Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: The drama

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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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: The drama', in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) pp. 593-594. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: The drama", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 593-594. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: The drama", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 593-594. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,


In the year 1730, a company of players performed in the old Moot-hall, in the Castle Garth. In 1743, it appears that the opposition of the "rigidly righteous" to this kind of amusement had become so inveterate, that a comedian published a farce, entitled "Methodism displayed," which was intended for representation. After this, another theatre was opened in Usher's Raff-yard, Queen Street, called the "Great Booth." In 1781, Mr. Alexander Cuthell (fn. 1) (who died at Greenock, February 11, 1824, aged 78) performed at the "New Theatre in the Castle-yard," with Mrs. Best, who afterwards shone in the London theatres. This company separated in 1786, and part opened a theatre in the Tolbooth, Gateshead. There was another theatre erected in 1748, by Mr. William Parker, master of the Turk's Head Inn, in which concerts and other public assemblies are now held. The late Mr. Stephen Johnson, of the Scotch Arms Inn, and some other native comedians, flourished in this house. Thus there appears to have been three theatres in Newcastle at one time. In 1785, it was resolved by the principal gentlemen of the town to erect a new theatre, on a commodious and elegant plan, and which was opened by authority of an act of parliament, January 21, 1788. Messrs. Austin and Whitlock were the first managers of the Theatre Royal. In the following year, Austin was succeeded by Munden; but, in 1792, Whitlock and Munden resigned to the late Mr. Stephen Kemble, (fn. 2) whose managerial reign lasted until the year 1806. Mr. W. Macready, (fn. 3) his successor, continued in the management to the year 1818; when the merry, laughter-loving Mr. Vincent De Camp succeeded. Mr. W. Nicholson, the present manager, commenced his career in Newcastle on December 3, 1824, with the comedy of the School for Scandal, and the farce of Of Age To-morrow. His economical habits, punctuality, and unassuming manners, combined with the spirited and generous policy of his management, have gained him general esteem; and it is said that, notwithstanding the pressure of the times, the present is the first year that the theatre has been clear of debt since its first erection. Newcastle can boast of having been a famous nursery for dramatic genius. W. C. Macready, when a boy, ventured upon the Newcastle stage. Liston first tried both his tragic and comic powers here; Emery was disciplined on our boards; Munden acquired much of his theatric education in this town; Terry is an old favourite; Egerton first shone a star in our theatrical horizon; here, too, H. Siddons made his debut; and here Charles Kemble came for improvement. Our theatrical corps also possessed Faulkner of the Hay market, and Lee of the Adelphi. Here likewise Mr. Pearman was first elevated to the station of a leading vocalist. Many females of merit have also been suckled in our dramatic nursery, whose histrionic talents will be recorded in the history of the stage. (fn. 4)

A Circus, or Amphitheatre, was erected at the Forth in 1789, under the direction of Mr. D. Stephenson, architect. It was opened on the 29th of October that year, by Messrs. Jones and Parker, equestrians, from London. This speculation in a short time was abandoned, and the building has since been used for a variety of purposes. During late years, it has been mostly used as a riding-school, and occasionally for the exhibition of horsemanship and pantomimes.


  • 1. This clever, but eccentric man, is said to have ruined himself in fitting up the Castle Garth theatre. Mr. M'George conducted the theatre in the Moot-hall. The scenes were painted by Mr. Waters. At the same time, Mr. Kinlock's, sen. dancing-school was held in the jury-room.
  • 2. Stephen Kemble, who had the management of the Newcastle theatre for 14 years, was the brother of the celebrated John and Charles Kemble, and of Mrs. Siddons. He was born at Kingstown, Herefordshire, on May 3, 1758, on the very night in which his mother had played Anne Bullen, in the play of Henry the Eighth. Having received a proper education, he was placed with Mr. Gibbs, an eminent surgeon at Coventry. After serving about two years, however, preferring the theatrical truncheon and foil to the lancet and probe, he joined an itinerant troop of actors at Kidderminster. Having obtained considerable reputation in various parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, he made his first appearance at Covent-garden Theatre, September 24, 1783, and immediately after married Miss Satchell, a favourite actress of the same theatre. In consequence of a misunderstanding with the proprietors, they joined the Haymarket Theatre. After this, he became the manager of the theatres of Newcastle and Edinburgh, and also undertook successively to conduct those of Glasgow, Liverpool, and other places. He was a chaste performer; and his remarkable obesity enabled him to personate Falstaff "without stuffing." In 1817, he accepted the management of Drury-lane Theatre; but, during the season he held this office, he neither acquired honour to himself, nor profit to the theatre. At this time, he brought out his son Henry, who had been bred to the church, but who certainly discovered no talent for the stage. His daughter Frances married, at Newcastle, Captain Arkwright, son of Sir Richard Arkwright, the celebrated cotton-spinner. Mrs. Kemble was a prodigious favourite at Newcastle. Mr. Kemble produced a dramatic piece called "The Northern Inn," a farce named "Flodden Field," and a volume of poems. He was a beautiful reader, and a learned and entertaining companion. His countenance strongly resembled that of his incomparable sister, Mrs. Siddons. For some years previous to his death, he lived in retirement at the Grove, near Durham, where he closed his earthly career.
  • 3. William Macready is a native of Dublin, where he was bred an upholsterer. After entering upon the stage, he contrived to please old Macklin, who procured him an engagement at Covent-garden, where he made his first appearance in Flutter in 1786, his majesty being present. He afterwards became manager of the Royalty, and subsequently of the Newcastle, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Bristol theatres. He is author of the "Bank Note," a comedy, and two farces, called the "Village Lawyer" and the "Irishman in London;" but his claim to the former has been disputed. His wife, who was also an actress, died in 1804. One of his sons entered the army. Another, Charles William Macready, was designed, it is said, for the church; but circumstances induced him to fit on the sock and to strut in the buskin. Some imagine that he occupies the throne of dramatic supremacy.
  • 4. Master Betty, the Young Roscius' benefit, on September 9, 1805, amounted to £213, 9s.: boxes 5s. pit 3s. gallery 1s. 6d. This is the largest sum ever raised by a play in the Newcastle theatre.