Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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This structure is situated in the middle of Mosley Street, and was built under the direction of Mr. David Stephenson, architect. In front is a covered porch, adorned with festoons and dramatic emblems. The interior is remarkably elegant and convenient, and is capable of containing 1350 persons, viz. 800 in the gallery, 200 in the pit, and 350 in the boxes. Admittance into the latter at three shillings, into the pit at two shillings, and into the gallery at one shilling, amounts, when full, to £112, 10s.; but the house, if crowded, will hold £130 at the ordinary prices. It is usually open four months in the year, and also during the assize and race weeks. It received the royal licence in virtue of an act of parliament obtained in 1787, and was first opened on January 21, 1788, with the comedy of the "Way to keep him," and the "Sultan." Among the performers were Cooke, Munden, Whitlock, &c. The first scenes were painted by Mr. Edward Edwards, an artist of acknowledged celebrity.
The expense of this structure was paid by subscription. Eighty subscribers took 130 shares, at £30 each; but the sum thus raised being found insufficient, £2500 was borrowed of the Newcastle banks, which was afterwards repaid by raising £1200 by way of annuity, to be charged on the Theatre, and £1000 borrowed on the security of the committee, chosen from the subscribers. Proprietors' shares were afterwards sold so low as £12 and £15 each; but in 1811–12, they had advanced to £25. The cost of this building was,—Purchase of ground and expense of conveyances, £995, 17s. 8d.; act of parliament, £234, 1s.; building (total expense to the 5th of April, 1789), £5051, 18s. 10d.; total, £6281, 17s. 6d.
The entire length of the Theatre, which is strongly built with brick, is 120 feet, and the breadth 54 feet. About 64 feet from the front, the building is increased 20 feet in breadth. This additional space is occupied by apartments necessary in a Theatre, and which are entered by Drury Lane. In the original plan of the ground story, the first room on the right hand of the passage is 12 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 6 inches, and is called the "Manager's Room." The "large Green Room" is 18 feet square, and adjoining thereto is a dressing room. The "common Green Room" is 13 feet 4 inches by 10 feet, and communicates with a "common Hair-dressing Room" and water-closets. The stage, from the front line to the standing place for vacant scenes, was 48 feet; behind which was the common stair-case, a wardrobe 18 feet by 8, a stage-keeper's room 13 feet long, and a lumber place. The orchestra was advanced by a bold curve into the pit; and there were seats for spectators on each side. The curtain line was above 14½ feet from the outer side of the orchestra. The grand entrance to the Theatre opened into a vestibule for servants, beyond which was an oval box-lobby, 17½ feet in diameter. On the right hand side was a room for the attendants, and on the opposite side the pay-box and stairs to the upper boxes. There was a stair-case to the gallery on each side of the vestibule.
Various alterations and improvements have been made at different times in the arrangements and decorations of the Theatre. The stage has been deepened by removing the erections behind it, so that now even spectacles can be advantageously exhibited. The frontispiece of the stage-opening has been made straight, and the pit enlarged by increasing the length of the orchestra, and removing it nearer to the proscenium. An advantage has also been gained in point of vision, by narrowing and throwing back the stage-opening by forming an additional box adjoining to each side of the stage, which boxes gently project before the curtain line. The whole of the interior is painted and decorated with great taste. The royal arms above the drop curtain are executed in a most admirable manner by Mr. Dixon, of Durham, formerly scenepainter to this Theatre. A grand and superb cut glass chandelier, which is brilliantly illuminated with gas, is suspended from the ceiling above the centre of the pit. The ceiling above the back of the gallery is coved, and ventilators made, which adds much to the coolness and salubrity of the air in this part of the house. In the course of these alterations, the gallery stair-case next to Drury Lane was removed, and the place converted into an anti-room. The door-keeper's box is removed to the right hand corner on entering the vestibule.
In 1817, the proprietors resolved to alter the entrances into the Theatre, agreeably to a plan drawn by Mr. Dobson, architect, and which was executed in the short space of six weeks. The lobby, or vestibule, which measures 27 feet in length, and 14½ feet in breadth, was cleared of all incumbrances, and the full front of the approach to the box doors exposed. It is ascended by three steps, and the pediment is supported by pilasters and two Ionic pillars. A pedestal rises on each side of the steps, and supports a curious bronzed ornament, from which issue brilliant gas-lights. Mr. Stephen Humble's shop, at the west end of the lobby, was converted into an anti-room, 18 feet by 9½ feet, and furnished with an elegant fire-stove, mirror, and benches. A similar apartment was made on the opposite end. Each is entered by an open, arched door-way, opposite to which, in a niche, stands a figure of Comedy in one room, and a corresponding figure of Tragedy in the other. The ceiling and all the parts of this grand entrance are executed in the Grecian style, with considerable architectural knowledge and taste.
In effecting these alterations, it was necessary to make a new entrance both to the pit and gallery. The staircase of the latter is far from being safe or convenient; but it was impossible to make it otherwise in this situation, as the heads of persons passing the stairs to the Green-boxes are, in one part, close to the feet of those treading the gallery stairs. The accommodation of the crowds that usually fill the gallery, in ingress and egress, is a principle of great importance, and continues to demand the attention of the proprietors. Generally, the difficulty or danger in passing in or out has been considerably lessened; but something, as it respects the gallery, still remains to be done. In the latter end of 1824, the pillars of the portico were chipped over and dressed, the other ornaments cleaned, and the appearance of the whole house improved. In conclusion, it may be observed, that this Theatre, in the primary objects of distinct sound and vision, beauty of form, chasteness of decoration, and general comfort, is not surpassed by any other provincial house in the kingdom.