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
The Tennis Court Theatre, Bear Yard, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Henry Killegrew having obtained a patent from King Charles II. to build a Theatre for dramatic entertainments, collected a company of performers from among those dispersed at the breaking out of the civil wars, and until such time as he could get his Theatre in ready for their reception, had plays for a time at the Red Bull, in Street, and afterwards converted Gibbon's Tennis Court, , Little , into a temporary Theatre; at which places his company continued performing in all , , and some of them during and part of : at which period the Theatre in was finished and made ready for performances, where they in future continued acting, calling themselves His Majesty's Company of Comedians[*] ; which olearly proves Gibbon's Tennis Court was never other than a temporary Theatre, and no way connected with the Duke's Theatre in , with which its history has been often confusedly blended. How this Theatre, or Tennis Court, was appropriated from to does not appear; but in that year we find it again in use for dramatic amusements: as on the , Mr. Charles D'Avenant sold his patent of to Christopher Rich, Esq., a lawyer, who, in consequence of professional skill, and more than professional diligence, contrived to engross the whole power, and reign despotic in the MIMIC EMPIRE: however, in this tyranny he was opposed by the actors. The nobility likewise bestowed their influence; the Lord Chamberlain also interested the KING in their favour, as men that had suffered much and gained little; so that, under the royal sanction, aided by the liberality of the Court and of the City, the interior of the Great Tennis Court in [*] was a time cleared, and within its walls a Theatre was erected; which, under the auspices of Congreve, Betterton, &c., was opened on the , with the new comedy of "Love for Love" (which was performed with extraordinary success the remainder of the season), and closed in June. Mr. Betterton is said to have been induced to quit , partly by ill treatment from the managers, and partly with a view to repair, by more enlarged profits from speculation, the loss of his whole fortune (upwards of ), which he had suffered in the year , by adventuring it in a commercial scheme to the East Indies.
The prosperity of this new Playhouse, though great at , was by no means permanent; and after years' sunshine, the affairs of the Company suffered so much, that the concern was entirely broken up, and the performers dispersed: from that time the Tennis Court Theatre was never used for any public dramatic purpose.
The site of Gibbon's Tennis Court, and other tenements, in , near , was the spot originally called Ficket's Fields, where the Lollards met temp. Henry V. and were joined by Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham. It was granted , Hen. VIII. to Anthony Singer; rent to the Crown Charles I., in his year, granted to Thomas York, his executors and assigns, license to erect as many buildings as they thought proper, upon St. Fields, in that parish, the inheritance of the then Earl of Clare, to be built on each side of the causeway leading from Gibbon's Booling Alley, at the coming out of , to the Rein Deer Yard, that leadeth to . When was erected, , Rein Deer Yard was, from the sports of the butchers, called and the south-west corner of the square, Little . A part of this Theatre was occupied by James Belbon, a brewer, who, about years ago, kept the Lamb Brewhouse, in , , from which there was a passage into Bear Yard. His ale, &c., was brewed on or under the stage part of the Theatre: and we are informed that, at the time the affairs of the Roman Catholics demanded privacy, they used to meet in this house, which had an oratory standing, until about the year . The original sign of the HOLY LAMB in stone was preserved. Dr. Oates resided near this place at the beginning of his career.
The remains of this little Theatre, which, from their obscure situation, had long been unnoticed, were accidentally discovered after a fire, which happened , and which left nothing but a portion of the bare walls. The inside, in the various transformations it had undergone, had been stripped many years before, and retained but little to remind us of its former destination: for some time it had been respectively devoted to the purposes of a carpenter's shop, and to boiling the provisions of a neighbouring dealer in tripe.
At the back of , Little , is a public house, still remaining, known by the name of the , long celebrated as a rendezvous for players, who have used it as a place of general meeting since the time of Shuter, the comedian, who frequented it; and where the performers of and Covent Garden Theatres, mostly met the friends to whom they had promised it used to be constantly attended by Suett, Sedgwick, Quick, Munden, Edwin, &c., of late days; and heretofore by Shuter, Dunstall, Weston, and other celebrated comedians; but the present resort of most theatrical persons is the O. P. and P. S. Coffee-house, Russel Court, , and the Coal Hole Chop-house, , Strand, where most country managers and theatrical candidates daily meet on business as well as pleasure.
The view representing the ruins occasioned by the fire in Bear Yard, Little , , is that of the original Tennis Court, used as a Theatre by the King's Company of Comedians, under Killegrew's patent, until the Theatre Royal in was built, and made ready for their reception: but not at any period occupied by the Duke of York's Company, under Sir William D'Avenant, as often erroneously it has been thought.
[*] The performers were Mr. Theophilus Bird, Mr. Hart, Mr. Mohun, Mr. Lacy, Mr. Burt, Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Clun, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Robert Shatterell, Mr. William Shatterell, Mr. Duke, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Kynaston, Mr. Wintersel, Mr. Bateman, Mr. Blagden. It appears by this list of the actors of Drury Lane, that all the performers who had acted before the civil wars, were selected to complete the King's Company, and Kynaston taken from the company that acted under Rhodes, the bookseller, at the Cockpit, Drury Lane.
[*] This Tennis Court is mentioned in old plays, and indeed in documents of superior authority, as situated near Holywell Street, St. Clement Danes. It was a licensed gaming-house, under the direction of Clement Cotterell, Esq., groom-porter to King James I. The Duke's Theatre was in this place, then called Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, Bear Yard, &c., but totally distinct from the other.
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.