The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3Allen, Thomas
The theatre occupied by sir W. Davenant's company in , , proving too small, and otherwise incommodious, sir W. Davenant, some time before his death, set about erecting a new , on a larger and more splendid scale. For its site he fixed on Dorset gardens near , , contiguous to the spot upon which the Salisbury-court theatre stood, and very near to the water-side. This building, however, he did not live to see completed, as he died in , and it was not ready for the performance of plays until the , when it was opened by the company under the management of lady Davenant, his widow, with Dryden's
which was played nights to crowded audiences, although it had been previously acted at the old theatre; but the attraction probably lay more in the novelty of the house, than in the merit of the play. Great dislike was evinced to the opening of the theatre on the part of the citizens, and every nerve was strained to prevent it, but the players in this instance triumphed over their opponents, and, for a short time, pursued their career very successfully.
The design for this house is said to have been the production of sir Christopher Wren; and it appears to have been built in the most splendid manner, both externally and internally. The chief front faced the Thames, and was ornamented with a handsome portico. The interior was richly embellished, and decorated with busts of the principal dramatists. The building and scenery together cost Compared with the enormous sums which have been expended upon our modern theatres, this appears a mere trifle, but it was far more than had hitherto been dedicated to such a purpose, and was in those days a very serious sum.
For a short period, the Duke's company performed here with good success; but public opinion giving the preference to the King's, which numbered amongst its members Hart, Mohun, Burt, Wintersel, Joe Haines, and others, they found their audiences begin to decline, and, accordingly, were obliged to call in the aid of splendid scenery, dresses, dancing, &c. to enable them to make a stand against their rivals. This had the desired effect; at least it increased the number of their visitors, and decreased the profits of the other theatre, but still without adding greatly to their own ; since the expenses which these novelties occasioned, completely absorbed their profits; and thus the contending companies were bringing ruin upon another, without the prospect of any advantage to either of them. In this state of things, a junction of their forces seemed advisable, and was effected in , through the exertions of Betterton; upon which the Duke's company removed to , and the actors, thus united, were henceforth called his majesty's servants. The Dorset garden's house was not, however, wholly deserted; they continued to perform at it occasionally, and several new pieces were subsequently produced there. On the accession of James the , in , the appellation of
was changed to that of
in compliment to his wife. Dramatic performances appear to have finally terminated here about the year , after which it was used for the exhibitions of prize-fighters, &c. and in it was pulled down. The site was for many years after a wood-yard, and is now occupied by the extensive works of the London chartered gas company, established in .
The above view is copied from Hollar's long view of London, taken some years before the great fire; there is also a good view of it attached to the
a tragedy, by Elkanah Settle, which was performed here with great success, and was the play embellished with copper-plates.