'We subjoin a brief Sketch of the history of the Theatre.
'The Olympic Theatre, originally the Olympic Pavilion, was situated in Wych-street, Strand, on the site of Drury-house, built by Sir William Drury, an able commander in the Irish wars, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; whence Drury-lane. In the next century it was possessed by Earl Craven, by whom it was rebuilt. It was next a public-house, bearing the sign of the Queen of Bohemia's Head, the Earl's admired mistress. In 1806, the house was taken down, and the ground purchased by Mr. Philip Astley, of the Amphitheatre, Westminster Bridge-road, who built thereon the present theatre, for horsemanship, &c., and called it the Olympic Pavilion, the performances being similar to those at the Amphitheatre. Astley sold it to Mr. [Robert William] Elliston, whose proprietorship of the Olympic was the most successful scene in his enterprising life. Here he produced Rochester [16 November 1818], founded on a celebrated French anecdote in the life of Henry V., subsequently adapted at Covent-garden as Charles the Second [27 May 1824]. At the Olympic, Mr. Elliston played Rochester, and Mrs. [John] Edwin [junior] the Countess of Lovelaugh, for nearly one hundred successive nights, and drew almost all the rank and fashion of London to a theatre that had previously been considered low. Added to this was the advantage of a regular drama, and a company from the patent houses: and such was the tide of fortune at the Olympic and Sans Pareil Theatres at this period, that the managers of Drury-lane and Covent-garden memorialised the Lord Chamberlain on the grievance. Mr. Elliston's splendid success enabled him to embark into the fluctuations of Drury-lane Theatre, and the Olympic was let for a time. In 1822-23, it was under the management of Mr. [Daniel] Egerton, and the spirited performances of Mrs. [Sarah] Egerton, in melodramas, proved very fortunate. It then fell into the hands of a succession of speculators, till it was purchased of the assignees of Mr. Elliston by the late Mr. John Scott.
'At length, the theatre was let to Madame [Eliza] Vestris, under whose tasteful management it proved a very profitable speculation; the tide of popularity once more set in towards the Olympic, its success reminding one of the good-fortune of Elliston upon the same spot. At length, Madame Vestris relinquished her tenancy, and removed to Covent Garden Theatre. Since this period, the Olympic has been let to parties far too numerous for us to chronicle. The lesseeship and management of Mr. Davidson have, it is understood, been successful. His tenancy was fast drawing to a close, and the performances advertised for Thursday (the evening of the fire) were "for the Benefit of Mr. Bender, and the Last Night but One of the Season."
'the exterior of the theatre was the least slightly of all the London theatres, and for inconvenience of situation it was unmatched. The Engraving shows the principal frontage, in Wych-street. The interior was circular in plan, with one entire circle of boxes, and half-tiers level with the gallery, and the usual private and stage boxes; and the pit was spacious.
'Many favourites of the public have gained their popularity at the Olympic. In the list we find Elliston and Mrs. Edwin, [William] Oxberry, Pearman, [Robert] Keeley, [Edward] Fitzwilliam, and [Tyrone] Power: all prior to Madame Vestris's occupation. Miss [Maria] Foote, [John] Liston, and, we believe, Mrs. [Mary Ann] Orger, last played there; and Mr. Charles Mathews here made his first appearance upon any stage. Mr. [William] Farren was also one of the Vestris company; and, we believe, he had just concluded an agreement to become lessee of the theatre for a term. Mr. Charles Kean and Miss Ellen Tree have also played there; and, among the latest events in the history of theatre, is the début of Mr. Gustavus Brooke, in the higher walk of the drama.'
(The Illustrated London News, London, Saturday, 31 March 1849, p.216)
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