes, being feet. The above receipt was thought very considerable in ; but to augment it, the custom was (until the time of Garrick) to build numerous seats upon the stage, where a large body of auditors were accommodated.

Over this theatre Mr. Rich presided until the year , having been for years the manager of a company under the patent granted by Charles II. In , Messrs. Colman, Harris, Powell, and Rutherford, purchased the theatre of the heirs of Rich for the sum of The management was confided to Mr. Colman, but the partners subsequently quarrelling, Mr. Harris purchased all the shares except Powell's.

Various improvements were made in the interior of this theatre, and in , Mr. Harris expended upon it, under the direction of Mr. Holland, architect. For some years had an advantage over Covent Garden, in possessing the talents of Mrs. Siddons, and her brother, John Philip Kemble, who did so much to rescue the stage from the ridiculous and barbarous costume which had hitherto disgraced it: but in the year , this company gained a great accession of strength in the person of George Frederick Cooke, whose talents and dissipation made him so long an object of public admiration and regret.

years afterwards, Mr. Kemble purchased a share of for and was soon after constituted stage manager instead of Mr. Lewis, who had filled that post for several years, with great credit to himself and advantage to the concern.

On the , this theatre, with all that it contained, was completely burnt to the ground,--and so rapid were the flames, that they threatened destruction to the whole neighbourhood. Several houses caught fire, and were reduced to ruins, and the walls of the theatre falling, persons were killed. No time was lost in rebuilding this house, the stone of which was laid on the , by his present majesty, then prince of Wales. In months this immense edifice was finished, and opened to the public on the , with the tragedy of Macbeth, when a new danger threatened the proprietors, who, having built the theatre at the expense of , sought an indemnity, by raising the price of admission. This was warmly resisted by the public; and for more than a month the theatre was a scene of continued riot and confusion, which is known by the name of the

O. P. (old prices) war.

At length a compromise was effected; but the injury done to the theatre, and the loss sustained by other causes, was long felt by the proprietors.

The architect, Mr. Smirke, has taken for his model the finest specimen of the Doric, from the ruins of Athens, the grand temple

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of Minerva situated in the Acropolis. The principal front in exhibits a magnificent portico, which, though magnificent, is greatly inferior to the Athenian original.

It consists of columns of the Doric order, fluted, and without bases, supporting an entablature and pediment, and elevated upon a flight of steps. The whole front is enclosed by iron rail-work, and the upper part is decorated by basso-relievo representations of the ancient and modern drama.

The ancient Drama. In the centre Greek poets are sitting; the looking towards the portico are Aristophanes, representing the old comedy, and (nearest to the spectator) Menander representing the new comedy. Before them Thalia presents herself with her crook and comic mask as the object of their imitation. She is followed by Polyhymnia playing on the greater lyre, Euterpe on the lesser lyre, Clio with the long pipes, and Terpsichore, the muse of action, or pantomime. These are succeeded by nymphs, crowned with the leaves of the fir-pine, and in succinct tunics, representing the hours or seasons governing and attending the winged horse Pegasus.

The sitting figure in the centre, looking from the portico, is Aeschylus, the father of Tragedy; he holds a scroll open on his knee; his attention is fixed on Wisdom, or Minerva, seated opposite to the poet: she is distinguished by her helmet and shield. Between Aeschylus and Minerva, Bacchus stands leaning on his fawn, because the Greeks represented tragedies in honour of Bacchus. Behind Minerva stands Melpomene, or Tragedy, holding a sword and mask; then follow furies, with snakes and torches, pursuing Orestes, who stretches out his hands to supplicate Apollo for protection. Apollo is represented in the quadriza, or -horsed chariot of the sun. The last described figures relate to part of Aeschylus' tragedy of Orestes.

The modern Drama. In the centre, (looking from the portico) Shakespeare is sitting; the comic and tragic masks, with the lyre, are about his seat; his right hand is raised, expressive of calling up the following characters in the Tempest: , Caliban, laden with wood; next, Ferdinand, sheathing his sword; then Miranda, entreating Prospero in behalf of her lover; they are led on by Ariel above, playing on a lyre. This part of the composition is terminated by Hecate, (the -formed goddess) in her car, drawn by oxen, descending. She is attended by lady Macbeth, with the daggers in her hands, followed by Macbeth turning in horror from the body of Duncan behind him.

In the centre (looking towards the portico) is Milton, seated, contemplating Urania, according to his own description in the Paradise Lost. Urania is seated facing him above; at his feet is Sampson Agonistes chained. The remaining figures represent the Masque of Comus; the Brothers drive out Bacchanals with their staggering leader Comus. The Enchanted Lady is seated in the

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chair, and the series is ended by tigers representing the transformations of Comus's devotees.

The grand front of this theatre may perhaps be considered as of the most correct buildings which adorn this metropolis, uniting grandeur with classical taste. Mr. Smirke has avoided the error which almost all our modern architects have fallen into, that of sacrificing the unity of a whole to a multiplicity of details, and thus fatiguing the mind of the beholder, without producing that delight which can only result from simplicity and harmony of parts.

The grand entrance to the boxes is under the portico in . To the left of the vestibule is the grand staircase; which, with its landing, form the central part of a hall, divided longitudinally by rows of insulated Ionic columns in porphyry; this conducts to the ante-room, with its porphyry pilasters. The doors on the right open into the grand saloon, or box-lobby, which is ornamented in a similar style, and assumes something of the air of an antique temple. There is another handsome but inferior entrance from Covent-garden, by a staircase with a double flight.

The interior of the theatre is somewhat larger than the late house, and it differs from those before built, in the form, which nearly approaches to the horse-shoe, which has been understood to prove favourable to hearing; the circles of boxes are in number, with a row of side boxes on each side above them, on a level with the gallery; immediately behind them rise the slips, whose fronts form a perpendicular line with the back of the upper side boxes. The gallery in the centre ranges with the fronts of the slips, the whole assuming the circular form, and upholding a range of moderately sized arches, which support the circular ceiling; the latter is painted to resemble a cupola, in square compartments in a light relief. From the centre depends a magnificent cut glass chandelier, lighted by gas.

The stage is of admirable dimensions in height, breadth, and especially in depth. No boxes, except those over the side doors, are suffered to intrude upon the proscenium.

On either side of the proscenium are lofty pilasters in scagliola, with light gilt capitals, between which are the stage-doors, managers boxes, &c. These support an arch, the soffit painted in light relief, from which descends the crimson drapery over the curtain. Above is a bold and simple entablature, with the royal arms resting on its centre.

The entablature, the devices, and the whole frontispiece, are in the same light relievo as the cupola. The circle of boxes (under the gallery) in number, was at exclusively devoted to private subscribers; but the number of these have since been reduced to .

These boxes are separated by a close partition; and each of them is entered through a close square ante-chamber from the corridor.

The saloon attached to this circle is in the same style as the

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public saloon; but finished with a beautiful light kind of verd antique, instead of porphyry.

The royal entrance is by an open court at the west end of the theatre from , which will admit the carriage to the door of the private stair-case leading to the apartments provided for his majesty.

To the foregoing descriptions of this theatre we shall now add a description of the saloon to the private boxes, with some general remarks on this building.

It has been justly objected by critics, that the Temple of Minerva, from which the design of this theatre has been taken, was not altogether a proper model for a modern place of amusement, the requiring awful solemnity, the other splendour and elegance. This remark is more strongly exemplified in the decorative part of the interior, which is not adapted to a theatre, being too massy as well as too plain.

This defect is equally striking in the saloon to the private boxes, where heavy columns of the Paestum order are introduced, at each end of the room; behind them is a circular recess, with equally heavy chimney-pieces in the centre. On either side of the room are projecting pedestals supporting antique plaster figures representing heathen deities, as Bacchus, Apollo, Venus, Ceres, Minerva, Flora, &c. Between these figures are seats, covered with crimson, which produce a pleasing and striking effect. Over the chimney-pieces, and in the centre of the room facing the windows, are placed the busts of Homer, Virgil, and Milton.

Facing the side windows are doors exactly similar in design to the windows in the front of ; in which also too great plainness prevails. These doors are the entrance into the saloon from the vestibule.

Though it must be acknowledged that there is something grand in the general appearance of this saloon, yet it certainly wants lightness and elegance, especially as it is appropriated to the reception of people of the fashion in the country.

Measurements.
  Ft.In.
Exteriorextent of Bow-street front2200
 Hart-street front1780
InteriorLength of auditory from the front lights to the front of the boxes529
 Width of auditory at extremities512
 Width of the lower gallery550
 Length of ditto400
 Width of upper gallery550
 Length of ditto250
 Width of the proscenium in front426
 Ditto at pilasters388
 
 Height of the proscenium to centre of arch369
 Depth of stage from the front lights to the sliding pilasters123
 Depth of ditto, from front lights to the back wall686
 Width from wall to wall826
The number of persons this theatre will conveniently hold:
The public or open boxes1,200
The pit750
Second gallery500
First gallery350
 2,800

In is the principal office of police for London: it is a plain building, and the interior possesses no claim to description. This office will be removed to a more spacious building near .

 
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 Title Page
 Dedication
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda
 Postscript