Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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Parochial Division of Lambeth—The Early History of the Parish—Descent of the Manor—Appearance of Lambeth in the time of Charles II.—Lambeth in the Last Century, as viewed from the Adelphi—The Romance of Lambeth—Lady Arabella Stuart a Prisoner here—Morland, the famous Mechanist—John Wesley preaches here—Pepys' Visits to Lambeth—Messrs. Searle's Boat-building Establishment—Lambeth Marsh—Narrow Wall and Broad Wall—Pedlar's Acre—The "Duke of Bolton," Governor of Lambeth Marsh—Belvedere Road—Belvedere House and Gardens—Cuper's Gardens—Cumberland Gardens—The "Hercules" Inn and Gardens—The Apollo Gardens—Flora Gardens—Lambeth Fields—Lambeth Wells—Outdoor Diversion in the Olden Time—Taverns and Public-houses—The "Three Merry Boys"—The "Three Squirrels"—The "Chequers"—The "Three Goats' Heads"—The "Axe and Cleaver"—The Halfpenny Hatch.
The parish of Lambeth, upon which we now enter at its north-eastern angle, previously to its sub-division, was no less than sixteen miles in circumference; being bounded by Newington, Camberwell, Streatham, Croydon, by the river Thames, and by the parishes of St. George's and Christ Church, Southwark. It is divided into four liberties, and again sub-divided into the following eight wards or precincts: the Bishop's, the Prince's, Vauxhall, Kennington, Marsh, Wall, Stockwell, and Dean's. The parish, and especially its palace, is connected with English history; for, as we have already observed, Hardicanute is said to have died suddenly here at a wedding feast—a clear proof that even in the Saxon times there was a palace here, or the residence of some Saxon thane.
The early history of the parish is thus told by Pennant:—"In early times it was a manor, possibly a royal one, for the great Hardiknut died here in 1042, in the midst of the jollity of a wedding dinner; and here, without any formality, the usurper Harold is said to have snatched the crown, and to have placed it on his own head. It was then part of the estate of Goda, wife successively to Walter, Earl of Mantes, and Eustace, Earl of Boulogne, who presented it to the Church of Rochester, but reserved to herself the patronage of the church. It became, in 1197, the property of the see of Canterbury, by an exchange transacted between Glanville, Bishop of Rochester, and the archbishop, Hubert Walter. Glanville received out of the exchange a small piece of land, on which he built a house, called Rochester Place, for the reception of the Bishops of Rochester whenever they came to London to attend Parliament. In 1357 the then bishop, John de Sheppey, built Stangate Stairs, for the convenience of himself and his retinue to cross over into Westminster. Fisher and Hilsley were the last bishops who inhabited this palace; after their deaths it fell into the hands of Henry VIII., who exchanged with Aldridge, Bishop of Carlisle, for certain houses in the Strand, and its name was changed to that of Carlisle House. The small houses built on its site," he adds, "still (1790) belong to that see."
In the book of Domesday we find the Manor of Lambeth belonging to this Countess Goda. One of the holders of the see of Rochester, in the reign of Henry II., exchanged it for other lands with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury; and we know that Hubert Walter, one of his successors in the archiepiscopate and Lord High Chancellor in the reign of Richard I., resided here.
If the old manor of Lambeth was co-extensive with the subsequent parish, it must have extended along the Thames from Battersea to Southwark. and from the river-side to the limits of Norwood, Kennington, and Streatham, and even to those of the parish of Croydon; but this is not quite certain.
"Lambeth, anciently Lamb-hythe," Northouck thus writes, "is a village situated along the Thames between Southwark and Battersea, extending southward from the east end of Waterloo Bridge, and chiefly inhabited by glass-blowers, potters, fishermen, and watermen." The name of the place has been spelled variously as Lamheth, Lambyth, Lamedh, Lamhees, &c.; and so far back as the time of the Danish occupation it was a village adjacent to the capital.
Pennant, the antiquary, considers that in the time of the Roman occupation, if not at a later date, the Surrey side of the Thames near the metropolis was in all probability a great expanse of water—a "Llyn," as the Welsh call it; and he thought that possibly the name of London is but a corruption or variation of "Llyn Din"—the city on the lake. "The expanse of water," he continues, "might have filled the space between the rising grounds at (near) Deptford and those at Clapham, and have been bounded to the south by the beautiful Surrey hills. Lambeth Marsh and the Bank-side evidently were recovered from the water. Along Lambeth are the names of 'Narrow Walls,' or mounds, which served for that purpose; and in Southwark, again, 'Bankside' shows the means of converting the ancient lake into useful land. Even to this day the tract beyond Southwark, and in particular that beyond Bermondsey Street, is so very low, and beneath the level of common (spring) tides, that the proprietors are obliged to secure it by embankments."
Pennant tells us also that in 1560 there was not a single house standing between Lambeth Palace and Southwark! Indeed, the place was all open country even in the time of Charles II. Thus Pepys writes in his "Diary," in July, 1663:—"Went across the water to Lambeth, and so over the fields to Southwark."
In Ralph Aggas' map of London, to which we have often referred, in the foreground on the left are the Palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lambeth Church, with only one house at a small distance off; a little to the northward is a road leading to the river opposite the landing-place in Palace Yard. The principal ditch of Lambeth Marsh, if we may trust the map, falls into the Thames opposite the Temple Gardens, the ground being occupied by only a single dwelling. On the river-bank opposite Whitefriars commences a line of houses, with gardens and groves behind them, and continued, with little intermission, to the stairs and palace of the Bishop of Winchester on the Bankside. One of the most noted places along this line is Paris Garden, the site of which, as we have stated in the preceding chapter, is now covered by Christ Church in Blackfriars Road. Further eastward, but behind the houses, we see certain circular buildings for bull and bear baiting—amusements to which the "virgin" Queen Elizabeth was partial. Near the bear-baiting place, or "Bear-garden," as it was styled, was a dog-kennel, from which several savage dogs are seen issuing forth. From Winchester Palace to the Borough High Street, and along Tooley (St. Olave's) Street to Battle Bridge, the houses stand somewhat thickly; but towards Horselydown the ground is open, and the buildings are surrounded with gardens. We here see London Bridge crowded with buildings, among which the famous Nonsuch House is conspicuous. Another striking object in the foreground is the noble cruciform church of St. Mary Overie, of which we have already spoken, in magnitude and architectural character the third church in the metropolis, with its pinnacled tower a hundred and fifty feet in height. The park of the Bishop of Winchester appears also walled in on all sides; hence comes the name of Park Street in this locality. On the right stands St. Olave's Church, built before the Norman Conquest.
The history of Lambeth for several centuries was mainly confined to the Palace, and consequently little remains to be said here till we come down to the beginning of the seventeenth century. No doubt, every district of this great metropolis has a character, moral if not physical, of its own; but the American writer who remarked that "there is scarcely a greater difference between Americans and Russians than between the inhabitants of Lambeth and of Central London," was guilty of at least a rhetorical exaggeration, if not of something worse.
A curious old etching by Thomas Nugent, of about the date 1770, which we reproduce on page 384, shows the south side of the Thames, as seen from the top of the Adelphi Terrace. In the foreground is the "Shot Tower," still standing, near the southern end of Waterloo Bridge; near it, a little to the west, are Cuper's Gardens, a mass of trees and foliage; to the south is the Windmill, in Lambeth Marsh; and lastly, St. George's Fields. In the distance are houses, high out of all proportion, and of foreign appearance; while the Surrey hills rise to absurd heights in the background, somewhat like the chain of the Apennines.
A poem on this rural spot, published in the Mirror in 1824, mentions—we know not whether with a poet's lawful exaggeration or not—"tall oaks" as still "waving their ancient branches overhead;" and in it are recounted many of the historical recollections of the place: how Hardicanute died suddenly here, while feasting his subjects.
"No rebel hand
Of life with violence that proud prince deprived;
The brimming goblet often to his lips
He raised, in mad contempt of nature's law
And dictates wise: from off the couch he sank
A lifeless corse. In vain the wassail cup
Passed gaily round the joyous festive board;
In vain the vaulted roof with loud acclaim
Of royal goodness did re-echo wide:
The royal patron of the feast was dead."
And then the writer proceeds to record the persecutions of which the Lollards' Tower was too often the scene; the shelter afforded by the church porch to Mary of Modena, when she fled from Whitehall with her little son, as we have already said; the burial of the two Tradescants, father and son. But we must descend from the lofty region of poetry and imagination to sober prose and dry facts.
Lambeth, however, is not quite without its historical romance, for to this place Lord Percy and the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, were glad to be able to effect their escape from the Savoy when that palace was assailed and sacked by the mob in 1377. (fn. 1)
Here, in 1609 or 1610, the Lady Arabella Stuart, cousin of James I., having contracted a private marriage with William Seymour, a son of Lord Beauchamp, was kept a prisoner in the house of Sir Thomas Parry. She contrived, however, whilst here to correspond with her husband, and the wedded pair managed to effect her removal to Highgate, (fn. 2) where she remained, under surveillance, in the house of a Mr. Conyers, from whom she endeavoured to escape to France; but she was caught in the Channel on board ship, and brought back to the Tower to end her days a prisoner. Her misfortunes—which read like a chapter in a romance—seem to have arisen simply and solely from her nearness to the Crown. Her husband, surviving her by many years, was invested by Charles II. with the Dukedom of Somerset, which had been forfeited by his ancestor, the Protector.
Lambeth, as we have already seen in passing through those parts lying about Kennington, has numbered in its time many residents of note. Besides those whose names we have mentioned, there was living here, in the middle of the seventeenth century, one Mr. Morland (afterwards Sir Samuel Morland), a famous mechanist, not unknown as a statesman, and at whose house Charles II. passed the first night of his restoration. It was this person who, while employed as a clerk at Thurloe's chambers in Lincoln's Inn, (fn. 3) overheard the conversation between the Protector (Cromwell) and Thurloe, in which it was designed to inveigle the king, then an exile at Bruges, and his younger brothers, the Dukes of York and Gloucester, into the Protector's power. Morland, it seems, was asleep at his desk, or was thought to be so; and Cromwell, apprehensive that his conversation had been overheard, drew his dagger, and would have dispatched the slumberer on the spot, had not Thurloe, with some difficulty, prevented him, assuring him that his intended victim was unquestionably asleep, since, to his own knowledge, he had been sitting up two nights together. It had been treacherously intimated to the king and his brothers, through the agency of Sir Richard Willis, that if, on a stated day, they would land on the coast of Sussex, they would be received by a body of five hundred men, which would be augmented the following morning by two thousand horse. Had they fallen into the snare, it seems that all three would have been shot immediately on reaching the shore. Morland, however, had not been asleep, as was supposed by Thurloe and Cromwell; and through his means the king and his brothers were made acquainted with the design against their lives. We shall have more to say about Sir Samuel Morland when we reach Vauxhall Gardens.
In spite of the vicinity of the archbishop's palace, Lambeth, in the latter half of the last century, could reckon among its residents some of the most zealous members of the Wesleyan body; and John Wesley preached in Lambeth Chapel, opposite Bethlehem Hospital, on February 17th, 1791, only one brief fortnight before his death.
Apparently, two centuries ago, when there was only one bridge across the Thames, Lambeth was the place from which the Portsmouth coach, and probably most of the other conveyances to Hampshire and Dorsetshire, started. At all events, Pepys writes in his "Diary," under date 1660, "We took water for Lambeth, and there coach for Portsmouth." On another occasion he tells us that he crossed the water to Lambeth in order to make a journey by land to Woolwich.
Lambeth was a great place for boat-building as far back, certainly, as the reign of Charles II. At all events, Samuel Pepys tells us in his "Diary," under date August 13th, 1662, "To Lambeth, and there saw the little pleasure-boat in building by the king, my Lord Brouncker, and the virtuosos of the town, according to new lines, which Mr. Pett cries up mightily; but how it will prove we shall soon see." We have already met with Mr. Commissioner Pett in our saunterings through Deptford. (fn. 4)
Apart from its boat-building, which was carried on here to a large extent until the formation of the southern or Albert Embankment, Lambeth has long been one of the principal points on the Thames, above bridge, for the traffic both of watermen and the more modern steamboat conveyance. Searle's boat-yard, just above Westminster Bridge, on the spot now covered by the Albert Embankment, in front of St. Thomas's Hospital, was a place as familiar to the boating men of Oxford in the last generation as the "Ship" at Mortlake, or the "Star and Garter" at Putney are now. Messrs. Searle's boat-yard has of late years been removed to another site higher up the river, at Stangate, close to Lambeth Bridge.
We have described the marshy nature of the land lying between the river and St. George's Fields in former times. Lambeth Marsh—for by such name the locality was known—was protected from the incursion of the river by embankments. At a very early date banks of earth were erected along the south side of the Thames, in order to keep out the tidal waters, and to hold them in check. Our readers will not have forgotten that one locality in Southwark still retains the name of Bankside. (fn. 5) Other embankments, too, were raised, in order to assist in keeping the inland district from inundation, and to form causeways for passengers travelling from Lambeth to London Bridge and the several landing-places along the river-side. Of these embankments, one running nearly parallel with the river was called Narrow Wall; another, bounding the marsh on the east, Broad Wall; and an ancient raised road, probably as old as the time of the Roman occupation, followed the line of the street now known as Lambeth, or Lower Marsh.
Lambert, in his "History of Surrey" (1806), tells us that on "Narrow Wall" is a manufactory of artificial stone, established in 1769 by Mr. Coade. "The preparation," he adds, "is cast in moulds and burnt, and is intended to answer every purpose of carved stone. It is possessed of the peculiar property of resisting frost, and consequently it retains its sharpness, in which it excels every species of stone, and even equals marble."
About 1870 a sculptured bas-relief (2½ feet by 2 feet, and 4 inches thick) was found in the course of excavations for deep foundation at Broad Wall. It represented the figure of a chief, attired and armed as if for the chase, with certain attributes of costume of a non-European (perhaps American) character, such as a deep fringe round the loins, and strings of beads on the neck, arms, and legs. The spot where it was found was formerly a bog; and it is supposed by the Archæological Institute to be part of the cargo of a vessel broken upon the spot many ages ago.
There were, even as late as the beginning of
the present century, open fields, with a windmill,
where now the renowned "New Cut" connects
the Blackfriars and Waterloo Roads. Mill Street,
which was pulled down on the formation of the
South-Western Railway, marked the site whereon
stood a group of picturesque old wooden mills.
The spot between the Belvedere Road and the
river, between Waterloo and Westminster Bridges—till recently known as Pedlar's Acre—was called,
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Church
Osiers, from a large osier-bed which occupied the
spot. This is a plot of ground of some historical
notoriety, though of no great importance. It was
originally a small strip of land, one acre and nine
poles in extent, situate alongside of the Narrow
Wall, and has belonged to the parish of Lambeth
from time immemorial. It is said to have been
given by a grateful pedlar, on condition that his
portrait and that of his dog should be preserved
for ever, in painted glass, in one of the windows of
the parish church. This request has been duly
observed down to our own day, for the picture
was, till lately, to be seen in one of the windows
of the church, and some amusing legendary tales
are still told about the pedlar of Lambeth and
his dog. Whatever truth there may be in the
tradition that the ground in question was bequeathed to the parish by a pedlar, on condition
that the picture of himself and his dog be preserved in the window of the church, we will not
pretend to determine. Astute antiquaries, however, have searched the parish registers, and there
find that the land was bequeathed by some person
unknown. (fn. 6) On Pedlar's Acre was at one time a
public-house, with the sign of a pedlar and his dog;
and on a pane of glass in one of the windows in
the tap-room the following lines were written with
"Happy the pedlar whose portrait we view,
Since his dog was so faithful and fortunate too;
He at once made him wealthy, and guarded his door,
Secured him from robbers, relieved him when poor.
Then drink to his memory, and wish fate may send
Such a dog to protect you, enrich, and befriend."
One of the windows of Lambeth Church also used to contain a figure of the pedlar.
Hereabouts lived and died an eccentric character, Henry Paulet, commonly known as "Duke of Bolton, King of Vine Street, and Governor of Lambeth Marsh." He had in early life performed services to the Government in America, and subsequently had assisted Admiral Hawke in defeating a French fleet off Brest; but he chose to take up his abode here in retirement and in the practice of charity towards his poorer neighbours. "As to the good which he did with his income," writes the author of "The Eccentric," "there is not a poor man or woman in the neighbourhood of the Pedlar's Acre who does not testify with gratitude to some act of benevolence performed for the alleviation of his or her poverty by the hand of this humane and heroic Englishman."
Belvedere Road probably takes its name from the Belvedere House and Gardens, a well-known place of amusement, dating from Queen Anne's time, but of which few records remain. These gardens are not mentioned by Malcolm, nor by John Timbs, in his "Curiosities of London," who simply tells us that Lambeth in former days "abounded in gardens." The Belvedere Gardens, we may add, are likewise passed over without a word by Pennant, Northouck, and Lambert.
Adjoining Belvedere Gardens, not far from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, on the site now occupied by the timber-wharves of Belvedere Road, and close by the Lion Brewery, which abuts upon the river, stood formerly a noted place of public resort, known as Cuper's Gardens, and constantly alluded to by writers in the eighteenth century. As far back as the beginning of the eighteenth century, if not earlier, it was famous for its displays of fireworks. "It was not, however," says Dr. C. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "the resort of respectable company, but of the abandoned of either sex." It is frequently mentioned in the comedies and satires of the day as bearing a very indifferent character. Dr. Mackay lets us into a little of the antiquarianism of the place, for he tells us that it took its name from Boydell Cuper, who had been gardener to Lord Arundel on the other side of the river, and who rented the ground from his lordship. In our account of Arundel House (fn. 7) we mentioned that it was adorned with a variety of busts and statues; and it appears that when that house was pulled down in order to build new streets, a number of these statues, in a more or less mutilated state, came into Cuper's possession, and were set up in different parts of his gardens. This place of entertainment was suppressed by the authority of the magistrates in 1753. It is described by Mr. J. H. Jesse as "a favourite place of resort for the gay and profligate from the end of the seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century." It must have somewhat resembled the "Spring Garden" at Charing Cross, if it be true, as stated by Mr. Jesse, that "the principal attractions of the gardens were their retired arbours, their shady walks ornamented with statues and ancient marbles, and especially the fireworks." The trees which threw their shade upon these walks were standing, at all events, as late as 1770, for they are shown in the etching which we reproduce on page 384, the view of which is taken from the top of the newly-built Adelphi Terrace. The banks of the river, as shown in our illustration, were at that time steep and irregular, and the houses few and far between where now is all the bustle of the Waterloo Railway Station. A print of Cuper's Gardens is in existence, showing the groves, alcoves, and statues with which it was adorned. Some of the plane-trees belonging to these gardens are still green and flourishing in the grounds behind St. John's Church, Waterloo Road; and the name of the place is still preserved in Cuper's Stairs, nearly opposite the Adelphi. Part of the site of Cuper's Gardens was afterwards occupied by Beaufoy's vinegar works and manufactory of British wines, (fn. 8) till the formation of Waterloo Bridge and its approaches cleared the spot, and forced Beaufoy to retreat further south.
Besides the gardens above mentioned, several other places for open-air entertainment were established in Lambeth in the latter part of the last century. The Duke of Cumberland, the "butcher" hero of Culloden, gave name to some gardens by the river-side, not far from Nine Elms, which existed till 1813, when they were destroyed on the formation of Vauxhall Bridge Road. The Hercules Inn and Gardens were at the junction of the Kennington and Westminster Roads, on the spot afterwards occupied by the Female Orphan Asylum, and now by Christ Church. The gardens were opened as a place of public resort in the year 1758; their memory is still perpetuated by Hercules Buildings, in Westminster Bridge Road. Nearly opposite, close to where Messrs. Maudslay's engineering works now stand, as we have already had occasion to state, early in the present century, built upon piles in a swamp, were the Apollo Gardens, opened in 1788 by Mr. Cloggett, proprietor of the fashionable Pantheon in Oxford Street. Here there was a central orchestra, and alcoves with snug wooden boxes all around, containing grotesque and amusing pictures and sculptures. In the same year the Flora Gardens were opened in Mount Street; but in two or three years these places had acquired such an evil repute that the magistrates repressed them.
The Lambeth Fields were for two centuries a favourite resort of Londoners, and celebrated for the variety of sweet-smelling flowers and medicinal herbs growing there. Near the Upper Marsh was Curtis's great botanical garden, on the spot where in the old times had stood a lazar-house.
In the reign of William III. there was another place of amusement, known as "Lambeth Wells," in what is now Lambeth Walk, but was then termed Three Coney Walk; they were held for a time in high repute, on account of their mineral waters, which were advertised as to be sold, according to John Timbs, at "a penny a quart, the same price paid by St. Thomas's Hospital." About 1750, we learn from the same authority, there was a musical society held here, and lectures, with experiments in natural philosophy, were delivered by Dr. Erasmus King and others. Malcolm tells us that the Wells opened for the season regularly on Easter Monday, being closed during the winter. They had "public days" on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with "music from seven in the morning till sunset; on other days till two!" The price of admission was threepence. The water was sold at a penny a quart to the "quality" and to those who could pay for it; being given gratis to the poor. We incidentally learn that there were grand gala and dancing days here in 1747 and 1752, when "a penny wedding, in the Scotch manner, was celebrated for the benefit of a young couple."
The following notice was issued in some of the public papers in August, 1710:—"A gold ring is to be danced for on the 31st instant, and a hat to be played for at skittles the next day following, at the 'Green Gate,' in Gray's Walks, near Lambeth Wells." About this time, Lambeth Marsh, close by, and the fields round about, were the scene of out-door diversion and merry-making during the summer months, running matches and "grinning" matches being of frequent occurrence.
Apropos of these gatherings for social enjoyment,
the following quotation from Fielding's "Proverbs"
may not be out of place here, as Lambeth was
one of the head-quarters of amusement for the
citizens of London:—"In addition to the May
games, morris-dancing, pageants, and processions,
which were common throughout the kingdom, the
Londoners," he tells us, "had peculiar privileges
of hunting, hawking, and fishing; they had also
large portions of ground allotted to them in the
vicinity of the City for the practice of such
pastimes as were not prohibited, and for those,
especially, that were conducive to health. On the
holidays, during the summer season, the young
men exercised themselves in the fields with leaping,
archery, wrestling, playing with balls, and practising
with their wasters and bucklers. The City damsels
had also their recreations, playing upon their
timbrels and dancing to the music, which they
often practised by moonlight. One writer says
it was customary for the maidens to dance in
presence of their masters and mistresses, while
one of their companions played the music on a
timbrel; and to stimulate them, the best dancers
were rewarded with a garland, the prize being
exposed to public view during the performance.
To this custom Spenser alludes—
'——The damsels they delight,
When they their timbrels smite,
And thereunto dance and carol sweet.'
The London apprentices often amused themselves with their wasters and bucklers before the doors of their masters. Hunting with the Lord Mayor's pack of hounds was a diversion of the metropolis, as well as sailing, rowing, and fishing on the Thames. Duck-hunting was a favourite recreation in the summer, as we learn from Strype."
Among the other sports which prevailed in Lambeth, in the days of "Merrye Englande," was that of "hocking," or catching and binding with ropes the passers-by in the street. The men "hocked" the women, and the women the men; and each had to pay a small fine on being released. Strutt tells us, in his "Sports and Pastimes," that "Hock-Day" was celebrated probably in remembrance of the death of Hardicanute, already mentioned, which delivered England from the tyranny of the Danes. In the churchwardens' accounts of Lambeth for 1515 and the following year are several entries of "hock-monies" received from the men and the women for the church service. "And here we may observe," adds Strutt, with a stroke of dry humour, "the contributions collected by the fair sex exceeded those made by the men."
Since the first formation of streets in the place of the fields and marshy ground hereabouts, Lam beth, like most other water-side places, has no been behind-hand in the number of its public houses, some of which have acquired more than a local reputation. From a manuscript list, written about the year 1810, we glean the following particulars of its tavern signs:—In Westminster Bridge Road, the "Army and Navy," the "King's Head." the "Rose," the "Crown," the "Red Lion," the "Dover Castle," the "Canterbury Arms," and the "New Crown and Cushion." In Coburg Road, the "Three Compasses" and the "Olive Branch." In Coburg Place, the "Queen's Arms" and "The Pilgrim." In Broad Wall, the "Mitre" and "The Bull in the Pound"—the latter of which points to the time when a bull was liable to be punished for trespass, and put into the pound or pinfold. In Gibson Street, "The Duke of Sussex." In Hatfield Street, "The Duke of Wurtemberg"—a sign which commemorated the marriage of the Princess Royal, daughter of George III., with Frederick, first King of Wurtemberg. At Lambeth Butts, "The Tankerville Arms."
In Upper Fore Street there is an inn with the sign of the "Three Merry Boys," which, as Mr. Larwood suggests, is probably a corruption of the "Three Mariners," a tavern which is known to have existed within the parish. Allen tells us, in his "History of Lambeth," that when this inn underwent repairs in 1752, there was found in it a remarkable arm-chair, with high elbows, covered with purple cloth, and ornamented with gilt nails. "An old fisherman," adds Mr. Allen, "told Mr. Buckmaster that he had heard his grandfather say that Charles II. used to frequent this tavern in disguise, on his water-tours along with his ladies, in order to play chess, &c., and that the chair found was the same in which the king sat. The royal chair was repaired, and kept as a curiosity by the late Mr. John Dawson, but was destroyed at the pulling down of his old dwelling in Vauxhall. Mr. Buckmaster sat in the chair many times; but his feet would not touch the ground." King Charles, it will be remembered, was very tall in stature: a fact which strongly corroborates the idea that the chair was not only sat upon by his Majesty, but also designed and made for his special use.
"The Three Squirrels" was the sign of an inn here, mentioned by Taylor, the water-poet, in 1636, but its exact locality is not known. The same sign is still to be seen over Messrs. Goslings', the bankers, in Fleet Street.
In Calcot's Alley was formerly an inn which bore the sign of the "Chequers." It is worthy of note here, on account of a fact connected with it, mentioned by Allen, in his "History of Lambeth," viz., that in 1454 its owner, one John Calcot, had granted to him a licence to have an oratory in his house, and a chaplain for the use of his family and guests, and adapted to the celebration of divine service as long as his house should continue to be orderly and respectable.
The "Three Goats' Heads," a public-house on the road to Wandsworth, was originally the "Cordwainers'" or "Shoemakers' Arms," which are "azure, a chevron or, between three goats' heads, erased, argent." Gradually the heraldic attributes have fallen away, or been blotted out by the clumsy sign-painter's brush, and the goats' heads alone now remain; the name of the inn, too, has sunk from the region of heraldry to that of vulgar commonplace.
Till near the end of the last century, an inn, with the sign of the "Axe and Cleaver"—a compliment to the carpenter's trade—was to be seen near the garden-wall of the archbishop's palace; and hard by was another of a like kind, "The Two Sawyers." These signs require no comment.
We have mentioned in previous chapters the existence, in former times, near St. George's Church in the Borough, and likewise at Rotherhithe, of a thoroughfare known as the Halfpenny Hatch. (fn. 9) Lambeth, we may add, could boast of its Halfpenny Hatch as late as the commencement of the present century. It led from Christ Church, in the Blackfriars Road, to the Marsh Gate, near Westminster Bridge, over some fields where now stands St. John's Church, Waterloo Road.
Here Astley first exhibited his horses, before taking the ground near Westminster Bridge which has since been associated with his name. The Hatch House was at the back of St. John's Church, at the end of Neptune Place, and its forlorn and ramshackle condition is graphically described by Mr. John T. Smith, in his "Book for a Rainy Day." Its site still presents the same sunken appearance, the ground around it having been artificially raised for building purposes. "It was built," writes Mr. Smith, "subsequent to the year 1781, by Curtis, the famous botanist, whose name it still retains; but the original Hatch House, I was informed, stood at the back of the present one." He tells us how he took a sketch of "this vinemantled Half-penny Hatch;" but his sketch is not now in existence.
There was a time when the description of Pope,
in his youthful imitation of Spenser, was really
applicable to Lambeth:—
"In every town where Thamis rolls his tyde,
A narrow pass there is, with houses low,
Where ever and anon the stream is eyed,
And many a boat soft gliding to and fro;
There oft are heard the notes of infant wo,
The short, thick sob, loud scream, and shriller squall.
* * * * *
"And on the broken pavement, here and there,
Doth many a stinking sprat and herring lie;
A brandy and tobacco shop is near,
And hens and dogs and hogs are feeding by;
And here a sailor's jacket hangs to dry.
At every door are sun-burnt matrons seen
Mending old nets to catch the scaly fry,
Now singing shrill, and scolding oft between—
Scold answers foul-mouth'd scold; bad neighbourhood, I ween.
* * * * *
"Such place hath Deptford, navy-building town;
Woolwich and Wapping, smelling strong of pitch;
Such Lambeth, envy of each band and gown."
Dr. Charles Mackay quotes these lines, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," as still applicable to Lambeth in 1840. In 1877, however, the scene is very different; and, thanks to the erection of the Albert Embankment, Lambeth must be removed out of the category of low river-side scenes.
LAMBETH (continued).—THE TRANSPONTINE THEATRES.
The Morality of the Transpontine Theatres—The building of the Coburg Theatre—Its Name changed to the Victoria—Vicissitudes of the Theatre—The Last Night of the Old Victoria—The Theatre altered and re-opened as the Royal Victoria Palace Theatre—A Romantic Story—Origin of Astley's Amphitheatre—Biographical Sketch of Philip Astley—His Riding School near the Halfpenny Hatch—He builds a Riding School near Westminster Bridge—The Edifice altered, and called the Royal Grove—Destruction of the Royal Grove by Fire—The Theatre rebuilt, and opened as the Amphitheatre of Arts—The Theatre a second time destroyed by Fire—Again rebuilt, and called the Royal Amphitheatre—Astley and his Musicians—Death of Mr. Astley—The Theatre under the Management of Mr. W. Davis—Ducrow and West—Description of the Theatre—Dickens's Account of "Astley's"—The third Theatre burnt down—Death of Ducrow—The Theatre rebuilt by Batty—Its subsequent History—Its Name altered to Sanger's Grand National Amphitheatre.
Unlike Covent Garden, the Haymarket, and other "West-end" houses, the "Transpontine" theatres have always been chiefly remarkable for spectacular or "sensational" performances: in a word, for such entertainments as appeal more to the eye than to the understanding; for, as may be easily imagined, their managers—in some of them, at least—have to cater altogether for a different constituency from that which forms the support of the old patent theatres, and generally those of the West-end. With reference to the morality of the transpontine theatres, Charles Knight wrote, in his Penny Magazine, in 1846: "Look at our theatres; look at the houses all around them. Have they not given a taint to the very districts they belong to? The Coburg Theatre, now called the Victoria, and the Surrey, what are they? At Christmas time, at each of these minor theatres, may be seen such an appalling amount of loathsome vice and depravity as goes beyond Eugene Sue, and justifies the most astounding revelations of Smollett." Happily, matters have mended considerably since he wrote, and the vicinity of even a minor theatre is now by no means so absolutely and hopelessly depraved. Allusions to the transpontine places of entertainment are common enough in the writings of the last generation; and the authors of the "Rejected Addresses," published in the year 1812, in mockheroic style, attribute, of course in jest, the burning of so many of our places of amusement to the archenemy, Napoleon Bonaparte!
"Base Bonapartè, fill'd with deadly ire,
Sets one by one our play-houses on fire.
Some years ago he pounced with deadly glee on
The Opera House, then burnt down the Pantheon;
Nay, still unsated, in a coat of flames
Next at Millbank he crossed the River Thames,
Thy Hatch, (fn. 10) O Half-penny! pass'd in a trice,
Boil'd some black pitch, and burnt down Astley's twice;
Then buzzing on through ether, with a vile hum
Turn'd to the left hand fronting the Asylum,
And burnt the Royal Circus in a hurry—
'Twas called the Circus then, but now the Surry."
Of the "Surrey" we have already written at length in a previous chapter; (fn. 11) it now remains for us to deal with the "Victoria" and "Astley's." The Victoria Theatre, formerly called the Coburg, and in more recent times the Royal Victoria Palace Theatre, is situated in the Waterloo Road, at the corner of the New Cut, and not far from the SouthWestern Railway Station.
The building of Waterloo Bridge, which was commenced in 1811, and was completed six years afterwards, led to the erection of this theatre, which was originally called the "Coburg," in compliment to Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg (afterwards King of the Belgians), the husband of the Princess Charlotte. The first stone was laid by the prince, by proxy, in October, 1817, and the theatre was opened on Whit-Monday in the following May. No doubt, a desire on the part of dramatists and performers to escape from the vexatious restrictions then (and still) imposed by the Lord Chamberlain on theatres within his jurisdiction was largely instrumental in procuring the erection of this and of the Surrey Theatre. The builder of the structure was an ingenious carpenter, a Frenchman, named Cabanelle, (fn. 12) who arranged it after the fashion of a minor French theatre, nearly circular in shape, decorating the interior with strong contrasts of colour. Few persons, in all probability, are aware that the foundations of the theatre are extensively composed of the stones of the old Savoy Palace in the Strand, which were cleared away in order to form Lancaster Place. (fn. 13)
The "Coburg" was built with a due regard to the character of the population by which it was surrounded, and was therefore designed for melodramas and pantomimes; and, on the whole, it has adhered pretty closely to its original purpose, under a variety of lessees and managers. Among the pieces performed on the opening night was Trial by Battle; or, Heaven Defend the Right, based on the memorable appeal made by the brothers of Mary Ashford against her murderer, Abraham Thornton, the applicants' right to a "trial by wager of battle" having been acknowledged by the Court of King's Bench only a month previously. At the end of the first season the public were told by the proprietor that it was his intention "to have all the avenues (roads) to the theatre well lighted, while the appointed additional patrols on the bridge road—and keeping them in their own pay—will afford ample security to the patrons of the theatre." The public were also informed that the theatre was financially successful, though Tom Dibdin states that its opening was a "lamentable circumstance" to both its owners and the lessee of the Surrey; for that each speculation showed a loss of several thousands, whilst one theatre in that neighbourhood might have reaped a large profit. Be this, however, as it may, it is worthy of record that amongst those personages who have appeared on the boards of the Coburg are to be reckoned Edmund Kean (who received £100 for performing here two nights in 1830), Booth, T. P. Cooke, Buckstone, Benjamin Webster, Liston, Joe Grimaldi, and G. V. Brooke, the "Hibernian Roscius." In July, 1833—with a keen foresight of the future successor to the Crown—the name of the Coburg was changed to that of the "Victoria," in compliment to the young princess who then stood as heir presumptive to the throne, and the whole of the interior was altered and embellished afresh. In the June of the following year the great violinist, Paganini, performed here for a single night—his last public appearance in this country. A special feature of this theatre, for some years, was its "act drop," which was neither more nor less than a huge looking-glass. It was lifted up bodily into the roof, where a large box-shaped contrivance was fitted up to receive it. Notwithstanding that the old "Vic"—for so this theatre was popularly called—has in former times numbered among its scene—painters such men as Clarkson Stanfield, the great marine painter, the place does not appear to have been a very fortunate speculation for its managers or lessees, several being ruined by it.
When this theatre first opened its doors, upwards of half a century ago, it was in the presence of a "large and fashionable audience," if we may believe the newspapers of the day. The piece performed on that occasion, which we have mentioned above, entitled Trial by Battle; or, Heaven Defend the Right, was described in the play-bills as an entirely new melo-dramatic spectacle, in which was to be portrayed the ancient mode of decision by Kemp fight, or single combat. There followed it a grand Asiatic ballet, and a new and splendid harlequinade (partly from Milton's Masque of Comus), "with new and extensive machinery, mechanical changes, tricks, and metamorphoses;" and the play-bills concluded with the comfortable assurance, "extra patroles are engaged for the bridge and roads leading to the theatre, and particular attention will be paid to the lighting of the same." But the "fashionable" audience did not long continue; and the street lamps, the costermongers' lamps of the New Cut, and the vigilance of the metropolitan police, soon rendered unnecessary the "extra patroles" or the manager's "particular attention" being paid to the lighting of the surrounding thoroughfares. The old "Vic" for many years enjoyed a very doubtful reputation. It was the place of which Charles Mathews once wrote: "The lower orders rush there in mobs, and in shirt-sleeves applaud frantically, drink gingerbeer, munch apples, crack nuts, call the actors by their Christian names, and throw them orangepeel and apples by way of bouquets." For many years it bore a terribly bad character for fatal accidents from crushing; and a false alarm of fire here caused the deaths of some fifteen or sixteen persons in December, 1858. In a few years more, however, a change came, and on the night of the 9th of September, 1871, a crowded audience beheld the last of the old Victoria. "It could be seen at a glance," observes a writer in the Daily News, "that the evening was one to be held in special fashion by the humble dwellers in the New Cut. A cherished institution, dear to them and their children, was doomed, and they had come to take a last fond look, and earn the right of narrating by the winter fire how they had seen the 'Vic' proud in its glory and triumphant in its expiring moments. The increase of prices to the extent of threepence in every part of the house had no effect upon the gallery or the pit, so that the precautions taken by the management to open the doors at half-past five were quite necessary. . . . A very laudable desire was felt to do all that could be done that the Victoria Theatre might end its days in peace, and pass to its rest with no fresh disaster on its conscience. The audience, overawed maybe by the thoughts which seized them, assisted to secure this result. There, ascending from gallery front into the dim roof, were the lusty roughs, short-sleeved, slop-clothed, and cropped as of yore; but no missiles came from their hands; no internecine warfare was carried on, to the mingled delight and terror of the beholders; no oaths resounded from side to side; no Bedlam was let loose, as in the olden times when respectable West-enders would not have dared to enter the house without an unquestioned life assurance. The audience at the 'Vic' has been made to answer the purpose of 'awful warning' for many a long year, and we will do that of the closing night the justice to say that, composed undoubtedly as it was of persons living in the Lambeth highways and bye-ways, it was, on the whole, as decorous as that of any other house in the metropolis. The few cat-calls that some hardy and unfeeling youths at an early hour indulged in found no response; whistling even was at a discount; and the very children in arms stared wondrously at the dropscene, and rubbed their sticky little knuckles into their sleepy little eyes." The theatre on this occasion was roused into a faint semblance of its former self when the foreboding strains of the overture heralded in "a Romantic Drama, entitled the Trial by Battle," the chief merit of which was, as we have before stated, that it commenced the entertainment when the theatre was first opened, on the 11th of May, 1818. It was not likely there could have been a single person present on the closing night who was also present when the curtain rose for the first time at the Coburg Theatre, albeit there were several who had seen themselves reflected in the famous mirror curtain, and who could remember the visit of the Princess Victoria and the house's subsequent change of name. The manager, Mr. Cave, offered a chastened, but still appropriate, play-bill for the last night, and engaged some well-known actors to grace the closing scenes. "Rob Roy," observes the writer quoted above, "though not of the bloody and ghostly type of play of which the 'Vic' was the natural exponent, is so bold in its situations, so full of 'Auld-LangSyne' sentiments, and so well seasoned with fighting material, that it could not fail to touch the heart of any genuine frequenter of the 'Vic' It is just a little naughty, too: at least, to the extent of a considerable amount of dram-drinking, a fair allowance of cursing and swearing, and a sly approval of lawlessness and contempt for the powers that be." "Rob Roy," of course, found a host of sympathisers; and what with the capitally-sung songs, the sanguinary conflicts, the sentiment, and the final punishment of the villain "Rashleigh"—enacted, by the way, by one of the "Vic's" regular performers, "a painstaking artist, with fine rolling eye, trembling hand oft raised aloft, strongly heaving bosom, and r's well rolled out from the inner depths"—the curtain fell to a thunder of applause that seemed to come from one capacious and enthusiastic throat. The actors were summoned: they departed; and still the applause continued, until the appearance of Mr. Cave sealed the vociferous tongues. The managerial speech was short, unpretentious, and to the point. First, thanks for the patronage he had enjoyed during his four years of management, and then the pathetic statement—"This evening the curtain will drop for ever upon the Victoria Theatre." In the next breath Mr. Cave was on with the new love before he was off with the old, inasmuch as he announced that in place of the "Vic" would arise a place of entertainment that would surpass "for magnitude and grandeur" anything the kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ever saw. The godlings shouted "hear, hear!" as knowingly as members of Parliament, on being informed that the best dramas of the period would there be exhibited before the audiences of the future, and broke out into a perfect whirlwind of applause when it was added that the new proprietors did not intend to destroy the speciality of the theatre. The Victoria was henceforth to be half melo-drama and half musichall. Mr. Cave then retired, full of honours; and, as the curtain fell, a mournful-voiced, bare-armed young man in the front row of the gallery audibly summed up the case thus:—"Ah! the poor old Wic! Pass the arf-an'-arf, 'Arry."
The following description of the closing scenes of the "poor old Wic," from the pen of an eyewitness, may be read with interest:—"The audience required but little explanation beforehand as to the last dish of the farewell feast. The bridge over the rocks, the greasy moon overhead, and the smugglers in the foreground, told the entire story the moment the curtain was fairly up. In the first few sentences our dear old friend 'Ongree' was introduced, closely followed by the equally familiar swarthy ruffian in sea-boots, with enough pistols about him to furnish a troop. Enter, also, a tall baron; next a tottering old man—the feeble father, upon whose only child the bold wicked noble has the worst of designs. In these smuggler bands there is always one buccaneer who plays the part of the repentant sinner, through whose honest treachery by-and-by vice—which is, of course, clothed in velvet and gold—is punished, and virtue—which, equally of course, goes in hunger and rags—is rewarded. The actor who undertook this character, an old stager in these parts, probably, was mildly requested to open his mouth by one section, and consoled by cries of 'Brayvo Bradshaw-er!' by another. He was a weak brother from the smuggler's point of view, and soon got himself into trouble by such heresies as, 'Never will I give my consent to bring a virtuous girl to infamy!'—a bit of oratory that drew loud expressions of approval from the only drunken man to be seen among the 1,500 persons crammed into the upper regions. The 'Vic' by this time was itself again. Shouts were answered by shrill whistlings, and the voices that one moment yelled 'Go it, my pippin!' were the readiest, the next, to howl, 'Turn him out!' Sentiment was thrown to the winds. The repentant smuggler's glib boast, 'Though I am a poor smuggler, I am yet a man!' was decidedly gibed at, all approval being reserved for the unscrupulous villain—the tool of the baron—who, without any hesitation, swore he cared for nothing in the world so long as he got 'the rhino.' The plotting of the village girl's abduction by the smugglers was a sore test of patience. The pit and other parts of the house admonished the occupants of the gallery to be quiet, but to no purpose. There was an under-tone of discontent which would not be allayed. The troubled waters were calmed by the sudden change of the music from the dirgeful to the thunder-and-lightning order of melody, such as precedes the opening of the trapdoor on Boxing-night, and the advent of a herd of demons. The expected tragedy not happening on the instant, the discontent waxed louder, yet not boisterous by any means. Mr. Cave seemed to think differently, for he shot like an arrow from the right wing, and rebuked the noisy portion of his patrons, hinting to them that the melo-drama had not been produced for larksome purposes, but to give them a taste of the ancient quality. A decentlooking man in the pit here made a remark, showing that he resented the extra prices which had been imposed; and Mr. Cave quietly reminded the grievance-monger that if he had been there when the play was first produced, he would have had to pay three shillings for his seat." The piece hereafter proceeded with moderate interruptions only; but when the curtain fell and the theatre was cleared, there was a desolate look on the faces of the vast crowd that lingered outside—it might have been caused by the paltry number of four deaths during the melo-drama; or by the fact that the publichouses were closed; or, peradventure, because the people had seen the last of the "Vic."
The old theatre, a few days later, was again opened; but the principal actor on this occasion was the auctioneer, whose rostrum was erected on the stage, amidst heaps of "properties" and other articles. The stage, with all its traps, fittings, barrels, pulleys, &c., brought but £25. The building, however, was re-opened at the Christmas of the same year, under the altered and enlarged designation of the "Royal Victoria Palace Theatre," its interior having been entirely re-constructed and handsomely decorated by a new proprietary; but its success was very transient, for in March, 1874, it was again offered for sale by auction. The following description of the building we quote from the announcement of the sale:—"The approaches to the theatre are six in number, and afford ample and safe means by stone staircases for the rapid entrance and exit of crowded audiences, while the water supply is from five hydrants, attached to the high pressure main service, and three large cisterns. The interior arrangements are complete, and include the noble, lofty, and well-ventilated auditorium, of unique design, rising to a height of 50 feet, decorated in the Italian style, the walls being effectively lined with brilliant silvered plate-glass, and consisting of twelve large private boxes, 117 stalls, 119 balcony seats, with promenade to hold 250 more, 560 in pit, with promenade affording space for 400 more, and accommodation for 800 to 850 in gallery, thus affording, at present, accommodation for 2,300 persons, but with a judicious outlay it is calculated that additional sitting room may be obtained for 500 more visitors, thus giving a total audience of 2,800 persons. There are lofty, spacious, and appropriately-decorated refreshment-rooms adjoining the stalls, balcony, pit, and gallery, the whole being lighted by 500 jet burners, fixed to the roof, in a ring 96 feet in circumference. The proscenium is an elliptic arch, of handsome character, 38 feet 6 inches wide and 34 feet high. The stage is of considerable dimensions, giving an area of 3,849 square feet."
The "Vic"—or by whatever other name this theatre has been known — has indeed had a chequered existence, and one sad romantic tale at least is connected with it. A Miss Vincent, one of its managers, married a poor actor; but his head was so turned by his good fortune, that he was taken straight from the bridal party at the church doors to a lunatic asylum; and Miss Vincent died not long afterwards.
"If there was one place of entertainment—an institution it may be termed—more sacred to Londoners in particular, and provincialists in general," observes a writer in Once a Week (Dec. 27th, 1862), "one more presumably probable to have withstood the changes of time and fashion, less likely to have succumbed to a novel and not very classical style of dramatic entertainment, that place most certainly was Astley's. For, though the remodelled theatre in Westminster Bridge Road is still associated with the name of its founder, yet an Astley's without horses is as yet simply a misnomer, a shadow without a substance." This famous theatre, or amphitheatre, dates from the year 1780. It cannot, of course, be mentioned in the same category with the patent theatres of Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the "little theatre in the Haymarket;" and perhaps it is inferior also in standing to Sadler's Wells, with which it is almost cotemporary. "Originally," writes M. Alphonse Esquiros, in his "English at Home," "it was only a circus, started by Philip Astley, who had been a light horseman in General Elliott's regiment. . . . Astley's Amphitheatre, as it is called, though it has undergone various transformations since the death of its founder, is still (1862) a celebrated place for equestrian performances, exhibitions of trained ponies, elephants, dancing the tight rope, and even wild beasts, more or less tamed. I saw performed there a grand spectacle, in which appeared a lion that had killed a man on the night before. This painful circumstance, as may be believed, added a feeling of sadness and a species of tragic interest to the performance. The principal actor—I mean the lion—expressed no remorse for what he had done on the previous night; his face was calm and even benignant; he performed his part as if nothing had happened, and he followed the lionconqueror (Van Amburgh) through the various situations of the piece."
Mr. Frost, in his "Old Showmen," gives the following account of the amphitheatre and its founder:—"Down to the end of the last century there are no records of a circus having appeared at the London fairs. Astley is said to have taken his stud and company to Bartholomew Fair at one time, but I have not succeeded in finding any bill or advertisement of the great equestrian in connection with fairs. The amphitheatre which has always borne his name (except during the lesseeship of Mr. Boucicault, who chose to call it the Westminster Theatre, a title about as appropriate as the Marylebone would be in Shoreditch) was opened in 1780, and he had previously given open-air performances on the same site, only the seats being roofed over. The enterprising character of Astley renders it not improbable that he may have tried his fortune at the fairs when the circus was closed, as it has usually been during the summer; and he may not have commenced his season at the amphitheatre until after Bartholomew Fair, or have given there a performance which he was accustomed to give in the afternoon at a large room in Piccadilly, where the tricks of a performing horse were varied with conjuring and Ombres Chinoises, a kind of shadow-pantomime. But, though Astley's was the first circus erected in England, equestrian performances in the open air had been given before his time by Price and Sampson. The site of Dobney's Place, at the back of Penton Street, Islington, was, in the middle of the last century, a tea-garden and bowling-green, to which Johnstown, who leased the premises in 1767, added the attraction of tumbling and ropedancing performances, which had become so popular at Sadler's Wells. Price commenced his equestrian performances at this place in 1770, and soon had a rival in Sampson, who performed singular feats in a field behind the 'Old Hats' public-house. It was not until later, according to the historians of Lambeth, that Philip Astley exhibited his feats of horsemanship in a field near the Halfpenny Hatch, forming his first ring with a rope and stakes, after the manner of the mountebanks of a later day, and going round with his hat after each performance to collect the largesses of the spectators: a part of the business which, in the slang of strolling acrobats and other entertainers of the public in bye-streets and market-places and on village greens, is called 'doing a mob.'
"This remarkable man was born in 1742, at Newcastle-under-Lyme, where his father carried on the business of a cabinet-maker. He received little or no education—no uncommon thing at that time—and, having worked a few years with his father, enlisted in a cavalry regiment. His imposing appearance, being over six feet in height, with the proportions of a Hercules and the voice of a Stentor, attracted attention to him; his capture of a standard at the battle of Ensdorff made him one of the celebrities of his regiment. While serving in the army, he learnt many feats of horsemanship from an itinerant equestrian named Johnson, and often exhibited them for the amusement of his comrades. On his discharge from the army, being presented by General Eliott with a horse, he bought another in Smithfield, and with these two animals gave the open-air performances in Lambeth which have been mentioned."
Next to Lord Granby and the Duke of Wellington, the most popular hero, if we may judge from his occurrence on sign-boards, was General Eliott, Lord Heathfield. Larwood ascribes this popularity in London to a curious cause—the gift of his white charger "Gibraltar" to Mr. Astley. This horse, he remarks, performing every night in the ring, and shining forth in the circus bills, would certainly act as an excellent "puff" for the general's glory.
Philip Astley received his discharge from the army in 1766, and exhibited in the country for about two years, till he considered himself capable of appearing before a London assemblage of spectators. He then set up what he termed a Riding School—merely a piece of ground enclosed by a slight paling—near a pathway that led through the fields from Blackfriars to Westminster Bridge. The terminus of the South-Western Railway now nearly, if not exactly, covers the spot. The first bill of performance that he issued here is as follows:—"Activity on horseback of Mr. Astley, Serjeant-Major in His Majesty's Royal Regiment of Light Dragoons. Nearly twenty different attitudes will be performed on one, two, and three horses, every evening during the summer, at his riding school. Doors to be open at four, and he will mount at five. Seats, one shilling; standing places, sixpence."
Early every evening Mr. Astley, dressed in full military uniform, and mounted on his white charger, took up a position at the south end of Westminster Bridge, to distribute bills and point out with his sword the pathway through the fields that led to his riding school. That it was a "school" in reality as well as name, we learn from the following advertisement:—"The True and Perfect Seat on Horseback.—There is no creature yields so much profit as the horse; and if he is made obedient to the hand and spur, it is the chief thing that is aimed at. Mr. Astley undertakes to break in the most vicious horse in the kingdom, for the road or field, to stand fire, drums, &c.; and those intended for ladies to canter easy. His method, between the jockey and the ménage, is peculiar to himself; no gentleman need despair of being a complete horseman that follows his directions, having eight years' experience in General Eliott's regiment. For half-a-guinea he makes known his method of learning (teaching) any horse to lay (sic) down at the word of command, and defies any one to equal it for safety and ease."
An information was soon lodged against Mr. Astley for receiving money from persons witnessing his feats of horsemanship, when, fortunately for him, George III. was riding over Westminster Bridge on a spirited horse, which proved restive and unmanageable even by the king, who was an excellent horseman. Astley happening to see him, came up, and soon convinced his Majesty of his skill in the managing of horses: the result was that he got rid of the information, and in a few days obtained a licence.
From the first Astley saw that his performances
were deficient in variety; so by energetic teaching
he soon made two other excellent performers: his
wife and the white charger. To make the most of
the horse's performance, he interlarded it with some
verses of his own composition. Introducing the
animal, and ordering it to lie down, he would thus
address the audience:—
"My horse lies dead apparent in your sight,
But I'm the man can set the thing to right;
Speak when you please, I'm ready to obey—
My faithful horse knows what I want to say;
But first just give me leave to move his foot,
That he is dead is quite beyond dispute.
[Moving the horse's feet.
This shows how brutes by Heaven were designed
To be in full subjection to mankind.
Arise, young Bill, and be a little handy,
[Addressing the horse.
To serve that warlike hero, Marquis Granby. (fn. 14)
When you have seen all my bill exprest,
My wife, to conclude, performs the rest."
The riding school being uncovered, there were but few spectators on wet evenings; but, as a partial remedy for this drawback, Mr. Astley ran up a shed, for admission to which he charged two shillings. He was soon enabled to invest £200, as mortgage, on a piece of ground near Westminster Bridge. Good fortune followed. The mortgagor went abroad, leaving a quantity of timber on the ground, and, so far as is known, was never heard of afterwards. About the same time, too, Astley found on Westminster Bridge a diamond ring, worth seventy guineas, that was never claimed by the loser. With this assistance he erected a new riding school on the piece of mortgaged ground ever since associated with his name. This place was open at the top; but next the road there was a wooden edifice, the lower part of which formed stables, the upper, termed "the long room," holding reserved seats for the gentry. A pent-house partly covered the seats round the ride; and the principal spectators being thus under cover, Astley now advertised to perform "every evening, wet or dry." We give on page 397 two views of this structure from Mr. J. T. Smith's "Historical and Literary Curiosities." The entrance was reached by steps from the road, and a green curtain covered the door, where Mrs. Astley stood to take the money. To the whitewashed walls were affixed some pictorial representations of the performances; and along the top of the building were figures of horses, with riders in various attitudes: these were made of wood and painted. This new house was opened about the year 1770, and one of the first bills relating to it states that "Mr. Astley exhibits, at full speed, the different cuts and guards made use of by Eliott's, the Prussian, and the Hessian Hussars. Also the manner of Eliott's charging the French troops in Germany, in the year 1761, when it was said the regiment were all tailors."
About the same time, increasing his company, he was enabled to give more diversity to his entertainment; and one of the most successful sketches which he introduced was that timehonoured delight of rustics and children, Bil'y Button's Ride to Brentford. Master Astley, then but five years old, made his first appearance, riding on two horses. At this period Mr. Astley used to parade the West-end streets on the days of performance. He led the procession, in military uniform, on his white charger, followed by two trumpeters; to these succeeded two riders in full costume, the rear being brought up by a coach, in which the clown and a "learned pony" sat and distributed handbills. This, however, did not long continue, for Mr. Astley soon announced that he had given up parading, "and never more intends that abominable practice."
"Whitefield never drew as much attention as a mountebank does," writes Boswell, in his "Life of Johnson;" "he did not draw attention by doing better than others, but by doing what was strange. Were Astley to preach a sermon, standing upon his head on a horse's back, he would collect a multitude to hear him; but no wise man would say he had made a better sermon for that." Again, Horace Walpole, in a letter to Lord Strafford, dated September 12th, 1783, writes:—"London, at this time of year (September), is as nauseous a drug as any in an apothecary's shop. I could find nothing at all to do, and so went to Astley's, which, indeed, was much beyond my expectation. I did not wonder any longer that Darius was chosen king by the instructions he gave to his horse, nor that Caligula made his horse consul. Astley can make his dance minuets and hornpipes. But I shall not have even Astley now; Her Majesty the Queen of France, who has as much taste as Caligula, has sent for the whole of the dramatis personœ to Paris."
When the London season was over, Astley removed his troupe to Paris, a practice which he continued regularly for many years with great success. He next brought out a new entertainment, styled in the bills "Egyptian Pyramids; or, La Force d'Hercule." It consisted in the now well-known feat of four men supporting three others on their shoulders, these again supporting two more, the last, in their turn, supporting one. This was long a very favourite and attractive spectacle, and Astley erected a large representation of it on the south end of the riding school. He also named his private residence Hercules House, after this tour de force. The "Hercules tavern and gardens, of which we have already spoken, were so called after this building; and the street in Lambeth, now called Hercules Buildings, derives its name from the same source.
The centre of the riding school being still uncovered caused many inconveniences; and Astley, as early as the year 1772, with a keen eye to the future, purchased, at a cheap rate, a quantity of timber that had been used as scaffolding at the funeral of Augusta, Princess Dowager of Wales. Later on, in 1780, a further supply of timber was cheaply obtained by a clever ruse on the part of Mr. Astley. It had long been the custom at the close of elections for the mob to destroy and make bonfires of the hustings; but Astley, mingling in the crowd, represented that as he would give beer for the timber, if it were carried to his establishment, it would be a more eligible way of disposing of it than by burning. The hint was taken, and with the timber thus obtained Astley covered in and completely remodelled the riding school, adding a stage, two tiers of boxes, a pit, and a gallery. But as this was the first attempt to exhibit horsemanship in a covered building, and the bare idea of doing so was at the time considered preposterously absurd, as a sort of compromise with public opinion, he caused the dome-shaped roof to be painted with representations of branches and leaves of trees, and gave the new edifice the airy appellation of "The Royal Grove."
Mr. Astley was now enabled to give his entertainments by candle-light; and one of the first pieces that he produced, however successful it may have been to the treasury, had a curious-sounding title, from an equestrian point of view; it figured in the bills as "A Grand Equestrian Dramatic Spectacle, entitled The Death of Captain Cook." The sensation caused by the discoveries and death of Captain Cook was then fresh in the minds of the people; and Astley, seizing upon the principal events connected with that tragic affair, placed them on the stage in such a manner that the piece was most successful, and formed a very important step in the ladder by which the quondam sergeantmajor was enabled to rise to fame and fortune.
It would appear, however, that Astley soon had a rival in the field; for Pennant writes in 1790:—"In this neighbourhood are two theatres of innocent recreation, . . . of a nature unknown to every other part of Europe—the British hippodromes belonging to Messrs. Astley and Hughes—where the wonderful sagacity of that most useful animal, the horse, is fully evinced. While we admire its admirable docility and apprehension, we cannot less admire the powers of the riders, and the graceful attitudes which the human frame is capable of receiving." He goes on, in most prosy commonplace, to praise not only equestrian skill, but also the "art of tumbling" practised here, as "showing us how fearfully and wonderfully we are made;" and very sensibly recommending every Government to indulge its subjects in such scenes as "preservations from worse employs, and as relaxations from the cares of life." We have already spoken of Hughes's Circus, afterwards the Surrey Theatre, in our account of the Blackfriars Road. (fn. 15)
Up to this time Astley had performed annually in Paris during the winter months; and it was partly with the view of giving up these visits to the French capital that he constructed the "Royal Grove;" but as the proprietors of the patent theatres raised formidable objections to Astley's winter entertainments and dramatic representations in Lambeth, he was forced to continue his journeys to Paris. The breaking out of the French Revolution, however, put an end to Astley's Parisian performances; so, building a circus in Dublin, he carried on his winter campaigns in Ireland; and in 1792 he gave up the principal cares and management of the business to his son, whose first appearance we have noticed above, and who had by this time become a handsome young man, as agile and graceful as Vestris.
In the following year, war having broken out with France, the Duke of York was sent on the Continent in command of the British army; and Astley, who had made himself very useful in superintending the embarkation of the cavalry and artillery horses, went with his royal highness. His old regiment, the Fifteenth, was in the same army; and Astley, knowing by experience the wants of actual service, presented the men with a large supply of needles, thread, buttons, bristles, twine, leather—everything, in short, requisite in mending clothes and shoes. He also purchased a large quantity of flannel, and setting all the females employed at the "Royal Grove" to work, they soon made a warm waistcoat for every man of the regiment; and in a corner of each garment there was sewn what Astley termed "a friend in need:" in other words, a splendid shilling. This patriotic generosity being duly chronicled in the newspapers of the period, did not, as may readily be imagined, lessen the popularity of the "Royal Grove," or the nightly receipts of cash taken at the doors of that place of entertainment.
In 1794 Astley was suddenly recalled from the Continent by the total destruction of the "Royal Grove" and nineteen adjoining houses by fire. Nothing daunted, he immediately commenced to rebuild it on a more elegant and extended scale, and at the following Easter opened the new house, re-naming it the "Amphitheatre of Arts." At the peace of Amiens, in 1803, Astley went to Paris, and finding that the circus he had erected in the Faubourg du Temple had been used as a barrack by the Revolutionary Government, he petitioned Bonaparte, then First Consul, for compensation; and, greatly to the surprise of every one, the petition was favourably received, and compensation granted. But scarcely had the money been received when hostilities again broke out, and all Englishmen in France were subjected to a long and painful detention as prisoners of war. Astley, however, by a rare combination of cunning and courage, effected his escape to the frontier, disguised as an invalid French officer. But, though favoured by fortune in this bold escape, dismal intelligence awaited his arrival in England. His faithful wife was dead, and his theatre a smoking ruin, having been a second time burned to the ground. The conflagration on this occasion extended to forty other houses, and caused the death of young Mr. Astley's mother-in-law, Mrs. Woodham, and a loss to the proprietor of £30,000. Nevertheless, the gallant old sergeant-major again set to work to repair the losses he had sustained, and on the following Easter Monday another theatre was opened, this time as the "Royal Amphitheatre."
This amphitheatre is described by Sir Richard Phillips at some length, in his "Modern London," published in 1804. "Being rebuilt after being lately burnt down," he writes, "it stands on the very ground on which Mr. Astley, senior, formerly exhibited feats of horsemanship and other amusements in the open air, the success and profits of which enabled him afterwards to extend his plan and to erect a building which, from the rural cast of the internal decorations, he called the 'Royal Grove.' In this theatric structure stage exhibitions were given, while in a circular area, similar to that in the late theatre, horsemanship and other feats of strength and agility were continued."
Astley, when he first started his riding school, had no other music than a common drum, which was beaten by his wife. To this he subsequently added a fife, the players standing on a kind of small platform, placed in the centre of the ring; and it was not till he opened the Royal Grove that he employed a regular orchestra. Although an excellent rider, and a great favourite of George III., old Astley was an excessively ignorant man. One day, during a rehearsal a performer suddenly ceased playing. "Hallo!" cried Astley, addressing the delinquent; "what's the matter now?" "There's a rest," answered the other. "A rest!" Astley repeated, angrily; "I don't pay you to rest, but to play!" Upon another occasion, hearing a manager complain of the conduct of his actors, Astley said to him, "Why don't you treat them as I do mine?"—alluding, of course, to his horses—"I never give them anything to eat till after their performance is done."
Astley always kept a sharp eye on his instrumental performers. One evening he entered the orchestra in a rage, and asked of the leader why the trumpets did not play. "This is a pizzicato passage, sir," was the reply. "A pizzy—what?" said Astley. "A pizzicato, sir." "Well, I can't afford to let them be idle; so let the trumpets pizzicato too!" Indeed, as an accompaniment to equestrian exercises, Astley always considered that loudness was the most desirable quality in music. And though he ever took care to have an excellent band, with a well-qualified leader, he, nevertheless, considered them more as an indispensable drain on the treasury than a useful auxiliary to the performance. "Any fool," he used invariably to say, "can handle a fiddle, but it takes a man to manage a horse; and yet I have to pay a fellow that plays upon one fiddle as much salary as a man that rides upon three horses."Such opinions, freely expressed, not unfrequently led to angry scenes, of which amusing anecdotes have been related.
On one occasion, on the first night of a new piece, as the curtain rose to slow and solemn music, Astley, who was in the front observing the effect, overheard a carpenter sawing a board behind the scenes. "Go," said the manager to Smith, his rough-rider and aide-de-camp in ordinary, "go and tell that stupid fellow not to saw so infernally loud." Smith, fancying that Astley alluded to the music, went at once to the orchestra, and whispered in the leader's ear, "Mr. Astley has desired me to tell you not to saw so infernally loud." "Saw!" retorted the enraged musician; "go back and tell him this is the very last night I shall saw in his infernal stables!" Of course, when the curtain fell, the musician's wrath was appeased by the mistake being explained.
At another time, Astley requested his leader to arrange a few bars of music for a broad-sword combat—" a rang, tang, bang; one, two, three; and a cut sort of thing, you know!" for thus he curtly expressed his ideas of what he required. At the subsequent rehearsal Astley shouted out to his stage-manager, "Stop! stop! This will never do. It's not half noisy enough; we must get shields!" simply meaning that the mimic combatants should be supplied with shields to clash against the broad-swords, causing the noise so excitingly provocative of applause from the audience. But the too sensitive leader, thinking it was his music that was "not half noisy enough," and it was Shields, the composer, to whom Astley alluded, jumped out of the orchestra, and, tearing the score to pieces, indignantly exclaimed, "Get Shields, then, as soon as you please, for I am heartily sick and tired of you!"
Although uneducated, old Philip Astley was an enterprising man, with a strong mind and acute understanding; he was remarkable for his eccentric habits and sundry peculiarities of manner; and he is said to have built, at different periods of his life, at his own cost and for his own purpose, no less than nineteen theatres. He was the founder of, or, at all events, one of the earliest performers at the Olympic; and there is extant a print of Astley's trained horses, &c., performing there. He was particularly skilful in the training of horses. His method was to give each horse his preparatory lesson alone, and when there was no noise or anything to distract his attention from his instructor. If the horse was interrupted during the lesson, or his attention withdrawn, he was dismissed for that day, and the lesson was repeated on the next. When he was perfect in certain lessons by himself, he was associated with other horses whose education was further advanced; and it was the practice of that great "tamer of horses" to reward the animals with slices of carrot or apple when they performed well. In the same manner M. Franconi treated his horses in Paris.
Like Tom Dogget before him, the gallant old sergeant-major seems to have taken an interest in aquatic matters; at all events, we read in Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," published in 1800: "Of late years the proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens and Astley, the rider, give each of them in the course of the summer a new wherry, to be rowed for by a certain number of watermen, two in each boat."
Astley lived to see another peace with France and to recover his property in Paris; for he died on the 20th of October, 1814, in the seventy-third year of his age, at his own residence in the Faubourg du Temple, and was buried in the well-known cemetery of Pere la Chaise. His son, who was always termed "Young Astley," died in 1821, in the same bed, in the same house, and was buried in the same grave as his father.
After the decease of young Astley the theatre was carried on by Mr. W. Davis, and appears to have been called for a time "Davis's Amphitheatre" on the play-bills, though with the people at large it never ceased to be "Astley's." A melodrama, founded on the battle of Waterloo, was then among its chief attractions. Bonaparte was brought upon the stage face to face with Wellington, and made to utter very generous sentiments, and to do all sorts of generous things, which were loudly applauded by the galleries. But the public could not bear to have the old associations of the place disturbed even upon its play-bills, and the ancient name prevailed.
"Astley is a veteran in scenic feats at his amphitheatre and pavilion," writes Malcolm in his "Anecdotes of London," about 1810. But feats of strength and agility always shared the popular favour with horsemanship at Astley's; and among the most renowned performers in old Philip's days was Belzoni, who afterwards quitted the circus for the tombs of the Pharaohs and the Pyramids, and has left a foremost renown as an Egyptian explorer, as we have shown in our account of the British Museum. (fn. 16) There was another strong man, the "Flemish Hercules," whose real name was Petre Ducrow; he was the father of Andrew, destined in after years to become the proprietor of the theatre, and the most daring and graceful performing horseman the world has ever seen.
On the secession of Mr. Davis, the theatre was taken jointly by Messrs. Ducrow and West, under whose règime it became principally celebrated for its equestrian and gymnastic performances, pantomimes, and grand military spectacles, such as the Battle of Waterloo, the Burning of Moscow, &c. In 1843 was exhibited here a sensational piece, entitled, The Crusaders of Jerusalem, on which the Illustrated London News observes:—"Here we have a scene from the circle of Astley's, so long the home of equestrian glory, the pride of the horsemanship of Ducrow. Ere-while burnt gloomily to the ground, the phœnix has now risen from its ashes, and the ancient palace of quadrupedal melo-drama again astounds its admiring inmates with examples of the wonderful instincts of horses, and the not less marvellous prowess of those biped actors who have trained them into obedience to the rein. Here is the true Surrey stud. 'Sell it!' once asked the alarmed Ducrow; 'Never!' 'Abandon it!' ejaculates Batty; 'Never!' is his reply, 'until children become mathematicians, and find me the "square" of my own "circle" while the horses are going round it!' 'Forsake it!' shrieks the dear delighted public, 'Nay, never.'
Ducrow had been one of Astley's most famous riders. Mr. Disraeli, in a speech delivered at High Wycombe in 1836, compared the then Reform Ministry of Lord Melbourne to this great horseman. He said, addressing his audience, "I dare say, now, some of you have heard of M. Ducrow, that celebrated gentleman who rides on six horses. What a prodigious achievement! It seems impossible; but you have confidence in Ducrow. You fly to witness it; unfortunately, one of the horses is ill, and a donkey is substituted in its place. But Ducrow is still admirable: there he is bounding along in spangled jacket and cork slippers! The whole town is mad to see Ducrow riding at the same time on six horses; but now two more of the steeds are seized with the staggers, and lo! three jackasses in their stead! Still Ducrow persists, and still announces to the public that he will ride round his circus every night on his six steeds. At last, all the horses are knocked up, and now there are half-a-dozen donkeys. What a change! Behold the hero in the amphitheatre, the spangled jacket thrown on one side, the cork slippers on the other. Puffing, panting, and perspiring, he pokes one sullen brute, thwacks another, cuffs a third, and curses a fourth, while one brays to the audience, and another rolls in the sawdust. Behold the late Prime Minister and the Reform Ministry! The spirited and snow-white steeds have gradually changed into an equal number of sullen and obstinate donkeys; while Mr. Merryman, who, like the Lord Chancellor, was once the very life of the ring, now lies his despairing length in the middle of the stage, with his jokes exhausted, and his bottle empty."
Grimaldi, whose father lived close by Astley's, in Stangate, was often engaged here as a clown. On one occasion, Ducrow, while teaching a boy to go through a difficult act of horsemanship, applied the whip to him, and observed to Grimaldi, who was standing by, that it was necessary to make an impression on the boy. "Yes," said Joe; "but you need not make the whacks (wax) so hard."
The amphitheatre, as it stood in Ducrow's time, is thus described in Allen's "History of Surrey," published in 1830:—"The front of the theatre, which is plain and of brick, stuccoed, stands laterally with the houses in Bridge Road, the access to the back part of the premises being in Stangate Street. There is a plain wooden portico, the depth of which corresponds with the width of the pavement. In front of this portico is the royal arms. Within the pediment in front of the building is 'Astley's' in raised letters, and in the front of the portico, in a similar style, 'Royal Amphitheatre.' Beneath this portico are the entrances to the boxes and pit; the gallery entrance is lower down the road, and separated from the front of the theatre by several houses. The boxes are approached by a plain staircase, at the head of which is a handsome lobby. The form of the auditory is elliptical, and is lighted by a very large cut-glass lustre and chandeliers with bell-lamps; gas is the medium of illumination used all over the premises. There is one continued row or tier of boxes round the auditory, above the central part of which is the gallery; and there is a half tier of upper boxes on each side, with slips over them. The floor of the ride within the auditory is earth and sawdust, where a ring or circle, forty-four feet in diameter, is bounded by a boarded enclosure about four feet in height, the curve of which next the stage forms the outline of the orchestra, and the remainder that of the pit, behind which is an extensive lobby and a box for refreshments. The proscenium is large and movable—for the convenience of widening and heightening the stage, which is, perhaps, the largest and most convenient in London—and is terminated by immense platforms, or floors, rising above each other, and extending the whole width of the stage. These are exceedingly massive and strong. The horsemen gallop and skirmish over them, and they will admit a carriage, equal in size and weight to a mail coach, to be driven across them. They are, notwithstanding, so constructed as to be placed and removed in a short space of time by manual labour and mechanism."
Our readers will not forget that "Astley's," as it was some half a century ago, forms one of the "Sketches by Boz," which made the fame, though not the name, of Charles Dickens as a young man known to the world. "It was not a 'Royal Amphitheatre' in those days," he wrote, "nor had Ducrow arisen to shed the light of classic taste and portable gas over the sawdust of the circus; but the whole character of the place was the same: the pieces were the same, the clown's jokes were the same, the riding-masters were equally grand, the comic performers equally witty, the tragedians equally hoarse, and the 'high-trained chargers' equally spirited. Astley's has altered for the better—we have changed for the worse." And then he proceeds to give a sketch of the interior during a performance in the Easter or Midsummer holidays, and the happy faces of "the children," whom "pa" and "ma" have taken to witness the scene, including "Miss Woolford" and the other equestriennes.
Thackeray, too, mentions this place in "The Newcomes." "Who was it," he writes, "that took the children to Astley's but Uncle Newcome? I saw him there in the midst of a cluster of these little people, all children together. He laughed, delighted at Mr. Merriman's jokes in the ring. He beheld the Battle of Waterloo with breathless interest, and was amazed—yes, amazed, by Jove, sir!—at the prodigious likeness of the principal actor to the Emperor Napoleon. . . . The little girls, Sir Brian's daughters, holding each by a finger of his hands, and younger Masters Alfred and Edward clapping and hurraing by his side; while Mr. Clive and Miss Ethel sat in the back of the box enjoying the scene. . . . It did one good to hear the colonel's honest laugh at the clown's jokes, and to see the tenderness and simplicity with which he watched over this happy brood of young ones."
The third theatre on this spot was burnt down in June, 1841, when under the management of Ducrow, who died insane shortly after the fire, on account of the losses he sustained. He was buried, as we have already seen, at Kensal Green Cemetery, (fn. 17) where a handsome monument is erected to his memory.
In October of the same year, the vacant site was taken on a long lease by Mr. William Batty, who, in the following year, erected at his own expense the present amphitheatre, which is much larger and more substantially built than any of its predecessors.
Very naturally, as we have observed at the commencement of this chapter, the transpontine theatres have always been the chief homes of the sensational drama and of eccentric exhibitions: and this is as true of Astley's as of the rest. Here, for instance, in 1790, were exhibited Mynheer Wybrand Lolkes, the dwarf watchmaker of Holland, and his wife, who was just three times his height; but as time has worn on "sensationalism" seems to have been triumphant. At all events, in the autumn of 1864, Miss Ada Menkens here played Mazeppa to crowded houses; while other theatres, although possessing very good actors, were all but deserted. In 1873 the theatre was taken by Mr. Sanger, who had for a short time previously occupied the Agricultural Hall at Islington for equestrian performances. Under this gentleman's rule the title of "Astley's" has disappeared from the bills as the name of the establishment, and in its place we have "Sanger's Grand National Amphitheatre." But Astley's is Astley's still with the people, and the old associations of the place still remain, at all events in part, for elephants, camels, dromedaries, as well as horses, are still made to appear upon the stage in order to heighten the spectacular effect. Although the present theatre was constructed with both stage and circle for horsemanship, the latter has been discontinued since 1863, when the theatre was remodelled by Mr. Dion Boucicault.
M. Esquiros observes pertinently, with reference to Astley's: "If asked what relation such a theatre can have to the poetic drama, I reply, that it is the peculiar privilege of the great works of the human mind that they adapt themselves to circumstances. Mr. Cooke, one of the latest managers of Astley's Amphitheatre, had the idea of applying the resources and pomps peculiar to this theatre to Shakespeare's historical plays. He accordingly brought out here Richard III., and, for the first time, the hump-backed Richard was seen on the stage, surrounded by his staff on horseback, and himself mounted on that famous steed, 'White Surrey,' whose name Shakespeare has immortalised. The noble animal marched bravely through the battle, and died with an air of truth that quite affected the spectators. Encouraged by this success, Astley's company next appeared in Henry IV. and Macbeth. I will not assert that Shakespeare's plays thus converted into equestrian pieces satisfied all artistic conditions; but when I look at the moral effect, I cannot but applaud the experiment. Astley's is the theatre of the people; here the East-end" [Transpontine?] "workmen, costermongers, and orange-women, come to seek a few hours of recreation after the fatigues and struggles of a rough day's toil. Shakespeare's plays—decorated rather than well performed, and hidden by processions and cavalcades, which, perhaps, denaturalised their character, but which, after all, were adapted to the instincts of a class of the population which lives specially on what strikes its eyes—at any rate allowed some portion of the poetical horizon to be brought within their view. In any case, and to say the least, they happily occupied the place of those dangerous performances which arouse in man nothing beyond the feeling of savage strength."