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The Theatre Royal, Oxford

Formerly - The Star Assembly Room

Oxford Theatres

In the late 1850's Mr Edward Hooper gained permission from Oxford Magistrates to open The Theatre Royal Oxford, which was a temporary Theatre for the duration of the long summer vacation. The first record of him opening a Theatre in Oxford is mentioned in Jackson's Oxford Journal of the 25th July 1857 when he had announced that 'an elegant Theatre has been erected by Mr Jones of Oxford, in Russell's Tennis Court and will open under his management on Monday August 3rd 1857 with a powerful and attractive company selected from the Principal London Theatres.'

In 1859 he took a lease on the Star Assembly Room and employed Mr E.G. Brunton, a local architect, to convert the interior into the Theatre Royal. A stage and proscenium, were constructed together with stalls, private boxes, pit and gallery, with different entrances.

The season commenced on August 8th 1859. The company was assembled from principal Theatres in London, Dublin and Birmingham, consisting of: Miss Eburn, leading actress of the Theatre Royal and Sadler's Wells Theatres London. Miss Hudspeth a favourite from Birmingham. Miss Florence and Miss Bessie Cleveland from the Theatre Royal Dublin. Mrs D'Oylie, Mrs Wallis, and Miss Harriet all from the Lyceum Theatre London. Miss Harriet being famed as a graceful Columbine. The gentlemen were Mr Fred Robinson a leading juvenile tragedian from Sadler's Wells Theatre London. Mr Ray and Mr H Vandenhoff of the Haymarket and Lyceum Theatres London. Mr Gustavus W. Blake of Dublin. Mr Walter Baynham of the Haymarket Theatre London. Mr Salvie, principal tenor from Dublin. Mr D'Oylie of the Lyceum. Mr Melvine of Birmingham. Mr Williams and Mr D'Oylie from the Lyceum and finally Mr Stoyle, celebrated low comedian and comic singer from The Theatre Royal Drury Lane London. This was stated to be a strong company for tragedy, comedy, opera, farce, dancing and humorous songs.

Mr Hooper was also the manager of the Cambridge Theatre Royal. A man of theatrical experience, having first arranged amateur theatricals whilst serving as a Naval Officer in the Arctic region. Upon leaving the Navy he progressed in 1832 to being Manager of the Olympic Theatre London whilst the Theatre was run by Madam Vestris. He also appeared there in a play, as Charles the Second. In 1839 he was Lessee of the St James Theatre London where he met his wife Miss Brothers. In 1848 he was manager of the Strand Theatre London and then moved to Cambridge Theatre Royal with his wife. Through their endeavours the Theatre Royal Cambridge became a full time Theatre.

Mr Hooper continued to run the Theatre season yearly in Oxford during the vacation season, but by 1864 decided to relinquish the post. Unfortunately soon afterwards he suffered a sever attack of bronchitis and died aged 75. He had no children just sadly leaving his widow.

A vacancy now occurred as to who would continue theatrical performances in his place. An urgent meeting before the local magistrates was pressed for by a Mr Adams, a local toyshop owner in the town, and owner of the proscenium, scenery, gas fittings, specially adapted for the Town Hall, who hoped to be granted the licence. Also Mrs Hooper entered the scramble for the granting of the licence. She had been left with no other means of support after her husband's death, but was experienced in running the Theatre with her now deceased husband. Besides the loss of her husband, her brother the Rev Francis Brothers had died suddenly aged 45 years of age at Henley – in – Arden. He had for 9 years been curate at St Paul’s Knightsbridge. During the hearing for the licence Mr Brunner, solicitor acting on behalf of Mr Adams produced a memorial of 300 signatures of local inhabitants on behalf of Mr Adams case to hold the licence. Mrs Hooper who was present at the hearing was so overcome by her recent bereavements, that her case was put by Mr J. Plowman of the 'Oxford Times', who was a friend of the Hoopers, arguing that an experienced theatrical person such as Mrs Hooper should not be displaced by a novice. After a short deliberation without the magistrates leaving the court, the Licence was granted to Mrs Hooper, to much applause. The ERA edition of 19th March 1865 states 'The Licence to open a Theatre in the ensuing long vacation, so unanimously granted by the City Magistrates to Mrs Hooper, widow of the late Mr Edward Hooper, will extend from Monday, July 31st, to Saturday, October 7th. The Oxford City Regatta will take place on Monday July 31st and Tuesday, August 1st, so that Mrs Hooper has every prospect of a good start. The races will also take place as usual, which will be in Mrs Hooper's favour, as the Theatre is always crowded to excess on the race nights. Considerable sympathy towards Mrs Hooper, on account of her recent bereavements, is awakened in Oxford, and even such of the Magistrates as have always opposed the opening of a Theatre here abstained from voting against her application for a licence. The attempt to supplant the widow of the late Manager and deprive her of the grounds where she and her late husband had laboured for years had the effect of causing a re-action in her favour, and strengthened her position for the future.'

A programme for 'London Assurance' when it was being performed at the Vaudeville Theatre, London in 1872.The Opening play of the new season was 'London Assurance' and the farce 'The Widow's Victim'.

Right - A programme for 'London Assurance' when it was being performed at the Vaudeville Theatre, London in 1872.

The following year 1866 records that the Magistrates refused a licence completely for a Theatre during the summer vacation, and there was much uproar in the town that the magistrates had deprived the citizens of there entertainment. However records show that in 1867 the City Magistrates granted the licence to Mr Clifford Cooper, an old Oxford favourite, and so it would seem that Mrs Hooper lost out. However the ERA edition of 16th September 1866 shows Mrs Hooper as Lessee at the Theatre Royal Cambridge with its management under Mr Alfred Davis.

Jackson's Oxford Journal of the 4th April 1868 announces a special attraction for the Easter Vacation of a visit of Mr Charles Dillon the eminent Tragedian for two nights only. 'Prices will be Boxes 3 shillings (15p) Pit two shillings (10p) Gallery one shilling (5p) Half price at nine o'clock to Pit and Boxes only. Boxes two shillings, Pit one shilling. Children in arms not admitted.'

The ERA of the 12th April 1868 describes the Theatre Royal as 'this pretty Bijou Theatre of the Muses'. When a production of 'The Comedy of Errors' was presented by The Brothers Webb's company. The proprietor of the Theatre is listed as being Mr H. Hatch with the manager being Mr Clifford Cooper.

In 1877 Arthur Lloyd played the Theatre Royal and the ERA edition of the 16th December 1877 reports as follows, ' Theatre Royal – Lessee, Mr Hatch – On the 6th and 7th Instant Mr Arthur Lloyd and his comic company appeared here, and attracted good houses. Mr Lloyd's songs were received, as usual, with every demonstration of satisfaction, and his latest effusion particularly a most amusing topical song, were much appreciated.'

Unfortunately to date we do not have a date for when the Theatre ceased to present productions. It seems to have progressed from being a temporary Theatre for the annual vacation period, to an all year round Theatre, offering mixed fare of entertainment for the populous of Oxford.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article is © David Garratt 2011.

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