The Park Theatre in Camden's Park Street was designed by J. T. Robinson and built by the Contractor Edward Vaughan with decorations by Messrs. Pashley, Newton, Young & Co. The Theatre originally opened as the Royal Alexandra Theatre on Saturday the 31st of May 1873 under the management of Thomas Thorpe Pede with a performance of 'Marguerite' and ' Friendship; or, Golding's Debt'. The Theatre was originally going to be called the Regent's Park Theatre but this name was never actually used for this Theatre.
Right - A programme for 'Two Orphans' at the Royal Park Theatre, Camden for the week beginning March the 24th 1879.
The ERA reported on the building of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in their 16th of March 1873 edition saying:- 'This new Theatre is being proceeded with, situated in Park-street, Gloucester-gate, Regent's-park. The principal entrances are in Park-street, Gloucester-gate. Two properties have been purchased for it, making a frontage of 30ft. by 80ft, deep. The facade will be three stories in height, in the Italian style, with columns and foliated caps, which will mark the entrances.
The plan includes two entrances, one for boxes, stalls, and first circle, the other for pit; above these are two conservatories or saloons, with glass roof for plants, 50ft. by 16ft - one for ladies, the other for gentlemen.
The Theatre proper is 101ft. by 69ft. in width, and is arranged into three tiers. The first tier is reached by a staircase, with sunlights and chandeliers, with a broad double flight of stone stairs outside the Theatre at the end of the entrance. The conservatories are upon a level with the first landing. There are three tiers of boxes on either side of the proscenium, and eight at the back of the first tier, which are raised from the level of the balcony, 2ft. 6in., making in all twenty boxes. On this tier there are balcony, stall, and dress circle. The pit will accommodate 1,000; there are four rows of stalls. The two front rows of the gallery tier will be partitioned off for the amphitheatre.
The gas and water patent, as lately, and for the first time, applied at Astley's Theatre, is adopted. The decorations will be in carton pierre, the ceiling will be arranged with sixteen star lights in a circle, and cut-glass baskets or chandeliers, with ventilation above. The gallery entrance is from Grove-street, and upon this site are erected dressing-rooms, &c.
It will be opened on the 1st day of May, and is to be called "The Royal Alexandra" (special permission having been obtained). The act-drop is by Messrs Telbin and Son. A first-class company has been engaged. The opening programme will consist of an operetta by a popular composer, a new and original drama by Robert Reece, Esq., and a new burlesque by F. C. Burnand, Esq. The direction has been confided to Mr Mowbray (the Proprietor of the Royalty), and a better selection could not have been made.'
The Royal Alexandra Theatre didn't open on the 1st of May in the end, but on the 31st of May instead, with a performance of 'Marguerite' and ' Friendship; or, Golding's Debt'. A week later the ERA printed a review of the building and the opening productions in their 8th of June 1873 edition saying: 'Under very auspicious circumstances this elegant house, which is henceforth to be the home of the Drama in the north-western region of the Metropolis, last Saturday entered upon its inaugural campaign.
The Theatre certainly was not crowded, but there was, nevertheless, a good attendance evidently wall disposed towards the new venture and the new Management. Such occurrences as the opening of a new Theatre we can hardly expect to be characterised by too rigid a regard for punctuality or by that complete smoothness which is only to be attained when everything and everybody have settled down into the proper grooves assigned to them. We may, therefore, give all concerted last Saturday considerable credit for the general excellence of the arrangements, and for an amount of completeness which, under the circumstances, was hardly to be expected. If the curtain did not rise exactly at the time announced those present had leisure to admire the beauty of the house, and the gorgeousness of the whole of its fittings and appointments.
When the lights were turned up the spectators very properly became enthusiastic over the brilliant circle of chandeliers which ornament a singularly choice and elegant ceiling. Then there was more enthusiasm for Mr Thorpe Pede, the Lessee, whom we are to know as the musical manager; more for Mr Telbin, who has painted an act-drop which will bear comparison with any of the previous efforts of his brush; more for the National Anthem, which "opened the ball," with a special cheer for Mr J. W. Turner, whose fine voice was heard to advantage in the solo. The programme contained two novelties, the first being an operetta from the pen of Mr Thorpe Pede himself, and entitled Marguerite. The story of this is as slight as it is hackneyed....
The other novelty, and what, we suppose, must be called the piece-de-resistance of the programme, was an "original drama," in three acts, entitled Friendship; or, Golding's Debt. Mr R. Reece is the author, and we are compelled to state that no more slip-shod piece of work has ever been produced by his pen. The drama is constantly promising something good, and as often disappoints us. There is hardly a character in it and the characters are numerous to which the author has done justice in his portrayal. He has introduced them, and has then appeared to labour under a difficulty in disposing of them. The dialogue is at times what is called wishy-washy; more than one of the situations is simply impossible. For the humorous element Mr Reece has introduced reminiscences of his numerous burlesques; he attempts to enlist our sympathies on the side of a villain, a thief, a would be murderer, and an ingrate, while all our hatred he bespeaks for well, yes, we must say it a poor devil, who seems to be nothing worse than a very disagreeable fellow among his fellow clerks in a merchant's office. The very protracted nature of the performance precludes the possibility of our entering as minutely into the details of the drama or melodrama, as it would be more properly named...'
The Theatre was first known as the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and later as the Alexandra Theatre but in October 1875 it was renamed the Park Theatre, under the management of Parravicini and Corbyn.
In Edward Walford's 'Old and New London,' published in 1878, he remarks on the Park Theatre thus: 'In Park Street, which connects Camden Town with the north-east corner of Regent's Park, is the Royal Park Theatre, a place of dramatic entertainment, originally opened about the year 1870 under the name of the Alexandra Theatre. The class of amusement generally given here consists of melodramas, farces, and opera-bouffe.' - Edward Walford's 'Old and New London' 1878.
Charles Dickens Junior also mentions the Park Theatre in his 'Dickens's Dictionary of London' published in 1879, and writes: ' Park Theatre, Park-street, Camden Town, - A handsome theatre at the Regents-park corner of Camden Town, only established a few years. It has a remarkably roomy stage and is very comfortably fitted up. Nearest Railway Stations, Portland-road and Camden; Omnibus Routes, Park-street, Camden Town High-street, and Camden-road. - Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879.
The Park Theatre continued in this vein until it was destroyed by fire on the 11th of September 1881. The Times reported on the fire the next day in their 12th of September 1881 edition saying: 'The Park Theatre at Camden-town was totally destroyed by fire early yesterday morning. The theatre, which was known as "The Alexandra," and was erected some nine or ten years ego from designs by the late Mr. H. C. Robinson, (sic) who held the appointment of Architect to the Department of the Lord Chamberlain, was situated at the eastern end of Park-street, Camden-town. Its main entrances were on the northern side of Park-street, and it was surrounded on every side by shops and dwelling houses, including the spacious building of the National Bank facing the north-eastern corner of Park-street, the frontage being a continuation of shops, except the entrances to the theatre at the western corner of Arlington-road, on to which the theatre with its gallery entrance abutted. On the north of the area in which the main building of the theatre was situated are the backs of the homes in Wellington-street, and on the east, between High-street and the theatre, is the extensive stabling of the London General Omnibus Company, containing a vast number of valuable horses, and approached by a gateway running from Park-street
The Park Theatre, of which Messrs. John and Richard Douglass are the present lessees, had been sub-let to a provincial company styling themselves the National Grand Opera Company, who on Saturday evening had performed the opera of La Sonnambula and the old and well-known operetta The Waterman. These performances terminated about a quarter - past 11 o'clock, when it was supposed that the gas had been properly turned off, that the theatre was closed, and that all the employees had left the premises.
A few minutes before 12 a constable who was on duty at
the corner of Park-street and Arlington-road observed smoke issuing
from the stage end of the building. He at once raised an alarm, and,
in company with another constable, rushed into the stage entrance. To
their astonishment they found a number of the actors and actresses,
who had been engaged in the performance, packing up their dresses and
properties in the lower part of the building, they had observed a smell
of smoke, but were not aware that the place was on fire. The fire seems
to have originated in the upper portion of the stage, probably in or
near one of the dressing rooms. Scarcely had the discovery of the smoke
been made when flames burst out.
Endeavours were made by the police and the employes to rescue what property they could from the lower portion of the premises. Information was immediately conveyed to the Pratt-street station of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and Superintendent Fisher and his staff were speedily on the spot with their engine, and there was a plentiful supply of water turned on from the mains of the New River Company. Before, however, the engine could be got to work the flames shot up through the roof high into the air, and with such rapidity did the fire extend that by a few minutes after 12 the entire building was enveloped in brilliant flames, which not only illuminated the entire neighbourhood, but were seen for miles and attracted a great number of spectators. The police speedily arrived and formed a cordon at the eastern and western ends of Park-street and the other approaches. In the course of half an hour 15 or 16 engines and eight or ten fire-escapes were on the spot. From the roofs or the adjoining houses water was thrown into the interior of the building. The inhabitants in the adjacent houses were much frightened, and a general attempt to remove goods, as well as stock-in-trade, was made. The employes of the London General omnibus Company at an early moment succeeded in getting out the valuable stock of horses from the stables. The firemen directed their efforts to confining the fire within the building, and, in consequence of the substantial character of the outward walls and of the immense body of water thrown on the fire, by about 1 o'clock it was felt that this object had been attained, but it was not until between 4 and 5 o'clock yesterday morning that it was finally got under, by which time the entire theatre was gutted. Nothing remains of the building except here and there one of the iron pillars by which the balcony and dress circle had been supported, but which by the action of the fire have become bent and twisted into all sorts of fantastic shapes.
The official report states: Called at 12. 5 a.m., Sept. 11, to 56 and 57, Park street, Camden-town, the Royal Park Theatre, J. and R. Douglass, leasees, managers, and owners. Cause of fire unknown. Theatre, about 160 by 80 feet, burnt out and roof off. Adjoining store room, saloon, and entrance hall, with contents, damaged by fire and removal. No. 58, Park-street, occupied by E. Wright, and No. 60, occupied by T. Watkins, coffee-houee keeper, buildings and contents damaged by water and removal, and the same is reported of No. 62, premises of the London General Omnibus Company. Other damages by breakage and by water to neighbouring premises are reported. The theatre and its contents were insured in the North British and Merrcentile Insurance Company.
The theatre was to have opened to-night with a new comedietta by Mr. Herbert Gough, called Marriage Bells, and Mr. James Willing's drama of Delilah.'
In an article about the 1881 fire the ERA included some details of the building and a brief history in their 17th of September 1881 edition saying:- '...The Theatre has had only a brief existence, extending over a period of little more than eight years. The house was first opened as the Royal Alexandra Theatre on Saturday, May 31st, 1873, with an operetta called Marguerite, and a new drama by Mr Robert Reece, entitled Friendship; or, Gelding's Debt. The playbills announced the Theatre to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain to Mr Thomas Thorpe Pede, Responsible Manager.
The short season terminated in July, and when the house was re-opened in the following September Madame St. Claire was named as Sole Proprietress. In August, 1874, the new Alexandra Theatre was sold by auction, at the Mart, Tokenhouse-yard, the property being ultimately knocked down for £11,900. The building was then described as leasehold, being held under three different leases for an unexpired term of thirty-three years, with an annual ground rental of £151. It was further stated that the house would hold £150 at ordinary prices, and attention was called to the act-drop as being the last work of the kind executed by the late Mr W. Telbin, The auctioneer, in introducing the property, described the Theatre as having been completed at a cost of £20,000, and, as an inducement to bidders, mentioned that there were four bars, namely to the pit, dress-circle, saloon, and gallery, which, together with a saloon cellar under the pit, were estimated to produce a rental of £20 per week.
Retaining its original appellation, the house was reopened for dramatic performances the following November, under the ostensible management of Mr George Owen, with the dramas of Leak and Aurora Floyd. It cannot, however, be said that the Theatre proved beneficial to the fortunes of any of its successive occupants.
In October, 1875, the house was renamed and called the Park Theatre, the Managers then being Messrs Parravicini and Corbyn, and the chief attraction Offenbach's Genevieve de Brabant, with Miss Emily Soldene in the principal character. In 1878 Messrs John and Richard Douglass became the Lessees, and under their management the performances assumed more importance, and commanded much greater local support. For a fortnight the Theatre had been in the occupation of the "National Grand Opera Company," and Saturday night terminated their engagement with La Sonnambula. Mr James Willing's drama of Delilah, originally produced, in October last year, at the Park Theatre, was to have been revived on Monday evening, with a new comedietta, entitled Marriage Bells, by Mr H. Gough...'
In 1890 a new building called the Royal Park Hall was erected on the site of the burnt out Park Theatre. This new Hall continued the site's entertainment past by staging plays and musical concerts, but it was also used for hosting public meetings and such like.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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