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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

A Fan commemorating the opening of the third Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1794

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

There have been four Theatres built on the site of the present Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The first was built by the dramatist Thomas Killigrew under charter from Charles II, and opened with a production of 'The Humorous Lieutenant' on the 7th of May 1663. This first Theatre was very successful but was destroyed by fire in 1672. The second Theatre, built on the site of the first, is thought to have been built by the architect Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1674. This is the Theatre which David Garrick ran with great success for 30 years from 1774. Garrick was followed by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, with such notable Thesbians as Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble taking the stage. This second Theatre was demolished in 1791. The Third Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the one that this fan is commemorating, was constructed between 1791 and 1794 by Henry Holland and was billed as a "Fireproof Theatre," but sadly burnt down only 16 years later in 1809. The Forth and present Theatre was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and opened in 1812. There is much more information about all the Theatres on the site here.

The Fan is extremely old, 237 years at the time of writing, and is in remarkable condition considering its age, but obviously has faded over time, and the text, which describes the Theatre's history, is naturally pretty hard to read so I have transcribed it below. The Fan was very kindly donated by Derek C Williams for display on this site, and has now been gifted to the Drury Lane Archive.

A Fan commemorating the opening of the third  Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1794

An Historical Account of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane From the Earliest Period to the Present Time

A sketch entitled 'Front View of the Late Theatre'A sketch entitled 'Perspective View of the New Theatre

 

Above - Two sketches shown on the fan entitled 'Front View of the Late Theatre' and 'Perspective View of the New Theatre

An Historical Account of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane From the Earliest Period to the Present TimeEarly in the last century there was a Theatre in this place which was either called the Phoenix, or the Cockpit. It was built or rebuilt about the year 1617 & pulled down by the Mob in the same year & was called the Phoenix from that fabulous bird being its sign. It was situated opposite the Castle Tavern in Drury Lane & was standing some time after the Restoration. The players who performed at this Theatre in the time of James the First were called the Queen's Servants till the death of Queen Anne 1619. Some time denominated the Lady Elizabeth's Servants & after the marriage of Charles the First, they regained their former Title of the Queen's Players. How soon the Theatre was rebuilt we are uncertain, but the first play in print which was acted is the Wedding by James Shirley printed in 1629, from which time till the silencing the Theatres by the Fanatics a regular series of dramas performed there may be produced. On the revival of the Stage Sir Wm Davenant, in 1658, had possession of it, and presented such pieces as the times would admit, till the eve of the Restoration. At that period Mr Rhodes, a Bookseller, who had formerly been Wardrobe Keeper at Black-friars Playhouse fitted up the Cockpit and introduced plays there, with such performances as he could procure of which two Betterton Kynaston had been his apprentice.

An Historical Account of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane From the Earliest Period to the Present Time

Soon afterwards two Patents being obtained by Sir Wm Davenant, and Thomas Killegrew, Rhodes's Company were taken under the protection of the former, and with him went to Lincolns Inn Fields, and were suted servants of the Duke of York. The Company collected by Killegrew was called the King's Servants, and acted first in the house near Clare Market. But this Theatre not being well adapted, a more convenient one was erected on the same spot, which the present Theatre occupies, was opened April 8th 1663, (Please note that this date is incorrect and the Theatre actually first opened on the 7th of May 1663 M.L.) which soon took fire, entirely destroyed, with fifty or sixty houses adjoining were burnt or blown up. The Theatre was again rebuilt with such improvements as might be suggested and for that purpose employed Sir Christopher Wren, the principle artist of his time. The new Theatre being finished, was opened March 26th 1674. On this occasion a Prologue and Epilogue were delivered, both written by Mr. Dryden.

An Historical Account of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane From the Earliest Period to the Present Time

The population of London at this period, or the taste of the times insufficient to maintain two Theatres. It was therefore agreed a few years after, by the Patentees, to write the Companies, and perform only at the Theatre Drury Lane. Soon after both Patents became the property of Ch. Rich who having misconducted himself in the management, was silenced by the Chamberlain in 1709, from which time the Drury Lane Company ceased to act under either of King Charles's Patents. In the first year of George the First a licence was granted to Sir Rich d Steele for his life and three years afterwards to establish a Company, which under the management of himself, Wilks, Booth & Cibber, continued to act with great success at Drury Lane, till the deaths of the two former, and the succession of the latter, threw the property of the Theatre in 1733 into the hands of Mr. Highmore, who being ruined by the scheme, the Theatre was purchased by Chas Fleetwood, whose management terminated equally unfortunate with that of his predecessor. In 1747 the successful management of Messrs Garrick & Lacy commenced which continued until the year 1766, when the property passed to the present proprietors, who have erected a Theatre, which stands unrivaled, the Plan is the production of Mr. Holland, it opened April 21 1794 with Macbeth, the scenes, decorations, &c. entirely new. A Prologue was spoken by Mr. Kemble, and an Epilogue by Mils Farren.

A Fan commemorating the opening of the third  Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1794

Above - The back of the fan displaying notable figures from the Theatre's history

The Theatre Royal Fan is extremely old, 237 years at the time of writing, and is in remarkable condition considering its age, but obviously has faded over time, and the text, which describes the Theatre's history, is naturally pretty hard to read so I have transcribed it above. The Fan was very kindly donated by Derek C Williams for display on this site, and has now been gifted to the Drury Lane Archive.

Main page for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Other Pages that may be of Interest