The West London Theatre, Church Street, London
Formerly - The New Royal Sussex / The Pavilion / The Portman Theatre / The Marylebone Theatre / The Theatre Royal, Marylebone / The Royal Alfred Theatre
Introduction - The Royal Sussex Theatre - The Pavilion Theatre - The Portman Theatre - The First Marylebone Theatre - The Theatre Royal, Marylebone - The Royal Alfred Theatre - The Second Marylebone Theatre - The West London Theatre - The Marylebone Theatre in an article from 'London's Lost Theatres of the 19th Century' by Errol Sherson
The West London Theatre, which people may still remember today, was situated on Church Street, just off the Edgware Road, between what was then Carlisle Street (now Penfold Street) and Salisbury Street. When the first Theatre on this site opened as the Royal Sussex Theatre in 1831 the address was given as Great Carlisle Street, Portman Market. The Market itself opened in 1830 and was originally a Haymarket but diversified to vegetables and general products the following year. Although the Theatre is now long gone there is still a market held in the area to this day. There is more information on the West London Theatre below, but there now follows a history of all the Theatres on this site since 1831.
There were a succession of Theatres on this site over the years, probably the most famous of which was the Marylebone Theatre and there is an extensive article by Errol Sherson on this Theatre's theatrical history below.
The first Theatre to be constructed on the site however, was Messrs Ward, Eggerton, and Abbott's Royal Sussex Theatre which had its foundation stone laid on the 17th of May 1831. The Theatre is stated by the press of the time to have cost around £9,000 to construct, and appears to have been opened later that year, but the following year a renewal of a licence to operate it as a legitimate Theatre was refused because it was stated as being still 'unfinished'. Undeterred the Theatre reopened as the unlicensed 'Pavilion Theatre' and was used for staging so called 'crude melodrama and comic songs'.
By 1833 the Theatre had been renamed the Portman Theatre but even then it was still unfinished, and in July the same year it was put up for sale, by auction, due to its owner's Bankruptcy. The Morning Post carried a notice on this in their July 4th 1833 edition saying:- 'The Portman Theatre - To Capitalists, Builders, Lovers of the Drama, and others - Important Property, comprising the Portman Theatre, in Great Carlisle-street, Portman-market, near Edgware-road. Mr. Mills has the pleasure to announce to the Public he has received directions from the signees of John Lancaster, under a Fiat of Bankruptcy, Sell by Auction, at the Mart, To-morrow, at twelve, this important property, which extends in front about 61 feet , and in depth 113 feet, comprising that noble Edifice intended when finished for the Portman Theatre, and has been erected in the most substantial manner of the best materials, without regard to expense, under the immediate inspection of an eminent Architect. The Building is a substantial brick edifice, with external walls, joists, and roof finished, and when completed, capable of accommodating an audience of about 2,000 persons, and from its highly respectable and populous neighbourhood is certain of success. There are several well-built carcasses contiguous. The whole is held under lease from E. B. Portman, Esq., for ninety-nine years, at a low ground rent. To be viewed till the sale...' - The Morning Post, July 4th 1833.
There are some interesting drawings of the Portman Theatre by James Winston held at the Harvard University Theatre Collection here, here, here, and here. Drawings of other Theatres by James Winston can also be found on their site here.
The Portman Theatre was altered and improved in 1837 and reopened as the Marylebone Theatre on the 13th of November the same year, however it continued with the same kind of productions that the Portman had been staging before. This was not to last long however as it was rebuilt in 1842 and opened as the Theatre Royal, Marylebone on Monday the 12th of December 1842 with a production of the drama 'The Saxon Maid; or The Days of William the Conqueror', followed by the farce 'Tea With My Aunt', and ending with 'Passion And Repentance'. The Theatre, which was now run by John Douglass, was said to be able to hold around 2,500 people and prices for the opening week were Boxes, 2s; Pit 1s; and Gallery, 6d.
The Standard reported on the Theatre's opening night in their 13th of December 1842 edition saying:- 'This theatre, which is situated in the somewhat remote locality of Church-street, Lisson Grove, last night opened its doors to the public for the first time, under the lesseeship of Mr. John Douglas. Long before the curtain was raised every seat was occupied in boxes, pit, and gallery, and great numbers of persons continued to pour in, notwithstanding the inconvenience to which they were necessarily subjected, of being compelled to stand without the performances. The theatre is commodiously arranged, and tastefully, if not elegantly, fitted up. The gallery and pit are extremely spacious, and ample accommodation is provided both in public and private boxes. The entrance to the house is handsome, and the stage affords ample means to present performances of a superior order. The fittings and decorations of the house are of an expensive character; and in the very important particular of scenery, the best taste has been displayed, and provision has been made upon a scale of great liberality...' - The Standard, 13th of December 1842.
The Theatre Royal, Marylebone, under John Douglas was quite a success, he put on melodrama and pantomime there for 5 years until he retired in 1847. After this the Drury Lane actress Mrs. Warner took over the Theatre. Mrs. Warner was also famed for acting beside Phelps at Sadler's Wells, and she altered the old Theatre Royal, redecorated it, and reopened it with its earlier name of the Marylebone Theatre on Monday the 31st of August 1847, with a production of Shakespeare's 'A Winter's Tale' with Warner herself playing Hermione.
Sadly Mrs. Warner's tenure of the Marylebone was not a great success, she was followed by other hopefuls including E. T. Smith and J. W. Wallack who also failed to make the Theatre a success. In 1858 the Theatre was taken over by Joseph Cave who had performed there as a boy, and he faired a little better at running the Theatre and remained for a number of years.
In 1868 the Marylebone Theatre was reconstructed and enlarged and reopened as the Royal Alfred Theatre. The work was carried out by Samuel Simpson, who was also in the course of constructing several other London Theatres at the time. However, Simpson would be the subject of a Hearing under the Metropolitan Building Act regarding the changes to this Theatre. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on this in their September the 4th 1868 edition saying:- 'The Marylebone Police-court, on Thursday week, Mr. D'Eyncourt was engaged for several hours in hearing a case of the most difficult and important character, the decision affecting no less than three theatres now erecting in London. The case was also of public interest, inasmuch as it concerned the safety of the audiences in theatres during the panic that would result in case of a sudden outbreak of fire.
The Marylebone Theatre, in New Church-street, Edgware road, is now undergoing alterations prior to its being shortly reopened to the public as the "Royal Alfred" Theatre. Mr. Alexander Peebles, the district surveyor of the northern division of Marylebone, acting under the provisions of the Metropolitan Building Act, visited the premises, and noticing that the builder, Mr. Samuel Simpson, of Tottenham Court-road, did not carry out the works in accordance with the rules laid down in the Act, he gave him notice of the alterations and additions which he required to be done. The builder took no notice of this communication, nor did he appeal to the Metropolitan Board, then sitting, but, according to the district surveyor's evidence, he proceeded with the work with extra speed.
Under these circumstances, the district surveyor took out a summons against the builder, under the Metropolitan Building Act, for that he "did do certain things contrary to certain rules of the said Act, to wit, did construct the floors of corridors leading to the boxes upon the first gallery, and also the door at back of side gallery, with combustible materials, and did omit to do certain things required to be done by the said Act, to wit, to construct the side floor with stone or other fireproof material, and carried by supports of a fireproof material, as required by section 22."
After a long discussion as to what was meant by the term "corridor," during which references were made to Johnson's, the "Imperial," and other dictionaries on the subject, the case was simplified by the defendant stating that he had not obeyed the notice from the district surveyor for several reasons, among which were the following:-
1. The theatre was not essentially different from what it had been before the alteration, except that new material was used, the old having become so rotten that it was unlikely that the Lord Chamberlain would re-license the theatre unless it were removed. The interior arrangements of the former theatre having been approved by the Chamberlain, all that was necessary was to get the Chamberlain's license again. - [In cross-examination the builder stated that the stage had been shortened, and the auditorium thereby enlarged, holding, under the new arrangement, 200 more persons.
The magistrate said he was strongly of opinion that the Lord Chamberlain's license did not apply to the question as to the materials to be used in the construction of a theatre. Defendant said it did; for instance, if he deposited plans approved of by the district surveyor, but which did not meet with the approval of the Chamberlain, he (the builder) would have to alter those plans before he could get the license.
Mr. D'Eyncourt asked to be shown any section which exempted theatres from the operations of the Metropolitan Building Act. Plaintiff said there was no exemption for theatres.]
2. Defendant said he had built the Queen's and Holborn Theatres, and there were surveyors in those districts, but they had not objected to the mode in which those buildings had been constructed, though it was precisely the same as in the present case. He was also building the Gaiety Theatre, and no difficulty was made by the district surveyor there. - [Mr. D'Eyncourt observed one object contemplated by the act was the safety of the public during fire, and to say that Mr. Peebles ought not to take action because two other district surveyors had not thought proper to do so was no proof that Mr. Peebles was wrong.]
3. The defendant said the plans were approved of by the official at the Metropolitan Board who acted on behalf of the superintending architect. - [It was contended by the plaintiff that this was not the approval of the Metropolitan Board.] - Mr. D'Eyncourt, in giving his decision, said that he considered this to be a new building, and came under the operations of the Building Act. He was, therefore, bound to say that he believed the plaintiff had made out his case, and the necessary alterations must be made in accordance with the district surveyor's notice. - [As the defendant seemed dissatisfied with the decision, the magistrate intimated his intention on that day week (yesterday) to give fully his reasons for the decision arrived at.]'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 4th, 1868.
The difficulties mentioned in the above article were however, eventually overcome, and the Theatre opened as the Royal Alfred Theatre on Saturday the 17th of October 1868. The ERA reported on the changes in their 11th of October 1868 edition saying:- 'Prominent among the many improved public buildings, and especially those for amusement, is the old Marylebone Theatre. Originally opened twenty years ago by Mrs. Warner for Shakespearean representations, when Church-street, Edgware-road, was only an isolated suburb, it could, not vie with the attractions of Old Drury, and was never a place of fashionable resort. But the rapid extension of the Metropolis has altered the aspect of Marylebone, and now the whole neighbourhood, comprising Notting-hill, Bayswater, St. John's-wood, and Kilburn, are populous and well-to-do portions of the Metropolis. These circumstances, coupled with the success which is already attending similar enterprises, such as those at the New Queen's Theatre, the Royal Standard, and others, have induced Mr. Clifford Lacey to undertake to provide a Theatre at that end of the Metropolis which, in points of elegance, comfort, and talent, shall vie with some of the best-established houses.
Accordingly, the whole of the old Theatre has been nearly reconstructed. The interior has been wholly pulled down, the stage lowered, and the auditorium considerably enlarged and handsomely decorated. The designs have been projected by Mr. Samuel Simpson, builder. The proscenium and dress circle fronts, which are models of elegance, are carried out by Messrs. White and Co., Marylebone-street. The decorations, which are of a very chaste character, are by Messrs. Green and King; and the upholstery and orchestra stalls have been executed by Mr. Lyon of Southampton-street, Holborn. H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh has graciously signified his pleasure that the Theatre shall be designated the Royal Alfred. In grateful recognition of H.R.H.'s favour, among the many new and handsome scenes which have been painted by Messrs. Matthews, Henderson, and Nicholson, is a picture of the Galatea, as she dropped anchor it Port Jackson Harbour, and which is to be used as an act-drop.
The Theatre will be conducted under the able direction of Miss Amy Sedgwick. A grand spectacular drama by C. H. Stephenson, Esq.. is in course of rehearsal, and is promised for Saturday (this evening). Mr. Lacey has spared no expense in the preparation of the house, and if the same spirit and ability mark the performances, the public will have a comfortable and pleasing place of entertainment.
The Royal Alfred Theatre had opened in October 1868 but the name reverted once more to the Marylebone Theatre in 1870 when the Theatre began staging melodramas again. The Marylebone Theatre's reincarnation would go on to have over 20 years of productivity and celebrated its 50 year Jubilee with a special performance of 'The Silver king' on Monday the 12th of December 1892. The ERA reported on the upcoming event in their 10th of December 1892 edition saying:- 'At the Marylebone Theatre on Monday there will be a jubilee performance, after which the company and a number of guests of Mr and Mrs Henry Gascoigne will assemble on the stage for the cutting and consumption of a jubilee cake. The management has issued an interesting chronology in connection with the house, which was first opened in December, 1842, having been erected by the late Mr John Loveridge. It has had as lessees and managers, Mr John Douglass, Mrs Warner, Mr Walter Watts, Mr Edward Stirling, Mr E. T. Smith, Mr J. W. Wallack, Mr Robertson (father of T. W. and of Mrs Kendal), Mr S. Emery, Mr Clarance Holt, Mr J. A. Cave, Mr H. R. Lacey, Mr E. Giovanelli, Messrs Cave and West, Mr A. Melville, and Mr Gascoigne, and its boards have been trod by many of those whose names will live in dramatic history.' - The ERA, 10th of December 1892.
The 50th Jubilee of the Marylebone Theatre mentioned above happened on the 12th of December 1892 and then a few days later the Theatre was renamed the West London Theatre of Varieties by its new owners Messrs Bailey and Oliver, there is more on this below. An extensive article by Errol Sherson with more details on the Marylebone's theatrical history can be read below.
Above - An early photograph of the West London Theatre - From a programme for 'The Octoroon' at the Theatre in February 1909 - More details from this programme can be see below.
In 1892 the Theatre's name was changed yet again, this time to The West London Theatre of Varieties. The ERA reported on the change in their 17th of December 1892 edition saying:- 'THE West London Theatre of Varieties, the new name that has been adopted by Messrs Bailey and Oliver for their new acquisition, is, after all, but the revival of an old title for the famous Church-street house, which in its time has been known as the Portman, the Pavilion, the West London, and the Alfred. In less than a couple of weeks the Marylebone Theatre passes for ever from the Loveridge family, the remainder of the lease, thirty years, at £150 ground rent, having been acquired by Messrs W. Bailey and A. E. Oliver, as we have already announced. Mr Henry Gascoigne, who, with his talented wife, has been so popular with the local dwellers, will remain as tenant of the new proprietors until March 2d, unless a fresh arrangement be entered into. The house will then be in all probability closed until Easter for a thorough overhauling and minor structural alterations. For these Mr W. Hancock, who is the architect for the Eastern Empire, Bow, is busy preparing plans - The ERA, 17th of December 1892.
Above - An early photograph of the auditorium and fire proof curtain at the West London Theatre - From a programme for 'The Octoroon' at the Theatre in February 1909
The article above mentions future alterations and the following year they were carried out. The Theatre then reopened on Saturday the 1st of April 1893 with a production lasting some five hours, including Charles Coborn in the drama 'Brought to Bay', a racing piece entitled 'Terry; or, True to his Trust', 'The Clue' played by the Collinson combination, and a 'Negro Farce' performed by Rice, Melrose, Davis, and Co. The ERA said of the performances:- 'Comedians in galore were there. Ryland and Golden and R. G. Knowles excelled in American wit, while the Brothers Griffiths, the Brothers Poluski, Gus Elen, Pat Rafferty, and Edgar Granville represented some of the many phases of English and Irish humour. Among the ladies Miss Kate James, soubrette; Miss Nellie Navette, danseuse; Miss Ethel Buchanan and Miss Clara Bell, ballad singers, were particular favourites, and the volunteers for the stage on Saturday night also included Arthur Thomas, Sisters Palmer, Jessie Wild, Medley, Jesmond Dene, Charles Vincent, the Tortajados troupe, Jessie Prince, Dora Fielding, Harry Walton, Rosie Sylvester, Sisters Idris, Norris and Delmont, Daisy De Roy, Arthur Stevens, Mark Antony, Aubyn and Allen, Daisy May, Mr Melville, and Jessie Wynn.' - The ERA, 8th April 1893.
Above - A programme for 'The Octoroon' at the West London Theatre in February 1909
Above - A programme for 'The Octoroon' at the West London Theatre in February 1909. In the cast were Clive Currie, Cecil A. Collins, Gerald Merrielees, Charles King, Charles Wemyss, Gordon Phillott, Archibald Mclean, William Barber, Douglas Phillips, May Saker, Sybil Ruskin, Adah Barton, F. Wolviston, Maud Kirwan, Gertrude Deburgh, Ine Cameron, C. Lorraine, And Muriel Dole.
The West London Theatre would be the last name for this Theatre but it continued with variety until 1910 when it was converted for Cinema use. Sadly the Theatre was damaged during the war in 1941 and that turned out to be the end of its theatrical career. Remedial work was done on the building so that it could be used as a warehouse and store for the Church Street Market. But even this use ended in the 1970s when it was demolished so that a parade of shops with flats above could be built on the site, (See image below).
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the former West London Theatre / Marylebone Theatre - Click to Interact.
If you have any more information on this Theatre, or images you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.
From 'London's Lost Theatres of the 19th Century' by Errol Sherson, 1925
In 1831, there was opened in Church Street, Edgware Road, a theatre called the New Royal Sussex Theatre. There are traces of a house of dramatic entertainment on the same site which had been known as the Portman Theatre, perhaps from its promixity to the Portman Market, but I have been unable to ascertain whether it was so called prior or subsequent to being christened the Royal Sussex. In any case, it was originally nothing better than what was generally called a " Penny Show "- that is, a playhouse where the crudest form of melodrama was the regular fare, and the cheapest prices prevailed. The name of the house was altered very soon to " Royal Pavilion Theatre, West " and in 1837 to " Royal Marylebone Theatre "-the " Royal " being in each case, a somewhat arbitrary assumption.
Many of the old theatres can boast of a long line of different managers, but I think the Marylebone must have the longest of all. No management, with the exception of that of J. A. Cave, and perhaps of Lee and Johnson, seemed to be able to make it pay. There might have been a touch of ill-luck about the house, or else the different directors of its fortunes tried to fly too high. The immediate neighbourhood is not an aristocratic one, to put it very mildly, and the regular frequenters of the theatre preferred stronger fare than managers of the type of Mrs. Warner, Stirling, Emery and other earnest members of the profession cared to provide.
They demanded something with many corpses and plenty of blood in it - like the " Oliver Twist " of the Old Vic, or " Maria Martin " or " Sweeney Todd." The scrupulously correct, not to say classical, methods of Mrs. Warner did not attract them ; they only wished to be amused, not instructed as well ; they preferred the jam without the powder.
Tedious to any reader would be a long and accurate list of the various people who tried to make at least a living, if not a fortune, out of the Marylebone Theatre. It would include several well known names in the profession. Among them would be Nelson Lee (of whom later) ; John Douglass, one time of the little Tothill Fields Theatre and afterwards of the Standard, Shoreditch ; Mrs. Warner, the "Suburban -Siddons" of Sadler's Wells and eke of Drury Lane and Covent Garden ; Walter Watts, the bankrupt suicide of the Olympic, who found the money to start the Warner season ; E. T. Smith, the would-be manager of a dozen London theatres and opera houses at one time` of whom I have written more fully in the Chapter on Astley's ; James W. Wallack, the serni-American, and uncle of Mrs. Alfred Wigan, who had the privilege of introducing Madge Robertson to the London stage; Emery, the colleague of Robson at the Olympic and Fechter at the Lyceum ; Clarence Holt, the coarse-mouthed barnstorming manager of the Duke's and the Islington Grand ; Giovanelli, the ex-clown and one time director of the Highbury Barn Theatre ; Charles Harcourt, a refined West End actor ; Miss Henrade, in early life a pantomime fairy and afterwards in drama with Fechter and in comedy with H. J. Byron. There were many others whose names mean less than nothing to the playgoer of the present day : Hyde, Cooper, Stammers, Edgar Bolton, Meadows, Seaman, Bigwood (I think I remember this name at the Britannia the Great Theatre), Elliston, Augusta Thomson, Bodenham, Montgomery, C. Lacy, Worboys, Sydney, etc. This list of names, for which I am in part indebted to Mr. Clement Scott's book, is not complete ; but it is long enough to show how unlucky most of them were and how profitless it would be to go through the events of their managements in detail.
Lee and Johnson were among the earliest managers of the Marylebone Theatre. Some particulars of Nelson Lee (ex-harlequin and general utility performer) will be found in Chapter II in the section referring to the City of London Theatre. When Richardson, the owner of the celebrated Richardson's Show, died or had given up the Show, it was carried on, by Nelson Lee and Johnson in partnership, as " Richardson's Travelling Theatre." They made such a success of their venture that they were enabled to take the Marylebone for a short time, where the pieces given did not probably differ very much in their style and structure from those of the old booth, though doubtless they took longer to play.
This seems to have been one of the few successful managements of the Marylebone, for Lee with his share of the profits was able to go on to the Pavilion, Whitechapel, from there to the Standard, Shoreditch, and thence to the City of London in Norton Folgate, where he was still manager at his death. He left a considerable fortune.
Of the other managers, Mrs. Warner claims priority for she had been leading lady with Macready at Covent Garden and Drury Lane and with Phelps at Sadler's Wells before taking up management on her own.
Her maiden name was Mary Amelia Huddart, and she was the daughter of an actor, well known in his day, who had been a chemist in Dublin. Her theatrical life began on the Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol circuit when she was about fifteen years of age, her first manager being Brunton ; but she appears to have reached London fairly soon.
In her early London career, she played at many of the Minor Theatres in a round of important characters such as Constance (" King John"), Alicia (" Jane Shore "), Emma (" William Tell "), and the Queen in "Alfred the Great." In 1830, when just over twenty-four years of age, she was starring with Macready at Drury Lane as Belvidera in " Venice Preserved." In 1836, she was still at Drury Lane, then under the management of Bunn and acting with Forrest, the American rival of Macready, in " Macbeth," " Othello " (Emilia), etc. In the following year she was at the Haymarket as Evadne in " The Bride's Tragedy " and similar parts, and it was in that year that she married Warner, landlord of the " Wrekin," a celebrated theatrical tavern in Broad Court, Drury Lane.
After four or five years with Macready at the two chief London theatres, she joined Phelps in his management of Sadler's Wells. remaining there for nearly four years and playing the leading tragedy roles in the plays of Shakespeare and other writers of " the Legitimate."
In 1847, smitten with the idea of running a theatre herself according to her own ideas, she took over the Marylebone under Watts who found the money for the start and of whom I have spoken more fully in the chapter on the Olympic Theatre. Her intention appears to have been to make it the rendezvous of all playgoers interested in the higher forms of dramatic art. but, as I have already pointed out, the audiences of Lisson Grove and the regions round about wanted to be amused in their own way. The result was very disastrous for Mrs. Warner when the defalcations of Watts put an end to his career and she had to fend for herself, though she struggled on bravely for a time.
Her first production was " The Winter's Tale " with herself cast for Hermione, and she followed this up by playing Julia (" The Hunchback"), Lady Teazle, Mrs. Oakley (" The jealous Wife "), Lady Townley, etc. She also put on Beaumont and Fletcher's " Scornful Lady " with such a lavish mounting that the Athenwum, usually most disgruntled in all its dramatic criticisms burst out to a paean of praise almost lyrical in its enthusiasm :
. . . . a truly magnificent scene, representing the Lady's parlour, with its chimney piece from Italy of Carrara marble, articles of vertu then in use among the rich and tasteful, such as early Chinese vases, clocks and the then novel luxury of small carpets-all made to harmonize with the architectural style of the apartments."
Her tenancy of the theatre lasted for barely a year, and she must have had to pay out a good deal of money after the death of Watts, so was well content to return to the Haymarket for a season to try and recoup her losses. She afterwards made a trip to the States where her rather early Victorian style doubtless pleased the Americans of that day. Her last appearance in London was as Mrs. Oakley in " The jealous Wife."
I suppose Mrs. Warner was not what would now be considered a great actress. She probably went through her parts with a good deal of power, adhering very strictly to the traditions established by long usage in each case. Otherwise she would not have been accepted in those days by that large circle of playgoers and critics who formed the majority, and who expected certain parts to be played in a certain manner, and lay in wait for all the "points" sanctioned by years of tradition. Not till the arrival of Fechter and the Modern School were these traditions broken up.
The Athenaeum says of her acting as Lady Macbeth that she played the part " with great care and force," which was rather - damning her with faint praise," for many of her contemporaries could probably have done as much. She had not the fire of Siddons, nor even of Charlotte Cushman, nor the intelligence and grace of Fanny Kemble and Helen Faucit a her acting must have resembled in many ways that of the worthy and " steady " Shakespearean performer, Mrs. Charles Kean. I can picture her with the same " British-Matronly " appearance and perhaps the same early Victorian way of doing her hair in loops down over her ears no matter what the character or period she had to represent. A large cameo or portrait brooch pinned in front of her buxom, stiffly corseted breast-whether her costume was ancient, medieval or modern---completes the picture I have formed of her or Mrs. Kean in my mind's eye. The illustrations, side by side, of Mrs. Charles Kean and Miss Mary Anderson each as Hermione in " The Winter's Tale " facing page 135 will explain what I mean.
Her elocution is always highly praised by her contemporaries, and she was often called upon to deliver inauguration or farewell addresses. Thus, when Phelps started his Shakespearean seasons at Sadler's Wells, lines were specially written by Thomas Serle for Mrs. Warner to deliver. Serle, by the way, was a very prolific dramatist of the period who had been an actor with Edmund Kean, Charles Kemble and Charles Young. He married one of a remarkable trio of sisters, daughters of Vincent Novello, the composer. The other two were Clara Novello (Countess Gigliucci) and Mrs. Cowden Clarke. compiler of the Concordance to Shakespeare.
The last days of Mrs. Warner were not very happy. From no fault of her own. she had to go through the Bankruptcy Court, and she suffered from a very painful internal disease of which she eventually died. Queen Victoria had a great respect for her (as she also had for Mrs. Charles Kean and Helen Faucit, all three eminently respectable ladies), and in her last illness made frequent inquiries for her, placing a Royal carriage at her disposal whenever she was able to go out. Her son was John Lawrence Warner. He tried to be an actor and failed.
I have mentioned the "Wrekin," the old theatrical tavern near Drury Lane of which Warner was landlord. Blanchard gives many interesting particulars of this haunt of the dramatic and journalistic professions. He describes it as standing in the very centre of Broad Court, exactly half-way between Bow Street, on the one hand, and Drury Lane, on the other, and he speaks of it as the " Favourite resort of authors, actors, poets, painters and penny-a-liners." Tradition said it had been, in the seventeenth century, the scene of many an adventure between Charles II and Nell Gwynne. In the following century, its proprietor hailed from Shropshire and renamed it the " Wrekin " in honour of the famous hill of his county. Tewkesbury ale and Shrewsbury cakes were the standard luncheon during the tenancy of the Salopian Boniface, and after his death it passed into the hands of one Harrold, an uncle of Blanchard's, who enlarged the premises and obtained licence for the sale of wines and spirits---it having been previously been a mere " Cake and Ale House." It was always a place of reunion for literary and dramatic clubs, who in those days, having no buildings of their own, met in taverns.
One such club was the " Catamarans " to which belonged Theodore Hook) Tom Sheridan (son of Richard Brinsley Sheridan), Charles Mathews, both the Kembles, Munden, George Coleman, Morton, the dramatist, Reynolds, the newspaper man (editor of a disgracefully coarse series of penny novels, but also churchwarden at St. Andrew's, Wells Street), Monk Lewis and many others well known in dramatic and journalistic circles.
Harrold had the " Wrekin " for five and twenty years. It then passed through various hands till it. reached those of the husband of Mrs. Warner, who after a period of " co-management with a blithesome widow " courted Mary Huddart and settled down to a respectable life as a married man.Other clubs meeting at this famous old tavern (what a delightful word that is, so much preferable to public-house) were the " Mulberries " (chiefly literary) and the "Rationals " (chiefly dramatic). The site of this old house is now covered by model lodging-houses and I suppose it was one of the earliest to disappear of those cosy places of reunion where one might enjoy a social glass in the company of wit and humour. There can't be many left. The spirit of the Age is against them, and what social enjoyment could one have in a place where there is a mechanical piano ever on the go ? This is a bad digression brought about by the marriage of Mary Amelia Huddart, the tragedienne, to Warner, the publican.
The usual programme at the Marylebone was Drama-Legitimate or otherwise, though once, at least, there were Promenade Concerts under Jullien - but at Christmas there was always a pantomime, and these shows, like those at the Grecian and Britannia and other outlying houses, were not, as a rule, based on a nursery tale but made up "new and original" every year. One such was "Harlequin XXX Sir John Barleycorn or the Fairies of the Hop and the Vine."
The stage was celebrated for its great depth, said to be the deepest in all London, and so wonderful Transformation Scenes could be arranged, opening up vista after vista to an apparently illimitable, distance. The Harlequinade was also of the best with clowns like Tom Matthews, who had learned from the great Grimaldi himself,
E. T. Smith had the Marylebone from 1850 to 1852 and only relinquished it to take on Drury Lane and a few other places of amusement! In 1853, it came under James W. Wallack, who opened with a comedy and burlesque, succeeded at Christmas by the usual uncommon pantomime (" King Ugly Mug and My Lady Lee of London Bridge") and followed in February, 1854, by Edward Stirling's romantic drama adapted from " La Priere des Naufrag6s," called "The Struggle for Gold and the Orphan of the Frozen Sea." Another version of the same play was " The Sea of Ice " and yet another was given at the Adelphi (which I remember with great delight) and which was called "The Prayer in the Storm or the Thirst for Gold "--played inter alios by Fernandez, Genevieve Ward and Cicely Nott (Mrs. Sam Adams). At the Marylebone in 1854, the principal characters were taken by Wallack and his wife. and E. F. Edgar than a leading jeune premier, while the child, Marie, who is left floating on the block of ice and says her prayers in the midst of the storm, was Miss Madge Robertson - our Mrs. Kendal. I think this must have been her first appearance on the London stage ; at least, I have been unable to trace an earlier one.Wallack did not disdain the gentle art of advertisement. His poster referring to this production is set forth as follows
: : the Frozen Sea-
Miss Robertson was also billed to appear as the blind child in an adaptation of Dickens's Seven Poor Travellers and a couple of years afterwards was a tiny elf in a pantomime. Her father and mother and brother were also in the Wallacks' company. She once played the pathetic child in " The Stranger " but rather spoilt the pathos when, catching sight of her nurse in the audience, she suddenly called out " Oh, Nursey, look at my new shoes! "
The Wallacks went in for Shakespeare as well as mere melodrama. and gave creditable representations of " As You Like It " and other plays, chiefly, perhaps, for the exhibition of Mr. and Mrs. Wallack in the leading parts. The principal interest for me, however, in their management lies, not in their own doings, but in the fact that I have traced the early appearance of a young lady whose equal as an emotional and dramatic actress on the English stage I have never seen, though I am an " old fogy " and have been a constant playgoer for nearly sixty years.
In 1857, Emery took over the theatre in Church Street producing a very good melodrama (" Ruth Oakley ") in which one is interested to find the name of another child actress in the small person of,Miss Ranoe afterwards (in the sixties) William to the Black Eyed Susan of Patty Oliver, and eventually the second wife of Sir Francis Burnand.
Emery was a very fine character actor. He was at the Olympic for some years creating several new parts during that time, notably Fouche in Tom Taylor's " Plot and Passion " and many roles in plays founded on the novels of Dickens such as Peggotty in " Little Em'ly " (David Copperfield) Captain Cuttle in " Heart's Delight " (Dombey and Son), Jonas Chuzzlewit, and John Peerybingle in a version of The Cricket on the Hearth. He must have been forty when he took the Marylebone and over sixty when he played Captain Cuttle. He was with Fechter in some if his productions, notably as Caleb Balderstone in "' The Master of Ravenswood." The name is more familiar to present-day playgoers in the person of Miss Winifred Emery (Mrs. Cyril Maude) whose loss the stage has recently had to deplore.In 1858 came the first tenancy of Joseph Arnold Cave, perhaps the only really successful manager of the Marylebone, with the possible exception of Nelson Lee. He produced many exciting melodramas of the kind to suit the neighbourhood, and his avoidance of anything tending to the more high-brow sort of play may have ensured his comparative success. The pantomime always remained the chief event of the year, and Cave knew exactly, from experience, what would please his audience in this line. They were gorgeous enough to satisfy those who liked Grand Transformation Scenes and glittering Fairy Dells and entrancing Princes and Princesses and their trains, funny enough for such as looked chiefly to the comic scenes, while the Harlequinade was always made a special feature. Though, other theatres have also claimed to have the " Longest stage in London," there was no doubt whatever about the extended length of the Marylebone stage. I remember I always went to a Pantomime there whenever possible on purpose to see this huge extent of stage. Now that the old house has been degraded to the level of a mere Cinema. I presume the proprietors have been able to make money by letting or selling this length of ground ; for the Movies only require a flat background and may be shown up against a mere wall quite as well as on a stage.
Perhaps some playgoers will remember Cave better as the manager of the Old Vic, which he had in the sixties and the early seventies and again in the eighties when it had been rebuilt. One of his productions there during his first tenancy was a version of Pierce Egan's Tom and Jerry put on under the title of " Life in London Fifty Years ago." The part of Jerry was taken by James Fawn, in later life a singer at the old-fashioned music-halls and often seen in the pantomime at Drury Lane. Cave was recalled to be the first manager after the building of the Vic and it was about then that he made popular a song with the refrain " I'm ninety-five ! I'm ninety five ! "
The Marylebone and the Vic were not the only places of amusement run by this busiest of men. He managed the Alhambra for a time and the Aquarium (or Imperial) theatre and that rather modern transpontine house the " Elephant and Castle," and I believe he had something to do with a queer little place, half theatre and half music-hall, somewhere in Bayswater called the " Cosmotheca." This out-of-the-way hall is said to have been the scene of the first public appearance of Dan Leno on a stage. Cave in his boyhood was employed in a warehouse in the City where Flexmore, the future clown and dancer, was also working, and Cave being himself an expert step dancer (a sort of deudonne art which cannot be acquired if it is not " in you ") taught the steps to Flexmore who afterwards became very famous as a dancer and clown at the Grecian and elsewhere.
Before blossoming into a regular actor, and long before he was a manager, Cave sang as a Christy Minstrel-as blackened minstrels were always called till they took the name of Moore and Burgess Minstrels---singing sentimental ballads and comic songs with odd refrains such as " Wheel about and Turn about and jump Jim Crow."
When he was established as a manager his companies included at various times many names of great note in the dramatic profession, for he had under him Ben Webster the elder, Paul Bedford, Phelps, james Anderson, Walter Montgomery, Ryder, Warner, Hermann Vezin. Marie Litton, Madame Celeste and Mrs. Stirling. He seems to have always retained an affection for any place with which he had been once associated, for I find him going back to the Marylebone after having left it for some years and again taking over the " New Old Vic which he had managed so well years before.
Cave lived to a good old age. In his last days, chiefly through the help of the Referee and other friends he was admitted a Brother at the Charterhouse as Odell and Morton, the dramatist, had been before. He died there two years before the Great War, being nearly ninety years of age.
The Marylebone was entirely rebuilt and enlarged in 1864 and the new management tried to cater for a definite kind of audience, for it was called " The Western Home of East End Melodrama " thereby letting the public know that they need not go so far afield for a real blood-curdler, but could get one not far from Marble Arch.
In 1868, the director was a Mr. H. R. Lacey, who flew at higher game, for he obtained permission to rename the theatre the " Royal Alfred " after the second son of Queen Victoria, and actually induced that Royal Highness to be present on the opening night. The play produced on this auspicious occasion was called " Pindee Singh" written round the Indian Mutiny. Amy Sedgwick, an actress of more than ordinary ability, was cast for the title role, an Indian Princess who falls in love with a Major of the British Army. This was played by George Melville, a jeune premier better known at Sadler's Wells and who had been in the original cast of " It's Never Too Late to Mend " at the Princess's.
Amy Sedgwick was a very popular actress in London in the late fifties and sixties of the nineteenth century. In 1857 she made her first appearance as Pauline in " The Lady of Lyons " and in the same year created the role of Hester Grazebrook in " An Unequal Match," a comedy which has always been very popular with budding actresses.She was at the old Princess's for a time, but the greater part of her career was passed at the Haymarket, which theatre she herself managed for a season. She retired from the stage, I think, when she became Mrs. Pemberton and before the public had had time to get tired of her, and took to training young dramatic aspirants. I suppose Miss Sedgwick, though a famous comedy actress in her day, is now quite forgotten.
In spite of the fillip given to it by Royal patronage, the " Royal Alfred " continued to be a dismal failure as a theatre and Mr. Lacy gave up after a short trial of three or four months.
Miss Henrade, who had acted successfully with Fechter and others, next tried to make the Marylebone a success ; her venture also failed; she herself was probably too refined an actress for the neighbourhood.
It then came to be more or less like the suburban theatres of the present-day, where prominent actors from the West End took their companies now and then for a short season. Miss Henrietta Hodson, for example, was here once for a little, with her company from the Queen's, Long Acre.
As I have said, Cave had it again, but its digringolade had be-gun it was sliding down the hill. Playgoers would not go to Church Street, Edgware Road, with all its unpleasant surroundings when so many new theatres had been built nearer West End haunts and in more pleasant neighbourhoods. It gradually fell to the rank of a third-rate house for cheap melodrama, though some may have made the journey at Christmas to see the pantomime, especially after Cave had taken it under his wing for the second time.
One curious event I ought not to omit. That is the production of a version of Le Juif Polonais at the Royal Alfred two nights before Irving electrified London with his totally distinct version of the same story at the Lyceum under the title of "The Bells."
The true inwardness of this more than odd coincidence is, and perhaps always will be, " wropt in mystery." As a mere playgoer and not in any of the secrets of the craft I can't explain it - but the facts are these.
On November 25th, 1871, the Bateman management produced as a stop-gap (for no one, except perhaps Irving himself, anticipated the enormous success it became) a play founded on M M. Erckmann Chatrian's weird tale, Le Juiff Polonais. It was made by Leopold Lewis, a solicitor, who, I don't think, ever produced a successful play before or since. Every one knows the electrifying reception of that piece, how it brought much gold to the depleted treasury of the Lyceum and the pockets of the Batemans, and how it was revived again and again. A few nights previous to this, a rather freer version of the same story, called " Paul Zegers," made by Burnand, had been put on at the Royal Alfred, then under the direction of Charles Harcourt. It differed slightly from the Lyceum version in that the actual murder of the Polish Jew was seen on the stage. It failed as completely as the other version succeeded. It may have been only a curious coincidence, but curious it certainly was. It does not seem likely that Irving knew of this intended production or its failure in time to postpone his version, or he would have hesitated another risk of failure after the bad times that the Bateman management had been experiencing. The original Matthias in the French play was Talien, who played it as a common peasant. Coquelin afterwards did the same.
I do not think many more high-class experiments were made at the house in Church Street. Its frequenters would tolerate nothing but the good old melodrama that they understood and appreciated. "Jack Long of Texas or The Shot in the Eye " was a specimen containing, I believe, a good representation of a prize fight.
In the same year, 1871, there appeared at the Marylebone (still called the Royal Alfred), an actor who had passed a most adventurous life before adopting the stage as a profession. This was William Permington, who, son of a North London schoolmaster, had begun life as a teacher, then emigrated to Australia, then tried teaching again, and finally enlisted in the famous " Cherry Pickers," i.e., the 11th Hussars. He was twenty-two years old at the time and soon afterwards was sent out to the Crimea, where he took part in the Battle of the Alma, and in the famous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava under Lord Cardigan. He acted at Drury Lane with Phelps and at the Haymarket with a company of his own, including James Anderson, John Ryder, Ada Cavendish and Henry Marston, but he chiefly appeared at the outlying theatres like Sadler's Wells. where he appeared in the time of Miss Marriott, and at the Marylebone. His recital of " The Charge of the Light Brigade " was always enthusiastically received, probably largely owing to the fact that he had taken part in that charge himself . He was a great favourite of Mr. Gladstone's and came to be known as " Mr. Gladstone's own tragedian," and the Premier took Mrs, Gladstone to see him when acting at the Royal Alfred. After this engagement, he appears to have supported Miss Genevieve Ward in her first appearance on the English stage at Manchester in 1873---and he played again at Drury Lane two or three years later in an adaptation of Peveril of the Peak. In his later life, he became a public reciter and reader and posed as the model for the central Hussar in Lady Butler's great picture of " Balaclava."
A Mr. Charles Sinnett was a standing dish at the Marylebone for many years. He was Corm in a production of Boucicaule's " Shaughraun " in 1885, and thirty-one years before had played the hero in " The Struggle for Gold," when Mrs. Kendal had made her first appearance. His acting was, of course, of the most robust order suited to the theatre and its neighbourhood, or he would not have been there so long.
A type of drama much favoured at the old Marylebone was the gruesome type like " Susan Hopley " or " Katharine Howard " with corpses and coffins, bloody murders and bleeding victims. Only one thing never changed. As long as it was a theatre, there was a pantomime at Christmas. Perhaps there is a pantomime at Christmas still. One ought to be able to make a very good sort of pantomime out of a Movie Show, and it is to that sad state that the famous old home of melodrama has been reduced at last.
The above text is from 'London's Lost Theatres of the 19th Century' By Errol Sherson, 1925.
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