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 2Wilkinson, Robert
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 continued disputes and separations which daily took place between the managers and players of the King's and Duke of York's Companies, from their establishment at the Restoration, to the reign of George the ; and the erection of a large Theatre in the , by Sir John Vanbrugh; induced a person named Odell[*] to found another at the east end of the town, for the like theatrical purposes, and who boldly, without any licence whatever, began to act plays: in this practice he continued unmolested a year or , in which time a number of brothels and other houses of ill fame collecting in the neighbourhood, it was considered a nuisance too near the City, and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen petitioned the Crown to suppress it: but at the same time a lawsuit[*] being pending between the managers of the King's Theatre and Harper, who had quitted their service to act on his own account at the Little Theatre in the , no attention was paid to it at that time. The case of the actor was thus: the patentees and managers of the King's Company were much distressed, and considerable losers, by the desertion of their principal performers, who had set up for themselves in the ; when the patentees were advised to put the Act of the of Queen Anne in force against these deserters, as vagabonds; accordingly Mr. Harper was taken from the stage by a Justice of Peace's warrant, and committed to , as within the penalty of the said Act. When the legality of this commitment was tried in Hall, the actor obtained a verdict in his favour, it appearing he was a housekeeper, and having a vote for the Members of Parliament. He was accordingly discharged,[*] with the congratulations of crowds that attended and wished well to his cause.
The cause of the prosecuted comedian having gone so strongly in his favour, the House in continued to act with impunity. In the property of this Theatre had passed into the hands of Mr. Henry Giffard, who, encouraged by a subscription, pulled it down, and rebuilt it in a very handsome and expensive manner, under the direction of Shepherd, the architect of . Mr. Giffard carried on his theatrical career with great success; and on the , the public were astonished and charmed by the appearance of Mr. Garrick on this stage, in the arduous and trying character of Richard the , which he sustained in such a masterly style, that his performances the whole season after drew an audience of nobility and gentry, the carriages of whom filled the whole space from to Whitechapel. Such a phænomenon as Garrick was not calculated long to illume the meridian of ; and, with the departure of the British Roscius, to adorn the western stage, the interest and attraction of the Theatre in sunk to rise no more.
[*] It was in the year 1728, that Odell took a th owster's shop in Ayliffe Street, Goodman's Fields, and collecting together a number of strolling players of both sexes, first opened it as a Theatre.
[*] On the Playhouse Dispute at Westminster. Players and patentees at law are hot, To know who are the beggars, who are not. Ye mighty kings and chieftains of the stage, On this great point suspend awhile your rage: But one year more at Westminster contend, And 'faith ye'll all be beggars at the end.
[*] 1733, Mr. Harper, one of the comedians in the Haymarket Company, who had been committed to Bridewell by Sir Thomas Clarges, upon the Act made against common strollers, was brought by Habeas Corpus to the court of King's Bench, where it was agreed he should be discharged out of Bridewell upon his own recognizance. We have been well informed Mr. Cibber was mistaken in his observation on the pleadings in Court at that trial, that, so far from the circumstance of being a housekeeper serving as a protection from the Vagrant Act, a learned counsellor asserted, that it was in the power of the greatest subject in England to be guilty of an act of vagrancy; and that the only point to be disputed was, whether Harper's performing in the Haymarket Theatre was committing that act.
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.