“Old Vic, theatre in the Greater London borough of Lambeth. It was formerly the home of a theatre company that became the nucleus of the National Theatre…In 1833 it was redecorated and renamed the Royal Victoria and became popularly known as the Old Vic. Under the management (1880–1912) of Emma Cons, a social reformer, the Old Vic was transformed into a temperance amusement hall known as the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern, where musical concerts and scenes from Shakespeare and opera were performed.”
From: Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall. Originally published by London County Council, London (1951):
“The history of “The Old Vic” during the last fifty years and of the important part it has played in the development of the modern British theatre has often been told. The building dates back to 1816 and is one of the oldest theatre buildings in London, though it has been greatly altered both externally and internally.
The original proprietors were Mr. Jones and Mr. Dunn who, having failed to renew their lease of the Surrey Theatre, near St. George’s Circus, at a reasonable rent, decided to build on their own account and obtained a sub-lease of a piece of copyhold ground of the manor of Lambeth on the east side of the newly laid out Waterloo Road. They secured the patronage of Princess Charlotte, who had married the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, and through her influence were granted a licence from the Surrey justices in 1816. The theatre was named, in compliment to the princess, the Royal Coburg Theatre.
The site was very swampy, “being immediately on the west side of one of the large and ancient ditches made for the drainage of Lambeth Marsh,” and stone from the old Savoy Palace, which was being pulled down for the construction of the northern approach to Waterloo Bridge, was used to make a firm foundation. The Waterloo Bridge Company, which hoped to gain custom from the patrons of the theatre, contributed to its cost. The theatre opened in May, 1818, with a melodrama “Trial by Battle” and a pantomime, “Harlequin and Comus.” Edmund Kean, Junius Brutus Booth, Sheridan Knowles Macready, Samuel Phelps, and Joseph Grimaldi, the clown, were among the early performers and in 1834 Paganini gave his farewell performance in England there.
The theatre was designed by Rudolph Cabanel. Brayley described it in 1826 as “plain, though well built,” the auditorium consisting of “a spacious pit, two tiers of boxes, and a remarkably large gallery.” The marine or box saloon was designed and painted by John Thomas Serres, marine painter, who had a share in the theatre. In 1822 a special feature in the form of a looking-glass curtain was erected on the stage. It was 36 feet in height and 32 feet in breadth, and consisted of 63 divisions of glass set in a massive gilt frame. The weight of the curtain proved dangerous to the roof and it had to be dismantled. Parts of the glass were used to decorate the ceiling and the saloon. The house was originally lit by gas which was manufactured on the premises.
Princess Charlotte died in 1817, and in 1833 the theatre was renamed the Victoria in compliment to Princess Victoria.”
From: an entry by John Earl in The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres, 1750-1950 – a Gazetteer (2000)*:
*updated version of Curtains!!! (1982).
“…Historically, as well as architecturally, the Vic is one of London’s most precious theatrical possessions. Built as a ‘minor’ for melodrama and pantomime, it was important in the history and development of popular theatre…It became world famous under (Emma) Cons and Lilian Baylis. The management of the Vic and the history of its productions have formed the subject of innumerable books and papers, but there has never been a completely authoritative architectural study. The Survey of London vol. XXIII offers little more than a sketch. Like the Haymarket, the Vic deserves meticulous research, close physical investigation and interpretive recording.”