ST JOHN'S PLACE
656-1/40/1564 (North side)
Theatre Royal and former
Garrick's Head Public House
Theatre, incorporating an earlier house. Original house of c1720 by Thomas Greenway (subsequently the Garrick's Head Tavern); Theatre Royal of 1805, by George Dance the Younger, supervised by John Palmer; theatre interior rebuilt to designs of John Phipps in 1863, following fire of 1862, and foyer added to Saw Close front; substantial restoration 1981/82 by Dowton & Hurst, architects, with interior designer Carl Toms.
MATERIALS: Limestone ashlar, slate roofs.
PLAN: Complex. Theatre built to rear of house on St John's Close: 1860s remodelling saw the merging of the two and the construction of a new entrance off Saw Close, replacing Dance's original entrance from Beauford Square.
EXTERIOR: The earliest part, the former Garrick's Head, consists of a square, late Baroque house of three storeys over a basement, with a hipped roof concealed by a part-balustraded parapet. Five bays to the southern St John's Close front, six to the eastern Saw Close front. Heavy continuous modillion cornices at first and second floor levels of each front with pulvinated frieze. Channelled quoins to angles. Windows set in bolection moulded surrounds, projecting forward from wall plane, with individual entablatures and panelled aprons: nine/nine pane sashes to main floors, six/six to attic, with thick bars. Ground floor of south front retains two window bays to west of central entrance: those to east replaced with C20 openings now leading to basement restaurant. Central six-panel door with three-pane transom light on three steps with slab hood on heavy carved consoles, carrying shaped pedestal with bust of David Garrick, by Lucius Gahagan, 1831. Adjoining the 1720 house's south front is a westward continuation of three bays, later C18 in date, with an arched door, six/six panes sashes to all windows, cornices at each floor level and raised plat surrounds to sill bands; three flat roofed dormers to attic. East front is similarly treated as the south front, but with a balustrade to parapet, replaced in C20 (Mowbray Green's Plate XVII of c1904 shows simple blocking course). The ground floor now much altered: Phipps's theatre frontispiece has replaced four of the six bays with a round-arched foyer, the three openings carried on pairs of columns with Gothic foliate capitals and billet moulding to the arches; circles within spandrels. Balustrade over with central arched panel with relief of the royal arms and the legend NEW THEATRE ROYAL. Remainder of the 1720 ground floor front is largely concealed by signs. The Beauford Square front, by Dance, and the main entrance to Theatre before addition of Saw Close foyer in the 1860s, differs markedly. The Five bay, three storey central block rises from a broader ground floor podium running across the full width of Square. Giant order pilasters carry an entablature with frieze of garlands over the windows, and masks depicting the Comic and Tragic Muses over the pilasters; deeply projecting cornice above, with shallow blocking course; parapet enriched with a central achievement of the Hanoverian royal arms, with lyre terminals (renewed) over the pilasters. Windows are six/six-pane sashes in plain reveals. Plain returns, with wings to each side, set back from base. First floor windows set above full width podium above long ground floor with eight recessed panels with segmental heads, and segmental headed sashes, middle bay with pair of panelled doors, (the former entrance to theatre) and left hand bay modified with inserted door. At each end wider bay, set back, with doors to left, and blind panel to right. Behind this frontage rises high fly-tower of 1981: entirely plain and clad in lead, it was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible and not detract from Dance's notable front.
INTERIOR: Auditorium, entirely rebuilt in 1863 after fire, but remodelled in 1981 to recreate more Georgian appearance, has three galleries in horse-shoe plan, carried on eight octagonal cast iron columns with floriate capitals, set back from balcony fronts, at two levels. Balcony front to lowest level panelled, but upper two levels have gilded interlace. Balconies stopped to boxes on two levels at proscenium, with elliptical head to deep coved surround. Flat ceiling has circular painted panel, with raised plaster edge, and large central decorative ventilator grille, with chandelier, to either side deep arched recesses. Warren-like back-stage accommodation. Interior of the 1720 house much altered, part-filled with staircases serving the theatre.
HISTORY: Earliest phase dates from 1720, as one of Thomas Greenway's group of four houses in the Sawclose. This was the long-time residence of Beau Nash before moving to the neighbouring house at 9, St John's Close (q.v.). Scheme to build a replacement to the inadequate original theatre of 1768 in Orchard Street (qv) was commenced in August 1804, funded by subscription: theatre patentee was John Palmer MP, rather than Palmer the city architect (who was nonetheless probably involved in realising Dance's scheme). First stone laid of Dance's building in December 1804 and opened on October 12th 1805. Dance's elevation on Beauford Square, replacing the south side, is an outstanding survival of Georgian playhouse architecture; fifteen drawings survive in Sir John Soane's Museum. Interior enriched with allegorical paintings by Andrea Casali from Fonthill Splendens, removed to Dyrham Park (where they remain) in 1845. Dance's interior was totally lost in a fire on April 18th 1862 and replaced with the present version in 1863 which included a new front-of-house and entrance incorporating the former Garrick's Head tavern. Interior decorative scheme based on Shakespeare's plays. Further alterations took place in 1902, when new entrances and a stair to the upper circle were installed: Frank Verity has been suggested as the architect. Theatre fully restored after a period of decline by Dowton & Hurst (job architect Donald Armstrong) in 1982. Survey drawings of 1980 showing the theatre prior to the restoration are in the National Monument Record. The Ustinov Studio was added to the rear in 1997 by the Tektus practice.
SOURCES: Walter Ison, 'The Georgian Buildings of Bath' (2nd ed. 1980), 91-93, 106, 224; Mowbay Green, 'The Eighteenth Century Architecture of Bath' (1904), 28; Pl. xvii; Dorothy Stroud, 'George Dance' (1971), 205 ff; 'Architect's Journal', 22nd February 1984, 47-49; Tim Mowl & Brian Earnshaw, 'John Wood Architect of Obsession' (1988), 51; Neil Jackson, 'Nineteenth Century Bath. Architects and Architecture' (1991), 34-37]; John Earl & Michael Sell eds., `The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950' (2000), 11.
Listing NGR: ST7483464845