Shoreditch Theatres and Halls
The Curtain Theatre and The Theatre - The Royal Cambridge Music Hall - The National Standard Theatre / Olympia - The Shoreditch Empire, London Music Hall - The Grecian Saloon - Grecian Theatre - The Town Hall
See also in this area: The City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate - Wilton's Music Hall, Whitechapel - Hoxton Varieties, Shoreditch - The Hoxton Hall - The Royalty / Brunswick Theatres, Whitechapel - Britannia Theatre, Hoxton - The Garrick Theatre, Whitechapel - The Goodman's Fields Theatre, Whitechapel
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the Curtain Theatre during redevelopment in 2016 - Click to Interact
The Curtain Theatre's well preserved remains were uncovered in June 2012 by archaeologists from the Museum of London who had undertaken exploratory digs at what was thought to be the site of the Theatre, one of the earliest Elizabethan Playhouses in the Country. Earlier research had resulted in a commemorative plaque being placed on a building at 18 Hewett Street as early as 1993 and this latest dig in 2012 revealed that the Theatre was actually only a stones throw from this location.
Right - A Drawing showing the Curtain Theatre at the centre of the image with a flag flying - From 'A View of the Cittye of London from the North' Circa 1600.
At present only a small part of the Theatre has been revealed, including the yard and the gallery walls, but it is none the less an impressive find. It is thought that the Theatre would have been polygonal shaped with an external diameter of 22 metres. The Stage itself would have been situated on the eastern side of the building with the entrance on the West off Curtain Road itself.
The site itself is soon to be built on but Plough Yard Development, who have been granted planning permission to develop the site, will be excavating the site further, and featuring the remains as a major part of its £750m mixed commercial and residential development of the site.
It is thought that Shakespeare's 'Henry V' was first performed at the Curtain Theatre in 1598, indeed the play's prologue even refers to the Theatre mentioning 'this wooden O' in the text. At this time Shakespeare belonged to the Lord Chamberlains Company of actors, who had moved from The Theatre, only 200 yards north of the Curtain, in 1598 whilst their new Theatre, The Globe on the Southbank of the Thames, was being constructed.
The Curtain Theatre was built in 1577 and was the second playhouse in London after The Theatre, 200 yards to the north, which opened a year earlier. The Curtain Theatre seems to have been named after Curtain Road which was itself formed as the perimeter wall of Holywell Priory which was situated just to the road's north. In 1567 the area to the east of Curtain Road was known as the Curtain Estate. The Theatre is thought to have been built by Henry Lanman, or Laneman, who was described as a gentleman and a minor courtier. He is known to have made a financial deal with the Burbage family who owned The Theatre which resulted in the profits from both playhouses being shared with each other.
Who actually played at the Curtain Theatre is a matter of some conjecture but it is known that Lord Arundells Players were there in 1584, the Lord Chamberlains Players in 1598 and 1599 , the Queen's Men in 1603, and a so called amateur companie of young men performed The Travels of Three English Brothers by William Rowley, John Day and George Wilkins at the Curtain Theatre in 1607. There are also records of fencing matches and boxing tournaments being performed in the building in later years.
In 1638 the Theatre was converted into Tenements and seems to have been still standing as late as 1698 in this use.
The Stage, Shoreditch, and Galliard Homes, who are creating a world heritage site on the site of the Curtain Theatre, have produced an interesting Culture Map of Shoreditch which can be seen here. The Map shows historical and current cultural hotspots, from the branches of film, television, art, and theatre which can be found in Shoreditch. The Stage, Shoreditch say that 'the inspiration for the creation of this cultural map comes from the archaeological discovery of the remains of the Curtain Theatre.' and go on to say that 'The remains of the Curtain Theatre will not only be painstakingly preserved, but transformed into a focal centrepiece, with its own amphitheatre and heritage pavilion - a testimony to the unrivalled history of London, its regeneration, and to the rebirth of this site as a place to create, relate and live.'
You may also be interested in a new Website called Shakespeares Buildings, a photographic resource detailing the buildings and places associated with William Shakespeare.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Also known as - The Cambridge Music Hall, this Theatre was built at a cost of £16,000 with a capacity of 2000. It was designed by Finch Hill (see details below) and opened in 1864 but by 1892 the capacity had been limited to 1,488. The building was destroyed by fire in 1896, and although it was rebuilt and opened again in 1898, see cuttings below, it was demolished in 1936 for the extension of a tobacco factory.
'The New Cambridge Music Hall in Commercial Street, Bishopsgate, is now nearing completion. The stage will be 41ft wide by 30ft deep . The premises will be heated throughout by hot water coils, and provision has been made for lighting the house by electric light.' - THE BUILDER December 4 1897 - Courtesy John Grice.
Right - The Royal Cambridge Theatre - From 'The Architect' January 20th 1899.
'The New Cambridge Music Hall, Bishopsgate, which was burnt down some time ago, having been rebuilt, has now been opened to the public.
Left - The Site of the Royal Cambridge Music Hall in 2004 M.L.
There are eight entrances in Commercial Street, and four separate exits are provided for the pit and gallery, with an additional exit from the latter delivering into Vine Court. A saloon has been provided at the Commercial Street level. The pit and stalls floor is about 10ft below the level of Commercial Street. The total seating accommodation for the stalls, pit, private boxes, circle. and gallery is 2,000 persons, with standing room in the rear of each tier for another 300. Mr Harry Percival was the architect.' - THE BUILDER January 15 1898 - Courtesy John Grice.
Finch Hill went on to design Weston's Music Hall (1857), the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton (1858), the Oxford Music Hall (1861), the Royal Cambridge Music Hall (1864) and the Philharmonic Hall, Islington (1866) . The architecture of these halls was considerably chaster than the entertainments which took place in them. Finch Hill was a master of the opulent but never licentious classicism of the 1850s. Audiences knocked back their beer in sumptuous settings designed by an architect who knew the churches of Gibbs, Archer and Hawksmoor. With the exception of the Britannia none of them had any proper auditoria; this, incidentally, was the main reason why none of them survived, for in the course of the century the form of the music halls was to develop closer and closer to that of the theatre and they were rebuilt as a result. Finch Hill's inspiration was literally ecclesiastical; his halls had level floors and galleried isles leading the eye to a ceremonial culmination above a raised platform at what one is tempted to call the ritual east end. - Victorian Pubs by Mark Girouard. Studio Vista 1975. Courtesy John Grice.
Ada Reeve on The Cambridge Music Hall
My early appearances were usually
in the East End Halls. These were the days of the 'Chairman' - Mr E
V Page at the Cambridge - who used to introduce each turn in his sonorous
voice. I was at the Cambridge at the height of the Jack the Ripper scare.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Other names - Shoreditch Olympia / Royal Standard Public house and pleasure gardens / Royal Standard Theatre / New Standard Theatre / Standard Theatre / Olympia, Shorditch
The National Standard Theatre was originally built in 1837 with a horse shoe auditorium seating 3,400 but was destroyed by fire in 1866. The Theatre was rebuilt and reopened December 1867 with a seating capacity of 3000. The Theatre was rebuilt for a third time by Bertie Crewe with a capacity of 2,463. By November 1926 it was in use as a cinema called The New Olympia Picturedrome. The building was demolished in 1940.
Left - A Poster for a Benefit for T. C. King, at the National Standard Theatre in 1887. Click to Enlarge. The poster is from a large collection of original Lloyd / King Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family and found recently after being lost for 50 years. To see all these posters click the Poster Index here.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Formerly - The National Standard Theatre
From - The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald MAYES
In the High Street, Shoreditch, stands the Olympia, which is now devoted to the pictures and other entertainment. Nearly one hundred years ago the house was a popular East End home of the drama, known as the Royal Standard Theatre. It was opened shortly after the City Theatre, in 1835, and was for some years under the directorship of Johnson and Lee.
Right - The Olympia Shorditch.
In 1845 it was sold to John Douglass, who had been for some years a showman. Douglass had a genius for stage effect - the pantomimes of the Standard ran those of Drury Lane very close, and in order, not only to retain the patronage of the district, but also to attract other clientele from the West End, he carefully watched Harris's productions at Drury Lane. He said that the latter house habitually reproduced his own sensations.
This jealousy is mirrored in a letter from Mr. Douglass to The Era after a Drury Lane first night, in which he says that "seeing that a hansom cab is used in the new drama at Drury Lane, I beg to state that a hansom cab, drawn by a live horse was used in my drama . . . . produced at the Standard Theatre in ....... - and so on- "with real rain, a real flood, and a real balloon." We are told that Douglass rebuilt the theatre without the aid of an architect.
Left - Programme for 'High Explosives' at the Olympia Shoreditch 1917 - Click to see Entire Programme.
Under the regime of the Brothers Douglass at the Standard Theatre, there was produced a most popular and paying sketch, entitled "Humanity." It was so financially successful that the play came to be known as "The Money spinner."
Right - The National Standard Theatre with Henry Irving on the Bill. From the book 'London Theatres and Music Halls 1850 - 1950' by Diana Howard.
A particular feature of the Standard Theatre was that for many years it held an annual season of opera, usually by J. W. Turner's troupe, supported presumably by the large number of Jews in the neighbourhood.
The theatre was burnt down in 1867, and rebuilt on a much larger scale. It was re-opened as the New Standard the following year. It was asserted to be the largest theatre in London, and seated two thousand people. The pit was actually larger than that of Drury Lane.
A peculiarity of the house was that it had a convertible stage, which could be turned into a horse ring, and in order to render this more practicable, the boxes were removable.
Thirty or forty years ago all the best actors of the day appeared at various times at the New Standard, which rendered it unique amongst theatres.
In the old days it was nearly always filled with enthusiastic audiences, but on one occasion we are told that H. J. Byron, seeing the house half empty, asked Douglass where all his audience had gone. Douglass replied, "Gone West, to Covent Garden," somewhat glumly. " To pick pockets, I suppose," was Byron's reply.
Right - A poster for The National Standard Theatre with image of the auditorium in 1867. From courtesy PeoplePlay UK.
For many years the theatre was under the management of the Melvilles (father and sons) who produced many successful melodramas. Most of these plays were written by Walter Melville.
The theatre still has many strong attractions which draw patrons from all parts of the various suburbs.
From 'The Romance of London Theatres' By Ronald MAYES - From a Lewisham Hippodrome programme for 1st April 1929.
Above - Remains of the former National Standard Theatre in the mid 1950s after its demolition and a failed start to build a new super cinema was halted by the war - From 'A portfolio of photographs' by Colin Sorenson, 'Theatrephile' Vol22-No5 - Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute Reference Library.
Formerly - The Grecian Saloon
Above - The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch - Held in the Islington Public Library
The Grecian Theatre was originally built in City Road, Shoreditch in 1858 by Benjamin Conquest and was remodeled from an earlier 1841 building called the Grecian Saloon. (The well known Music Hall star Marie Lloyd was the daughter of John 'Brush' Wood an artificial flower maker and former waiter at the Grecian Saloon.)
The Grecian Theatre itself, with a capacity of some 4,000 people had several reconstructions, the last of which was in 1875. The 1875 Theatre was designed by J. T Robinson and constructed by John Garrud of Spitalfields with a more modest capacity of 1,850.
Above - The original Grecian Theatre as remodeled from the Grecian Saloon, in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898
The site of the Theatre is interesting as the building was not only a reconstruction of the Grecian Saloon, originally built by Thomas Rouse in 1841, but was also attached to a public house called the Eagle Tavern which was named in the, still well known, song 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. The Eagle Tavern was constructed next to the pleasure Gardens known as the Shepherd and Shepherdess Gardens which had been created in 1825 and were later renamed the Coronation Pleasure Grounds in 1838 and survived until 1846.
Arthur Lloyd is known to have
performed at Mr. Holland's benefit at the Grecian Theatre on December
the 4th 1862. He and his wife
also performed there on the 29th of April 1882
for the Benefit of Herbert Campbell whilst Fred Fernandez, brother of
James Fernandez, was working as the
Box Office Treasurer at the Theatre. It was during this time when a
false Fire call was yelled by some miscreant in the Pit
on the 27th of December 1881,
this resulted in a mass exodus of some 5,000 people in the audience.
As luck would have it no one was seriously hurt, however it was a tense
time for all those involved. Mr Clynds was the Theatre Manager at the
The Grecian Theatre and the rest of the site of the former gardens were eventually bought by General Booth in 1882 for demolition and construction of grounds and buildings for the Salvation Army. However, it turned out that the deeds stated that the Eagle Tavern itself could not be demolished so Booth was forced to have a Public House selling alcohol right next to his Salvation Army quarters.
Right - The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898.
The ERA printed a report on the sale of the land
in their 4th of June 1898 edition
saying: 'The Charity Commissioners have a scheme in respect of the "Bishopsgate
Foundation" charity for granting building leases of the Eagle Tavern,
the site of the Grecian Theatre, six alms houses, and the houses numbered
16-48 (even) in Shepherdess walk, Nos. 1-25 (odd), Nile-street, and
some other adjacent property, at annual rents amounting to £3,500,
the lessee agreeing to expend in building a sum to yield a rack rental
of £17,500 per annum. The Eagle Tavern stands on the site of the
Shepherd and Shepherdess tea-house and gardens, which was a popular
resort in the closing years of the last century. The adjoining theatre
was built by Thomas Rouse in 1841,
and was reconstructed and enlarged in 1858
by Benjamin Conquest. In 1875-7
a larger house was erected, the site of the dancing hall being included,
for his son, Conquest, by John Garrud, of Spitslfields, contractor,
from Mr. .G. T. Robinson's
plans and designs, with a stage, including the scene-dock, 60ft deep,
a gallery with 1,500 seats, and a total capacity for more than 4,000
persons. In May, 1882, the
lease of the tavern, the pleasure-grounds, and the theatre, expiring
in the course of the current year, and held at a rent of £365,
was offered for sale by auction, but withdrawn after a bid of £18,000,
the reserve price being £21,000.'
Above - A large coloured print from 1846 of Rochez 'the celebrated Clown & Bottle Equilibrist in some of his wonderful performances at Astley's Royal Ampitheatre & late of the Vauxhall Gardens and now of the Grecian Saloon' - Courtesy John Jones.
The Saloon Theatre - From the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition
'The “saloon theatres,” always being taverns or attached to taverns, created a public who liked to mix its dramatic amusements with smoking and light refreshments. The principal “saloons” were the Effingham in the Whitechapel Road, the Bower in the Lower Marsh, Lambeth, the Albert at Islington, the Britannia at Hoxton, the Grecian in the City Road, the Union in Shoreditch, the Stingo at Paddington and several others of less importance.
All these places had good companies, especially in the winter, and many of them nourished leading actors of exceptional merit. The dramas were chiefly rough adaptations from the contemporary French stage, occasionally flying as high as Alexandre Dumas the elder and Victor Hugo. Actors of real tragic power lived, worked and died in this confined area. Some went to America, and acquired fame and fortune; and among others, Frederick Robson, who was trained at the Grecian, first when it was the leading saloon theatre and afterwards when it became the leading music hall (a distinction with little difference), fought his way to the front after the abolition of the” patent rights “ and was accepted as the greatest tragi-comic actor of his time.
The Grecian saloon theatre, better known perhaps, with its pleasure garden or yard, as the Eagle Tavern, City Road, which formed the material of one of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz, was a place managed with much taste, enterprise and discretion by its proprietor, Mr Rouse. It was the "aloon" where the one and only attempt, with limited means, was ever made to import almost all the original repertory of the Opéra Comique in Paris, with the result that many musical works were presented to a sixpenny audience that had never been heard before nor since in England. Auber, Hérold, Adoiphe Adam, Boieldieu, Grétry, Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and a host of others gave some sort of advanced musical education, through the Grecian, to a rather depressing part of London, long before board schools were established.
The saloon theatres rarely offended the patent houses, and when they did the law was soon put in motion to show that Shakespeare could not be represented with impunity. The Union Saloon in Shoreditch, then under the direction of Mr Samuel Lane, who afterwards, with his wife, Mrs Sara Lane, at the Britannia Saloon, became the leading local theatrical manager of his day, was tempted in 1834 to give a performance of Othello. It was “raided “ by the then rather “new police,” and all the actors, servants, audience, directors and musicians were taken into custody and marched off to Worship Street police station, confined for the remainder of the night, and ~fined and warned in the morning. The same and only law still exists, for those who are helping to keep a “disorderly house,” but there are no holders of exclusive dramatic patent rights to set it in motion. The abolition of this privileged monopoly was effected about this time by a combination of distinguished literary men and dramatists, who were convinced, from observation and experience, that the patent theatres had failed to nurse the higher drama, while interfering with the beneficial freedom of public amusements.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition.
The Town Hall, Shoreditch was built in 1865 and was said on opening to be the grandest vestry hall in London. It has undergone many changes since then, especially in 1902 when it was subject to major expansion, and after restoration work in the mid 2000s the Town Hall reopened in 2004.
The poster right is for a Benefit for Arthur Lloyd with his wife Katty King at the Town Hall Shorditch in 1882, and is from a large collection of original Lloyd Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family and found recently after being lost for 50 years. Click to Enlarge and for more details. To see all these posters see the Poster Index here.
In 2012, after a concerted effort by a local community campaign to prevent the building being converted into flats by developers, the Shoreditch Town Hall is set to reopen as a new Arts Centre in July. Local people raised £1.6 million by staging various events and the new venue will be used to stage artistic and live performances.
You may like to visit the Town Hall's new website here.
Above - The Town Hall Shoreditch during renovation works M.L. 2004
Above - The Foundation Stone of the 1901 expansion to The Town Hall Shoreditch during renovation works M.L. 2004
Visit the Town Hall's Website here.
The Shoreditch Empire was built in 1856 and was later reconstructed by Frank Matcham in 1894 with a capacity of 2,332. It was known as the London Theatre of Varieties in 1895, and for a short while as the Griffin Music Hall and Public House until 1896 when it became The London Music Hall. The Theatre was demolished in 1935.
Left - A Typical Music Hall Gallery. The photograph was taken at the "London" Music Hall, Shoreditch; the audience, who, at the time, were enjoying a chorus song, were not warned of the fact. - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon. - Click to Enlarge.
See also in this vicinity:
Above - Programme for the London Music Hall with a young Charlie Chaplin on the Bill. Also appearing were Griffin and Dubois of which there are more details below - Programme Courtesy Catherine Kent, Great Grandaughter of William Griffin.
Catherine Kent, Great Grandaughter of William Griffin, writes:
William Griffin was a fascinating man - quite the dandy - he married a dancer from the East end of London called Elly or Ellen - very beautiful apparently.
They went all over the world but their home was in Syracuse NY State (it is still in situ!) and she used to visit and stay with family in Florida while he travelled performing.
They had one son also called William who they sent to boarding school over here and that is my grandfather (now deceased also).
He (called Dickie for some reason) was always doing acrobatic turns and lifting my father up as a baby and scaring everyone when he threw him about!
William Griffin was certainly known by Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin and was famous before they were. Charlie Chaplin even wrote to my great grandfather once asking if he could give him a job!
He called himself Griffin because his original name was Zimmerman - from Alsace Lorraine. The sensitivity was always there of the German sounding name so hence the change. He did have various partners from time to time - Dubois and Ardell - Dubois can be seen billed with Griffin in the programme above.
Cuttings from the Kent Messenger - Courtesy Catherine Kent who is looking for any information on William Griffin, if you think you can help please see leave her a message in the Forum.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.