The Theatre Royal

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Bristol, Theatre Royal, King Street

Now known as the Bristol Old Vic, the GeorgianGlossary Term Theatre Royal is astonishingly complete and beautiful. It is actually a complex of various dates surrounding Britain's oldest theatre, which has survived in almost continuous use since 1766. Forty-nine merchants subscribed £50 each to fund the first theatre inside the city boundary, against moral and religious opposition. The site behind King Street avoided the need for an architecturally significant façade. It received its royal patent and its name in 1778. It closed in 1942, but was saved by public appeal. In 1946 the Bristol Old Vic was established, whose international reputation ensured the theatre's long-termGlossary Term survival. It was radically overhauled in 1972, a studio theatre added and a new entrance created through the adjacent Coopers' Hall, by then redundant and under threat. After two centuries, and at some cost, it had at last a public face and internal facilities appropriate to its standing.

The present facade to the street was built as THE COOPERS' HALL by William Halfpenny, 1743-4 after their old hall was demolished for the Exchange. A high noble façade, PalladianGlossary Term in detail but not in proportion. The basementGlossary Term is squashed, and the steep pedimentGlossary Term raised over an atticGlossary Term flanked by massive volutesGlossary Term. Over-large sash windows (a Halfpenny hallmark) but a PalladianGlossary Term 1:3:1 bayGlossary Term rhythm with three-quarter columns in the centrepiece. The CorinthianGlossary Term orderGlossary Term is closeGlossary Term to that in Book I of Isaac Ware's 1743 edition of Palladio's Quattro Libri.

To the west is Peter Moro's 1972 extension for the STUDIO THEATRE and offices, in brown brick with carefully modulated recessions and projections giving life to a necessarily blind façade. Four gables echo the neighbouring warehouse and the pediments of Coopers' Hall. The guildhall was on the first floor with its staircase at the west end. Moro removed the floors and internal walls. Halfpenny's modillion corniceGlossary Term and quadrant coved ceiling were replaced in replica. The glazed foyer entrance leads to Moro's processional stair with galleryGlossary Term landing wrapped around the 18th century space. A series of rectangles punched through the rear wall give onto the foyer and bar. The finish is rightly reticent; plain painted walls, smooth stone, glass and chrome on the stairs. Moro's planning integrates the 18th century and 20th century elements and changes of level, and is compact and practical. A proposal to remodel the foyers and studio theatres is currently under discussion.

South of the upper foyer is the irregular octagonal studio theatre and to the north is the AUDITORIUM (1764-6). In 1764 the proprietors paid £38 16s 8d for a plan from Mr. Saunderson, carpenter of Drury Lane theatre, London, and hired Thomas Paty to supervise its construction. It has been suggested that Saunderson based his Bristol plan on Richmond Theatre, Surrey, which he had just designed, rather than Drury Lane. The auditorium is semicircular rather than elliptical as was usual. The dress circle and upper circle were originally arranged as boxes with the fluted DoricGlossary Term columns marking the now-removed partitions - except for an open galleryGlossary Term in the central 3 bays of the upper circle. The ceiling was raised and pitched for an additional galleryGlossary Term tier in 1800. Some pew-endedGlossary Term benches, probably 18th century, remain. The much-altered proscenium archGlossary Term has paired CorinthianGlossary Term pilasters with acanthusGlossary Term plasterwork, possibly of 1766. The remaining decoration dates from successive alterations, substantially achieving its current form by 1881 when the starred ceiling was created. The present pea green and gilt colouring is based on the believed original scheme by Michael Edkins. The 18th century backstage was necessarily sacrificed for Moro's remodelling, losing a central recess for scenic distance effects, and the 19th century backstage machinery. The 'thunder run' (a wooden trough down which balls were rolled to simulate thunder) survives above the ceiling. Moro's backstage spaces and offices are in bare brick with exposed concreteGlossary Term ceilings.



Classical formalized leaf ornament.


Types include: Basket arch or Anse de Panier (French, lit. basket handle): three-centred and depressed, or with a flat centre. Chancel: dividing chancel from nave or crossing in a church. Crossing: spanning piers at a crossing in a church. Depressed or three-centred: with a rounded top, but curving inward more at the sides. Four-centred: with four arcs, the lower two curving inward more than the upper, with a blunt central point; typical of late medieval English architecture. Jack arch: shallow segmental vault springing from beams, used for fireproof floors, bridge decks, etc. Ogee (adjective ogival): a pointed arch with a double reverse curve, especially popular in the 14th century; a nodding ogee curves forward from the wall face at the top. Parabolic: shaped like a chain suspended from two level points, but inverted. Relieving or discharging: incorporated in a wall to relieve superimposed weight. Shouldered: with arcs in each corner and a flat centre or lintel. Skew: spanning responds not diametrically opposed. Stilted: with a vertical section above the impost i.e. the horizontal moulding at the springing. Strainer: inserted in an opening to resist inward pressure. Three-centred: see Depressed, above. Transverse: spanning a main axis (e.g. of a vaulted space). Triumphal arch: influential type of Imperial Roman monument, free-standing, with a square attic or top section and broad sections to either side of the main opening, often with lesser openings or columns. Tudor: with arcs in each corner joining straight lines to the central point. Two-centred: the simplest kind of pointed arch.


Small top storey within a roof. Also the storey above the main entablature of a classical fa


Lowest, subordinate storey; hence the lowest part of a classical elevation, below the piano nobile or principal storey.


Division of an elevation or interior space as defined by regular vertical features such as arches, columns, windows etc.


The precinct of a cathedral. Also (Scots) a courtyard or passage giving access to a number of buildings.


Composition of cement (calcined lime and clay), aggregate (small stones and rock chippings), sand and water. It can be poured into formwork or shuttering (temporary framing of timber or metal) on site (in-situ concrete) or pre-cast as components before construction. Reinforced: incorporating steel rods to take the tensile force. Pre-stressed: with tensioned steel rods. Finishes include the impression of boards left by formwork (board-marked or shuttered), and texturing with steel brushes (brushed or bush-hammered), picks or hammers (pick-hammered or hammer-dressed).


The most slender and ornate of the three main classical orders. It has a basket-shaped capital ornamented with acanthus foliage.


Flat-topped ledge with moulded underside, projecting along the top of a building or feature, especially as the highest member of the classical entablature. Also the decorative moulding in the angle between wall and ceiling. An eaves cornice overhangs the edge of a roof.


The simplest and plainest of the three main classical orders, featuring a frieze with triglyphs and metopes. A Roman Doric column has a simple round capital with a narrow neck band and a plain or fluted shaft. A Greek Doric column has a thin spreading convex capital and no base to the column.


A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


The architecture of the British Isles in the reigns of George I, II, III and IV, i.e. 1714-1830, in which the classical style and classical proportions became the norm for both major and minor buildings.


One of a series of recessed arches and jambs forming a splayed medieval opening, e.g. a doorway or arcade arch. Also, an upright structural member used in series, especially in classical architecture: see Orders.


Derived from the buildings and publications of the Italian classical architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80). His manner was introduced to Britain by Inigo Jones in the early 17th century, and was revived by Lord Burlington and others in the 18th century, in both cases as a counter to the less strict or pure styles of the day. Its influence continued well into the 19th century.


A formalized gable derived from that of a classical temple; also used over doors, windows etc. A broken pediment has its apex omitted. An open pediment has the centre of the base omitted. A broken pediment with double-curved sides is called a swan-neck pediment.


Loosely, seating for the laity outside the chancel; strictly, an enclosed seat. A box pew is enclosed by a high wooden back and ends, the latter having doors. Churchwarden’s pew: an especially tall or elaborate pew for use by the churchwarden, usually placed at the west end of a church.


Pedestal or pilaster tapering downward, usually with the upper part of a human figure growing out of it; sometimes called a terminal figure.


Spiral scrolls. They occur on Ionic capitals. Angle volute: a pair of volutes, turned outwards to meet at the corner of a capital.