Old Orchard Street Theatre

Old Orchard Street Theatre
Old Orchard Street Theatre
Location: Bath, Somerset
Coordinates: 51°22′49″N 2°21′29″W / 51.38028°N 2.35806°W / 51.38028; -2.35806Coordinates: 51°22′49″N 2°21′29″W / 51.38028°N 2.35806°W / 51.38028; -2.35806
Built: 1747-1750
Architect: Hippesley and Watts
Listed Building – Grade II
Official name: Masonic Hall formerly Theatre
Designated: 12 June 1950[1]
Reference #: 443204
Old Orchard Street Theatre is located in Somerset
Location of Old Orchard Street Theatre in Somerset

The Old Orchard Street Theatre in Bath, Somerset, England was built as a provincial theatre before becoming a Roman Catholic Church and since 1865 has been a Masonic Hall. It is a Grade II listed building.[1]



In 1705 the first theatre opened in Bath. It was on a site which The building by George Trim was small and cramped and made little profit in the years before its demolition in 1738. The site it was on is now the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. A New Theatre opened in Kingsmead Street in 1723 and operated until 1751.[2][3]

The site for a new theatre was chosen by John Wood, the Elder, who laid out much of the city, on the site of the old orchard of Bath Abbey.[4] Construction work for the theatre in Old Orchard Street began in 1747, to designs by the architects Hippesley and Watts, with the work being completed by John Powell in 1750.[1] The theatre was 60 feet (18 m) long and 40 feet (12 m) board.[5] It opened on 27 October, under the management of John Palmer, with a performance of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2.[4]

Palmer obtained a royal patent in 1768 which enabled the use of the title ‘Theatre Royal’; the first to achieve this outside London.[2] He handed control to his son, also John Palmer who worked as his father's London agent, frequently travelling between London and Bath. Palmer also owned the Theatre Royal, King Street, in Bristol, which now houses the Bristol Old Vic. The two theatres shared one acting company, so Palmer had to move his actors, stagehands and props quickly between Bristol and Bath, he set up a coach service which provided safe, quick and efficient transport for his actors and materials. Later, when Palmer became involved in the Post Office, he believed that the coach service he had previously run between theatres could be utilised for a countrywide mail delivery service.[5] He continued to manage the theatre until 1785 when he was appointed as Comptroller-General of the Post Office,[6][7] and handed control to two existing members of the company, William Keasberry and William Wyatt Dimond.[4] Keasberry (1726–1797) was associated with the theatre as actor and manager from 1757 to 1795,[8] first acting as manager during the season of 1760.[9]

Sarah Siddons joined the company between 1778 and 1782 and was amongst many leading actors of the day who performed at the theatre.[10] During these years, the theatre performed an increasing number of plays written by women, and it has been suggested that this was due chiefly to the presence of Siddons in the company, as well as being related to the retirement of David Garrick.[11]

The building was used as a theatre until 1805, when the present Theatre Royal opened.[12] In the early years of the 19th century, Jane Austen was familiar with the theatre in Orchard Street, which is believed to be the original of that described in chapter 12 of Northanger Abbey.[13]

Catholic church

After four years standing empty the building was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel by the authorities of Prior Park and Downside Abbey and consecrated in 1809.[10] The conversion involved the removal of the stage, gallery and boxes.[14]

After the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 removed many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics which had been introduced by the Act of Uniformity, the chapel became a church and was a site for the ordination of bishops,[15] including Peter Augustine Baines.[10] The vaults which had been used to store scenery was used to create stone tombs with 286 bodies being interred.[14]

The congregation grew and in the 1850s and early 1860s a new St John's Church was designed and built by Charles Francis Hansom. In 1863 the congregation transferred to St John's Church[10] and most of the bodies which had been in the vaults moved to a new churchyard.[14]

Masonic Hall

The building stood empty until 1866 when it was acquired, along with adjacent buildings by the Masonic Royal Cumberland Lodge No. 53 for £636,[14] to become their meeting hall.[10]

The building was damaged during the Baedeker Blitz of 1942.[10]

The hall is now the meeting place of eight Craft Lodges and 15 other Degrees.[14][16][17]


  1. ^ a b c "Masonic Hall formerly Theatre". Images of England. English Heritage. http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/Details/Default.aspx?id=443204. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "History". Theatre Royal. http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/history/. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Theatre Royal, Old Orchard Street, Bath". Arthur Lloyd. http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Bath.htm. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "Walking with the greats". MQ magazine. July 2004. http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-10/p-28.php?PHPSESSID=c59cd231db419873a6a6. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Jane Austen and the Theatre (1): The Theatre Royal, Bath". austenonly. http://austenonly.com/2009/11/10/jane-austen-and-the-theatre-1-the-theatre-royal-bath/. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Mail Coach Service" (PDF). British Postal Museum and Archive. http://postalheritage.org.uk/history/downloads/BPMA_Info_Sheet_MailCoaches_web.pdf. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  7. ^  Aitken, George Atherton (1895). "Palmer, John (1742-1818)". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography. 43. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  8. ^ Wilkinson, Tate; Lyle Larsen (1998). Memoirs of his own life. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0838637678. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=vWBRvEdI3WkC&pg=PA231#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  9. ^ Choudhury, Mita. Interculturalism and Resistance: In the London Theater, 1660-1800 - Identity, Performance, Empire. Bucknell University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0838754481. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Lp8Yywd3M7MC&pg=PA99#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f "History". Bath's Old Street Theatre. http://www.oldtheatreroyal.com/#/history/4536624518. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  11. ^ O'Quinn, Daniel; Jane Moody (2007). The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre, 1730-1830. Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0521617772. 
  12. ^ "Theatre Royal (i) (Bath)". Theatre Trust. http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/543-theatre-royal-i-bath. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  13. ^ Gay, Penny (2006). Jane Austen and the Theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0521024846. 
  14. ^ a b c d e "Walking with the greats. Page 2". MQ magazine. http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-10/p-29.php. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Old Orchard Street Theatre". Guide to Bath. http://www.guide2bath.com/news/40/The-Old-Orchard-Street-Theatre-in-Bath. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  16. ^ "Lodges meeting in Bath". Provincial Grand Lodge of Somerset. http://www.pglsomerset.org.uk/bath.htm. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  17. ^ "Freemasonry in Bath". Bath Freemasons. http://www.bathfreemasons.org.uk/portal.htm. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 

Further reading

  • Toogood, Malcolm (2010). Bath 's Old Orchard Street Theatre. Chippenham: Cepenpark Publishing. ISBN 9780956423009. 
  • Heather Bryant, Theatre Royal, Bath: a calendar of performances at the Orchard Street Theatre, 1750-1805 (Kingsmead Press, 1977)

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