In March 1851 the Theatre Royal was opened behind a private house owned by a Mr Morris in King Street Wigan. The sole proprietor of the Theatre was Mr R. Edgar, who had previously appeared with Miss Newby at the Royal Adelphi in Mill Gate, and who owned Theatres in Preston and St. Helens. The preliminary advertisement stated that, the Theatre is fitted up in a style and elegance not surpassed by any Theatre in the provinces. The Theatre will be splendidly decorated by Mr Dearlove, a scenic artist from Liverpool. New scenery, brilliant properties and superb wardrobe will be furnished; the pieces will be brought forward on the same scale of magnificence as the Theatre Royal Preston.
Right - A Google StreetView image of the site of the Theatre Royal Wigan today - Click to Interact.
Mr Edgars application for a licence to commence entertainment in the Theatre had met with some opposition and a report in the Wigan Times of the 31st January 1851 tells of a Mr Barlow, a local plumber and glazier, saying that he did not consider the building to be safe in construction. However the Theatre was granted a licence and the Theatre opened on the 1st March 1851 when the drama, 'The Village Queen or The Storming of Sebastian' was followed by a comic song and a farce 'Devil to Pay' made up the first night's entertainment.
Miss Newby from The Royal Adelphi Theatre took part in this first performance as she did on so many later occasions. The run down and final closure of the Adelphi would seem to be by design rather than bad management.
The building behind which the Theatre Royal was situated was to become the Shakespeare Hotel after an application for a licence to sell intoxicating liquor was granted shortly after the opening of the Theatre: "In front of the building is a house (the property of Mr Morris) for which a licence we understand will be applied for, and in all probability granted seeing the convenience it would afford to the parties who visit the Theatre."
The illustration (shown above) shows that the entrance to the Theatre, after the remodelling and restoration of 1890, was via three large doors on the façade of the hotel. On the left is the entrance to the pit and stalls. In the centre the entrance to the circle and boxes to the right is the entrance to the gallery. Up to 1970 the Shakespeare Hotel was still in business, the right and left doors serving the hotel and the large centre one converted into a window. This last vestige of the Theatre has fallen victim to the bulldozer and a café / bar now stands on the site.
The Theatre, although small in size, flourished and served ,not only in its intended capacity as a place of entertainment both professional and amateur but also as a hall for political and other meetings. The entertainment offered was varied and included performances of Shakespeares plays and Italian opera. The Theatre changed hands several times during its lifetime and received no special attention to its fabric by the various owners until the last owner Mr H. J. Worswick gave the Theatre a new lease of life by enlarging and restoring the building to the designs of the Wigan architect R. T. Johnson, M.S.A. A report in The Wigan Observer dated 18th December 1890 gives a very clear before and after picture of the building:
RESTORATION OF THE THEATRE ROYAL
'During the last dozen years or so many attempts have been made to work the old Theatre Royal, the only result so far has been a record of disastrous failures, most probably due to the halfhearted efforts of each succeeding leaseholder, none of whom have taken the trouble to put the place in a clean and healthy sanitary condition. Now a big effort is to be made to restore to the little place to the popularity it enjoyed in days of yore, and make it, as a Theatre, far in advance of what it ever has been.
Under the proprietorship of Mr H. J. Worswick and the lessee-ship of Mr Stafford Grafton, an actor whose popularity in Wigan is undoubted the doors of the Theatre Royal will open on Boxing Night, when the drama Monte Christo will be presented by a specially organised company with Mr Grafton himself in the principal part.
The most important feature of the enterprise lies in the fact that although the exterior of the old Theatre has simply been modified and embellished the interior will be entirely new. The inside has been almost completely gutted. The alteration in the auditorium includes a new floor to the pit and an enlargement that will allow the accommodation of a hundred more people; a new entrance to the pit on the left hand side of the building in exchange for the old inconvenient entrance; an alteration of the dress balcony so that those standing at the back of the pit will be able to have a clear view of the stage; the re-flooring and re-seating in blue plush of the middle balcony, the price for which will be the same all - round the circle; a new exit from the dress circle; and what is most important of all a new exit from the gallery on the left hand side of the Theatre by means of a strong and roomy staircase.
In front of the Theatre two canopies of coloured glass will run from the entrance doors to the edge of the pavement, and these will no doubt give the building a far more attractive appearance.
The stage has been re-built on modern lines, and the stage carpenter will be able to manipulate it as easily as could be wished, while the orchestra has been re-arranged so as not to interfere with the sight of the occupants of the pit. The dressing boxes will no longer be a few rickety closets underneath the stage, but will be specially erected in premises immediately over the extreme of the opening on the right hand side of the Theatre, and will be as commodious and healthy as could be desired.
A very commendable alteration is in connection with the stage gas fittings which hitherto have been of lead, but which are now of iron. The fly - rail has been raised a considerable height and the stage space so utilised that the manipulation of scenery will be far more easy and effective .The decoration of the auditorium will be on a complete and lavish scale, the designs for the roof and proscenium being exceptionally pretty. These are only a few of the alterations and improvements which are now being carried out and there is every promise that when the old Theatre is re-opened on Boxing Day it will be alike, healthy, pretty, and well equipped .We are promised a good professional orchestra, and are given to understand that the list of prospective engagements is an unusually strong one.' The Wigan Observer 18th December 1890.
An account of the re-opening of the Theatre Royal, as reported by the Wigan Observer December 31st 1890
'On the evening of Boxing Day, a very large audience assembled in the new Theatre Royal to witness the opening performance of Mr and Mrs Stafford Graftons company in Monty Cristo.
Attracted by the extremely low prices of admission; by the knowledge that the interior of the Theatre had been transformed and by the prospect of seeing a favourite actor in a popular drama, patrons flocked in large numbers, and when the curtain rose the place was most uncomfortably crowded. Mr Grafton who holds the office of responsible manager under the proprietorship of Mr H J Worswick, came forward before the performance commenced, and was received with loud applause. After expressing his satisfaction at seeing such a large assemblage, he asked for a continuance of that liberal patronage which Wiganers always bestowed on him during his past visits to the town, and he promised them that nothing would be wanting on his part to secure a succession of first class companies in first class pieces. Among the engagements already made would be found Messrs Ride and Crisps company in the new drama Liberty by Mr C A Clarke; Mr Balsir Chatterton in The Queens Name, Mr Mark Melfords No 1 company in Flying from Justice; The London Gaiety Company in Faust up to Date; Miss Janet Steer & Miss Grace Hawthorne in Theodora; Valentine Smiths Opera Company in Our Flat from the Strand Theatre London, &c. Mr Grafton then read a prologue, written specially for the occasion by Mr J H Waddington of Wigan, and retired amongst enthusiastic applause. The performance of Monte Cristo was then begun with Mr Grafton assuming the role of Edmund Dante, afterwards Count de Monte Cristo, and Mrs Grafton appearing in the role of Mercedes. Both assumptions are so well known, and the version which they present of Dumas celebrated novel is so familiar to Wigan playgoers that we need say nothing except that the play went as well as ever. It is not by any means our ideal of what a drama should be, but it has been exceedingly popular hitherto, and seemed to be even more so on Friday evening. Mr and Mrs Grafton were supported by an excellent company and a very complete orchestra played a pleasing selection of entracte music, the scenery was all new and very effective. - The Wigan Observer, December 31st 1890.
The Theatre continued in constant use for the next fourteen years in this form, and was closed and demolished in 1904 when Mr J. Worswicks great new Hippodrome Theatre was completed and ready for use on a site immediately alongside the old Theatre Royal. Over fifty years of continuous service to the people of Wigan were to prove Mr Barlows fears over the safety of the fabric of the building to be without foundation.
Right - The site of the Theatre Royal Wigan in March 2012 - Courtesy George Richmond. The site of the Theatre is now occupied by a modern bar called 'Revolution'.
This article on the Theatre Royal, Wigan was first written in 1974 by George Richmond and has now been updated by him in 2012 and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site. The article is © copyright George Richmond 1974 - 2012.
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