Site Home
 



Topic Home


Origins

The first theatre was built in Leeds in 1771. Until then Leeds relied on travelling companies of players probably on their way to and from York or Wakefield, both much more important from a dramatic point of view than Leeds.  

Companies of strolling players would have visited the town and performed their plays in the yards of inns like the Talbot and the Rose and Crown in Briggate. Evidence for such visits in the early eighteenth century is given in the diary of Ralph Thoresby. On Sunday 3rd June 1722 Thoresby went to church, where the vicar preached a sermon against plays. Part of the entry for that day reads:

'He particularly inveighed against plays, which reproof was the more necessary, because we have had in town a company of players six or eight weeks, which has seduced many, and got abundance of silver.'

Early newspaper reports mention 'the company of comedians from York.' The earliest known performance of a play in Leeds was reported in the Leeds Mercury for 4th November 1729, was 'The Beggar's Wedding', given by Mr. Herbert's company of comedians 'with an universal applause.' It was probably based on 'The Beggar’s Opera' which was popular at that time. In 1757 there was a performance of Shakespeare's Richard III.

To accommodate players the Rose and Crown provided a concert room, where plays along with songs were performed. The concert room was supposed to be for musical entertainment only; a license was required to perform plays for profit. The publican got round this by only charging the audience for their seats for the music; the plays were free.

On December 17th 1767 a New Concert Hall opened on Vicar Lane; the exact position of the building is not certain. On the opening night there was a concert of music. Followed by a play, which was presented free, indicating that the hall did not have a dramatic licence. After the play was a 'musical entertainment.'

We know very little about the concert hall on Vicar Lane. What is certain is that in 1771 Tate Wilkinson opened the Theatre in Hunslet Lane, and this was the real beginning of the history of the theatre in Leeds.







Click images to enlarge
The Rose and Crown Yard
The Rose and Crown Yard
Programme, first night at New Concert Hall, 1767
Programme, first night at New Concert Hall, 1767
Address at opening of New Concert Hall, 1767
Address at opening of New Concert Hall, 1767




Site Map

© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003