Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 2

Wilkinson, Robert
1819-1825

Destruction of Drury Lane Theatre by Fire.

Destruction of Drury Lane Theatre by Fire.

Interior of the Late Theatre Royal Drury Lane; Built by Henry Holland, Esq., R.A.

Drury Lane Theatre.

Friday, February 24, 1809, about five minutes past eleven at night, the flames burst out at the lobby windows of the front in Brydges Street, while volumes of smoke were seen issuing from every part of the Theatre. In less than a quarter of an hour it spread into one unbroken flame over the whole of the immense pile, extending from Brydges Street to Drury Lane; so that the pillar of fire was not less than 450 feet in breadth. It is impossible for the mind to conceive anything more magnificent than the spectacle, if the idea of the horror and ruin which it brought on the sufferers, could have been separated from the sublimity of the object. In about thirty minutes after its commencement, the Apollo on the top fell into the pit, and soon after the whole of the roof fell. The reservoir for water on the top was at this time unfortunately empty (which our readers will recollect formed, with the iron curtain, the topic of reliance for security in the PrologueThis Prologue was repeatedly spoken by the present Countess of Derby. with which the new theatre was opened). Any attempt to go near the flames was totally impracticable; and all that was saved from ruin was done by the presence of mind and activity of Mr. Kent, a literary gentleman, who was the first to discover the flames; he hurried to the door, and gave the alarm. Mr. Powell the prompter, and Mr. Johnston the mechanist, with two watchmen and Mr. Kent, were the only persons present; for, being a Friday in Lent, there had been no play nor rehearsal. They ascertained that the fire broke out in the hall under the lobby at the Brydges Street entry, which had been shut up that season, and where some plumbers had been at work. It was, when Mr. Kent broke in, confined to that spot: but in ten or twelve minutes it ran up the front boxes, and spread like kindled flax. This may be accounted for from the body of air which so large a hollow afforded, and also the circumstance of the whole being a wooden case. For our readers will recollect, that the immense pile was constructed of timber, and that the frame stood for many months, exhibiting a very fine carcase of carpenter's work before the ribs were filled--in with bricks. Timber was then under 3l. per load; and the architect thought that this wooden work would contribute to the propagation of sound: it did not perhaps perfectly succeed in this respect, but it certainly contributed to the conflagration. Finding it impossible to prevent the destruction of the building, the gentleman saved the books from the room called the Treasury, and they were carried safely to Mr. Kent's house in Tavistock Street. The only other article saved was a bureau in Mrs. Jordan's room: Mr. Kent broke the panels of the door, and brought out the bureau. All further endeavours were rendered impossible by the excess of the heat. About a quarter before twelve, a body of horse-guards, and foot-guards, and volunteers, came to the place, and engines reached the spot from every quarter, but they could do nothing. Part of the wall next to Vinegar Yard fell down, and the house of Mrs. Mac-Beath the fruiterer caught fire. The night was uncommonly fine, and the body of flame spread such a mass of light over the metropolis, that every surrounding object glittered with the brightness of gold. Mr. Sheridan was in the House of Commons, assisting in the important discussion on Mr. Ponsonby's motion.Mr. Ponsonby's motion was THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR IN SPAIN, and was lost by a majority of 93—there being for the motion 127, and for ministers 220, votes. The House was illuminated by the blaze of light, and the interest universally taken in the circumstance interrupted the debate. A motion was made to adjourn; but Mr. Sheridan said, with great calmness, "that whatever might be the extent of the private calamity, he hoped it would not interfere with the public business of the country." He then left the House, and the discussion proceeded. Many of his friends accompanied him to the scene, but it was too late for any effort to be made; and all the engines could effect was, to save the houses in Vinegar Yard and Russell Street (the roofs of which had caught fire) from being burnt down. About half-past one, parts of the out-walls, both in Russell Street and Vinegar Yard, fell down and completely blocked up the passage; but fortunately no lives were lost. The houses in Little Russell Street, facing the Theatre, were dreadfully seared and whitened. Some of them had been on fire in the window-frames, and all the windows were broken by the heat. In Vinegar Yard, two or three small houses, close to the box-door, were burnt and gutted with the fire. Had not the wall in Little Russell Street fallen inwards on the Theatre, it must have crushed the opposite houses. The fire burnt fully up to Drury Lane, to which a part of the building, made into a scene-painting room, we believe, had been lately carried.

The ruins of Drury Lane Theatre remained long a nuisance to the neighbourhood, and probably would have so continued unnoticed by the proprietors, for want of means to rebuild the Theatre, had not a set of gentlemen formed a plan, and framed a Bill, which was brought into parliament to obtain a patent for a third Theatre, awakened the energies and genius of Mr. Sheridan, who, without loss of a moment's time, formed a Committee, of which Mr. Whitbread was chairman, to investigate the whole concern, and contrive a way to restore the building. This had the desired effect; Mr. Mellish's Bill was thrown out of parliament, and the affairs of Drury Lane went prosperously on.

"The Committee for rebuilding Drury Lane Theatre having completed their arrangement on the 17th of October, 1811, Mr. Whitbread, their chairman, waited upon the Prince Regent, at Carleton House, on the 18th, and laid their final resolutions and plan before his Royal Highness, which were honoured with his warmest approbation. The sum required, and subscribed, was 400,000l., out of which, 40,000l. was made applicable to the purchase of the old patent interest, viz., 20,000l. to Mr. Sheridan, who resigns all interest whatever in the property; and the other 20,000l. in equal portions between Mrs. Linley, Mrs. Richardson, and Mr. T. Sheridan. The old renters, and other creditors, accept of twenty-five per cent. in full of their respective demands; and the Duke of Bedford absolves the property of his claim, amounting to 12,000l. The remainder of the money subscribed is deemed competent to the completion of the work. The Committee have decided in favour of the plan of Mr. Benjamin Wyatt, who is appointed architect; and have entered into a contract with Mr. Rowles, builder, who has displayed his ability in the erection of the New Mint and other public structures. He has engaged, under a bond of 20,000l., to perfect the Theatre on or before October 1, 1812, at an estimate of 112,500l. On the 19th, Mr. Whitbread, accompanied by some other gentlemen, delivered to the builder possession of the ground and materials; and a numerous body of workmen commenced their labours on the site. On the 30th, at a second General Meeting, the Subscribers generally ratified their subscriptions, and 120,000l. is already on the books of the Committee, with the promise of further sums.

"April 11, New Drury Theatre is in great forwardness; a meeting of the Subscribers was held this day at the Crown and Anchor, Lord Holland in the chair. The house is to be opened on the 10th October; the cost of the whole will be 150,000l. Thanks were voted to the noble Chairman and Mr. Whitbread; the latter elucidated particulars relative to the funds, building, scenery, &c., and asserted that the undertaking held out prospects of emolument infinitely greater than those of any similar undertaking."—These prospects have not yet been realized.

"September—the scaffolding before Drury Lane Theatre being removed, the public have now a full view of the principal front. The architecture is simple and elegant, and its uniformity must strike every beholder. The front in Brydges Street is the only part which is stuccoed at present, but it is intended that the whole shall be done as soon as the finances will allow. The house was lighted up on Thursday night to judge of the effect. The audience part of the house forms three-fourths of a circle, which, making some little allowance for the deviation in the drop within the proscenium, may be said to be completed by the circular sweep which connects the outer wall of the boxes with the proscenium. The view of the stage is relieved by the appearance on either side of two magnificent herculean columns, representing verde antique marble. Columns of a similar description ornament the grand saloon. The lustres by which the house is lighted, are made from designs formed by the architect. On the staircases at each pillar are placed antique lamps. Melpomene and Thalia are placed in the niches on either side of the proscenium, above the cornice, and the royal arms are painted on the semicircular panel formed by the arch, which appears to surmount the two pillars over the proscenium. The uniform shape of the back wall of the boxes gives an unobstructed range to the sound, at the same time that its thickness (three feet) is an effectual security against the spreading of flames. In the corridors which surround and lead to the boxes, the floors are formed of stone, and rest upon brick arches, without any intermixture of timber. Another wall three feet thick surrounds these corridors. By an invention of Colonel Congreve, water is laid on to all parts of the building, and the reservoir will contain 200 hogsheads, which will supply the pipes for half an hour; and the Directors of the York Buildings' Water-works are engaged, by means of steam-engines, to replenish the reservoir. The scenes will move on an iron railway. The whole building will be completed for 112,000l. The expense, including lamps, lustres, stoves, grates, furniture of the most tasteful and costly description, and architect's commission, will not exceed 125,000l.; and the whole amount of expenditure, including scenery, wardrobe, and all the other property necessary to be provided for opening the Theatre for theatrical performances, will not exceed 150,000l."

 

 

Friday, , about minutes past at night, the flames burst out at the lobby windows of the front in , while volumes of smoke were seen issuing from every part of the Theatre. In less than a quarter of an hour it spread into unbroken flame over the whole of the immense pile, extending from to ; so that the pillar of fire was not less than feet in breadth. It is impossible for the mind to conceive anything more magnificent than the spectacle, if the idea of the horror and ruin which it brought on the sufferers, could have been separated from the sublimity of the object. In about minutes after its commencement, the Apollo on the top fell into the pit, and soon after the whole of the roof fell. The reservoir for water on the top was at this time unfortunately empty (which our readers will recollect formed, with the iron curtain, the topic of reliance for security in the Prologue[*]  with which the new theatre was opened). Any attempt to go near the flames was totally impracticable; and all that was saved from ruin was done by the presence of mind and activity of Mr. Kent, a literary gentleman, who was the to discover the flames; he hurried to the door, and gave the alarm. Mr. Powell the prompter, and Mr. Johnston the mechanist, with watchmen and Mr. Kent, were the only persons present; for, being a Friday in Lent, there had been no play nor rehearsal. They ascertained that the fire broke out in the hall under the lobby at the entry, which had been shut up that season, and where some plumbers had been at work. It was, when Mr. Kent broke in, confined to that spot: but in or minutes it ran up the front boxes, and spread like kindled flax. This may be accounted for from the body of air which so large a hollow afforded, and also the circumstance of the whole being a wooden case. For our readers will recollect, that the immense pile was constructed of timber, and that the frame stood for many months, exhibiting a very fine carcase of carpenter's work before the ribs were filled--in with bricks. Timber was then under per load; and the architect thought that this wooden work would contribute to the propagation of sound: it did not perhaps perfectly succeed in this respect, but it certainly contributed to the conflagration. Finding it impossible to prevent the destruction of the building, the gentleman saved the books from the room called the Treasury, and they were carried safely to Mr. Kent's house in . The only other article saved was a bureau in Mrs. Jordan's room: Mr. Kent broke the panels of the door, and brought out the bureau. All further endeavours were rendered impossible by the excess of the heat. About a quarter before , a body of horse-guards, and foot-guards, and volunteers, came to the place, and engines reached the spot from every quarter, but they could do nothing. Part of the wall next to Vinegar Yard fell down, and the house of Mrs. Mac-Beath the fruiterer caught fire. The night was uncommonly fine, and the body of flame spread such a mass of light over the metropolis, that every surrounding object glittered with the brightness of gold. Mr. Sheridan was in the , assisting in the important discussion on Mr. Ponsonby's motion.[*]  The House was illuminated by the blaze of light, and the interest universally taken in the circumstance interrupted the debate. A motion was made to adjourn; but Mr. Sheridan said, with great calmness, "that whatever might be the extent of the private calamity, he hoped it would not interfere with the public business of the country." He then left the House, and the discussion proceeded. Many of his friends accompanied him to the scene, but it was too late for any effort to be made; and all the engines could effect was, to save the houses in Vinegar Yard and (the roofs of which had caught fire) from being burnt down. About half-past , parts of the out-walls, both in and

153

Vinegar Yard, fell down and completely blocked up the passage; but fortunately no lives were lost. The houses in , facing the Theatre, were dreadfully seared and whitened. Some of them had been on fire in the window-frames, and all the windows were broken by the heat. In Vinegar Yard, or small houses, close to the box-door, were burnt and gutted with the fire. Had not the wall in fallen inwards on the Theatre, it must have crushed the opposite houses. The fire burnt fully up to , to which a part of the building, made into a scene-painting room, we believe, had been lately carried.

The ruins of remained long a nuisance to the neighbourhood, and probably would have so continued unnoticed by the proprietors, for want of means to rebuild the Theatre, had not a set of gentlemen formed a plan, and framed a Bill, which was brought into parliament to obtain a patent for a Theatre, awakened the energies and genius of Mr. Sheridan, who, without loss of a moment's time, formed a Committee, of which Mr. Whitbread was chairman, to investigate the whole concern, and contrive a way to restore the building. This had the desired effect; Mr. Mellish's Bill was thrown out of parliament, and the affairs of went prosperously on.

"The Committee for rebuilding having completed their arrangement on the , Mr. Whitbread, their chairman, waited upon the Prince Regent, at Carleton House, on the , and laid their final resolutions and plan before his Royal Highness, which were honoured with his warmest approbation. The sum required, and subscribed, was , out of which, was made applicable to the purchase of the old patent interest, viz., to Mr. Sheridan, who resigns all interest whatever in the property; and the other in equal portions between Mrs. Linley, Mrs. Richardson, and Mr. T. Sheridan. The old renters, and other creditors, accept of per cent. in full of their respective demands; and the Duke of Bedford absolves the property of his claim, amounting to The remainder of the money subscribed is deemed competent to the completion of the work. The Committee have decided in favour of the plan of Mr. Benjamin Wyatt, who is appointed architect; and have entered into a contract with Mr. Rowles, builder, who has displayed his ability in the erection of the New Mint and other public structures. He has engaged, under a bond of , to perfect the Theatre on or before , at an estimate of On the , Mr. Whitbread, accompanied by some other gentlemen, delivered to the builder possession of the ground and materials; and a numerous body of workmen commenced their labours on the site. On the , at a General Meeting, the Subscribers generally ratified their subscriptions, and is already on the books of the Committee, with the promise of further sums.

", New Drury Theatre is in great forwardness; a meeting of the Subscribers was held this day at the Crown and Anchor, Lord Holland in the chair. The house is to be opened on the ; the cost of the whole will be Thanks were voted to the noble Chairman and Mr. Whitbread; the latter elucidated particulars relative to the funds, building, scenery, &c., and asserted that the undertaking held out prospects of emolument infinitely greater than those of any similar undertaking."—These prospects have not yet been realized.

"September—the scaffolding before being removed, the public have now a full view of the principal front. The architecture is simple and elegant, and its uniformity must strike every beholder. The front in is the only part which is stuccoed at present, but it is intended that the whole shall be done as soon as the finances will allow. The house was lighted up on Thursday night to judge of the effect. The audience part of the house forms -fourths of a circle, which, making some little allowance for the deviation in the drop within the proscenium, may be said to be completed by the circular sweep which connects the outer wall of the boxes with the proscenium. The view of the stage is relieved by the appearance on either side of magnificent herculean columns, representing verde antique marble. Columns of a similar description ornament the grand saloon. The lustres by which the house is lighted, are made from designs formed by the architect. On the staircases at each pillar are placed antique lamps. and are placed in the niches on either side of the proscenium, above the cornice, and the royal arms are painted on the semicircular panel formed by the arch, which appears to surmount the pillars over the proscenium. The uniform shape of the back wall of the boxes gives an unobstructed range to the sound, at the same time that its thickness ( feet) is an effectual security against the spreading of flames. In the corridors which surround and lead to the boxes, the floors are formed of stone, and rest upon brick arches, without any intermixture of timber. Another wall feet thick surrounds these corridors. By an invention of Colonel Congreve, water is laid on to all parts of the building, and the reservoir will contain hogsheads, which will supply the pipes for half an hour; and the Directors of the ' Water-works are engaged, by means of steam-engines, to replenish the reservoir. The scenes will move on an iron railway. The whole building will be completed for The expense, including lamps, lustres, stoves, grates, furniture of the most tasteful and costly description, and architect's commission, will not exceed ; and the whole amount of expenditure, including scenery, wardrobe, and all the other property necessary to be provided for opening the Theatre for theatrical performances, will not exceed "

 
 
Footnotes:

[*] This Prologue was repeatedly spoken by the present Countess of Derby.

[*] Mr. Ponsonby's motion was THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR IN SPAIN, and was lost by a majority of 93—there being for the motion 127, and for ministers 220, votes.

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 Title Page
collapseCourts, Halls, and Public Buildings
collapseSchools
collapseAlms-Houses, Hospitals, &c.
collapsePlaces of Amusement
collapseMiscellaneous Objects of Antiquity
collapseAncient and Modern Theatres
collapseTheatres
The Bull and the Bear Baiting,
The Red Bull Playhouse, Clerkenwell.
Fortune Theatre
Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre
D'Avenant's Theatre Otherwise the Duke's Theatre, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Destruction of Drury Lane Theatre by Fire
Opening of Drury Lane New Theatre
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden
The New Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
Theatre Royal, Haymarket
New Theatre Royal, Haymarket
The King's Theatre, or the Italian Opera, Haymarket
Theatre in Goodman's Fields. The whole of Goodman's Fields was formerly a farm belonging to the Abbey of Nuns, of the Order of St. Clare, called the Minories or Minoresses, from certain poor ladies of that order; and so late as the time of Stow, when he wrote his Survey in 1598, was let out in gardens, and for grazing horses. One Trolop, and afterwards Goodman, were the farmers there. But Goodman's son being heir by his father's purchase, let the grounds in parcels, and lived like a gentleman on its produce. He lies buried in St. Botolph's church, Aldgate.
The Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square
The Tennis Court Theatre, Bear Yard, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields
Olympic Theatre, Newcastle Street, Strand
Sadler's Wells.
The Pantheon Theatre, Oxford Street
Strand Theatre, the Sans Pareil
Astley's Amphitheatre, Westminster Road
The Regency Theatre. Tottenham Street Tottenham Court Road
The Cobourg Theatre
Royal Circus or Surrey Theatre
Lyceum Theatre, or English Opera, Strand.
Theatre in Tankard Street, Ipswich
Checks and Tickets of Admission to the public Theatres and other Places of Amusement.

Title page of Vol. 2 reads: Theatrum illustrata. Graphic and historic memorials of ancient playhouses, modern theatres and other places of public amusement in the cities and suburbs of London & Westminster with scenic and incidental illustrations from the time of Shakspear to the present period.

This object is in collection:
Edwin C. Bolles papers
Subjects
London (England)--Antiquities
London (England)--Description and Travel
Wilkinson, Robert, d. ca. 1825
Bolles, Edwin Courtlandt
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/53839
ID: tufts:MS004.002.057.001.00001
To Cite: DCA Citation Guide
Usage: Detailed Rights