In the early nineteenth century, touring companies came and performed in the town, often for ‘one night stands’. The theatre was regarded as being not very respectable in Victorian times. In 1857, the ironmonger, Walter Pitt wrote in his diary: “went with a lot more to the theatre but the company was very low” and he soon returned home. Thirty years later, the October fair drew “perhaps the last performers of famous plays about the Murder in the Red Barn, or Shaw the Life-Guardsman.” Later still, the assembly room at the Royal Oak (known as the Royal Hall) was licensed for theatrical performances. Both professional touring companies and local amateur groups performed there.
LADS is very grateful to the Ledbury and District Society Trust, who managed to acquire the following 19th century posters advertising theatrical events in Ledbury. The Trust has very kindly let us have them on permanent loan for display in the Foyer. They are reproduced below:
The New Street theatre is thought to have been near the Top Cross, in premises now occupied by ‘Priority Nine’. The Town Hall theatre was probably the half-timbered Market House. However, the staircase was not added to the Market House until 1865 - before then, access was through a trap door (evidence of which is still visible) in the centre of the floor. The dates of 1807 and 1832 therefore imply the Town Hall theatre could have been elsewhere - one can imagine the gentry wearing tails and long dresses ascending a ladder!
We are also grateful to Dr. Pinches for letting us see a photograph taken in September 1885 of the Market House with a chimney pointing out through the middle side window (though I have also seen a photo taken during the 1860’s renovation that does not show a chimney). Health and Safety was not on the agenda then - ‘Good Fires’ would have been decidedly dangerous! Unfortunately, we are not permitted to reproduce that photograph here since the copyright is owned by English Heritage’s National Monuments Record at Swindon. However, I have since found a better quality photo posted by Cornell University on Flickr, for which it is stated there are no known copyright restrictions. The ladder seems to have been retained as a backup - it can clearly be seen in the photo here.
English Heritage has some photos of Ledbury on its website, including a good aerial shot taken in 1951 (which unfortunately does not show the old theatre) and two of the Market House, one of which is yet another photo (copyrighted this time) with the chimney and a few people sitting in front. English Heritage’s reference for the 1885 photo of the Market House with a chimney is AL0192/23/02.
Nineteenth century shows must have gone on for a very long time, given the number of items in each of the examples above and below. The next image is one that LADS acquired some time ago, the original of which is also in the Foyer. Note that, although this specifically states the venue as being the Market House, it also predates the staircase by some 30 years!
One wonders if audiences were beginning to tire of the redoubtable Mr. Dyer and his wife....
The following is a cleaned-up Xerox copy of another
The original of this was printed on silk, which must have been creased when it was first copied.
Two early twentieth century theatrical events in Ledbury follow. In 1909, a Miss Bickham, who lived at Underdown, trained fifty girls to take part in performances of ‘The Pied Piper’ to raise funds for the proposed Parish Room building. (This was almost certainly the Church Room, which became the old Market Theatre.) The Pied Piper was played by Mr. C. Bedford, whose ‘ability was far above average’ according to the local paper, which described the show as being ‘one of the finest performances ever seen in Ledbury’. The Mayor was played by Mr. J.H. Yeo, and the orchestra was led by Miss Masefield. The newspaper was equally complimentary about Miss Hilda James, who played Hans: She had ‘a very large part and in every particular she proved a star. Her acting was perfect.’ After the last curtain call, there were shouts for Miss Bickham, who appeared and was given a bouquet. The gross receipts were nearly £100 of which almost £60 went to the Parish Room building fund.
The cast of The Pied Piper, which played to full houses at
the Royal Hall from November 1st to 4th 1909.
The rats used in the play were sold as souvenirs after the last performance:
Daddy Rats for 6d, Mummy Rats for 6d and Baby Rats for 3d.
In 2008, LADS acquired this Tilley’s postcard from 1910.
It had never been used, but is now framed and on display in the Theatre.
Last updated Mar 15th 2013. [Back]