The town's first theatre, the Playhouse, was built on the east side of French Street and opened in 1766. In 1798 the owner Thomas Collins purchased the old St John's Hospital site on the west side of French Street on which he built an entirely new and larger theatre. The new theatre, designed by Joseph Slater (1762-1813), architect and builder of Orchard Place, opened in 1803 and was named the Theatre Royal. It served the town during the remainder of its fashionable spa period and appears to have been a popular venue. It was patronized by visiting nobility and even, on occasions by royalty. Demand for legitimate theatre had abated by the mid 19th century, and at some stage it was converted into a music hall. It burned down in 1884 and was replaced by a new theatre/music hall called the Gaiety, and later the Empire. In the 1930s the Daily Echo Journalist, Townsman, lamented that the theatre was no longer used for entertainment and expected its demolition at any time.

Theatre Royal, French Street

Image Unavailable

An engraving published by T Woodfall, 1805


Further reading:
Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p95. (HS/h)
Southampton’s Theatres and Music Halls 1766-1960, by Eric Harris. (HS/r)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p23, 55 (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p115. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p4, 134-135. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p31-32. (HS/h)


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