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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER IV. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: the Buildings
The Brydges Street Playhouse of 1663
Unlike the Duke's Theatre in Dorset Garden, which can be visualized from contemporary external and internal views, the first Theatre Royal in Brydges Street seems to have gone unrecorded except for a few passages of description by contemporary writers. Despite the extensive researches of theatrical historians, the only known facts concern the site in the Riding Yard, a quadrangle measuring 112 feet in length east to west, and 58 to 59 feet in width. Closely hemmed in by built-up properties on all sides, it was approached from Brydges Street by a passage, 10 feet wide, entering centrally on the west side, and by a corresponding passage from Drury Lane on the east. Hollar's map of London's western suburbs (Plate 1a) gives a clear bird's-eye view of the Riding Yard and the entrance passage between the Brydges Street houses. The exact dimensions of the theatre building are not known, but there was an entrance court, 10 feet wide, extending before its west front.
On 8 May 1663, the day following the opening, Samuel Pepys attended a performance at the new theatre. He noted that 'The house is made with extraordinary good contrivance, and yet hath some faults, as the narrowness of the passages in and out of the pitt, and the distance from the stage to the boxes, which I am confident cannot hear; but for all other things it is well, only, above all, the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended'. To Pepys's account must be added the (freely translated) comments of M. de Monconys, visiting the theatre on 22 May 1663, who thought it to be the most proper and most beautiful he had ever seen, much of it lined with green baize. The boxes were dressed with bands of gilt leather, and the benches of the pit, where persons of quality resorted, were ranged in the form of an amphitheatre, each higher than the one in front. (fn. 7) A later entry in Pepys's diary (fn. 8) shows that rain and hail, as well as light and air, were admitted to the auditorium, presumably through a lanterncupola similar to the one that rose from the leaded platform above the roof of the Duke's Theatre in Dorset Garden, opened in 1671 and reputedly designed by Wren. On 19 March 1665/6 Pepys walked to the theatre, then closed because of the plague, and found it 'all in dirt, they being altering the stage to make it wider'. The last informative comments on the building, made before its destruction by fire in January 1671/2, are those of Lorenzo Magalotti, recording the visit of Duke Cosmo III of Tuscany on 25 April 1669. 'This theatre is nearly of a circular form, surrounded, in the inside, by boxes separated from each other, and divided into several rows of seats, for the greater accommodation of the ladies and gentlemen, who, in conformity with the freedom of the country, sit together indiscriminately; a large space being left on the ground floor for the rest of the audience.' (fn. 9)
Several theatre historians, including Professor Edward A. Langhans, (fn. 10) have seen a possible connexion between the above-quoted descriptions of the 1663 playhouse, and an unsigned and undated sketch design for an unnamed theatre, volume iv no. 81 in the Wren Drawings at All Souls College, Oxford (Plate 4). This design comprises a geometrically set-out plan, a sketch longitudinal section, and a sketch perspective of the forestage and proscenium. Neither scale nor dimensions are given, but as it can be reasonably assumed that the benches are spaced 2 feet back to back, as in most contemporary and many later playhouses, the plan is contained in an oblong 'shell' having an internal width of 40 feet and a length of 90 feet, almost equally divided between stage and auditorium. The plan is of great interest as an attempt to combine in a Restoration playhouse some of the essential features of an antique Roman theatre, and it demonstrates a knowledge of Vitruvius and Palladio. The scheme is based on a circle of about 36 feet diameter, placed centrally in the oblong shell. One half of the circle defines the line of a raised barrier dividing the pit from the amphitheatre, while the other half encloses the forestage and is broken by a 20 foot-wide proscenium opening. The pit is furnished with seven semi-circular rows of benches, leaving space for a semi-circular 'orchestra' of only 6 feet diameter, which would certainly have resulted in some of the musicians being placed 'under the very stage', as criticized by Pepys. According to the sketch section, the pit benches are stepped at the relatively shallow rake of 15 degrees, whereas the seven segmental rows of amphitheatre benches are more steeply pitched at 30 degrees. At the back of the amphitheatre, at the same rake, is a circle of five boxes, or loges, with five rows of benches. Behind the boxes is a small foyer or corridor, flanked by staircases which, presumably, serve the amphitheatre and boxes as well as the gallery. The latter, with seven or eight rows of benches, rests on columns in front of the boxes and extends to the front wall of the shell.
A curious feature of the plan is the indication of an enclosure or dais, about 5 feet square, either railed in or surrounded with a wide step, placed centrally and breaking the barrier between the pit and the amphitheatre. This has been generally identified as 'His Majesty's Box', but as it is linked by parallel lines extending from the foyer to the orchestra, it could be interpreted as a vomitory for entering the pit. Above this enclosure, the section shows a suspended object, thought by Hamilton Bell (fn. 11) to indicate a canopy or else a corona of lights, or even a central light shaft rising through the roof void. Langhans favours the idea of a corona, but there is also the possibility of its being a horizontal shutter which could be drawn up to close the lantern-cupola, the existence of which is hinted at by Pepys.
The segmentally curved screens flanking the proscenium and forming the sides of the forestage have puzzled most commentators. Each screen is shown on the plan as a series of five small equilateral triangles, impinging so as to present an apparently unbroken face towards the audience. Recalling Magalotti's description, Bell and Langhans see these triangles as a crude representation of boxes, perhaps with proscenium doors below. They are, however, almost certainly 'periaktoi', or centrally pivoted triangular wings which, turned simultaneously, could rapidly present the three changes of scene appropriate to tragedy, comedy, or the satirical play. As the uncurtained forestage would be the main acting area, 'periaktoi' would offer the best means of changing the scene there, while wings, shutters and drops would be used on the back stage. Furthermore, it was known that these 'periaktoi' were used in similar positions flanking the stage of the Theatre of Marcellus, the influence of which can be seen in this 'Wren' plan. It is true that the sketch section and proscenium view show tiers of arches, suggestive of a Roman theatre exterior, but these could represent the formal 'palace' setting for classical tragedy. The ceiling over the forestage is shown as a flared elliptical arch, serving as a sounding board and, perhaps, painted as a cloudy sky.
The difference between the dimensions of the Riding Yard and those of the 'Wren' plan can be accounted for, since the plan shows only the interior arrangement of the oblong shell, and takes no account of wall thicknesses, nor any side passage or passages, open or covered. No tiring rooms, offices, or scene rooms are shown within the shell, and it is known that there was a 10-foot wide forecourt to the west of the entrance front. Nevertheless, the only evidence relating this design to the 1663 theatre lies in identifying the features delineated with those described by Pepys, de Monconys, and Magalotti. Against this must be set the fact that nothing is known connecting Wren with the project, and it might be thought more reasonable to assume that the King's Company would have turned to John Webb for the design of their new playhouse. The greatly experienced Webb had already reconstructed the Cockpit-in-Court, Whitehall Palace, where the company sometimes performed, and in 1665 he was engaged in remodelling the Great Hall in Whitehall Palace for use as a theatre. The internal dimensions of this hall were nearly the same as those of the 'Wren' shell, (fn. 12) and this raises the question as to whether the 'Wren' plan is not, after all, a proposal for a further remodelling of the Hall. Although the seating arrangements proposed might seem more appropriate to a public playhouse than a court theatre, it is recorded that the public were sometimes admitted by payment to the Hall theatre. (fn. 13)
It is not impossible that the first Theatre Royal was built, if not designed, by Richard Ryder, the previous tenant of the Riding Yard, a speculative builder of some note who was living from at least 1659 to 1663 in a house on the south side of Russell Street adjoining the Riding Yard. From 1671, or perhaps even from as early as 1660, until 1682 he was surveyor to the fifth Earl of Bedford, the ground landlord of the theatre, and as the King's Master Carpenter, from 1668 to 1683, he would have been engaged on various theatrical projects. He is known, for instance, to have constructed the elaborate scenery designed by Robert Streeter for Calisto, produced at the Hall theatre in 1675. (fn. 14)
Before leaving discussion of the 'Wren' plan, it must be remarked that the amphitheatrical arrangement of the seating closely resembles that of Vanbrugh's Haymarket Opera House of 1703.
Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1681–2 (Plate 1b) shows on the Theatre Royal site a building which Professor Langhans accepts as a possible representation of one side of the 1663 theatre. The building depicted is of two storeys, the upper one with widely spaced windows. A steeply pitched roof rises to a flat, in the centre of which is a low saucer dome crowned with a finial. The symmetry of the elevation and the central position of the dome would be more appropriate to the exposed west front than the side, which abutting properties would largely have concealed. The 'grass strip' to the north of the elevation is not a path, as Professor Langhans thinks, but is an indication of the gardens behind the Russell Street houses. The value of this particular representation as architectural evidence is very doubtful, though more positive than that of similar 'views' on later maps, generally based on Ogilby and Morgan.
After a relatively brief existence, the first Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire on 25 January 1671/2.
The Playhouse of 1674
Although Dryden, in his prologue for the opening performance, described the new Theatre Royal as a 'Plain built House . . . a bare Convenience only' with a 'mean ungilded Stage', these somewhat deprecatory remarks were probably intended to divert critics from making comparisons with the larger and more lavishly decorated Duke's Theatre in Dorset Garden. There can be little doubt that the new playhouse was altogether superior, as well as costlier than its predecessor on the same site. Its cost, variously estimated at sums between £3,500 and £4,400, seems to preclude any suggestion that the new building incorporated the galleried western part of the old auditorium, which Leslie Hotson thinks may have escaped the fire of 1671/2. (fn. 15) The little that is known of its design is contained in Henri Misson's (translated) description of the Dorset Garden and Drury Lane theatres in about 1698. 'There are two Theatres at London, one large and handsome, where they sometimes act Opera's, and sometimes Plays; the other something smaller, which is only for Plays. The Pit is an Amphitheatre, fill'd with Benches without Backboards, and adorn'd and cover'd with green Cloth. Men of Quality, particularly the younger Sort, some Ladies of Reputation and Vertue, and abundance of Damsels that hunt for Prey, sit all together in this Place, Higgledypiggledy, chatter, toy, play, hear, hear not. Farther up, against the Wall, under the first Gallery, and just opposite to the Stage, rises another Amphitheater, which is taken up by Persons of the best Quality, among whom are generally very few Men. The Galleries, whereof there are only two Rows, are fill'd with none but ordinary People, particularly the Upper one.' (fn. 16) As the audience was seated on undivided benches, it is not possible to determine the capacity of the house from box-office receipts, but it is generally assumed that attendance varied from about five hundred to one thousand. As to the decorations of the auditorium, a reference in Dryden's firstnight epilogue to 'the Poets' Heads' is perhaps confirmed by D'Urfey's verse (fn. 17) —
'He saw each Box with Beauty crown'd, And Pictures deck the Structure round; Ben, Shakespear, and the learn'd Rout, With Noses some, and some without'. (fn. 1)
The design of the new playhouse is traditionally ascribed to Wren, although there is apparently no documentary proof of this. It is, however, noteworthy that Colley Cibber, criticizing some alterations made around 1690, says 'it were but Justice to lay the original Figure, which Sir Christopher Wren gave it'. (fn. 18) The tradition was strengthened in 1913, when Hamilton Bell published his reasons for identifying a drawing in the Wren collection at All Souls College, Oxford (Plate 5a), as a longitudinal section through the 1674 playhouse. (fn. 11) Except in matters of detail, Bell's findings have never been seriously questioned, and they are partly confirmed by other evidence.
Simply titled 'Playhouse', and bearing a drawn scale, the Wren section shows a substantially built shell measuring about 112 feet in length, excluding the crowning cornice. This length is identical with that of the Riding Yard site, and an equally appropriate width of some 58 feet can be deduced from the slopes of the hipped mansard roof, assuming the probability of a central ridge. From the pit passage and cellar-floor level, some 2 feet 6 inches below ground, the 3 feet thick walls of the shell rise 36 feet to the top of the crowning cornice. Above this is a mansard roof, some 21 feet high and hipped at each end, of which no constructional details are shown. About 8 feet 6 inches inside from the (presumed) west front wall is an inner wall, some 15 inches thick and almost certainly curved on plan, dividing the three storeys of entrance lobbies from the auditorium, and giving support to the joists of the floors and galleries. On the longitudinal axis, it would appear that a ramped approach (in the passage from Brydges Street) leads up to a short flight of five steps ascending through the main doorway into the entrance lobby, where three more steps rise to the back gangway of the amphitheatre. At the (presumed) north and south ends of the entrance lobby are dog-legged staircases, 3 feet 6 inches wide, one flight descending to the pit passages and the other ascending to the lobbies of the first and second galleries.
The auditorium, scaling some 53 feet in length from the back wall to the curtain line, contains an amphitheatre and two galleries above, overlooking a pit and deep forestage flanked by two tiers of boxes. The amphitheatre and galleries alike are 11 feet deep, and have four rows of backless benches raised from steppings 2 feet wide, those of the amphitheatre pitched at 20 degrees, and those of both galleries at 35 degrees. Each gallery is supported by a range of six slender Doric columns rising from the front bench of the tier below, the front gangway and parapet being cantilevered on scroll trusses projecting above the columns. The height of the openings between the tier parapets is only 6 feet, and the headroom at the back of the second gallery is little more than 5 feet. Some 2 feet below the amphitheatre front gangway is the pit, 22 feet deep, with a floor slope of about 9 degrees towards the bowed front of the forestage. The pit's ten rows of backless benches, spaced 2 feet back to back, are reached by passages below the side boxes, leading to doors flanking the front row.
A striking change in the architectural scale of the design is produced by the monumental treatment of the screen walls forming the auditorium sides. Each is divided into four bays by a giant order of Corinthian plain-shafted pilasters, supporting an entablature having a moulded architrave, plain frieze, and scroll-modillioned cornice. The pedestal-like parapets of the amphitheatre and first gallery are continued between the pilasters to divide the bays into two tiers, the lower consisting of two boxes overlooking the pit, and two proscenium doors opening to the forestage. In the upper tier of four boxes the openings are dressed with elliptical arches having moulded architraves, broken by ornamental keyblocks and rising from cornice imposts above plain jambs. While the general treatment of these Corinthian screen walls very probably derived from Jacob van Campen's Amsterdam Schouwburg of 1638, (fn. 19) they are designed here to be constructed in false perspective so that the bays, pilasters and entablature diminish in height and width as they approach the inner or scene stage. The vanishing point of this perspective is some 110 feet beyond the curtain line, and level with the floor of the upper tier of boxes. A second pilaster, perhaps on a different plane, marks the proscenium, but the form of the arch or head of the opening is not resolved on this drawing, nor is there any clear indication of the ceiling over the main auditorium, which logic suggests would be flat and gently canted to accord with the rise of the Corinthian cornice. (fn. 2)
Measured from the curtain line, the forestage projects 20 feet into the auditorium, its front being formed 'in a semi-oval Figure, parallel to the Benches of the Pit', (fn. 18) and only 32 feet distant from the back wall of the auditorium. The middle or scene stage, also 20 feet deep, is shown furnished with four sets of wings and three shutters, all designed to give a much steeper perspective effect than the Corinthian screens of the side boxes. The back stage, 25 feet deep, used for deep vista effects and for storage of scenes and properties, is overhung by two storeys of tiring rooms, the first projecting 10 feet and the second 20 feet from the back wall of the shell. These tiring rooms and offices are presumably reached by staircases which, with the stage-level tiring rooms, reduce the width of the back stage. The floor of the forestage and middle stage rises with a gentle slope to meet the level floor of the back stage.
The Wren section has provided the basis for several conjectural plans of the second Drury Lane theatre, of which at least three have been published—by Richard Leacroft in 1951, (fn. 20) Professor Edward A. Langhans in 1964, (fn. 21) and Bruce Koenig and Donald Mullin in 1967. (fn. 22) To the present writer, however, the fan-shaped auditorium plan evolved by Leacroft, with help and advice from Dr. Richard Southern, seems architecturally the most reasonable of the three, and Professor Langhans's parallel-sided auditorium the least convincing, perhaps because of its structural peculiarities arising from an all too strict adherence to Wren's section, where inconsistencies are obviously present. Koenig's plan effects a compromise between Leacroft and Langhans.
Leacroft's segmentally-curved amphitheatre and galleries are an acceptable interpretation of Wren's section in terms of contemporary construction, whereas Langhans's straight-fronted and wide-spanned tiers are not. The parallel ranges of side boxes, adopted by Langhans and Koenig, ignore one of the basic rules of building in perspective, exemplified in Borromini's Palazzo Spada gallery, in Bernini's Scala Regia, as well as in the streets of Scamozzi's scene in the Teatro Olimpico, where the distance between the two sides of the perspective decreases as the architectural elements decrease in height and width. Not only do the canted side boxes of Leacroft's plan observe this principle, but they demonstrate the probability that the second Drury Lane theatre provided the model for the fan-shaped auditoria of Edward Shepherd's Covent Garden theatre and Goodman's Fields theatre (both 1732) as well as influencing the partial remodelling in 1709 of Vanbrugh's Haymarket Opera House. Furthermore, the fan-shaped auditorium was retained or reverted to by Robert Adam, when he reconstructed Drury Lane in 1775–6. Finally there is some measure of comparative evidence to be found in the Theatre Royal, Bristol, built in 1766 after the model of Drury Lane as it then existed, somewhat altered but still retaining many original features dating from 1674. At Bristol, the two superimposed boxes on either side of the stage are flanked by giant Corinthian pilasters, canted away from the proscenium, and constructed with more than a mere suggestion of perspective in the lines of the box parapets and the architrave of the now incomplete entablature.
Several commentators have not hesitated to recognize a probable representation of Drury Lane's proscenium in the well-known frontispiece to the book of Ariadne, an opera by Pierre Perrin and Monsieur Grabut performed there in 1674. This engraving (Plate 5b) shows an architectural setting within a frame or proscenium formed of paired Corinthian pilasters, having fluted shafts and supporting fully modelled entablatures which are returned above the inside face of each inner pilaster, and then continued across the opening in what appears to be a painted valance. Beneath each pair of pilasters is a panelled pedestal containing a musical trophy, and between them projects the bowed apron of the stage, its front also decorated with a large trophy of masks and musical instruments. Despite obvious inaccuracies in the architectural details, and the absence of a deep forestage, the resemblance between the giant Corinthian order of the Ariadne frontispiece and that of the Wren drawing can be accepted as favourable evidence that the last is, in fact, a section of the second Drury Lane playhouse.
Before comparing the Wren section, and the conjectural plans made from it, with the drawings and engravings recording the 1674 playhouse as reconstructed in 1775–6 by Robert Adam, it is necessary to take account of the various changes made between those dates. According to Colley Cibber, writing around 1739 and describing the theatre prior to 1696, 'the Area, or Platform of the old Stage, projected about four Foot forwarder, in a Semi-oval Figure, parallel to the Benches of the Pit; and ...... the former, lower Doors of Entrance for the Actors, were brought down between the two foremost (and then only) Pilasters; in the Place of which Doors, now the two Stage-Boxes are fix't. That where the Doors of Entrance now are, there formerly stood two additional Side-Wings, in front of a ful set of Scenes . . . By this Original Form, the usual station of the Actors, in almost every Scene, was advanc'd at least ten Foot nearer to the Audience, than they now can be.' (fn. 18) Assuming that the Wren section does represent the 1674 theatre in its original form, Cibber's account may be taken to suggest that the auditorium had been altered before 1696, by curtailing the projection of the forestage, and eliminating all the giant Corinthian pilasters between the side boxes except those flanking the bay on either side of the proscenium. In 1696, it would appear that Christopher Rich further reduced the forestage, by 4 feet, and replaced the proscenium doors by stage boxes. A new proscenium, flanked by splayed faces each containing a proscenium door, was then constructed on the scene stage, eliminating the first set of wing grooves. This last change would have brought the new proscenium or frontispiece to a distance of 70 feet from the west front wall, in fact to the position shown on Hele's survey plan of 1778 (Plate 7). Furthermore, such an arrangement of upper and lower stage boxes flanked by giant pilasters, and a proscenium reveal containing stage doors, is to be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bristol.
Various improvements were carried out during Garrick's régime, beginning in 1747 with the enlargement of the first gallery and 'many other alterations much to advantage'. (fn. 23) In September 1750 a new entrance passage to the boxes was opened from Russell Street (marked K on the 1778 survey and G on fig. 2), and in November 1752 a passage from Brydges Street was opened for ladies arriving in coaches (fn. 24) (O on 1778 survey and F on fig. 2). The theatre was 'painted, gilded and decorated with new scenes &c' prior to re-opening in September 1753, (fn. 25) and in 1762 one of Garrick's major theatrical reforms was accomplished by increasing the seating capacity so as to accommodate all those patrons formerly permitted to sit or stand on the stage. The work involved by making this change was apparently directed by Garrick's partner James Lacy, who 'having a taste for architecture, he took upon himself the enlarging of the theatre'. (fn. 26) The interior was again redecorated before the 1771–2 season opened, and during the summer closure of 1775 it was extensively reconstructed by Robert Adam, re-opening on 23 September for what was to be Garrick's farewell season. According to the prompter, Hopkins, the first-night audience signified their approval of the new interior by 'Great applause to the House before the Curtain'. (fn. 25)
The Adam Reconstruction of 1775
The transformation of the much altered 1674 theatre, effected by Robert Adam in 1775, is well recorded in contemporary descriptions, and the graphic evidence, though not extensive, is excellent. First in importance are the Adam-Pastorini engraved views of the new front (Plate 8) and the remodelled auditorium (Plate 9a), which form plates vi and vii of set v in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, volume 11. In volume 14 of the Adam drawings in Sir John Soane's Museum, no. 17 is a coloured design for the auditorium ceiling, dated 1775 and as executed (Plate 10a); no. 16 is an alternative design dated 1776 (Plate 10b) and no. 85 in volume 27 is a design for the proscenium frame, dated 1775 and, on the evidence of later interior views, not executed (Plate 11a).
Discounting the false impression of its dimensions, produced by the introduction of undersized human figures, the Adam-Pastorini engraving of the interior gives a comprehensive view of the auditorium as it appeared from the stage. The projecting apron and the pit, with ten rows of benches, were flanked by three tiers of boxes, their straight parapets supported by slender square-shafted wooden columns spaced to form five bays, narrow and wide alternately. At the back of the pit was the slightly raised amphitheatre with, probably, nine rows of stepped benches divided transversely by low partitions into nine boxes, the middle one wider than the rest. Four columns, matching those dividing the side boxes, rose from breaks in the amphitheatre parapet to support the raking joists and parapet of the first gallery, with, probably, eleven rows of benches. Six equally spaced columns rising, presumably, from the curved back wall of the amphitheatre, supported the second gallery which was partly cantilevered and contained, probably, six benches. A second range of six columns, above those supporting the second gallery, rose to the back part of the ceiling, which was at a higher level than the flat ceiling over the body of the auditorium.
The wooden structure of the auditorium was decorated with typical Adam ornamentation, delicately modelled in composition on the tier parapets, which were treated as pedestals or 'dados' above entablatures, and on the front faces only of the supporting columns. The flat plaster ceiling was painted in trompe l'œil to represent a shallow dome. A contemporary writer, in The Public Advertiser for 30 September 1775, describes the brilliant effect of the transformed interior:
'At first View I was a good deal surprised to find that by some means or other the ingenious Artists had contrived to give an Appearance of greater Magnitude to the House. I knew it was not rebuilt, but only repaired; and consequently that there could be no additional Space within the old walls and Roof. Upon Reflection I perceived that one Way by which this was effected, was from having removed the old heavy square Pillars on each Side of the Stage, and by that Means I suppose they have procured more Width from one Side-box to the other.
'I also observed, that the Sounding Board was much raised on the Part next the Stage and that the Height given to it increased greatly the Appearance of Magnitude in the House. This having brought the Ceiling or Sounding Board nearly on a Level, has a wonderful good Effect to the Eye; and what astonished me greatly was to find that the Sound of the Music and Actors Voices both improved by this additional Height. All the People round me agreed with me in this Fact, and owned they thought it a very uncommon Effort of Art.
'Small Pilasters, the Height of which is confined to the different Tiers of Boxes, support and adorn them: They are made more light and more gay by inserting in Front of each a Pannel of Plate Glass, which in the lower Order is placed over a Foil or Varnish of spangled Crimson, which looks both rich and brilliant. The Capitals are gilt, and are what our Artists call the Grecian Ionick. The Glass of the second Order is placed over a green spangled Foil or Varnish, and has an Effect no less beautiful than the former: The Capitals of this Order are also gilt, and are a sort of Corinthian, which I don't recollect to have seen before.
'The upper tier of Boxes is adorned with Therms, of which the Busts are gilt, and the Pannels underneath are filled with painted Ornaments. I admire the Judgement of the Artists for having laid aside Pilasters in this last Tier, it being too low for that Species of Decoration; and besides, the Repetition would have become dull.
'All the ornaments in the Friezes and on the Dados, or Fronts of the Boxes, are elegant and splendid. Nothing can, in my Opinion, answer better than the Festoon Drapery upon the Front of the first Tier. The gilt Ornaments on the Faces of the two Orders of Pilasters (from whence the Branches for the Candles spring) ought not to be omitted in the Catalogue of elegant Ornaments, neither must I omit the Decoration of the Ceiling, or Sounding Board, which consists of Octagon pannels, rising from an exterior circular frame to the opening, or Ventilator, in the Center. The diminishing of these Pannels towards the Center, and the shade thrown next to the exterior Frame give the Ceiling the Appearance of a Dome, which has a light and airy Effect.
'I can never give you a compleat List of all the Ornaments that struck me in this Theatre. The Stage Doors, the spangled Borders on each Side of the Stage, and many other new ornamental Decorations, perfectly answered my Ideas of Elegance and Splendour. Indeed I heard some Criticks alledge, that they thought the Decorations of the House too elegant, and too splendid, and that it obscured the Lustres of the Scenery and the Dresses. My Answer to these Observations was, that I thought the Decorations of a Theatre could not be too brilliant, and that I did not doubt but, by the Assistance of a Loutherbourg, the Managers could and would soon remove these objections, and bring the whole into perfect Harmony.
'Were I to hazard a Criticism, where almost everything is so much to my Satisfaction, it would be, that the Crimson Drapery over the Stage is too dark for the Objects round it; and that the Gold Fringe has not the brilliant effect it ought to have in such a situation.
'I had almost forgot to observe that the Sideboxes are much improved by the additional Height given to each Tier, which admits of the seats being raised considerably above each other, and consequently gives a much better View of the Stage. The Boxes are now lined with Crimson spotted paper and gilt Border which makes a fine Back Ground to all the Decorations.' (fn. 27)
To augment this description there is the evi dence offered by the engraved view. This shows that the die of the parapet to the amphitheatre and first-tier side boxes was enriched with figure subjects in oval medallions, interspersed with candelabra ornaments to which they were linked by festooned husk chains. A narrow fluted frieze and delicate cornice underlined the second-tier parapet, where the die of each narrow bay was decorated with a segmental fan motif, and each wide bay with a centrally placed winged figure merging into acanthus scrolls. Below the thirdtier parapet was a scalloped pelmet and a narrow entablature, its frieze ornamented with small masks on crossed swords. The parapet die was enriched with circular panels, containing musical trophies, alternating with small lozenges. The terms of the third-tier boxes supported a delicately moulded entablature, its frieze decorated with griffins and candelabra ornaments. An enrichment of festooned garlands and paterae decorated the unbroken parapet of the second gallery. It remains to add that the effect of the plate glass and coloured foil panels of the box pilasters can be gauged from the surviving section of the Glass Drawing Room from Northumberland House, created by Robert Adam in 1773–5 and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The main ceiling, painted in trompe l'œil, appears to have been executed in complete accordance with the Adam drawing dated 19 July 1775 (Plate 10a). Save for a long narrow panel of acanthus scroll-work, next to the proscenium, and four spandrel panels, each with an oval figuresubject medallion framed and flanked by husk chains, the decoration was concentrated in a large oval panel treated to present a shallow dome having two rings of octagonal coffers surrounding the central oculus. According to the Adam drawing, the pervading pale green colour of the ceiling was relieved by the bronze-green acanthus scrolls, the blue ground of the figure medallions in the fawncoloured spandrels, the pink bosses in the coffers of the 'dome', and the gilt mouldings framing all the panels.
It was perhaps intended to repaint the ceiling with another design, according to the Adam drawing dated 1776 (Plate 10b), which was 'contrived to correspond with the inside finishing of the sides, front and Stage'. (fn. 28) Here the flat surface is divided by a grid of key-fretted ribs into a series of square and oblong compartments of varying size. Some have a pale green ground diversely decorated with velarium fans and oblong, oval and circular panels containing figure subjects, some in full colour, others in cameo on a rich green ground. Other compartments are filled with a pattern of octagonal coffers in deep blue with red bosses. The pattern of the grid is dictated by the incidence of the transverse ribs with the vertical lines of the pilasters and terms dividing the side boxes.
The design for the proscenium frame (Plate 11a) is dated 8 May 1775, and it shows the opening flanked by tall panelled pilasters, probably of gilt filigree metalwork over glass and blue foil. The shafts are hidden at the top by a pelmet of crimson drapery, fringed with gold and festooned on either side of a large oblong panel depicting 'The Apotheosis of Shakespeare by the Tragic and Comic Muses', (fn. 29) with a profile portrait medallion in gold on black supported by winged figures of the muses on a pale blue ground.
Some idea of the size of the Adam auditorium can be gauged from the following dimensions, scaled off the Adam drawings. The proscenium opening was 28 feet wide and about 21 feet 6 inches high. The ceiling plans show that the auditorium width increased from 30 feet next to the proscenium, to 42 feet 6 inches where the side boxes joined the amphitheatre and first gallery. The splayed fronts of the side boxes were 35 feet in length, the dividing pilasters being spaced so that the first, third and fifth bays were all 4 feet 6 inches wide, the second bay, containing the King's box, was 8 feet, and the fourth bay, which was divided into two boxes, was 9 feet 6 inches wide. The distance from the proscenium to the back wall of the second gallery was probably 70 feet. The height of the auditorium, from the front of the pit to the flat ceiling, scales about 29 feet 6 inches, and the floor-to-floor heights of the first and second tiers of side boxes were 9 feet 6 inches and 8 feet respectively.
As the 1778 survey plan (Plate 7) clearly shows, the space occupied by the auditorium was less than half of that taken up by the stage and its dependencies. Some dimensions of the stage, as then existing, were taken in July 1791. The length from front (apron) to back was 130 feet, and the width between the walls was 53 feet 6 inches. The front (apron) width was 32 feet 6 inches, and the curtain, or proscenium, was 30 feet wide and 22 feet high. From the front to the shutter (opening to the back stage) was 55 feet 4 inches, the width of the shutter opening being 18 feet 2 inches. (fn. 30)
Praising the improved approaches to the auditorium, the writer in The Public Advertiser observed that 'The Stairs to the second and third Tiers of Boxes I found were projected out of the House beyond the Old Walls, which gives a space to make them much wider and more convenient.
'The Lobby behind the front Boxes is well and agreeably contrived, and is now kept clear of servants by an adjoining Room being prepared for their Attendance: This is a most elegant improvement. The Passages to this Lobby are also much mended, but particularly next to Bridges Street, where the Company are received by three large Arches into a vestibule, or Hall which communicates with the great passage leading to the Boxes.' (fn. 27)
The survey plan of 1778 shows that the south arch opened to the 'Principal Passage to the Boxes', while the middle and north arches gave access to the shallow apse-ended lobby. These three large arches, separated by two smaller arches, formed the arcaded ground storey or basement of the new facade with which Robert Adam replaced the old brick front of the Rose tavern. As in similar refacings he used 'a new Composition resembling Stone', in fact, Liardet's Stone Paste, the arcade being coursed to resemble chamfer-jointed masonry, the piers having plain plinths and moulded imposts. Above the ground storey extended a prominent balcony, resting on console trusses and furnished with an elaborate iron railing. The predominantly vertical design of this railing was varied by the large circular motifs in projecting panels, placed in front of the single and paired pilasters of the Grecian Ionic temple front with which the two-storeyed upper face was dressed. There were three bays, each containing a first-and second-floor window set in a face which was plain except for a guillocheornamented sill-band below the second-floor windows. The Ionic pilasters, rising from plain pedestals, had fluted shafts and capitals enriched with a band of acanthus leaves above the necking. They supported a pedimented entablature, with the architrave omitted, the frieze containing a long recessed panel flanked by masks in oval medallions, and the cornice enriched with dentils. A martial trophy was placed on a pedestal above the apex, and the Lion and Unicorn on pedestals at each end of the pediment, which had in its tympanum an oval medallion bearing the royal arms.
Against the general chorus of praise which greeted the Adam transformation of Drury Lane, the author of Ralph's Critical Review, 1783, sounded a somewhat discordant note. 'The front of Drury-lane theatre is in a good style, but is incumbered with a large gallery, which is loaded with pots, containing trees and shrubs. We suppose the managers have let the front house to a nursery-man, who exhibits these to allure his customers. The general plan of the interior of this theatre is very convenient, but the ornaments of the galleries and boxes are frippery and unmeaning. Slender columns of glass may strike the vulgar as very fine, but the judicious would wish to see properiety consulted, as well as the rage of gaudy decoration.' (fn. 31)
Much of the Adam decoration was removed or obliterated when the auditorium was refurbished in 1783 by Thomas Greenwood and William Capon. From the engraved version of Capon's interior view (Plate 11b) it would appear that the structure was little changed, although the 9 feet 6 inches wide bay in each tier of side boxes was now divided by a pilaster or term inserted to match with those already existing, and the straight parapets of the King's and Prince's boxes were replaced by bowed railings of gilt metalwork. The Adam ornaments having been removed from all the parapets of the boxes and galleries, the first tier was left plain and the rest painted with festooned garlands. According to Capon's own notes 'The ground of this new painting was a very faint kind of pea green or rather a greenish colour, the ornaments chiaroscuro'. The boxes were lined with red or a colour between pink and crimson. (fn. 32)
A press cutting, undated but probably of 1785, describes how further alterations had made the house 'the prettiest and most elegant theatre that London could ever boast. The back of the front boxes, which, two years ago, by being changed from the old plan into enclosures, became a nest for prostitutes of both sexes, are now entirely opened. The ceiling is raised in order to give room for the lustres to display their lights, and the seats are formed into recesses which communicate with the other boxes, and afford a full view of the stage. There is a circular regularity of arches, from the King's box round to the Prince's, which have a most pleasing effect. These are formed at the back of the boxes from whence the former paper covering is taken, and a wainscot substituted. The wainscot is painted of a crimson colour, in festoons, which gives a richness to the view and deceives the eye into a perspective that makes the boxes look much deeper than they really are. Great pains have been bestowed on the galleries and upper boxes, the fronts of which are newly decorated with festoons, which have a most beautiful appearance. On each wing of the two shilling gallery are placed three pilasters, fluted and gilded, which occupy the spaces formerly filled by false boxes. The pillars through the whole house have changed their whole drapery, and put on new livery; nay even those of iron in the back boxes are capped, cased, fluted, and gilt. The colouring of the boxes and gallery is a new fancy mixture. It is what may be called, in the artist's phrase, a warm lilac, the appearance of which, contrasted with the glowing crimson at the back of the boxes, and the gilded pillars in front, give elegance, beauty, taste, and richness to a scene, which does honour to the painter. The upper boxes, as to convenience of intercourse, remain as formerly. They have been all new painted, and their pillars are richly gilded.' In the same year the stage was illuminated for the first time 'with patent lamps. The effect of this light, which is, in a manner, a new kind of artificial light, was brilliant beyond all expectation'. (fn. 33)
During the summer of 1787, the theatre 'though not entirely renovated' was 'essentially altered'. It was now painted a dead white with gilt mouldings and ornaments, the boxes being lined with a rose-coloured paper 'and a white pattern agreeably mixed'. A new act drop was installed, painted to correspond with the architecture, and the opening in the main ceiling was enlarged to give 'a loftier appearance to the whole'. (fn. 33) A short while later the proprietors announced their intention to demolish the existing building, and replace it with a magnificent new theatre.
Henry Holland's Theatre of 1791–4
Before attempting a descriptive account of the new theatre, Holland's own account, (fn. 34) sent to Sheridan at about the time of the first opening on 12 March 1794, is worth quoting in some detail, with small amendments of spelling and punctuation: 'Drury Lane Theatre was last night opened, having been rebuilt in [blank] months, an expedition which became necessary in order that the public might not be deprived of their Amusement any more of the present Season than possibly could be helped, and on which Account it is opened without the Completion of several Buildings which with it form one great and complete plan, standing foremost in the Rank of Public Buildings in the Metropolis, and with the Aid of the Bill now in Parliament, (fn. 3) the Avenues surrounding it will at once add to its magnificence, and the convenience and safety of the public— the more so, from the footway being covered over with a colonnade of the Grecian Ionic order, affording shelter and convenience below, and forming a Terrace before the Theatre above— intended to be secured by ornamental ironwork and lighted by a number of lamps, also forming part of an elegant design. The Plan includes an Area upwards 300 feet in length and about 155 feet in breadth, and the Building is in heighth from the Substructure to the Roof, 108 feet.
'The outside of the Building, which surrounds the Theatre, is faced with Portland stone, and will be finished with a ballustrade. The Theatre which rises above is intended to be faced with stone, or a cement equal to it, and is also finished with a balustrade. Through the Roof rises a Turret, including a large Ventilator and a Staircase leading on to the Roof. The Turret takes something of the form of the Octagon Tower of Andronicus Cyrrhestes [i.e., Tower of the Winds] at Athens, and is nearly as large, and on the summit is placed a figure of Apollo, about 10 feet high. From the Terrace on the Roof is by far the finest bird's eye view of London and the River Thames that can be seen from any other place.
'The accommodations for the Stage are upon a larger scale than in any other Theatre in Europe: the opening for the Scenery is 43 feet wide and 38 feet high, after which the painter and Mechanist have a large space in which they may exert their abilities, 83 feet wide, 92 feet long, and 108 feet high. The scenery may be changed or disposed of either by raising it out of sight, or lowering the whole of it, or drawing it off sideways. The Machinery is executed upon the newest and most approved principles, contrived to be worked by Machinery placed either above or below the stage, thereby preventing the Necessity of having a number of Scene Shifters in the Way of the Performances.
'The Scenes are and must be of course all new, a work that will require some time to bring to perfection, and more especially as the Season of the Year required an Orchestra on the stage for the Oratorios. This has been done by an introduction of Gothic Architecture very well suited to Sacred Music, and forming a striking Contrast to the decoration of the Amphitheatre.
'In the roof of the Theatre is contained, besides the barrel loft, ample Room for the Scene painters, and four very large reservoirs of Water, distributed from them all over the House, intended to extinguish fire. At the same time great precaution has been taken to prevent such a misfortune by the most ample use of all the inventions and contrivances which ingenuity could suggest, and an Iron Curtain is contrived which would completely separate the Audience from the Stage, where accidents by fire usually commence in Theatres.
'The Audience part of the Theatre is formed nearly on a semicircular plan containing a pit, eight boxes on each side of the pit, two rows of Boxes above them, on which level the two galleries open—commanding a full view of the whole stage—on each side of the galleries are two more rows of boxes, rising to a cove so contrived as to form the Ceiling into a complete circle. The proscenium, or that part of the stage contained between the Curtain and the Orchestra, is fitted up with boxes but without any stage door or the usual Addition of large Columns. The boxes are furnished with chairs in the front row, and benches behind covered with blue Velvet.
'The Corridors which surround the Boxes and give communication to them are spacious, having in the Angles of the Theatre, Staircases of communication, and at the West End of the Theatre is a very large semicircular Room, open by an Arch to the Corridors, having fireplaces in it and bar rooms for furnishing the company with Refreshments. There are also large saloons on the north and south sides of the Theatre, as also two handsome square Rooms, one of them intended as an Antichamber for the use of His Majesty, and the other for the Prince of Wales. These Rooms are fitted up in the modern taste with large handsome pannels, chimneypieces, large glasses, and are susceptible of a great deal of decoration which is intended to be introduced as soon as they can be obtained from the Artists who are engaged for that purpose.
'The Decorations of the Theatre are in a Style entirely new, intended to have a richness of Effect and a simplicity that should gratify the Eye without interfering with any decorations that may appear upon the stage, and by forming an agreeable contrast to them render the whole more striking. Accordingly, the Ceiling of the Theatre is painted in compartments of one Colour only. In the same style of painting the galleries are decorated, the fronts and insides of the boxes have for the Ground a clear blue colour, richly ornamented in Chiaro obscuro. The Boxes are supported by silver columns of antique forms, to which columns are attached cut glass lustres by silver brackets. The whole of the Audience part is lighted with very handsome glass lustres, particularly the galleries. In the centre pannels in front of the Boxes are introduced paintings by Rebecca from antique subjects, and more decorations and paintings seem intended to be added when opportunities may offer. Besides the silver Columns which support the Boxes and have a very rich effect, there are four principal square but small pillars which support the Ceiling, decorated with looking glass and with other rich ornaments.
'The sound-board or Ceiling of the proscenium is painted in compartments, and in front of the Proscenium, facing the Audience, are introduced the Royal Arms with Trophies and other grand, magnificent and suitable accompaniments.
'The Entrances to the Theatre must, while the Bill in Parliament is pending, fall short of the intended conveniences. From Russell street there is a box Entrance into a large Hall decorated with Columns, also a private Entrance for His Majesty, and an entrance which leads to the gallery staircases. On the other side of the Theatre, next Marquis Court, the same Entrances are repeated, but till the new street intended to be called Woburn street is opened, the Approach to them can only be for foot passengers in Chairs; as a Chair door the Box Entrance on that side is more complete than to any public Building in London. There are two other Entrances to the Theatre, also incomplete—the one next Bridges street for the pit and Boxes, and the one next Drury Lane to the stage. In these two streets, when the Buildings are completed, will be the handsomest and most decorated fronts. Besides the Ionic portico, always a certain ornament, these fronts of stone will be decorated with pilasters, basso-relievos, trophies, rich ironwork, and other analogous ornaments. . . .'
The graphic evidence relating to Holland's Drury Lane Theatre includes five architectural drawings from his office (Plates 12, 13, 14), (fn. 36) relating to the auditorium and its approaches, and although sections and elevations are lacking, the whole theatre is recorded in a set of eight plans, taken at all levels from cellar to roof (fn. 37) (Plates 15, 16, 17). A splendid watercolour by Edward Dayes (see Frontispiece) fully conveys the original appearance of the auditorium in 1794, while its later, altered state is recorded in two unfinished drawings by William Capon (fn. 38) (Plate 19), and by the wellknown aquatint in The Microcosm of London (Plate 18a). There is no really adequate representation of the exterior as Holland intended it to be finished, although his original design with arcaded 'piazzas' is illustrated by the Francia engraving of 1793 (fn. 39) (Plate 20a), and the final 'colonnaded' design by an unsigned watercolour in the Crace Collection in the British Museum (fn. 40) (Plate 20c). The former is similar to the engraved view heading the building subscribers' debenture certificates, (fn. 41) made from a perspective drawn by Thomas Malton, (fn. 34) which, however, omits the theatre 'shell' (Plate 20b).
Two of Holland's office drawings are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, (fn. 42) both being recorded in Holland's Drury Lane Theatre Catalogue Book of 4 September 1792, (fn. 34) where 126 drawings are listed. Holland's no. 15 is a plan of the auditorium and its approaches, taken at pit level (Plate 12b), and no. 16 is a transverse section taken through the auditorium well, looking towards the proscenium (Plate 12a). These annotated and dimensioned drawings probably date from 1792 and show the auditorium as it was then intended to be constructed, but around October 1793 Holland was obliged to make new drawings for completing the interior in accordance with Sheridan's requirements. Three of these later and unlisted drawings have survived and are now in Sir John Soane's Museum. The drawing there numbered 61/36 is a plan at pit level (Plate 13b), no. 61/35 is a longitudinal section of the auditorium (Plate 14), and no. 61/34 is a transverse section towards the proscenium (Plate 13a). The set of eight plans, in Mr. Robert Eddison's collection, appears to be a generally faithful record of the theatre as it was finished in 1794, but was probably executed by William Capon, certainly after 1811 which is the watermarked date on one sheet of paper. Possibly based on originals by Holland, these finely finished drawings are without captions, and as the theatre was destroyed by fire in February 1809, they can only have been prepared as a record or for an intended publication (Plates 15, 16, 17).
Although writers have continued to repeat E. W. Brayley's statement that the theatre was 320 feet long and 155 feet broad, with a roof width of 118 feet, (fn. 43) all the evidence shows that the theatre formed the major part of a rectangular building intended to be 300 feet long, east to west, and 128 feet wide, excluding the surrounding colonnade which was some 6 feet wide. Within the frame of this vast rectangle, the theatre was planned on symmetrical lines about the long eastwest axis, the stage being placed to the east of the auditorium, both encased in an oblong shell which was internally some 176 feet long and 80 feet wide, having its west wall some 70 feet distant from the Brydges Street front. On the north and south sides of the shell, adjoining the auditorium and west part of the stage, were subsidiary ranges, 140 feet long outside and 20 feet wide inside. Each range had a front of thirteen bays, forming the central part of the intended front of twentyseven bays. In the middle was the box entrance, a spacious and lofty vestibule having over it a handsome saloon, reached by a grand staircase on the west side. East of the box entrance was the vestibule and staircase to the King's box, on the north side, and the Prince's box, on the south. West of the box entrance was the pit vestibule, having on its west side the staircases serving the two galleries. At the east end of each range was a staircase giving access to two upper storeys and a mansard attic, all divided to form dressing-rooms, offices, etc. Adjoining the west wall of the shell was a semi-circular projection, 42 feet in diameter, containing a pit vestibule and a lofty saloon above, both flanked by lavatory accommodation. Entered through a long temporary passage from Brydges Street (apparently not opened until September 1795), the semi-circular pit vestibule opened into a large crescent-shaped foyer, 20 feet wide, contrived in the space behind the pit and below the first tier of dress boxes. Divided by Doric colonnades into a nave and aisles of nine bays, this 'Egyptian Hall' was lined east and west with shops, and ended north and south with a pentagonal apse where stairs ascended north, or south, to the other pit vestibules, and other stairs curved east to enter the pit, and the pit box corridors.
Although its seating capacity, originally calculated to be 3,919, (fn. 34) was greater than that of any other contemporary European theatre, the size of Holland's Drury Lane has often been exaggerated. One recent writer has even stated that it was almost twice the size of Novosielski's King's Theatre, Haymarket, (fn. 44) whereas the horseshoe well of Holland's auditorium was no wider (both 55 feet), and 6 feet 6 inches shorter, than that of Novosielski's opera house even before the latter was lengthened in 1796. (fn. 45) At Drury Lane, the parapets of the three horseshoe tiers all conformed to a semicircle, 55 feet in diameter, which was continued to merge with straight sides canted towards the proscenium, where the auditorium was about 43 feet wide. The pit, including the orchestra, was 51 feet 6 inches deep, and the proscenium with its double boxes flanking the apron stage was 13 feet deep, the curtain opening being 43 feet wide and 38 feet high. Holland's revised plan shows the pit furnished with twenty-four straight rows of backless benches, 9 inches wide and 1 foot apart, placed on a floor of shallow steppings giving a rise of 10 degrees. Supplemented by five short benches on either side of the orchestra, the pit was calculated to seat 974, at 14 inches each person. On each side of the pit and apron stage were eight boxes. The first or dress tier was divided by scroll-profiled partitions into thirty-one front boxes, with three rows of chairs or benches, separated by a cross aisle from the 'basket' or 'back-front' boxes, numbering eleven and containing seven rows of benches. The steppings of this tier were pitched at 7 degrees, and the height of the opening to the auditorium well was 8 feet. The second tier, pitched at 25 degrees, also contained thirty-one boxes, those at the sides having three rows of chairs or benches, and those opposite the stage having six, the height of the opening to the auditorium well being 5 feet 10 inches. Except for eleven boxes on either side, with three rows of benches and a front opening height of 5 feet 4 inches, the third tier was occupied by the two-shilling gallery, seating 1,100 on sixteen rows of benches on curved steppings giving a rise of 30 degrees. The upper, one-shilling gallery, with its parapet in line above the seventh row of the lower gallery, seated 307 on its seven rows of benches, stepped to a pitch of 35 degrees, and on either side of the horseshoe, at a lower level, was a fourth tier of boxes, nine either side, with three rows of benches. Holland originally calculated that there would be 113 boxes seating a total of 1,538 at 18 inches each person. He also calculated for gallery slips seating 436. (fn. 34) As fitted up, there were 129 boxes, this being achieved by the omission of two pit boxes and the substitution of eighteen side boxes for the gallery slips.
The problem of constructing so large and complex an auditorium must have taxed Holland's ingenuity, experienced as he was in building practice. His transverse sections reveal, and various accounts confirm, that the walls of the great oblong shell (fn. 4) were built in brickwork of 4 feet thickness up to the floor level of the first-tier saloons and box corridors, which was 16 feet above the Russell Street pavement and 26 feet above the cellar floor. The cellar was laterally and transversely divided by walls and piers sustaining segmental vaults, floored over at a height of 13 feet above the cellar floor, and on these vaults rested the iron and timber framing of the pit floor and the horseshoe tiers. From the firsttier level, the brick wall of the shell was carried up for another 10 feet with a thickness of 3 feet 6 inches, but above this the shell was framed with huge timbers, the side walls being divided into bays some 15 feet wide by laterally paired posts 36 feet high. To these the joists of the tiers and floors were fixed, and on their heads rested the great roof principals, and the 2 feet thick walls of the attic storey, its parapet being 101 feet above the cellar floor level. The lofty and extensive space above the auditorium ceiling was divided transversely by the roof principals, each consisting of a massive queen-post truss, hipped at the apex and combined with three small king-post trusses, giving the roof three parallel ridges and two valleys.
The early transverse section (Plate 12a) shows that Holland originally proposed to construct the upper tiers on raking joists fixed to the paired posts framing the shell walls. These joists, additionally supported by the box-corridor partitions, were to be cantilevered some 5 feet 8 inches so that the three rows of benches in each tier would be free from any obstructing columns rising between the parapets. This section also shows an intended fifth tier of side boxes or slips, containing two rows of benches affording a very limited view of the stage through arches groined into the ceiling cove. There were to be only three boxes on each side of the stage apron, stacked above proscenium doors and flanked by massive Corinthian columns on pedestals.
Although Holland reconstructed Covent Garden Theatre in 1793 with partially cantilevered tiers, he redesigned the auditorium of Drury Lane so that the parapets of the three complete horseshoe tiers, and the fourth tier of side boxes, were supported by cast-iron columns. Four of these columns were formed into square-shafted pillars, dividing each horseshoe sweep into three equal lengths, but the rest were designed to resemble antique candelabra with slender fluted shafts rising from tripod feet. These candelabracolumns were spaced 15 feet apart to subdivide each of the three main divisions into three bays, all three boxes wide. The square pillars at the end of each tier were repeated to flank the proscenium boxes, while those between the third and fourth bays on each side were carried up to the roof, forming stops for the canted side walls of the galleries, and for the fourth tier of side boxes. The parapets of the latter were also surmounted by candelabra-columns, two on either side, rising to support the groined cove surrounding the flat circular ceiling. The ceiling above the apron stage was brought down level with the top of the fourth-tier parapet to form a flat sounding board. The vertical face above was formed into three lunettes, or tympana, by arches intersecting the great cove, the wide middle tympanum being treated as a shallow elliptical semi-dome. The back part of the auditorium was constructed so that the raking joists carrying the tiers, and the level joists of the foyer and corridor floors, were supported by three ranges of slender cast-iron columns, arranged concentrically, all rising from the crescent-shaped 'Egyptian Hall' behind the pit. The first range of columns continued up to the underside of the lower gallery, whereas the second and third ranges were carried up to tie in with the roof structure.
Something of the magical effect produced by Holland's elegant and exquisitely decorated auditorium was captured in the superb watercolour view by Edward Dayes (Frontispiece). This shows the pit, where the audience sat on benches covered with red baize, (fn. 47) partially enclosed by a low wall painted to resemble rusticated masonry. The parapets of the three horseshoe tiers, and the fourth tier of side boxes, were uniformly treated, each slightly inclined face being divided by upright scroll-consoles into equal lengths containing three oblong panels. Two of these were ornamented with white trellis on a blue ground, flanking a central panel painted with figuresubjects in cameo on a cornelian ground. (fn. 48) A list in Holland's writing names the subjects for thirty-five panels, selected from classical mythology, the fine arts and the performing arts, which were executed by Biagio Rebecca. (fn. 34) Each tier parapet was supported in turn by a series of silvered candelabracolumns placed over the consoles, those above the fourth tier sustaining the spandrels and arching lunettes of the great groined cove, which were simply painted in beige tones with panels and rosettes from which hung chandeliers, softly illuminating the blue draperies festooned round the arches, and supplementing the lustres that projected from brackets above the candelabracolumns of each tier. The proscenium boxes had bow-ended fronts, dressed with festooned blue draperies, and their openings were framed with silvered trelliswork at the sides and head. Great acanthus scroll-trusses supported the soffit or sounding-board of the proscenium, its surface painted with panels, the middle one containing an Apollo head. The three tympana on the vertical face above were richly decorated, the wide and elliptical semi-dome in the centre with the royal arms against military trophies, and the flat semicircle on either side with an urn against a musical trophy. The main ceiling over the auditorium was formed into a complete circle by the cove, and its flat surface was painted in 'chiaro obscuro' (fn. 47) with a guilloche border framing a pseudo-dome decorated with interlacing ribs, curving to form a pattern of lozenge-shaped coffers. The proscenium opening is shown richly dressed with heavily festooned draperies of a warm golden hue, and a long-standing tradition was observed by placing, on each side of the proscenium, movable figures of Melpomene and Thalia raised on high pedestals. To the general colour scheme of light blue, white, beige and silver, a glittering note was added by the cut-glass lustres, the looking-glass panels set in the side faces of the square pillars supporting the tiers, and the large circular glasses at each end of the first tier of boxes.
Arrangements for public circulation were admirably contrived. Arriving at the north and south vestibules, patrons for the boxes ascended the grand staircases and passed through the firstfloor saloons into side corridors within the shell. These gave direct access to the dress-tier side boxes and led westwards, passing a cross-aisle serving the dress-tier front boxes, to the communicating staircases in the north-west and south-west angles of the shell. These staircases were linked by a back foyer, serving the 'basket' boxes and opening to the large semicircular saloon west of the shell. The upper tiers of boxes were approached by the communicating staircases, which were designed with twin flights rising against the side and end walls of the shell, to meet at a half-landing where a single flight returned diagonally to the next tier level. A cursory examination of the plans will show how Holland sought to avoid the monotonous effect of the usual horseshoe corridors by treating his passages of circulation as a series of linked compartments.
The principal saloons and public rooms were handsomely decorated in Holland's neo-classical manner. The Russell Street vestibule had flanking screens of Doric columns with partly fluted shafts, and the north and south saloons, flanking the dress-boxes tier, were very like the Woburn Abbey interiors, with their panelled walls, lunette overdoors, and cove-surrounded ceilings. The 'Egyptian Hall' behind the pit must have been particularly attractive, with its 'porphyry' shafted Doric columns and its arcaded shop fronts with their fan-glazed lunettes. All of these rooms were well furnished with chairs, velvet-covered sofas, marble-topped pier tables, and jardinières. Large gilt-framed glasses were placed above the chimneypieces and on the piers between the windows, which were hung with crimson morine curtains. A statue of Garrick between Melpomene and Thalia was a notable feature of the semi-circular saloon, which was furnished with two bars for the service of refreshments. (fn. 48)
According to the accounts submitted to the proprietors by Charles Smith, upholder, covering a period from February 1794 to January 1795, (fn. 34) the King's waiting-room was covered with green cloth, the windows being dressed with curtains and valances of crimson silk-and-worsted damask, and the furniture included three mahoganyframed sofas covered with damask and finished with brass nails. On royal visits the King's box was dressed with a rich canopy, carved with festoons of flowers and gilt in burnished gold, supported by four columns. The inside was lined with rich crimson satin, and the opening was dressed with curtains and festoons of crimson velvet drapery, finished with gold fringe, handsome bows and gold tassels, the royal arms being richly embroidered on the front valance. The box was furnished with two large carved-and-gilt armchairs, six matching chairs without arms, and four stools. The Prince's box was almost as handsome, but finished in blue and silver. (fn. 34) The auditorium was also furnished in a luxurious fashion for the time, the box parapets and rails being covered with blue velvet (fn. 47) to match with the upholstery of the stuffed chairs, stools and benches. The box doors were lined with cloth or baize, studded with brass nails, and the floors were covered with Brussels or Scotch carpets, printed floor cloths, or matting. The dressing-rooms and offices were adequately equipped with japanned chairs, deal tables with drawers, and lookingglasses. Charles Smith's detailed account for his work at the theatre amounts in all to £2,011 8s. 2d. (fn. 34)
The elaborate equipment of the vast stage was designed by Rudolph Cabanel, machinist, of Stangate Street, Lambeth. Holland wrote to him on 4 November 1793, desiring him 'to prepare plans of and for the Stage and Machinery and to let me see them as soon as prepared in order that Directions may be given to forward the Execution of them. It is proposed the opening of the Curtain should be 44' 6" wide by 36' high, to be diminished by a shifting or painted decoration 35 ft wide and 24' 6" high, that the first set of wings shall be close to this painted or shifting decoration, that the openings shall be as follows, clear of the Lamps, 7' 0"–6' 6"–6' 0"–5' 6"–5' 0" – 5' 0", that the inclination of the Stage shall be half an inch to the foot, that the floor, traps, placing the Barrels, working the wings and scenes, shall be according to your model—the mode of managing the lights remain yet to be ascertained.' Cabanel undertook to design and direct the construction of the stage . . . and attend as Mechanist for two years at £9.9.0 per week'. Reporting on Cabanel's work in March 1794, Holland noted that 'the preparations which Mr. Cabanel has been ordered to make for Machinery are calculated only for Macbeth, but will answer to any other play where particular Machinery is not required. The whole of the Machinery ordered is prepared and all is ready for fixing; this fixing is entirely prevented by the Stage being occupied. Nor can anything be done in it till the Stage is entirely clear'd and all interruptions removed. When this is done Mr. Cabanel requires nine clear and compleat days and nights to fix and compleat the whole. . . . There is a great quantity of work done and now doing in preparing barrels and pulleys and frames which is not immediately wanted, but this work is doing because the men cannot proceed with fixing the work which is ready.' (fn. 34) The plans (Plates 16, 17) show quite clearly the layout of Cabanel's stage, the apron with its five traps, seven sets of wings diminishing in perspective, the floor slots for ground rows and descending scenes, and the elaborate system of fly-galleries. At the back of the stage, supported on four massive piers, was a large scene-painting room.
To Holland's lasting disappointment, his fine design for the intended insular building was never realized, for only those parts of the exterior necessary to the theatre were built. Unlike the great Continental theatres, such as that at Bordeaux by Victor Louis, Holland's Drury Lane was intended to be a complex of theatre, taverns, coffee-houses, houses and shops, and it should be regarded as a handsome example of uniform street architecture rather than as a monumental public building. Unified by the colonnade extending round most of the ground storey, with plainshafted Ionic columns of stone supporting a wooden entablature, the four-storeyed ranges surrounding the lofty theatre shell were conventional compositions designed in a neo-classical style reminiscent of Neufforge (Plate 20c). The long north and south fronts were alike in having severely plain wings, eight windows wide, slightly recessed between a pedimented central feature, five windows wide, and end pavilions, three windows wide, which were emphasized by their horizontally rusticated faces and the roundarched windows of the first floor. The wings were finished with a cornice and balustrade, this being stopped against the central pediment, and broken above each end pavilion by a pedestal bearing a trophy. On the west and east fronts the pavilions were returned to flank a slightly projecting central feature, five windows wide, its rusticated face divided into bays by pilaster-strips, having fluted shafts extending between paterastops. Above the cornice extended a tall attic pedestal, its die ornamented with a long oblong panel, presumably for the theatre's name, flanked by wreathed oval medallions, while centred above was a large trophy composed, like those on the pavilions, of a cartouche flanked by flags. (fn. 5) The lofty attic stage of the theatre shell was uniformly arcaded, with eleven equallyspaced arches on the north and south sides, and five on the west and east. Every arch framed a large window, recessed within a marginal surround, and the unmoulded arches rested on wide piers with plain imposts, and had keystones rising to meet the crowning cornice. This was surmounted by an open balustrade broken by wide pedestals containing the chimneys. From the leaded flat roof at the west end rose the octagonal lantern, a veritable Tower of the Winds, surmounted by the statue of Apollo, 10 feet in height, designed and made by Anne Seymour Damer. (fn. 49) Holland's first design for the building appears to have been generally similar to the one described above, except that the ground storey was intended to be a rusticated arcade of open arches, and the central feature of the west front was more simply decorated (Plate 20a). The materials used, or intended to be used in finishing the exterior were Portland stone, weather tiles, and brick finished with cement frescoed to resemble stone.
Among the Holland papers in Mr. Robert Eddison's collection is a copy of the printed Proposals for 'building upon shares a spacious Tavern at the West End of Drury-Lane Theatre (To be called The Apollo or Russel-Arms). This Tavern, with Rooms for Parties, public Coffee and Dining Rooms, and Wine Vaults of unparalleled extent, shall be compleated upon an enlarged Scale, yet at the same time on a Plan peculiarly adapted to the accommodation of Frequenters of the Theatre.' However, this project failed to materialize, and up to the time of its destruction in 1809, Drury Lane Theatre presented the dismal spectacle of its unfinished west end rising above the untidy hoardings that flanked the insignificant Ionic porch of the pit entrance in Brydges Street (Plate 21b).
Holland's statement of 'Payments made to Workmen & others on account of the New Theatre', (fn. 34) made out to 1 August 1797, lists most of the tradesmen employed and the amounts paid to them:
During September 1795 it was advertised that 'The elegant entrance from Brydges-street to the boxes . . . will, it is said, be opened for the accommodation of the Public in the course of next week. It is decorated in the Venetian style and will add considerably to the general beauty of our national edifice.' This was apparently the temporary passage illustrated on Plate 21b. At the same time a new Green Room for the actors was added, and a scene room constructed 'to preserve the scenes in prime order for years'. (fn. 47)
In September 1797, the following considerable alterations were noted. 'The Pit . . . is rendered more commodious as to ingress and regress; there is a passage down the middle . . .; part of the paling is taken away, and that which remains is considerably lower than before; the seats are newly covered with crimson baize; and the whole is sunk about one foot, and so contrived as to be highly advantageous to hearing and sight. The Orchestra Boxes, which nearly surround the Pit, are increased, three on each side. They are beautifully enriched within by a light elegant paper, and externally by a painted curtain hanging in folds or festoons, which appear through a superb gilt Trielliage. The Orchestra extends from one side of the Pit to the other. The Proscenium or frontispiece on the stage before the curtain, is rendered quite different in its appearance, by the addition of three boxes on each side, rising to the top, enclosed by a cove, admirably decorated by Mr. Greenwood. By this improvement the stage is contracted in its width. There is also a new sounding board, by means of which the voice is distinctly heard in every part of the House. The insides of the Boxes are painted a neat French grey, with crimson furniture, instead of the blue. The fronts of the pannels are nearly the same colour as before, with the addition of a gilt edge round the mouldings. The passages leading to the Boxes are also newly painted. The pillars which support the Boxes are newly silvered; and the whole produce a most charming effect.' (fn. 47) The general appearance of the auditorium after these changes were made is admirably recorded in an aquatint in The Microcosm of London (Plate 18a) and in the two unfinished drawings by William Capon (Plate 19).
In preparing the theatre for its re-opening in September 1805, the tier parapets were cleaned 'in a manner that renders the painting apparently as fresh as the first season the Theatre was opened'. The candelabra-columns supporting the tiers were now 'richly gilt' and the seats, railings, and boxfronts were covered with new crimson cloth, as were the pit benches. A new drop-scene was painted by Greenwood, enclosed in a frame 'which extends from one side wall to the other'. (fn. 50)
During the summer closure of 1806, the pit floor was 'raised bodily' and pitched 'at a greater angle than that of any other Pit in the metropolis'. The stage apron was curtailed 3 feet to increase the depth of the orchestra, the two ends of which were 'appropriated for visitors at the box prices'. To effect the improvement of the pit, some private boxes were removed, but others were made in the second tier to replace them. In the dress-tier boxes, one row of seats was removed to give greater room and convenience, and to enable an increased elevation to be given to the seats behind. All of this work was 'planned and executed by Mr. Lethbridge, stage carpenter, without the employment of extra labour, and at an expense not much exceeding one half of the annual rent of the two new private boxes'. (fn. 50)
Thereafter, no important changes are recorded as having been made to Holland's theatre, which was almost completely destroyed by fire during the night of 24 February 1809. According to Wilkinson's Theatrum Illustrata the fire was noticed shortly after eleven o'clock but within half an hour the roof had collapsed. Holland had endeavoured to avoid such a disaster by taking particular precautions against the spread of fire. Four very large reservoirs of water were fixed in the roof and 'supplied by a horse-engine, which will act as a fire-engine, conducting a plentiful supply of water to all parts of the building'. David Hartley's iron 'Fire Plates' were used to protect the timber framing of the shell, and an invention of Lord Stanhope's, 'equally powerful', was introduced in the staircases, wood partitioning, and floors of the boxes, while an iron curtain was made to insulate the auditorium from the stage, where fires usually began. (fn. 47) But the iron curtain had rusted and was removed, and the water reservoirs were depleted at the time of the fire which, 'in ten or twelve minutes . . . ran up the front boxes, and spread like kindled flax. This may be accounted for from the body of air which so large a hollow afforded, and also from the whole being a wooden case.' (fn. 51)
Benjamin Dean Wyatt's Theatre of 1811–12
In the preface to the 1813 edition of his Observations on the Design for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Benjamin Dean Wyatt tells how 'In the month of May, 1811, a competition for Designs was opened by the Committee, and in the month of October following, that, which forms the subject of this publication, was adopted. The first stone of the Building was laid on the 29th of October, 1811, and the Theatre was opened to the Public on the 10th of October, 1812.' In refuting an 'unfounded and scandalous insinuation' that his design 'had been borrowed from that of Mr. George Wyatt' for a proposed third metropolitan theatre, Benjamin Wyatt states that he had never seen the latter until it was published in 1812, whereas 'the Design for Drury Lane Theatre, as it is now executed, and as it is exhibited in this Work, was completed, and was shown to several branches of the Royal Family, and other persons of distinction, so early as the month of February, 1810'. (fn. 52) There is some measure of confirmation for this statement in the existence of a set of well-finished drawings for the intended new Theatre Royal, designed on a 'reduced scale', signed by Benjamin Wyatt and dated February 1810, now in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
This set of drawings (Plates 22, 23) comprises six plans, from basement to gallery, a front elevation, a side elevation, and two alternative longitudinal sections, each supplemented by a perspective view of the auditorium towards the proscenium. Despite its 'reduced scale' this design would have resulted in a larger and costlier theatre than the one eventually built. The exterior, presumably intended to be finished in stone and stucco, is very handsomely treated in the neo-classical style of James and Samuel Wyatt, but the shortened horseshoe plan proposed for the auditorium would have produced many side boxes with only a very limited view of the stage. Basically, however, the plan is very similar in its composition of elements to that finally adopted.
The plan is symmetrically arranged on the long axis of a rectangle some 245 feet in length, east to west, and 140 feet wide. A tetrastyle portico, 56 feet wide and 19 feet deep, projects from the west front to Brydges Street. Within the portico are three doors opening to a spacious entrance hall, 24 feet wide, its great length of 97 feet being divided by three-bay screens to form three compartments, the large middle one being 65 feet long. From the end compartments doors open, north or south, to outer lobbies entered from the side streets. In the entrance hall a door on the main axis opens east to the rotunda, 35 feet in diameter, which has four diagonally-placed apses and axially-placed doors leading north or south to the two grand staircases that serve the four tiers of boxes. North and south of the grand staircases are corridor-like lobbies for the pit and galleries. An U-shaped corridor, 10 feet wide, extends round the pit and each tier of boxes in the auditorium, the plan of which is a short horseshoe based on a circle, the diameter of the pit and the tier parapets being 64 feet, while that of the enclosing wall is 80 feet. Except for the fourth tier, which contains the lower gallery flanked by side boxes, each tier has four rows of seats or benches divided by carefully angled partitions to form twenty-nine boxes. In addition there are two large boxes in each proscenium splay, stacked above the doors opening to the apron stage, which is 11 feet deep, the proscenium opening being 40 feet wide. The stage, 90 feet wide and 66 feet deep, is flanked north and south by ranges 18 feet wide, containing offices, Green Rooms, dressing-rooms, etc., and at the east end is a 25 foot wide range of scenery workshops, flanking a central entrance.
Externally, at least, the execution of Benjamin Wyatt's first design would have given London a building worthy of comparison with the finest Continental theatres. As already remarked, the style is that of the elder Wyatts, and the manner of its use is quite as masterly (Plate 23a, 23b). All the fronts are unified by their division into two storeys, the lower having a strongly rusticated face broken by a plain band which serves as an impost for the arches containing the doors and windows. A pedestal underlines the lofty upper storey which has a plain face finished with a frieze, cornice and balustrade. The entrance front to Brydges Street is a simple composition, the ground storey having a central group of three arched doorways, and the upper storey a range of nine windows, all dressed alike with balustraded aprons, moulded architraves, and cornices resting on consoles. The three doorways, and the windows over them, are framed by the equal intercolumniations of the boldly projecting portico, its four plain-shafted Ionic columns rising through the two storeys to support a full entablature and a plain triangular pediment. The long side elevation is more elaborately composed, with an engaged tetrastyle portico in the centre, flanked by wings six windows wide, and ending with pavilions where the upper-storey window has three lights, dressed with a small Corinthian order and finished with a triangular pediment. On this front, the crowning balustrade is broken by panelled attic pedestals extending above the central engaged portico and the three-light windows of the end pavilions. Behind the balustrade rises the simply pilastered wall of the D-ended shell containing the auditorium and stage.
Wyatt's first design for the auditorium is a competent but rather uninspired essay in neo-classical decoration (Plate 23c). The scheme is properly dominated by the segmentally-arched proscenium frame, where the doors and boxes in the splayed sides are flanked by pilaster-strips supporting lintels, the pilasters ornamented with panels containing foliage scrolls, and the lintels with panels containing rosettes between acanthus sprouts. Wide ribs, decorated to match the pilaster-strips, frame the soffit of the arch where a series of five square coffers extends between the plain groined lunettes over the boxes. The wall face above the arch is simply panelled on either side of the royal arms, which, modelled in high relief, rise against the cornice and plain cove surrounding the flat ceiling. While the box parapets within the proscenium have panels of anthemion ornament, those of the four horseshoe tiers are decorated alike with trellised panels above narrow cornices supported by slender cast-iron colonnettes.
There is a later set of Benjamin Wyatt's drawings for Drury Lane Theatre in Sir John Soane's Museum (fn. 53) (Plates 24, 25). These are signed and dated October 1811, the month when his design was formally adopted by Samuel Whitbread and the committee of proprietors. It is most probable, therefore, that these drawings, or a similar set, were submitted for the competition and, being selected, were used for settling the contract whereby Henry Rowles, the builder, undertook to complete the theatre on or before 1 October 1812.
Although the arrangment of the plan is generally similar to that of the 1810 design, the dimensions of the basically rectangular building have again been reduced, the length to 234 feet, and the width to 129 feet 6 inches. The projection of the front portico has been increased to 25 feet, to provide space for two steps and a landing extending between the antae and screen walls. The entrance hall is now 27 feet wide and 85 feet 6 inches long, while the diameter of the central rotunda is reduced to 30 feet. Separate entrances have been provided, on both sides of the building, for the pit and the two galleries, and the general circulation within the theatre is more skilfully worked out, but the biggest changes are to be found in the form and disposition of the auditorium. The parapets of the four tiers now conform to a semicircle of 61 feet diameter which is continued for some 8 feet on either side before returning, in a reversed quadrant curve, to stop against the enclosing wall of the auditorium, which conforms to a diameter of 107 feet 11 inches. This form of terminating the tiers, probably derived from Ledoux, (fn. 6) was introduced to ensure a better view of the stage from the extreme side boxes. The straight-fronted apron stage is now flanked by concave quadrant faces, without doors below the bow-fronted boxes, and the proscenium opening, which is flanked by free-standing columns, is only 33 feet wide. The stage width is 76 feet and its depth, including the apron, is 68 feet.
The 1811 auditorium contains a pit with nineteen straight rows of benches, ample standing space at the back, and seven private boxes on either side. There are three tiers each divided into twenty-four boxes with four rows of seats, and a fourth tier having seven boxes on either side of the two-shilling gallery which has ten rows of benches. The five back rows are behind the columns supporting the upper gallery, where six steeply banked rows of benches offer a very limited view of the stage through a series of arches intersecting the ceiling cove.
The exterior design of 1810 is retained with some minor changes for the 1811 scheme (Plate 25a, 25b). In the front elevation, the upper-storey windows are now simply dressed with plain architraves. Similar economies affect the side elevations, where the wings are now five windows wide, and plain niches have replaced the threelight windows of the end pavilions. The engaged portico on the Russell Street side is still shown with three-quarter columns, but that on the south side has only pilasters.
Comparing the 1811 drawings with those of the completed building, as engraved for illustrating Wyatt's Observations (Plates 26, 27, 28, 29b), it will appear that the only changes that occur in the plans and internal design are such as might normally be made during the progress of a large and complex building operation. The exterior, however, was largely redesigned and completed in an austere Grecian style, presumably to keep the cost of building, furnishing and equipping the theatre within the stipulated sum of £150,000.
In his Observations Wyatt relates how, in perfecting his design, it was his 'study to unite a due attention to the profits of the Theatre, with adequate provision, in every respect, for the accommodation of the Public'. In this he was guided by four main considerations: 'First,—The Size or Capacity of the Theatre, as governed by the width of the Proscenium, or Stage-opening; and by the pecuniary return to be made to those whose Property might be embarked in the Concern.' (fn. 54)
According to Wyatt's calculations, given in his Observations, (fn. 55) the boxes seated 1,286 (excluding the four proscenium boxes and fourteen private boxes flanking the pit), the pit seated 920, the twoshilling gallery 550, and the one-shilling gallery 350. He estimated that this capacity was sufficient to produce takings of £600 per night, thereby ensuring a reasonable return to the investors, consistent with the proper operation and maintenance of a metropolitan theatre 'of a superior order'. (fn. 56) The relatively small size of the proscenium was justified by the consequent reduction in size of the scenery, saving canvas, paint and labour, and the fact that such scenery could be changed quickly, with lighter machinery and fewer hands. Wyatt also stresses the saving in expenses by reducing the number of extras required for 'Processions, Scenic Groupings, etc.' (fn. 57) 'Secondly,—The Form or Shape of the Theatre, as connected with the primary objects of Distinct Sound and Vision.' (fn. 58)
The form of the auditorium was settled as a result of experiments in acoustics, carried out on lines suggested by George Saunders, in his Treatise on Theatres of 1790, to which Wyatt pays due tribute. By limiting the distance between the front of the stage and the back wall of the boxes to 53 feet 9 inches, he expected to bring all spectators well within the natural expansion of the voice, and enable them to have a clear sight of the stage action. He justifies his choice of auditorium plan, a truncated circle, by remarking 'that the Theatre at Bordeaux is exactly of the same Form as the present Theatre in Drury Lane; and that that Theatre is always quoted as one, in which the voice is better heard, than in almost any Theatre in the world'. (fn. 59) It must be observed, however, that Wyatt exaggerates the resemblance between the two theatres. The design of the Bordeaux auditorium is, in fact, based on a square ceiled with a shallow dome and pendentives, one side of the square opening to the box-flanked proscenium, while each other side is expanded to form a shallow semi-elliptical apse which is divided into three equal bays by columns, between which the balconies of loges project.
'Thirdly,—The Facility of Ingress and Egress, as materially affecting the convenience of those going to every part of the House respectively; as well their Lives, in cases of sudden accident or alarm.' (fn. 58)
In this matter, Wyatt resolved 'to attach similar approaches and accommodation to each side of the House respectively; thus, whatever Doors of Entrance, Staircases, Avenues, &c. are provided for one side of the House, the same precisely are provided for the other side; with the exception only of the upper Gallery, which, from its size, does not require two Entrances'. (fn. 60) Here it is worth noting that the 1811 plans show two staircases for the upper gallery, one on the south side and one on the north, but the latter is reduced in the executed plans to a private stair serving only the Bedford and Devonshire boxes. These are shown to be at the north end of the 'First Tier of Boxes' which is above the 'Dress Tier of Boxes', and on the opposite side are two similar private boxes, the larger one allotted to Mrs. Garrick. The lower gallery was served by two triangular staircases contrived within the spandrel-shaped spaces north-west and south-west of the massive semi-circular wall surrounding the box corridors. Access to each of these three corridors was separately arranged through doors or passages leading off the various landings of the 'King's' and 'Prince's' staircases which begin their ascent with a wide central flight, branch left and right to landings at the dress-boxes level, then return in parallel flights to a wide landing level with the saloon, rotunda, and first tier of boxes, whence another central flight ascends to finish at a halflanding level with the second tier of boxes. The pit was approached through corridors entered from capacious vestibules flanking the main entrance hall, and each group of private boxes at pit level was provided with a corridor entered from a vestibule centred in the north or south front.
'Fourthly,—Decorum among the several Orders and Classes of the Visitants to the Theatre, as essential to the accommodation of the more respectable part of those Visitants; and consequently of great importance to the interests of the Theatre.' (fn. 58)
Wyatt's avowed object here was 'that of protecting the more rational and respectable class of Spectators from those nuisances to which they have long been exposed, by being obliged to pass through Lobbies, Rooms, and Avenues, crowded with the most disreputable Members of the Community, and subject to scenes of the most disgusting indecency'. Knowing that 'an avowed exclusion of any particular class of people from either part of the House, (excepting the Private Boxes) would be utterly impracticable; and therefore that the best plan was to form an arrangement, which should virtually amount to an exclusion of those whom it was desirable to exclude, without any declared intention of doing so', Wyatt eliminated the notorious 'basket boxes', which had been placed behind the front dress boxes in the previous theatre, and placed the crush rooms and refreshment rooms in places sufficiently remote from the dress boxes so that ladies occupying them were 'relieved from the nuisances to which they have hitherto been liable in passing to and from their Boxes'. (fn. 61)
Among Wyatt's Drury Lane drawings in the Royal Institute of British Architects is an undated elevation showing the penultimate stage in the design for the entrance front (Plate 29a). The treatment is still neo-classical, with no trace of Greek ornamentation, but the design is bold in scale and austere in expression. The drawing shows a finish resembling ashlar, although cement was probably envisaged. The two well-defined storeys are retained, the lower having three roundarched doorways widely spaced in the middle, and a similar arch framing a smaller round-arched window on either side. Above the upper-storey pedestal, and centred over the arches, are five windows dressed alike with moulded architraves and cornice-hoods. The end windows of both storeys are given prominence by being placed between giant plain-shafted Doric pilasters which rise from the plain plinth, break through the plain impost of the lower storey and the plain members of the upper-storey pedestal, and support an appropriately massive entablature, of which the plain frieze and cornice are returned and continued across the front, above a plain panel sunk in the face over the three windows. Behind the attic pedestal rises the curved wall of the auditorium shell, its face divided into equal bays by small Doric pilasters supporting a frieze, cornice and blocking-course. A festive note is given to the entrance by the four garlanded altars bearing tripod lamps, which are placed flanking the three doorways, these being furnished with handsomely coffered doors below radial fanlights.
Although the entrance front to Brydges Street was built much in the form adumbrated by this drawing, the proportions were changed by a reduction in height, and a Greek flavour was infused by some changes of detail (Plate 29b). The giant Doric pilasters flanking the end windows were transformed into Ionic antae having enriched capitals similar to those of the Erechtheion. In the upper storey, the sill-band was omitted and the windows were given a Greek dress, consisting of a moulded architrave with canted jambs and an eared head, finished with a plain frieze and cornice, the middle three windows having pediments. James Elmes, writing in 1827, states that Wyatt intended to add, when funds permitted, an Ionic portico for which the giant antae were a preparation. (fn. 62) This, however, seems most unlikely, for an examination of the front as designed and built will show that if a portico was to be added, having its outer columns responding to the antae, the doors and windows of the inside face would fail to register correctly with any reasonable system of intercolumniation.
Although the entrance front was faced with Roman cement to resemble Portland stone masonry, the other elevations were simply finished in stock bricks, sparingly dressed with cement and stone. For the long north and south sides, Wyatt simplified his 1811 design by omitting the central engaged portico, so that between each end pavilion there now extends an unbroken face of two storeys, the lower having the doors and windows symmetrically arranged in a series of thirteen round-arched recesses. Correspondingly, the upper storey has a range of thirteen straightarched windows set without architraves in a plain face that is finished with a simple entablature and parapet. The end pavilions, brick versions of those in the 1811 design, also consist of two storeys, the lower having a doorway framed in a round-arched recess, and the upper containing a large niche. Above each pavilion, the parapet is broken by an attic pedestal.
This simple but grandly scaled exterior was designed to form an impressive prelude to a series of finely related interiors, decorated with increasing richness until the full splendour of the auditorium was reached (Plates 27b, 28). Through the three great doors in the entrance front, flanked by tripod-altar lamps on massive pedestals, patrons of the boxes passed into the spacious hall, its length originally extending beyond the side screens, formed of two Greek Doric columns between antae, where a tripod-altar lamp was placed in each narrow side intercolumniation. The two pay-boxes were recessed in the wall opposite the entrances, between three doorways, the middle one opening to the rotunda, the north to the King's staircase, and the south to the Prince's staircase. The ground storey of the rotunda, simply decorated with four niches placed diagonally to flank the doors opening north and south to the grand staircases, originally contained a cast of Peter Scheemakers' statue of Shakespeare, placed on a pedestal-stove opposite to the west entrance door. A stone gallery, cantilevered on scrolled trusses of cast iron and furnished with an iron railing of trellis-patterned panels, surrounds the circular well which opens to the principal storey (Plate 36a). Here the decoration is more elaborate, with three-bay screens of plain-shafted Corinthian columns extending between four diagonally placed piers containing niches, originally furnished with candelabra. The order, based on that of the Temple of Jupiter Stator, Rome, has an entablature with a frieze of acanthus scrolls, griffins and urns, and an enriched modillioned cornice. Above this rises a 'Pantheon' dome with five rings of square coffers, their size diminishing as they near the glazed oculus.
Each grand staircase (Plate 36b) is entered from the hall and rotunda through a colonnade of plain-shafted Ionic columns, five bays wide, which supports the principal-storey landing. Wyatt designed that the walls of the almost square compartment should be plain but for a stringcourse, enriched with rosettes between acanthus sprouts, at the principal-storey level, and a wavescrolled impost above it. A simple frieze and cornice surrounds the ceiling, which is divided by enriched beams into a series of coffers surrounding a roof-light. The landings and steps are of stone, the branching and return flights to the principal storey being partly cantilevered and partly supported by light cast-iron cradles, while the central upper flight rests on cast-iron carriages. The iron railings, formed of closely-spaced vertical bars linked by small circles, are finished with a reeded mahogany handrail, and, like the rotunda gallery railing, they originally incorporated slender candelabra-like oil lamps placed above the baluster newels.
Above the hall is the large and lofty saloon, entered by doors from the rotunda and the two staircases (Plate 37a). Here a plain-shafted Corinthian order is employed, with paired pilasters dividing each of the long walls into three equal bays, containing doorways on the east and windows on the west. At each end is a screen, formed of two columns between antae, opening to a segmental apse where a doorway is flanked by niches, designed to contain statues placed above pedestalfireplaces. Each niche is ceiled with a semi-dome, conforming with the segmentally-arched ceiling of the room. Beyond each apse, Wyatt contrived a small coffee-room, most elegantly designed with Corinthian pilasters on piers supporting segmental arches, below a dome on pendentives (Plate 28a). On the west side of each coffee-room was a 'fruit office', perpetuating the tradition of the Caroline orange-vendors. There is little to record about the original colour schemes of these various interiors, except that the Ionic columns of the staircases and the Corinthian columns of the rotunda had shafts resembling Egyptian granite, or porphyry, while the Corinthian order in the saloon had shafts resembling verde antico marble. (fn. 50)
This noble suite of rooms has fortunately survived, with some changes, to constitute an outstanding monument of theatre design in the grand manner, but Wyatt's auditorium was very short-lived and can only be studied in his drawings and a few contemporary views (Plates 27, 32a). These show that the pit was surrounded by thirteen low segmentally-arched openings, the four on either side framing the private boxes. The parapets of the four tiers rested in turn on slender columns of cast iron, having moulded bases, fluted shafts, and simply foliated capitals. The three tiers of boxes were thus divided into fourteen bays, generally two boxes wide. As the dress-boxes parapet projected slightly forwards from the others, the one above it was designed to form a concave hood and decorated with scale ornament. Apart from this, the parapets were ornamented with trellised panels, those of the dress boxes incorporating figure-subject medallions. One of Wyatt's colour studies shows the pit arcade marbled in verde antico, the tier parapets in parchment and gold with red panels trellised in gold, and figuresubjects in green and gold, the walls and partitions of the boxes being a rich crimson. Another study has the dress-boxes parapet resting on caryatids, against a verde antico arcade, while an alternative scheme has porphyry-shafted Ionic columns against the arcade. (fn. 63) Instead of proscenium doors on either side of the apron stage, Wyatt introduced a large tripod-altar lamp, raised on a pedestal ornamented with griffins and placed against each concave wall face, where the bowed parapets of the two superimposed boxes projected between a pair of pilasters belonging to the same giant Corinthian order as the free-standing columns and respondent pilasters that flanked the proscenium opening. Although the column shafts were fluted and marbled to resemble verde antico, the pilasters had panelled shafts ornamented 'with concerted rings entwined with grapes and vine leaves, all richly gilt'. (fn. 64) The highly enriched entablature was returned above the columns to provide a springing for the richly coffered proscenium arch, but it was continued across the opening, below a segmental tympanum adorned with the royal arms. A winged genius decorated the spandrel on either side of the arch, and in the attic stage of each concave wall face, between panelled pilasters, was a niche containing a statue, Melpomene on one side, Thalia on the other. A frieze decorated with widely spaced wreaths, and a simple cornice extended round the auditorium, below a quadrant cove diapered with small lozenges containing flowers. The almost flat ceiling was painted to resemble a dome, with a border of decorative panels surrounding rings of quadrangular coffers that diminished in size towards the central motif, a circular grille for ventilation, adorned with a rayed head of Apollo.
Crabb Robinson recorded in his diary for 30 November 1812, that he 'went to Drury Lane to see the house not the performance. It is indeed a magnificent object. The Proscenium is the most splendid scene I ever beheld. It is certainly quite enough adorned but it would be absurd to reproach the architect with making a theatre gorgeous. Let the prison be dry and rude so as to excite a sense of severity, let the temple and the hall of justice be majestically simple, but the public theatre should be pompous and profusely adorned. The depth of the proscenium has been objected to as a loss of room, but I suspect this to be an illusion. . . . The boxes capped by a statue of Comedy and Tragedy are placed over an elegant tripod bearing a brilliant white flamed lamp of numerous wicks in a circle. And beyond this on each side a superb column of verde antique . . . the roof displeased me—instead of being arched and lifted above the walls, it lies as it were a weight upon them. And the shilling gallery is cut out of the ceiling so that the whole produced in me an impression of imperfection and insecurity.' (fn. 65)
Wyatt's published plans show that the working area of the stage, about 80 feet wide and 46 feet deep, was originally equipped with six sets of wing grooves, and with two fly-galleries on either side which were connected by narrow bridges against the back wall. The 30-foot wide range to the east of the stage contained a basement, with shops for the stage carpenters and property makers, and at stage level were two lofty stores for scenery, the larger one to the south having a wide opening to centre with the proscenium, enabling the store to be used for deep perspective effects. Above the scenery stores were two painting rooms, the larger one having floor grooves through which the scene-frames could be lowered. The dressingrooms, Green Rooms, offices, etc., were very capacious and well arranged in the five-storeyed ranges flanking the north and south sides of the stage. Nevertheless, it was found necessary in 1814 to build a detached scene store of L-shaped plan on a site adjoining the north-east angle of the theatre, its front being designed to harmonize with the Russell Street elevation.
When the theatre was first opened 'it was fully foreseen that the embellishments of the interior would not be permanent upon the green walls; the moisture exhaling from the bricks and plaster would certainly occasion a fading in the colours, and a tarnish in the gilding'. In 1814, therefore, the management committee decided 'that the expense of re-painting and re-gilding would be nearly equal to that of a new interior, they therefore determined upon giving a new interior, for in a Theatre novelty has an undisputed sway. The grand saloon is painted with a lilac ground, harmonizing with the columns and pilasters; the great staircase[s] and rotunda are fresh painted and decorated; the corridors of the boxes are divided into pannels of two shades of delicate green, with a white Etruscan border: these lead us into the interior, the basement is painted a rich Scagliola marble. The fronts of the dress boxes are a light blue ground, enriched by a gold octagonal lattice work, with roses in the centres, and a relief of white in the intersections. The canopy fronts of the first tier have an antique projecting scroll, with gold foliage falling upon relieved flutings. The second tier is embellished by a series of classical subjects, painted in relief upon a blue ground, with enriched borders. The third tier of boxes is decorated by a gold scrollwork in relief running from the centre ornament of the same character, to each termination of the sides, upon a blue ground. The prevailing colour, therefore, of the boxes, is blue; but it is relieved, and a warmth of tone produced by the back of the boxes being painted in a light brown colour, divided into pannels by appropriate borderings. The ceiling is new, the dome being divided into alternate compartments of blue vanishing into distance, and scroll enrichments terminating in the centre.
'The hydrostatic lamps placed upon tripods on each side of the proscenium . . . were found, in practice, too delicate in their construction to bear the currents of air to which they were exposed, by the rising and falling of the curtain; they were therefore removed at the close of the first season, and their supports, the tripods, remained as useless ornaments; they are now displaced, and the vacancy filled up by two additional proscenium boxes on each side. . . . The two grand columns have been removed, and the angles left have been filled up by ornaments uniting with the general contour of the House, and affording to the architect the opportunity of indulging the performers in their favourite wish of Stage doors. Above these doors, balconies, with suitable canopies, lattice-work, and galleries are placed, rendering them both ornamental in the general effect, and serviceable in the business of the stage.' (fn. 66)
In a description of the theatre, The Picture of London for 1818 roundly condemned the management for converting the beautiful saloon into 'what is called a Chinese Temple, with two holes for staircases from the hall below. It is impossible to say whether the man who planned this ridiculous alteration, or the architect who executed it, has shown most want of taste.' (fn. 67) During the summer of 1819, the interior was redecorated, the new colour scheme being French grey with gold ornaments, and silver for the pillars of the boxes. Statues replaced the bronze tripods in the niches of the rotunda and corridors, and an ormolu chandelier was suspended from the centre of the dome. (fn. 68) Remarking on the declining fortune of the theatre, The New Picture of London for 1819 found occasion for favourable comment in remarking that 'the chandelier, hanging in the centre of the ceiling over the pit, and illuminated with gas, is very tasteful and elegant; superior to that in any other theatre'. (fn. 69)
Although Wyatt had made every effort to produce an almost perfect auditorium, and despite the alterations made to improve it during the early years of its use, certain striking deficiencies became increasingly obvious. The proscenium was too small for so wide an auditorium, and the acoustics were far from perfect. The manager, R. W. Elliston, therefore decided to overcome these defects, before the 1822 season opened, by employing Henry Peto, an experienced contractor, to construct a virtually new auditorium and improve the stage accommodation, to the designs and under the supervision of Samuel Beazley, then advancing in a career that was to make him the leading theatre architect of his time. This operation is recorded to have involved Elliston in an expenditure of some £22,000. (fn. 70)
Beazley completely gutted the auditorium within the wall dividing it from the box corridors, which were to remain structurally unchanged. Four new tiers of horseshoe form were constructed, all with parapets conforming to a semicircle of 51 feet 6 inches in diameter, with each side continued in a shallow elliptical curve so that the width between them, where they adjoined the proscenium boxes, was 46 feet 6 inches. The distance from the front of the apron to the centre of each parapet was now only 48 feet. The apron was 12 feet deep to the curtain, and the proscenium opening was 40 feet wide and 46 feet high to the centre of its arched head. As in Wyatt's auditorium, the first three tiers each contained four rows of seats, divided by low partitions into boxes, but space was now available at the back for some private boxes. According to the account in Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London, the dress circle contained twenty-six boxes, each furnished with nine chairs, and ten private boxes each with six chairs. The first circle had four private boxes on either side, between fourteen public boxes extending in front of six private boxes. The second tier was divided into twentytwo double boxes which were separated from the front rows of seats, and at each end was a private box. The top tier contained three large boxes on either side of the lower gallery, with seven rows of benches. The upper gallery had only three rows of benches and a wide standing-space at the back. According to the engraved plan (Plate 30b), the pit contained twenty-one straight benches, where as the section shows only eighteen. On each side of the pit there were three private boxes, and two large public boxes without seats. In addition there were four private boxes between the columns on either side of the proscenium. The pit seated 800, the lower gallery 550, and the upper gallery 350, which with the seating in the boxes made a total of 3,060. (fn. 71)
The view from the stage, given in Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London, shows how in decorating the new auditorium Beazley retained much of the general character and some of the original features of its predecessor (Plate 32b). The straight parapets of the boxes flanking the proscenium were recessed between three-quarter columns of a giant Corinthian order, standing on a high panelled pedestal and supporting an enriched entablature, which was surmounted by an attic containing a niche flanked by panelled pilasters. The pedestal panel was, in fact, a removable grille in front of a stage box. The column shafts were hollow and of wood, their apparent flutes being slits through which the stage could be glimpsed from inside the boxes. (fn. 72) The entablature of the order provided a springing for the semi-elliptical arch of the proscenium, the face above it being decorated with two spandrel panels. In the niches above the boxes were placed statues of Melpomene and Thalia, salvaged from the old auditorium. The four tier parapets were each supported by a ring of twelve slender cast-iron columns having gilt fluted shafts. Each parapet, however, was different, that of the dress circle exhibiting a series of long panels containing scenes from Shakespeare's plays. 'Grecian ornaments of varied design, in running patterns, with rosettes, wreaths, &c.,' adorned the first and second circles, and the top-tier parapet was treated with a continuous frieze of anthemion ornament. The high wall face behind the top tier was divided into wide bays by plain-shafted Doric pilasters which matched the three square piers supporting the upper-gallery parapet. This formed part of the crowning entablature, its frieze simply decorated with wreaths placed over the pilasters. Bold ribs, enriched with 'roses in annulets' divided the cove and flat ceiling into two rings of panels, the wedgeshaped panels of the ceiling being ornamented with large and small anthemion motifs. At first the prevailing colours of the decorations were warm drab infused with dark red and highly enriched with gold. The proscenium was dressed with a deep valance of festooned drapery, and the opening was provided with a very handsome drop scene of figures against Grecian ruins, painted by Marinari and Stanton, at a cost of some £700. (fn. 73) In 1825, however, the ground colour was changed to white, the Shakespearcan panels were replaced by others of inferior design, and the crimson furniture of the boxes was replaced by green. (fn. 50) Ample light was provided by two tiers of fourteen lustres suspended from brackets projecting above the columns of the dress and first circles, and by the very large gas-lit lustre of lotus form hanging from the centre of the ceiling.
Beazley also made alterations to the stage, by opening up spaces on either side to provide room for 'arranging processions and scenic illusions'. To replace the rooms lost by these changes, he built on the south side a small extension containing a new Green Room and some dressing-rooms. (fn. 50) This, however, was not the first change to be made to Wyatt's exterior, for in 1820 a portico had been added to the Brydges (now Catherine) Street front. This much criticized portico, rising only to the first storey, is composed of four pairs of Doric columns, their plain square shafts supporting a simple entablature, originally surmounted by a lead statue of Shakespeare (now in the entrance hall). (fn. 74) Although it has been generally attributed to James Spiller, a note in Elliston's account of his outlay in improving Drury Lane Theatre records that it was 'completed under the sole direction and design of Sir John Soane'. (fn. 75) In 1831, the long Russell Street front was graced with the addition of Beazley's far more elegant colonnade of a Grecian Ionic order, having fluted shafts of cast iron (Plate 38).
The interior was redecorated before the season of 1830–1, and again before 1836–7, when the lessee, Alfred Bunn, spent £1,500 on an elaborate scheme executed by Crace, who based his designs on Raphael's Loggie in the Vatican. The circular ceiling was given a ground of soft cream colour and adorned with emblematic cameo medallions, supported by light gold enrichments radiating towards the centre and connected by festooned garlands of flowers. Round the edge were eight large lunettes, apparently open to the sky, against which were posed groups of children symbolizing the theatrical arts. The cove was separated from the ceiling by a white fret on a lavender ground, and divided into compartments of various colours, ornamented with emblematical devices and bunches of flowers, with gold relief. The Corinthian columns flanking the proscenium were finished in burnished gold, relieved with white, and the box parapets between them had richly gilt ornaments on a crimson velvet ground. The first circle parapet was painted with scenes from Shakespeare's plays, separated by gilt dwarf pilasters on a white ground. The second circle parapet was divided by gilt enrichments into panels, alternately wide and narrow, the former containing a raffle-foliage scroll with birds, and the latter having grotesque masks on a maroon ground. The gallery parapet was painted with a continuous frieze of dancing figures holding wreaths, and festoons with musical trophies. (fn. 76) Although Beazley is said to have thoroughly renovated the auditorium in 1841, its general appearance seems to have remained very much as described above, if the evidence of two lithographs, dated 1841 and 1842, is reliable (Plate 33).
In 1847, however, the auditorium was redecorated for the impresario, Frederick Gye. An engraving in The Builder shows how each tier parapet was 'laced over with a trellis of large mesh, formed of an engaged moulding gilt' on which were placed 'festoons of detached flowers, very nicely modelled, also gilt'. The Corinthian columns flanking the proscenium boxes were 'entwined by a continuous wreath of flowers gilt', and the cast-iron columns supporting the tiers were similarly wreathed. All these ornaments of papier mâché were modelled, gilt and fixed by the specialist contractor, Bielefeld, in five weeks. The ground colour for this display of gilt trellis was a 'faint blossom colour, approaching white'. The circular ceiling was painted to represent a cloudless sky, which was also glimpsed through a series of gilt trellis arches decorating the surrounding cove. In the centre was a group of five flying cupids, apparently supporting the great chandelier of gilt metal and glass lustres, from which projected six flags of glass lustres 'with the lines of the Union Jack marked on them by light'. Additional lighting was provided by a series of small lustres, projecting on brackets from the parapet of the second tier. All the draperies were of bright scarlet cloth 'of which our army officers' uniforms are made', and the boxes were lined inside with 'a yellow patterned paper on a crimson ground'. (fn. 77)
A redecoration in 1851, with ornaments in the style of Louis XVI 'selected and executed' by the decorator, Benjamin Hurwitz, (fn. 78) cannot have been extensive since two photographs of 1897–8 (Plate 34) show a somewhat arid-looking auditorium that is still recognizably Wyatt's interior as reconstructed by Beazley and redecorated by Bielefeld in 1847. The papier mâché garlands had, however, been removed from the trellised parapets and from the slotted shafts of the Corinthian columns flanking the proscenium boxes, but not from the cast-iron columns supporting the tiers. Perhaps to compensate for this loss of ornament, the first-tier parapet had been enlivened with a series of scrolled cartouches, each inscribed with the name of a famous dramatist or composer, placed below the cast-iron columns. The fourth-tier parapet had also been enriched with gilt paterae between panels of trellis.
In 1870 The Builder stated that the interior was to undergo a complete transformation to meet the requirements of a new opera company. Drawings by Messrs. Marsh Nelson and Harvey had been handed to Messrs. W. Bracher and Son, who had remodelled the house for Mapleson in 1868. (fn. 79) From the photographs already referred to, it would appear that these changes were of a temporary nature. A similar 'transformation' in 1871 was completed by the same contractors in eight days. The work then consisted largely of fitting up temporary partitions in the tiers to provide a circle of pit boxes, a grand tier of private boxes, and an upper tier with ten boxes on either side. (fn. 80)
In 1901 it was found necessary to reconstruct the now sub-standard auditorium. Among other improvements carried out under Philip Pilditch's direction, the tiers were reconstructed with steel girders and concrete floors, using only a front row of columns to support them. Two rows of seats were added to each tier, and the box parapets were brought forward. A fire which took place on 25 March 1908 was confined to the stage area.
A photograph taken in 1921 (Plate 35a) shows Pilditch's reconstructed auditorium, opulently decorated by Messrs. Campbell, Smith and Company, in a style somewhat similar to that of Daly's Theatre, designed by Spencer Chadwick. (fn. 81) The proscenium frame was composed of marbleshafted Corinthian pilasters which, with scrollconsoles, supported an enriched entablature having a frieze decoration of wreaths. Above this was a broken pediment of semi-elliptical form, the scrolled cornice framing a tympanum containing a richly modelled cartouche with the royal arms, flanked by painted panels of putti disporting themselves against a balustrade. The entablature was returned on either side of the proscenium to rest on the fluted Corinthian columns flanking the four stacked boxes. Above the entablature rose a flared and elliptically arched soffit, decorated with two rings of square coffers containing flower bosses. Large pendentives with painted panels, linking the proscenium arch with similar arches on either side of the auditorium, framed the saucer-domed ceiling. The parapets of the four circles were richly decorated with scrollwork and other motifs, such as cartouches, and those fronting the first two tiers projected in a series of shallow segmental curves. It is worth noting that the statues of Melpomene and Thalia, salvaged from Wyatt's proscenium and re-used by Beazley in niches above the proscenium boxes, were now relegated to niches flanking the stalls.
A rebuilding even more extensive than that undertaken by Samuel Beazley in 1822 was carried out in 1921–2, when the auditorium was demolished along with the greater part of the original semi-circular walls, to make way for the present interior, designed by J. Emblin Walker, F. Edward Jones and Robert Cromie, with Adrian Collins as consulting engineer. Representing the best standards in theatre practice of its time, the new auditorium is about 80 feet wide and 85 feet deep. The stalls now seat 883 in three blocks divided by a cross aisle into nine front and sixteen back rows. Above the back stalls are three large tiers, constructed on cantilevered steel girders and completely free of obstructing columns. Each has eleven rows of seats, arranged in three blocks, the dress circle seating 413, the grand circle 446, and the upper circle 435. There are also seven boxes containing six seats, and sixteen with four seats (figs. 7, 8).
The auditorium was decorated in the Empire style to accord with Wyatt's suite of entrance foyers (Plate 35b). The rectangular proscenium has a wide moulded frame of imitated lapis lazuli, below a richly modelled tympanum. Between the proscenium and the three circles are canted faces containing, above stalls level, three tiers of boxes arranged in three bays. The middle bay is flanked by columns and the outer bays by pilasters of a composite order, having shafts of imitated lapis lazuli with bronze-gilt capitals and bases. These columns and pilasters stand on tall pedestals and support an entablature which is surmounted by a panelled attic, broken forward above the middle bay and there crowned with a scrolled motif. In the middle bay of the north side is the lofty royal box, below one having a round-arched opening. The stepped parapets of the first-tier boxes are enriched with cartouches and coats of arms, those of the second tier have Flaxmanesque figure-subject panels, and the third-tier boxes have bowed railings of gilt metalwork. A flared semielliptical ceiling links the canted sides and is decorated with a series of octagonal coffers surrounding a large quadrangular panel where a richly framed lozenge contains three circular motifs. From these are suspended three large light-fittings of gilt metalwork and cut glass. Mahogany panelling lines the walls at stalls level, and the side walls of the three circles are handsomely decorated, the first with monochrome panels after Fragonard, the second with marbled pilasters and 'Wedgwood' panels, while the third has a deep band of panels and circular medallions below the entablature which adjoins the flat ceiling. The tableau curtains and box draperies are of Chinese yellow velvet, with Empire motifs in blue. (fn. 82)
The stage now has a total depth of some 80 feet, made possible by demolishing the original scene stores and painting rooms at the back. Its floor rises with a gentle slope for a depth of 45 feet and is furnished with a series of lifts. The back part is level and fixed. On either side is a lighting gallery, a fly-gallery, and a loading gallery below the grid. To the east of the stage, and south of Wyatt's scenery store, has been added at various times a large scenery painting room, a property room, and an electricians' workshop.
Drury Lane is unique among London's theatres in many respects, not least in the works of sculpture and painting distributed through the building, notably in the public approaches to the auditorium. At the north end of the entrance hall is a fine statue in lead of Shakespeare inclining against a pedestal decorated with masks, modelled by John Cheere (d. 1787), given by Samuel Whitbread and originally placed above the entrance portico. Statues on pedestals now occupy the originally empty niches in the lower stage of the rotunda. In the north-west niche is a marble of Michael Balfe, composer (1808–70), by M. Mallempré; in the south-west is a plaster version by George Garrard of Roubiliac's Shakespeare; in the south-east is a marble of Edmund Kean, by J. E. Carew; and in the north-east is a plaster statue of David Garrick. The niches in the upper stage of the rotunda now contain portrait busts on pedestals. The north-west niche has Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1853– 1937), a marble by C. Rebworth; the southwest has Ivor Novello (1893–1951), a bronze by Clemence Dane; the south-east has Ira Aldridge (1804–67), Negro actor, in coloured marbles; and the north-east has Samuel Whitbread, a marble by J. Nollekens. These busts have replaced the four allegorical female statues representing Tragedy, Comedy, Music and Dancing, each holding a symbolic mask and originally bearing a lamp, that now occupy the niches at each end of the saloon. Among the paintings are several fine portraits of famous players, and scenes from well-known plays. The best of these paintings decorate the staircases, the box corridors, and the Green Room.