SADLER’S WELLS THEATRECategory: Theatre
The discovery of a medicinal spring in the grounds of a Mr Sadler in the year 1683—84 led to the establishment of a popular pleasure-garden there, which became known as Sadler’s Wells. Entertainments of a varied nature were given, and Sadler, in partnership with a dancing-master named Forcer, erected a wooden “Music House” with a platform to serve as a stage. Saddler’s Wells then stood in open country, and though it seems to have been a well- conducted place as a rule, a murder was commited there in 1712, when a naval lietenant was killed by a lawyer “near the organ loft”.
In 1855 the Rural Calender refers to it saying: “This theatre — for such it now is — is now so well regulated, under the present manager, that a better company is not anywhere to be met with.”
In 1765 the old wooden building was demolished and a stone theatre was raised, the whole thing being completed in seven weeks.
In 1801 a small boy named Master Carey appeared at the theatre. He afterwards became the great Edmund Kean.
In 1804 a large tank was installed on the stage filled with water and Sadler’s Wells became the home of Aquatic Drama. The first of these was the siege of Gibraltar, complete with naval Bombardment. The vogue for these spectacles continued for some years, during which time the house was known as the Aquatic Theatre.
In 1807 a false alarm of fire caused a panic in the theatre; twenty-three people were killed and many injured-.
In 1893 it became a music-hall and later it was used as a cinema. A project to reopen it in 1921 came to nothing. A new theatre rose on the site in 1931. The ballet company from the Old Vic, under Ninette de Valois, moved to North London to become the Sadler’s Wells (and later the Royal Covent Garden) Ballet company, sharing the theatre with the Sadler’s Wells Opera company.
After the departure of the ballet company to Covent Garden the opera company carried on alone, though the theatre was sometimes used for visiting companies. The Moscow Art Theatre was there in 1958. When the new theatre buildings on the South Bank are completed, the Opera company will move to a new home there, and it is not known yet what will become of Sadler’s W’ells,