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Drury Lane Theatre, Bridges (later Catherine) Street, London: designs for interior decoration for David Garrick, 1775 (3)

Signed and dated

  • 1775-76


David Garrick (1717-79) was an actor and playwright. He was third of seven children of Peter Garrick an army officer, and himself the son of French Huguenot émigré merchant. From 1737 Garrick and his brother Peter established themselves as wine merchants, with an office and cellars in Durham Yard off the Strand. It was through this profession that Garrick became acquainted with various theatre managers, began to write plays, and then to act professionally in 1741. His innovative naturalistic acting style made him popular, and brought him considerable wealth. In 1747 he was able to spend £8,000 on a 50% share of the patent to manage the Drury Lane Theatre. In 1749 he married a Viennese dancer, Eva Maria Veigel (1724-1822), and five years later they purchased Hampton House, Hampton-on-Thames, and commissioned Robert Adam to make improvements in 1772-74. Garrick retired from acting in 1776, and the management of the Drury Lane Theatre then passed to his friend, the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Garrick died from kidney stones at his home at the Adelphi in 1779. He was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

The original Drury Lane Theatre was built in 1662-63 for Thomas Killgrew and the King’s Company, as one of only two patent theatres, to designs by an unknown architect. This was destroyed by fire in 1672, and rebuilt in 1672-74 to designs by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). In 1775 – just a year before his retirement – Garrick commissioned Robert Adam to reface and redecorate Wren’s theatre. His designs for the proscenium and ceiling survive at Sir John Soane’s Museum, but there are no known drawings for his overall scheme, or the refacing work. These are illustrated in the second volume of the Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam. Part five, plate six shows a view of Adam’s new front facing Bridge (later Catherine) Street, and plate seven shows an interior view from the stage.

Adam’s interior was largely masked in 1783 when the auditorium was redecorated by Thomas Greenwood (ND) and William Capon (1757-1827). In 1791 the fabric was declared unsafe, and over the next four years it was entirely rebuilt for Sheridan to designs by Henry Holland (1745-1806), but this as destroyed by fire in 1809, and rebuilt in 1811-12 to designs by Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775-1855). The interior was remodelled in 1822 to designs by Samuel Beazley (1786-1851), and again in 1921-22 to designs by J. Emblin Walker, F. Edward Jones and Robert Cromie (ND). The building is Grade I listed and remains a theatre.

See also: Hampton House; The Adelphi; Hendon Hall

R. and J. Adam, The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, 1779, part V, plates vi-vii; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 29-30, and Volume II, Index pp. 37, 72; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, p. 105; R. Carter, ‘The Drury Lane Theatre of Henry Holland and Benjamin Dean Wyatt’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Volume 25, October 1967, pp. 200-216; Survey of London, Volume XXXV, 1970, pp. 9-70; B. Weinreb and C. Hibbert, The London encyclopaedia, 1983, pp. 885-886; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 391; H.R. Smith, The story of Garrick and his life at Hampton, 1998, pp. 1-13; D, King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 32; ‘Garrick, David (1717-1779)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2014



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Contents of Drury Lane Theatre, Bridges (later Catherine) Street, London: designs for interior decoration for David Garrick, 1775 (3)