Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre and Shows - Theatres - Gaiety Theatre

    This large, elegant, and central Theatre, has been erected on part of the Strand, part of Exeter Street, part of Catherine Street, and part of Wellington Street, and the site of the Strand Musick Hall - a building that has been entirely pulled down for the lobbies of the new house. The site possesses the very marked advantage of approach from the four main thoroughfares before named, and occupies a much larger area than any similar property situated on that great stream of through traffic - the Strand.
    A portion of the Strand frontage, lately known as that of the Strand Musick Hall, remains almost as formerly; a few modifications, however, have necessarily been made on the ground storey by the erection of the new entrance, which will form the approach to the principal tiers of the Theatre. The rooms over this entrance, and the new building extending along the Strand, forming the angle of Catherine Street will form the Restaurant' entirely distinct from the Theatre, but with a corridor of access from every tier of the Theatre.
    As mentioned above, the principal entrance is in the Strand, leading by a few steps to the level of the stalls, and by a spacious octangular staircase to the balcony or grand tier and the upper boxes. Another entrance, also on this level, is in Exeter Street, on the other side of the stalls, which, though designed specially as a private entrance for the Royal Family, is available as an exit-way in case of sudden panic, there being a stone staircase from the entrance to the highest floor of the Theatre, with communication on every level. There is also a corridor running under the back of the pit, solely for the use of the stalls' audience, thus giving access on both sides of the house, and obviating the unpleasantness of having to cross the audience when the performance has commenced.
    The entrances to pit and gallery are in Catherine Street, and the stage entrance is in Wellington Street.
    The plan of the auditory is quite new to London. It consists of a balcony, the front forming a semicircle, opening out by arms of a contrary flexure to the proscenium column; behind this is a tier of private boxes, with the restu of which the front of the upper boxes radiates; and a gallery above, the front of which form a complete circle. The columns supporting the various tiers are carried up to a sufficient height above the gallery, and from the cap spring a series of arches supporting an elaborate cornice and coved ceiling.
    The proscenium pillars are all of solid stone, enriched with carved capitals.
    There are five rows of arm-chairs in stalls; a commodious pit; three rows of arm-chair stalls in balcony; four rows of upper box seats, with considerable standing room; twenty-eight private boxes; and a spacious gallery. In all, the capacity of this house is above the average of the London Theatres, and will hold upwards of 2,000 persons.
    Every department or division of the audience has its own approach separate from the others; and all the tiers have enclosed corridors at back; one special feature of the arrangements being that there are staircases on both sides of the dress circle, upper boxes, and gallery, with external doors at the bottom of each, and all fireproof. In fact, the whole construction of the building is as nearly as possible fireproof, for not only are all staircases, passages, and corridors of stone or cement, and separated in every case by brick walls, but the several tiers - balcony, upper boxes, and gallery - have no wood in their construction, except the flooring boards; they are entirely built of an iron framework, embedded in and filled between with a solid mass of cement con- crete, much on the principle adopted at the Grand Opera and the New Vaudeville Theatre at Paris, which system was adopted there as being the most perfect that could be devised, as by diminishing the amount of inflammable material in a building the risk of its even taking fire is rendered almost impossible, while the prevention of a fire spreading is insured. With the exception of the two Theatres at Paris before mentioned, the Gaiety' will be the only Theatre in Europe so constructed.
    The ironwork necessary for this construction has been manufactured by Messrs. W. and T. Phillips of the Coal Exchange, at their works in Belgium, and constructed by them at the Theatre, in a very satisfactory manner.
    The very elaborate box-fronts, together with the arches and cornices, are executed in patent plaster on canvas, and manufactured and fixed by the patentees, Messrs. George Jackson and Sons, of Rathbone Place, from the architect's designs.
    The iron balcony-front was executed by Messrs. Hart, of Wych Street.
    The lighting of the auditory is by a powerful sunburner, which will act as an efficient ventilator, manufactured by Messrs. Strode and Co., who have also executed the float-lights. These are of peculiar as well as novel construction, and have only been used before in England at the Queen's Theatre and at Brighton, by the same architect. In the present instance, many modifications have been introduced. The float consists of a series of argand burners reversed, and burning downwards, the products of the combustion being taken away in a large iron cylinder running parallel with the front of the, stage, and carried up inside the brickwork behind the proscenium columns. One great advantage gained by this invention is, that the unpleasant vapour screen, which in the old manner was constantly rising between the audience and the scene, is entirely removed, and the performers can now approach the foot-lights without the risk of getting burnt, as a piece of gauze may be placed over the burner without ignition. By an ingenious contrivance, should any of the glasses break, that particular burner falls down and shuts off the gas. The coloured glasses, called mediums, are worked on levers in front of the lights, on the same principle as the switch-lights on railways.
    The stage has been constructed by Mr. G. R. Tasker, the Clerk of Works, and is a most elaborate piece of mechanism, admirably contrived and executed, fitted up with several novelties in the way of machinery. There is a depth of some twenty feet under the stage floor, for sinking large scenes, and a height above of fifty feet. All the departments of the stage are very complete. There are green-rooms, managers' rooms, and more than twenty other rooms, for the numerous requirements of a large dramatic company, with wardrobes, propertyrooms, carpenters' shops, etc.
    The whole of the coloured decoration of the auditory and the lobbies has been executed by Mr. George Gordon, late of the Bristol and Bath Theatres. It partakes somewhat of the early Romanesque character, thus carrying out the architecture of the house with some of the most beautiful- and varied of the Greek forms of ornament introduced. The same gentleman has also painted the act drop, which, unlike that at most Theatres, is intended not as a scene or a picture, but as a part of the decoration of the Theatre. The design is extremely chaste and elegant; and the small vignette in the centre, representing a villa on one of the Italian lakes, is broadly, and at the same time delicately painted.
    Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the decoration is the frieze over the proscenium, designed and painted by Mr. H. S. Marks - 30 feet long by 4 feet 6 inches deep. It represents a king and queen of mediaeval times, with surrounding courtiers, watching a masque whicji is being performed before them. On either side this frieze, over the proscenium boxes, are lunettes in the arches - the one on the left represents lyric, and the other epic poetry - designed by the same artist. It is satisfactory to find that these pictures, which are really fine works of art, have been painted by Mr. Marks in no narrow spirit as easel pictures, but as forming a part of, and in a measure subservient to, the general scheme of decoration.
    The arm-chairs in stalls and balcony are those designed by the architect, and manufactured by Wadman Brothers, Bath. The chairs for private boxes were made by Mr. Church, of Bath. The curtains have been supplied by Messrs. Hampton, of Pall Mall, and the carpets by Messrs. Tyler, of Long Acre.
    The general builder's work has been done by Mr. Simpson; and the gas work (except as mentioned above) by Messrs. J. Jones and Son, of Bow Street.

The Era, 13 December, 1868

[ ... back to main menu for this book]

Gaiety Theatre, Strand, near Wellington-street. A good-sized house, handsomely decorated, and conducted upon unusually liberal principles. No fees are allowed in any part of the establishment; programmes being supplied gratis. In a little recess on the right-hand side of the box-corridor will be found the evening papers, and some comfortable divans whereon to lounge and read them during the intervals of the performance. Like the Criterion, this theatre was originally built in connection with a restaurant; the intention being to allow any one who wished an evenings amusement to get comfortably from his dinner to his stall without the trouble of donning great coat and hat, or the risk of getting wet or muddy. The doors of communication, however, were closed by order of the Lord Chamberlain, and the theatre and the restaurant are now two separate establishments. As at the Criterion, however, a sort of compromise has been effected, and a door just inside the theatre entrance gives admission to the restaurant without actually turning out into the rain. The specialty of the Gaiety has varied from time to time. At present it may be said to be comedy and burlesque. The entrance is lighted by the Lontin electric light. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Routes, St. Martins-lane, Strand, Chancery-lane, and Waterloo-bridge. 

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

Upon the north side of the Strand is the Gaiety Theatre and Restaurant, built on the site of old Exeter Change,  in 1868, by Mr. C.J.Phipps, for Mr. J. Hollingshead. The performances consist of comedy, farce, operetta, burlesque and extravaganza. The chief entrance is in the Strand, but there is a side approach in Catherine Street.

Herbert Fry, London, 1889


Anon., The Premier Photographic View Album of London, 1907

see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here