The Dorset Garden Theatre in London, built in 1671, was in its early years also known as the Duke of Yorks Theatre, or the Dukes Theatre. In 1685, King Charles II died and his brother, the Duke of York, was crowned as James II, when the Duke became King, the theatre became the Queens Theatre in 1685, referring to James second wife, Mary of Modena. The name remained when William and Mary came to the throne in 1689 and it was the fourth home of the Dukes Company, one of the two patent theatre companies in Restoration London, and after 1682 continued to be used by the companys successor, the United Company. The Dukes Company was patronised by the Duke of York, the other patent theatre company, both companies were briefly based, from 1660, in an old Jacobean theatre, the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. After a short period in the Salisbury Court Theatre, the Dukes Company moved in 1662 to Lincolns Inn Fields, the company remained there until 1671. Meanwhile, the Kings Company moved to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the founder of the Duke’s Company Sir William Davenant, was a proponent of changeable scenery and theatrical machinery, which he is credited with introducing to the English public stage. The shareholders agreed to raise the funds, which amounted to some £9,000. They leased a site in Dorset Garden for a period of 39 years at a rent of £130.55. Just before the opening of the Dorset Garden the leading actor of the Dukes Company, Thomas Betterton and it is believed that the purpose of this trip was to see the latest in French scenic technology in order to import it to the English stage. Part of the site had been used as a theatre in the time of Charles I, in 1629 the Earl of Dorset leased the stables, to make a playhouse for the children of the revels. The site for the new theatre, by Dorset Stairs in Whitefriars on the Thames, was slightly upstream from the outlet of the New Canal and its position on the Thames permitted the patrons to travel to the theatre by boat, avoiding the nearby crime-ridden neighbourhood of Alsatia. It opened on 9 November 1671 and was almost twice the size of the Dukes Companys former theatre in Lincolns Inn Fields. It became the playhouse in London when the Theatre Royal burned down in January 1672, soon to be rivalled however by the new Theatre Royal. Apart from the illustrations in the libretto of The Empress of Morocco, Thomas Betterton lived in an apartment on an upper floor on the south side. A number of eminent people lived nearby, Aphra Behn in Dorset Street, John Dryden in Salisbury Square from 1673 to 1682 and it is not known who designed the new theatre building, though tradition ascribes it to Sir Christopher Wren. This however seems unlikely on both practical and stylistic grounds, perhaps Robert Hooke, an associate of Wren’s had something to do with the design. The outside measurements were 147–148’ by 57’, including a 10’ deep porch, a foreign visitor reported in 1676 that it contained a central pit, in the form of an amphitheatre, two tiers of seven boxes each holding twenty people, and an upper gallery. It could accommodate approximately 850 patrons, the theatre represented a great investment to the Dukes Company
Image: Dorset Garden theatre 1673
The Duke's Theatre at Dorset Garden, on the riverfront, London's most luxurious playhouse.
Inside the Dorset Garden Theatre: part of the forestage with doors and balconies on both sides, the proscenium arch with the music box above it and one of the scenes for Elkanah Settle's The Empress of Morocco, performed in 1673. Settle's play included numerous spectacular stage effects.