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 history of Sadler's Wells is combined with the following circumstances: Nearly in the centre of the coach-yard of this popular place of summer amusement, is a well of mineral water, covered by a brick arch, to which originally numbers came for relief from nervous and other disorders; it belonged to the Monks of St. John, Clerkenwell, and was, even after the dissolution of that priory, so much resorted to, that in the time of Oliver Cromwell the use of it was prohibited, as a medium of superstition, and the well closed up by authority. In consequence the place lost its celebrity, and lay dormant till a person named Forcer, took the premises, and opened what was then called a music-house, where concerts were performed. It is most probable, but of this we are not positively informed, that it was also a tea-house, something like , or White Conduit House, in the neighbourhood. Forcer's son added rope-dancing, tumbling, &c. to the music and singing; and in process of time, Sadler took the premises, made it a more regular place of entertainment, and gave it the name of Sadler's Wells, which indicates that the waters of the well were then given gratis to those who frequented the amusements. But it does not appear certain that Sadler charged a price for seeing the performances, but rather, that all those who came to the house for refreshments were admitted to them gratis. Rosamon succeeded Sadler, and introduced a still more regular character of entertainments, and to every of the audience he gave a ticket, which entitled the person who possessed it to a pint of wine, or punch, for sixpence; and it is said that he sold in this way an immense quantity of wine; and perhaps the pleasure of enjoying so exhilarating a beverage at so trifling a rate, induced numbers to frequent the entertainments. Rosamon had a partner, whose name at this instant we do not recollect, who left his share to his widow, upon condition, that if she married she was to forfeit her interest in the theatre to Rosamon; she incurred the forfeiture, and thus Rosamon became sole proprietor; but having bad success for a season or , he sold part of the concern to Mr. Arnold, a goldsmith; and some time after sold the remainder of his property in it to King, the celebrated comedian, and Serjeant, the King's trumpeter; it was then made a regular theatre: dances, burlettas, and pantomimes, were introduced; though rope-dancing and tumbling were continued. King sold out to Wroughton, the actor; and the then firm, being Wroughton, Arnold, and Serjeant, applied to parliament, for an act to secure to them a monopoly of pantomime; it passed the , but was thrown out in the Lords, it is said, through the interference of Lord Thurlow, then Chapcellor.
King and Serjeant sold out soon after, and the new proprietors were the late Mr. Siddons, a quarter; the late Mr. Hughes, proprietor of the Weymouth, Exeter, Plymouth Dock, Dartmouth, and several other provincial theatres, a quarter; the aforesaid Mr. Arnold, a quarter; Mr. Wroughton, an ; and a Mr. Coates, a tanner at Bermondsy, an . A Mr. Lonsdale, originally a calico pattern cutter, and a man of great theatrical genius, was engaged by them to write pieces, invent the pantomimes, &c. and to manage the stage; and the Theatre flourished under his management till about the year , when it declined from some circumstance or other, and Mr. Lonsdale resigning, was succeeded by Mr. C. Dibdin, jun.; but still for years the theatre kept in a declining state, which induced the proprietors to rebuild the audience part, and dispose of their property in it: the new proprietors were, the aforementioned Mr. Hughes, Mr. C. Dibdin, jun. Mr. T. Dibdin, the late Mr. Reeve, the composer; Mr. Andrews, the scene-painter; and Messrs. Barfoot and Yarnold, private gentlemen. The aquatic exhibitions were now introduced, rope-dancing, tumbling, &c. exploded, and every pains taken to bring the theatre nearer to a level with the regular theatres. Mr. C. Dibdin was the author and stage manager, Mr. Reeve the composer, and Mr. Andrews the painter; and under this triumvirate the theatre flourished; and has generally proved a nursery for the Theatres Royal. Messrs. Yarnold and Andrews sold out some time since, and at present the firm is Messrs. C. and T. Dibdin and Barfoot, with the widow of Mr. Hughes and the daughter of the late Mr. Reeve. This theatre has been a lucrative concern, though the season of had been bad on account of the various public spectacles, which injured all places of amusement; but upon the decline of these, the usual attraction of the theatre predominated. feature this theatre has, different from all others: the proprietors are extremely anxious to construct the entertainments so that the most delicate or modest may have no occasion to blush; and that the junior branches of society may not be shocked, or the senior disgusted, with the infamous behaviour of loose women, they take every care to exclude this class of public nuisances from the theatre, and by care and resolution they have so far succeeded, that such characters are rarely to be seen there; the consequence is, that the respectable part of the community more frequently carry their children to Sadler's Wells than to any other place of amusement. The aim of the proprietors is to have the performances more classical and rational than the other minor theatres, and the theatre certainly bears a much more imposing character than it ever before did. It is the oldest minor theatre in London, having been on the same spot, and licensed, above a century; and is the only theatre in London, excepted, that was never burnt down.
The following are the dimensions of the interior of this theatre: Across from wall to wall, feet in the clear. Depth of the stage, from the orchestra to the back wall, feet. Across from box to box, feet. Height of the proscenium, feet. Orchestra, feet by . From the orchestra to back of the pit, feet. (for the aquatic spectacles), in length feet, breadth feet. Lower tank, feet by ; upper ditto, feet square by feet. Leather hose, inches calibre, that can be conveyed to any part of the theatre with the greatest ease. The water is always on the main, from which a large bore is laid from the steam engine, which fills the tank in hours, and rises a perpendicular height feet, to the top of the house.
The view which we have given of Sadler's Wells, from an original painting by Mr. Andrews, exhibits its beautiful situation on the banks of the , comprehending, in perspective, the house of Mrs. Hughes; the entrances to the boxes, pit, and gallery; and in the distance, the residence of Mr. C. Dibdin, manager.
Underneath is a vignette prospect of the old Theatre, before the present structure was erected.
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.