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 Regency Theatre. Tottenham Street, Tottenham Court Road.
This Theatre is built on the site of His Majesty's late Concert Rooms for Ancient Music, suggested and established by the late Earl of Sandwich, under the sanction of the King, and after honoured in bearing the name of his Rooms. Their Majesties several times visited the musical performances at this place; but it being found too small and inconveniently situated to accommodate the numerous subscribers, the Rooms were engaged, and the Ancient Concerts for many years have been performed there.
Hyde the Trumpeter afterwards rented these premises, and they were called Hyde's Rooms, for Concerts. On his quitting them they were untenanted for some time, and very much out of repair, when Colonel Greville engaged them, fitted them up in an elegant manner, and instituted his celebrated PIC NIC Society, which made so much noise and glee among the fashionable world, that it was thought it would considerably hurt the regular theatres; indeed, so much so, that the proprietors of the winter houses interfered, and endeavoured to stop their performances; however, the Dilettanti opened under a sort of agreement with Sheridan and Richardson, that not more than representations should take place each season, and no hired performers of any existing theatre to act in them. The parts to be acted BONA FIDE by ladies and gentlemen, and to be inserted on their cards, "With Consent of the Proprietors of the established Winter Theatres." Such an agreement was assented to and hastily signed by Col. Greville, who immediately after withdrew his signature. Their motto was, ""—We do what we can, but not what we wish. They commenced on the , with a prologue by Greville, and an interlude, written by and principally acted by himself, founded on the difficulty and opposition he had experienced in forming the society; and French proverbs, Zing Zing and Les Foux, acted by French people. The company then retired to the refreshment-rooms, and the audience part of the Theatre was in a few minutes converted into a supper room, for the audience to return and partake of a cold collation. After supper catches and glees were introduced, accompanied by a grand pianoforte; and the company departed about half-past o'clock. The subscription for the season was guineas, and in lieu of PIC NIC guinea, with bottles of wine for the season, half white, half red, no wine being allowed to be sold on the premises: the subscription to be paid to Messrs. Coutts and Co. The Society continued here for some time, and several full plays were acted, occasionally assisted by actresses and actors from the winter houses. Captain Sowden, who went up in the balloon with Garnerin, and compared Epping Forest to a gooseberry-bush, was Greville's official man in the stage direction. Sowden was the same who, in , appeared at the by the name of Stapleton, in Dennis Brulgruddery, and afterwards engaged by the Company at the Lyceum, and in both instances completely failed. Richard Choyee Sowden, alias Stapleton, died in , at , in the year of his age. He was a man of singular eccentric habits, had been a captain in the navy, and driven to the stage by necessity, after squandering away his property, having at inherited .
In the year , Saunders (the father of Master Saunders, the rider) fitted up the interior of this place in a very temporary manner, and opened it for horse-riding principally, but had some trifling stage performances, which was attended by very low company, and lasted but for a short period, though he made every possible exertion to fill his house, by parading the whole troop of performers through the streets and squares of the neighbourhood daily.
In , Mr. J. Paul, a pawnbroker in Upper Mary-le-bone Street, who had made some property by his business (solely for the purpose of gratifying his wife's ambition to perform, and for which she was but very indifferently qualified), took the Rooms on lease, pulled down the fittings--up within the walls, built an elegant little Theatre, adorned the outside, erected a portico to the entrances, and opened with Love in a Village, as a burletta, contrary to Act of Parliament, Mrs. Paul playing Rosetta. A very few weeks terminated their career, and Paul became a bankrupt.
The Theatre was afterwards let to several speculating managers; and some tradesmen who had been for many years
|respectably situated in business, were infatuated enough to embark in this ruinous concern, and lost their all: among whom ranked as the chief, Mr. Spragg, printer; and Mr. Cooke, the dyer and hot-presser: the latter of whom did not long survive the misfortunes he had entailed on himself.|
Penley, the brother of the late actor of , was of the adventurers that engaged the place after Paul's failure, but with very little success, commensurate with his expectation. Of the Penley, an anecdote is at present in circulation, of rather a singular nature. The late Mr. Raymond, with several of his brother comedians (among whom was Mr. Penley), having, about years since, made a party to enjoy a day at Greenwich, previous to dinner amused themselves in the Park, and among other diversions of the mimic party, a sham duel was proposed, and performed: in which it was Mr. Raymond's part to fall; Mr. Penley was appointed to the office of sham undertaker; but afterwards, quitting the stage, and commencing the business of an upholsterer and real undertaker, performed in earnest that last office to his departed brother actor and friend, Mr. Raymond, on Sunday, , when the latter was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul, Covent Garden, attended to the grave by his theatrical brethren of both houses, in thirtyfive mourning coaches, a cavalcade of private carriages closing the procession.
The season in which the Regency Theatre most prospered was when Cobham (afterwards of Sadler's Wells and the ) performed the parts of Marmion, and Gloucester, in Jane Shore, both of which pieces brought crowded houses. Indeed, this gentleman's performance of Marmion attracted such notice, that it is said Mr. Kemble, who purposely went to see him play the part, gave his opinion, that, had his figure been equal to his conception, action, and delivery, he would have become of the greatest ornaments to the stage.[*] But even Cobham did not possess the power to draw sufficient company beyond a season; and the novelty ceasing, the Regency fell into decay.
Mrs. Powell, formerly of and Covent Garden Theatres, who on several occasions had successfully been (in both those Theatres) a substitute for Mrs. Siddons, condescended to appear on these boards; and Fitzwilliam, the present favourite of the , is indebted to the Regency Theatre for his introduction to a London audience. The confined scale, however, of the establishment, prevented any manager from securing long the service of a favourite actor; none of which ever considered the Regency engagement otherwise than a prelude to better situations, of which they invariably availed themselves with the convenient opportunity.
, the lease was sold by auction by Robins; the only bidders were, Watson, the Cheltenham manager, and Beverley, formerly of , in a minor department. Beverley made the bidding, guineas, which the assignees would have gladly accepted, and, rather than not have got rid of it, would have presented it to any . They bid against each other till it was knocked down to Beverley at guineas. The conditions of sale stated the privilege of keeping open all the year, upon a magistrate's licence—the Theatre to have cost upon a term of years from Christmas, , at the very low rent of —sold by order of the assignees, and the money to be paid in months: it was stated that the taxes were , that the movable property was worth , and the Theatre was usually let for a week.
If the present occupier can possibly make it answer, it must be by reducing the expenses to a very low scale indeed, and employing the whole of his family in the concern. Their chief support is from the half price.
The entrance to the King's Ancient Concert Rooms was (prior to the converting them into a Theatre) in , communicating with , , and , .
The Committee of the Musical Fund held their meetings here; and every quarter a part of them attended, to receive the statement, and settle the claims on their establishment. All orphan children of Musicians belonging to the Fund were apprenticed from this place. The premium given is ; and to each for working tools, &c., at the expiration of their apprenticeship.
[*] It is truly surprising to see the blindness and want of judgment in many of our theatrical caterers, who could so simply pass unnoticed the talent and judgment of this performer, and substitute in the place several histrionic adventurers, whose performances previously had disgraced our country barns. The melancholy beggarly accounts from empty benches, and subsequent losses, too evidently bear testi mony to the truth of this remark.
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.