Sadler's Wells Theatre

Rosebery Avenue,
London, EC1R 4TN

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Located in the east-central London district of Islington on the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Arlington Way. Sadler’s Wells Theatre originally opened on 8th April 1765. The original well, which earlier had been a source of spa water, was retained inside the building (today located under the floor of the rear stalls seating area of the current Sadler’s Wells Theatre on the site).

It went through several alterations over the years, particulary in 1879, when theatre architect C.J. Phipps reconstructed the auditorium within the existing walls and gave a seating capacity of 1,600. It then operated as a variety theatre, and later went over to staging melodramas. Early Bioscope films were shown from 1896, as part of the variety programme. Further alterations were carried out in 1901 by theatre architect Bertie Crewe, and in 1902, it became part of the MacNaghten Vaudeville Circuit.

It was converted into a full time cinema from 26th September 1914, a month after the commencement of World War I. The operators were the Biocolour Picture Theatres Ltd. chain, but they could not make a profit from the building, and it was closed in December 1915.

The old theatre was then left derelict and vandalised until it was demolished in 1930.

A new Sadler’s Wells Theatre was built on the site, designed in an Art Deco style by architect F.G.M Chancellor of Frank Matcham & Co., with 1,650 seats. This was opened on 6th January 1931, and was managed by Lillian Baylis, who inaugerated a policy of ballet, opera and drama. It became the London home of ballet & opera, prior to the Covent Garden Opera House being re-opened after World War II.

In 1998, Sadler’s Wells Theatre was extensivly re-modeled, and continues today, as a home for modern dance productions.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 21, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Photographs, memorabilia and a more detailed history here:
View link

Ian on October 23, 2009 at 5:46 am

I believe that in 1998, the 1931 theatre was entirely demolished and replaced by the current building – any reuse of the 1931 structure was minimal in the extreme, if at all.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 2, 2015 at 11:38 am

When the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (which was its name then) toured the USA in the post-War era I attended performances at the old Boston Opera House in Boston Massachusetts. I also went to performances of vintage musical shows which were presented from time to time at the theater. The performances I attended were very good and always sold out. I recall the huge orchestra pit there. The only drawback was the walk back to my hotel in Russell Square through dark, creepy streets. I agree with Ian’s post above- it seems to me that the old 1931 theater was demolished prior to building the present venue.

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