Citrus x sinensis (I): Richmond

Above: Orange Tree Pub (centre of picture), Orange Tree Theatre to right, close to Richmond Station.

The original pub building on this site in Richmond dates from at least 1780, but it was rebuilt around 1897 in the distinctive brick and terracotta style popular at the time. In a small upstairs room, the Orange Tree Theatre, then known as the Richmond Fringe, was founded as a company on 31 December 1971 by its original artistic director Sam Walters and his wife, actor-director Auriol Smith.

“We enjoyed doing small-scale productions in Jamaica, and hoped that eventually we’d run that kind of theatre in England. Then, when we returned in 1971, we decided that now was the time and Richmond (where we lived) was the place.” (Auriol Smith in conversation with Marsha Hanlon for the Orange Tree Appeal brochure, 1991).

The Theatre moved in 1990 to a former primary school, St John’s, across the road at 1, Clarence Street. It had been built in 1867, in Victorian Gothic style, and the architect is likely to have been Arthur Blomfield. It had fallen out of use and become derelict.

This became the Orange Tree Theatre, a 180-seat theatre, built specifically as a theatre in the round, which opened in 1991. Meanwhile, the original theatre, renamed The Room (above the pub), continued to function as a second stage for shorter runs and works in translation until 1997.

In 2003 the former Royal Bank of Scotland building next door to the new theatre (see picture) was modified and re-opened as a dedicated space for rehearsals, set-building and costume storage, significantly expanding and improving its operation.

After 42 years Walters, the United Kingdom’s longest-serving artistic director, and his wife and associate director, Auriol Smith, stepped down from their posts at the Orange Tree Theatre in June 2014, and were granted the freedom of the Borough of Richmond at the end of that year. The Richmond and Twickenham Times reported: “Ms Smith said she was proud to become the first woman to be admitted as an honorary freeman of Richmond.”.

The Orangery (half an hour’s walk from the Theatre) in Kew Gardens was designed by Sir William Chambers, and was completed in 1761. It measures 28 by 10 metres (92 by 33 ft). It was found to be too dark for its intended purpose of growing citrus plants and they were moved out in 1841. After many changes of use, it is currently used as a restaurant.

Through a recommendation of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, in 1757 Chambers was appointed architectural tutor to the Prince of Wales, later George III, and in 1766 also, along with Robert Adam, Architect to the King (this being an unofficial title, rather than an actual salaried post with the Office of Works). He worked for Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, making fanciful garden buildings at Kew, and in 1757 he published a book of Chinese designs which had a significant influence on contemporary taste. He developed his Chinese interests further with his Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1772), a fanciful elaboration of contemporary English ideas about the naturalistic style of gardening in China.

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