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The City Theatre, Glasgow Green, Glasgow

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A Playbill for 'Othello' and 'Beggar's Opera' at the City Theatre, Glasgow in 1845 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Built on Glasgow Green opposite the jail at the foot of Saltmarket the City Theatre was a substantial theatre despite having taken only 10 weeks to build. Designed by William Spence its lengthy portico had enrichments done in white cement called “intonico”. The interior was richly plastered and stone stairs led to the upper parts. In total its stalls, boxes and gallery could hold about 3000 - “The Entrance to the Stalls is by the Grand Promenade to the Green.”

Right - A Playbill for 'Othello' and 'Beggar's Opera' at the City Theatre, Glasgow in 1845 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Glasgow Herald commented - “the front, which so long seemed a dull heavy wall of brick is now presenting a lightsome appearance with its Ionic pillars, and handsome clock, in the surmounting entablature. The curtain and act drop are beautiful specimens of scenic painting. Truly splendid within, embracing every ornamental detail, and auxiliary to comfort, on a magnificent scale.”

In his book, 'The Glasgow Stage', published at the close of the 19th century Walter Baynham wrote:- “John Henry Anderson, the Aberdeen-shire born Wizard of the North, built a splendid theatre on the Green. It opened on 7th May 1845 with an operatic company led by Sims Reeves, one of the country's top tenors (and who had sung with the newly formed Glasgow Choral Union.) Anderson proved a thorn in the flesh to both his rivals Miller of the Theatre Royal Adelphi and Alexander at the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street. It was opened for the display of magic, dancing etc during the Fair, after which season he applied for a dramatic licence which was at first refused but subsequently granted.”

The spacious theatre attracted some of the best stars. He had his own stock company of artistes from Britain, including himself of course, and from America. In addition to his illusionary roles he enjoyed playing the lead in 'Rob Roy'. Thousands attended his theatre, while others objected to such a large building being on the Green.

After the evening performances of the operas 'Der Freischutz' and 'The Jewess' terminated at half past eleven on 18th November 1845 fire broke out backstage, thought by some to have started from the sparks from fireworks used in 'Der Freischutz', destroying the building and all its scenery, wardrobe, machinery, properties, music, musical instruments, and tools. Mr Miller of the Adelphi Theatre gave a concert benefit a few nights later for the 100 who were thrown out of work.

There is a superb colour painting of the exterior of the City Theatre in ruins by William Crimea Simpson here.

The Wizard of the North continued his magical entertainments in Britain (including leasing Covent Garden Theatre in the mid 1850s), Australia and America into the 1870s.

This page on the City Theatre, Glasgow was kindly contributed by Graeme Smith, from research for his new book on Glasgow's Alhambra Theatre, a sequel to his book 'The Theatre Royal : Entertaining a Nation.'

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