Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre and Shows - Theatres - New Royal Amphitheatre 

    It must be a matter of considerable surprise to many persons that the equestrian interest should have, to all appearance, died out in the world of public amusement. London once had its regular equestrian theatre (Astley's), which was one of the most prosperous under the Lord Chamberlain's control; and it is with pleasure we announce to our readers that a most spirited attempt will shortly be made to revive the glories of the peaceful sawdust ring. On the site of the Holborn Horse Bazaar is now rapidly progressing towards completion an Amphitheatre which will vie with any building in London in the beauty and elegance of its decorations, and its admirable arrangements for the safety and comfort of the public. The Royal Amphitheatre, under the Management of Mr. Thomas M'Collum, a gentleman of great practical experience and excellent judgment in such matters, will soon be thrown open to the public on the evening of the 18th inst., when the Directors may feel sure of seeing their commodious Theatre filled from ground floor to roof. We now proceed to give our readers some particulars of the building and its exceedingly satisfactory arrangement. The plan of Mr. Thomas Smith, the architect, of Bloomsbury Square, is remarkably ingenious in detail, and in the employment of the space at command he has most carefully studied the interests of the Proprietors, the performers, and the public. The building has three entrances. The Grand' is wide and roomy, and arches are to support the ceiling. Decorations in the Pompeian style are to be used here, and an extremely handsome stone staircase (carved balustrades) leads to the boxes.
    The corridor at the back is entered through an aperture, which can be closed with steel shutters, C and the Amphitheatre will contain twenty-four private boxes. A balcony follows the circle in front of the boxes, and in it will be placed [?] damask-covered spring seats (numbered and reserved). The pit, which is entered from the west side, is intended to accommodate 500 persons, and here again stuffed seats will be supplied. The gallery, access to which will be made from the east, is arranged to seat 550 persons. The front row will be cushioned and reserved, and, like those lower in the building, will turn back. The curve of the Amphitheatre is extremely imposing, and the ceiling will be constructed of stretched and illuminated canvas, with a large centre flower radiating from the sunlight. The mouldings are by Jackson, of Rathbone Place, and the decorations by Green and King, of Baker Street. To mention these well-known names is at once to suggest that a cultivated and correct taste will regulate the embellishments of the Amphitheatre. All the entrances are fireproof, and all the staircases of stone; and especial care has been taken to provide facilities for clearing the building in a few minutes, should that necessity ever arise. Ventilation is promoted by an immense air-shaft, which runs through the entire structure, and the lighting has been en- trusted to the well-known firm of Defries and Sons.  A crystal sunlight, nine feet in diameter, and containing nine hundred and sixty burners, will illuminate the whole of the auditorium. The supply of water will be copious, hydrants being fixed on every floor. Refreshments will be procurable in the theatre. The Box-office and Saloons will be under the supervision of Mr. Nugent, who is decidedly the right man in the right place. At the back of the Pit will be C found an enclosed Promenade fifteen feet in width. Iron doors and steel shutters are the rule throughout the establishment. There are two separate sets of stables, and sixteen dressing-rooms, replete with comfort, for the use of the double company of equestrians and dramatic artists.

The Era, 5th May, 1867

    We may, however, venture a little more into the statistics, for the sake of supplying such of our readers as are curious in those matters with a record for future reference. The entire span of the Theatre, which has a very elegant appearance, is seventy-six feet in the clear - the whole length being 130 feet. From box to box the width is sixty feet, and the length from proscenium to box is sixty-eight feet. In the centre of the house, and facing the stage, is the Royal box, with an ante-chamber immediately behind. The dress circle is arranged at the side, where the private boxes are usually placed, and the - private boxes (twenty-six in number) are in the front of the house. In front of these boxes is a row of stalls, calculated to hold two hundred occupants, with folding seats, so as to gain additional space of one foot six inches. The pit is divided into 550 seats, all numbered, with standing room for about 200 persons more. The amphitheatre stalls amount to 700, with 500 ordinary sittings, so that, when full, about 2,000 spectators can be accommodated. The arena is 120 feet in circumference. A drop curtain, effectively painted by Mr. Julian Hicks, and of a classical design, tastefully sets off the proscenium and the stage, though not very deep, is commodious enough for the light dramatic entertainments which are to be given in conjunction with equestrianism Let us add that the builder intrusted with the carrying out of Messrs. Smith and Son's architectural designs is Mr. Thomas Ennor, of Hardinge Street Commercial road; that the seating is by Mr. Henry Chandler, of Horse-Shoe Court, Clement's Inn; the stage machinery, by Mr. Burkett, of the City of London Theatre; and the costumes, by Mr. May, of the well-known establishment in Bow Street.
    The Amphitheatre thus efficiently prepared for the reception of the public was last night filled by a fashionable audience, whose satisfaction with the arrangements made for their reception was expressed in the most unreserved manner. The performances were likewise of a character which indicated the intention of the management to take high ground in this form of amusement, and the equestrian company collected must certainly be regarded as the best for many a year seen in the Metropolis. Continental travellers well know the attractions in this way offered at the Cirque de l'Impératrice of the Champs Elysees, Paris; and there, as well as at Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburgh, Moscow, and Constantinople, several of the equestrian, acrobatic and grotesque artistes who last night made their debut in the New Holborn Amphitheatre have already gathered several of the greenest laurels in their respective wreaths of fame. The seats were all filled at eight o'clock, when the performance commenced, and the occupants, as they rose in recognition of the usual loyal compliment of the National Anthem, which had the double signification on this night of inaugurating the new season of a new Theatre, and celebrating the anniversary of her Majesty's birthday, obtained a yet more commanding view of the building. The survey from every portion of the house was most satisfactory, and the early experience gained in this way of the facilities afforded the visitors for moving from their places without inconveniencing their neighbours elicited remarks which might have been listened to with profit by the Managers of some of the older Theatres of the Metropolis. The band, which is a very good one, under the direction of Mr. Clemments, then played the overture to tampa, and from that time the scenes in the circle were continued for three hours with only an interval of ten minutes between the two parts. The amusement of the audience was ensured by some quaint quips supplied by Charlie Keith, who, besides being distinguished through his extended professional career in all countries as the 'Roving English Clown', enjoys the special distinction of being 'Clown to the Prince Imperial of France'. His entrée comique and a clever performance with two chairs gained for him peals of acclamation, whilst a leap through a paper hoop, in the course of which he became mysteriously possessed of a long night-gown, displayed equal ingenuity and dexterity. His continental travelling was illustrated copiously by a free use of foreign phrases. The gymnasts, John, Joseph, and Henri Delevanti, with other members of the 'family', exhibited some extraordinary somersault throwing, and the juggling act on horseback of Joseph Delevanti, with which the programme commenced, was executed with singular neatness and quickness. Balls, cups and balls, and daggers are thrown and caught with marvellous precision. Mr. Charles Abbott, the whimsical grotesque, is remarkable for a great deal of fun, in words as well as action, and his hand-springs and somersaults are very cleverly performed. The feat of throwing somersaults round the circus through a succession of hoops especially excited the admiration of the spectators. Mr. Thomas Fillis, the Jester, who is enriched with the reputation of being 'world-renowned', is of the class known as the 'Shakespearian Clown'. A speech, in which he introduced with tact and taste the names of the various newspapers and periodicals, was very heartily applauded, and his orations generally were full of humour. Madame Rose Gerard Goudschmidt, who is the premiere equestrienne of the Cirque Napoleon, performed gracefully a 'trick act' in the first part, which included some astonishing flights over flags and through paper balloons, about twenty of which were dashed through without a single misadventure. Another agile equestrienne is Madame Anne Bradbury (née Montero), from the Cirque du Prince Imperial, who with her husband executed on horseback a pas de deux, in which some surprising combinations were formed with equal facility and elegance. Mdlle. Virginie Lambert, also of the Cirque Imperial, a graceful rider in the style characteristic of the haute école, commenced the second part with a pleasing illustration of the various movements to which she had trained her docile steed. The lady, as with the rest we have named, had to reappear, to respond to the plaudits of the delighted spectators. From the Oriental Cirque, Constantinople, comes Mdlle. Juliette Latunia, whose 'trick acts' are, with those of Mdlle. Rochez, reserved for another occasion to minister to the entertainment of the patrons of the New Amphitheatre, but they claim mention as members of the company. Mr. Alfred Bradbury, an equestrian of great skill and daring, afterwards performed a wonderful 'jockey act', which is announced as being seen for the first time in England. The performer leaps on his horse careering at full speed, and maintains his footing at an acute angle. The achievement provoked enthusiastic plaudits from every part of the house. Mons. Gerard Goudschmidt, of the Cirque Napoleon, takes a very extraordinary 'tunnel flight', through a series of connected hoops, eight-feet long, passing through them with a somersault and alighting on the back of his horse whilst galloping round the circle. This is another of the peculiar feats which will render these performances talked of for their daring and dexterity. The eccentricity called 'Les Nains', by Messrs. J. Delevanti and F. Felix, who go through a 'Lord Dundreary' kind of entertainment, with two admirably executed masks for their respective figures, excited roars of laughter. Mr. J. Powel and his four children are members of the company, and on another occasion will vary the already excellent programme provided. The Brothers Daniel, 'the well-known musical Clowns', proved most efficient supporters of the entertainment, and their violin performances in the most difficult of positions, their imitations of Christy's minstrels, and their simulated 'voluntary' on a church organ, with only their fiddles to produce the deep sounds, excited general admiration. They were thrice recalled to give fresh proofs of their talents. The 'fire' horse, Zamor, was introduced by Mr. James Fillis, professor of the haute école, and exhibited the effects of the patient training he had received by mounting a lofty pedestal on the stage, and coolly obeying the word of command amidst the distracting influences of a blaze of fireworks. This impressive tableau terminated the first part, and the applause given to this extraordinary evidence of perfect control over the animal was equally emphatic and deserved. A promising feature of the entertainment is the 'Lightning Zouave Drill' of Captain Austin, a distinguished American officer, who has never before appeared in England. The rapidity with which he went through a series of military evolutions with his rifle, both with and without the bayonet, testified to the vast amount of practice which had rendered the weapon so easy to his hand. The feat he accomplishes is not to be described in any terms which could convey an idea of Captain Austin's marvellous dexterity, but the plaudits he gained were proofs how thoroughly it surprised and delighted the spectators. Mr. C. Bradbury's changeable act of 'The Three Nations', England, Ireland and Scotland, when he appears at last as a young Highlander, must not be forgotten as among the principal attractions of the programme. A new farce, called Grim Griffin Hotel; or, The Best Room in the House, the joint production of Professor Pepper and Mr. John Oxenford, wound up the evening, and brought the new stage into requisition. Mr. Richard J. Sheridan is a traveller, named Jeremiah Mum, who has to encounter the adventures in the Best Room', prepared for him by the landlord, Bustler (Mr. Henry Lynn), and who is waited upon by Seraphine, the landlord's daughter (Miss Jeannette Macgregor); Pertzer, the chambermaid (Miss Sallie Turner), who sings 'The Bailiff's Daughter of lslington'; and Handzur, the boots (Mr. James Francis). The scene represents the Bedroom of a Country Inn, with a huge four-poster occupying the centre of the stage, from which a gorilla, and a succession of different personages, emerge after a fashion well known to those who have seen any of the various adaptations of the Polytechnic Cabinet of Proteus. It was eleven o'clock when the farce cornmenced, and it is so evidently only intended to be a vehicle for optical effects, that it would be impertinent to criticise it from a literary point of view. Theu dramatic portion of the programme will, doubtless, receive fuller development in time. The whole of the equestrian entertainments afforded the highest satisfaction to the spectators, who liberally distributed their applause among the performers appeaning in the arena, and there can be no doubt a very attractive place of amusement is added in the 'New Amphitheatre' to those already existing in the Metropolis.

The Era, 26th May, 1867

Grand Cirque, Holborn - Lessee Mr. C. Weldon. Daily at Two and Seven. Unequivocal success of this Mammoth Combination. The whole of the Metropolitan Journals describe the Entertainment as one of the most Delightful in London. The Baby Horsebreaker an astonishing success. Mdlles. Azella and Rosita still applauded to the echo in their Marvellous Mid-Air Flights. The most wonderful Equestrian, Gymnastic and Acrobatic Feats; highly trained Horses, Ponies, &c. Performances twice daily - in the Afternoon at 2.30, in the evening at 7.30. Open at Two and Seven. The splendid Gallery 6d.; Promenade 1s.; Pit Stalls 2s.; Boxes 3s.; Balcony Stalls 4s.; Private Boxes from 1 1s. children half price to all parts except Gallery. Box Office open at 10am. No fees or other charges.

advertisement from the Illustrated London News, January 1873



Later names and incarnations of the venue were as the Holborn Amphitheatre, the National Theatre in 1873, The Royal Amphitheatre and National Theatre of Novelties, also in 1873, Newsome's Circus in 1874, the Grand Central Skating Rink in 1876-7, Hamilton's Royal Amphitheatre in 1878-9, Royal Connaught Theatre in 1879, the Alcazar in 1882, the Holborn Theatre in 1884 . It closed finally in 1886 and became the Holborn Central Hall. [see Lost Theatres of London by Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson for more information] 

[also, I think, the Grand Cirque, ed.]