ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (HOXTON & SHOREDITCH)
[Alhambra] [Britannia] [City of London] [Curtain] [Hoxton Cinema] [Hoxton Hall] [National Standard] [Shoreditch Empire] [The Theatre] [Variety]
Between Hewitt Street and Holywell Lane on the right (now NSPCC) would have been the Curtain Theatre constructed in 1577 just beyond the city precincts. This was built by James Burbage following the success of the Theatre (see below). Disused by 1625 it was destroyed in the Great Fire.
At numbers 86-90 (Foxtons) are plaques recording the Theatre built by James Burbage in 1576 on the site of the 12th century Holywell Priory. This building, associated with Shakespeare, was the first permanent theatre in Britain. It was built in response to the Lord Mayor prohibition of the performance of plays within the City walls. The polygonal structure was dismantled and taken across to Southwark to be rebuilt as the Globe in 1599.
VARIETY 18-20 Pitfield Street
Following the success of the Britannia (see below) the entrepreneur Verral Nunn built the Varieties Theatre, designed by CJ Phipps, in 1869. The auditorium held 292 in the pit, 220 in the boxes and 328 in the grand circle. This venture quickly failed and it was sold to George Harwood, under whom it became a 'Penny Gaff' with comedy, short sketches and songs. It also staged new plays and specialised in social realist drama. It became a cinema and was last used in 1967. The site was redeveloped in 1994.
CINEMA 55 Pitfield
This opened in 1914 with a capacity of 866. It closed in 1956 but was purchased (in 2004) by the Shoreditch Trust who plan to restore it retaining the original facade but providing four screens and a cafe. A timber-clad extension above will provide office space (Waugh Thistleton Architects).
THEATRE 115-117 Hoxton
The Britannia Tavern with a large attached hall had been built on the site of an Elizabethan tavern and gardens (the Pimlico). Sam Lane purchased the premises and opened it in 1841 as 'The Royal Britannia Saloon & Britannia Tavern'. To circumvent legal restrictions performances were 'free' with a charge for programmes, food and drink. He obtained a licence in 1843 with the support of local inhabitants. By 1858 Lane had bought a number of adjoining properties and the theatre was rebuilt to seat 3200 at a cost of some £20000. The design, by Finch Hill & Paraire included stage machinery, gas lighting and excellent sightlines. Charles Dickens visited and was impressed with its magnificent interior and the ease with which all classes of society mixed. It was famous for its Christmas pantomimes which ran until Easter and in which Sara appeared as 'principal boy'. Shockers such as 'Sweeney Todd' and 'The Murder in the Red Barn' were popular. Beside its own theatre company many noted performers appeared. An annual benefit night was held called the 'Britannia Festival' where vast quantities of food and drink were served and presents were thrown at members of the company on stage! Sam died in 1871 and his widow appointed a succession of managers, including her nephew. Sara, who was known as 'The Queen of Hoxton', made her last appearance in 1898 and died the following year. By 1900 the LCC introduced higher safety standards in theatres and the lease was sold. During WWI it showed films and it became a Gaumont cinema after the war. It was destroyed in WWII bombing and there is a plaque on the flats which replaced it. [Britannia Theatre article]
HALL 128a Hoxton Street
Hoxton Hall was opened in 1863 by James Mortimer to provide a centre of entertainment and instruction for the working classes. It was unusual in being a purpose-built music hall which did not have its origins in a pre-existing pub. The pilastered hall had fireplaces on either side and an end balcony on wooden columns, facing an open platform stage. The first show included a performing Russian cat, an account of British battles from Hastings to Inkerman and pictures of the Prince of Wales touring the east. In 1867 it took on the name of its proprietor, James McDonald and was enlarged by extending the balcony along the sides and raising the hall height. It closed between 1872 and 1878 and was then purchased by the Blue Ribbon Army (a temperance organisation). In 1893 it was sold to W Palmer, a wealthy Quaker biscuit manufacturer and used as a neighbourhood centre, extended in 1909-11. The British Music Hall Society held their first exhibitions and entertainments there is 1963/4. It was restored in 1976-82 when the present facade was created. Prior to this there had only been a narrow passageway entrance. The Wilks Place elevation with 'Hoxton Hall' and Mortimer's monogram was originally one storey lower. It now serves as an arts centre and community theatre.
EMPIRE 95-99 Shoreditch
This was built in 1856 and later reconstructed by Frank Matcham in 1894 with a capacity of 2332. It was demolished in 1935 and has been replaced with a hotel.
STANDARD 204 Shoreditch
This was built in 1837 with a horseshoe auditorium seating 3400. In 1845 it was sold to John Douglass and put on pantomimes to rival Drury Lane. Douglass even claimed that the west end venue copied his ideas. For many years it held an annual season of opera. It was destroyed by fire in 1867 but rebuilt with a convertable stage which could be turned into a horse ring. For many years it was under the management of the Melvilles who wrote and produced many successful melodramas. By 1926 in was in use as a cinema called the New Olympia Picturedrome. The building was demolished in 1940.
ALHAMBRA 211 Shoreditch High Street
This was re-opened in 1864 by its proprietor Mr Fort and the interior was described as having an 'exceedingly pretty and unique appearance'. The company included a sentimental vocalist, clog dancers, trained dogs, violinists and Herr Shentini 'distinguished by his performance of a gorilla'.
LONDON 35 & 36
This theatre was built by architect Samuel Beazley in 1835 and seated 2500. It specialized in domestic and temperance melodrama and staged adaptations of The Pickwick Papers (1837) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838). It was destroyed by fire in 1871 but reopened as The Great Central Hall, a temperance hall. It was part of a site between Primrose Street and Worship Street which is being redeveloped.
For more information on Shakespeare's connections with the area have a look at the Hidden London website
The Theatres Trust maintains a database of theatres [website]
The following hold theatrical
material if you are interested in further research.
Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin's Street, WC2H 7HP. Tel: 020 7641 4636. Open Mon - Fri 10-8 & Sat 10-5. [website]
Westminster Archives [more info] [website]
Bishopsgate Library [more info][website]
London Metropolitan Archives [more info] [website]
The collections of the Theatre Museum are now held by the V&A. [website]
© london-footprints.co.uk 2007
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