Survey of London: Volume 35, the theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: the Management
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is preeminent among all the theatres of London. It derives its rights as a playhouse from letters patent granted by King Charles II and it stands upon a site part of which has been in continuous use for theatrical purposes for more than three centuries—for far longer than any other place in London, or indeed in the whole country. Except during periodic rebuildings there has always been a theatre here since 1663, and at a still earlier date there was a short-lived temporary playhouse here in 1636.
The present building is the fourth theatre on the site. The first, built in 1662–3 on the site of a riding yard between Brydges (now Catherine) Street and Drury Lane, was burnt down in 1671/2. The second theatre, the design of which is usually attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, was built on the same site and opened in 1674. Throughout the eighteenth century many alterations and additions were made to this building, the most important being the reconstruction carried out by Robert Adam in 1775. In 1791 the theatre was demolished to make way for a much larger building, designed by Henry Holland and opened in 1794. This theatre was destroyed by fire in 1809. The present theatre was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt and opened in 1812. Many changes have been made to Wyatt's building in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The present auditorium dates only from 1922, but the suite of entrance-foyers, which forms the chief glory of the building, still survives largely as Wyatt designed it.
But in spite of its long career and its association with almost every name famous in the history of the English stage, Drury Lane Theatre still lacks an adequate account of its history. The following study is confined to the managerial and architectural aspects and makes only incidental reference to performers and performances. In particular it has proved possible to elucidate the history of the site, which is of cardinal importance in the understanding of the first two theatres.
On 21 August 1660 a royal grant under the privy signet authorized Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant to build or hire two playhouses in London and to maintain two companies of actors to perform in them. (fn. 17) Three months later, in November 1660, Killigrew established his troupe, to be known as the King's Company, at Gibbons's Tennis Court in Vere Street, near Clare Market. (fn. 18) This was the first Theatre Royal, and Killigrew remained there until May 1663 while a more spacious theatre was being built elsewhere.
The site of this new playhouse was a 'Rideing Yard' between Brydges Street (now Catherine Street) on the west and Drury Lane on the east, surrounded by other properties and buildings on all four sides, and accessible only by passages at either end from Brydges Street and Drury Lane (Plate 1b). (fn. 19) This ground, the original nucleus of the site of the present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was leased on 20 December 1661 by William, fifth Earl of Bedford, to William Hewett and Robert Clayton in trust for Thomas Killigrew, Sir Robert Howard the playwright and eight of the actors in Killigrew's company— Nicholas Burt, William Cartwright, Walter Clunn, Charles Hart, John Lacy, Michael Mohun, Robert Shatterell and William Wintershall. The term of the lease was for forty-one years from Christmas 1661 at an annual rent of £50, and the lessees covenanted to spend £1,500 in erecting a new playhouse, to be completed by Christmas 1662. (fn. 20)
The building capital was raised by private subscription shares—the normal method for financing the building of theatres in the days when joint-stock enterprise was still severely restricted by law. In this case the benefit of the lease was divided into thirty-six parts or shares; each subscriber or purchaser of a share paid one thirtysixth of the capital required, and in return would receive one thirty-sixth of the rent accruing from the sub-lessees (i.e., the actual users) of the theatre during the term of the lease. The original building shareholders in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, were Thomas Killigrew and Sir Robert Howard (nine each), Lacy (four) and Burt, Cartwright, Clunn, Hart, Mohun, Shatterell and Wintershall (two each). (fn. 20)
On 28 January 1661/2 the two trustees, Hewett and Clayton, assigned the lease to the building shareholders. On the same day the latter entered into articles of agreement with a company of thirteen actors who undertook to perform in the new theatre at a rent of £3 10s. for each acting night. This rent was to be divided among the building shareholders in amounts proportionate to the number of shares held by each subscriber to the building fund. Thus, for instance, Killigrew, whose nine shares amounted to a quarter of the total subscription, would receive 17s. 6d. per night (£3 10s./?/ 4 = 17s. 6d.). (fn. 21)
This, with constant permutations in matters of detail, was the complicated mechanism by which Drury Lane Theatre was managed (or mismanaged) until the middle of the eighteenth century. Three closely interdependent but fundamentally separate elements were involved. Firstly there was the owner (or owners) of the royal patent, originally granted to Thomas Killigrew in 1662 (see pages 1–2), or of the Lord Chamberlain's licence, or (in the first half of the eighteenth century) of the royal patents granted for a limited number of years, upon one or other of which depended the authority to act. Secondly there were the building shareholders, who had subscribed the original capital for the erection of the theatre and who charged a nightly rent to successive companies of actors for the use of their property; the building shareholders owned the ground lease, which was renewed to them by successive Dukes of Bedford, and their shares, always thirty-six in total number, were a form of property which they could bequeath or sell in the open market. Thirdly, there were successive groups of actors, who used the theatre either by agreement with or sub-lease from the building shareholders, to whom they paid a nightly rent. They retained whatever profits remained (if any) after payment of the nightly rent and all other expenses.
At first these three elements were extremely closely connected. Killigrew, for instance, owned both the patent and a quarter of the building shares, while eight other building shareholders, with a total of eighteen shares, were also actors in the company of thirteen actors who agreed to perform in the theatre. But with the passage of time, and the frequent transfer of building shares, either by sale or inheritance, the number of building shareholders who were also actors declined, and their connexion with the theatre consisted simply of drawing a rent from its users. This situation continued until 1753, when the fourth Duke of Bedford refused to renew the building shareholders' ground lease, and granted it instead to James Lacy and David Garrick, the manager and principal actor respectively at Drury Lane. The demise of the building shareholders marked the end of the triangular structure of management of the theatre, and as Lacy and Garrick had also, since 1747, owned the twentyone-year patent under which Drury Lane then acted, an entirely new system of administration emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century.
The building of the first Theatre Royal on the site between Brydges Street and Drury Lane must have begun in the spring of 1662, for on 31 March 1662 Thomas Rugge referred in his diary to 'a very large playhouse the foundation of it laid in this month, in the back side of Bridges Street in Covent Garden'. (fn. 22) In February 1662/3 Pepys was there—'I walked up and down, and looked upon the outside of the new theatre, now abuilding in Covent Garden, which will be very fine'—and although he was not present on the opening night, 7 May 1663, for the performance of Beaumont and Fletcher's The Humorous Lieutenant, he was there with his wife on the following day and recorded his impressions in some detail (see page 40). (fn. 23)
The cost of the playhouse was £2,400, which the building shareholders raised by a payment of £66 13s. 4d. for each of the thirty-six shares. They also had to pay their proportion of the Earl of Bedford's ground rent (about 27s. 9d. for each share), and in return they received about two shillings per share for each night of acting. The initial success of the venture can be judged from the fact that in November 1663 Walter Clunn, one of the actors who was also a building shareholder, was able to sell his two shares to Thomas Johnson, barber, for £215 each. (fn. 24)
But this prosperity was short-lived, for on 5 June 1665 the Lord Chamberlain closed the playhouse indefinitely on account of the plague. (fn. 25) Pepys has recorded that this period of enforced idleness was used to enlarge the stage, (fn. 26) but within a few years of the re-opening in the autumn of 1666 a more serious set-back occurred. On 25 January 1671/2 the theatre caught fire between seven and eight o'clock in the evening and was almost completely destroyed. (fn. 27) Many of the adjoining houses were also burnt and others were blown up to prevent the spread of the fire. (fn. 28) In all about sixty houses were destroyed, and the total damage was estimated at £20,000. (fn. 29)
As owners of the ground lease the building shareholders now had to raise fresh capital to rebuild the theatre, which, they estimated, would cost 'neere Two Thousand pounds more then it did when it was first built'. (fn. 30) This evidently proved difficult, for the Earl of Bedford did not grant them an extension of their existing lease, of which some thirty years remained unexpired, and they appealed to the King, apparently without success, for both a subsidy and for payment of arrears already due to them for performances at Court. (fn. 31) By 17 December 1673, however, the building of the new theatre had advanced far enough for the company of actors (of which Thomas Killigrew was now a member) to sign articles of agreement with those building shareholders who were not actors. The actors agreed to perform only in the new theatre, and if the building costs did not exceed £2,400 (the cost of the first theatre), to pay the building shareholders the old rent of £3 10s. for each night of acting; but if the building costs exceeded that amount, then to pay proportionately more. (fn. 32) Various estimates of the final cost have been made, ranging from £3,500 to £4,400. (fn. 33) Whatever the actual figure may have been it was certainly substantially more than £2,400, for the nightly rent subsequently charged was not £3 10s. but £5 14s., which would give a cost of £3,908. One of the building shareholders, Thomas Johnson, the barber who had bought Walter Clunn's two shares at a very high price in November 1663, was unable or unwilling to pay his full share of the capital. He subscribed his 2/36 of £2,400 (i.e., £66 13s. 4d. for each share) but the excess required—about £50 for each share—was by agreement paid by Thomas Shepey, who in return received for each share a nightly rent of 1/36 of £2 4s.—the difference between the £5 14s. paid by the actors and the £3 10s. to which Johnson was entitled. (fn. 24) (fn. 1)
The new theatre, the design of which has been attributed to Wren (see page 42), opened on 26 March 1674 with a performance of Fletcher's The Beggar's Bush. (fn. 34) Although much altered and enlarged, particularly during Garrick's long reign in the middle years of the eighteenth century, the building survived until the complete rebuilding undertaken in 1791–4. This extraordinary longevity, unequalled by any other seventeenth-or eighteenth-century London theatre, was not foreshadowed by the early history of the new playhouse. Almost immediately there were dissensions between Thomas Killigrew and the actors, some of whom threatened to quit and demanded compensation under the terms of their contract, 'whereby the said Company was like to breake up and be dissolved for want of their principal Actors and for that the profitts did not come in sufficient to make the said payments'. (fn. 35) There were dissensions, too, between Thomas Killigrew and his son Charles, whom the Lord Chamberlain in February 1676/7 appointed to be 'Master of the Company' of actors. No improvement ensued, however. The political uncertainties of the years of the Popish Plot (1678–81) occasioned the banning of several plays, and there were frequent interventions in the affairs of the theatre by the Lord Chamberlain. At last in April 1682 Drury Lane closed and negotiations began for a union with Charles Davenant's flourishing establishment at the rival theatre at Dorset Garden. (fn. 36)
By articles of union dated 4 May 1682 between Charles Killigrew on the one hand and Charles Davenant and his principal associates at Dorset Garden on the other, Killigrew agreed to dissolve the Drury Lane company of actors forthwith and to join and unite the patent which had been granted to his father with that of Davenant (see page 3). The latter was to pay Killigrew a rent of £3 for each acting night at either Drury Lane or Dorset Garden, and Killigrew was also to have three of the twenty shares in the profits of the united company of actors now to be established. This company was to be under the joint direction of Killigrew and Davenant. (fn. 37)
Killigrew's share in the three constituent forms of property embodied in the theatre did not, of course, entitle him to make such an agreement. His title to the patent was being challenged in Chancery (see page 2), he only owned a quarter of the Drury Lane building shares and his holding in the company of actors there was even smaller. It was intended that the headquarters of the new united company should be at Drury Lane, and the successful implementation of the agreement would therefore depend on Killigrew's ability to persuade the other owners of building shares to grant Davenant and his associates a sub-lease of the building, at a much reduced nightly rent. By June 1682 he had won over shareholders owning twenty-one of the thirty-six shares, (fn. 38) but at the time of the re-opening of Drury Lane on 16 November 1682 no lease to the actors had actually been signed, and it was not until the following summer that he obtained the consent of all the building shareholders. On 7 June 1683 they subleased the theatre to Charles Davenant and his associates for a term expiring in November 1701— almost the whole of the remainder of their interest under their ground lease from the fifth Earl of Bedford, due to expire at Christmas 1702. The nightly rent was to be £3, (fn. 39) instead of £5 14s. as hitherto.
The events whereby Charles Davenant sold his theatrical interests to his brother, Alexander Davenant, after whose bankruptcy they passed in 1693 to Sir Thomas Skipwith and Christopher Rich, have been described on page 3. Skipwith now owned five-sixths of the sub-lease granted by the building shareholders in 1683, and due to expire in November 1701, but he had no wish to concern himself actively in theatrical affairs, and so effective control of Drury Lane therefore passed to his partner. Rich was a lawyer whose family connexion with the London stage was to extend over almost three-quarters of a century. He was said to be 'as sly a Tyrant as ever was at the Head of a Theatre', (fn. 40) and his treatment of the actors caused a number of them, led by Thomas Betterton, to remove to the old theatre at Lisle's Tennis Court, where they opened in April 1695 under the authority of a licence from the Lord Chamberlain. Shortly afterwards the building shareholders, fearful, perhaps, that Rich might attempt to forestall them, obtained a renewal of their ground lease from the first Duke of Bedford (formerly the fifth Earl). This was granted on 29 June 1695, (fn. 2) and subject to payment of a fine of £200 was to extend from Christmas 1702 to Christmas 1716; the rent was to continue at £50 per annum. By this time only two of the lessees or building shareholders were actively connected with the theatre— Charles Killigrew and the actor Edward Kynaston; a third was the widow of the actor John Lacy, but the remaining thirteen were probably investors concerned only with the regular payment of their share of the nightly rent. (fn. 41)
Meanwhile Rich remained in charge at the theatre despite the precariousness of his position— he owned only a small part of the Davenant patent and neither he nor his sleeping partner, Sir Thomas Skipwith, owned any of the building shares. His principal asset was the sub-lease granted in 1683, but when this expired in November 1701 he somehow 'kept ye possession of ye said Theatre by force against ye Wills and Inclinacions as also against ye interest of ye said Builders, for several yeares after'. (fn. 42) Rich was able to do this because of disputes amongst the building shareholders, both as to the actual ownership of the shares and as to what should be done with the theatre. Some of them wished to grant a sub-lease to Betterton, still at Lisle's Tennis Court, but Rich was able to prevent others from signing the lease, and so he remained in possession. (fn. 43)
This unhappy situation, marked by endless disputes and intrigues, and from 1705 much complicated by the opening of Vanbrugh's new theatre in the Haymarket, continued for nearly eight years. From March 1706/7 the increasingly exasperated Lord Chamberlain issued a series of orders to Rich, who appears to have ignored them, (fn. 44) and at last on 6 June 1709 the Lord Chamberlain forbad all performances at Drury Lane until further notice. (fn. 45) The theatre remained closed for five months, but in November 1709 the Lord Chamberlain granted a licence to act at Drury Lane to William Collier, (fn. 46) 'a lawyer of an enterprizing Head and a jovial Heart', and Tory M.P. for Truro. (fn. 47) On 22 November Collier went to the theatre 'with a Corporal and divers Soldiers armed with swords and Musquett[s and] in a riotous and violent manner broke open the Doors of the sd Theatre and turned out Mr Rich's servants . . ., declareing that he took possession of the sd Theatre for himselfe'. (fn. 48) The theatre re-opened on the following day, (fn. 49) and a year later, on 15 November 1710, the building shareholders granted Collier a three-year sub-lease at a rent of £3 12s. per acting night, and with a covenant to grant him an extension of nine years after they had obtained an extension of their own ground lease from the second Duke of Bedford. (fn. 50) On 16 March 1710/11 the Duke, for a fine of 230 guineas, extended the building shareholders' term from Christmas 1716 to Christmas 1737, (fn. 51) (fn. 3) and subsequently they extended Collier's sub-lease, though for what term is not clear. (fn. 52) For the remainder of the reign of Queen Anne Drury Lane was managed by Collier in association with the actors Robert Wilks, Colley Cibber, Thomas Doggett and (from 1713) Barton Booth, to whom the Lord Chamberlain granted a succession of licences. (fn. 53)
With the death of Queen Anne in August 1714 the current licence become void, and in the ensuing political revolution the Tory Collier became a liability to the theatre. The actormanagers Wilks, Cibber, Doggett and Booth therefore sought the support of the Whig, (Sir) Richard Steele, through whose influence at Court they and Steele were granted a joint licence by the Lord Chamberlain on 18 October 1714. (fn. 54) They were soon involved in difficulties with Collier, however, who still held the sub-lease, but as he had now been deprived of the licence he appears to have assigned his leasehold interest to the actormanagers. (fn. 55) The theatre had in fact re-opened on 21 September 1714, before the new licence had actually been granted. (fn. 56)
But the theatre now had to face formidable new competition. Some time after his forcible ejection from Drury Lane in 1709 Christopher Rich had acquired the playhouse at Lisle's Tennis Court and rebuilt it. He had died on 4 November 1714 but the new theatre (now usually referred to as the Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre) had opened some six weeks later under the authority of the Davenant patent. The profits at Drury Lane at once declined considerably, (fn. 57) and in order to strengthen his own position and that of his colleagues at Drury Lane, and to free themselves in some degree from the licensing authority of the Lord Chamberlain, Steele petitioned for a royal patent. This was granted to Steele alone on 19 January 1714/15, but unlike the earlier patents to Killigrew and Davenant, the term of the grant to Steele was limited to his lifetime plus three years. (fn. 58) Steele at once assigned equal shares in the patent to his colleagues, the actor-managers. (fn. 59)
The theatre was managed under these arrangements for some time, Doggett retiring after a year or two. (fn. 60) But there was constant tension with the Duke of Newcastle, who was then Lord Chamberlain, the extent of whose authority over a patent theatre was extremely obscure, and the mounting friction was exacerbated by political differences between Steele and the Duke. (fn. 61) In December 1719 the Lord Chamberlain summarily dismissed Cibber from the management for disobedience, and on 23 January 1719/20 he revoked the licence granted in October 1714. After three days, in which the theatre remained closed, he issued a new licence to Cibber, Wilks and Booth, (fn. 62) but from which Steele was excluded, and although the latter still held the life patent of 1715 its validity was for the moment so doubtful as to render it temporarily useless. Steele's suspension lasted until May 1721, when with the help of his political ally Sir Robert Walpole, who had become First Lord of the Treasury in the previous month, (fn. 63) he was restored by Newcastle's order to his share in the profits of the theatre. (fn. 64) But he took little further active part in the affairs of Drury Lane, and after his death in 1729 Cibber, Wilks and Booth purchased all his rights from his heiress for £1,200. (fn. 65)
During the four years which followed the death of Steele important changes were made in the management of Drury Lane. The increasing competition of new unauthorized theatres in the suburbs of London, and from John Rich's new theatre at Covent Garden, first opened in December 1732, made possession of a patent more valuable than ever. Steele's patent, still in the limbo of legal uncertainty, expired in 1732. But with the Duke of Newcastle no longer at the Lord Chamberlain's office Wilks, Cibber and Booth were able on 3 July 1732 to obtain the grant of a new royal patent, limited to a term of twenty-one years. (fn. 66) This triumvirate had been extremely successful for many years, but now all three members were near the end of their careers. On 13 July 1732 Booth sold half of his share in the new twenty-one-year patent (i.e., one sixth of the whole) for £2,500 to John Highmore, a wealthy young gentleman with theatrical propensities, who in the following March also purchased Colley Cibber's one-third share for three thousand guineas. (fn. 67) Meanwhile Wilks had died and his widow, Mary Wilks, was represented by John Ellys, a painter. Booth died on 10 May 1733, (fn. 68) and in September of the same year his widow sold her remaining share for £1,350 to Henry Giffard, (fn. 69) manager of the new theatre at Goodman's Fields. So within fifteen months of the grant of the twenty-one-year patent to the three experienced actor-managers, the ownership of five-sixths of the patent had passed to men with no experience of theatrical affairs.
Meanwhile the building shareholders, none of whom (at least after the death of Barton Booth) had any share in the twenty-one-year patent, had surrendered the ground lease which the second Duke of Bedford had granted to them in March 1710/11. On 21 March 1731/2 the third Duke, in consideration of a fine of a thousand guineas, granted them a new twenty-one-year ground lease which would expire at Christmas 1753. (fn. 70) (fn. 4) The building shareholders were now able to grant a new sub-lease, the old one having expired at Christmas 1732, and in May 1733 Colley Cibber's son, Theophilus Cibber, persuaded a majority of them, representing 293/8 of the 36 shares, to grant to him and nine associates (of whom eight were actors) a fifteen-year sub-lease at a rent of £4 4s. per acting night. (fn. 69)
With the three constituent elements of patent owners, building shareholders and actor-sublessees thus completely divorced from one another (for none of the actors were either patentees or building shareholders), there now ensued a disastrous struggle for control of the theatre. The new owners of the twenty-one-year patent were in occupation, not having vacated the building after the expiry of the old sub-lease at Christmas 1732, and when on 26 May 1733 the new sublessees—Theophilus Cibber and his company of actors—attempted to gain possession, the patentees locked the doors against them. (fn. 68) Litigation in Chancery at once ensued, (fn. 69) but in the meantime Cibber and his associates removed to the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, where they opened without a licence on 26 September 1733. (fn. 71) In November Highmore, as principal owner of the twenty-one-year patent, attempted unsuccessfully to suppress Cibber by bringing a test case under a Vagrancy Act against one of the actors at the Haymarket, and in the same month the Lord Chief Justice ruled against Highmore and his co-patentees in an action for possession of Drury Lane. (fn. 72)
On 24 January 1733/4 Highmore accepted defeat and sold his share of the twenty-one-year patent (one half of the whole) for £2,250 to Charles Fleetwood of St. Clement Danes, esquire, who on the same day also bought Mary Wilks's one third for £1,500. But although Fleetwood now owned five-sixths of the patent (Giffard still owning the remaining one sixth), Cibber and his actors were in possession of the theatre. A meeting was therefore held at the Rummer tavern in Henrietta Street to discuss the situation, and on 12 March 1733/4 the actors agreed to perform at Drury Lane (where they had already triumphantly opened on 8 March) and to hold their fifteenyear sub-lease in trust for Fleetwood, provided that he could procure the consent of those building shareholders who had not yet executed the sub-lease. (fn. 72)
Fleetwood remained in control at Drury Lane for nearly eleven years, with Charles Macklin, the actor, as stage manager for much of this period. By 1743, however, he was in financial difficulties, salaries were in arrears, and there was a short-lived secession of the principal actors, led by David Garrick, now the rising star at Drury Lane. Towards the end of 1744 there was a riot in the theatre after the prices of admission had been raised, and a short while later Fleetwood sold all his interest in the remainder of both the twenty-one-year patent and the sub-lease to James Lacy, (fn. 73) John Rich's assistant manager at Covent Garden. (fn. 74) The purchase price was £6,750, but the property was also subject to a mortgage of £5,000, (fn. 75) and Fleetwood was to receive an annuity of £500 during the remaining term of the patent. (fn. 76) In making the purchase Lacy was acting in conjunction with Richard Green and Norton Amber, bankers, of the Strand, who provided the capital and were to receive twothirds of the profits of the property. (fn. 77)
In December 1745 Green and Amber became bankrupt. (fn. 78) After prolonged negotiations Lacy and Garrick, by an agreement dated 9 April 1747, established the partnership under which Drury Lane was successfully managed until Lacy's death in 1774. The contract provided, firstly, that Lacy should by the end of the next month procure a new twenty-one-year patent for Garrick and himself, the term to commence from the expiry of the existing patent in 1753. Lacy was also to procure a release of all of Green and Amber's creditors' claims on the property. Subject to these two conditions it was agreed that he and Garrick should enter into equal partnership in the profits to be derived from the patent, sublease and theatrical equipment, and that they should be jointly responsible for paying off the existing debts up to a maximum of £12,000. Any charges over and above this sum were to be Lacy's sole responsibility. Both partners were to be entitled to take £500 per annum out of the receipts of the business 'for their private expences', but Garrick was also to be paid a salary of 500 guineas for his services as an actor. (fn. 79)
On 4 June 1747 a twenty-one-year patent was issued under the Great Seal to Lacy and Garrick, the term commencing on 2 September 1753. (fn. 80) In the autumn they mortgaged their two consecutive patents to James Clutterbuck, mercer, for £12,000 (fn. 81) in order to discharge the existing encumbrances, and the theatre opened under the new management on 15 September 1747. (fn. 82)
This first season ended on 25 May 1748, (fn. 83) and a week later the sub-lease under which Lacy and Garrick occupied the theatre expired. This sublease had originally been granted by the building shareholders to Theophilus Cibber and his associates in May 1733 for a fifteen-year term (see above). But by the summer of 1748 the building shareholders' own term under their ground lease from the third Duke of Bedford had only another five and a half years to run, and without a new lease from the fourth Duke they could only offer Garrick and Lacy a short extension. They no longer took any part in the management of the theatre, while the income which they derived from it—about £840 per annum (fn. 84)—was a heavy liability on its finances. There was therefore no reason why the Duke, in renewing the ground lease, should depart from the normal policy of his family, which was to renew to the tenant in occupation. Accordingly on 24 August 1748 the Duke granted the new ground lease to Lacy and Garrick for a term expiring at Christmas 1774, subject to a fine of £3,000. Besides the theatre itself the lease included the reversion of several adjacent houses, the existing ground leases of which expired at various dates at or before Christmas 1759. The rent was therefore at first to be £126 per annum, rising ultimately to £210. (fn. 85) This enlargement of the site is discussed on pages 32–3.
The grant of the ground lease direct to Garrick, the actor-manager, and his partner Lacy, instead of to the holders of the thirty-six building shares, put an end to the three-sided structure of management which had existed at Drury Lane since the early 1660's. But in addition to holding the ground lease, Garrick and Lacy were also the proprietors of the twenty-one-year patent. The entire ownership of the property (except, of course, the freehold of the site) was thus concentrated in their hands, to the great benefit of both themselves and the London stage in general.
These fundamental changes in the organization of Drury Lane did not become fully effective until 1753, when the building shareholders' interest was finally extinguished by the expiry of their lease. In the summer of that year the financial basis of the management was re-organized. The mortgage to Clutterbuck was paid off, (fn. 86) and to take its place Garrick and Lacy assigned their ground lease and twenty-one-year patent to two trustees (of whom Clutterbuck was one) for £10,000. In return the trustees were to receive from Garrick and Lacy a rent of £4 per acting night and the right to forty free seats for each performance. (fn. 87) Two days later, on 27 August 1753, the trustees raised the £10,000 by the sale of forty shares at £250 apiece, each subscriber receiving one free seat and one fortieth of the nightly rent (i.e., two shillings). There were twenty-five subscribers, of whom twenty-three bought one share each; John Gastrell and James Gray, both mercers of St. Mary le Strand, bought seven and ten respectively. (fn. 88) These arrangements were, of course, restricted to the term of the ground lease expiring in 1774, and there was no provision for redemption of the capital.
Under these more stable conditions of management the theatre entered a period of unprecedented prosperity. In 1762 Garrick and Lacy obtained another twenty-one-year patent extending their rights from 1774 to 1795, (fn. 89) and in the same year they also obtained an extension of their ground lease from the fourth Duke of Bedford's son, who then possessed a life interest in this part of the estate. Here again Garrick and Lacy's existing interest was extended from 1774 to 1795 and the site was enlarged by the inclusion of a number of adjacent properties which had not hitherto been leased directly to them by the ground landlord. (fn. 90) This greater security of tenure enabled them to make considerable enlargements of the seating capacity of the theatre (fn. 91) (see page 45).
In January 1774 James Lacy died and was succeeded by his son, Willoughby Lacy. (fn. 92) Shortly afterwards the term of the share capital issued in 1753 expired, and the two proprietors were therefore able to raise a fresh sum, on terms very similar to those of 1753. On 1 September 1775 Garrick and Willoughby Lacy assigned their ground lease to trustees for twenty years for £12,000. The trustees again received a rent of £4 per acting night and were entitled to sell forty free seats at £300 apiece, each subscriber again receiving one fortieth of the nightly rent. (fn. 93) Part of the capital thus raised was evidently used for the further enlargement and embellishment of the theatre in 1775–6, Robert Adam being the architect. These alterations included the erection of a splendid entrance from Brydges Street some 60 feet wide (Plate 8).
Garrick was now preparing to leave the theatre, and in 1776, after prolonged negotiations, he eventually sold his half share in the twenty-oneyear patent and the leases for £35,000. (fn. 94) The purchasers were Dr. James Ford, a wealthy physician, Thomas Linley, a composer and joint manager of oratorios at the theatre, and Linley's son-in-law, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. They divided their half share into seven parts, of which Ford held three and Linley and Sheridan two each. (fn. 95) Linley and Sheridan were obliged to enter into substantial mortgages in order to pay for their shares. (fn. 96)
Two years later, in 1778, Sheridan contracted to buy Willoughby Lacy's half for £31,500 although it was encumbered by substantial mortgages and two annuities of £500 each payable to Lacy and his wife; the conveyance was not executed until 25 March 1780. Sheridan's share now amounted to 9/14 of the whole theatre, but it was subject to two mortgages totalling £27,000, (fn. 97) and thus his long connexion with Drury Lane was from the start bedevilled by acute financial difficulties.
Between 1780 and 1790 Sheridan and his partners Linley and Ford added to their obligations further outgoings of at least £3 4s. for every acting night. This was done by the sale for £280 each of at least thirty-two rights of free admission, each of which carried a nightly rent of two shillings for twenty-one years from the date of issue. (fn. 98)
The entire rebuilding of the theatre between 1791 and 1794 at enormous expense only added to the financial burden, but somehow Sheridan managed to survive until the complete destruction of the building by fire in 1809 virtually ended his venturesome reign.
The changes of ownership during this period may first be described. In 1780 Sheridan sold one fourteenth of his share in what had previously been Garrick's half share (i.e., one twenty-eighth of the whole property) to Dr. James Ford, to whom he was already in debt. His share in the whole property was thereby diminished to 17/28 (9/14-1/28= 17/28), while Ford's was increased to one quarter. In 1784 Sheridan sold a further 3/14 of his share in Garrick's erstwhile half (i.e., 3/28 of the whole property) to Thomas Linley, (fn. 99) and in 1788 he bought Ford's quarter of the whole property for £18,000. (fn. 100) Thus Sheridan owned three-quarters and Linley one quarter. By this time another twenty-one-year patent, granted in 1783, had extended the right to act from 1795 to 1816, (fn. 101) and in 1791 Sheridan and Linley had obtained an agreement for a new ground lease (see page 35) from the fifth Duke of Bedford, conditional upon their rebuilding the theatre. (fn. 102)
Thomas Linley died in November 1795, still possessed of his quarter share. (fn. 103) By his will, made some years before his death, he had divided his quarter into five equal parts, one for each of his four children then alive and the fifth to be shared between his grandchildren. (fn. 104) But in the meantime one of his daughters, Elizabeth, Sheridan's wife, had died in 1792 (fn. 105) and her one fifth of the quarter had in consequence become still further sub-divided within the family, one of whom held the minute share of 1/150 of the whole property. (fn. 106) In April 1796 Sheridan agreed with his Linley relatives to buy all their interests, (fn. 107) but difficulties seem to have arisen over the funding of the contract—on his own admission the debts on the theatre at this time amounted to £71,000—but another source states that in 1798 he bought part of the Linleys' interests for £30,000. The transactions at this period become so complex as to defy accurate elucidation, and even one of the solicitors engaged in this lawyers' paradise confessed that he had failed to make the elementary distinction between 'one undivided half part' and 'one undivided half part of the remaining moiety'. By 1801, however, Sheridan was claiming to be in possession of the entire property—his three-quarters plus the Linleys' quarter, all still subject, of course, to enormous encumbrances—and therefore to be in a position to make a valid title to sell part of it. (fn. 106)
He had already, on 1 February 1800, agreed to sell one quarter share of the property to John Philip Kemble, who had been for many years the leading actor at Drury Lane, but this had been set aside by mutual consent. Instead, Sheridan on 4 January 1802 sold one quarter of his interest in the twenty-one-year patent, the Killigrew patent (of which only 46/60 had been acquired for Drury Lane, see page 6), the agreement for a ground lease and the wardrobe and other effects to trustees for Joseph Richardson, barrister. (fn. 106) Richardson was a minor playwright and Member of Parliament known, apparently, for his convivial propensity 'to flick his snuff about during supper'. (fn. 108) He and John Grubb, a keen amateur actor and from about 1796 the treasurer of the theatre, (fn. 109) had in 1795 become partners with Sheridan in the management (but not in the patents, leases or theatrical properties) of Drury Lane, the basis of the arrangement being that they were each to pay Sheridan £11,000 and each receive one seventh of the net profits of the business. (fn. 106) In 1802 Grubb's share in the partnership was dissolved, (fn. 110) while Richardson—'that vile fag end of the Firm', as Sheridan described him (fn. 111)—consolidated his position by the purchase of a quarter share of Sheridan's interest in the Killigrew and twenty-one-year patents and other theatrical property for £25,000. He did not of course possess such a substantial sum himself, and in order to raise it he intended to issue fifty debenture shares at £500 each, bearing interest at 5%, payable out of his quarter share of the profits. About twenty-seven such debentures were in fact purchased by a number of his wealthy acquaintances (including the Dukes of Bedford, Northumberland and Devonshire), none of whom, at the time of the fire in 1809, had ever been paid any interest. (fn. 106)
Richardson died in June 1803, (fn. 112) only a few months after making his purchase. He bequeathed his quarter in five equal parts to his widow and four daughters—such, at any rate, was his intention, but (as he candidly explained in his will) there might be disputes about his daughters' inheritance, and he therefore thought it right 'here to declare that I am perfectly satisfied that they are all my own children, though adverse circumstances [have] for many years deferred my marriage with their Mother'. (fn. 113)
On 1 March 1806 Sheridan conveyed another quarter of the patents and theatrical property to his son, Thomas Sheridan. (fn. 114) Thus at the time of the fire in 1809 Sheridan still owned half the theatre, and his son and the Richardsons each owned one quarter.
The principal event of Sheridan's reign was the rebuilding of the theatre. In 1789–90 he was negotiating with the fifth Duke of Bedford for a new ground lease of a much enlarged site, but the future of the theatre was greatly complicated by the destruction by fire of the King's Theatre in the Haymarket on 17 June 1789 (see pages 5–6). In order to attract subscriptions for the large capital sum needed for the rebuilding of Drury Lane it was essential for Sheridan to acquire the dormant Killigrew patent and the permanent authority to act which it would confer, for no one would subscribe if this authority remained limited to the term of the existing twentyone-year patent. In the autumn of 1791 he was negotiating for the purchase of the Killigrew patent with Thomas Harris, its principal owner, and towards the end of the year he published his proposals 'To prospective Subscribers to the Rebuilding of Drury Lane Theatre'. (fn. 115)
Sheridan proposed to raise a capital sum of £150,000 by the sale of three hundred rent charges at £500 each. The purchaser of each share was to receive a nightly rent of 2s. 6d. (making, in a season of two hundred nights, a total liability of £7,500) and the right of free admission during the term of the ground lease, which Sheridan and Linley had reason to believe would be extended under the terms of their agreement with the fifth Duke of Bedford to the year 1894. The capital subscribed was to be applied to paying off and extinguishing all the existing mortgages and encumbrances (which Sheridan estimated at £61,000) and then the whole of the surplus was to be applied to the expenses of pulling down and rebuilding the theatre. (fn. 115)
To safeguard the interests of the subscribers, Sheridan and Linley in June 1793 assigned their rights in their agreement for the lease, the contents of the theatre and the subsisting twenty-oneyear patent to trustees for the shareholders. A proviso in the deed declared that part of the £150,000 should be used to purchase Killigrew's dormant patent in order to guarantee the theatre's acting rights after the expiry of the current twenty-one-year patent, and 46/60 of it were in fact purchased by the trustees in the same year (see page 6). Sheridan and Linley were to retain their respective shares in the management of the theatre and after payment of outgoings to the shareholders, the actors and all other creditors, they were to keep the remaining profits. The £150,000 was raised by subscription from 143 individuals, many of whom bought several shares. (fn. 116)
The architect of the new theatre was the fifth Duke of Bedford's surveyor, Henry Holland, who prepared a sumptuous scheme for the site, with the theatre partially surrounded by uniformly designed 'Taverns, Coffee-houses, Public Houses, and Shops, with Houses, Chambers, and, Apartments proper to be rented by the numerous Persons connected with the Theatre . . . so as to completely insulate the Theatre within its own appropriate Buildings' (fn. 117) (Plate 20).
In effect the new playhouse was to form the substantial nucleus of an insular building, regular in appearance and rectangular in plan, having frontages with open arcaded walks similar to those in Covent Garden Piazza, fronting west to Brydges Street, north to Russell Street, east to Drury Lane and south on an intended new thoroughfare to be called Woburn Street, which was to be built on the site of Marquis Court and Little Brydges Street. The original entrance in Brydges Street was to be retained, but the principal entrances were to be in Russell and Woburn Streets, with spacious vestibules and ample staircases flanking the main shell of the building, containing a vast stage and an auditorium capable of seating nearly four thousand people. Owing to legal difficulties Woburn Street was not formed.
The last performances in the old Wren-Adam theatre took place on 4 July 1791 and early in December demolition began. (fn. 118) Although Sheridan and Linley were anxious to complete the new theatre as quickly as possible, all work on the building stopped during 1792 when difficulties arose in the negotiations for the Killigrew patent (see page 6), and it was not until the end of the year that Holland was in a position to order building materials. (fn. 117) After this delay Sheridan demanded a speedy completion of the work although he himself did little enough to expedite matters.
In July 1793 The Theatrical Journal reported that 'Drury Lane is proceeding rapidly—There are above 300 men at work now and that number will be doubled by the end of the week. Mr. Sheridan was there himself on Saturday and suggested various improvements, such as his superior knowledge of the stage supplied. Kemble too was there all day. Mr. Holland, the architect, exhibited the whole of his plan; and, not being crippled in the means, when executed it will form the finest theatre in Europe'. (fn. 119)
Despite a strike of carpenters in September, which Sheridan helped to settle by presenting them with a barrel of ale, (fn. 119) progress continued to be rapid and by the end of October Holland was preparing to make contracts for finishing the auditorium. On 27 October 1793 he wrote to Sheridan that 'Altho' I remain unconvinced the original design made two years ago and exhibited . . . to the Subscribers is not by far the best, and altho' I think the late resolves are against the receipts, the accommodation of the Audience, the Grandeur and Splendour of the Amphitheatre and the Scene, yet I am preparing to carry them into execution and propose Friday next to enter into contracts for that purpose with Saunders [the principal contractor] and others but principally with Saunders. I trouble you with this information because after that time it will be very injurious to your interests to adopt any changes that may be suggested by those you now think proper to consult.' This last rebuke was prompted, no doubt, by Holland's having received from Sheridan's friends, letters offering advice on the internal arrangement of the theatre. (fn. 117)
Although Sheridan continued to vex and disappoint Holland by his failure to keep appointments and confirm decisions, the work proceeded with a view to opening the theatre in the spring of 1794. In February The Theatrical Journal announced that 'The progress of the workmen is amazing, and that part of the Theatre before the curtain is nearly completed'. (fn. 119) The opening took place on 12 March 1794, when a concert of Handel's sacred music (appropriate to the season of Lent) was given on a stage fitted up 'to represent the inside of a Gothic cathedral'. The first theatrical performance was given on 21 April, when the Drury Lane company returned to present Macbeth and Henry Fielding's The Virgin Unmasked, with an epilogue written by George Colman the younger, during which the curtain was drawn to reveal 'a very fine river on the stage, on which a waterman, in his boat, passed to and fro'. (fn. 120)
The interior of the theatre (see Frontispiece) was virtually complete at the time of the opening, but most of the surrounding buildings had not been begun and even within the theatre many of the necessary offices and workshops were incomplete (Plate 21a, 21b). This was partly the result of delays during the building but a more serious difficulty was the lack of money which in turn was aggravated by Sheridan's insistence on making alterations not provided for in the original estimates. (fn. 117)
Holland's estimate of the cost of the theatre building, submitted on 25 November 1791, amounted to £80,000. This figure was itself £11,000 more than Holland's own draft estimates (fn. 5) and more than double Sheridan's 'Cursory Estimate' of 1789–90. (fn. 121) The final actual cost of the theatre is not known, but by August 1797 nearly £79,000 had been paid out to the builders, contractors, craftsmen and other workmen although the building was still unfinished. This sum included Holland's own fee of £4,250, most of which was paid by rent charges on the theatre. (fn. 117)
The balance of the capital sum of £150,000 was of course not available for completing the building because it had already been applied to discharge other debts, principally the outstanding mortgages on Sheridan's and Linley's shares in the theatre, and for the purchase of 46/60 of the Killigrew patent. (fn. 117)
As a result of these financial difficulties the scheme for the whole site as devised by Holland was never completed. Holland protested ineffectually, and claimed that large sums of money had been paid out of the building fund for items such as furniture which had not been allowed for in the original estimates. In theory there should have been over £16,000 still available, 'sufficient to complete the Designs, especially as it was proposed the surrounding buildings should be built by Persons who would take the Ground on which they were to be executed on a building lease'. (fn. 117) Sheridan replied that what the architect had contracted 'to finish for £80,000 will not be finished for £160,000'. (fn. 122)
It is not known how much more Sheridan expended on the theatre between 1797 and 1809, though it was evidently much in excess of the funds available, for in 1801 he claimed that he had spent 'in the further compleating of the Building a greater sum than the whole net profits of the undertaking since the opening of the Theatre'. (fn. 117)
The theatre itself survived for only fifteen years and most of its brief history is concerned with the successive devices by which attempts were made to stave off financial disaster. From 1795–6 Sheridan and the Linleys assigned over fifteen private boxes, each containing eight seats, for fourteen-year terms at a peppercorn, as security for unpaid mortgages. (fn. 123) (fn. 6) In 1796 Sheridan and the trustees for the shareholders granted twelve annuities of £50 each, and twelve rights of free admission; six were to the architect Henry Holland (who also held the lease of three boxes, all presumably in lieu of unpaid professional fees), and three each to Harvey Christian Combe (a wealthy alderman and Member of Parliament for the City, a trustee of Richardson's to whom Sheridan was in debt), and to William Adam, a friend of both Sheridan and the Prince of Wales, and later to become Sheridan's trustee. (fn. 124)
In the same year Sheridan, several of the Linleys, Combe, Adam, Grubb and Holland executed a trust deed whereby it was agreed to sell thirtyseven rent charges (later increased to forty-seven), each carrying a nightly rent of one pound and the right of free admission during the remainder of the ground lease. (fn. 125) It is not certain how many of these charges were actually sold. In 1804 it was stated that there were twenty-six in being, which had apparently been sold at £3,000 each, thereby raising some £78,000 at the expense of an annual charge on the revenue of £5,200. (fn. 126) In the meantime, however, the legality of this arrangement had been challenged in Chancery, and in 1801 a receiver of the revenues had been appointed. (fn. 127) Three years later the arrears of rent —2s. 6d. per share per night due to the subscribers of the £150,000 building capital fund— amounted to £22,500, (fn. 128) and a committee appointed by these shareholders reported that there were no fewer than 475 persons enjoying privileged rights of admission to each performance. (fn. 129)
Holland's theatre was burnt down during the night of 24 February 1809. The fire broke out in a coffee house in Brydges Street at about eleven o'clock and soon engulfed the whole building. When the flames were finally extinguished at five o'clock on the following morning little remained standing except the west wall (Plate 21c). (fn. 130) (fn. 7)
It was an ironic fate for a theatre for which the architect had wanted and planned elaborate fireproofing arrangements, only to find that the proprietors were not interested in such precautions. Sheridan had persistently neglected all Holland's measures against the risk of fire, and by 1809 even such equipment as had been installed was useless. The iron safety curtain had been removed and the reservoirs of water on the roof left unattended and probably half empty; the effect of the water was 'like a mere bucket full to the volume of fire on which it fell and had no material effect in damping it'. (fn. 133)
The destruction of the theatre, plus all the existing financial problems, would probably have made any other proprietor give up in despair, but Sheridan, with characteristic optimism, at once began to plan for the rebuilding. By mid May 1809 the outline of his scheme was ready. He realized that unless the funds to be raised were large enough to settle all claims upon the old theatre as well as to finance the building of a new one, the project would be 'roofed in with a weight of debt and incumbrance certain to impede its success and ultimately to crush it'. He therefore suggested that a committee of noblemen and gentlemen should be appointed to investigate the accounts and 'assume the principal lead in the erection of the new theatre'. He hoped they could raise £175,000: £40,000 by subscription, £35,000 from the theatre's fire insurance company, £30,000 from a national lottery, £10,000 by loan from the sixth Duke of Bedford, and the rest from the sale of boxes, free admissions and site materials. (fn. 106)
A committee of this kind was indeed soon established, but within a short while Sheridan found himself excluded from it. One of its first members was Sheridan's friend Samuel Whitbread, the brewer and Whig M.P. for Bedford, who shortly after the fire had informed Sheridan that he would have 'no objection to being one of a committee' for rebuilding Drury Lane. (fn. 134) Whitbread's hopes of political office had recently been disappointed, and he is said to have coveted 'the applause that will come of managing so hazardous a business successfully'. (fn. 135) On 28 May 1809 Sheridan accepted Whitbread's offer to serve. (fn. 136) It is recorded that on 12 June there was already a general feeling that Sheridan 'should retire altogether from the concern', but at first he refused to comply. In course of discussions with Whitbread, however, he seems to have changed his mind, and by April 1810 he had agreed to end his long connexion with the theatre. (fn. 137) His reputation for financial incompetence, whether wholly deserved or not, was indeed an extra liability which the new committee could not afford, and in 1811, when subscribers were being asked to contribute to a new capital fund, Whitbread himself wrote that 'The Question asked before any Man or Woman will put down their Names is this "Has Mr. Sheridan anything to do with it?" A direct negative suffices . . .'. (fn. 138)
The aristocratic committee envisaged by Sheridan decided to finance the rebuilding by the formation of a joint-stock company—the first to be established in the London theatre business. This could only be done by royal charter or Act of Parliament, and the Act which was passed in 1810 contains the names of eighty-six noblemen and gentlemen, the nucleus of the new company. There were two Dukes—Bedford and Argyll— one other peer, three peers' sons, four baronets and several Whig M.P.s. The rest included bankers (Thomas Coutts and Thomas Hammersley), City merchants, employees and agents of the theatre's pre-fire administration, and friends of Sheridan. In addition to Whitbread himself, the most important were probably Harvey Christian Combe and William Adam (for whom see above), and Peter Moore, Whig M.P. for Coventry and a close friend of Sheridan. Many of the eighty-six were creditors of the old theatre. (fn. 139)
Peter Moore is said to have been 'the most adroit manager of private bills' of the day, and it was he who introduced the Bill in the spring of 1810. (fn. 140) It received the royal assent on 21 June 1810, and authorized the eighty-six named noblemen and gentlemen, together with such other persons as should subscribe to the capital fund, to form a joint-stock company for the rebuilding and management of the theatre. The company, to be known as The Theatre Royal Drury Lane Company of Proprietors, was permitted to raise £300,000 by 3,000 shares of £100 each. After paying for the expenses of obtaining the Act this capital was to be applied, firstly, to purchase the still outstanding 14/60 of the Killigrew patent: secondly, to compensate the subscribers to the £150,000 rebuilding fund of 1791–4, and all other creditors with claims on the old theatre: thirdly, to purchase 'the entire Property and Interests of the present Proprietors' (i.e., R. B. and T. Sheridan and Mrs. Richardson): and lastly, to rebuild the theatre. Ten of the proprietors (of whom Whitbread, Combe, Adam and Moore were the most important) were appointed by the Act to take charge of all arrangements, examine the financial position, and report their findings to a general assembly of all the proprietors. (fn. 139)
In May 1811 the new company's managing committee, of which Whitbread was chairman, publicly invited subscriptions for the three thousand shares of £100 each. The management being now incorporated as a joint-stock company, each shareholder would receive his share of the total net profits of the venture, and if he purchased five shares he was also to have the right of free admission during his lifetime only. (fn. 141) By the end of October 1811 £120,000 had been subscribed, but by July 1813 (when the new theatre had already been open for nine months) the capital only stood at £194,500. In August 1814 it had reached £205,900, plus £29,506 received on bond, (fn. 142) but the intended figure of £300,000 was never reached. (fn. 143)
The first general assembly of The Theatre Royal Drury Lane Company of Proprietors was held on 14 October 1811. In its report the committee stated that the resources of the theatre amounted to £56,700 (including £35,000 to be received under the insurance of the old building) and that the debts amounted to £435,000, plus the annual rent of £7,500 still payable to the subscribers to the £150,000 building fund of 1791–4. The committee was nevertheless confident that the entire debt could be extinguished for £143,935, for many of the creditors (led by the sixth Duke of Bedford, who had waived his right to £4,250 in arrears of rent) had agreed to forego a large proportion of their claims. After allowing for the existing resources of £56,700 this would leave an outstanding debt of £87,235, which the committee wisely rounded up to £90,000. If the whole capital of £300,000 were raised, £210,000 would still be left to rebuild the theatre, the cost of which was estimated at £150,000. With an anticipated annual net income of £48,850 the committee forecast that the shareholders would be able to rely on an annual dividend of seven per cent. on their investment. (fn. 144)
The actual settlement of all the liabilities in accordance with the Act of 1810 occupied several years. In December 1813 the company bought the outstanding 14/60 of the Killigrew patent for £9,562 (see page 7), and £46,000 were paid to the old proprietors (i.e. the Sheridans and Mrs. Richardson) for all their interests. Richard Brinsley Sheridan's half share was assessed at £24,000, plus £4,000 for his rights in the sale of fruit in the theatre; the quarter share of his son, Tom Sheridan, was assessed at £12,000, but Mrs. Richardson's quarter was only valued at £6,000 because her husband had not at the time of his death paid the full purchase price of £25,000 for which he had contracted with Sheridan in 1802. (fn. 8) None of these sums were paid in full direct to the three proprietors, all of whom had substantial private debts. (fn. 146)
Most of the creditors' claims had been extinguished by September 1814, usually for greatly reduced figures. Nearly all of the subscribers of 1791–4 agreed to forego all arrears due to them— £43,912 altogether—and for the future to accept a nightly rent of 1s. 3d. instead of 2s. 6d., plus the right of free admission. (fn. 144) But they insisted that their position should be regulated by statute, and in 1812 an amending Act was therefore passed to safeguard their rights. (fn. 147) The theatre was thereby saddled in a season of two hundred nights with a liability of £3,750 per annum, and the failure to extinguish the rights of the subscribers of 1791–4 was bitterly lamented in 1840 by Alfred Bunn, recently the manager of Drury Lane: these rights, he complained, 'were handed over to the [new] proprietors as heirlooms upon the patent and the smoking ruins of the old buildings'. (fn. 148) (fn. 9)
Meanwhile the actual rebuilding of the theatre went ahead very quickly. At the time of the opening of the subscription in May 1811 architects had been invited to prepare plans (fn. 150) and in October 1811 the committee of the company had selected the designs of Benjamin Dean Wyatt. (fn. 10) The first stone of the new theatre was laid on 29 October 1811. (fn. 152) The second general assembly of the company, held on the following day, was informed that Whitbread had already signed a memorandum of agreement with Wyatt and Henry Rowles, the building contractor, and the contract itself, which provided for the completion of the building by 1 October 1812, was to be executed immediately. The total expenditure, so the committee stated, would not exceed £125,000 (including furnishings and architect's commission), of which Rowles would be paid £112,750. (fn. 153) By April 1812 Wyatt was reporting that most of the brickwork and roof were complete and that the ornamental work was in preparation. (fn. 154) The new theatre opened on 10 October 1812 with an address written by Lord Byron, followed by a performance of Hamlet, and a musical farce, The Devil to Pay. The seating capacity, according to Wyatt himself, was 3,106, 'exclusive of four Private Boxes in the Proscenium, and fourteen in the Basement of the Theatre, immediately under the Dress Boxes'. (fn. 155)
The exterior of the theatre as built differed materially from Wyatt's original plans (Plates 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29). The Ionic portico intended for the Brydges Street front—perhaps as an answer to Smirke's new portico at Covent Garden Theatre —was not erected, probably for reasons of economy. Many other departures from the first designs testify to the ingenuity engendered by financial stringency. In December 1812 the total expenditure (presumably including furnishings, scenery and the architect's commission) was given as £151,672—only £1,672 more than the sum originally envisaged. (fn. 154) One item on which the committee of proprietors did not economise was the new fire-fighting equipment, which enabled water to be pumped in large quantities to any part of the theatre direct from the York Buildings Water Works near the Adelphi. (fn. 156)
During the summer of 1812, while the theatre was still in course of erection, the company ob tained the renewal of both the twenty-one-year patent and the ground lease of the site. The company was authorized by the Act of 1810 to buy the outstanding interest in the Killigrew patent, but this purchase was not completed until December 1813, and in the meantime the twentyone-year patent which had been granted in 1783 to Sheridan, Linley and Ford for a term extending from 1795 to 1816 was nearing its end. In order to safeguard the company's right to act pending the completion of the purchase of the Killigrew patent, application was made for another twentyone-year patent, which was granted on 9 June 1812 to Whitbread, Moore and Combe for a term commencing in 1816. (fn. 157) On 11 July 1812 the sixth Duke of Bedford granted a new ground lease to the company for eighty-two and a quarter years from 29 September 1812 at an annual rent of £1,703 15s. 6d. (fn. 158)
For the first seven seasons the new theatre was managed by a committee appointed by the general assembly of the proprietors. The first committee, elected in April 1812, consisted of Lord Holland, Combe, Lancelot Holland, C. P. Crawford and Whitbread; (fn. 154) none of them had had any theatrical experience but they nevertheless decided against sub-letting the theatre to a professional. With Samuel Arnold, the dramatist, as manager this first committee ran the theatre for three seasons and declared a dividend of 5% in 1814, (fn. 159) despite the fact that heavy debts were already being incurred, chiefly through the alterations made to the interior in 1814 at a cost of £15,286. (fn. 160)
The first committee resigned in the summer of 1815 and Whitbread recommended that the theatre should be sub-leased rather than a new committee appointed. This suggestion was rejected and in June a new committee consisting of Lord Byron, the Earl of Essex, the Hon. D. Kinnaird, the Hon. A. C. Bradshaw and Peter Moore, was elected; at the same time Arnold resigned, and Whitbread committed suicide in the following month. In spite of various economies introduced by the new committee the debts of the company continued to rise rapidly, reaching £84,300 in 1818 and £90,922 in 1819. The position was further aggravated by the numerous Chancery suits initiated both against the company by creditors for the recovery of debts, and against the committee by disgruntled proprietors. (fn. 161)
In 1819 the committee were at last persuaded that leasing the theatre at a beneficial rent was the only way to prevent the property being seized and sold under the Sheriff's hammer. In June the chairman of the proprietors addressed a letter to the principal investors explaining the need to raise a subscription loan of £25,000 to discharge the encumbrances which might prevent the theatre from being let. (fn. 162) (fn. 11) At the same time the conditions for letting the theatre upon a seven-, fourteen- or twenty-one-year lease from 5 July 1819 were published. (fn. 106)
There were four applicants for the lease: Samuel Arnold, whose offer 'required little or no consideration for he was to run no risk'; Edmund Kean, the actor, whose offer 'was soon rejected, as he peremptorily stipulated, to exclude all the committee from interference or access to the Theatre, except through the money-taker-no Green room Loungers'; Thomas Dibdin, the actor and dramatist, who offered an annual rent of £10,100, and Robert William Elliston, the actor, whose offer of an annual rent of £10,200 was accepted. (fn. 164) On 7 August 1819 Elliston signed an agreement with five of the proprietors to take a lease of the theatre for fourteen years at an annual rent of £10,200. He further agreed to spend £7,000 in redecoration and to allow the right of nightly free admission to 653 persons. (fn. 165) Elliston immediately repainted the auditorium and opened his first season on 4 October 1819. (fn. 166)
The decision to sub-let the theatre did not prove successful for the investors. Their dividends were now derived not from the profits, but solely from the rent of £10,200, out of which the Duke of Bedford's ground rent of £1,703 and the rent-charge of £3,750 to the subscribers of 1791– 1794 had first to be paid; and even the small sum which remained for distribution after these deductions was often further reduced, in the unstable theatrical conditions of the first half of the nineteenth century, by the sub-lessees' inability to pay their rent.
Elliston remained at the theatre for seven years. During his lease the present portico, the design of which is usually ascribed to James Spiller, (fn. 167) was added to the Brydges Street front in 1820 at a cost of £1,050 (Plate 38a). (fn. 12) Two years later Elliston spent £22,000 on remodelling the auditorium to the designs of Samuel Beazley. In the middle of 1825 Elliston seems to have had a stroke which left his hands paralysed and shortly afterwards he delegated the management of the theatre to his son. By 1826 he owed £5,500 in arrears of rent, and on 27 May 1826 the Company of Proprietors demanded payment within three days. Elliston refused to comply because he had spent far more on alterations than the stipulated £7,000, and on 3 June he forfeited the lease. (fn. 171)
The committee then advertised for a new lessee and accepted the offer of Thomas Bish, M.P. (who was well known at the Stock Exchange and as a lottery-office keeper) for a fourteen-year term at £10,000 per annum. But within a week of executing the agreement Bish decided to withdraw, and forfeited his deposit of £2,000. (fn. 172)
In July the lease was taken by Stephen Price, an American 'of coarse manners, repulsive conduct and vulgar conversation', who had been manager of the Park Theatre in New York. He took the theatre for a term of fourteen years at an increased rental of £10,600 per annum. In spite of his experience in New York, Price's 'want of Theatrical Knowledge soon brought him to a Stand Still'. During his fourth season the committee tried to eject him, but Price, who was a lawyer by training, refused to surrender his lease without compensation, and the committee was forced to pay him an allowance for several weeks. In March 1830 Price vacated the theatre with debts of £2,000 and was declared bankrupt on 7 July. (fn. 173)
Once again the committee advertised the lease, which was taken on 29 May by Alexander Lee, 'a broken down singer at the Haymarket and keeper of a music shop in the Quadrant'. (fn. 173) Lee was granted a three-year term from July 1830 at an annual rent of £9,000, (fn. 174) but being unable to finance such an undertaking by himself he invited Captain Frederick Polhill, M.P. for Bedford, 'a gentleman possessing more money than brains', to take a half share. Polhill had previously employed Lee to teach singing to a young lady whom he was anxious to bring on to the stage; he agreed to Lee's request, but the partnership was shortlived and when it was dissolved in May 1831 Polhill became sole lessee. (fn. 175) In September he appointed Alfred Bunn, who had previously been in charge of the Birmingham theatre, as manager, and this arrangement lasted until the end of 1834. But the increasing financial burden of Drury Lane fell solely upon Polhill, who remained solvent only by drawing upon his large private resources. (fn. 176) In July 1833 Polhill renewed the lease for six years, determinable after the first three years, and managed to obtain a reduced rental of £8,000 per annum (fn. 177) but in December 1834 he relinquished the theatre, owing £2,500 to the committee (fn. 178) and having lost £50,000 of his own fortune. (fn. 173)
One permanent feature of Polhill's tenancy remains—the colonnade in Russell Street, designed by Samuel Beazley and erected in 1831, not without some initial opposition from the committee of management of St. Paul's parish (Plate 38b). (fn. 179)
In December 1834 Polhill assigned his lease to Bunn, who paid a deposit of £3,000 to the committee. (fn. 180) Within a few months he had lost upwards of £2,000 (fn. 181) and was soon agitating for a reduction in the rent. The committee reacted by proposing to replace Bunn in July 1836, when the first three years of the lease granted to Polhill would expire, and in June advertised the lease once more, (fn. 182) but no new lessee could be found. (fn. 183)
The problem confronting the committee was that their own fixed annual outgoings of over £7,000, payable whether the theatre was sub-let or not, were greater than the rent which any subtenant was capable of paying to the committee. (fn. 13) In 1835 these expenses had totalled £7,139, even after allowance for an abatement of £300 per annum in the ground rent which the sixth Duke of Bedford had granted in February 1835, but the total rent received by the committee from their sub-tenant was only £5,500. Before the lease had been advertised in June 1836 the company's treasurer wrote to W. G. Adam, the Duke's steward, to express the committee's determination not to relet 'until the Rent reserved is found to exceed the permanent charges, or the conse quence must be again to overwhelm the Establishment with new debts and embarrassments'. He also asked the Duke to remit a further £200 per annum from the ground rent, to which the Duke again agreed. (fn. 184)
The committee's good intentions were soon set aside, for in August 1836 they relet the theatre to Bunn at a rental of only £6,000 per annum. (fn. 182) Financial disaster did not immediately ensue, however, for the Duke of Bedford's gesture in giving up £500 of his annual ground rent had persuaded others to make similar concessions. The subscribers of 1791–4 gave up threepence of their nightly rent of 1s. 3d. and the bondholders agreed to a reduction of one half in the annual interest on their loans. (fn. 14) In the season of 1836–7 these reductions converted what would otherwise have been a loss of £1,006 into a surplus of £370. (fn. 184)
Bunn remained at Drury Lane for another three years. During this time he presented not only opera and drama but also miscellaneous entertainments like lion-taming, tight-rope walking and promenade concerts. (fn. 186) This type of presentation did nothing to enhance the reputation of the theatre in the eyes of the committee and provoked from one proprietor an indignant letter to the editor of The Sunday Times. He declared that Bunn 'had disgraced the boards of Drury Lane Theatre by converting it into a bear-garden', and that he had 'subsequently dishonoured it by causing it to be designated the shilling theatre'. But there was so little public confidence in the theatre at this time that a block of five £100 shares which entitled the owner to free admission for life could only fetch thirty-five guineas at auction. (fn. 187) In the spring of 1839 Bunn was forced to give up the lease owing £12,200 in arrears of rent, and in December 1840 he was declared bankrupt, having lost a total of £23,052 since 1834. (fn. 188)
Bunn's precarious finances were a further embarrassment to the company. At their meeting in July 1839 the proprietors were informed that the company owed nearly £18,000, and that Polhill and Bunn owed the company £17,000 in arrears of rent. The treasurer considered that the committee had not sufficiently exerted itself to let the theatre to the best advantage and (very misleadingly) compared Drury Lane's recent record with that of Covent Garden Theatre, which had been let to D. W. Osbaldiston at £7,000 per annum. (fn. 189) (fn. 15)
Nevertheless the committee confirmed that the new lessee—J. W. Hammond, an actor and at that time manager of the Strand Theatre—would be paying only £5,000 per annum during his three-year lease. (fn. 190) Although Hammond engaged several outstanding actors he was forced to give up after five months, and in June 1840 the committee let the theatre to Edward Eliason, a German violinist, ostensibly to present opera. But Eliason found singers' fees too high and opened the theatre for concerts instead; these did not save him, however, and in the spring of 1841 he too resigned, also in debt. (fn. 164)
Next Charles Macready, who had already had two years' experience of financially unsuccessful management at Covent Garden Theatre, was tempted to try his hand at Drury Lane. In February 1841 he was exploring the possibility of taking a lease of the theatre, and by March had agreed to pay a rent of £7,000 per annum. (fn. 191) He opened on 4 October 1841, and was soon in debt. He had apparently little idea of the size of the liabilities involved and by August 1842 had lost £8,000, 'the earnings of a life of labour'. Nevertheless he continued for another season and tried to persuade the committee of proprietors to agree to the abolition of the fixed rental. These negotiations were unsuccessful and at the end of the season of 1843 he relinquished the lease. (fn. 192)
By August the irrepressible Bunn was again lessee of Drury Lane. (fn. 193) He had picked an inauspicious moment to return, for on 22 August the new Act for regulating theatres (fn. 194) was passed which destroyed the monopoly (much disregarded) of the patent theatres and only added to their difficulties. Nevertheless Bunn survived until March 1848, presenting mainly opera and sub-letting the theatre to Louis A. Jullien for autumn seasons of concerts. When Bunn resigned Jullien introduced the 'Cirque National de Paris', which ran until March 1849 and was followed by a season of German opera. (fn. 195)
In December 1849 James Anderson, an actor at the theatre, took over the lease and management. He hoped to profit in due course from the crowds drawn to London for the Great Exhibition, but his productions failed to attract the public and in June 1851 he retired with debts of £5,684, having lost a total of £9,161 in only two seasons. (fn. 196) For the next four months Drury Lane was used for an immensely popular American and French equestrian troupe, which was followed by a short season of concerts given by Louis A. Jullien. In December Bunn became lessee again. He redecorated the auditorium in the Louis XVI style and presented a season of opera which lasted until May 1852. (fn. 197)
In June 1852 Bunn finally gave up at Drury Lane. (fn. 198) He had been lessee of the theatre four times but his persistence had not been rewarded with any sustained success. Writing some twenty years later J. R. Planché described Bunn's management as 'sheer gambling of the most reckless description, in no one instance that I can remember terminating prosperously, what ever might have been the success of certain productions in the course of it.' (fn. 199) In July Sheridan Smith, an American, took the lease for 'a brief period'; he proved as good as his word and only survived for one week. (fn. 200) Eventually the committee managed to lease the theatre until Christmas 1852 to Frederick Gye and Louis Jullien for their winter concerts; (fn. 184) they in turn sub-let for short periods, sometimes to unsuitable tenants such as George Bolton, tailor, who managed the theatre for a week in October. (fn. 201)
The difficulties encountered by the committee in finding a reliable lessee had not gone unnoticed by the seventh Duke of Bedford's London steward, Christopher Haedy. In a letter written in August 1852 to the treasurer of the theatre about the arrears of ground rent he warned the company that the theatre might have to be demolished. Haedy himself was sympathetic to the company but as the Duke's adviser he felt that in the long run it would be more advantageous for the Duke to demolish the theatre and let the site on building leases at a lower but more dependable rental. (fn. 184)
In September the company found a new lessee to take over from Christmas 1852. (fn. 184) This was E. T. Smith, manager of the Marylebone Theatre, who in the course of his remarkable career was lessee of the Alhambra, Her Majesty's, the Lyceum, Astley's and Cremorne Gardens. According to the treasurer, Smith was not a person the company would have chosen but his offer of £3,500 per annum was the only acceptable one. He subsequently entered into a seven-year lease of the theatre at £4,000 per annum. (fn. 202) Haedy then advised the Duke not to take steps to gain possession of the building at least until Christmas 1852, as the treasurer had assured him that the rent to be paid to the company by Gye and Jullien for their autumn season would be used to reduce the arrears of the Duke's ground rent. (fn. 184)
The arrears were evidently not paid, however, for in his annual report, written in February 1853, Haedy recommended the Duke to vacate the lease and let the site for building. 'Drury Lane Theatre has held on longer' than Covent Garden, he wrote, 'but there is now strong reason to fear that its days, as a Theatre, are numbered, every attempt to let it as a Theatre ending in failure. The rent payable to your Grace for it is getting into arrear and it appears to be far from improbable that either the Lease of it will be surrendered to your Grace, or that you will have to resort to legal proceedings for vacating it. This has so long appeared to be probable as to have made it necessary to consider what would be the best use it could be put to in the event of the surrender and avoidance of the lease. The result of much consideration is, that it is incapable of being applied as a Building to any profitable purpose, and that the best thing to do with it will be to take it down, sell the materials, and let the site of it as building ground. With that view a Plan for building upon the site of it has been laid down by Mr. Parker [Haedy's assistant], which appears to shew the best appropriation which can be made of the ground as a site for House building. . . .' (fn. 203)
Fortunately the seventh Duke was in no hurry to implement his steward's recommendation and the theatre was still standing a year later when Haedy was able to report that 'contrary to what was expected' the arrears of rent had been lessened, and 'for the present at least the necessity for taking steps to vacate the lease has ceased'. (fn. 204)
No doubt some of the credit for saving the building must go to the new lessee, E. T. Smith, whose judicious choice for his opening production —Uncle Tom's Cabin—took advantage of the current public enthusiasm for the book. (fn. 205) But the threat of demolition still hung over the theatre during the 1850's and was occasionally used by the Duke's steward to coax arrears of ground rent out of the company. (fn. 184) Smith remained at Drury Lane for nearly ten years; like Bunn he survived by alternating opera and drama with less serious entertainments such as circuses and Chinese conjuring. (fn. 206)
In 1862 Smith assigned his lease to Edmond Falconer, the successful manager of the Lyceum. (fn. 207) In 1863 Falconer entered into partnership with his acting manager, F. B. Chatterton, (fn. 208) but after three years this arrangement was terminated through 'differences of opinion on the mode of conducting the business of the house' and Chatterton was left as sole lessee. (fn. 209) In 1866 he took a new lease of the theatre at a rental of £6,000 per annum, plus £10 per night for every additional performance over two hundred—an indication of the sudden improvement in theatrical business during the previous few years. (fn. 210)
Chatterton had mixed fortunes; some of his productions earned record profits whilst others (chiefly of the classics) brought enormous losses. In the summer months he sub-let the theatre to Colonel Mapleson for several seasons of opera. But the committee of proprietors was well pleased and at a meeting of shareholders in April 1873 Chatterton was described as 'the best lessee they had ever had because he made the theatre so prosperous'. (fn. 211) In 1876 or 1878 he renewed his lease for another five years (fn. 212) but was not able to complete the term, and the theatre was closed in February 1879, when his debts amounted to £36,000. (fn. 213)
Later in 1879 the committee let the theatre to (Sir) Augustus Harris at £6,000 per annum. (fn. 214) Although only twenty-seven years of age Harris had already had some experience of management at Covent Garden. Within a short while he established the pattern of the Drury Lane melodrama and pantomime which restored the prestige of the theatre and brought it unprecedented success. (fn. 215) He remained in charge of Drury Lane until his death in 1896.
In the latter part of the 1880's the future of the theatre began to be overcast by the question of the renewal of the ground lease, which had been granted to the Company of Proprietors by the sixth Duke of Bedford in 1812 and was due to expire at Christmas 1894. Both the company and their tenant, Harris, had submitted rival applications to the ninth Duke for a reversionary lease, and both had been refused. Shortly after the ninth Duke's death in January 1891 Harris renewed his application, and offered to pay a ground rent of £4,500 per annum and spend a large sum in improvements in exchange for a long lease. But the Duke's steward, Alfred Stutfield, wished to improve this part of the estate by widening Russell Street, and as this would involve the demolition of the theatre he advised the tenth Duke not to accept any proposal for the renewal of the lease. (fn. 216)
No decision was taken for two years, partly at least because the future of the theatre during 1891–3 depended upon the future of Covent Garden Market. Demand for the transference of the market to public ownership reached a climax during these years, and in 1893 the London County Council attempted (unsuccessfully) to obtain statutory power to purchase markets compulsorily. In July of that year the Council, still in expectation of the successful passage of its Bill through Parliament, informed the eleventh Duke that if it were empowered to purchase the market it would wish to use the site of the theatre for a much-needed extension. The Council therefore requested the Duke not to renew the lease for a term longer than seven years. (fn. 217)
By this time the tenth Duke had died, in March 1893. He or his successor, Herbrand, the eleventh Duke, had evidently decided to reject the increasingly agitated requests of the Company of Proprietors for the renewal of their ground lease. In January 1893 the company had offered a rent of £2,000 per annum for a twenty-one-year lease, and had pointed out that if the Duke refused to renew the lease the company would lose the whole of the capital by which the theatre had been built in 1811–12. The Duke, however, was reminded by his steward that the company had for nearly sixty years past enjoyed an abatement of £500 per annum in their ground rent, and that as Sir Augustus Harris had made a much more advantageous offer there was no reason to depart from the Duke's normal policy of renewing leases to the tenant in occupation. (fn. 217) It was to Harris, therefore, and not to the company, that an offer of a new lease was made in August 1893. (fn. 218) The company which had built the theatre thereby lost both its assets and its raison d'être and on 11 November 1897 the renters and debenture holders closed their account and agreed to a final dividend of £4 9s. on the 293 subsisting shares. (fn. 219)
In compliance with the London County Council's request the term to be granted to Harris was for only seven years, at a rent of £6,300 per annum. The agreement, executed in May 1894, contained a number of restrictive covenants designed to prevent the recurrence of some of the worst features of the old company's tenancy. The theatre was not to be used as a circus, music hall, theatre of varieties, or for promenade concerts or dancing, or indeed for any purpose except opera and stage plays, without the Duke's permission; and similarly there was to be no sub-leasing, except for short seasons of opera or drama, without express authority. (fn. 220)
Harris died on 22 June 1896, within little more than two years of the signature of the agreement, having in the meantime bought the Killigrew patent from the old Company of Proprietors (see page 7). Within a few months of Harris's death his stage manager, Arthur Collins, acquired from the executors the right to purchase the agreement of 1894 with the Duke, and in October 1896 he submitted proposals for a new lease to the Duke's steward, Alfred Stutfield. The latter replied that the Duke was willing to entertain Collins's offer 'subject to his getting a substantial backer to enter into the Lease with him'. (fn. 221) It was probably in order to comply with this condition that on 24 March 1897 a new company to be known as Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited applied to the Board of Trade for registration, the objects of the proposed company being 'to acquire and take over [the theatre] as a going concern' and to carry on the business of producing musical and dramatic entertainments there. Collins was not one of the signatories of the application, and his exact role is therefore uncertain, (fn. 222) but five days later, on 29 March 1897, he signed an agreement with the Duke for a forty-year lease (the London County Council's attempt to purchase and extend the market having now lapsed) at a rent rising to £6,550 per annum. The agreement was conditional upon Collins securing the surrender of Harris's seven-year interest and upon his making the alterations to the building described on page 39. It also contained authority for the committee of the Sir Augustus Harris Memorial Fund to erect the commemorative drinking fountain which still stands against the front wall of the theatre. (fn. 16) On the advice of his steward the Duke contributed £50 to the fund, because Sir Augustus Harris 'By his enterprise and pluck . . . resuscitated Drury Lane Theatre when it had fallen on evil times and there is no doubt whatever that he has added materially to the market value of the Theatre'. (fn. 224)
On 27 May 1897 Collins agreed provisionally to sell this forty-year interest, the Killigrew patent and all fittings, stage properties and machinery connected with the theatre to the new company for £85,000 (a sum probably calculated only for accounting purposes). The certificate of incorporation of the company was issued on 28 May, and on 7 June the agreement between Collins and the company was confirmed. (fn. 222) Shortly afterwards Collins obtained the Duke's permission to assign his interest to the company, and arranged for the surrender of the remainder of Harris's seven-year interest. (fn. 225) He at once became one of the company's six directors, and by the end of August the company's capital of 125,000 £1 shares had been fully subscribed. (fn. 226) The first production of the new régime took place on 16 September 1897. (fn. 227)
After the completion of the alterations provided for in the Duke of Bedford's agreement of 1897 with Arthur Collins, the company was in 1900 granted a lease expiring in 1937. (fn. 228) In 1903, after further structural alterations had been made, the Duke extended this term to 1977 at an annual rent of £6,450. (fn. 229)
Drury Lane Theatre was one of the properties sold by the eleventh Duke of Bedford in 1918 to the Covent Garden Estate Company Limited. In January 1920 this company offered the freehold of the theatre for sale by auction. Bidding reached £134,500, but the reserve price was higher and the property was withdrawn. The freehold was sold privately in March of the same year to the Ellerman Property Trust Limited, which still owns it. (fn. 230)
In 1919 there were substantial changes in the ownership of the shares of Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited, which still held the ground lease, and Sir Alfred Butt became chairman of the company and joint managing director with Arthur Collins. (fn. 231) In 1921–2 the interior of the theatre was reconstructed to designs of J. Emblin Walker, F. Edward Jones and Robert Cromie, at a cost of £150,000. (fn. 232)
During the war of 1939–45 the theatre became the headquarters of Entertainment National Service Association (E.N.S.A.) and suffered some damage by enemy action. (fn. 233) In 1944 Associated Theatre Properties (London) Limited acquired a controlling interest in Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited. (fn. 234) After restoration the theatre re-opened on 19 December 1946 with Prince Littler as managing director. (fn. 233) In 1958 Associated Theatre Properties offered to buy all the outstanding £1 shares of Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited for 22s. 6d. (fn. 235) This offer proved successful and by 1966 A.T.P. owned 123,800 of the 125,000 shares. (fn. 190)