On this day…

This hand-coloured etching of London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was published on the 25th of November, 1812.

When this etching was published the building had only been opened a few weeks. This is the third theatre to have stood there, and it was opened on the tenth of October that year. It is the same building that now stands on the site.

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On this day: The Great Theatre Royal Fire

The burnt out Theatre Royal of 1887

The Theatre Royal after the fire. 1887.

On the 5th of September 1887, the Theatre Royal in Exeter, England burnt down, killing 186 people.

The first Theatre Royal that was destroyed in 1885..

The Theatre Royal that burnt in 1885

It was not the first time the theatre burnt down. After earlier versions were also destroyed by fire, the most recent disaster had been only two years earlier, in 1885.

The 1887 fire broke out backstage during a performance of Romany Rye, when gas lighting set gauze on fire. Panic and crowded exits meant that audience members were trapped.

Only 68 bodies were recovered.

Burnt programme for Romany Rye. Theatre Royal Exeter England. 1887.

A burnt scrap of a programme from the performance

A national campaign collected £20,763 for the victims’ families.

Emma Livry in the title role of the Taglioni-Schneitzhoeffer La Sylphide. Paris, 1862.

Emma Livry shortly before her death

Gas lighting was dangerous backstage in the nineteenth century theatre, and a particular danger for ballet dancers, who wore light, floaty fabrics that were highly flammable. Young French ballerina Emma Livry died a few years earlier after her costume caught on fire while she waited for her entrance.

Exeter theatre fire memorial England United Kingdom

The memorial to the victims

The new Theatre Royal had only been opened the year before the fire. The final version of the theatre was finally closed in 1962.