Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, London, SW1
Formerly - The Queen's Theatre / King's Theatre / His Majesty's Theatre / Italian Opera House
Above - Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' in October 2006.
Her Majesty's Theatre, the Theatre which we know today, is situated on the Haymarket in London opposite the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and opened on the 28th of April 1897 with a play called 'Seats of the Mighty' by Gilbert Parker. Before the play an Inaugural Address was given by Mrs. Tree, whose husband, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, produced the play. The Theatre was the last completed work of the eminent Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps in his lifetime. The present Her Majesty's Theatre is actually the fourth Theatre on the site, the first opened in 1705. There now follows details for each Theatre on the site in chronological order.
Above - The First Opera House in The Haymarket -
From a Drawing by Wm. Capon, made in 1783 - From 'Historical and Literary
Curiosities' by Charles John Smith F.S.A. 1852.
Caption Reads:- 'The following note in Capon's hand-writing was attached
to the drawing:- "This Plate exhibits the front of the old Opera
House, as built by Sir John Vanbrugh about the year 1728. The roof,
which is shewn, was covered with black glazed tiles. The width of the
entrance from South to North was 34 feet; each opening 6 feet; each
pier 4 feet wide." Over the entrance hall, was Ridaut's Fencing
Academy. The front was built of red brick, and rusticated with good
gauged work. On the piers are seen some bills of that time; in particular.
Signer Rauzzini's of Bath, where he died, and
Signora Carnivali's, whose husband, it was always reported, set fire
to the theatre; and who is said to have confessed the act when at the
point of death. Mr. Slingsby, according to Mr. Capon, was the first
person who caused to be put on his bills 'such a one's night'. It made
much talk at the time for its singularity. This Theatre was burnt down
in June, 1789; and on the 3rd of April, in the following year, the first
stone of the present building was laid by the Earl
The first Theatre on the site of the present Her Majesty's was the Queen's Theatre, named in honour of Queen Anne, which was built by Sir John Vanbrugh on land which was a former Stable Yard in the Haymarket. The land was bought at the considerable cost, considering the time, of £2000 and the Theatre opened under the management of William Congreve on the 9th of April 1705 with an opera called 'The Loves of Ergasto' by Giacomo Greber.
The Theatre was not a success however, and was described as being better looking than it was functional, apparently the acoustics were terrible. The Theatre was later turned over to Italian Opera in 1709. It was here that Handel produced his first opera in England, 'Rinaldo' which was finally a success for this massive Theatre, and Handel went on to produce a number of operas there.
After Queen Anne died the Theatre was renamed the King's Theatre, in 1714, and Handel continued successfully at the Theatre until 1734.
Right - A General Ticket of Admission Token for the King's Theatre in 1778, with the moniker R. B. Sheridan Esq - Courtesy Alan Judd.
In 1778 the lease for the Theatre was transferred from James Brook to Thomas Harris, stage manager of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and to the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan for £22,000.
Left - A General Ticket of Admission Token for the King's Theatre in 1778, with the moniker R. B. Sheridan Esq - Courtesy Alan Judd.
The interior of the King's Theatre was remodeled the same year, in 1778, by the infamous Robert Adam, and then again in 1782, but less successfully, by Michael Novosielski.
Sadly this Theatre burnt to the ground on the 17th of June 1789.
Above - The King's Theatre, later the Italian Opera House in 1830 - From 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956
The second Theatre on a now enlarged site retained the former's name of King's Theatre. This Theatre was built by Michael Novosielski and opened on the 26th of March 1791 with a song and dance entertainment.
On opening it was the largest Theatre in England and thought of at the time as the most resplendent in the world. For three years until 1794 the Theatre was home to the Drury Lane Company whilst their Theatre was being rebuilt, (a Theatre which would itself burn down only a few years later.) The King's Theatre was reconstructed by John Nash and George Repton from 1816 to 1818 when the auditorium was remodeled with a new capacity of 2,500, a colonnade was added to the exterior, and the Royal Opera Arcade was added at the rear of the building. Despite the alterations the Theatre was not successful until 1830 when it became known as the Italian Opera House again, which soon became the place to visit, and to be be seen in, in London and was even mentioned in guide books.
Indeed the Theatre became a social magnet for the elite of society. During this time the Theatre was home to Ballet and Opera. In 1837 the name was changed to His Majesty's Theatre, Italian Opera House, but the Italian Opera House part was dropped in 1847.
On May the 4th of that year the debut of an unknown actress sparked something of a sensation at the Theatre, her name was Jenny Lind and she was so successful that her period at the Theatre was later to become known as 'Lind Mania.'
The Theatre's end came in 1867 when it was destroyed by fire in less than an hour, taking with it many of the shops in the adjoining 'Opera Arcade'. An article on the Theatre's destruction by fire, and Theatre fires in general, from the Building News and Engineering Journal of December 13th 1867, can be read here.
Above - A Sketch of the King's Theatre, later the Italian Opera House from 1830, Haymarket, London - From Lloyd's Illustrated, 1st January 1843.
Lloyd's Illustrated printed an article about the King's Theatre in their 1st of January 1843 edition saying:- 'The performance of operas had for many years been continued at the Old Theatre or Opera House, in the Haymarket, when that structure was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the month of June 1789. In consequence of this accident, the Opera was transferred, first, to the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, and subsequently to the Pantheon, which was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and opened under the management of Mr. O'Reilly.
During this interval, Mr. Taylor, the proprietor of the Old Opera House, exerted himself so successfully in expediting its rebuilding, that the foundation of the new erection was laid early in 1790. The Earl of Buckinghamshire, a great lover and supporter of the opera, officiated in laying the first stone of the building, which was completed - so rapidly were the operations conducted - in less than a year from the commencement.
The ground on which the New House was erected was part of the demesnes of the crown, and was let on lease by Mr. Holloway, who granted it to Mr. Taylor...
...The season of 1791, during which the opera had been conducted at the Pantheon, had proved so little favourable to Mr Reilly, the manager, that debts to the amount of thirty thousand pounds had been incurred in the concern. On the new Opera House being completed, an outline for a general opera establishment was proposed by Mr. Taylor, along with Messrs. Sheridan, Holloway, and Sheldon, with the approbation of George the Fourth, then Prince of Wales, the Duke of Bedford, and the Marquis of Salisbury. The terms of this intended arrangement were, that the debts of the Pantheon should be transferred to the New Theatre; that the licence for performing operas at the former theatre should be determined, and one granted to the new theatre 'exclusively'; and that the direction should be reposed in five noblemen.
A material obstacle, however, presented itself to those carrying this arrangement into effect. The then Lord Chamberlain refused to licence the new theatre. How long this unforseen occurrence might have kept the main object of the theatre in suspension is uncertain; but the fate of the Pantheon, which was consumed by fire in the following year, removed the impediment, and the Theatre being licensed, commenced the regular business of the opera.
No nomination of directors had been made by the personages entitled to the appointment, the entire management of the theatre was exercised by Mr. Taylor until 1803.
...In undertaking the Opera, of which he was proprietor previous to the burning down in 1789, this gentleman deviated widely from his original destination in life. He was originally a clerk in the bank of Snow and Co., in the City. His cleverness and acuteness procured him considerable reputation. But the climate of Snow and Co.'s bank was, as he expressed it, too cold for his complexion. He got rid of this ground of complaint admirably well, by becoming proprietor of the Queen's Theatre, which was hot water for life to him.
In 1803, Mr. Taylor sold to Mr. Francis Goold one-third of his property in the opera, and subsequently a larger proportion; and from the time of Mr. Goold's first purchase to his death, in 1807, (which the trouble and anxiety arising from his connexion with the theatre was supposed to hasten,) he alone conducted the opera. Catalini was the great attraction of his management, and her successive engagement entailed on the theatre an expense surpassing what had been before experienced. Mr. Waters, in a pamphlet he afterwards published, gives the total amount revived by her from the theatre in the season 1807, including benefits, at five thousand pounds, and her total profits that year, with concerts, progress in the country, &c., at sixteen thousand seven hundred pounds,an immense sum to be received in such a period, for the gratification afforded to the public by one individual's powers.
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of The King's Theatre, Haymarket- From 'Microcosm of London or London in Miniature Vol 2', 1904. The image was first published, 1st March, 1809, at R. Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 101 Strand.
Scarcely was Mr. Goold dead, than the disputes commenced between Mr. Waters, his acting executor, and Mr. Taylor, which involved the opera in litigation apparently interminable.
Mr. Waters eventually opened the House, under his sole management, he having become, in 1814, the purchaser. The season of 1820 was, however, abruptly concluded; and Mr. Ebers, the eminent bookseller, (from whose statement the preceding account is extracted,) succeeded in the management as Lessee. He found it, however, after all his exertions, a losing concern nor has any individual, since his occupation; (including Mr.. Monk Mason and M. Laporte) been more fortunate,such is the magnitude of the undertaking and the exorbitant salaries demanded by the principal singers and dancers. The distinguishing plan of the Italian Opera House is, that its chief support is derived from subscribers, and takers of boxes for the season, rather than from nightly audiences.
The Opera House is one of largest theatres in 'Europe, and much surpasses either Covent Garden or Drury Lane, both in dimensions and aristocratical attendance. The principal elevation (exhibited in our cut) is towards the Haymarket, and presents a long and somewhat rambling front. The entire building is surrounded by a colonnade.'
The above text in quotes was first published in Lloyd's Illustrated, 1st January 1843.
This Theatre's end came in 1867 when it was destroyed by fire in less than an hour, taking with it many of the shops in the adjoining 'Opera Arcade'. An article on the Theatre's destruction by fire, and Theatre fires in general, from the Building News and Engineering Journal of December 13th 1867, can be read here. The following year a new Theatre was built within the shell of the destroyed one, which you can read about below.
The Third Theatre - 1868
Above - Charles Lee's Architectural Plan of Her Majesty's
Theatre, London - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' Published
The third Theatre on the site, and called Her Majesty's Theatre, was designed by Charles Lee and Sons and Pain, and was built by George Trollope and Sons, within the shell of the previously destroyed Theatre. Building began in 1868 and the Theatre was finished in April 1869.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the construction of the new Theatre in their November 27th 1868 edition saying:- 'On Saturday last the officers and a large number of the members of the Architectural Association visited the new Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, now in course of re erection, and were conducted over the works by the architects.
The roofs were first visited. Those of the auditorium, amphitheatre, and stage are flats, covered with No. 16 Vieille Montague zinc, laid on Croggon's patent hair felt and inch-and-a-half boarding. These zinc flats will be the largest in London. The roofs of grand staircases and saloons of dressing-rooms and of carpenters' shops and painting-room are constructed with iron principals, covered with board and slate. The stage, amphitheatre, painting-room, and carpenters' shops are lit by skylights. The roof of auditorium is carried by four braced wrought iron girders These girders are 86ft. in span, and about 7ft. deep in the centre, and weigh about twelve tons each. There are no rooms over the auditorium or stage, the painting-room being placed by the side of the stage, and the carpenter's shop over the dressing-rooms facing the Haymarket. Angle iron ribs form the framing for the dome, and elliptical beams are suspended from the roof and secondary girders. The ceiling is to be formed with half-inch boarding.
The next things noticed were the wrought-iron cantilevers for carrying the boxes. Those in the centre of the house have a projection of 12ft. from the columns, the object being to form open tiers of boxes to be used when required for dramatic purposes. There are four full tiers of boxes and a half-circle tier. The length of the auditorium is a few feet less than in the old house. This is partially occasioned by the increased depth of the centre boxes, and partially by the stage being made deeper. The height will be about 10ft. greater than that of the old building.
Attention was next directed to the entrance hall and grand staircase. These, in the old house, were placed at the back of the auditorium, but in the new building they have been placed at the north-east angle, next to the Haymarket, the grand staircase being carried up to the half circle tier of boxes and communicating with each tier, instead of stopping at the grand tier level, as in the old house.
A stone staircase of communication between all the tiers has also been provided in addition to the grand staircase. The gallery staircase and the principal staircase to the amphitheatre stalls are provided at the north-west angle of the building, communicating with the arcade. There is also an additional staircase provided for the gallery leading to the grand stairs, to be used in case of fire. All parts of the auditorium are in communication with at least two staircases. The passages to the stalls and pit lead out of the principal entrance hall. All staircases throughout the house are of stone, and all passages or landings are constructed on Dennett's patent concrete arches. The royal box has a separate staircase, with retiring rooms, &c., complete.
The stage is much increased in size, being about 56ft. in depth by 95ft. in width, and, in addition, there is a scene dock on the east side, under the painting-room floor. The original stage of the old house was about 34ft. by 90ft. The roof over the stage is constructed of braced wrought-iron girders about 56ft. in span. The painting floor is on the east side of the stage, and measures 71ft. by 21ft. It has a cut in the floor on one side for lowering the painting frames, and one on the other side for lowering the scenes on to the stage.
The basement under pit floor is devoted to the storage of "properties," &c. The remainder of the building is devoted to offices and dressing rooms. The only wood floors throughout the building are the floors of carpenters' shops and the floors to the boxes and gallery. Everywhere else the floors are constructed on Dennett's concrete arches, including the whole of the basement floor. A massive wall is carried up over the proscenium. The fronts of the boxes, as well as the surface of the ceiling, will be boarded, and there will be no decoration in relief, so that, as far as possible, the new theatre may possess the same excellent acoustic qualities as its predecessor.
The works are being carried out by Messrs. G. Trollope and Sons, from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. Charles Lee, assisted by Messrs. Lee, Brothers, and Pain, of 3, Whitehall-place, architects, and they are now in a very forward state, and fast progressing towards completion. There is no doubt that the building will be completed in March next. The members of the Association having expressed their thanks to the architects for their kindness in showing them over the works, the latter signified their willingness to do so again when the works are nearer completion.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, November 27th 1868.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported again on the construction of the new Theatre, when it was nearing completion, along with the very nice engravings shown below, in their April 2nd 1869 edition saying:- 'The members of the Architectural Association paid a visit, last Saturday afternoon, to Her Majesty's Theatre, which is now approaching completion. They were met and conducted over it by Mr. Pain, one of the architects, who kindly gave full explanations of all its varied parts and appliances...
Above - Charles Lee's Architectural Plan of Her Majesty's Theatre, London - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' Published in 1869.
...The theatre, after its destruction by fire in 1867, has been re-erected on the same site by Mr. Charles Lee, assisted by his sons and partner, Lee Brothers and Pain. The works have been carried out by the contractors, Messrs. George Trollope and Sons. Above will be found the plan of the theatre, and on pages 294 and 302 transverse sections illustrating the general arrangements. (Shown below M.L.).
Above - Charles Lee's Architectural Plan of Her Majesty's Theatre, London - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' Published in 1869.
...The reputation of Her Majesty's Theatre as an opera house has been deservedly great. In a paper "On the Construction of Theatres,'' read at the Royal Institute of Architects in 1864, by Warrington Taylor, Esq., a well qualified judge, it was declared to be "the very best theatre in the world for sound." The architects therefore have acted wisely in departing from its general plan and arrangements as little as possible. They have taken it as it stood, simply striving to correct its ascertained deficiencies. Thus, the stage accommodation having been previously far too small, it has been added to without materially encroaching upon the area of the auditorium in depth and width, so that its area is now 95ft. wide by 55ft. deep, instead of only 87ft. bv 34ft. The auditorium, carried farther back, remains almost the same as it did, but the hall which was behind it has been omitted for want of space, and consequently the amphitheatre above is contracted and has a steeper rise. Had it been possible to have attained an additional 20ft. in the length of the site, this reduction need not have been made, and the arrangements would have been still better.
Great care has also been properly bestowed upon the entrances and exits. There are now separate, in most cases two, staircases to each part of the house, to avoid confusion; thus we have stairs to amphitheatre, stairs to amphitheatre stalls, stairs between tiers of boxes. Royal entrance and stairs, stairs to stalls, to pit, and to pit tiers of boxes, &c., all delivering to their respective exits, of which there are five more than in the old building. The intermediate crush room or useless hall is avoided, but there are three saloons for ladies,which was not the case before. The requirements for the several classes of which an audience is composed and for the performers seem to have been carefully studied and due provision made, but they are too multifarious for us to endeavour to follow them; we believe the result will do credit to the practical judgment and ingenuity of the designers, and that as much safety has been secured in the construction of the building as the circumstances would permit.
To have rendered the building fireproof, within the means at disposal, was impossible, but the risk has been materially diminished. This has been accomplished by isolating the different portions. Wherever practicable the floors, to the extent of nearly an acre in area, have been formed of Dennett's fireproof concrete, which, unlike ordinary lime concrete, is almost indestructible by fire; the roof is of iron, and the stage is separated from the auditorium by a wall continued to the top without any other opening in it.
One important modification of the usual treatment of theatres is to be noticed in the manner in which the successive tiers of boxes have been formed. These have been increased in height, and consist of four tiers above the pit, all of which are carried on Messrs. Phillips's rolled iron cantilevers, extending through the corridor at the back, and built into its two concentric walls. By this means the necessity for any supports to the fronts in the shape of the usual columns has been superseded. The partitions between the boxes being movable, each or all of the tiers can at pleasure be thrown open, and there will be obviously less obstruction to sound. The depth of these tiers is in excess of what would be best for the boxes, but this has been entailed by the necessity to provide for the other use to which the building is occasionally put. This additional depth will doubtless be, to a certain extent, injurious to the sound, and must be considered as a disadvantage even if balanced by other advantages.
A comparative glance at the old and present plans will show how much more compact and unbroken was the concentric wall round the auditorium of the former building, and how much better calculated it was to reflect the sound; we may, indeed, compare it to a tightly strained drum, whereas its successor is as one that has sagged, and is moreover pierced with so many openings that it seems as if it would allow the sound to be lost within, and to escape from it. In other respects the character of the auditorium is little changed, but seems to curve more at the sides towards the stage. The outside faces of the boxes slightly recede as they rise, but in an even line, with few projections, and are so continued right up to the stage front with a commendable simplicity and absence of the usual misplaced architectural features. The pit is confined within the area bounded by the line of boxes, and there is no trap for the sound behind it, as in most theatre. The ceiling fits the space well; not quite, we think, as it did, and as Mr. Taylor described it "like the top of a pomatum pot" following the shape of the area, and not built from four corners as at Covent Garden; it is, however, like a smooth saucer, being a very flat dome with pendentives, almost forming part of it, carried by four long and depressed elliptic arches opening to the proscenium, the amphitheatre, and side galleries. In all these points, as indeed in the reduction of the depth of the amphitheatre, rendering it less a trap to conduct away the sound with the rush of heated air, we recognise judicious adjustments to the main purpose of the building - the distribution generally and equally over the house of the music performed on the stage and the orchestra.
The lighting of the house is to be mainly from the large central chandelier, assisted by branches in front of the grand tier only. This will be effective and economical. The foul air will be carried away by the same shaft in the centre of the ceiling, and fresh air, warmed to a moderate temperature, will be admitted in sufficient volume from the front of the boxes to secure ventilation.
The stage is entirely open, with three tiers of flies on each side, reached by circular iron staircases. Want of space seems to have prevented the adoption of enclosed passages at the sides, which ought always, if possible, to be provided, to avoid the necessity of the singers having to stand on the cold stage and to keep the wings clear. The stage is covered by a nearly flat roof on iron lattice girders, which forms so ugly a feature on the exterior. Now, seeing that one of a high pitch would have provided space for the barrel floor in the centre, and for the cloths to go right up without doubling, it is a matter of regret that such was not adopted. If it could have been made useful it would certainly have been more ornamental. The space beneath the stage is a marvel of machinery, with arrangements for the wings to move by counterweights on the mezzanine floor, on the French plan, instead of having light wings to work on the stage, and numerous other complicated matters, which we are inclined to think far too complicated and expensive to work, but are quite willing to leave to the test of experience.
...Thus far we have spoken of the practical and mechanical treatment of the structure. In such main points it contrasts favourably with other theatres. Thus it has few and large entrances, with more and smaller exits, though the multiplication of these to the full extent desirable was rendered difficult by the nature of the site. The pit and stalls have each their distinct one, and the double grand staircase would seem to provide sufficient for the boxes. But above all is to be commended an absence of attempts at architectural tours de force, and a general simplicity and absence of ornament throughout. Would that this had been carried further, and that everything of the kind had been omitted, for we regret that as soon as we have to touch upon the treatment of the building in its architectural and artistic features all commendation must cease.
Granted that the occupants of this building are severally conducted to and from their positions in the house in comfort and safety, it is by passages, corridors, and staircases utterly devoid of grace or character. Here and there, with less reticence than within the auditorium, a few columns and brackets, and other Frenchified pseudo-Classical features obtrude, every one of which is objectionable. One or two enamelled slate chimney pieces give a dismal idea of the ornament that, if larger funds had unfortunately permitted, would have disgraced so important a building in the metropolis of England.
As regards the decorations of the interior, it may be said in their favour that they are so timid and neutral that they can hardly be offensive, but they consist of the usual stock carton pierre ornamental details of worse than no style, painted so softly and delicately that the blaze of gaslight will nearly obliterate them. The general tone will be salmon colour and gold, slightly relieved by faint blue, which will all blend into a pale amber colour, and with the proposed yellow curtains as of old, will doubtless produce a brilliant effect, and if the neutral tint, whether subdued red or grey, of the sides and backs of the boxes suffice to throw up the complexions and dresses of the ladies, as is hoped, the effect will probably be satisfactory. We question, however, the verdict of the blondes among the beauties as to its relation to their own charms. The panels into which the ceiling is divided are of a bluish tint, enclosing medallions with heads of musicians in white on a pinkish ground; bands of ornament decorate the outer cove around the dome and the inner one around the chandelier. The proscenium frame has a gilt enriched moulding, and supports a sort of entablature, on which is a group of figures in relief in the centre, with a panel on either side filled with commonplace conventional foliage, and a shield with coat of arms surmounts this very unambitious composition. We cannot refrain from expressing much disappointment at the absence from the building of art in any shape in spite of the admirable examples so lately set by the Queen's and Gaiety Theatres in introducing the work of painters of a high class on their respective prosceniums, and we lament over a lost opportunity for pressing home to the public mind a lesson in which they had begun to take interest.'
The above text in quotes, and its accompanying images, was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, April 2nd 1869.
The new Theatre was completed in April 1869, and had a capacity of 1,890, but the Theatre didn't open and remained empty until 1874 when it was bought for £31,000 and used for Revivalist Meetings. The ERA printed an article about the sale of the Theatre in their 24th of May 1874 edition saying:- 'This vast structure, which has never been opened since it took the place of the old Theatre, destroyed by fire December 6th, 1867, seems now likely to be identified with fresh triumphs of lyric art. On Wednesday Her Majesty's Theatre, together with a number of houses and shops in Pall-mall, the Opera-arcade, in the Haymarket, and the United Hotel and Clergy Club, in Charles-street, Haymarket, were sold by auction by Messrs Chinnock, Galsworthy, and Chinnock, at the Mart, Okenhouse-yard. The printed particulars stated that the property was sold by direction of the trustees of Mr E. H. Holloway. There were twenty-one lots, the first lot being Her Majesty's Theatre, now held under lease, by Earl Dudley, as assignee of Mr Benjamin Lumley, and producing a present net income of £1,171 14s. per annum until Michaelmas, 1891, when the lease expires, and the purchaser will be entitled to possession for the remainder of a term expiring in 1912, when the estate falls to the Crown.
The auctioneer stated that at the expiration of Lord Dudley's term the property would become free from any charge, the present right in the boxes and stalls altogether expiring in 1891, which would considerably enhance the annual value of the property. There could be no doubt that it was one of the finest Theatres in the world, and why it had been closed so long he was unable to say, and more especially so when it was known that there were now tenants ready to come forward prepared to give a rental of £5,000 a year for it and spend £20,000 on the building. He then stated that the property must be sold, as the trustees did not wish to hold it any longer, and he had every confidence that it would be absolutely sold when his hammer fell. He then invited biddings, when £15,000 was offered. This was almost immediately followed by a bid of £20,000, the biddings quickly rising by an advance of £1,000, until £27,000 was reached. At this point there was a pause, on which the auctioneer said he wished them to understand that the sale was bona fide, and that there was no reserve. The Theatre would be sold at the fall of his hammer. The biddings then quickly rose to £31,000, and at this sum the property was knocked down to Mr Last, solicitor, who was understood to have purchased the Theatre for a principal whose name was not mentioned.
The next lots offered were the Opera-arcade property, held under the same terms of lease as the Theatre - an unexpired term of thirty-eight years. Four of these lots consisted of the houses and shops, No. 3, 4, 5, and 5½ Pall mall, the two first lots being sold for £4,500 each, and the two last for £4,000 each, making a total of £17,000. Thirteen lots, consisting of shops in the Opera-arcade, were next offered, and eight of these lots were sold for an aggregate sum of £8,680, five of the lots being withdrawn. The remaining portion of the property, consisting of the United Hotel and Clergy Club, comprising Nos. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, Charles-street, and 71, Haymarket, was next offered. The first bid was £10,000, which at once rose to £20,000, and ultimately the property was sold for £27,000, Mr Cooper, solicitor, being the purchaser. The entire proceeds of the sale amounted to £83,680.'
Right - The Royal Opera Arcade, designed by John Nash, behind Her Majesty's Theatre in October 2006 - Photo M.L.
After it had been sold by auction in 1874 the Theatre was used for Revivalist Meetings until the 28th of April 1877 when it was finally opened as a legitimate Theatre with the opera 'Norma' by Bellini. This was the Theatre in which the first performance of Bizet's 'Carmen' was staged, on June the 22nd of 1878, and in 1882 the first performance in England of 'The Ring' opened there.
The Fourth and Present Theatre - 1897
Above - An early postcard depicting the fourth Theatre on the site, here as it was renamed in 1902 to His Majesty's Theatre with the permission of Edward VII .
The fourth and present Theatre, also named Her Majesty's, was designed by C. J. Phipps and constructed on part of the long vacant site of the third Theatre. J. Emblin Walker was the architect's Clerk of Works. The Theatre's foundation stone was laid on the 16th of July 1896, some four years after the last building was demolished.
The Carlton Hotel was damaged in the war in 1940 and eventually demolished to make way for the present and rather obtrusive New Zealand House.
Right - An advertisement for the Carlton Hotel - From a Programme for Her Majesty's Theatre in the 1930s.
Her Majesty's Theatre was built for Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and is notable as being the last completed work of the eminent Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps in his lifetime. The Theatre's Interior decorations were designed by W. H. Romaine Walker.
The Theatre was built at a cost of £55,000 and opened on the 28th of April 1897 with a play called 'Seats of the Mighty' by Gilbert Parker. It's original capacity was approximately 1,319 on four levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, Upper Circle, and Gallery. The current capacity is a more modest 1,210. The stage was 34' wide by 45' 6" deep.
Right - A Programme for 'The Gordian Knot' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.
The manifest for this new Theatre, reprinted in 'The Theatres Of London' by Mander and Mitchenson, said:- 'On the ground floor, level with the street, will be found Orchestral Stalls, Pit Stalls and the Pit. The first floor will be devoted to the Dress Circle and Family Circle. The second tier consists of the Upper Circle, Amphitheatre and the Gallery behind...
Above - C. J. Phipps' Carlton Hotel under construction, completed after his death by Isaacs and Florence. The Hotel was a companion to Her Majesty's Theatre, also shown in the photograph, and also designed by Phipps. The Carlton Hotel was damaged in the war in 1940 and eventually demolished to make way for the present and rather obtrusive New Zealand House.
Above - The Carlton Hotel and Her Majesty's Theatre in 1935 - From 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956. The Carlton Hotel was damaged in the war in 1940 and eventually demolished to make way for the present and rather obtrusive New Zealand House.
...The five doorways in the centre of the Haymarket facade underneath the loggia open into a vestibule exclusively for the use of the two classes of the Stalls and the Dress and Family Circles, and the Stalls have a third way out, level with the pavement in Charles Street...
Right - A Programme for 'King Henry VIII' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.
Far Right - A Programme for 'Trilby' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.
Above - A Plan of Her Majesty's Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses
and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898,
and held at the Library
of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by
John Otto who says:- 'What is interesting with the ground plan is
the flat floor, no gradient as in virtually all the Theatres at that
time. Also the hollow curved area under the orchestra floor, common
in most European opera houses, for orchestral resonance.'
Above - A Plan of Her Majesty's Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.
...The style adopted for the auditorium of the theatre is Louis XIV. There are private boxes on each of the tiers adjoining the proscenium and separated from it and other parts of the auditorium by marble columns. The hangings are of cerise-coloured embroidered silk and the walls generally are covered with a paper of the same tone.
Right - A Programme for 'The Ballad-Monger', 'Flodden Field' and 'The Man Who Was' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.
The seating for Stalls, Dress and Family Circles is in arm chairs, covered with velvet the same colour as the curtains.
The Tableau curtains are of velvet of a similar tone behind which is the Act Drop of tapestry copied from one of the Gobelin Tapestries now in Paris.
The whole of the theatre and annexes are lighted by the Electric Light taken from three centres, so that should any one centre fail, the other systems are always available.
Hanging from the ceiling is a cut glass and brass electrolier and brackets of Louis XIV style are fixed round the box fronts and on the side walls.'
The above text in quotes is from the manifest for the Theatre, reprinted in 'The Theatres Of London' by Mander and Mitchenson.
Left - An Audience Leaving His Majesty's Theatre after a performance, in the early 1900s - From 'Living London' Volume II Section I by George R. Sims.
Above - A Sketch showing the Carlton Hotel and Her Majesty's Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.
Above - The Foyer and Ticket Office at Her Majesty's Theatre when it first opened in 1897 - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.
Above - The Auditorium of Her Majesty's Theatre when it first opened in 1897 - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.
Above - The Stage Curtain and Proscenium of Her Majesty's Theatre when it first opened in 1897 - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto who says:- 'Interesting to see the original proscenium that has been buried for a good generation of theatregoers!'
Above - The Stage of Her Majesty's Theatre when it first opened in 1897 - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto who notes that the photograph also shows the Lighting Control Board on a perch above the prompt corner and Lighting Battens above the stage.
Above - His Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Darling of the Gods' in 1904 - From 'Living London' Volume II Section I by George R. Sims.
Her Majesty's Theatre was run for many years by Herbert Beerbohm Tree and very successfully too, with 'spectacular revivals of Shakespeare's plays' amongst many others.
In1902 the Theatre changed its name to His Majesty's Theatre with the permission of Edward VII, and in 1904, the year of Arthur Lloyd's death, Tree founded a school of dramatic art which was later to become the now famous RADA.
Right - A Programme for 'Drake' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1914.
In 1911 a Gala was held at the Theatre in honour of the coronation of George V. In 1916 the Theatre staged the phenomenally successful 'Chu Chin Chow which opened on the 31st of August. This 'Musical Tale of the East,' as it was described at the time, ran for 2,238 performances, and became the longest running production in history until it was superseded by 'The Mousetrap' in 1958. (The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on the 25 November 1952 and transferred to the St. Martin's Theatre in 1974 where it is still going strong in 2006 despite being in its 54th year.)
Left - A Programme for 'Chu Chin Chow' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1919 - Courtesy Roy Cross. This programme has a penciled in date on the cover for Friday April 25th 1919, the Third Year of this extremely successful production at the Theatre. The cast at this time were Oscar Asche, James Herbert, Courtice Pounds, J. V. Bryant, Bernard Dudley, Fred Martin, Frank Cochrane, Charles Wingrove, Stanley Arthur, Frederick Pattrick, Aileen D'orme, Sydney Fairbrother, Bessie Major, Annie Moore, Lisa Coleman, Ray Doree, Pauline Russell, Lily Brayton, George Parker Julian Cross, Millicent Cane, Henry Rabke, Madge Stuart, and Gladys Ellam Dacia.
Right - A Programme for 'The Merry Wives Of Windsor' at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1902, during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.
Her Majesty's Theatre has had many other successes throughout the years, to mention them all here would be too much but just a few of them follow; 'The Co-Optimists' in 1925 and 1926; Noel Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' in 1929.
Right - A Programme for Noel Coward's 'Conversation Piece' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1934.
Far Right - A Programme for Noel Coward's 'Operette' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1938.
Henry IV, part 1 in 1935; 'The Happy Hypocrite' with Ivor Novello and Vivien Leigh in 1936; Idiot's Delight' in 1939; 'The Merry Widow' in 1943; 'Irene' in 1945; 'Brigadoon' in 1949; 'West Side Story' from 1958 to 1961 ; 'The Pirates of Penzance' and 'H.M.S. Pinafore' in rep in 1962; 'The Right Honorable Gentleman' in 1964; 'Fiddler on the Roof' from 1967 to 1971 and 2,030 performances...
Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for Her majesty's Theatre
...Then came 'Pippin' in 1973, which wasn't a success but was much talked about. 'Hair' opened at the Theatre in 1974 and I worked at Her Majesty's on this show myself on my first professional West End production. This was a recreation of the original much talked about Shaftesbury Theatre production. At this time the Follow Spots were the old Rank Strand Carbon Arcs, and the Lighting Board was a Strand Light Console, some photos of which can be found on Nick Hunt's website here. Nick has also researched other period Light Consoles and restored to working condition the 60-way Light Console built in 1946 for the Theatre Royal, Bristol, details here.
November 1975 saw the opening of the show 'Ipi Tombi' at Her Majesty's, this all black show was a great success and would later transfer to the Cambridge Theatre in March 1977, and then the Astoria Theatre in February 1980.
Right - A programme for 'Ipi Tombi' whilst at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977, before transferring to the Astoria Theatre in 1980 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick - Click to see more information from this programme.
'Bugsy Malone' opened at the Theatre in 1983; and then, of course, 'The Phantom Of The Opera', opened on the 9th of October 1986 and by October 2011 had clocked up 25 years at the Theatre, and is still running today!
Above - Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' which opened on the 9th of October 1986 and and in October 2011 had been running for 25 years - Photo M.L. October 2006.
Her Majesty's Theatre is currently owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
Adelphi Aldwych Ambassadors Apollo Apollo Victoria Arts Cambridge Charing Cross Theatre Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's Leicester Square Theatre London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric Menier Chocolate Factory New London Noel Coward Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Sadler's Wells Theatre Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's
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