Printer Friendly

A theatre for all seasons: the Queen's Theatre, Hull, 1846-1869.

Many years ago I undertook to give a conference paper, subsequently published (1), on the Hull Theatre Royal--a patent theatre on the York circuit, built in 1769--charting its development over the course of the nineteenth century via the large collection of contemporaneous playbills we had assembled in the Drama Department (now deposited in the university's Brynmor Jones Library). During my research I occasionally came across allusions to a rival Hull theatre, a former circus arena now calling itself the Queen's, which the patent house evidently regarded as a troublesome upstart and whose progress it made intermittent efforts to obstruct. I found myself increasingly intrigued by this parvenu establishment, and resolved one day to make time to look closely at its brief, highly chequered career--all the more closely for its never having received serious attention before. (The sole related study, Evolution of the Drama in Hull and District, published locally in 1927 by Thomas Sheppard, then director of the municipal museums, devotes only a few chatty pages to the subject, offering little sustenance to the theatrical historian.) Ample spare time came with my retirement, and I was able recently to spend many happy days on a systematic dissection of our playbill holdings and of parallel collections at the city's local studies library and the archive at Wilberforce House, upwards of a thousand Queen's bills in all. Taken together, and with further publicity material culled from microfilmed newspapers of the time, (2) they provide a singularly complete record of the theatre's activities under its various guises and sundry managers, one that strikes me as not only appealing to parochial interest but as shedding additional light on the state of provincial theatre in Britain during a period of critical change.

What was to become best known as the Queen's Theatre was built in Paragon Street, Hull, in the course of 1846, and it is listed in the 1851 General Directory of Hull and York, nestling cheek by jowl with the rival attractions of four hostelries, a Temperance Hall, a chapel, a hotel and the recently completed North-Eastern Railway station. Its progenitor and first proprietor was a local tradesman by the name of Stephen Kirkwood, who is duly accorded a benefit performance shortly after its opening--'in consideration of Mr S. Kirkwood's immense outlay in raising so magnificent a structure, and affording to the Public and his fellow-townsmen an opportunity of enjoying a cheap and intellectual amusement, not paralleled by any in the kingdom'. (1) He is described in directories of the time simply as a 'timber and raff merchant', though he must have been regarded as a burgher of note, for when in November 1848 a special performance was dedicated to the benefit of his widow, it was given under the patronage of the mayor of Hull, and at a benefit performance in the previous March he had been honoured, somewhat enigmatically, for 'his services in catering for public amusements for a series of Forty-five years'. (4) He is known to have had a hand in the building of an earlier circus arena called the Adelphi, which opened in 1827, but the wording of this testimonial would seem to suggest a history of munificence extending to more than one enterprise. Whatever its precise meaning, Kirkwood obviously knew enough about theatrical affairs to realize that in the immediate wake of the Theatre Regulation Act of 1843 the time was ripe for further investment, and that there was scope for an extra place of entertainment in his home town. He was also canny enough to situate it at the western end of the town, as far away as possible from the Theatre Royal, the long-established home of the drama in Humber Street, and in an area towards which the community's centre of gravity, commercially and recreationally, would inexorably be drawn by its proximity to the newfangled railway.

No playbill is extant for the inaugural performance, but I have found a puff for it in the columns of the Hull Advertiser for 9 October 1846:
New Amphitheatre, Paragon-Street, Hull.

 Mr Cooke most respectfully announces that the above splendid
 Building WILL OPEN ON MONDAY, OCTOBER 12th, 1846, With his EXTENSIVE
 and TALENTED DOUBLE COMPANY of EQUESTRIAN and THEATRICAL PERFORMERS,
 aided by his beautiful and well-trained STUD of HORSES. The
 Performance will commence with an entirely new MILITARY SPECTACLE,
 expressly arranged for the unlimited resources of this Theatre--and
 duly Licensed by the Lord High Chamberlain--with GRAND SCENERY,
 DRESSES, and every requisite PARAPHERNALIA--the whole under the sole
 direction of Mr T. THOMPSON, entitled THE WARS OF THE PUNJAUB, OR,
 THE BATTLES OF SOBRAON AND MOODKEE. After which, Scenes of skilful
 Riding and MARVELLOUS ARENIC EXPLOITS in the Circle, by Artists of
 celebrity. To conclude with the popular Farce of THE WEAVER OF
 LYONS. Doors will open at Six o'Clock, and Performances will begin
 precisely at Seven. Front Boxes, 2s.6d.; Side Boxes, 1s.6d.; Pit,
 1s.; Gallery, 6d.; Second Price at Nine o'Clock--Front Boxes,
 1s.6d.; Side Boxes, 1s.; Pit, 6d; no Second Price in the Gallery.
 Smoking is strictly forbidden in the Amphitheatre, and Children in
 Arms not admitted.


The Mr Cooke in question was William Cooke, scion of perhaps the most famous and certainly the most numerous of circus families, whose company also boasted his younger brother George, his sister Louisa (better known as Mrs Woolford, Ducrow's favourite partner), one Mr Cooke junior who was available at the theatre every day to give lessons to the general public in the 'Art of Riding', and, carrying the family traditions still further, the 'Petite Equestrians, Miss Woolford and Master James Cooke'. Among the various changes of programme they offered were 'Monk' Lewis's Timour the Tartar, Cavaliers and their Dames, an 'Equestrian Comic Christmas Pantomime', and billed as the 'Most Attractive Night of the Season', J. H. Amherst's The Battle of Waterloo. Setting a pattern that all subsequent managements were to observe just as assiduously, one performance was allocated for the benefit of 'the Poor of Hull' and another to assist that characteristically nineteenth-century phenomenon, the friendly society, on this occasion the 'Ancient Order of Foresters' Widows' and Orphans' Fund', featuring in the course of the evening 'an Address on Forestry (in full Regalia), by Brother Stephens'. At the same time, good public relations were cemented by performances known as 'Bespeak Nights', held with increasing frequency under the patronage of such dignitaries as the mayor, the commanding officer of Hull garrison, the captains of ships in port, the presiding commodores of the annual Hull regatta and even the local aristocracy, in the persons of Sir Clifford and Lady Constable of Burton Constable Hall.

Cooke's tenancy was for a thirteen-week season only, terminating in January 1847, because although his performances were licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, the building itself was still subject to any sanctions that the Hull magistrates chose to impose. And their persistent choice was to grant its lessees only temporary licences--perhaps to discourage potential competition with the patent house or else to protect their fellow citizens against enjoying with their bread more circuses than were good for them. The Amphitheatre's next lessee, for sixteen weeks from March 1847, introduced himself in the press even more grandiloquently:
 MONSIEUR TOURNIAIRE, Riding-Master to the King of the French, and to
 his Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Russia, most respectfully
 announces to the Nobility, Gentry and Inhabitants of Hull and its
 Vicinity, that he intends OPENING the above AMPHITHEATRE, with his
 highly-talented and unrivalled COMPANY of EQUESTRIAN, ANTIPODEAN,
 GYMNASTIC and ACROBATIC PROFESSORS [...] (5)


and he proceeded to present a programme very akin to Cooke's, though with rather more dramatic flourishes, including a number of 'Ballets d'Action' and several melodramas performed on the stage adjacent to the ring. In the circle itself, the season's fare was such as one might expect, purveying inter alia, Timour the Tartar, The Battle of Austerlitz, The Tiger Horseman of the Ganges and his Faithful Steed, Napoleon Bonaparte; or, The Hundred Days, and The Royal Fox Hunt, incorporating 'at enormous expense, a Pack of Real Hounds and a Living Fox'. He then attempted to trump even that by offering Mons. Pablo Fanque 'each Evening [...] in his admired Performance on THE TIGHT ROPE', plus a balloon ascent from the front of the theatre.

But now there occurred a complete change of direction. Hard on the heels, or hooves, of the circus, for one night only, came the touring actress-singer Mrs Fitzwilliam to appear in some of her choice, distinctly unhorsy roles, and she did so in a distinctly non-equestrian setting. Such was the speed and no doubt inexpensiveness of the Victorian workforce that between the removal of the last pile of equine dung late on Wednesday night, July 7th, and the first bars of the overture on the evening of Friday July 9th the whole aspect of the auditorium had been transformed: as the advance press notice tells us, there would be 'a New Orchestra; the Circle covered; and the extensive Area will form an immense and commodious Pit' (6)--which brings me to the question of just how 'immense and commodious' the whole building was. That its size was unusual is implicit in many incidental observations over the years: a playbill of 2 September 1848 says that it had 'the Largest Stage in England', an immoderate assertion that was tempered a month later to 'the Largest out of London', while a press notice of 1849 talks about 'a magnificent Arena, the most capacious out of London'. (7) When, in June 1850, the whole of the stage was thrown open for the scene of the masked ball in Planche's Gustavus III, it was said to form 'one of the most spacious Ball Rooms in the Kingdom', and spectators in the boxes were advised that they would be 'admitted on the Stage to the Masquerade' and 'accommodated with Masks and Dominoes' by the management. (8) But publicity-speak of this kind doesn't help to establish precise dimensions. I would like to believe those quoted in an amusing bill of 12 November 1852, announcing a benefit performance for a stage carpenter who rejoiced implausibly in the name of William Shakspere and was due to make a striking appearance in his own benefit: 'The Flight of Mercury By Mr Wm Shakspere from the Gallery to the Back of the Stage, being a Height of 60 Feet, and 300 Feet in Length, passing over the Spectators at the rate of 20 Miles an Hour, amidst a Splendid Display of Fireworks'; but this exercise in wishful thinking is cruelly exposed by the Ordnance Survey map of 1856 [See Plate 1]. This shows the site occupied by the theatre to have measured a little over 200 ft in length, with a maximum width of about 70 ft at the back of the stage tapering to 45 ft at the rear end of the auditorium. Even so, dimensions of this order would have been adequate to accommodate a perfectly respectable circus ring, and, where the stage is concerned, would lend some credibility to an undated bill of October 1848, which declares that 'a New Nautical and Grand Fairy Spectacle, entitled The Ice Witch; or, The Frozen Hand, (9) will introduce 'a Splendid Ship, built expressly for this Theatre by a Tradesman of Hull, Fifty Feet Long, Fully Rigged and Manned, which will go through a variety of Nautical Evolutions', and promises that the stage will be 'Entirely Thrown Open for the occasion,--Forming An Immense Sea, Containing 5000 Feet of Canvass! [sic]'. Consistent with such measurements are those recorded in a brief memoir of playgoing at the Queen's during the 1850s which appeared in the Hull Times under the by-line of a Mr J. Suddaby, (10) who recalls that the theatre had a frontage of 206 ft on Paragon Street and one of 70 ft on South Street, backing a stage that extended across the entire width of the building to a depth of 90 ft; he adds that the overall height was 50 ft.

[ILLUSTRATION 1 OMITTED]

The 1856 map also reveals that the Queen's covered a greater square-footage than the Theatre Royal and could house a commensurately larger auditorium, though this affords only the roughest of guides to audience capacity, which in any case would have been flexible in a period when the highest concentrations of seating, in gallery and pit, consisted of benches rather than individual seats. A partial, if not necessarily reliable, clue is provided by a playbill of 1852 advertising one of many engagements at the Queen's of an equestrian performer named James Harwood and his mare Black Bess, this time in a piece entitled The Flying Steed; or, The Merchant's Horse of Syracuse. By way of underlining its success, the bill for Wednesday 8 September claimed that '1800 have visited the Gallery and 1600 have visited the Pit, to witness the Performances on Monday and Tuesday Evenings'. Inferences may be drawn also from William Cooke's report to the public that the first benefit performance mounted for Mr Kirkwood in October 1846 had met with a 'hearty response [...], there being 97 [pounds sterling] 10s. in the house on that occasion' (11), a figure which, given the pricing of the vast majority of seats at a shilling or less, suggests a capacity of at least 2,000 in the auditorium's original configuration. This estimate is supported by an undated bill of 1852, for the engagement in December of Madame Warton and her troupe of acrobats and 'poses plastiques', which proclaims in bold print: 'Crowded Houses. 4000 Persons have Visited this Theatre in Two Nights'. For his part, Mr Suddaby maintains, without giving any source, that the theatre was 'calculated to seat or accommodate 3,000 people' (12)--a nice verbal distinction implying alternative possibilities. One last fragment of documentary evidence takes the form of a contemporary photograph [Plate 2], seemingly destroyed, along with a surviving magistrates' licence, in the 1943 blitz that gutted Hull's municipal museum, but fortunately reproduced in Sheppard's book. Taken in the late 1860s shortly before the Queen's was pulled down, it gives some idea of its external appearance as well as its impressive bulk.

[ILLUSTRATION 2 OMITTED]

But to return to my narrative: the visit by the popular Mrs Fitzwilliam was in fact the prelude to a new season that began on the Monday following, with a full company of actors and a new management which evidently had plans for the future that went well beyond simple hippodrama. By describing himself in his first press advertisement on 16 July 1847 as 'late lessee of the Liverpool and Manchester Theatres', Mr Egerton was signalling the advent of not merely a newcomer but also a new broom. And it is during his lease of the Queen's that a strategy begins to emerge that will go on to underlie the policy of most of his successors, the most conspicuous feature of which is the engagement for a week or more of leading actors and actresses of the day during their regular stints of touring the provincial circuits, who simply appear in their accredited starring roles assisted by members of his stock company. Thus, after two initial weeks of standard melodramas leavened with farces and a well-known pair of dog-handlers, Messrs Cony and Blanchard, 'with their Sagacious Dog', he proudly announced the engagement 'for a Few Nights only'--though in fact he stayed for two weeks--of the 'celebrated Tragedian' Mr Gustavus V. Brooke (13) , then an actor of considerable promise, rapidly undermined by a fondness for the bottle. He opened on Monday 26 July as Macbeth, appeared on Tuesday in a comedy called The Bride of Lammermuir, and as early as Wednesday demonstrated the second feature of this managerial strategy, namely to challenge the prerogative of legitimacy hitherto enjoyed solely by the Theatre Royal: that evening Brooke played Othello in direct competition with Thomas C. King as Hamlet at the Royal. In his second week Brooke went on to star in Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Jerrold's Black-Eyed Susan, and the playbill for that week illustrates what can only have been yet another managerial manoeuvre: 'ALTERATION OF TIME OF COMMENCEMENT. After this Week the doors will be opened at Half-past Six, and the Curtain will rise precisely at Seven o'Clock. Half-price at a Quarter before nine [...]'. At a stroke Mr Egerton steals a march on his rival both in terms of the hour of curtain-up and the timing of half-price, doubtless in the hope of stealing some of his audience too, and Mr Pritchard at the patent house is sufficiently bothered to retaliate a week later: 'REDUCTION IN PRICES. Mr Pritchard has the gratification to announce that, in compliance with the general feeling so long expressed by the Public at large, he has succeeded in arranging with the Trustees for a REDUCTION in the PRICES OF ADMISSION to the Theatre-Royal, Humber-Street, Hull, which Reduction has taken place' (14)--the immediate effect of which was to bring his prices almost exactly in line with Egerton's. Clearly, battle had been joined between the two establishments, and so it would continue, the next offensive occurring in September, when the lessee of the Amphitheatre changed its name overnight to the Queen's, thereby overtly pitting it against the Royal and associating his regime with an image of youthful monarchy, in much the same way as Marie Wilton was to do some seventeen years later by renaming her theatre the Prince of Wales's.

The reaction of the local press was muted, but not unfavourable. One reviewer commented:
 QUEEN'S THEATRE.--Such is the name by which Mr Egerton, the lessee
 of the Amphitheatre, has chosen to designate it during the past
 week. Perhaps this gentleman wishes to feel that the establishment
 under his management in Hull is in no respect dissimilar to those
 of which he was the lessee in Manchester and Liverpool;


and he added a few weeks later:
 The spirit displayed by Mr Egerton in engaging a continued
 succession of 'stars' has proved the right way to secure the
 patronage of the Hull public, of which fact he [...] has
 doubtless ere this become convinced, as well by the
 flourishing state of the treasury, as by the applause nightly
 bestowed upon the pieces produced. (15)


Those pieces comprised a heterogeneous assortment of contemporary dramas, melodramas and comedies, with adaptations from Scott and Dumas, romantic spectacles, a limited range of Shakespeare's plays, and numerous farces, extravaganzas, burlettas and interludes, all adroitly permutated to form a multiple bill of normally three plays per evening, interlarded with comic songs, ballets or 'terpsichorean melanges', and a host of solo dances, from the highland fling, the sailor's hornpipe, the burlesque polka and the pas grotesque to the unimaginable 'pas mahometan', plus novelty items like Mons. Gregoire, the 'celebrated French Hercules', and the 'Spider Velocipede: A Self-acting Carriage', demonstrated by its inventor. To whet public curiosity there was also a sprinkling of plays of ostensible local interest, with specially painted local scenery and titles like The Factory Girl of Hull ('written by a Gentleman of Hull'), Grace Darling; or, The Wreck of the Forfarshire Steamer of Hull, and the regularly repeated farce Did You Ever Send Your Wife to Paull? (or, as a variant, to Barton?, or as still another, to Cottingham?). That local patronage was seen to be a potent factor in securing an influential audience and raising the tone of his theatre is indicated by Egerton's announcement in November 1847 that
 Owing to the highly distinguished Patronage conferred upon the
 Queen's Theatre, especially by the Bespeaks with which the
 Establishment has been honoured by the principal Personages in
 the Town, all future occasions of this description will be
 considered as DRESS NIGHTS, when it is hoped that the Visitors
 to the Lower Boxes will appear in Full Evening Dress--the
 Saloons attached to the same having been elegantly fitted up,
 and female attendants appointed. (16)


Touring stars continued to appear, and doubtless to twinkle, throughout Egerton's period of management of little more than a year: among them Mrs Fitzwilliam again, this time in company with J.B. Buckstone, Gustavus Brooke twice, John Vandenhoff with his daughter, the Afro-American actor Ira Aldridge, billed as the African Roscius, who must have disconcerted not a few Hullovians with their first sight of an unblacked-up Othello, and the oft reengaged Charles Dillon and his wife, no strangers to the provincial circuits. In fact, it was Dillon (another actor eventually ravaged by the demon drink) who was to take up the reins of management in August 1848 on account of what was described in the press as the 'severe indisposition' of Mr Egerton and held on to them after his reported recovery, relegating the latter to the bottom of the bill as mere titular lessee. But Egerton's greatest coup, without doubt, was to snatch from under the imperious nose of the Theatre Royal the internationally renowned diva, Jenny Lind. The Royal had announced her as one of its forthcoming attractions as early as July 1847, but she may have received a better offer from the Queen's, for it was there on the evening of September 10th that the 'Swedish Nightingale' alighted, along with a clutch of other eminent singers and the operatic composer Michael Balfe at the grand pianoforte, prompting a gigantic hike in seat prices and the promulgation of strict traffic regulations:
 N.B.--CARRIAGES must proceed from WATERWORKS-STREET and
 CHARIOT-STREET, and SET DOWN with the Horses' Heads towards
 THE NEW RAILWAY STATION, departing round the THEATRE into
 CARR-LANE; and, in TAKING UP, CARRIAGES must observe the same
 Order, and form a Single Line. No Double Line will be allowed. (17)


Plainly, double parking is not an exclusively modern pursuit!

With a successful first season behind him, followed by a three-month closure, Egerton obviously felt confident enough to invest in some substantial alterations to the building before he reopened it in March 1848--modifications that reveal his upwardly mobile aims no less than his determined subordination of the equestrian to the dramatic. He gave notice of his plans in an undated playbill [Plate 3], issued in advance of the opening night: one may note in particular the construction of a new proscenium arch, complete with 'state boxes' to humour the vanity of his more affluent or patrician spectators, the decisive forward extension of the stage to improve sightlines and vocal acoustics, and the removal of every last vestige of the tell-tale circus ring. Thereafter the performing horse, quite a rare indulgence of his beforehand, seems to have been totally banned from Egerton's prospectus.

[ILLUSTRATION 3 OMITTED]

The eventful 1848 season, complicated by the manager's protracted illness and Dillon's assumption of control while also fulfilling engagements elsewhere, finally came to an end on 5 December, and the Queen's again remained dark for three months before reopening in March 1849 with a new lessee, John Caple, who seems to have been just as intent as his predecessor on convincing the Hull audience that their erstwhile common-or-garden hippodrome had now blossomed into a civilized and tastefully appointed playhouse. He began the process by zealously refurbishing the auditorium, his very first bill, dated 19 March, extolling the beauties of this costly makeover. 'The Interior of the Theatre', it declares, 'has been [entirely?] Painted, Gilded and Re-decorated [...], And the Enciente [sic] presents a Coup D'oeil of unprecedented magnificence'. It goes on to detail the handsome gilt mouldings and relievos of the proscenium arch, the remodelling of the boxes, the 'Elliptic Arches springing from each Column', the stucco garlands, putti and other baroque ornaments embellishing both the 'Grand' and second tiers and even the gallery facade, the historical motif of the new act drop, and it culminates more practically by pointing to the 'Extra Doors [...] on the Staircases of the Box-Entrance and Pit-Saloons, conducing greatly to the Comfort of the Audience and entirely excluding all noise and draughts of cold air'. For good measure, it quotes a letter from the then hugely popular conductor and musical impresario, Louis Jullien, attesting to the theatre's excellent vocal and instrumental acoustics.

The renovation did not, however, extend to Caple's repertoire, which retains the same mix of genres as before, with the signal difference that the lessee himself appears in a leading role in most of it. He evidently saw himself as much more the actor-manager than Egerton, who as far as I can tell never once trod his own boards, whether from age or infirmity I know not. John Caple also seems to have envisaged a lengthy stay, one of his earliest steps being to apply to Hull magistrates for a twelvemonth licence which they declined to grant. Printed with his press advertisement of 30 March is a paragraph headed 'Text of memorial to Mr Caple', followed by the names of numerous signatories, which reads:
 We, the undersigned Tradesmen and Inhabitants of Hull, being
 desirous of testifying our entire approbation of your judgment
 as Manager of the Queen's Theatre, in having produced the
 Legitimate Drama in a superior style to what has hitherto been
 represented in Hull, and being also anxious to express to you
 our sympathy for the great disappointment consequent on the
 refusal, by the Magistrates, of your Licence for an entire
 year, request that you will accept at our hands a complimentary
 Bespeak for next WEDNESDAY Night, the Fourth Day of April,
 when we anticipate the pleasure of attending your
 Establishment. (18)


That he had a managerial eye to the main chance is also evident from his clever intimation, without offering a shred of proof, of royal patronage. Two weeks later, when the Prince Consort was scheduled to be visiting north Lincolnshire and laying a foundation stone at Grimsby docks, Caple announced in the press that
 [...] in addition to other splendid Novelties, he has received
 the distinguished honour from Windsor Castle, to devote an
 Evening's Entertainment on WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEXT, UNDER THE
 ESPECIAL PATRONAGE OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS FIELD-MARSHAL PRINCE
 ALBERT, K.G., on the occasion of his VISIT to BROCKLESBY,
 when the Entertainments selected for this Night will embody a
 splendid NATIONAL ROYAL FETE in obedience to the HIGH COMPLIMENT
 bestowed on this, the first Theatre in the Provinces. (19)


The bill for that occasion [Plate 4] has Caple appearing as Charles Surface in The School for Scandal, followed by the fete: 'After which will be presented, for the First Time, a Grand, Appropriate, Allegorical, Loyal Pageant, in Honour of Her Most Gracious Majesty QUEEN VICTORIA and His Royal Highness PRINCE ALBERT, embodying the whole of the Company and numerous Auxiliaries, entitled, ENGLAND'S GLORY & ENGLAND'S PRIDE'. This incident must have strained relations between the two theatrical camps to the limit, if not beyond, and Caple exacerbated them further when the Queen's included in its press publicity for the following week what can only be described oxymoronically as a triumphant apology:
 Mr CAPLE takes this opportunity of expressing his regret to those
 Parties who could not obtain Seats on the Night of PRINCE ALBERT'S
 BESPEAK, but he begs to state that it was occasioned not by any
 neglect, but by the overflow of the House. (20)


[ILLUSTRATION 4 OMITTED]

Towards the end of May he cocks another snook at the Theatre Royal's traditional privileges by interrupting his dramatic season to present an ensemble of visiting operatic singers in a two-week season of current 'hits', among them Bellini's La Sonnambula, Balfe's The Bohemian Girl and Wallace's Maritana. He then compounds his impudence in July by engaging an entire Italian Opera Company from Her Majesty's Theatre, London, for two performances of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the second of them 'for the benefit of the Distressed Working Classes', while on the occasion of more opera at the end of August he makes the first reference I have come across to 'Special trains for Beverley and Cottingham to start at 11 o'clock, immediately after the Opera. First Class only--usual fare' (21)--an enterprising innovation, with Paragon Station only two minutes' walk away, and one that was to become more common, the service spreading quickly to other parts of the East Riding, even across the Humber through a connecting ferry from Hull pier.

It constitutes something of a surprise, therefore, to discover that the building's link with a more rollicking past had not yet been completely severed, for back came William Cooke at a brisk gallop to bisect this succession of operatic performances and present four 'Grand Equestrian Fetes' in two days, the highlight being a re-run of scenes from The Battle of Waterloo. One of these performances was given under the joint patronage of Hull Cricket Club and the All-England XI, who were then engaged in a battle of their own at the cricket ground on Anlaby Road, and Cooke contrived to publicize both events at once by making this ground the starting-point for a 'Grand Cavalcade and Entry into Hull [...] in which Mr Cooke will drive Sixteen Horses in Hand [...] by the Anlaby-Road at Eleven o'Clock'. (22)

For this special engagement, the construction that Mr Egerton had jettisoned as surplus to requirements little more than a year earlier needed to be quickly resurrected, and its reappearance in the middle of a dramatic season was turned to account as a peg for extra press publicity:
 A New and Magnificent ARENA has been expressly Constructed
 and magnificently Decorated with the Life of the Horse, and Scenes
 from Lord Byron's Mazeppa by Mr Dalby. (23)


However magnificent, this ring was supplanted by more stage plays in the ensuing week, and the remainder of Caple's season alternated between drama and opera, though not for long: the expiry of his licence in October brought with it another delivery of sawdust and a six-week resurgence of all-out circus, provided by no less a troupe than that of William Batty from Astley's Amphitheatre. His self-styled 'first Hippo-dramatic Company in the Universe' advertised, among diverse productions 'blending Stage and Ring' (24), Mooltan and Goojerrat; or, The Conquest of the Sikhs, 'founded on recent events in India', the equestrian version of George Colman the Younger's Blue Beard, The Affghanistan War [sic], H.M. Milner's Mazeppa, an adaptation of Byron's narrative poem The Bride of Abydos and finally yet another re-enactment of The Battle of Waterloo, this time reinforced with a detachment of real soldiers from the garrison. Henceforward, circus performances were to form a recurrent feature of the repertoire at the Queen's for the remaining twenty years of its existence; indeed, a five-week run of them was advertised as late as March/April 1869, immediately before the theatre closed its doors for the last time. But the expanse occupied by the circus ring was made to serve a dual purpose, and one has to admire the ingenuity, not to mention the labour-intensiveness, required to enable the same area of floor-space to function equally well as a stamping ground for horses or an enclave of rather superior accommodation for spectators watching performances on the stage. In the latter mode, it became a discrete block of individual seats, numbered and reservable in advance like those in the boxes, and in common with the first tier of boxes (soon to be rechristened the dress circle) they quickly changed their name from pit stalls to dress stalls. Mr Suddaby remembers them as comfortably 'high-backed and upholstered in lively red' (25). Conversely, for performances in the ring, the stage could be appropriated as a site for exclusive seating, as is known to have happened at least twice, first for a six-week visit by Newsome's Alhambra Circus in the summer of 1863 and again for the 1869 season noted above, when the Hull Times carried an
 Important Notice--To private Parties and Families wishing to avoid
 the crowded front entrance, Mr Pablo has erected a Balcony and
 Balcony Stalls upon the Stage, where an uninterrupted view of the
 Ring may be obtained. Stalls, 3s.; Balcony, 2s.; with the
 privilege of Private Entrance by the Stage Door. (26)


The big top meets theatre-in-the-round!

After the William Batty season of 1849 there follows a relatively fallow period in terms of documentation, and one has to extrapolate from such playbills and press notices as one can find. The Queen's was certainly occupied for about four months in 1850, licensed from the beginning of March to late June to Messrs Rignold and Munro, whose playbills offered a run-of-the-mill diet of melodrama and farce, even during a two-week re-engagement of the Dillons and a two-day visit by Helen Faucit. Puzzlingly, I have not been able to trace any performances at all in 1851, other than that given on 5 July by one Professor J.M. Buck with 'his Grand Dissolving Diorama' (27), but one is rather better served with evidence for 1852. For five weeks in March-April yet another circus troupe was in residence, led by the celebrated Parisian horseman Bastien Franconi, who was particularly welcome to the Hull News reviewer because he had 'brought with him to England all the main features and agremens of the original Cirque Olympique. We have no street show or parade of gilded cars, and unnaturally speckled horses; but the sole dependence is placed upon the real merit of the artistes and the completeness of the accessories'. (28) From the last week of May the theatre was licensed to Henry Beverly (who had recently been in charge of the Theatre Royal), supplying the same dramaturgical mixture as before, relieved only by a week of Shakespeare with a touring actor in September. That dramatic season was due to terminate on 4 December, but Mr Beverly was still there on 3 January 1853, running an establishment which now advertised itself as the Royal Queen's Circus, and he was back there in April, wearing his dramatic hat once more. By December it had been rebranded yet again, as the 'Monster American Circus, Sole Proprietor, Mr J. Macarte, Late Queen's Theatre'. (29)

This faintly absurd situation, alternating between, on the one hand, dramatic seasons of spectacular melodrama that often featured horses (and/or dogs) on stage and, on the other, seasons of self-professed equestrian spectacle in the ring, reflects the still confused state--notwithstanding the 1843 Act--of theatrical licensing, hingeing as it did as much on the question of definition as on the shape of the auditorium. The pitfalls facing the unwary are well illustrated by a news item that I unearthed in the Hull Advertiser of 20 January 1854. This reports that John Caple, having now acquired the lease of the Theatre Royal (and with it, apparently, a poacher-turned-gamekeeper mindset), had preferred a charge at Hull police-court against John Macarte, proprietor of the American Circus, 'for allowing to be acted in that place stage-plays, he not having a license [sic] for such a purpose'. Citing as grounds for the offence the plays of Dick Turpin and Mazeppa, Mr Johnson, appearing for the prosecution, alleged that
 The acting of these plays [...]was in direct contravention of the
 act of parliament, and rendered Mr Macarte liable to a penalty of
 10 [pounds sterling]. He called a witness who proved that Mazeppa
 had been performed at the Queen's Theatre on Monday night last.
 Mr Chas. Ayre [for the defence] contended that Mazeppa, as
 performed at the Queen's Theatre, did not come within the meaning
 of the act when it spoke of stage plays. He called witnesses to
 prove that the same piece had been performed at other places
 without a license. The magistrates, however, convicted the
 defendant, and fined him 5 [pounds sterling] and costs.


To resolve this Box-and-Cox-like scenario, which had now become the norm, the Queen's required a firm managerial hand, and it got one, indeed two, with the accession as joint lessees of Joseph Wolfenden and Robert Melbourne, who in September 1854 instituted a regime that continued almost without interruption for over twelve years. It is not easy to account for the longevity of their success. It must have helped that they were both ex-members of the Queen's stock company, hence familiar with the building and its clientele, and they clearly made a mutually complementary working team, Wolfenden as acting manager and Melbourne as stage manager, both equally industrious, it would appear--a press review of 1857 commends them as 'the energetic lessees'. They also made an early proprietorial gesture by commissioning a redecoration of the auditorium, with a new act drop. But their managerial policy itself was anything but revolutionary: they seem to have been content simply to codify and enlarge on the best aspects of past practice. Not only do they preside over a proliferation of bespeak nights 'under Distinguished Patronage' and special charity performances, for causes ranging from the Hull Infirmary and the Lifeboat Institution to the relief of widows and orphans left destitute by the wreck of a Hull trawler, but they exhibit a sure grasp of marketing and PR tactics. In February 1855, for instance, on the eve of their second season, they procured two hundred quarts of pea soup to give away on stage 'to the Poor who may be deprived of work, owing to the severity of the Season' (30); again, when Pearson's Park opened in 1860, they donated the entire takings from one benefit performance to the fund set up to develop it into a 'people's park' (31); and every summer, as a curtain-raiser to their forthcoming theatrical season, they chartered the Zoological Gardens on Spring Bank to provide an 'annual treat' for 500 old ladies, which included free sit-down teas in a marquee, open-air acrobatic shows, dancing to brass bands and the theatre's own orchestra, and a firework display at dusk, to and from which the infirm and ladies from the workhouses were conveyed by hired omnibus, free of charge.

Closely attuned to audience expectations, the two lessees always took care to have something exciting to put on the bills for Hull Fair week in October and something appropriate for Hull Regatta in the summer, while other special attractions, with extra matinee performances, were on offer for the public holidays at Christmas and Easter, when the town centre could be expected to be at its most crowded. Needless to say, they also continued the practice of engaging actors 'of metropolitan celebrity', and with increasing prosperity they could afford to book such touring luminaries as Charles James Mathews, Madame Celeste and Charles and Ellen Kean to appear in their most famous roles. It may have been to mark one such visit that a coloured print was produced depicting the interior of a packed house [Plate 5]. Well aware of the decline in the theatre's reputation and fortunes that had attended Henry Beverly's period in charge, they were at pains to stress their 'genteelizing' credentials, announcing the principal aim of their second season in ringing tones:
 It is a source of much gratification to find that their humble
 efforts to raise the character of this Theatre last season have
 received universal approbation from the Public and the Press,
 which they acknowledge with great pride. They intend steadfastly
 and zealously to adhere to the same style of Management, as they
 are assured that a Theatre can only be successful when good order
 is kept, Novelty produced, and the Entertainments [are] of such
 a character that a Father can take his family without fear of a
 blush;


[ILLUSTRATION 5 OMITTED]

and their favourable estimate of themselves receives some confirmation later that year in a press report that they were 'establishing their reputation as first-class caterers for public amusement, on a firm foundation'. (32) In retrospect, however, these worthy sentiments seem to have made comparatively little impact on their actual choice of entertainments, which betray an unmistakable air of deja vu. More often than not one is confronted by the same motley succession of pieces as before, with familiar contributions from the same busy Bs--Buckstone, Bulwer-Lytton and Boucicault--very much in evidence, in company with Colman, Sheridan Knowles, Jerrold and Fitzball, although Dickens begins to emerge quite strongly, and Shakespeare certainly figures on the bills rather more often than hitherto, particularly (but by no means exclusively) during the visits by London stars, on which occasions the two managers are apt to appear on stage together, Wolfenden as second lead and the normally invisible Melbourne in 'comic' roles, like the Porter in Macbeth and the First Gravedigger in Hamlet. Even when the Theatre Royal conveniently burned down in 1859, leaving the Queen's in sole possession of the theatrical field, their programme underwent no appreciable change--why, indeed, should it, since by then it was virtually indistinguishable from its rival's? In that instance, despite the ingrained antagonism between the two theatres, Wolfenden and Melbourne were magnanimous enough to award their opposite number, John Pritchard, the gross proceeds of a gala benefit performance, with the two acting companies and the two theatre bands playing in concert for once, to help offset his losses (33)--a favour that was to be returned in somewhat different circumstances some eight years later.

The one part of the repertoire in which the Queen's excelled, and regularly outshone the Royal, was in the production of Christmas pantomime: theirs became a genuine event, looked forward to eagerly, compared, rather like home-made Christmas puddings, with the previous year's, and imparting an unique boost to the management's coffers by running continuously for six weeks. Directed by Mr Melbourne, it invariably involved armies of small children, some as young as four, drilled to dance and perform military manoeuvres, and for their friends and parents in the audience it created fairytale enchantment and magical transformations by exploiting the technical resources originally intended for circus shows and action-packed melodrama. From the outset these resources were considered sufficiently imposing to warrant repeated emphasis in the theatre's publicity, which drew attention, for example, to the 'extensive Platforms and Machinery' utilized in Cooke's opening production, the 'Horse Platforms, New Bridges and Double Stage' required for Batty's visiting troupe, and the 'splendid Novel Mechanical Changed Scenic Effects' that graced the stock company's performances of Planche's A Romantic Idea. (34) Evidently, Mr Kirkwood's initial largesse had stretched not just to bricks and mortar, and presumably his own timber, but to the provision of a well-equipped stage, 'so admirably constructed', we are told, 'to give effect to Scenic Spectacle' and housing under it machinery 'so complicated as to resemble the Works of a Brobdingnag Clock on Tick'. (35) Lighting was by gas for stage and auditorium alike, the latter being enriched by the addition of a 'SUN-LIGHT, upon the same principle as the lights in the Houses of Parliament', made and installed by a Hull craftsman a year before the registration of William Bradford's patent. (36) Such 'vast resources and advantages' would have acted as a potent incentive to an adventurous stage manager like Robert Melbourne, and he was quick to respond during his first season with 'the gorgeous spectacle of Aladdin' to coincide with Hull Fair, and The Battle of the Alma, a patriotic blockbuster mounted for the Easter holiday of 1855 (while the war in Crimea was still being waged), in which the stage was 'thrown open, and the Charge made upon the Heights of the Alma from the Orchestra', with a horde of '200 auxiliaries' clambering up from the pit over an obstacle course of elevated platforms to reach the topmost level, some 30 yards upstage. (37) Two years later, his ambitious production of The Tempest embodied a whole compendium of scenic devices, eliciting long and enthusiastic reviews in the Advertiser:
 For the representation of the first scene, which was of a dioramic
 character, and represented the tempest-tossed bark [...] the lights
 in the theatre were put out, and this arrangement added much to the
 pictorial effect. [...] The 'enchanted isle', overlooking the sea,
 was next represented, and during the progress of this scene the
 waters abate, the sun rises, and the tide recedes, leaving yellow
 sands to which Ferdinand is invited by Ariel in the song 'Come unto
 these yellow sands' [...] A scene of barrenness was gradually
 transformed by as near approach to magic as it is possible for
 stage machinery to attain to a scene of luxuriant vegetation--the
 leaves changing their hues and multiplying their numbers, and fruit
 bursting out without any apparent motive power, and flowers
 unfolding their petals as it appeared simply to bewilder the poor
 benighted travellers, [...] Juno descends in a Car drawn by
 Peacocks [...] the ascent of Ariel on the back of a bat forms
 another subject for a very nice effect [...] the Ship gradually
 sails off; the Island recedes from sight; Ariel remains alone in
 mid-air, watching the departure of her late Master. The Lime Light
 is used in this scene to realize the grand effects. (38)


It was, however, the Christmas pantomime that offered the greatest scope for Melbourne's inventiveness. Each year, to judge by the length of time allowed for final technical rehearsals (which closed the theatre for only a day before Cinderella in 1855 as against four days before Harlequin Baron Munchausen [sic] in 1859), he endeavoured to outdo his previous best, and each year his strenuous efforts were suitably acknowledged in the press, where they are described in every extravagant detail. To quote almost at random from one such report, on Jack the Giant Killer,
 [...] the Fairy Queen interferes, and changes the scene to the
 spangled lake in the grotto of stalactic crystalisation. [...]
 Glittering crystals are pendant from every point, the rocks
 are covered with sparkling stalactites, and everything is as
 bright and fairy-like as possible. The water of the lake is
 admirably represented by coloured gauze, and a beautiful effect
 is produced by fairies rising through these [sic], apparently
 without any motive power or without any support; a temple also
 rises through the water, and when the scene is complete it looks
 enchanting.


This reaction is matched by the praise heaped on a similar transformation scene in Harlequin Sinbad the Sailor, which metamorphosed the highly mechanized 'Hall of Industry' into 'a luxuriant cherry garden, embedded in which are the temples of concord and bowers of bliss. This is a dazzling scene, and one which would, we think, fully assert the superiority of the Queen's Theatre over any other provincial house.' (39)

Important though the revenue from popular pantomime may have been to their financial wellbeing, perhaps the most notable managerial achievement of the two partners had less to do with profit than with prestige. In 1856 they succeeded where Caple had failed, and after a number of temporary licences, induced the Hull magistrates to grant them one for a whole year, which was subsequently renewed annually for the remainder of their tenure of the theatre. This enabled them to plan their programme with some consistency in advance, interspersing their dramatic seasons with prearranged visits by opera companies and circus troupes (notably that of Ducrow's son Andrew) and effectively keeping the Queen's open all year round, apart from a short summer break, while, even more importantly perhaps, keeping their regular audience on hold. In fact, so resourceful was their working partnership, and so successful, that there seems no reason why it should not have survived much longer, had it not been for Mr Wolfenden's sudden and untimely death in 1861, at the age of just 34, when he was thrown from his horse while riding on the unmade highway leading from the Newland toll-bar to the outlying village of Cottingham. Seemingly undaunted, Melbourne immediately formed a business association with his colleague's widow, Henrietta Wolfenden, a part-time actress whose prime responsibility had been, and remained, as the resident company's wardrobe mistress, and they retained the joint lease of the building for another five years, but it is noticeable that henceforward the home-grown dramatic seasons became progressively shorter while the number of visiting companies marginally increased. Most of these were operatic or circus troupes, though a few pre-cast acting ensembles arrive, bringing ready-made productions up from London by rail--early straws in a wind of change that will soon redraw the entire map of provincial theatre. Eventually, the additional strain of balancing his books must have taken its toll, for in February 1867, whether through nervous exhaustion, the pressure of renewed competition from a rebuilt Theatre Royal, or the mounting of an over-elaborate, mock-medieval pantomime a la Planche entitled Harlequin Kynge Edward Ye Fyrste and his Seven Champions, Melbourne could no longer pay his way and had to cease trading, whereupon the fundamental camaraderie of the profession reasserted itself once more and he was accorded the partial relief of two benefit performances at the new Theatre Royal.

Thereafter, the Queen's dragged out a sorry, hand-to-mouth existence for little more than two years and under a string of short-lived managements. (40) In June 1868, under the last of them, it suffered the terminal indignity of a relaunch as the Queen's Theatre and Palace of Varieties, which offered its patrons a tripartite potpourri of entertainments, performed by a resident dramatic company, a resident ballet company and a shifting bevy of music-hall artistes. By this time there were no fewer than three full-time music halls in the centre of town alone, among them the new, custom-built, luxuriously appointed Royal Alhambra Palace of Varieties in Porter Street, each parading a constantly changing array of talent--what one bill calls a 'Perpetual Motion of Amusement'--and able to attract to Hull lions comiques of the calibre of the Great Vance, George Leybourne and a youthful Harry Rickards. In the circumstances, any desperate catch-all attempt to compete at once with these and a reopened legitimate theatre presenting London-based touring companies in the latest comedies of Tom Robertson was doomed to failure. The very last bill I have tracked down, dated Tuesday, 26 January 1869, announces yet another return visit by Charles Mathews, followed by a pantomime, and the last performances advertised (41) seem to have been those given by Pablo Fanque's Monstre Circus Company, who closed on Saturday, 3 April. (The theatrical wheel had most assuredly come full circle!) The end finally came in 1871, when the whole building was demolished to make way for large-scale redevelopment, including a plush hotel called the Imperial and, irony of ironies, a new Theatre Royal. The one erected in Humber Street to replace its fire-ravaged predecessor had itself succumbed to the same fate during the run of its Christmas pantomime in 1869, and a hard-headed business decision was taken to situate the fourth (and last) of that name on the site previously occupied by the stage of the now derelict Queen's, thus retroactively corroborating the wisdom of Stephen Kirkwood's original choice of location twenty-five years earlier. As one newspaperman of the day rhapsodized, 'amid the Ninevah of a tumble-down, dangerous mass of ruin' an elegant playhouse had arisen, 'suited exactly to the requirements of the town'. (42) In the event, the whirligig of time ultimately ordered things otherwise, ensuring that, in its turn, this too became a palace of varieties: renamed the Tivoli, it was where, one day in 1954, the comedian Arthur Lucan collapsed in the wings while waiting to go on and died ten minutes later, still in drag as Old Mother Riley.

How, in the last analysis, should one evaluate the brief, colourful reign of the Queen's? Inaugurated in the lee of supposedly liberalizing legislation, it nonetheless found itself beset by forces of reaction operating either separately or in parallel, if not at times hand in glove. As might be expected, when it was at its most prosperous the fierce professional opposition emanating from the direction of Humber Street manifested itself in a number of ways, particularly where some sought-after attraction was concerned. In 1856, for instance, there was a protracted struggle over the booking of a troupe of Spanish dancers who had been commanded to perform for Her Majesty and Prince Albert. Initially engaged by the Theatre Royal for the week beginning 8 September, then announced by the Queen's to appear 'shortly', they were immediately preempted by the Royal for a further week, forcing the Queen's to re-advertise them as forthcoming, with new Scenery, &c., embracing all the great capabilities of this theatre', and they finally managed to open there on 3 November. Again, different opera companies were not infrequently booked to appear in direct competition with each other and with similar repertoires, with the result that II Trovatore or The Daughter of the Regiment might be sung in both theatres in the same week, on which the Advertiser's discreet comment was simply that 'the circumstance is indicative of the enterprise of the respective managers, and the public gain on the whole'. (43) Head-to-head rivalry arose once more in 1866 over one of Boucicault's current crowd-pullers: having just played The Corsican Brothers, the Royal got in first with The Octoroon on 23 April 'till further notice', before the Queen's could present its own production of the play, with visiting stars, in the following week.

So serious was the perceived threat posed by the success of Wolfenden and Melbourne's first few seasons that the trustees of the Theatre Royal even had recourse to the magistrates in an attempt to contest the renewal of the Queen's licence, and seemed at first to have managed to clip its wings. In order to awaken public sympathy, the joint managers made a point of publicizing the board of trustees' machinations:
 NOTICE.--In consequence of the determined opposition of the
 Proprietors of the Theatre-Royal to the licence being granted
 to the Queen's-Theatre, a majority of the Magistrates have
 decided that the Price of Admission to the Gallery in future
 shall not be less than Sixpence, and no half-price; and that
 the Licence shall be withheld during the months of December,
 January, and February. (44)


Fortunately wiser counsel, or pressure from some other source, prevailed, and the following bulletin appeared in the press two months later:
 It is with great pleasure that Messrs Wolfenden and Melbourne
 announce the Opening of their Fifth Season on Monday next,
 July 28th, 1856, and that they have again obtain [sic] the
 confidence of the Magistrates and secured their Winter license
 [sic], which will enable them to produce another Pantomime at
 Christmas; also the Old Prices of Admission are allowed,
 therefore they will still adhere to the principle of cheap and
 rational amusement, feeling assured that the play-goers of Hull
 will give them their constant support as long as the
 Entertainments are deserving. (45)


This, in fact, constituted their first twelvemonth licence, a concession that one press reviewer, writing soon after their season got under way, thought entirely warranted, for 'Nothing [...] but the excellence of the management and of the staple Entertainments can account for the success of the Queen's as a place of amusement. The company now engaged is one of the best in the provinces, and deserves every encouragement'. (46) Indeed, the magistracy itself appears to have been increasingly impressed. The following April, when the request for a year's renewal came before them, a report of the police-court proceedings stated:
 The application was unopposed. Several of the magistrates
 expressed their warmest satisfaction to Messrs Wolfenden
 and Melbourne, for having conducted the theatre so well
 whilst it had been in their hands, and agreed to grant an
 extension of the license [sic] for the time required. (47)


Even so, nearly a decade later and after further successful seasons at the Queen's, there still lingered pockets of entrenched prejudice. For those wedded to precedent and the notion of the legitimate drama as the preserve of a privileged minority, any establishment seeking to accommodate a fairly catholic repertoire to a broadly based constituency of spectators was unwelcome, and its influence suspect. Not only had the Queen's laid claim to Shakespeare and Sheridan, but in presenting one English opera company in 1860 the managers had been presumptuous, nay militant, enough to emblazon the top of the bill in bold characters with the words, 'OPERA FOR THE MILLION. NO ADVANCE IN THE PRICES'. (48) It was only a matter of time before a number of interested parties would come together to raise share capital for the rebuilding of the late lamented Theatre Royal on its former site, and when the first meeting was held of the limited company formed for this purpose, the chairman, a former sheriff of Hull, made thinly veiled animadversions on the Queen's in very patronizing terms. He said that his fellow citizens 'had only one theatre, which was a very poor place at the best, and it was time they had something more desirable in this large and important town'. And one month later, at a gathering convened to lay the foundation stone of the new Royal, he was reported as having elevated his argument onto a moral plane: 'In Hull the theatre had been in a low condition, and the results brought about had, he was afraid, led to considerable evil'. (49)

For their part, his fellow citizens seem to have thought differently and, voting with their feet, flocked to the Queen's in their thousands. There seems little reason to doubt the attendance figures quoted by the management. In an 1855 bill for Faust and Marguerite, Boucicault's translation from Michel Carre, they declared that it would be staged 'upon the same scale of magnificence' as their most successful productions of the previous twelve months, when '26,300 persons witnessed Aladdin; 30,250 Seven Poor Travellers; 28,100 the Battle of the Alma; and 25,000 Blue Beard'. (50) At the same time, growing approval for their managerial policy was being voiced in the press. The following August, soon after the opening of their fifth season and when The Merry Wives of Windsor was on their bills, a review in the Advertiser contended that
 Every year brings an improvement in this theatre. Now, the
 conduct of the audience is smoothed down--then the scenery
 is increased and made splendid--and here we find with all
 previous improvements, a company of first-rate ability. (51)


There was also encouragement from an unlikely quarter--a Hull lodge of Freemasons. Joseph Wolfenden was himself a Mason, and by way of expressing solidarity, the Minerva Lodge to which he belonged were in the habit of sponsoring occasional 'Grand Fashionable Nights' at the theatre, but his sudden, unforeseen death served to focus the Brethren's benevolence to greater purpose, in the shape of annual bespeak performances for the benefit of his widow.

Needless to say, for their main body of support the managers looked to their large regular audience, whose composition it is impossible to anatomize with any certainty. The preponderance of cheaper seats, in the gallery and the pit, would indicate that the principal appeal was to the working class and the petite bourgeoisie, but the fact that the proscenium and private boxes were never discontinued, coupled with the introduction of similarly priced, reservable pit stalls (with special admission by the stage door in South Street until a new designated entrance was created in the facade in 1859) suggests that the upper echelons of society were not insignificantly represented. Understandably, given the changing theatrical climate, Wolfenden and Melbourne missed no opportunity to insist on the 'respectability' of their audience, but this may not have been its only rewarding feature. An 1863 press review of a performance of Hamlet, with a young actor new to the stock company in the title role, contains an interesting account of the spectators' reaction in which journalistic condescension is outweighed by gratification:
 [Mr Montague Smythson] never exhibited the most remote tendency
 to rant. And the temptation to do so is particularly strong in
 Hull; for the 'gods', and most of the pit-ites too, glory in a
 rattling storm of voice, and are always ready to applaud it to
 the echo. [...] The quiet, almost breathless manner in which
 the 'gods' listened to the play on Friday evening last; the
 judicious manner in which they applauded the beauties of the
 piece; and the rapturous 'call' given to the principal
 performer at the fall of the curtain, sufficiently prove that
 they will permit melo-dramatic and sensational pieces sometimes
 to give place to more legitimate dramas. (52)


It seems clear that, for all their efforts, these two valiant managers never succeeded in getting the Queen's universally accepted as a 'legitimate' theatre, but contrariwise they may have been just as happy to have made it what in one of their playbills they describe as 'the People's Theatre'. (53)

(1) Kenneth Richards and Peter Thomson eds, Nineteenth Century British Theatre, London, 1971, 25-37.

(2) Hull Advertiser, Hull News, Hull Packet and East Riding Times, Hull and North Lincolnshire Times.

(3) Hull Advertiser, 23 October 1846.

(4) Playbill of 14 March 1848.

(5) Hull Advertiser, 12 March 1847.

(6) Ibid., 9 July 1847.

(7) Ibid., 21 September 1849.

(8) Bill of 7 June 1850.

(9) Melodrama by J.B. Buckstone.

(10) 'Hull's Once Largest Theatre. The Old Queen's in Paragon Street', reprinted in Hull Museum Publications no. 88, June 1912, 13-7.

(11) Hull Advertiser, 30 October 1846.

(12) Op. cit., 15.

(13) Hull Advertiser, 23 July 1847.

(14) Ibid. 6 August 1847.

(15) Ibid. 17 September and 22 October 1847.

(16) Ibid. 12 November 1847.

(17) Ibid. 10 September 1847.

(18) Ibid. 30 March 1849.

(19) Ibid. 13 April 1849.

(20) Ibid. 20 April 1849.

(21) Ibid. 24 August 1849.

(22) Ibid. 20 July 1849.

(23) Ibid.

(24) Bill of 29 October 1849.

(25) Op. cit., 16. By contrast, he has little to say about the mechanics of the operation: 'The building is capable of being used as an amphitheatre at any time, by removing the flooring and seats of a portion of the pit. The circle is 42 ft in diameter'.

(26) Hull Times, 6 March 1869.

(27) Hull Packet, 4 July 1851.

(28) Hull News, 6 March 1852.

(29) Hull Advertiser, 9 December 1853.

(30) Ibid., 24 February 1855.

(31) Ibid., 16 June 1860.

(32) Ibid., 24 February and 1 December 1855.

(33) Ibid., 15 October 1859.

(34) Ibid., 23 October 1846, 21 September and 31 August 1849.

(35) Ibid., 24 December 1858, and bill for 9 July 1849.

(36) Hull Advertiser, 11 August 1855. For Bradford's design of 1856 see Terence Rees, Theatre Lighting in the Age of Gas, London, 1978, 94-8.

(37) Hull Advertiser, 7 October 1854 and 7 April 1855.

(38) Ibid., 22 and 29 August 1857.

(39) Ibid., 1 January 1859 and 26 December 1857.

(40) Morton Price and Catharine Lucette in partnership, W.H. Harvey, Charles Dudley, and C.T. Burleigh.

(41) 'Positively the Last Six Nights', Hull Times, 27 March 1869.

(42) Hull Times, 16 December 1871.

(43) Hull Advertiser, 2 May 1857.

(44) Ibid., 24 May 1856.

(45) Ibid., 26 July 1856.

(46) Ibid., 13 September 1856.

(47) Ibid., 11 April 1857.

(48) Bill for Marian Pyne's English Opera Company, 23 April 1860.

(49) Hull Advertiser, 11 March and 22 April 1865.

(50) Bill of 8 September 1855.

(51) Hull Advertiser, 30 August 1856.

(52) Ibid., 26 August 1863.

(53) Bill of 26 March 1859.

Donald Roy is Professor Emeritus of Drama at the University of Hull, having previously lectured in French at the universities of Glasgow and St. Andrews. He is the author of books and articles on both the French and British theatre.
COPYRIGHT 2006 The Society for Theatre Research
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Roy, Donald
Publication:Theatre Notebook
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:10508
Previous Article:The first Edinburgh and London editions of John Home's Douglas and the play's early stage history.
Next Article:The Charringtons off the stage.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters