The Queen's Theatre, Long Acre, London
Formerly - St. Martin's Hall / St. Martin's Music Hall
Above - The building which now stands on the site of the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre in October 2011 - Photo M.L.
The Queen's Theatre, Longacre opened on the 17th of October 1867 and was a conversion of the former St. Martin's Music Hall which had stood on the site since 1850. The Music Hall which could accommodate some 3,000 people was itself a reconstruction of part of the former St. Martin's Hall which was built in 1847 by William Cubitt and designed in the Elizabethan style by Westmacott and could accommodate some 4,000 people before its conversion. There is more on the St. Martin's Music Hall below.
The conversion of the old Music Hall into the Queen's Theatre was carried out by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps who had the entire building gutted and used only the exterior walls for the creation of his new Theatre. The Queen's opened with a production of 'The Lady with the Lamp' and a glittering cast including J. L. Toole, Henry Irving, Lionel Brough, Alfred Wigan, Clayton, Emery Henrietta Hodson, and Mrs. Labouchere.
The ERA published a report on the newly built Theatre shortly before it opened in its 6th of October 1867 edition saying: The large building in Long-acre, nearly facing Bow-street, so long known to choral societies and the public as St. Martin's Hall, will be re-opened on the 17th of this month, without fail an elegant and commodious Theatre with the above title, under the experienced Lesseeship of Mr. Alfred Wigan. The building has been completely gutted, from basement to roof; only the outside walls and covering remaining, so that it is de facto, a new Theatre, and one which will in every way sustain the reputation of the architect, Mr. C. J. Phipps, F.S.A. who has already erected large and important Theatres at the following provincial towns: - Nottingham, South Shields, Brighton, Swansea, and Bristol. This will be the fourth new playhouse (if we include St. George's Hall, Regent-street) built and opened within the last twelve months, attention having been directed to this branch of enterprise by the recent theatrical free-trade agitation.
The entrances of the new Theatre are numerous, and conveniently situated in separate streets.
The principal entrance, leading to the stalls and two tiers of boxes, is in Long-acre, through a loggia, opening by swing doors into a grand vestibule (part of the original hall), forty-two feet by twenty-two feet, immediately facing which is the grand staircase, which is one of the finest in London - a double flight of stairs, six feet wide, leading to the boxes. The stalls have a separate approach by a few steps, and an incline under the pit, without ascending the staircase. The entrances to pit and gallery are in Wilson-street; where, also, at some distance apart, is the royal entrance, opening immediately upon a private staircase to the Royal box on the grand tier, and forming also, on ordinary occasions, an exit way from the stalls, level with the street. This feature requires special notice, as Wilson-street, being out of the traffic of the main streets adjoining, will be admirably adapted for carriages taking up, and greatly facilitate the speedy exit of a large audience. The entrance to the stage is in Charles-street.
Above - The auditorium and stage of the Queen's Theatre, Longacre - From the magazine 'Theatre World' published in February 1956.
In the interior of the house the comfort of the audience has been studied to a degree unknown in any dramatic Theatre yet built in London. The plan of the auditorium is strikingly original. Each tier recedes, so that two balconies are formed. The plan of the front of the dress-circle tier may be described as three parts of an egg; the upper box tier similar, but larger in radius; while the gallery tier resolves itself into a complete circle, carried round over the proscenium, and forming, as it were, a cornice. The two front rows of this tier are appropriated to amphitheatre stalls, while the gallery ranges behind them. The audience in the amphitheatre do not occupy more than the half circle; the remaining part, where it would, of course, be difficult to see, is occupied by a handsome frieze, taking the same line as the circle of the gallery, crowned with a cornice. Upon this frieze is a wall painting, which deserves an extended notice hereafter. The computation of the seating accommodation is as follows;
Above - The computation of the seating accommodation at the Queen's Theatre, Longacre - From the ERA, 6th October 1867
Spacious refreshment and retiring rooms are constructed for every department of the audience. The seats in the stalls and dress circle, which are those the architect has so successfully introduced into his other Theatres, are really luxurious. The ventilation has been well studied; and by giving a good height to the various tiers, with a thorough system of extracting flues, the Theatre will be kept clear of the vitiated air and effluvia from the gas, usually so unpleasant.
In the decorations the absence is noticeable of all raised plaster ornaments, which have hitherto only served as a harbour for dirt in our Theatres, except the constructional mouldings, which present on the box fronts a singularly subtle and delicate contour, leaving a flat space between, for painted decoration, as at Her Majesty's Theatre. The main feature of the ornamentation, however, is a painting on the frieze above the proscenium; thirty feet long, and seven feet deep, by Mr. Albert Moore, whose delicate representations of Greek figures and colouring in this and last year's exhibitions of the Royal Academy were so much admired and sought after. This painting, which is in a flat, medium-like fresco, represents a group of life-size Greek figures, in various attitudes, listening to, and watching with delight and rapture, the representation of a play which is being enacted.
The decorations have been executed by Messrs. Green and King, of Baker-street, Portman-square' and are of a somewhat severe Raphaelesque character; the effect being entirely obtained by good design and. harmonium colouring, assisted by the judicious application of a small quantity of gold. The ceiling consists of a semicircle, prolonged horizontally over the greater part of the auditorium, and beyond this a flat portion raking up over the gallery The latter is panelled out into squares. lozenges, and circles, which are treated in such a manner as to enhance the brilliancy of the former, which is divided by radiating ornaments into ten compartments, enriched with brilliant arabesques, and with medallions, containing musical instruments and other devices, upon a soft neutral ground. Beneath the semicircle, and above the proscenium, is a deep freize, on which is painted the figure subject before alluded to, and below this again an entablature, which, continued in a circle round 'the whole house, forms the gallery front, and is enriched with a bold anthemion and other ornaments. The lower box fronts are painted with brilliant arabesques and borders, and are further embellished with gold mouldings and delicate amber satin curtains, rosters and Vandyke valances, which contrast admirably both with the pale sage green and gold box-linings, and with the ebony seats and cerise-coloured cushions. The proscenium is richly decorated with gold and colours, to harmonise with the other portion.
The lighting is effected by a powerful sun burner, manufactured by the patentees, Messrs. Strode and Co., of London, placed in the centre of the ceiling, but not hanging more than eighteen inches below it. There is a large ventilating shaft, six feet in diameter, immediately above the sun burner, carried through the roof, in the centre of which is another flue, specially to take off the combustion from the gas. By the management of the lighting, and the receding of the upper fronts, as before mentioned, objectionable shadows under the boxes are obviated. In the ceiling of each tier are a series of ventilators, each communicating with an extracting flue in the roof. The same firm has also fitted up the float-light. This float, which is of novel construction, demands special notice. Its first introduction into England was in the Theatre built by the same architect last year at Brighton, where it has proved in every way successful. It consists simply of the argand burners reversed, with the lights burning downwards, till the combustion being taken away through a large iron cylinder underneath to a flue at the back of the proscenium. A joint on each burner is so contrived that if any one of the glasses breaks it falls, and so shuts of gas in that burner. This plan combines safety also, as not a particle of heat escapes into the house, and a gauze handkerchief might be placed on the top of the burner without ignition. It also removes the unpleasant vapour screen between the audience and the stage, which is the necessary result of the old method. By an ingenious contrivance, also the mediums or coloured glasses, required now so often in special effects, are worked on a frame in front of the lights, by means of levers - very much on the principle of a switch on railways, and can be changed from white to red, green, or any other colour required, in an instant.
The stage is separated from the audience by a solid brick wall, carried on an arch over the proscenium opening up to the roof, and behind the proscenium are stone staircases on either side, leading from the basement to the roof, with communications on every level.
The drop curtain, painted by Mr. W. Telbin, will be in harmony with the decorations of the house, and will represent a Greek temple, painted on a medallion, set in a frame of lace, and fringed with amber drapery.
The difficulty of arranging satisfactorily for the multifarious requirements behind the scenes is evident from the lack of width between the walls,; more, however, could not have been made of the available space, and the lack of width is amply compensated by the great height over the stage, it being practicable to take up a large scene thirty feet out of sight. The depth below the stage is also amply sufficient for all mechanical effects; while the construction of the stage itself is of the most elaborate description, the whole being made to slide away like a shutter. The transverse joists are laid in iron stirrups, fitting like saddles-upon the longitudinal beams, and by a simple and expeditious contrivance the joints can be all pushed back, thus forming one enormous opening in the stage for the rise of castles, bridges, or other mechanical effects. The stage and machinery have been constructed under the immediate direction of the architect, by his chief clerk of works, Mr. G. R. Tasker.
There are two tiers of 'flies, nine feet six inches wide, the upper or working flies being about thirty feet above the stage, and the lower twenty feet. On these last are arranged two dressing rooms, on either side approached by staircases at back of stage, opening on which are four tiers of other dressing-rooms. Under the stalls are placed the green room, and a large room for the ballet, with two small dressing-rooms, approached by the staircase in proscenium before mentioned. The painting gallery is at back of stage, on a level with the first tier of flies, having two frames, twenty-six feet wide, which can be made available for ascensions of figures, scenery, &c. On the mezzanine floor are spacious property rooms, and over the proscenium and part of auditory ceiling a large and convenient room for the wardrobe. Other rooms connected with the working of the Theatre - such as treasury, Manager's room, housekeeper's residence, and tailor's shops - are in that part of the building over the grand entrance in Long-acre.
It only remains for us to mention that the works have been carried out by Mr. Samuel Simpson, contractor, of Tottenham-court - road; the gasworks, except as before mentioned, by Messrs. Jones and Co., of Bow-street; the stall and dress circle seats by Wadman Brothers, of Bath; and those in the private boxes by Mr. Church, of Bath; while the whole of the works in every department, have been executed from the designs, and under the immediate direction of Mr. C. J. Phipps, F.S.A., of 9, Adam-street, Adelphi.'
The above text in quotes was first
published in the ERA, 6th October 1867.
In N. M. Bligh's 'The Story of the Queen's, Long Acre' published in the magazine 'Theatre World' in February 1956 he writes about the plays and players who occupied the Theatre during its brief existence saying: 'The first manager was Alfred Wigan of the Olympic and Princess's theatres, but the moving spirit was Henry Labouchere who ran the house for the gratification of his actress wife, the charming Henrietta Hodson. She, with Wigan and a galaxy destined to become famous, including Charles Wyndham, Ellen Terry, and Lionel Brough making his first London appearance, opened in a romantic play A Double Marriage, adapted from Charles Reade's novel White Lies; but the first real success was Dearer Than Life, by J. H. Byron, with Brough and J. L. Toole who revived it on endless later occasions. Also in the cast was Irving who just previously in this same theatre had made his first appearance with Ellen Terry, an association destined to lead to the Lyceum triumphs of later years. Historical dramas were a favourite feature, especially two written by Tom Taylor for "the beautiful Mrs. Rousby"; the first, and probably the most successful, was Twixt Axe and Crown, in 1870 and revived in 1875, dealing with the rivalry of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and putting a heavy strain on historical accuracy. The second was Joan of Arc in 1871, showing that 1955 had no monopoly! In The Last Days of Pompeii a dramatisation of Lord Lytton's novel, everything went wrong. due to the fact that John Ryder, despite his ability, as an actor, was unequal to putting on elaborate sensational effects. Some success was scored in 1872 with Amos Clark, an historical drama laid near Taunton in 1685, and history was further portrayed or travestied in Cromwell, with George Rignold in the title role in 1872, and the following year in The Wandering Heir by Charles Reade who had a good deal to do with this theatre. The lead in this 1730-period piece was taken by Mrs. John Wood who was succeeded during the run by Ellen Terry. Several Shakespeare plays were presented including a magnificent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1870 with the great Samuel Phelps as Bottom, and Henry IV, in 1876, with Phelps, now nearing the end of his career, in the lead. Special mention must be made of the appearance of the distinguished Italian actor Salvini as Othello in 1876 and in due course as Hamlet. His intention to put on Macbeth was frustrated by an indisposition attributed to the English climate! Of Othello, H. B. Baker, in The London Stage, tells us it was "one of the greatest pieces of tragic acting the world has ever seen, not only in overwhelming power, but in subtle art: it created a profound impression."
Playgoers at the Queen's were from time to time treated to adaptations of Dickens' novels featuring Toole and Brough; outstandingly a magnificent version of Oliver Twist in 1868 with Irving as Bill Sikes, Miss Hodson as Oliver, Toole as the Artful Dodger, and Brough as Fagin, yet, in spite of this truly wonderful cast, the play ran for only a month.
Apart from the plays which have been selected for mention by name, the staple fare consisted largely of heavy melodramas, revivals of old-established favourites with burlesques and curtain raisers to make up the triple or multiple bill which in those days appeared to be a necessity no matter how long or imposing the main feature might be. No claim is made to have mentioned anything like the extensive list of players famous at the time, or later to attain fame; many would mean little or nothing to present-day readers, but, from references to those whose names will always endure, it can justly be claimed that the Queen's was almost always able to muster some of the finest companies.
Thus in trying to adduce reasons for the eclipse of this theatre after so brief a life one must seek causes other than the want of eminent players. The most likely primary cause was the lack of a strong guiding hand and a definite policy, with, as contributory factors, too many adaptations and revivals instead of originality. Labouchere had little theatre interest at heart except insofar as it offered acting scope and opportunity to his wife. His regime was followed by various managers, none of whom were of the calibre of the great actor-managers with the energy or business capacity to build up or establish a reputation for the house. The public was beginning to tire of the flood of adaptations of Dickens which for years had been a feature of the London stage, and of the other plays, sandwiched between the more marked successes, many were indifferent offerings.
In the penultimate year, 1877, Summer Promenade Concerts under Alfred Cellier and Riviere ran for a couple of months, and in the final year a Hungarian tragedian essaying Othello was described as "like a clown " and the play as " like a provincial burlesque."
The end came in April 1878 and the building was, by some miracle of transformation, converted into the Clerical Co-operative Stores. Ultimately it passed to its present use, much of the Long Acre Endell Street exterior still remaining substantially unchanged. Although the Queen's appears to have endured the shortest life of any of the vanished leading West End theatres of the past, nevertheless it gained a lasting measure of fame by virtue of the eminence of the players who trod its boards.'
The above text in quotes (edited) was written by N. M. Bligh and was published in the magazine 'Theatre World' in February 1956.
Right - A modern day plaque commemorating the site of the Queen's Theatre which is actually positioned on the wrong side of Endell Street and reads: 'Queen's Theatre - The old Queen's Theatre occupied this site for just eleven years from 1867 to 1878 and was renowned in its day, albeit fleetingly, for the distinguished players, including Ellen Terry and Charles Wyndham, who trod its boards.'
I am grateful to Stephen Jay-Taylor for his help with identifying the exact location of the Queen's Theatre in 2011.
The Queen's Theatre, Long Acre should not to be confused with the current Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The First telephone publicly exhibited on this side of the Atlantic at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre
Edited from 'London and Londoners in the 1850s and 1860s' by Alfred Rosling Bennett, 1924.
It was at this Queen's Theatre, in 1877, during a season of Promenade Concerts under Jules Rivière and Alfred Cellier, that the first telephone publicly exhibited on this side of the Atlantic was shown. The news of Bell's wonderful discovery was occupying the Press, and it occurred to the management to vary their concerts with a demonstration of Cromwell Varley's telephone. For this purpose the Queen's Theatre was joined to the Canterbury Music-hall, Westminster Bridge Road, by overhead wires and every evening several simple tunes were transmitted and emitted from a large drum-like apparatus suspended over the proscenium.
It could only manage the melody and was accompanied softly by the full orchestra directed by M. Rivière, baton in hand. The inventor, Cromwell Varley, was one of the very competent electricians already mentioned in connection with the Atlantic cable. He had a beautiful house at Bexley, where his experiments might very likely have resulted in the first practicable speaking telephone, had not Alexander Graham Bell been in such a hurry in Canada.
It is notable that the wires to Westminster were double, or metallic circuit, a stage of development not reached by the exploiters of the Bell telephone until after some dozen years of experience. And they were also the very first of the legions of overhouse telephone wires which afterwards decorated London and all other British towns.
Hamilton Clarke was in musical charge of the exhibit, the electrical and engineering arrangements being under my own direction. At that time Varley's instrument could transmit music only; subsequently it was made to speak, but never rivalled Bell's in clearness or simplicity.
A special preliminary performance was given for the benefit of the Press at which I delivered a little explanatory lecture. One of the representatives - he of the Standard - had just come up from an exhibition of blasting in Kent and had several dynamite cartridges in his pockets. Alter the performance, when a good many were assembled in the manager's room, he started to demonstrate the safety of dynamite, when properly and discreetly handled, by lighting one of the cartridges in the fireplace. I never saw a room cleared so quickly-the press gentlemen stood not on the order of their going, but went at once-and all at once!
As a scientific man possessed of the knowledge that dynamite ought
to burn harmlessly if tactfully treated I could hardly rim away; nevertheless,
I did feel relieved when the cartridge eventually gave a last splutter
and went out. I can smell it now.
Inspired by the Queen's Theatre performance, the comic paper Funny Folks, in its number of June 16th, 1877, gave a cartoon in which many of the uses to which the telephone is put in 1924 - including loud-speakers and "broadcasting "- were foreshadowed in quite a remarkable manner.
Above text edited from 'London and Londoners in the 1850s and 1860s' by Alfred Rosling Bennett, 1924.
Formerly - St. Martin's Hall
From - The Builder, February 16th 1850
A portion of Mr. Hullah's new Music Hall was opened to the public on Monday night last. The plot of ground on which it is erected consists of a parallelogram of 149 feet in length and 61 feet in width, the north side abutting on Wilson Street (leading from Endell Street to Drury lane), and the east side on Charles Street (Long Acre) (Now Arne Street M.L.); this plot being connected, at the south west corner, with Long Acre, by another, 44 feet in length and 22 feet in width.
When completed, the concert hall will be 121 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 40 feet high; the length being rather more than double the width, and the height a third of the length. It is to afford accommodation for 3,000 persons. At the west end of the hall will be two antirooms, entered by two staircases; the one leading from Long Acre, the other from Wilson Street. A third entrance, at the east end, will be connected with a staircase leading from Charles Street (Now Arne Street M.L.). On the north and south sides, and at the west end of the hall, will be erected galleries.
The part completed is next Charles Street, (Now Arne Street M.L.), with a temporary entrance through No. 89, Long Acre. It is 87 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 40 feet high to the boarded ceiling, or inner roof, which is flat at the centre and sloped at the sides: it has arched ribs next the walls with ornamented spandrells, and is divided into panels by moulded ribs. The walls are perfectly plain, and the windows on either side, by which it is lighted, are too much like those of a factory; still the dimensions of the apartment and the construction of the roof give it a certain air of nobleness which will compensate for some defects. The hall is lighted at night by suspended gas chandeliers.
On the ground floor there will be a lecture room, 51 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 26 feet high, calculated to accommodate 500 persons, besides class rooms.
We must mention that the principle feature of the concert with which the new hall was opened was a festival anthem, composed by Mr. Henry Leslie, son of Mr. John Leslie, one of the late Commission of Sewers, and inventor of several improvements in lighting and ventilation. The anthem is a masterly composition, indicating the possession of powers of very high order, - and suffices, with other works previously submitted to public ordeal, to place Mr. Leslie in the foremost rank of those on whom the reputation which England has to achieve in musical science depends.
The above text was first published in 'The Builder', February 16th 1850
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.