Friday, August 10, 2012

The Covent Garden Journal--Then and Now and In-Between

In 1752 Henry Fielding began to publish, twice weekly, a periodical entitled "The Covent-Garden Journal". Although Covent Garden was formally recognized as London's theatre district, and informally recognized as the place to pursue less respectable pursuits, The Covent-Garden Journal was no more than a typical journal of the period, containing essays, literary reviews, news and notices.

Currently there is a Covent Garden Journal which covers all aspects of life in this trendy and popular district of London.

But in April 1810 was published the most interesting (in my opininon) Covent Garden Journal of them all.
This journal was written by John Joseph Stockdale and it was, according to the dedication, a "history of the most extraordinary set of circumstances that ever took place in a British theatre".

On the 30th of September, 1808, the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden--often simply known as Covent Garden theatre--burned to the ground. Losses were estimated at 150,000 pounds. Despite that enormous loss, the foundation stone for a new theatre was laid on December 31 of the same year by the Prince of Wales and, amazingly, on the 18th September 1809 the new theatre opened.
There were immediate problems. An advertisement prior to the opening listed price increases:

And the price increases, necessary or not, led to two months of riots. The Covent Garden Journal covers it all, in meticulous detail. And it illustrates the beautiful new theatre with the four impressive engravings reproduced here.

The Grand Staircase
Inside, facing the stage
In addition to riots, there were court cases, Bow Street was involved and the city was in an uproar.

The OP (Old Price) riots were drawing to a close in December when the 'OP Dinner' took place. Mr. Kemble, the actor-manager at the helm of the theatre, was growing weary, and appeared after the dinner, to discuss reconciliation and future terms.
Mr. Stockdale, the author of this Covent Garden Journal, makes it plain he was disgusted by the price increases following the opening of the new theatre. And in his Preface, he indicates that he was told to suppress publication of his Journal. But he says he wished to "present the public with a strict, impartial and minute, history of their triumph and campaign". I think he did that, and it makes excellent reading for anyone interested in London's theatre history. The Covent Garden Journal is available as a free download from Google Books.

'Til next time,


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