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The Deptford Theatre, Church Street, Deptford

Also known as The Theatre Royal / Royal Deptford Theatre

See also in this area - Greenwich - Rotherhithe - New Cross

A Watercolour depicting the Deptford Theatre and Oxford Arms Public House beside the Deptford Creek - Held at the British Library.

Above - A Watercolour depicting the Deptford Theatre and Oxford Arms Public House beside the Deptford Creek - Held at the British Library here.

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The Deptford Theatre was situated on Church Street beside Deptford Creek on one side and a Public House called the Oxford Arms on the other. The Theatre is long gone today but the pub, currently called the Birds Nest, is still standing, albeit with an extra floor added at some point, and various other additions and alterations over the years. The Theatre itself was a reconstruction of a former building used at various times as a school, a warehouse, and a chapel, and appears to have first opened in 1810. At this time it was mainly used for concerts and musical entertainments, but having gained a licence for dramatic performances in 1816 it then began staging plays, firstly with transfers from the Theatre Royal Windsor.

An Advertisement for the reopening of the Theatre Royal, Deptford in 1835 - From the Kentish Mercury, 12th of September 1835.In 1835 the Theatre was altered and enhanced when private boxes were added, the pit and gallery were enlarged, and a glass chandelier was suspended from the ceiling.

Right - An Advertisement for the reopening of the Theatre Royal, Deptford in 1835 - From the Kentish Mercury, 12th of September 1835.

Unusually the auditorium of this Theatre, which could seat around 900 people, was equipped with boxes on only one side, a correspondence from the actor Joseph Arnold Cave, published in the Stage Newspaper of the 29th of October 1903, states:- 'My next engagement was at the Theatre Royal, Deptford, a small dramatic temple, situated by the side of the canal basin - I think called Deptford Creek. I imagine there was no right or title to the style "Royal" it was known by its habitués as the one-sided theatre. This arose from the fact that on one side only were about four private boxes, while on the other side, the wall which flanked the canal was painted in the semblance of private boxes. My opening part was Gilbert Glossin, in Guy Mannering. After the piece I sang a song called the "Dramatic Maniac," in which I introduced imitations of popular actors, followed by the customary dance. While waiting to go on for the song and dance the manager told me to keep up the stage as much as possible, as the boards in the front portion were in a very rotten condition, and as the water from the canal flowed under the stage, I might go through. I need hardly say I put more caution than spirit into that dance.' - Joseph Arnold Cave, the Stage Newspaper, 29th of October 1903.

In 1846 the Theatre was refurbished, the West Kent Guardian reported on this in their 31st of October 1846 edition saying:- 'This neat little house is undergoing thorough repair and cleansing. The stage has been enlarged, the pit rendered more commodious, and additional box accommodation has been afforded to the lovers of Muinus (sic) at an expense of between £200 and £300. The indefatigable and enterprising lesee, Mr. W. H. Herbert, has been for some time past engaged in calling from the metropolitan and provincial theatres a company of superior talent, amongst whom, we hear, are several old established favourites. The orchestra, a great desideratum, will for the future be under the direction of our old friend George Richardson. The pieces intended for representation will consist of a melo-drama, farce, and ballet, and, as a matter of course, a grand pantomime at merry Christmas. We trust that the worthy lesee will at the conclusion of the season, have cause to congratulate himself with having reaped a profitable harvest.' - The West Kent Guardian, 31st of October 1846.

In 1857 the Theatre lost its licence for dramatic performances, having passed through the hands of several different managers. It was described at the time as being attended by the lowest of classes.

In 1864 the then Manager of the Deptford Theatre, Sefton Parry, decamped to Greenwich where he had a new Theatre built for him, the Carlton Theatre, which replaced the now very run down Deptford Theatre. The following year the Deptford Theatre was advertised to be "let or sold, well stocked with scenery, and an extensive wardrobe." However, the Theatre was never reopened and was instead mostly demolished for the building of a new wharf on the site, called Theatre Wharf. Today the site is empty and used as a beer garden for the adjoing pub, see image below.

The Birds Nest Pub, Deptford, formerly the Oxford Arms, and beside it the site of the former Theatre Royal, Deptford, demolished in 1865, and the Deptford Creek - Photo M. L. July 2021.

Above - The Birds Nest Pub, Deptford, formerly the Oxford Arms, and beside it the site of the former Theatre Royal, Deptford, demolished in 1865, and the Deptford Creek - Photo M. L. July 2021.

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