Tantalising tales from the city
The Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket was burnt down last night.
James and Tom had gone to bed, and happily for them the wind blew the flames away from their side of the street. The heat was so intense that they could not remain at their windows; they both got on the roof and poured water over it and the window frames as Mr Kinnaird did over the roof of the Bank next door. All the block of houses in the centre of which the Opera House stood are more or less burnt; it has been an awful fire. The ground is covered with snow which continues to fall at intervals. The London Corresponding Society having signified an intention to meet in Marybone fields to-day; at one o’clock, I went into the new road where great numbers of people were passing to and from those fields.
In the second field from the road, on the right hand of the Jews Harp, three slips of hustings were erected in different parts of the field; and before each, a crowd of people were assembled, as at fairs, when a quack Doctor exhorts a mob … Of all the orators, Jones appeared to me to have most genius: but he labours under a constitutional disadvantage, which seems to oblige him often to pause … Citizen Jones is a tallish, slender man; his complexion pale, & face thin. He was without powder, his hair dark. He is afflicted with a paralytic affection, which causes, excepting when he is exerting himself, an almost constant convulsive twitching of his head, shoulders, & arms. He was dressed in a green coat, & had halfboots on; and on the whole presented a figure such as is usually called shabby genteel. He seems to be about 3 or 4 & thirty years old. He has an excellent voice; sharp, clear and distinct; and his harangues at different periods were well calculated for catching his auditory; and many passages ingenious enough … He spoke with great inveteracy against Pitt … Many respectable people were in various parts of the field: but they all appeared like myself, spectators of the proceedings of the day. No tumult took place: nor was any offence given to such as did not hold up hands or join in the plaudit. I was in every part, & where the crowd was greatest; yet never held up my hand or expressed approbation. Arose at eight. Breakfasted at nine. I had promised Mr Beverley, of Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, to act a night for him at Woolwich, where he had a company
at present stationed. A little after 10 he called upon me, and about half past we set out together in a post-chaise, through Greenwhich and New Charleton. We alighted at Mr Beverley’s lodgings, near the theatre, and were received by Mrs Beverley. A little after 12 I went to the theatre, and rehearsed Sir Pertinax McSycophant* – afterwards took a slight refreshment; and the day, which had been very wet, clearing up, I walked with Mr B to the Royal arsenal, formerly called the Warren. I was introduced to Mr White, a gentleman belonging to the place, who very obligingly showed us as much as our short stay would permit us to view. The arsenal covers a very large space of ground. There are several handsome buildings, and a large new store-house is now erecting, upon piles. Next to the river there is a long handsome wharf, and we saw many convicts with irons on, variously employed – they sleep on board hulks, are put in classes, and rewarded according to their behaviour … Dined heartily at Mr B’s and about six, went with Mrs B to the theatre – acted Sir Pertinax; the play was very perfect, and better acted than I have known it by much larger companies, and better actors. The audience genteel and numerous. Fifty pounds is the utmost which the house (which is a very neat one) can contain: and Mr B told me the receipt was 47l. 16s. exclusive of some free people. * the oddly named central character in a once-popular play by the 18th-century actor and dramatist Charles Macklin. Richard Briers tells me how he was going up the steps from the National on to Waterloo Bridge when he was accosted, as one invariably is, by someone sitting on the landing, begging. “No, I thought,” said Richard – “not again, and walked on. Only then I heard this lugubrious voice say, ‘Oh. My favourite actor.’ So I turned back and gave him a pound.” That particular pitch is known to be very profitable, partly because of actors and playgoers being more soft-hearted than the general run. The beggars have got themselves so well organised as to ration the pitch to half an hour apiece on pain of being beaten up. I find it easiest to think of Waterloo Bridge as a toll bridge, and resign myself to paying at least 50p to get across, thus sidestepping any tiresome questions about need or being taken advantage of. side box, where I at once secured the worst seat (and then felt my conscience at rest). Irving has unpleasant mannerisms, but when he acts it makes an impression upon you. I never saw him look so well as he does as Benedick. Ellen Terry was charming as Beatrice. Beatrice is certainly a most delightful girl – there is nothing stagey about Beatrice … The mise-en-scène & the dresses were splendid. It is astonishing how well that play acts. Blessed be Shakespeare. The lights have just come on after another power cut, resulting from electrical workers striking for a 30 per cent rise, after turning down 10 … the power cuts have brought a return of Dunkirk spirit. Candles change hands at high prices. Long queues at filling-stations for petrol and in Blackheath Village for paraffin.
Rafe Egerton, of London, being one of my Lord Chancellor’s servants, and one Thomas Herman, sometime servant with Fleetwood, one of my Lord Chancellor’s gentlemen, were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged and quartered for counterfeiting the King’s Great Seal. I went yesterday to Mrs Pankhurst’s welcome home meeting in London. She has returned from America, where she seems to have had a very successful tour. The Albert Hall was full up, and as usual the audience was most enthusiastic. Mrs Pankhurst informed us that her fine had been paid by someone anonymously, so she will not go to prison. I believe the Government has got something to do with it, as
Sweet Thames, run softly (clockwise from main picture): the Isle of Dogs with Woolwich in the background; Sir Roy Strong; the city as it appeared in the 16th-century Civites Orbis Terrarum; a poster for the Suffragette newspaper ‘Votes for Women’; Alan Bennett