The Prince's Theatre Royal, 100 West Nile Street, Glasgow
Later - Hengler's Circus
The Prince's Theatre Royal, in West Nile Street, Glasgow was built by James Wylson Architect, and was a conversion from a former building, also designed by him two years earlier, for the display of Dioramas. The newly converted Theatre opened on the 15th of January 1849 with the opera "Giselle, or the Night Dancers," and the vaudeville of the "Imperial Guard," and could seat 1,400 in comfort.
Right - A Bill for 'The Imperial Guard' at The Prince's Theatre, Glasgow with some of the same cast as mentioned below. The date on this Bill is is hand written as June 1853 - Courtesy The University of Glasgow, Special Collections Department.
"On the following morning I started for Glasgow to superintend the completion of the Prince's Theatre, of which I was to be acting manager. Amongst the company engaged for the opening season were the two well-known names of Sam Cowell and Tom Powrie; we had the afterwards famous artist Sam Bough as our chief scene-painter, and Mr Howard Glover as musical director, and we opened on 15th January, 1849, with an opera, and the farce of "The Imperial Guard" - the latter thus cast: - Ronslaus (a soldier), Mr Edmund Glover; Carlitz (the village post), Mr Lloyd; Christine (an inn-keeper) Miss Fielding."
In 1863 Charles Hengler took a lease on the Theatre which had by then become derelict, and reopened it as Hengler's Circus. Following the success of this venture Hengler set about enlarging the building in 1867, and then completely rebuilding it in 1877.
For an image of the site of the Prince's Theatre, West Nile Street in 1995 click here.
The Prince's Theatre Royal as operated by Edmund Glover
The ageing W. H. Murray of Edinburgh Theatre Royal sent actor Edmund Glover to London to settle terms for the Swedish singing star Jenny Lind to tour Scotland; which he did, but for himself, not Murray.
Above - A Jenny Lind Jug potted by J & MP Bell`s famed Glasgow Pottery, to commemorate her tour of Scotland in 1848 - Courtesy Douglas Leishman.
She performed in The Daughter of the Regiment at the Theatre Royal Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth in the autumn of 1848. Seat prices were as high as 31 shillings, ten times the normal for best seats, Afternoon performances were slightly cheaper. In the two nights in Glasgow she sang Donizetti`s 'La Figlia de Regimento', and Bellini`s 'La Sonnambula'. Clearing a record £3,000 he started his own theatre with the additional encouragement of a dedicated patron of the arts James Lumsden, stationer and publisher whose warehouse was in Dunlop Street. A drawing of James Lumsden and biographical notes can be seen here.
Right - A Prince's Theatre playbill for the 10th of March 1863, also advertising Benefits for Horatio Lloyd and Edmund Glover - From The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, by Graeme Smith, published in 2008 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.
Lumsden was a founder of the Royal Infirmary and Clydesdale Bank, and had become Lord Provost. He was also chairman of the forerunner of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. Both Lumsden and architect Wylson were on a committee of industrialists to ensure Glasgow was well represented at the Great Exhibition 1851.
Glover leased from him a large hall erected in 1847 for the exhibition of dioramic pictures by the brothers Daguerre at 100 West Nile Street which the building`s architect James Wylson redesigned as The Prince`s Opera House known better as the Prince's Theatre-Royal. It accommodated about 1,100 people and had a wing attached containing the Green Room, property room, wardrobe and dressing rooms. The interior decorations included festoons of fruit and flowers, medallions, and panels containing groups of children. These were in white, picked out in gold, with pale blue backgrounds in the panels, and the fronts of the tiers rose-colour. The Glasgow Herald remarked:- The boxes are elevated so as to command a fine view of the stage and will contain about 200, the pit about 550, and the gallery about 300. In addition there are a few boxes fitted up in a very beautiful manner. The entrance to the boxes and pit is by a corridor 9 feet wide from Nile Street; and the gallery will enter by a wide stair from Buchanan Street. The lobbies are so arranged to allow the pit to dismiss by the Buchanan Street entrance. The decorations are in the most chaste style of art. The usual gaudy decoration of a theatre has here given place to that of a light and elegant drawing-room.
The theatre`s stock artistes comprised about 20 in the Ballet Company and a similar number in the Dramatic Company. Glover opened on 15 January 1849 with the opera Giselle, followed by a vaudeville of the Imperial Guard, and a ballet company. Its playbills advertised during the Summer Season Bonnets may be worn in the Dress Circle. The first pantomime, in December 1849, was 'Old Mother Shipton and Her Cat', in which will be introduced BOUGH`S GRAND MOVING PANORAMA, REPRESENTING THE QUEEN`S VISIT TO GLASGOW.
The North British Daily Mail, Glasgow`s first daily paper, stated:- we know of no theatre which ladies can visit with such comfort, propriety and freedom from annoyances as the Prince`s, Glasgow.
James Wylson wrote papers and books on architectural matters including in 1848 Remarks on workmen's houses in town districts with plans, elevation, details, and descriptions of the Lumsden model dwellings for the working classes, now erecting in Glasgow at New City Road. He also wrote The Mechanical Inventor`s Guide in 1859, and major contributions to the Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary. His son Oswald Wylson became a theatre architect in England.
The building was on the east side of West Nile Street at West Regent Street. It was advertised as being at West Nile Street & Buchanan Street. The Glover family home at the rear had windows facing Buchanan Street, on a lane which gave public access to the theatre. Later the family moved to West Regent Street and then to Great Clyde Street. It was also the first theatre outside London to have seated stalls separate from the pit. Sam Bough was chief scene painter and Edmund`s half brother Howard Glover was the musical director. Three years later, in 1852 Edmund Glover took over the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street and ran both in conjunction. Designers and scenic painters were very artistic and could also be pragmatic. Glover noted in his diary on Saturday 27th December 1856 of his conversation the other day with Bough:-
...showing me over the flies when he said I was well insured it would be a good job if the place burned down. My reply was 'Don't talk so, Mr. Bough, God forbid I should ever see that day'. I am led to remark this from previous observations made by Mr. Bough. Morning performance £45. At night £54.3 - narrow escape of the theatre being burnt to the ground. Saved by me and the blessings of God - strong suspicion of a certain party. Gas rod turned in batten. NB. See and have hose ready.
After Glover`s death in 1860 Mrs Edmund Glover continued in charge of both theatres. The Prince`s remained in operation until 1863, when it was converted to become Hengler`s Circus which was highly regarded for its equestrian acts set to music, including explorations, warfare, and dances of the day, high-wire artistes, acrobats, and clowns; water spectaculars including pantomimes, and skating shows the circus often had minstrel choruses, and shooting competitions.
Left - A Baillie Cartoon of Hengler`s Circus with Alfred Powell resident manager in Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.
The Hengler family came from Germany and were well established in the circus business by the 1840s. Charles Hengler first came to Scotland in 1861 to Glasgow Green, and back again the next year. In June 1863 he took the lease of the Prince`s Theatre and remained there each winter season of about 6 months until his move twenty years later to Wellington Street Cirque designed by Frank Matcham across Waterloo Street from the site that would become the Alhambra Theatre.)
There are 263 playbills of the Prince`s Theatre archived and available for research in Glasgow University Library`s Scottish Theatre Archive.
The above article on the Prince's Theatre Royal under Edmund Glover was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion in January 2015.
Below is a description of the building of the Prince's Theatre and its predecessor by the architect James Wylson which includes details of their construction, fixtures and fittings, lighting, sight-lines, and acoustics, along with comments about Theatre construction in the mid 1800s in general.
The Builder February 17th 1849
The new "Prince's Theatre Royal," Glasgow.
In case they may happen to contain some points of practical interest to readers of The Builder, I have thrown together the few following particulars of the construction of this theatre; and which may, perhaps, serve to elicit furthur information on the general subject from those who have had occasion to direct their attention to it.
The premises which have just been converted, were erected, under my direction, about two years ago, for the exhibition of certain dioramic pictures by the brothers Daguerre. In planning the original structure, I recommended to the proprietor, in regard to its stability and permanency, that instead of limiting it to the probable existence of the diorama exhibition, it should be made capable of being finished interiorly in an architectural manner, and adapted to the purposes of a public hall, in which I considered the locality stood in need.
Accordingly, the mode of construction adopted consisted as follows: - Two-feet coursed-rubble stone walls were erected to the height to receive the floor, which is 13 feet above the ground line, leaving the entire area underneath clear, excepting the posts and pillars carrying the floor beams, and to be appropriated to another purpose. Upon these walls was set a massive framing timber, consisting of a cill plate, 12 inches by 9 inches; angle and intermediate posts averaging about 12 feet apart, and measuring 12 inches by 12 inches; and a head plate 12 inches by 6 inches, the posts being tenoned at the top and bottom into the plates, and braced up with struts 9 inches by 6 inches where they occurred over openings in the stone walls beneath, in each cases the cill was sustained by the post above with a strong bolt, in the same manner as the tie-beam of a roof.
The spaces in the framing were filled in with 9-inch brickwork, the connection of which with the posts was insured by the insertion, midway in its thickness, of tongues of wrought iron, about 10 inches by 5 inches, and 3/8ths inch thick, having a long spike at one end for driving into the posts, into which they were inserted at short intervals, of course edgeways. The roof, in order to its being of lightness suited to the walls, I formed something like the deck of a great ship, namely, a platform, with an external camber of trussed timber beams spanning the width of the building, placed coincident with the posts in the side walls, and carrying joists 9 by 2, about 4 feet from the centre, these in their turn carrying inch floor boarding, the joints grooved and tounged in the lower, and caulked with oakum in the upper part, then covered with strips of zinc, put on with zinked tacks, and the entire surface payed over with tar, lime, and sand, and finished with a coat of white, in order to its reflecting the sun's rays. The space thus enclosed measured 80 feet by 63 feet, and 33 feet high from floor line to top of wall framing.
The truss beams were as follows: each consisted of two 12 by 5 flitches in the width, and these two equal pieces in the length, well scarved and keyed together. These were set two inches apart, making the beam 12 inches square; and they rested, at the scarves, upon a cast-iron bearing plate, 30 by 12, having a central bearing upright tounge, a few inches high, occupying the space between them. On either side of the plate was a square stub for preventing its moving longitudinally, and along the centre below was a semicircular groove for containing the tension rod, which was of two inch round iron, and passed under it. This compound beam was, at its extreme ends, inserted into a cast-iron box, having flanges below, outside and inside the head plate of the wall framing, and a strong cylindrical sloping part on the top, at the back of which the tension-rod, which was passed through it, with screwed ends, was secured with a nut at least 4 inches long: at intervals between the end boxes and central bearing-plate, were introduced between the flitches circular blockings 6 inches diameter, and 4 inches thick, sunk and inch into the timber on either side, through which the flitches were bolted together: in the boxes they were kept apart by a piece of 2 inch board. Where the upper edge of the boxes would have bit deeply into the wood, upon the tightening of the tension rods, a piece of boiler-plate (malleable iron), was introduced; and where the end grains at the scarves would have penetrated each other from the same cause, that is, in the under joints, piece of sheet-iron were inserted. On the other hand, the upper joints of the scarves, the tendency of which was to open, were strengthened with plate-iron and bolts; the beams were tied down to the wall framing, by bolts passing diagonally through both: for a few feet at both ends, the tension-rods were increased in diameter, so as to preserve the solid part of the screw the full 2 inches.
In the screwing up of these beams, I had an opportunity of observing an effect of which those trussing cast-iron beams of similar construction might remain in ignorance, namely, a decided tendency to turn up at the ends, caused by the tension-rod proceeding in a downward inclination from a point above the beam, and which, accompanied with the camber over the centre bearing-plate, produces something of a wavy form. In the present case, the distance of that point above the beam, and consequently the derangement produced was very trifling; but in trussed-girder railway bridges which I have seen, with fins at their ends, and at the joints - the former for the purpose of elevating the points of suspension, the strain thus produced must in some instances be dangerous. Shortly after the completion of the building, in order to allay the anxiety of the timid, who looked with some dread at the wide expanse of flat roof, and having sufficient space, I put in struts at either end, with straining-pieces between their heads, and another tye-rod at their feet. It seems strange that, notwithstanding its having been years ago ascertained that tension-trussing, with a central point of support, is much stronger than with two points, inasmuch as the centre is necessarily the weakest point, engineers do yet continue the latter practice, when they could, where the span required it, employ the central supported point of their beams as a point of suspension by aid of which to truss two halves.
The forgoing description explains the general form of the building; but it remains to be mentioned that the diorama picture, which was selected as the first to be exhibited, was of such size as to require that the end where it was hung should have a sinking in the floor of 4 feet in depth by 8 in width, as well as that the truss-beam there should be omitted, and a span-roof, with collar-tie, be thrown over the wide bay thus left in the main roof. By adopting this as the stage end, what with the elevation of the stage, its backwards (quarter inch in the foot), and the depression in the floor, a range of dressing-rooms were obtained. The picture referred to required also and extension, on one side, of the width of the building, which has added to the commodiousness of the stage; and, to increase the vista in forest and other scenes, the central portion has been carried some distance backward, in the form of a wing to the main building containing the green-room, property-room, wardrobe, sundry dressing-rooms, &c.
I now proceed to give some particulars of the construction and fitting-up of the theatre.
The box and gallery tiers are carried on beams, curved by forming them in thicknesses set edgeways: these beams are 9 inches square, having eight one eighth inch boards in their breadth. The mode of constructing them was as follows, taking the inner circle or horse-shoe, for example: - the figure being described full size on the floor, a quantity of right-angled triangular brackets, about 15 inches by 9 inches, were set on edge on the floor, radiating inward from the inner line, and against these the first board was nailed; the other thicknesses were then nailed on the outside successively, breaking joint carefully, until the required thickness was completed, when the whole was furthur secured together by bolting it through at short intervals, suited especially to the situations of the external cross joints. By this plan, an exceedingly tough beam was obtained, having this advantage over a built one, that the grain of the wood was much less broken, an, in a manner, run round from end to end. Having such beams as these in front, and corresponding ones at back, the joisting followed naturally in a radiating fashion. The back beams were well secured to the walls, to counteract any tendency to travel in the direction of the stage.
The above is a section of the ventilator over the pit, in which A is a shield of sheet iron, 9 feet 11 inches in diameter, on which the heat from the lights suspended below it strikes, and thus accelerates the upward current: B is a beam, with a pair of whorles in the middle, over which ropes pass from a small windlass at one side, and allow the gas-pendant to be lowered, when unscrewed at the coupling, for the purpose of the globes being cleaned, &c.
Lighting. - Credit is due to the firm of Lidlaw and Son, of Glasgow and Edinburgh for the manner in which they have executed the gas-fittings, a branch requiring, in a theatre, more skill and ingenuity than is brought into requisition in any other description of building. Two one and a half inch pipes extend round the edge of the stage, with Argand burners, chimneys, and shades to each: the burners in each pipe are 6 inches apart, but those in one row placed alternately, in relation to those in the other: the lights on the outer pipe have green glass chimneys, for moonlight scenes; those on the inner one, colourless chimneys for ordinary use: for melo-dramatic effects, wherein the pyrotechnists' art is commonly brought into play, I suppose red chimneys would, according to this mode, suffice. The 'gas-battens,' which light up the wings and borders, are a quarter-circle in their section, about a foot in width, and their lengths suited to the height and width of the stage openings; they are lined with galvanized sheet-iron, to prevent any combustible material which might flap against them coming in contact with the jets of gas, the pipe being placed in the hollow of the quarter-circle. At the prompter's place, where the arrangements are made for the raising and lowering of the lights in the stage and audience departments, the risk of the gas being turned off altogether, is obviated by having, at the stop-cock on each large pipe, small parallel pipes extending, so as to connect the large one in its two portions on either side, the small pipe being also provided with a stop-cock, should occasion require it. While the curtain is down, the house is kept brilliantly lit up; but during performance, the light is reduced, in order to enhance the effect of the tableau.
Seeing. - As regards the form of the house, it was greatly regulated in its proportions by those of the original structure; and these happily favoured the wide rather than the long form, which has the disadvantage, that the audience have a difficulty in seeing past each other, and are placed in an uncomfortable, constrained attitude, looking, as it were, askance at the stage. In taking up the subject, and considering the pitch of the different tiers, increasing, as they do, in steepness, as seen, say in the longitudinal section, it becomes obvious that the longer the central space is as compared with its width, the more must the pitch of any one tier increase in steepness in the direction from the centre round on either side towards the proscenium; for then the audience are looking more and more, as it were, into a well. This increase is usually, and most conveniently obtained by keeping the passages at the back about level, and lowering the inner beams as they approach the stage-end: by this means, the advantage is gained to the audience of seeing comfortably over each other, when looking towards the stage, as well as when looking at the lower tiers opposite them. The view from the back rows, to be perfect, ought of course to embrace the whole proscenium; this, however, it appears, involves a degree of comfort which it is not customary to attempt obtaining; the consideration being rather how little of the height of the proscenium will suffice, so as to reduce the entire height to get in the greatest number of tiers of which it is capable.
Hearing. - The material of the ceiling is canvas, dense in quantity, and rendered more so by the operations of the artist. Writers on acoustics affirm that sonorous vibrations will be propagated in a speaking-trumpet lined with cloth, with equal effect as if it were formed of a metallic substance; and we have Dr. Arnott's interesting relation of the ringing of the bells of the city of St. Salvador, on the Brazilian coast, having been distinctly heard on board-ship 100 miles at sea, the sound being wafted by gentle wind over smooth water, and interrupted in its progress, and concentrated to a focus, by the concave sail of the vessel; thus much for canvas: a dense body of vapour, even , it is allowed, may cause the reverberation of sound; and hence we have reasons to justify the use of so pliant a substance as canvas for a surface to reflect sound where a wooden sounding-board is not conveniently available. But woollen cloth, I have reason to believe, is a great absorbent of sound: at this theatre I have had an opportunity of comparing the singing in the rehearsals with the same in the public performance; when I was struck with the loss that was occasioned evidently by the presence of the audience, and which I mainly attribute to the amount of broad cloth present, though partially to the interruption caused to the rays of sound in passing towards the various reverberating surfaces; at the same time, not to forget the reverberable power of the vapour, some slight share of said loss might possibly be chargeable to the diminished purity of the atmosphere ( not to confess, for all that, that our ventilator was inefficient). We know that the more carbonic-acid gas is generated in an assembly the more dense the atmosphere becomes, the density of the gas being half as much again as pure air; the thick imperfect tones of the speaker in a church or hall crowded to suffocation, compared to the ringing sonorousness of his voice when he happens not to be quite so attractive, are very perceptible, and may be referred to the causes I have mentioned.
Means of communication all round the house have been preserved in the various tiers, as well as ample means of egress. In such places the latter is of much importance, as well as that the doors that are kept shut during performance should open outwards; it is also desirable to have the entrances to the various parts nearest those places which are least advisable: for experience proves that if they are at the best places, these will get first filled, and thus form a barrier to reaching the others.
Besides the precautions taken with the gas-battens against fire, arrangements are in progress for laying on a supply of water, at high pressure, in a standing-main behind the pit, boxes, and gallery, with a short hose nozzle to each; also a cistern on each wing-platform with a hose descending for the supply of a portable fire-engine on the stage: the partition which separates the audience and stage departments on either side of the proscenium opening is also of brick; and small circular staircases which communicate with all the private-boxes and with the wing-platforms are of the same material.
In Glasgow, buildings are not regulated by any Buildings Act, but there is a board, called the Dean-of-Guild Court, before which parties intending to build are required to appear, in order to their plans having its sanction, after affording to the owners of properties abutting upon the one in question, an opportunity for bringing forward objections. It takes cognizance, also, on the part of the lieges, of all cases, in respect to buildings, wherein danger may threaten, or accident have occurred. This court, for the satisfaction of the public, the gentleman for whom the theatre has been fitted up, memorialised, at my recommendation, for an inspection to be made by efficient persons as to the security of the structure. A readiness, in the manner, to consult the feelings and allay the fears of the uninitiated portion of the public, should ever be evinced; and I am disposed to think that, in many cases, public buildings ought not to be opened for use without the concurrent testimony of experienced professional men being first obtained: in the present case, sundry things were required, and being reasonable, were of course readily conceded.
The decorations are in Carton-Pierre, and were furnished by Messrs. Jackson, of Rathbone-place: they are in high relief, and comprise festoons of fruit and flowers, medallions, and panels, containing groups of children; a mimic orchestra of these are perched in the box-front, on brackets in the line of the pillars; while over them, in the gallery-front, are termini, with brackets bearing crystal gas-lustres. The enrichments are white, picked out in gold, with pale blue back-grounds in panels, and the fronts of the tiers rose-colour.
The scenes are chiefly what, in theatrical phraseology, are termed flats; the act-drop is however, an exception, and it is due to the able young artist, Mr. Bough, who painted it, to state, that its is a work which foretokens distinction to him as a painter.
The whole arrangements evince the good taste of the manager, Mr. Edmund Glover, son of Mrs. Glover, of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; and the style in which the house furnishings, the stage properties and dresses and all other appointments have been prepared, show that he has spared neither pains nor expense. The performances are opera, vaudeville, and ballet, - the operatic corps being led by the able baton of Mr. Howard Glover. The theatre was opened (notwithstanding the ill-instigated statement of a London contemporary, that it could not be), on Monday, January 15th, with the opera of "Giselle, or the Night Dancers," and the vaudeville of the "Imperial Guard."
The theatre is calculated, when it is "a full house," to accommodate 1,400 persons comfortably.
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