The Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square, Whitechapel, London
Later - The East London Theatre / Royalty Theatre / Royal Brunswick Theatre, Well Street, Wellclose Square, Goodman's Fields - Now Ensign Street and Dock Street
See also in this area: The City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate - Wilton's Music Hall, Whitechapel - Hoxton Varieties, Shoreditch - The Hoxton Hall - Britannia Theatre, Hoxton - Shoreditch Theatres and Halls - The Garrick Theatre, Whitechapel - The Goodman's Fields Theatre, Whitechapel
Above - An engraving showing the Royal Brunswick Theatre, Wellclose Square - From The Mirror, March 8th 1828 - The Brunsiwck Theatre was built on the site of the former Royalty Theatre in 1828 but was destroyed shortly afterwards.
The Royalty Theatre was one of London's early Theatres, it was designed by the architect John Willmot with the help of the surveyor John Robinson of Wellclose Square. The Theatre was built in 1785 and was stated in the press of 1787, when it opened, to have consisted of an area some 120 feet by 56 feet. The Theatre's auditorium had two semi circular galleries, the upper one capable of holding 640 people and the lower one 1,000. The Pit could hold 360, the Front Boxes 198, and the side boxes 396.
The Times of May the 9th 1787 reported on the 'beauty of the decorations' of the new Theatre saying that:- 'exquisite taste is displayed. The pillars, which support the upper tier of boxes, are not within any of the architectural orders, but of the fancy kind, and enriched trufles; the middle pillars partake of the Composite order; and the pillars of the lower tier incline to the Doric. Over each box there is an entablature, on which trophies are painted. The Ceiling of the Theatre is highly finished; there are four spandrel pannels with ornaments in chiaro oscuro; in the centre a sky with a border of oaken leaves; and the whole is bordered by a galofs. The Theatre is painted a stone colour, the borders richly gilded. A light crimson paper has been chosen for the boxes, and they are lined with watered morine of a correspondent colour; the border paper is of light ground, with variegated colours. The stage box, on his Majesty's side, is decorated with the Royal Arms, in chiaro oscuro; the opposite box has the arms of the Tower.'
The Times went on to say that:- 'The stage of the Royalty Theatre is considerably longer and wider than that of the Opera House; and the scenes are much higher than those at any of the Theatres. The pit passage is so spacious, as to be capable of containing as many persons as the pit itself. There is a most excellent box lobby, abounding with every convenience, and a drawing room for the ladies, in the style of the Opera House. The whole of the boxes are to be illuminated with glass chandeliers, made from a drawing truly elegant. The ceiling of the boxes is considerably loftier than that of either of the houses; and care has been taken to render the different avenues as convenient as possible. What is termed the Drop Cloth, represents an octagon saloon; the pillars of the Doric order in two niches are the figures of Prudence and Fortitude. Above the entablature there are two pannels, on each of which is represented, in basso relevo, a sacrifice; the one to Mars, the other to Diana. A gallery leading from the saloon to other appartments terminates the view.' - The Times, May the 9th 1787.
The Royalty Theatre was planned, as reported in the Times piece on the Theatre, to be opened on the 4th of June 1787 for the summer season, although elsewhere the Theatre is said to have opened on the 20th of June 1787 with a performance of 'As You Like It' with the actor and comedian John Palmer, for whom the Theatre was built, in the role of Jaques, with Rosalind being played by Mrs. Belfille. This was a one off performance and the Theatre then didn't open again until the 3rd of July that year.
The Royalty Theatre didn't have a Patent so couldn't compete with the Patent Theatres of the time and Palmer would eventually have to go to court over the opening of the Theatre and was eventually imprisoned for dept. There is much information on John Palmer here. The respected actor David Garrick made his debut at the Royalty Theatre in the part of Richard the Third.
The Royalty Theatre had opened in 1787 and had a long and varied career. It was known as the East London Theatre from around 1817 for a short time before reverting to its original name, but it was destroyed by fire on the 11th of April 1826 whilst under the Lesseeship of Mr. Dunn. The Theatre's then owner Mr. Vicars had just had the Theatre repainted and the Theatre had reopened on the Easter Monday with a Company including Mr. Booth. The fire was believed to have started because the gas lights on the stage had not been properly extinguished. The Theatre was all but destroyed.
Above - An engraving showing the Brunswick Theatre, Wellclose Square - From The Mirror, March 8th 1828 - The Brunsiwck Theatre was built on the site of the former Royalty Theatre in 1828 but was destroyed shortly afterwards.
A few years after the Royalty Theatre was destroyed by fire a new Theatre called the Royal Brunswick Theatre was constructed on its site. This large Theatre fronted onto Well Street, now Ensign Street, and backed onto Dock Street, and was designed by the architect Stedman Whitwell.
The foundation stone was laid in August 1827 and the new Royal Brunswick Theatre opened some 7 months later on the 25th of February 1828, with a production of 'The Mermaiden's Well'. The Theatre had accommodation for some 2,000 people in its lavish auditorium, which consisted of Pit, two circles of boxes, and a huge gallery.
Right - The opening programme for the Royal Brunswick Theatre on the 25th of February 1828 - Courtesy Phil Mernick.
In the Theatre's opening programme for the 25th of February, 1828, there are some details of the Theatre's construction which I have transcribed below:-
TO THE PUBLIC
The Proprietors have endeavoured so to construct the Royal Brunswick Theatre, that, as a Public Building; it may be considered an appropriate Ornament to the wealthy and extensive District of Eastern London; and they respectfully hope that their exertions to render it equally attractive and superior as a place of Dramatic Entertainment, will be found worthy the support and encouragement of the Public.
It has been their anxious aim, in completing the interior, to adopt every modern improvement that can at all contribute to its respectability, and to the safety and accommodation of the Audience. These most important objects have been accomplished, at an unlimited expense, by separate entrances, Stair-cases, and spacious fire-proof Vestibules, to every part of the Theatre.
The dress circle boxes are provided, by an arrangement peculiar to this Theatre, with a spacious separate entrance, handsome geometrical stair-case, lobby, no communication with, or approach from, any other part of the Theatre. Particular attention has been paid to this Circle, which is fitted up with superior elegance.
The second circle boxes are approached by a handsome vestibule and separate entrance, stone stair-case, lobby, &c. and are provided with a spacious Saloon, for refreshments, fruit, &c.
The Pit and Pit Boxes are provided with a separate entrance, leading into a spacious fire-proof Vestibule. The Sittings are arranged in a new form, peculiarly adapted for sight and hearing; and the Pit is provided with a handsome Saloon, and with every other suitable convenience for a numerous and respectable company.
The Gallery has, also, a large separate entrance and passage, with spacious landings and stone stairs of unusual width, entirely fire-proof. The arrangement of this part of the Theatre has been particularly consulted, to command a perfectly uninterrupted view of the entire Stage. The Gallery is well ventilated, and amply supplied with every accommodation requisite for the Company frequenting so large an area.
Left - The opening programme for the Royal Brunswick Theatre on the 25th of February 1828 - Courtesy Phil Mernick.
The Emblematical Decorations of the Prosceniums of the Boxes, the Ceilings &c. And the highly-finished gold ornaments in relief, designed by Mr. Finley, and executed by him, Mr. Danson, Messrs. Blamire and Assistants; the Gilding by Mr. Hide and numerous assistants.
The Chiaro 'Scuro Paintings of the Muses, On the Dress-Circle Boxes, designed and executed by Mr. Danson.
The Splendid New Drop-Scene, Designed and executed by Mr. Stanfield,
by permission of Stephen Price, Esq., Lessee of the
The whole exterior of the Theatre, the various Enrichments, Friezes, &c. modelled on the surface in cement by Mr. Robert Armstrong, from the designs of Stedman Whitwell, Esq. Architect of the Theatre.
The Performances of this Theatre will be so arranged, as invariably to close at Eleven o'Clock every Evening. An Efficient Police will be in constant attendance, and the utmost care taken to ensure freedom of access to all parts of the Theatre. Perfect Warmth and Ventilation have been obtained by the constant use of Mr. Sylvester's powerful Apparatus; and the avenues, &c. throughout the entire Building are completely dry.
The above details of the Brunswick Theatre are from the Theatre's Opening Night Programme on the 25th of February 1828.
Despite the glowing details printed in the Royal Brunswick Theatre's opening programme the Theatre had a remarkably short life as it collapsed just three days after it opened, on the 28th of February 1828 and was completely destroyed. The cause of the collapse was the roof falling in, ten people were killed in the disaster. The adjoining Star Public House, and a baker's shop were also destroyed when the Theatre collapsed.
The full story of the collapse of the Brunswick Theatre, written by Charles Dickens, can be read here. There is also a good account of the collapse of the Theatre in Volume nine of the Mechanics Magazine, page 110 onwards, which can be found on Google Books here. And some details of the destruction of the Theatre and the building of the sailors' home on the site, from the Mariners' Church Gospel Temperance Soldiers' and Sailors' Magazine of January 1843, can be seen below.
Above - Details of the destruction of the Brunswick Theatre and the building of the sailors' home on the site - From the Mariners' Church Gospel Temperance Soldiers' and Sailors' Magazine of January 1843
Above - The site of the Well Street, now Ensign Street, elevation of the Royalty Theatre, later the Brunswick Theatre in 2013 - Photo M. L.
A new building called the Sailor's Home was constructed on the site of the former Royal Brunswick Theatre, opening in 1835 with accommodation for 100 sailors, later enlarged into Dock Street in the 1870s to accommodate 500.
An unremarkable 1950s building occupies the site on Dock Street today (See image right).
Right - The site of the Dock Street elevation of the Brunswick Theatre and the Sailor's Home in 2013 - Photo M. L.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: