Above - The Buck i'th Vine Inn, Ormskirk in 2016 - Courtesy George Richmond
The Buck Ith Vine Inn, originally known as the Roebuck Inn, dates from the late 17th century. The Inn and its outbuildings surrounding a courtyard are all Grade II Listed but it is the building immediately behind and attached to the original structure that will be discussed in this article.
The addition of Theatres to Inns in the provinces was a progression from the use of an inn's courtyard for occasional performances. The Theatre behind the Buck was not the first one in this small market town as one at the Ship Inn, now lost, is thought to be the earliest, however this closed in 1836, possibly as a result of a new law passed that year preventing the consumption of alcohol in the auditorium of a playhouse, another law the same year permitted the sale of beverages and food in the concert room of a public house giving rise to what would become the Music Hall.
During the last half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries companies of players working under an actor manager would travel on regular circuits between towns. These actor managers, with backers, set up Theatres that were similar in shape and size. Richard Leacroft in his excellent book The Development of the English Playhouse gives dimensions of between 50ft and 60 ft. in length and from 25ft to 30ft in width for this type of Theatre.
Right - A Sketch of the Buck i'th Vine Courtyard in 2016, showing the Theatre's Entrance on the left - Courtesy George Richmond.
The entrance vestibule, occupying a very small area at the auditorium end, and the remainder of the building, was almost equally divided between stage and auditorium, the latter normally extended over the vestibule as an upper gallery to the back wall of the Theatre. This uniformity of design enabled stock scenery to be easily erected and re-used which made fit-up at each venue uncomplicated. Due to the limitation in lighting at this time the actors could be lit by oil lamps fitted with Argon burners, a device that drew more air through the chimney thus giving a brighter light. These were placed in chandeliers and footlights often called floats due to the lamps being placed in a trough of water. The scenery would be placed at the back of the stage (upstage) and the actors would perform at the front (downstage) where they could be best seen. The Theatre at the Buck would most likely have been on the Lancashire circuit, and situated as it was on a Turnpike road established in 1771 would have ensured easy access for the travelling companies.
The Theatre, sometimes called The Concert Room or The Large Room on Playbills, is located on the first floor of the Buck inn, complex, above what was once a stable. It has languished unused for nearly 100years, known to local historians but otherwise forgotten. A planning application, initially for repairs gave rise to a survey in 2011 conducted by Stephen Haigh, Building Archaeologist, and commissioned by the local Council and English Heritage. A later application to convert the first floors of the Grade II Listed Inn and adjacent buildings into student accommodation has now been granted.
Left - A First Floor Plan showing the Buck i'th Vine Theatre - Courtesy George Richmond.
I was aware that performances had been given at the Buck Inn venue from playbills in my possession dating from April 11th 1825 when a performance of The Iron Chest was given there. In 1826 performances of Othello on the 6th May and Macbeth on the 16th of the same month were performed there (See Bills Below). The leading roles were played by a Mr Hammond Armstrong.
Above - Bills for 'The Iron Chest' in 1825, and 'Macbeth' in 1826, at the Buck i'th Vine Theatre - Courtesy George Richmond.
Another poster from April 22nd 1840 has Othello being performed; once again Mr Hammond playing the leading role. The price of a seat in the pit had gone up six pence by this time to two shillings and sixpence, though the price of a gallery seat was unchanged at one shilling. Mr Hammond must have been very popular, also performing in Bolton and it is presumed other towns on the circuit. It was only after looking at the towns website in 2016 that I discovered the 2011 survey and that the Theatre these playbills were designed to advertise still existed!
The dimensions and overall description of playhouses of the type under discussion and given by Richard Leacroft would seem to conform to the Theatre behind the Buck Inn. The gallery is indeed over the vestibule and the entry staircase. It is thought that the back wall of the stage area extended further but even as it stands the dimensions are well within those quoted, (the back wall was rebuilt in 1998 due to instability).
Above - A Sketch of the Buck I'th Vine Theatre Gallery Stairs & Entrance, and Right - The Refreshment Hatch - Courtesy George Richmond, 2016.
A playgoer would enter the courtyard, and then proceed through the double doors to the left shown in the courtyard sketch above, and mount the wide staircase up to a small vestibule and enter the auditorium through the double doors to his right. On entering he would take a seat in the pit, or mount the small staircase to the left of the entry doors to take a seat in the shilling gallery (See the sketch to the right in the double illustration of the gallery above).
Up until 1836 a playgoer could obtain refreshment to consume during the performance from a counter situated under the gallery to the right of the auditorium, (See the sketch to the right in the double illustration of the gallery above).
Above - A Sketch of the Buck I'th Vine Theatre interiors now and then - Courtesy George Richmond.
In the winter months the heating of the auditorium was provided by a large fireplace situated halfway down and to the left of the auditorium. His comfort being provided for, the playgoer would now face a stage something along the lines of the sketch to the right in the double illustration above.
The actors could enter the Theatre via a door immediately to the left of the carriage entrance as shown on the courtyard illustration. This gave on to a small dressing room with a staircase leading up to a green room, access to the stage being through the door visible in the right hand image of the double illustration shown above. This area can be seen as it was in 2011 in the sketch shown right, which is made from the ground floor looking up, the floor and the ceiling gone but the door to the stage still intact.
Right - A Sketch showing the now derelict Greenroom of the former Buck i'th Vine Theatre in 2016 - Courtesy George Richmond.
As recorded in 2011 by Stephen Haigh the stage area shows no evidence of a platform but the ceiling ends in a straight line before reaching the position of the greenroom door. Some kind of fit up was possible at this point. The beam running across the stage area must be a later addition as it runs diagonally across the space and is rather low. We know so little, but the posters, (up to now unknown by the local historians of the town) from the period, do cast a ray of light on this forgotten piece of Theatre history.
Another Large Room on Moor Street known as Mr Harriots Room was in use in 1831 as a playbill dated September 14th proves. However this venue did not boast a gallery which makes it distinct from the Theatre already discussed, and no further information could be found.
Left - A Playbill for an amateur performance of 'Douglas' and ''The Heir-At-Law' at the Buck i'th Vine Theatre in December 1844 - Courtesy George Richmond.
No later Victorian Theatre was built in the town. Such a venture would not in all probability have proved profitable. The population during the period discussed was around 7,000 and with the advent of the railway through Ormskirk during the 1840s the populace would have easy access to Southport, Wigan or Liverpool where abundant entertainment was available. However in the first half of the 20th century two cinemas were built, no doubt, being more cost effective.
The above article on the Buck i'th Vine Theatre, Ormskirk was written for this site and kindly sent in for inclusion, along with its accompanying images, by George Richmond in June 2016. Sources consulted for this article: Stephen Haigh Building Archaeologist, Silsden Keighley West Yorkshire, Richard Leacroft The Development of the English Playhouse, County Council Website.
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