Surrey Theatre

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Surrey Theatre
Davidge's Royal Surrey
Theatre Royal Circus
Royal Surrey Theatre
Surrey Vaudeville Theatre
Surrey Theatre of Varieties

Royal Circus.jpg

Royal Circus
Address Blackfriars Road, Southwark
Coordinates 51°29′56″N0°06′18″W / 51.499°N 0.105°W / 51.499; -0.105 Coordinates: 51°29′56″N0°06′18″W / 51.499°N 0.105°W / 51.499; -0.105
DesignationDemolished 1934
Capacity 1865 2,161 in four tiers
Current use Site occupied by modern flats
Rebuilt 1800 Rudolphe Carbanel
1806 Rudolphe Carbanel
1865 John Ellis
1904 Kirk and Kirk
Years active 17821924

The Surrey Theatre, London began life in 1782 as the Royal Circus and Equestrian Philharmonic Academy, one of the many circuses that provided contemporary London entertainment of both horsemanship and drama. It stood in Blackfriars Road, near the junction with Westminster Bridge Road, in the London Borough of Southwark.

Blackfriars Road road in Southwark, London

Blackfriars Road is a road in Southwark, SE1. It runs between St George's Circus at the southern end and Blackfriars Bridge over the River Thames at the northern end, leading to the City of London. Halfway up on the west side is Southwark Underground station, on the corner with The Cut. Opposite is Palestra, a large new office building which houses the Surface transport division of Transport for London.

Westminster Bridge Road

Westminster Bridge Road is a road in London, England. It runs on an east–west axis and passes through the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

London Borough of Southwark Borough in United Kingdom

The London Borough of Southwark in South London, England forms part of Inner London and is connected by bridges across the River Thames to the City of London. It was created in 1965 when three smaller council areas amalgamated under the London Government Act 1963. All districts of the area are within the London postal district. It is governed by Southwark London Borough Council.



The Royal Circus was opened on 4 November 1782 by the composer and song writer, Charles Dibdin (who coined the word "circus"), [1] aided by Charles Hughes, a well-known equestrian performer. The entertainments were at first performed by children with the goal of its being a nursery for young actors. Delphini, a celebrated buffo, became manager in 1788 and produced a spectacle including a real stag-hunt. Other animal acts followed, including the popular dog act Gelert and Victor, lecture pieces, pantomimes and local spectacles. The popular comedian John Palmer then managed the theatre until 1789, [2] when he was committed to Horsemonger Lane Gaol as "a rogue and a vagabond". [3]

Charles Dibdin British musician, songwriter, dramatist, novelist and actor

Charles Dibdin was a British composer, musician, dramatist, novelist and actor. With over 600 songs to his name, for many of which he wrote both the lyrics and the music and performed them himself, he was in his time the most prolific English singer-songwriter. He is best known as the composer of "Tom Bowling", one of his many sea songs, which often features at the Last Night of the Proms. He also wrote about 30 dramatic pieces, including the operas The Waterman (1774) and The Quaker (1775), and several novels, memoirs and histories.

Pantomime form of musical comedy stage production, developed in the United Kingdom and mostly performed during Christmas and New Year season

Pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

Horsemonger Lane Gaol was a prison close to present-day Newington Causeway in Southwark, south London. Built at the end of the 18th century, it was in use until 1878.

It continued in use until 1810, although it had a troubled existence, being burnt down in 1799 and again on 12 August 1805. Rebuilt in 1806 by the German architect of the Old Vic, Rudolph Cabanel, it was converted into a theatre by Robert Elliston. He renamed it the Surrey Theatre, being determined to perform Shakespeare and other plays. He reopened on Easter Monday and to avoid trouble with the law, which did not allow dialogue to be spoken without musical accompaniment except at the two patent theatres, he put a ballet into every such production, including Macbeth , Hamlet , and Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem . Contemporary reviewers noted that the Lambeth streets teemed with prostitutes. [4] Elliston left in 1814, and the Surrey became a circus again until Thomas Dibdin reopened it as a theatre in 1816. The arena where the equestrian exercises had been displayed was converted into a large pit for spectators, and the stables became saloons. [2] Fanny Fitzwilliam and Sally Brook starred in melodramas, but the theatre had little success overall. John Baldwin Buckstone made his first London appearance at the theatre, on 30 January 1823, as Ramsay in The Fortunes of Nigel . George Holland also appeared at the theatre, in 1826.

Robert William Elliston British actor

Robert William Elliston was an English actor and theatre manager.

Easter Monday day after Easter Sunday

Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is a holiday in some countries. Easter Monday in the Western Christian liturgical calendar is the second day of Eastertide and analogously in the Byzantine Rite is the second day of Bright Week.

The patent theatres were the theatres that were licensed to perform "spoken drama" after the Restoration of Charles II as King of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1660. Other theatres were prohibited from performing such "serious" drama, but were permitted to show comedy, pantomime or melodrama. Drama was also interspersed with singing or dancing, to prevent the whole being too serious or dramatic.

When Elliston returned in 1827, the theatre's fortunes changed. In 1829, Douglas Jerrold's melodrama Black-Eyed Susan , with T. P. Cooke as William, the nautical hero, ran for over 300 nights, which was extraordinarily successful for the time. Elliston made his last appearance at this theatre on 24 June 1831, twelve days before he died. Osbaldiston then took over and, among other plays, produced Edward Fitzball's Jonathan Bradford; or, the Murder at the Roadside Inn, which ran for 260 nights. Productions of Dickens dramas, among others, followed. Ira Aldridge, the first successful black actor, appeared here in the 1840s. [4] C. Z. Barnett's adaptation, A Christmas Carol; or, The Miser's Warning played in 1844. Richard Shepherd, who succeeded Alfred Bunn in 1848, remained at the theatre until 1869 and established its reputation for 'rough-and-tumble' transpontine melodrama.

Douglas William Jerrold English dramatist and writer

Douglas William Jerrold was an English dramatist and writer.

Black-Eyed Susan; or, All in the Downs is a comic play in three acts by Douglas Jerrold. The story concerns a heroic sailor, William, who has been away from England for three years fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Meanwhile, his wife, Susan, has fallen on hard times and is being harassed by her crooked landlord uncle. A smuggler named Hatchet offers to pay her debts because he wants her for himself; he tries to persuade her that William is dead. Soon after William returns to solve this problem, his drunken, dastardly captain tries to seduce Susan. William, not recognising his captain from behind, strikes him with his cutlass. He is court-martialled for attacking a senior officer and sentenced to be hanged. But it turns out that he had been discharged from the navy before he struck his captain, so all ends well. Much of the humour in the piece centers on the sailor's nautical dialect, combined with his noble character. The play is a nautical melodrama that praises the patriotic British tar (sailor) while critiquing authoritarianism in the British Navy. Aspects of the story were later parodied in H.M.S. Pinafore (1878).

Edward Fitzball British writer

Edward Fitzball was a popular English playwright, who specialised in melodrama. His real surname was Ball, and he was born at Burwell, Cambridgeshire.

On 29 January 1865, during the last scene of the pantomime Richard Coeur de Lion, a fire began above the chandelier. The audience evacuated safely, but before the cast could leave the entire theatre was plunged into darkness, as the gas supervisor cut the gas supply to prevent an explosion. Panic ensued backstage, but the cast were led to safety through the burning scenery by the efforts of Green (acting manager), Rowella (the 'clown'), Evans (the 'pantaloon'), Vivian (the 'sprite') and others. The cast, still in their flimsy stage clothes, were conveyed to their lodgings in a fleet of cabs, provided by the police. In less than ten minutes the interior was ablaze, and the theatre was burnt down shortly after midnight. [5]

Chandelier decorative ceiling-mounted light fixture

A chandelier is a branched ornamental light fixture designed to be mounted on ceilings or walls. Chandeliers are often ornate, and normally use incandescent light bulbs, though some modern designs also use fluorescent lamps and recently LEDs.

A new theatre, designed by John Ellis, seating 2,161 people in four tiers, opened on 26 December 1865. Little of note took place until 1881, when George Conquest took over, staging melodramas, many of them written by himself, and pantomimes. [6]

George Augustus Oliver Conquest was a playwright, theatrical manager, acrobat and pantomimist described as "the most stunning actor-acrobat of his time".

The Surrey flourished until his death in 1901. [7] The theatre was remodelled by Kirk and Kirk, as a music hall, but did not prosper, becoming a cinema in 1920. It finally closed in 1924, and the building was demolished in 1934. The site is now occupied by modern flats.


  1. Mr Philip Astley’s Introduction to The First Circus in England (PeoplePlay UK) accessed 18 Mar 2007
  2. 1 2 Walford, pp. 368-83
  3. The Royal Circus and Surrey Theatre (Arthur Lloyd theatre history), accessed 10 July 2008
  4. 1 2 The Railway Age Museum of Garden History (Lambeth Local History) Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine . accessed 18 Mar 2007
  5. "The Surrey Theatre: Its total destruction by fire", London News, The New York Times , 30 January 1865, accessed 10 July 2008.
  6. "Conquest family" in Jonathan Law (Ed.) (2011). The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre. London: Bloomsbury. p. 124. ISBN   978-1-4081-3148-0.
  7. The Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph , 15 May 1901, p. 3. British Newspaper Archive. Retrieved 12 September 2015. (subscription required)

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