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The Story of the Scots Stage
Chapter VII - Early Glasgow Drama


IN approaching the subject of the Glasgow stage, it will be well if we recapitulate some of the steps in its progress towards the civilising influence of the drama. It will equally serve our purpose if, while quoting from the Burgh records, we give some evidence of the zeal exhibited in maintaining its burghal dignity. Amongst the first of these indications is an extract from the records of Glasgow, which shows that that interesting personage, the town minstrel, existed at as early a date as 26th February, 1573. The item reads: "Thomas Downy, paid for making a drum to the common menstrale to play with."

The next entry refers to the coming election of town minstrels: ---

"1st June, 1574. The menstrales continewit quhill the Symmerhill quhen the haill communitie salbe present to give thair votes thairanent. (The election took place on loth June.) The quhilk daye Archibald Bordland and Robert Duncane are admittit to be menstrales to the towne for the instant yeir, and to haif fra ilk freman allanarlie, but meyt (both meat), twa schillingis money at the laist, with the mair at the gevaris (giver's) pleasour."

Besides these public minstrels, there appear to have been a good many itinerant musicians. During the Pest in Glasgow (circa 1574), it was forbidden for any pipers, fiddlers, minstrels or other vagabonds to remain in the town except by Provost's special license, under pain of scourging and banishment.

An entry appears in the accounts for 1579, where an item of ten shillings is passed "to the menstrals for their expenses to Hamilton." In addition to the sense of dignity with which they were regarded by the Burgh, its authorities also held that they should be appropriately clad, so on the and June, 1599, the Provost, Bailies, and Council passed an order to grant each of the eight officers and two minstrels "sa meikill reid stamyng as wilbe (will buy) ilkane of thame ane mantill with stringes in the syde and the townes armes on the schoulder thairoff in the best fassone thai can be bade."

But it is from the Church that we get the first evidence of the existence of the player person. The Kirk Session of Glasgow, on 24th April, 1595, instructed the town's drummer to forbid all persons "from going to Ruglen to see vainplays on Sundays." As to what these plays were, and who acted in them, history so far is silent.

Returning to the itinerant entertainers, they had made themselves so notorious by their utter disregard of the law, that the decree of 26th January, 161 I, had to be passed for their correction:

"The provost, baillies and counsale upono consideration of the grit abuse done to women be scallis and bardis quha can nocht be pwinst in thair gudis throw thair mister and povertie, for restraining and remeid quhairof it is ordainit that all sik scallis and bardis quha hciraftir hapens to abuse honest women with thair blasphemous langyage, upon tryell of thair blasphemie be pwinst in prisson viij days and thaireftir brankit upone, ane mercat day frac X houris to Xii houris."

Whether it was similar conduct on the part of the strolling players that led to the Kirk Session taking notice of them also by enactment is left to conjecture; but their decree of 10th May, 1624, intimated that "all revellers and comedians would be severely punished."

That the musical taste, which has been so perfectly upheld, was early fostered by its citizens, may be proved from an entry in the Burgh Records under date 15th July, 1626:

"Agreed that James Saunderis should instruct all bairnes in school musik for ten schillingis ilk quarter to himself and fortie pennies to his man."

And that the Council themselves patronised the musicians we find in an item paid by the Treasurer, Anno 1629:

"Item. To twa menstrales quha did play in John Rouats on Witsonday . . . ` Lviijs."

At a later date, another form of pestilence was prevalent in the Burgh, and the Council's decree (12th December, 1646, which contains an unconscious bull) ordered that "na man transport thaimsclvis of the town except women and children and thair be na meiting at lykewakes nor efter burialls."

On 20th July, 1670, the Magistrates interdicted strolling players from performing plays, such as The Wisdom of Solomon, in private houses. A writer of this date (Arnot) says:

"The writings of their most popular divines represented the playhouse as the actual temple of the Devil, where he frequently appeared clothed in a corporeal substance and possessed the pectators, whom he held as his worshippers."

In their view, "The Temple of Beelzebub was to be shunned. They assured the people that any place which gave shelter to the accursed thing or its exponents would be burnt. This put a wholesome dread of consequences in the minds of many who were in doubt. Even landlords were chary of affording play or players house-room, whether as a measure of self-protection, or from fear of offending the clergy, is matter for speculation. Further than this, the good citizens were not allowed to be out of doors after tattoo time.

Some difficulty seems to have arisen in the way of collecting the town minstrels' wages. To meet this, the Council (5th February, 1676) ordained that "ane bank be sent throw the toune to adverteis theis who has not payit their zuill wages to the drummers that they pay the same, uthirwayes the Magistrates will cause poynd them therfor."

A record of the Council, under date 5th June, 1682, is interesting, as sheaving the monopoly which the Fountains enjoyed as Masters of the Revels:

"The said day ordains the Provost to have a warrand for 240 pounds Scots payed to Edward and James Fountain, masters of the revells, for discharging the ventners in toune of the charges of horning given them, for keiping games or plays of quhatsomever kynd, in their houssis and for frieing them. of the lyke in tyme coming during their gift."

But, alas for the aspirations of the "unco guid," the mind of the young Glaswegian was naturally wicked and inclined to run into evil paths, despite his knowledge of the dire consequences of sin. And so, on the 12th September, 169!, the Council state that:

"Considering whereas great and many abuses in the night tyme have been of late committed by several inhabitants of the toune, to the great scandall of religion, contempt of authoritic and hurt to severall persones, for preventing whereof these are hereby discharging and prohibiting whatsoever persones upon whatsoever pretext to goe through the toune in the night tynmc maskeradirng, or sirenadina, or in companic with violls or other instruments of musick in any number. Certyfying all such who shall commit any such abuses, shall be fyned one hundredth pounds, toties quoties, and punished in their persones, and proceeded against by Church censure as persones notoriously scandalous and appoints a proclarnation to be sent throw the tounc to intimat the same."

The citizens still retained their musical interest, for, on 24th September of this year, Mr. Lewis de France was licensed by the Council to teach music to the inhabitants at 14s. per month, for one hour per day, and was also entitled to 14s. for writing the thirteen common tunes and a few palms, the scholars furnishing the necessary books. The poor were to be taught free, and for this office De France received 100 Scots from the Burgh.

Neither was Glasgow unmindful of the social graces. On the 11th November, 1699,

"The quhilk day the Magistrats and Toune Council convened They, upon a supplicatione, given in be John Smith, dancing master allow and permitt the said John to teach dancing within this burgh and under the provisions and conditions underwritten, viz:

"That he shall behave himself soberly, teach at seasonable hours, keep no balls, and that he shall so order his teaching that there shall be noe promiscuous danceing of young men and women togither (The giddiness of it!), bot that each sex shall be taught by themselves, and be out of the house before the other enter therein. And if the said John transgress in any of these, appoynts the Magistrats to putt him out of this burgh."

In the month of August, 1728, part of Tony Aston's company of comedians migrated from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and received permission from Bailie Murdoch to perform in the Weigh House, The Beggar's Opera. A good audience was there to meet them on the opening night, but the attendance on the following evening was very poor. The clergy brought the matter before the Magistrates, blaming them for this innovation, but they were informed that the ministers should have warned them beforehand. This omission was repaired afterwards, judging by an extract from a private letter of that date:

"Sabbath after the ministers preached against going to those interludes and plays, Mr. Robertson of Kilsyth went through all that was agoing about meeting houses, plays, errors and profaneness, and spared none, I hear."

Previous to 1750, the entertainment of the Burgh had been entirely provided by bands of strolling players, acrobats, tumblers, singers, and dancers. Burrell's Close, a passage leading out eastward from Duke Street, had a public hall which formed their abiding place. Its proprietor, Daniel Burrell, had been invited by the civic authorities to teach dancing. His fees were 25s. for a seven month session, 5s. for a ball, and 1s. for each lesson. To this was added an annual Corporation salary of 20 in the shape of a guarantee. But, even with this, he found it difficult to make a decent living at his profession. So he decided to let his Hall to the variety shows, of which the following is a programme of the earliest which appeared there. It is taken from The Glasgow Courant, 30th September, 1751.

"Being positively the last night of our performance in this City. For the benefit of Mr. Dominique. At Mr. Burrell's Hall above the Cross, this present Monday, will be performed a Concert of variety and Instrumental Music. Boxes and Pit 2s. Gallery is. Between the two parts of the Concert will be given (gratis) Rope Dancing and Tumbling. Particularly Mr. Gorman will jump over the garter forward and backward on the stiff rope, such as was never done in this city before. Likewise, Walking on the Small Slack Wire, by the famous Russian Boy. Dancing both serious and comic, by Mons. and Madam Granicr. Likewise, a new Humorous Dance called The Soldier and the Sailor, the Tinker and the Taylor, and Buxome Joan of Deptford. To the great surprise of the spectators, Mr. Dominique will fly over the Double Fountain. To conclude with a Pantomime Entertainment called Harlequin Captive, or the Dutchman Bitt. The Doors to be opened at five, and to begin exactly at six."

The first theatre was erected in 1752, and consisted of a wooden booth, which stood against an old wall of the Bishop's Palace, in an area called the Castle Yard. To this home of the drama came many patrons, who were carried there in sedans, under a strong guard to protect them from the fanatics. This unruly mob gathered round the theatre to threaten those who dared enter "the Devil's Home," not only with the judgment of Heaven, but with what was worse, summary and immediate violence. The members of the company included Messrs. Love, West Digges, and Mrs. Ward, old Edinburgh favourites.

Upon this interesting scene entered the great dissenter, George Whitfield. Standing in the graveyard of the Cathedral, he invoked the wrath of God upon the play-house. It was not long before his prayer was answered. Full of the righteousness of his reasoning, and the spirit of destruction, a mob of religious fanatics rushed forthwith to the theatre, and the fervour of their righteous mood did not pass away until the place was totally destroyed. It was not till twelve years had passed that another house was raised. Five Glasgow gentlemen had been to Edinburgh, seeing the beautiful Mrs. Bellamy in Rotneo and Juliet. Enchanted with her performance, they obtained an introduction, and, having gained an audience, they took every means to induce her to visit their native city, promising to build a theatre for her. John Jackson, the Edinburgh manager, accompanied by two brother managers, Love and Beatt, and acting in conjunction with the five aforementioned gentlemen, set out for Glasgow to crave the Council's permission to erect a theatre in the city. The names of the five guarantors were W. M'Dowall, of Castle Semple; Wm. Bogle, Hamilton Farm; John Baird, Craigton;

Robert Rogle, Shettleston; and James Garnkirk, all members of the best social clubs. The chief difficulty was that of obtaining a site, for no one would provide ground for such an ungodly purpose. John Miller, maltman, of Westerton, was advertising steadings to form a new street from Argyle Street to Candleriggs Loan. Frustrated in their efforts to obtain any more suitable spot, they purchased ground from him in Grahamstown, beyond the Burgh bounds, and occupying a spot where Hope Street joins Argyle Street. The committee complained that the price wanted (5s. per square yard) was exorbitant and extraordinary. To this Miller's inexorable reply was, "Aye, but ye'll see, as it is intended for a temple of Belial, I'll expect an exorbitant and extraordinary sum for the purpose."

In the spring of 1764, it was announced that the new theatre would shortly be opened by Beatt and Love. The date was then fixed, and it was arranged that Mrs. Bellamy would make her first appearance therein. On the previous evening the Revivalists were busy. In an open space at Anderston, a Methodist preacher was addressing the crowd. The enormity of the offence made him eloquent. Pointing towards Alston Street, he continued: "I dreamed last night I was in Hell, where a banquet was being held. All the devils in the pit were there, when Lucifer, their chief, gave them a toast: `Here is to the health of John Miller of Westerton, who has sold his ground to build Me a House on.' " The spark had caught fire: the incentive was given. The temple of Beelzebub must be razed. With the speed of fanatic wrath, the theatre was quickly reached, a light applied to the edifice, and before many hours had elapsed the zealots had succeeded in destroying the stage properties and costumes, as well as a considerable portion of the building. Airs. Bellamy arrived next morning to find the managers in despair. But she was not so easily daunted. She sent for Beatt and told him to announce at the Exchange and the Cross that 'Mrs. Bellamy would appear and act at the theatre to-night." Rehearsals were called at the Black Bull Inn, where she lodged. Arrangements were made for repairing the theatre and setting it in order for the same night. Her indomitable pluck inspired the public in her favour. Offers of money were made by the city merchants, and the wardrobes of the ladies were placed at her disposal. Dressing at the Black Bull Inn, she was conveyed to the theatre in a sedan chair, appearing that night in The Citizen, followed by the farce The Mock Doctor, with Reddish as lead, and Aitken, comedian. A goodly and enthusiastic company welcomed her, and remained seated till they saw her safely out of the theatre, the Town Guard being under orders to escort her back to the city. The quality of her reception may be gathered from her own remarks in a letter to a friend:--

"The beauty of the place and of the country around it are extremely captivating
. . . . It reminds every one, who has ever seen the beautiful village, of Haarlem."

Amongst the parts she played during this engagement was that of Lady Macbeth, for which she had to borrow a white satin dress, her own costume having been burned by the religious mob.

"As I had no black vestment of any kind sent to me amongst the numerous ones of different colours, I made that an objection to playing Lady Macbeth, upon which I was assured by one of the inhabitants that her ladyship's ghost walked every night at the Castle of Dunsinane dressed in white satin."

Beatt and Love kept the theatre for four years, after which Williams became a tenant in 1768 and continued for three seasons with stock companies. Digges, coming from Edinburgh, gave it a season's trial, then relinquished the management in favour of Ross, who succeeded him in 1773. Ross had won his spurs at Covent Garden some twenty years before as a light comedian, but the ravages of time (he was 65) and a marked tendency to emboinpoint, did not help to make him a very acceptable actor. It was he who had been willed by his father the sum "of one shilling to be paid Mr. Ross by his sister, to thereby put him in mind of the misfortune he (the son) had to be born." This did not quite satisfy Ross, who, upon taking the matter into Court, was awarded 6,000 as his share of the legacy.

We now come to the Dunlop Street house. Colin Dunlop, the Provost of Glasgow, had acquired St. Enoch's Croft, a pretty site facing the Clyde. A charming pleasure ground ran down to the Green, and the croft extended from about the present Morison's Court westward nearly to that ground upon which Maxwell Street stands. Maxwell Street was then the happy hunting ground of the bon ton. John Jackson offered to purchase the ground for a theatre site, and obtained the Provost's consent. This brought down the wrath of the clergymen upon Mr. Dunlop's head, and they took treasures to prevent its erection. Those who resided in St. Enoch's Court adduced a clause in their feu, "That it shall not be lawful to erect any tanwork candle work or manufactory, upon any part of the grounds which may be deemed a nuisance by the Magistrates of Glasgow." On this clause they set to work. Jackson had so far progressed that his arrangements were completed for laying the foundation stone on Saturday, 17th February, 1781. As he stood there with trowel in hand, a notice was handed to him, which read: "Dr. Gillies and Mr. Porteous offer their compliments to Mr. Jackson and think it their duty candidly to inform him, before he proceeds further in the work, they intend to join with other proprietors in Dunlop Street to prevent " its erection, and so forth. To which Jackson (who was both a scholar and a gentleman, his father having been a clergyman, and he himself having been a divinity student) replied at great length, acting upon his lawyer's advice. He contended that the theatre was not a manufactory, and therefore could not be a nuisance, that a church or a ball-room might with equal propriety be regarded as such, and that in no way would the building spoil the view of any of the landowners. The result was the withdrawal of the opposition, and that the property in the neighbourhood immediately rose in value, a fact of which his opponents were amongst the first to take advantage. This may claim to have been really the first Glasgow play-house, the former being situated in Grahamstown, beyond the city boundary. Dunlop Street Theatre cost 3,000 to erect, and held, at Edinburgh prices, 90 to 100. In length it

was 90 feet, and breadth 40 feet. The pit-door opened in the centre of the west gable, and the facade was completed by a piazza supported by Doric columns. It was opened in January of 1782, and was worked for fifteen years by the Edinburgh stock company. It happened that, on 12th March, 1782, there came one of those familiar floods, in which the Clyde, assuming larger proportions than had ever been known before, rose some twenty feet, sweeping away many homes. By devoting the proceeds of a night's performance to the benefit of the sufferers, Jackson at once turned the popular tide in his favour. People began to recognise that, although a "son of Belial," there was something akin to true religion about the player.

Mrs. Siddons made her first appearance at the Dunlop Street Theatre in 1795. She was then at the zenith of her fame. Three years before, she had taken the London playgoers by storm with her Lady Macbeth. By one of those strange anomalies, which seem native to most types of genius, she had married an extremely opposite creature. Of an unpoetic and egotistical disposition, he used to boast, "I can either play Hamlet or Harlequin." "Sarah's pathos," said Mr. Siddons at a private party, "always makes me laugh. Small beer, I think, is good for crying. The day that my wife drinks small beer, she cries amazingly. If I was to give her porter, she wouldn't be worth a farthing." On the principle of exchange, we may as well retail an anecdote regarding Mr. Siddons. "I forbade you," said old Roger Kemble, when he heard of Sarah's marriage, "to marry an actor. You will not have disobeyed me when you marry Siddons. He is not, he was not, he never will be an actor."

For over five years, Jackson managed the Dunlop Street house, bringing to it, amongst others, Henderson (Garrick's rival), Mrs. Jordan, Lee Lewis, Pope, King, and John Kemble. The stock company was one of the best that had been there, and included Stephen Kemble, Henry Siddons, and Mrs. Duncan.

Sheridan's School for Scandal was produced on 31st July, 1790, Mr. King appearing in his original part as Sir Peter, and Miss Farren as Lady Teazle. On 11th August, Much Ado About Nothing was played with the following cast:

Stephen Kemble, Young, Rock, Toms, Turpin, Lamlash, Grant, Duncan, Henry Siddons, Mrs. Kemble, and Mrs. Duncan, and the Misses Walstern, Kemble, and Duncan. "Glasgow," wrote Mr. Strang in 1856, "has never had a company to equal that one."

But Jackson had too many irons in the fire for financial comfort. Owner of the Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Dundee houses, the efforts he put forth in combined management finally brought him into a state of bankruptcy. his successor, that reputed chief of the declamatory school of acting, Stephen Kemble, took up the reins at Dunlop Street, and continued there, till 1799, when Jackson, having secured the support of Mr. Francis Aitken of London, one of his aristocratic acquaintances, they purchased the Theatre Royal, and once again Shakespearean plays came into vogue, accompanied by the production of all the principal plays of the period, Jane Shore, Douglas, Venice Preserved, and the Sheridan, Coleman, and Goldsmith comedies. There, too, might Jack Bannister, " Handsome Jack," be found, the best of light comedians, to whom even Elliston "took off his hat."

To this came, in 1804, Master West Betty, the infant Roscius. The son of Belfast gentlefolk, endowed with a handsome appearance and a remarkably quick memory, he speedily made his way to the front rank. He had taken Dublin by storm, and his fame had reached the Metropolis. There he was offered 50 a night, when the best Covent Garden and Drury Lane men were content with 16 a week. Before this, his provincial salary had been at the rate of 100 a night. For fourteen performances at Liverpool he cleared 1,520. Painters sought the honour of his portraiture; politicians, such as Fox and Pitt, sought his company, and the latter once moved an adjournment to see him act. The University of Cambridge made him the recipient of a medal. Crowds attended his performances nightly, soldiers guarding the entrances and approaches. Appearing at Covent Garden Theatre, the opposition house, Drury Lane, with a weak programme, took over 300 from the overflow. His young Norval was loudly praised, and one local critic who had dared to raise a dissentient voice was compelled to leave the city. Macready describes him as a miracle of beauty, grace, and genius. On the contrary, Mrs. Inchbald thought his tone too preachy. He is a clever little boy, and had I never seen boys act before, I might have thought him exquisite." For one part, his education was somewhat incomplete, and his pronunciation was notable for its elision of the aspirate. To. the tuition of Boughton, an old Irish prompter, he owed almost everything, Houghton having taught him all his most successful parts, a fact which could easily be confirmed by the stereotyped nature of every tone and gesture. It is only just to say that he was a very modest boy, and did not suffer in the least from the American trouble, "swelled head." And that he was not altogether ungrateful is testified by the fact of his settling an annuity upon old Houghton, his erstwhile tutor. Thomas Campbell, the poet, describes this juvenile star somewhat curtly:---"The popularity of this baby-faced boy was an hallucination in the public mind and a disgrace to our theatrical history. Critics may disagree. One thing is certain that, whether Master Betty was a transcendent genius or not, his father and mother were wise in removing the boy, as a boy, from the profession in which he would possibly have failed as a man."

After about two years' starring, he left the stage, and enrolled himself as a student at Cambridge University. Upon completion of his studies, he returned to the scene of his former triumphs, only to find the same fate which has befallen so many other prodigies. The public, too, had forgotten him. Lacking the progressive brilliance of youth, it was an act of wisdom on his part to withdraw from a profession which, at the most, must have developed into a precarious living. Retiring into the country, he lived the quiet life of a gentleman, and died at Cheltenham in 1876, aged 83.

Meanwhile, Dunlop Street was moving on the downward grade. Jackson began to practise various economics, and the Glasgow theatrical journals complained of the scanty company and the doubling of many of the parts. To quote the Register of that date:

"The theatre closed this evening a three weeks' very unsuccessful campaign. We think the managers need not ascribe their want of success to the badness of the times, but to their own bad management."

As an instance of this, the final play was The Merchant of Venice, in which the Senate was represented by four miserable looking, dirty, reddish figures wrapped in faded gowns.


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