The 1810-1811 Season

By Frank McHugh

The auditorium of the Sans Pareil was slightly altered for the 1810-11 season. As the 3 December bill put it: "The House has been embellished in the Audience Part, the Back Seat of the Side Boxes elevated, the Frontispiece also elevated, improving the View of the Stage from the Gallery, and other alterations." The construction of the gallery in 1809, the improvement of sight lines this present season, and the addition of stage and upper-side boxes in 1814 completed John Scott's theatre.

The Scott family was again very active. One ballet, The Soldier's Frolic, was composed and danced by Goodwin, the new ballet master and choreographer. All other pieces were written by Jane M. Scott, that "gifted artiste, and I may say Genius" (Charles Dibdin, the younger, Memoirs, p. 97). Miss Scott acted in four of her pieces, giving well over a hundred performances. Proprietor John Scott managed the theatre and served as machinist. Bills call special attention to his "mechanical fall of snow" and other spectacular effects in the pantomime The Magic Pipe; or, Dancing Mad. John Scott's son designed at least two scenes for this same piece.

But the Sans Pareil had evolved beyond the stage when everything depended on Jane Scott's imagination and her father's business acumen. Maurice W. Disher recalls those first seasons: "While she acted her own heroines, John Scott, in his shirt sleeves, packed people closer to increase the takings by five pounds a night" (Blood and Thunder, p. 216). Perhaps another quality of the Scotts that Disher cites, their respect for the stage and their hospitality to actors, explains the rapid development of their company. At any rate, it is not one-woman shows that distinguish this 1810-1811 season, but pantomimes, farces and variety acts--all requiring a diverse and able company.

The Sans Pareil presented a pantomime every evening. The Magic Pipe ran for sixty-three consecutive nights, gave way to sixteen performances of The Necromancer; or, The Golden Key, which had played in the previous season, and then returned for a run of thirteen more nights. Auld, Harlequin at the Haymarket in 1806, was the company's Harlequin; Miss Ruggles danced Columbine; Goodwin played Lover; and James Barnes appeared as Pantaloon. By 1829, the Times was declaring Barnes "the best Pantaloon on the stage." Later in his career, as A. E. Wilson said, "he was unique and unsurpassable; the most perfect type imaginable of senile imbecility, receiving knocks and cuffs with placid resignation and tottering about as if he perpetually expected to be knocked down and set up again like a nine pin" (King Panto, p. 115). The versatile James Kirby, who would be at Drury Lane in 1811, was principal Clown, occasionally replaced by young George Bristow, brother-in-law to both Grimaldi and Jack Bologna, who was just beginning his career in the minor theatres and the provinces.

In his study of the music hall, The Early Doors, Harold Scott notes that the Sans Pareil and the Lyceum were the leading variety theatres in the West End of London during the early nineteenth century (p. 93). The performances at the Sans Pareil, E. Beresford Chancellor says, "were first of that heterogenous character associated with the careers of some of the smaller theatres, and a medley of 'turns', much akin to those of a music hall, preceded the legitimate drama here" (Pleasure Haunts of London, pp. 123-4). A bill for the final evening of the 1810-1811 season shows the strength of the Sans Pareil in this respect and suggests the varied entertainments presented throughout the season but seldom announced on the bills. Many favorite songs were sung on 6 April: "Live and be Jolly," "Bonny Lad," "Old Times," "Bag of Nails," "Four and Twenty Lord Mayors' Shows," "Let Fame Sound the Trumpet," and "Miss Muggins." A triple hornpipe was danced by Goodwin, Miss Ward and Miss Lever. And George Bristow starred in a scene from Dibdin's aquadrama The Wild Man, "by permission of the proprietors of Sadler's Wells." This scene, often given on benefit nights, and first played by Grimaldi, showed "the powerful influence of music over even the savage mind" (Dibdin's Memoirs, p. 102).

On other evenings this season, Miss Acres sang Vauxhall songs, and Mr. Rose, visiting from Astley's Amphitheatre, sang James Sanderson's "Lilly from Jamaica; or, The Negro in London." Herr Schmidt offered a trumpet concerto "performed for the first time on an instrument which lately cost one hundred guineas, being of silver, rimmed with gold, and the tone melodiously beautiful."

Henry Hengler, the Vauxhall rope-walker and father of Frederick Charles Hengler, founder of Hengler's Circus, danced "with baskets, also boys, tied to his feet and one on his shoulder." And James Barnes more than once thrilled the audience when he made his flight from the gallery "with accompaniment on the trumpet."

The roster for this season names twenty-three actors and twenty-one actresses. Joining the company for the first time and for short stays were Bristow, Miss Acres from Vauxhall Gardens ("first time on any stage"), Asker from the Theatre Royal Dublin, and J. Lewis from the Theatre Royal Manchester. Goodwin, ballet master for this season, "late of Covent Garden," was probably the "Master Goodwin" who performed at Covent Garden 1796-1803, son of the Covent Garden performers Thomas and Eleanor Goodwin. Daly began his long tenure this season, joining his wife and such other stalwarts as Godbee, Robert Stebbing and C. H. Simpson.

Eight pieces were presented in the approximately ninety-two evenings of this season which began on 3 December 1810 and concluded on 6 April 1811.

© Copyright 1988 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

Thank you for visiting this site. If you wish to contact the various Editors, please visit the Editor's Home Pages.