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It had been expected that the new freedom given to Theatre operators with the passing of the Theatres Act in 1843 would give rise to a surge in new Theatre building but this was not the case and the building of the Theatre Royal, Holborn in 1866 was actually the first completely new Theatre to be constructed in London since the Act's passing 23 years earlier.

Construction of the Theatre Royal, Holborn, for its owner Sefton Parry, began in the spring of 1866. The main part of the site had previously been home to a Post Office and Stable Yard, and on Brownlow Street, where the Theatre's Pit and Gallery entrances were to be constructed, were houses, the site of these had once been the home of Major Charles Mohun, the famous actor of Charles the Second's time. All these houses had to be demolished before the Theatre could be built, although the part of the site which originally formed stables, and coach-houses for mail carts, were cleared five years earlier and had been vacant ever since. The entire site, once cleared, consisted of some 15,000 feet. The site was on the north side of High Holborn, a few yards from the northern end of Chancery Lane.

By March 1866 the Daily News was reporting that the site had been cleared and that the houses in Brownlow Street had been removed, and that work on the building of the new Theatre would begin 'forthwith'.

High Holborn in 1900The Theatre was constructed with its principle stalls and box entrances in High Holborn, the stage entrance in Jockey's Field, and as previously mentioned, the pit and gallery entrances in Brownlow Street.

Right - High Holborn in 1900.

The architects were Finch Hill and Paraire of 441 Oxford-street, who had built a number of early music halls, and were the architects for the rebuilding of the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton in 1858. The Theatre Royal, Holborn was constructed by Kettel and Battisconabe of 50 Great Marylebone Street under the supervision of Mr. Simpson of Tottenham Court Road. Decorations were carried out by Mr. Houmann, gas fittings by Mr. Jones of Bow-street, the upholstery and other furnishings were carried out by Mr. Lyon from Southampton Row, Bloomsbury.

Decoration of the auditorium, according to the ERA's report on the building in their 7th of October 1866 edition was as follows: 'The carton pierre and papier mache decorations comprise ceiling, pendentifs, proscenium, box fronts, gallery fronts, and enriched caps and trusses. The ceiling is divided into sixteen panels, separated by enriched mouldings, terminating against the sun light, and the intersections stopped by ornamental pendants. These panels are bounded by eight triangular-shaped scroll panels, manufactured in carton pierre, and are of a bold and effective character. Outside these are two perforated ribs running entirely round the ceiling, and one of which finishes on the pendentif. The sun light is also surrounded by a very rich perforated ornament, ten feet in diameter, in carton pierre and of the same character as the scroll panels, and, with the perforated triangular panels. The proscenium is splayed and enriched with an ornamental trellised group which runs between shafts. These shafts spring from base, and run quite round the proscenium. The lower part of the same is fluted and panelled, and surmounted on each side by allegorical bas relief.' The ERA, 7th of October 1866.

The Theatre's horse-shoe shaped auditorium, which was decorated in pink, salmon, and white with gold reliefs, had a capacity of around 1,500 and consisted of three rows of stalls seats and a large pit on the ground floor, a first tier consisting of a dress circle with 6 rows of seats and 4 boxes on either side, and a second tier consisting of 1 row of ampitheatre stalls with 4 slip boxes on either side and large gallery behind. Unusually there were no proscenium boxes because the space was used instead for additional staircases. There was a sunburner and numerous openings in the ceiling to permit ventilation of the auditorium. The Theatre's overall height was lower than usual and the head room above the gallery was especially tight due to planning restrictions brought on by a dozen injunctions brought against the owner by local residents concerned about the building's effect on their light. The Theatre's stage was 62 foot deep by 52 foot wide with a proscenium opening of 26 foot wide by 23 foot high. The Theatre's original act- drop was painted by Mr. Charles S. James.

The Theatre opened on Saturday September the 29th 1866 with the farce 'Larkins's Love Letters' by T. J. Williams with a cast including Mr. G. Belmore, Miss Charlotte Saunders, Mr. E. Garden, Mr. Vollaire, Miss A. Lennox, and Mrs, Isabella Bobbins. This was preceded by a speech by Sefton Parry and then the National Anthem played by the Theatre's band. After the performance of 'Larkin's Love Letters' the main piece of the evening was performed. This was especially written for the opening of the Theatre by Mr. Dion Boucicault and was a three hour long four act racing drama called 'Flying Scud' or 'A Four-Legged Fortune'.

In 1869 minor alterations to the Theatre were carried out when a new Royal Box and anti room were added, and new auditorium seating was installed. The Theatre subsequently had a number of name changes, firstly to the Mirror Theatre when it was taken over by Horace Wigan in 1875, and then the following year, 1876, it was taken over by Mr. Burnand and renamed the Duke's Theatre, a name it retained until it was burnt down on July the 4th 1880.

Text written by myself in 2009, from information gathered from various sources including Dianna Howard's 'London Theatres & Music Halls 1850 - 1950, the Theatres Trust Guide, and extensive reports in the Daily News, and the ERA over a number of years M.L.

If you have any images or other material related to 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.

 

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