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The Victorian Era Exhibition 1897

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In August 1897 an exhibition was held at Earls Court in London called the 'Victorian Era Exhibition' and in one section there were many exhibits relating to Theatre construction in the UK. The ERA reported on the exhibition in their 28th of August edition and I have transcribed the relevant section below.

A second peep at the Drama Section of the Victorian ERA Exhibition at Earl's Court is quite enjoyable, so extensive is the collection of exhibits relating to the stage. Entering from the Central Hall, and traversing part of the musical instruments division, the visitor passes along a corridor, on each side of which, snugly bestowed in oblong niches, behind glass, are the cardboard models for scenes, showing one stage in the progress of the preparation of a "set." The Theatre Planning and Construction Collection, which is soon reached, has been arranged with a view of illustrating the great progress made in theatre planning and construction during the latter half of the Victorian Era.

The arrangement of the Architectural Room has been in the hands of Mr Edwin 0. Sachs, a member of the 'Drama' Committee. His experience as an architect particularly interested in theatres, and as the author of an encyclopedic work on modern playhouses, has enabled him to bring together a large number of drawings and illustrations of architects and civil engineers. Where original drawings have not been available, Mr Sachs has supplemented them by copies or prints from his own collection, and has had special diagrams prepared for the purposes of the Exhibition.

Every class of theatre building, including the music hall, is represented. The first group includes important London and provincial theatres of to-day, and the principal playhouses at the commencement of the Victorian era. All the exhibits in this group, excepting the photographs, have been lent by Mr Sachs. Amongst them are block plans of modern London theatres and music halls, to uniform scale of 1 to 500, with a view of illustrating the relative sizes of these buildings; block plans of provincial theatres and music halls, to uniform scale of 1 to 500, with a view of illustrating the relative size of these buildings; and drawings of the three principal London theatres of the early part of the Victorian era, by Edwin 0. Sachs: - Covent-garden Theatre - elevation, plan; Drury-lane Theatre - elevation, plan; Her Majesty's Theatre - elevation, plan.

There are also lithographic prints of noted London and provincial theatres, variety theatres, and music halls built during the last twenty years, and photographs of the following London theatres, showing exterior and interior, by Mr Alfred Ellis: - Covent-garden, Drury-lane, Lyceum, Haymarket, Garrick, St. James's, Globe, Princess's, Criterion, Avenue, Strand, Prince of Wales's (exterior only), Daly's, Lyric, Alhambra, Empire, Palace, Adelphi, Grand.

The second group represents the work of theatre architects of the last twenty years. In it are included a collection of drawings and photographs of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and Museum at Stratford-on-Avon, built from the designs of Mr F. W. Unsworth; and a view of memorial tower, view of museum and staircase, photographs showing general view of the building, and photographs of the interiors of the memorial museum.

Here, also, is a collection of architectural drawings, illustrating the following theatres, designed by Mr C. J. Phipps, F.S.A: - Her Majesty's Theatre, London: Perspective view showing exterior, area plan, first tier plan, perspective view of the auditorium; Lyric Theatre, London: Colour study showing decoration of auditorium, colour study of foyer, colour study of saloon. colour study of vestibule, colour study of Royal room, photograph of proscenium, photograph of auditorium, photograph of crush room (dress-circle), photograph of box-office, photograph of exterior, area plan, first tier plan; Gaiety Theatre, London: Colour study of auditorium, area plan, first tier plan; Haymarket Theatre, London: Perspective view of auditorium; Lyceum Theatre, London: Colour study for decoration of auditorium; Prince of Wales's Theatre, London: First tier plan; and Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton: Area plan, first tier plan.

The visitors will notice, too, a collection of prints illustrating some theatres and music halls designed by Mr Runtz, and executed under his supervision, including the New Theatre, Cambridge; the Royal Music Hall, Holborn; and the Empire Palace of Varieties, Middlesbrough; prints showing examples of theatres, by Mr W. G. R. Sprague, such as the New Broadway Theatre, Deptford ; and the Shakespeare Theatre, Lavender-hill; a collection of drawings, photographs, and models of theatre buildings and music hells, designed by Messrs Wylson and Long. These are the Oxford Music London; the Empire Theatre of Varieties, Bristol; the Lyric Theatre, Bath ; the Winter Gardens, Blackpool; the Empress Theatre, Brixton; and the Theatre of Varieties, Dalston.

A Photograph of the interior of the Theatre Royal, Exeter after the disastrous fire on the 7th of February 1885 - From the Illustrated London News.Also shown is a collection of drawings of theatre buildings and music halls designed by Messrs Darbyshire and Smith, including Sir Henry Irving's "Safety Theatre" plan. This design is due to the emphatic expression of Sir Henry Irving's opinion of the absolute necessity of building theatres with a due regard to the safety of the audience, and it was prepared in 1887, after the theatre fire at Exeter.

Right - A Photograph of the interior of the Theatre Royal, Exeter after the disastrous fire on the 7th of February 1885 - From the Illustrated London News.

The problem to be solved by Sir Henry Irving's scheme, as illustrated by the drawings in this exhibition, involved the working out of certain absolute conditions which may be defined as follows: - 1, isolated site; 2, division of auditorium from back of house; 3, minimum height above street level for any part of the audience; 4, provision of two separate exits to every section of the audience; 5, improved construction of the stage with smoke flue; 6, fire-resisting construction throughout; ground plan, circle plan, longitudinal section. In this collection are depicted the New Theatre Royal, Exeter, built on the "Irving Safety Theatre' principal; the Manchester Palace Theatre of Varieties, and the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. Some excellent architectural drawings illustrate twenty six fine theatres designed by that eminent architect Mr Frank Matcham. In the third group is a collection of drawings, tracings, and prints of the building now known as the Palace Theatre of Varieties.

In the fourth group are examples of theatre construction, fittings, and appliances, including sketches of the effect of stage lighting, being reproductions from drawings by Professor Herkomer, R.A., amongst which are a study of an actor, as seen from the gallery, where footlights are used; a study of an actor, as seen from the stalls, where footlights are used; a study of a head, where footlights are used; and a study of a head, where foot-lights are not used. Also in this group are diagrams of appliances used for stage lighting where gas or electricity are employed, prepared by Messrs Strode and Co.; diagrams illustrating a typical London wood stage, prepared by Mr Edwin O. Sachs; diagrams of the stage at the Palace of Varieties; diagrams of hydraulic stage appliances, designed and constructed for the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury-avenue, by Messrs Clarke, Bunnett, and Co. London; diagram of an hydraulic fire-resisting theatre curtain, constructed by Messrs Clarke, Bunnett, and Co., engineers, at the same theatre; model of a fire resisting curtain, designed and constructed by the United Asbestos Company; and prints of theatre stages, being illustrations from a series of articles by Mr Sachs.

The above article (edited) was first published in the ERA, 28th August, 1897.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

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