Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Theatre Royal, Hull

Recently, we finished cataloguing work on over 3000 programmes relating to The Theatre Royal in the period 1770-1872. They will soon be available to search on our online catalogue so, to celebrate, this blog looks at the history of the Theatre Royal.

Engraving of the Theatre Royal, Humber Street, by J. Greenwood, 1810 [Lp.792 ROY(2)/1]

The Theatre Royal was opened on Finkle Street in 1769 by an independent stage company owned by Thomas Keregan. The then manager of the company, Tate Wilkinson, oversaw the building of the theatre. The seasons lasted from Oct-Jan and were the second longest of the circuit. The original building was rather inadequate. The street was too narrow and the stage too shallow for the elaborate melodramas so it was replaced in 1810 by another building (pictured), designed by Charles Mountain, the younger, on Humber Street. John Wilkinson, Tate's son was the manager during the period 1803-1814. The Humber Street building's auditorium consisted of a pit, two galleries and two tiers of dress boxes, which could hold some 1700 people, and the upper gallery ran around the whole house. In Oct 1859 the theatre suffered a huge fire leaving it derelict until it was rebuilt in 1865 (Pictured). Another fire ripped through and totally destroy it in 1869 after a performance of Robinson Crusoe.

The New Theatre Royal, Humber Street, 1865 [Lp.792 Roy(3)/1]

The site of Queen’s Theatre, Paragon Street became the Theatre Royal's home from 1871-1909 housing 1500 people. It was a small stuccoed structure of the same design as the Globe, London which contained a pit, a dress circle, and six boxes on the first floor, and upper boxes and a gallery on the second. The stage was 40ft deep and 60ft wide, and the ceiling was domed. The Theatre Royal ceased all activity in Feb 1909 when the Paragon Street building eventually closed. It reopened as the Tivoli Music Hall on 5 Aug 1912. The Tivoli survived bomb damage during the Second World War, but closed for live stage shows in 1954.

The Theatre Royal, Paragon Street, 1882 [Lp.792 ROY(4)/1]

The Theatre Royal programmes have been catalogued to include the date/dates and title of the performance as well as the names of the actors. Seasons lasted from October to January and were the second longest of the circuit. In the early days of the theatre a summer season was avoided for fear that potential audiences would have other priorities. Seafarers, for example, would be working abroad during the summer months and families of theatre goers would more than likely be spending their summers elsewhere.

Actors were found locally where possible because of the costs involved in getting stars from London to perform. Sarah Siddons (arguably the most renowned tragic actress of 18th century Britain) appeared for a week in 1786 but the cost of promoting her season was crippling for the theatre and ate in to any possible profits.

Pictured here is a programme for a production of Othello on Mon 12 Nov 1770. Mr Davis from the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden played the part of Othello and tickets cost theatregoers up to 2s 6d depending on where they chose to sit.

Programme for a performance of Othello, 12 Nov 1770 [L DTTR/1/1/2]
If you are interested in viewing these records please do come in and request the originals in our search room.

Elspeth, Archivist/Librarian, and Jane, Reader Assistant

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