Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre and Shows - Theatres and Venues - Drury Lane Theatre

Drury Lane Theatre ... open from the middle of September to the latter end of May. Admission to the boxes, 5s.; pit 3s.; lower gallery, 1s. 6d.; upper gallery 1s.

Drury-Lane Theatre had its origin in a cockpit, which was converted into a theatre in the reign of James I., in whose reign it fell a sacrifice, from some unknown cause, to the fury of a mob; it was subsequently rebuilt, and called both the Cockpit, and the Phoenix Theatre, that fabulous bird having been adopted as the emblem of its re-edification. After the Restoration, a patent for stage performances was granted to Killegrew; who, in 1662, erected a more convenient theatre. The actors of that theatre, who formed part of the royal establishment, were then denominated the King's servants, an appellation that still appertains to the Drury-Lane company. In January, 1671, Killegrew's theatre was destroyed by fire, but was soon after rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. This fabric, a neat and pleasing edifice, underwent many alterations prior to the year 1793, when a vast, splendid, and magnificent theatre was erected in its place, from designs by the late Henry Holland, Esq., sufficiently capacious for 3,600 spectators. The pecuniary embarrassments of the proprietors, however, prevented its completion; and its exterior, consequently, presented a rude and ruinous appearance; and on the night of the 24th of February, 1809, a tremendous conflagration destroyed the entire building in the course of five hours. At the time of the fire, the whole concern was in a state of great embarrassment; through the great exertions, however, of the late Mr. Whitbread, a composition was effected with the creditors, and the theatre was rebuilt in the years 1811 and 1812, at an expense of 150,000l, including scenery, wardrobe, lustres, &c. This theatre was erected from designs by, and under the superintendence of, B. Wyatt, Esq.; the exterior has a heavy, though substantial, aspect. The front is of the Doric order; and the portico, surmounted by a statue of Shakspeare, was erected in 1820. An Ionic colonnade was added a few years since. The grand entrance leads through a spacious hall, supported by five Doric columns, to a rotunda, adorned with three statues; one of Shakspeare, another of Garrick, and a third of Edmund Kean, the great histrionic illustrator of the immortal bard; from hence a staircase of great elegance conducts to the boxes. The interior of the house was entirely reconstructed in 1822, under the direction of Mr. Samuel Beazley, at an expense, to the late Mr. Elliston, of 20,000l. It presents about three-quarters of a circle from the stage, and has a splendid and elegant appearance. It is principally illumined by a gas chandelier, suspended over the centre of the pit. The stage, at the opening of the curtain, is 43 feet in width, and 38 in height. The diameter of the pit is 53 feet, and the height of the house, from the pit floor to the ceiling, is 50 feet 6 inches. There are three tiers of boxes. In the space on each side of the lower gallery, above the third tier, are the slips; and on a level with the pit are eight private boxes. It is estimated that the house will accommodate about 2,500 persons with seats. The grand saloon is an elegant room, about 86 feet in length.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

DRURY LANE THEATRE, BRIDGES STREET, COVENT GARDEN. The first theatre on the site of the present edifice was opened on the 8th of April 1663 ... A new house, the third (very beautiful, but too large either for sight or hearing), was built by Henry Holland, opened March 12th, 1794, and destroyed by fire on the night of Feb.24th, 1809, when the present edifice, the fourth, was erected, and opened Oct. 10th, 1812, with a prologue by Lord Byron.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

As Drury Lane  is a first class building, so are the actors of the very best class of performers. The drama is here displayed in all of its perfection and legitimacy. In the admission, the prices coincide with those of the American theatres; but there is one portion of the interior system, that is entirely John Bull. The box-passage guide for walking with you to the box-keeper, humbly beseeches you for sixpence. The box- keeper for opening the door, requests sixpence. The "bill-boy," thrusts a programme at you and demands sixpence. If you accompany a lady, she is obliged to leave her bonnet in charge of a woman engaged for that purpose; said woman "according to the laws of the house, is entitled to one shilling. Should you decide on ice- cream between the plays, you receive a mixture of so "questionable a shape," that you find it very difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion as to whether it is inodorous bear's grease, or a mixture of lard, water, and bruised strawberries. One excellent apology may be made, however- for the miserable compound :-the people of London do not know what good cream or milk is. It is said that "figures will not lie ;" from actual calculation there is more milk consumed in London in one day, than all the cows in England and Wales can give in three. Where does it come from?
    Another part of the interior arrangement, particularly annoying, is the number of old women and boys allowed to roam at will through the building, selling "lemon y'ade, "gin - gcr be'y'eer, "bottle st-y'out, and yelling it with a peculiar nasal twang.

W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859

Class of Performances: At Christmas the performances usually are, melodrama, farce and pantomime; in the summer, opera and farce, burlesque, tragedies, comedies, concerts, a circus, athletic exhibitions, promenade concerts, and bal masqués.
Price of Admission: Private boxes, from 10s. 6d. to 3l. 3s.; stalls, 6s. ; dress circle, 5s.; front circle, 3s. ; upper boxes, 2s.; pit, 2s.; galleries, 1s. and 6d. Doors open at half-past six; curtain rises at seven p.m

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

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Drury Lane Theatre, Catherine-street, Strand. — The oldest, as it is also the largest and handsomest, of the theatres proper of London. It is the only house about which any historical flavour now lingers, and its stage has been trodden by Elliston, Dowton, Bannister, Wallack, Mrs. Glover, the Kembles, the Keans, Grimaldi, Braham Young, Mrs. Nisbett, Storace, Oxberry, Irish Johnstone, Farren, Harley, Keeley, Mdme Vestris, Helen Faucit, Ellen Tree, Macready, and many others. In the green-room, the windows of which look out on Vinegar-yard, are busts of Siddons, Kemble. and Kean, and here on Twelfth Night is rather a curious ceremony, when a cake provided by bequest of Baddeley the actor, is cut up and eaten by the company. In the hall are several other busts and statues. The modern taste for flimsy pieces, and the enormous runs to which the public are accustomed at the smaller houses, renders a theatre on the scale of Drury Lane a rather hazardous speculation nowadays, People forget that a three weeks’ “run” at Drury Lane is equivalent to a hundred nights at many theatres, and as at least nine people out of ten go to see a piece simply because it is a success, the big building is apt to be left out in the cold. At the same time there is no stage in London where a play depending in any degree upon broad and massive effects can be presented to anything like the advantage which maybe given it at Drury Lane. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Route, Strand; Cab Rank, Opposite.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Drury Lane Theatre Royal

Drury Lane Theatre Royal - photograph


It is impossible within a few lines to give an idea of the interesting associations of Drury Lane Theatre, which extends from Catherine Street to Drury Lane, and is bounded on one side by Russell Street. We must content ourselves with saying that its stage has been trodden by Garrick, Kean (of whom there is a statue in the vestibule), the Kembles, Macready, Mrs. Siddons, and Madame Vestris-indeed, by nearly all the chief stars of the legitimate drama. The Theatre was founded in 1663, and has more than once suffered from fire. The present structure, of which we show the front, abutting on Catherine Street, was built, in 1811-12, by Wyatt. Its enormous size enables modern melodramas to be very elaborately staged; and Sir Augustus Harris, the lessee, is famous also for his Christmas pantomimes.