The Scala Theatre, 58 Charlotte Street and Tottenham Street
Formerly - The New Rooms in Tottenham Street / The King's Concert Rooms / The Cognoscenti Theatre / The New Theatre / The Regency Theatre / The West London Theatre / The Queen's Theatre / The Fitzroy Theatre / The Prince of Wales Royal Theatre
The Scala Theatre in Charlotte Street, London was opened by Lady Bancroft on the 19th of December 1904 and was designed by the well known Theatre Architect Frank T. Verity. The Theatre had a capacity of 1,139 and a stage 30' 6" wide by 54' deep
Right - The Facade of the 1904 Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street, London.
The Scala Theatre was however built on part of the site of the former Prince of Wales Royal Theatre which had itself been erected on the site of a series of previous houses of entertainment with a multitude of various names.
Entertainment on the site first began when a new building opened on Tottenham Street in 1772 called, appropriately enough, 'The New Rooms in Tottenham Street'.
The New Rooms in Tottenham Street had many alterations and name changes throughout its history. It was variously known as the King's Concert Rooms, Cognoscenti Theatre, New Theatre, Regency Theatre, Tottenham Street Theatre, West London Theatre, Queen's Theatre, Fitzroy Theatre, and finally the Prince of Wales Royal Theatre before it was demolished to make way for the building of the Scala Theatre in 1903.
There is much information on the old and new Theatres in the opening night report for the Scala Theatre transcribed below, and the history of one of its former incarnations, the Regency Theatre, is described in an 1832 report directly below.
Above - A watercolour of the Regency Theatre, Tottenham Street in 1817, later the Prince of Wales Theatre and part of the site of the later Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street - From a Print dated 1832 - Courtesy Caroline Blomfield
This Theatre is built on the site of His Majesty's late Concert Rooms for Ancient Music, first suggested and established by the late Earl of Sandwich, under the sanction of the King, and after honoured in bearing the name of his Rooms. Their Majesties several times visited the musical performances at this place; but it being found too small and inconveniently situated to accommodate the numerous subscribers, the Hanover Square Rooms were engaged, and the Ancient Concerts for many years have been performed there.
Hyde the Trumpeter afterwards rented these premises, and they were called Hyde's Rooms, for Concerts. On his quitting them they were untenanted for some time, and very much out of repair, when Colonel Greville engaged them, fitted them up in an elegant manner, and instituted his celebrated Pic Nic Society, which made so much noise and glee among the fashionable world, that it was thought it would considerably hurt the regular theatres; indeed, so much so, that the proprietors of the two winter houses interfered, and endeavoured to stop their Performances; however, the Dilettanti opened under a sort of agreement with Sheridan and Richardson, that not more than ten representations should take place each season, and no hired performers of any existing theatre to act in them. The parts to be acted BONA FIDE by ladies and gentlemen, and to be inserted on their cards, "With Consent of the Proprietors of the established Winter Theatres." Such an agreement was assented to and hastily signed by Col. Greville, who immediately after withdrew his signature. Their motto was, "On fait ,ce qu'on peut, et non ce qu'on veut" - We do what we can, but not what we wish. They commenced on the 15th of March 1802, with a prologue by Greville, and an interlude, written by and principally acted by himself, founded on the difficulty and opposition he had experienced in forming the society; and two French proverbs, Zing Zing and Les Foux, acted by French people. The company then retired to the refreshment rooms, and the audience part of the Theatre was in a few minutes converted into a supper room, for the audience to return and partake of a cold collation. After supper catches and glees were introduced, accompanied by a grand pianoforte; and the company departed about half past twelve o'clock. The subscription for the season was five guineas, and in lieu of Pic Nic one guinea, 'with six bottles of wine for the season, half white, half red, no wine being allowed to be sold on the premises: the subscription to be paid to Messrs. Coutts and Co.
The Society continued here for some time, and several full plays were acted, occasionally assisted by actresses and actors from winter houses. Captain Sowden, who went up in the balloon with Garnerin, and compared Epping Forest to a gooseberry-bush, was Greville's official man in the stage direction. Sowden was the same who, in 1810, appeared at the Haymarket Theatre, by the name of Stapleton, in Dennis Brulgruddery, and was afterwards engaged by the Drury Lane Company at the Lyceum, and in both instances completely failed. Richard Choyee Sowden, alias Stapleton, died in August 1811, at Islington, in the thirty-first year of his age. He was a man of singular and eccentric habits, had been a captain in the navy, and driven to the stage by necessity, after squandering away his property, having at twenty-one inherited six thousand pounds.
In the year 1808, Saunders (the father of Master Saunders, the rider) fitted up the interior of this place in a very temporary manner, and opened it for horse-riding principally, but had some trifling stage performances, which was attended by very low company, and lasted but for a short period, though he made every possible exertion to fill his house, by parading the whole troop of performers through the streets and squares of the neighbourhood daily.
1n 1810, Mr. .J . Paul, a pawnbroker in Upper Mary-le-bone Street, who had made some property by his business (solely for the purpose of gratifying his wife's ambition to perform, and for which she was but very indifferently qualified), took the Rooms on lease, pulled down the fittings-up within the walls, built an elegant little Theatre, adorned the outside, erected a portico to the entrances, and opened with Love in a Village as a burletta, contrary to Act of Parliament, Mrs. Paul playing Rosetta. A very few weeks terminated their career, and Paul became a bankrupt.
The Theatre was afterwards let to several speculating managers; and some tradesmen who had been for many years respectably situated in business, were infatuated enough to embark in this ruinous concern, and lost their all: among whom ranked as the chief, Mr. Spragg, printer; and Mr. Cooke, the dyer and hot-presser: the latter of whom did not long survive the misfortunes he had entailed on himself.
Penley, the brother of the late actor of Drury Lane, was one of the first adventurers that engaged the place after Paul's failure, but with very little success, commensurate with his expectation. Of the Drury Lane Penley, an anecdote is at present in circulation, of rather a ingular nature. The late Mr. Raymond, with several of his brother comedians (among whom was Mr. Penley), having, about two years since, made a party to enjoy a day at Greenwich, previous to dinner amused themselves in the Park, and, among other diversions of the mimic party, a sham duel was proposed, and performed: in which it was Mr. Raymond's part to fall; Mr. Penley was appointed to the office of sham-undertaker; but afterwards, quitting the stage and commencing the business of an upholsterer and real undertaker, performed in earnest that last office to his departed brother actor and friend, Mr. Raymond, on Sunday, October 28th, 1817, when the latter was buried in the-churchyard of St. Paul, Covent Garden, attended to the grave by his theatrical brethren of both houses, in thirty-five mourning coaches, a cavalcade of thirteen private carriages closing the procession.
The season in which the Regency Theatre most prospered was when Cobham (afterwards of Sadler's Wells and the Surry Theatre) performed the parts of Marmion, and Gloucester, in Jane Shore; both of which pieces brought crowded houses. Indeed, this gentleman's performance of Marmion attracted such notice, that it is said Mr. Kemble, who purposely went to see him play the part, gave his opinion, that, had his figure been equal to his conception, action, and delivery, he would have become one of the greatest ornaments to the stage. But even Cobham did not possess the power to draw sufficient company beyond a season; and the novelty ceasing, the Regency gradually fell into decay.
Mrs. Powell, formerly of Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres, who on several occasions had successfully been (in both those Theatres) a substitute for Mrs. Siddons, condescended to appear on these boards; and Fitzwilliam, the present favourite at the Surry Theatre, is indebted to the Regency Theatre for his first introduction to a London audience. The confined scale, however, of the establishment, prevented any manager from securing long the service of a favourite actor; none of which have ever considered the Regency engagement otherwise than a prelude to better situations, of which they have invariably availed themselves with the first convenient opportunity.
December 5, 1814, the lease was sold by auction, by Robins; the only bidders were, Watson, the Cheltenham manager; and Beverley, formerly of Covent Garden Theatre, in a-minor department. Beverley made the first bidding fifty guineas, which the assignees would have gladly accepted, and, rather than not have got rid of it, would have presented it to any one. They bid against each other till it was knocked down to Beverley at three hundred and ten guineas. The conditions of sale stated the privilege of keeping open all the year, upon a magistrate's license - the Theatre to have cost 4000 l. upon a term of thirteen years from Christmas 1813, at the very low rent of 177 l - sold by order of the assignees, and the money to be paid in three months: it was stated that the taxes were 35 1. that the moveable property was worth 300 1. and the Theatre was usually let for 20 1. a week.
If the present occupier can possibly make it answer, it must be by reducing the expenses to a very low scale indeed, and employing the whole of his family in the concern. Their chief support is from-the half price.
The entrance to the King's Ancient Concert Rooms was (prior to the converting them into a Theatre) in Pitt Street, communicating with John Street, Tottenham Court Road, and Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place.
The Committee of the Musical Fund held their meetings here; and every quarter a part of them attended, to receive the statement, and settle the claims on their establishment. All orphan children of Musicians belonging to the Fund were apprenticed from this place. The premium given is twenty pounds; and ten pounds to each for working tools, &c. at the expiration of their apprenticeship.
The above text was first published in 1832 and is courtesy Caroline Blomfield.
In 1904 a new Theatre was built on the site of the former Prince of Wales Royal Theatre by Messrs. Allen & Sons to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect Frank T. Verity. The new Theatre had a capacity of 1,139 and a stage 30' 6" wide by 54' deep and on its opening on the 19th of December 1904 it was called the Scala Theatre, a name it would retain until its eventual demolition in 1969.
Right - The Facade of the 1904 Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street, London.
The Times reported on the opening of the Scala Theatre in their 20th of December 1904 edition saying: 'The new Scala Theatre, which has been built by Cavaliere Edmund Distin-Maddick on the site of the old Prince of Wales's Royal Theatre in Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square, was opened yesterday afternoon by Lady Bancroft. As Miss Mario Wilton, Lady Bancroft was intimately associated with the old theatre, which, under her management, was raised to a more prosperous position than it had ever enjoyed, and which subsequently fell upon evil days.
After the departure of the Bancrofts, the "Queen's Dust-hole," as it came to be irreverently called, acquired the unenviable reputation of being impossible from the theatrical point of view. Even the Salvation Army, which can work wonders, abandoned the place after giving it a trial, and what was not so many years ago the resort of all that is most brilliant and distinguished in English society came to be regarded as a melancholy example of the vicissitudes of fortune.
Left - A Map showing the position of the Scala Theatre from a programme for 'The Purple Mask' - Courtesy Roy Cross.
The old house came into existence 141 years ago. It was erected in 1700 on a portion of the site of the Scala Theatre by one Signor Pasquale, an Italian, and, although a building of diminutive proportions compared with present-day theatres, it afforded a home in the course of its history to a very large number of theatrical stars. Among these may be mentioned Mrs. Yates, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, the charming Mrs. Nesbitt, and the famous Madame Celeste, who here made her first appearance in England. Madame Vestris and Charles Mathews were also frequently seen on the boards of the old house, but it was reserved for Miss Marie Wilton, of whom Charles Dickens wrote, "I call her the cleverest girl I have ever seen on the stage in my time, and the most singularly original," to make it really famous in the annels of the British theatre.
Above - A sketch of the auditorium of the former Prince of Wales Theatre, Charlotte Street in 1903 shortly before its demolition - Courtesy Caroline Blomfield. The sketch in the top right corner says 'Squire Bancroft and Marie Effie Bancroft 1865 1880.
Here were produced the famous Robertson comedies - Society, Ours, Caste, School, Play, and M.P., here, too, it was, in the words of a living writer, "that Frederick Lemaitre appeared, that Napoleon and D'Orsay rubbed shoulders with Dickens and Thackeray, that once there was a difficulty in finding a seat for Gladstone, and that Beaconsfield received a memorable ovation."
A house with such traditions could hardly pass away without leaving' deep regrets in many minds, and among those who watched its decline with sorrow was the creator of the new theatre, an Englishman who is a fitting successor to Signor Pasquale, since he has many and close Italian relations and has for nearly twenty years held the post of surgeon to the Italian Hospital in London. Dr. Distin-Maddick has caused a remarkable and beautiful theatre to be built on the site of the old one, and he has done so, he declares, in obedience to a directing finger guiding him through the many cares and difficulties he has encountered in the attainment of his desire. Hence the motto blazened over the two Royal boxes, which are the only boxes in the house - "La Forza del Destino" (the power of fate). Possibly, although he does not say so, there is more than an accidental similarity between the first half of the Cavaliere's name and the word destino which figures in the device he has adopted.
Roght - A programme for 'The Purple Mask' at the Scala Theatre - Courtesy Roy Cross. In the cast were A. Walker, Dennis Trent, Gwen Compton, Nona Wynne, Margaret Yarde, Henry Vibart, Dorothy Ripley, Alice Moffat, Russell Thorndike, Walter Menpes, Ernest H. Paterson, C. H. Croker-King, Amy Brandon-Thomas, Horton Cooper, Matheson Lang, Edward Y. Rae, Saunder Bowen, Margaret Yarde, Betty Belloc, Walter Plinge, Owen James, Alexander Denby, Frederick Mackay, Leyton Cancellor, Alice Phillips, Herbert Rea, Chas. R. Stone, W. R. Stavely, Alex. Richards, and Alfred Brandon.
Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that the planning and building of this theatre, which has cost a very large sum of money to complete, has been a labour of love to Dr. Distin-Maddick. The ideas now realized were his own; in the carrying of them into effect the creator of the new theatre has had the assistance of Mr. Frank Verity, the architect, to whose professional ability and zeal he pays the highest tribute of praise. The name given to the new house is an indication of its principal and most remarkable feature. It is called the Scala because that word, which has given a name to the most famous theatre in Italy, means in English "staircase," and the staircase in this house breaks away with a gentle decline on either side below the balcony (or dress circle as it is called in most theatres) and leads, by a magnificent flight of ivory-veined marble steps, to the orchestra stalls.
At the top of the house is the gallery, an admirable one both for seeing and for hearing, since there is a free view of the whole of the stage from every seat. The seating of the house has been disposed of as follows:Stalls, staircase stalls, balcony, pit, and gallery. For the pit it is claimed that is without an equal, and it is perhaps not too large a claim to make for this part of the house, which is extremely well planned and appointed. A special feature of the interior is the orchestra, which has been designed so as to be in harmony with the rest of the house. It is sunk after the manner of the Wagner Theatre, and is a most commodious and comfortable place for the musicians to occupy during the performance of their part of the entertainment.
Left - A programme for 'Judgement at Chelmsford' at the Scala Theatre on the 26th June 1947.
The Royal boxes are on the right and left of the stage. That on the right is the King's box and that which faces it is reserved for the use of the Prince of Wales. A Georgian design has been adopted in these boxes, which add greatly to the beauty of the building. Every precaution has been taken to ensure; the safety of the audience. There are numerous and perfect exits. The stairways and passages are broad, airy, and as nearly as possible straight, and every door from the auditorium leads direct into the street. The building is, moreover, perfectly fireproof, since it is constructed of steel, stone, marble, concrete, and bronze. Enough has been said to show that in the Scala Theatre London possesses one of the most interesting, safe, and beautiful of its places of public entertainment.
It only remains to be added that the stage and all the rooms for the accommodation of those who appear upon it are equally remarkable for the enlightened and even lavish attention which has been bestowed upon them. No detail appears to have been overlooked which could minister to the comfort either of the public or the artists, and the result is what must be regarded as a model theatre.
Right - A programme for 'The Maid of the Mountains' at the Scala Theatre in April 1949.
The theatre has been built by Messrs. Allen and Son from plans which, with one exception, were approved by the London County Council, whose demands in regard to theatre construction are known to be stringent in the interest of the public. With regard to the point upon which the designs were not sanctioned, Dr. Distin-Maddick willingly admits that the refusal of the Council proved their judgment to be correct, and pays a high tribute to the Council and its officials for the treatment he has received at their hands. As regards accommodation it may be said that the house will hold about 1,300 people. The main entrance of the Scala Theatre was opened by Lady Bancroft, who was received by Dr. Distin-Maddick, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and a reception subsequently took place, at which there were present, among many others, Sir Squire Bancroft, Mr. F. Dickens, R.A., Mr. W. S. Gilbert, Mr. Humphry Ward, Miss Constance Collier, Mr. Harry Nicholls, Mr. Berman Vezin, Mr. John Hare, Mr. Tito Mattel, Mr. Martin Harvey, Miss Lily Banbury, Mr. and Mrs. George Alexander, Mr. Herbert Waring, Miss Lena Ashwell, Mr. and Mrs. Weedon Grossmlth, Mr. and Mrs. Forbes Robertson, Sir Algernon West, Miss Olga Nethersole, Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Monckton, and Miss Florence St. John.
Above - The auditorium of the Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street, London - From 'London Theatres and Music Halls' 1850 - 1950' by Diana Howard.
At 4 30 the National Anthem was sung and the curtain was then rung up, and Lady Bancroft advanced upon the stage amid loud cheers. Lady Bancroft said that Dr. Distine-Maddick had long been determined that she should be the first to tread those boards publicly. (Cheers.) It was a matter of sentiment with him, and as a matter of sentiment she was sure they would all think it was appropriate that it should be so (cheers), for on that very ground stood the dear old Prince of Wales's Theatre. (Cheers.) When she had the honour to unlock the door that day to welcome them to that beautiful house it was, let them believe her, with feelings of very deep emotion. Her thoughts went back through the long vista of years, and she remembered the opening night of the dear little theatre over which she used to preside. (Cheers.) She was herself, as it were, but a few minutes before the doors opened on the opening night - how nervously it was!- she was perched on a small ladder nailing up the last muslin curtain. (Laughter.) It was a simple little theatre, but lofty hopes were centred in it, and being young she was not afraid. Lucky for her it was that she possessed so much courage, for at the last moment her friends warned her that the West-end public would never come so far out of their way. Well, time told a different tale. (Cheers.) Indeed, an old apple-woman who used, in former days, to stand outside the old theatre, waited and waited and waited until the performance was over, and when the audience had quite departed, and the lest carriage turned the corner, she gave vent to her feelings in these words "Wal if these is yer haristocrats, give me the rough's! I've only taken 4d. and got a bloomin' cold on the top of it, and all for nothing!" (Laughter and cheers.) The old lady departed and was never seen again. But seriously, if she might venture to own that she had now and then been vain enough to lay such flattering unction to her soul as to believe that some seeds were sown there on ground that proved to be not altogether barren, that, she confessed, was pleasant both to her and to her husband. (Cheers.) It must ever be their pride to recollect that they numbered at various times as members of their company in the little theatre which once stood there her dear old friend Mr. John Hare, Miss Ellen Terry, Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, Mrs. John Wood, Miss Addison - the original Bella in School - Mr. John Clayton, Mr. Arthur Cecil, Mr. Forbes Robertson, and many other distinguished servants of the public. (Cheers.) That day she had compared the modest little house with the grandeur of that beautiful building. But yet very humble parents had often given to the world a genius. There, from the ashes of that tiny theatre, had risen that noble building. She cordially congratulated Dr. Distin-Maddick, and she also cordially congratulated his architect, on the splendid result of what had been all along, she knew, a labour of love. (Cheers.) What the aim and scheme of that theatre was to be she did not know, but were it hers she would work very hard to make it a national theatre where a play by Shakespeare should be acted at least once a week. (Cheers.) That she thought would be a worthy memorial and fitting tribute to the memory of the world's greatest poet. (Cheers.) She could not thank too heartily Dr. Distin-Maddick for all his courtesy, for his respect and regard for the dear old theatre, and with all her heart she wished that the new theatre might inherit the success and honour which were so freely bestowed upon its ancestor. (Loud cheers.)'
The Scala Theatre, despite the hopes of Lady Bancroft, never really had the success of the previous Theatres on the site although one remarkable event did occur when The London Co-operative Societys Joint Education Committee sponsored a highly successful week-long run of Handels oratorio Belshazzar in an operatic staging, which commenced on the 16th of May 1938.
The production was produced by John Allen and it was the first time that it had been performed in almost 200 years. Alan Bush conducted the 300-strong massed choir and Randall Swingler adapted the original text, shortening it by some 30 minutes, thus simplifying the story and reducing the cast.
The Scala was home, in its later years, to many a famous name, the Theatre even played host to the Beatles who were there for a week filming, inside and out, for a concert for their new film 'A Hard Days Night' in March 1964.
The Scala Theatre was demolished in 1969 to make way for an office building which was named Scala House (Shown Right) in recognition of the site's former occupant.
Right - Scala House, Charlotte Street, London, which now stands on the site of the former Scala Theatre - Photo M.L. 04.
The Scala Theatre by Alan Chudley
I knew the Scala theatre very well during the 1950s; it was not, by far, my favourite theatre, it was too far off the West End track to attract very many professional productions, indeed other than the annual six week run of "Peter Pan" which ran each year from the world war two until the Scala closed, for many years this was the only professional production. The rest of the year the Scala was used for a motley collection of purposes, including musical productions by amateur companies such as the London Transport Players, showcase productions, rehearsals of other professional shows, filming, television & radio recording and trade showings of films.
Right - A programme for 'Peter Pan' at the Scala Theatre in 1951
- Courtesy Alan Chudley.
For many years the standard lighting system in theatres was from Footlights
and overhead battens.When Gaslight was replaced by electricity, colour
circuits were then possible. For a long time the lamps for these were
60 watt carbon filament lamps which could be dipped in coloured lacquer.
With the coming of gas filled lamps in the 1920s, this was no longer
possible, and lead to the introduction of compartment battens whereby
each lamp had its own compartment, Sunray reflector and gelatine colour
filter. These were first made by Strand Electric at the behest of Adrian
Samoiloff, a refugee from Russia, who, using complimentary colours,
was able to produce such effects as changing George Robey attired in
a Black Diner Jacket to a Negro in Green Striped pyjamas. This became
known as "Samoiloff Lighting" and the battens as "Sammie's."
Loie Fuller, a famous dancer, used Samoiloff Lighting together with
Ultra Violet lighting to great effect. Her Electrician was Percy Boggis
( known in the West End theatres as; " Boggie"). This man
was an expert in trick lighting in the 1920s and 1930s and at one time
ran his own company. So it would appear that Percy Boggis was to Stage
lighting at that date what Percy
Court was to stage management.
I am sorry to see any theatre go, but the Scala always was in my time very much a White Elephant. Alan Chudley.
Above - Details from a programme for 'Peter Pan' at the Scala Theatre in 1951 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.
Jacqueline Burton in 'The Merry Widow' at the Scala Theatre in the late 1940s
Above - Jacqueline Burton in a production of 'The Merry Widow' at the Scala Theatre in the late 1940s - Courtesy Helen Burton.
A visitor to the site, Helen Burton, has kindly sent in some photographs of her mother, Jacqueline Burton, performing in 'The Merry Widow' at the Scala Theatre in the late 1940s. Helen writes: ' My mother's name was Jacqueline Burton, her maiden name was Bishop, so at the time she appeared at the Scala Theatre, she would have been Jacqueline Bishop. She was an amateur actress and I guess she must have appeared at the theatre just after the Second World War. She was born on the 11th of January 1930 and died on the 3rd of July 2007. My father recalls going to pick her up after her rehearsals. He says he didn't want to take the chance on any of the rest of the cast walking her home!
Right - Jacqueline Burton and two other members of the cast of 'The Merry Widow' at the Scala Theatre in the late 1940s - Courtesy Helen Burton.
As further background information, my mother also appeared in a film, aged 8, called 'The Londoners' (1939). It was one of the first of the documentary genre by the famous documentary maker, John Grierson, and it was shown in cinemas across the country. She played the dormouse in a scene from Alice in Wonderland in the section on children's education.
Left - Jacqueline Burton in an unknown production at the Scala Theatre in the late 1940s - Courtesy Helen Burton.
She had never seen herself in the film. She remembered filming day but she never knew what became of it. She was evacuated to Exeter and was staying with a Mrs Stone, who came back from the cinema one day and told her she had seen her in a film called the Londoners. So in 2003 I got a copy made for her as a Christmas present and she watched it for the first time.'
Above text in quotes, and photographs Courtesy Helen Burton.
A Programme for a Christmas Pantomime 'Babes in the Wood' at the Scala Theatre