Dingwall’s Castle – Whitefield’s “Preachings” – History of the Old Theatre Royal – The Building – David Ross’s Management – Leased to Mr. Foote – The to Mr. Digges – Mr. Moss – Mrs. Yates – Next Leased to Mr. Jackson – The Siddons Furore – Reception of the Great Actress – Mrs. Baddeley –New Patent – The Playhouse Riot – “The Scottish Roscius” – A Ghost – Expiry of the Patent.
BUILT no one knows when, but existing during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there stood on the site now occupied by the new General Post Office, an edifice named Dingwall’s Castle. In 1647, Gordon of Rothiemay, in his wonderfully distinct and detailed bird’s-eye view of the city, represents it as an open ruin, in form a square tower with a round one at each angle, save on the north-east, where one was fallen down in part. All the sloping bank and ground between it and the Trinity College church are shown as open, but bordered on the west by a line of houses, which he names Niniani Suburbium seu mendicorum Flatea (known latterly as the Beggar’s Row), and on the west and north by high walls, the latter crenellated, and by a road which descends close to the edge of the loch, and then runs along its bank straight westward.
This stronghold is supposed to have derived its name from Sir John Dingwall, who was Provost of the Trinity College church before the Reformation; and hence the conclusion is, that it was a dependency of that institution. He was one of the first Lords of Session appointed on the 25th May, 1532, at the formation of the College of Justice, and his name is third on the list.
Of him nothing more is known, save that he existed and that is all. Some fragments of the castle are still supposed to exist among the buildings on its site, and some were certainly traced among the cellars of Shakespeare Square on its demolition in 1860.
During the year 1584, when the Earl of Arran was Provost of the city, on the 30th September, the Council commissioned Michael Chisholm and others to inquire into the order and condition of an ancient leper hospital which stood beside Dingwall’s Castle; but of the former no distinct trace is given in Gordon’s view.
In Edgar’s map of Edinburgh, in 1765, no indication of these buildings is given, but the ground occupied by the future theatre and Shakespeare Square is shown as an open park or irregular parallelogram closely bordered by trees, measuring about 350 feet each way, and lying between the back of the old Orphan Hospital and the village of Multrie’s Hill, where now the Register House stands.
It was in this park, known then as that of the Trinity Hospital, that the celebrated Whitefield used yearly to harangue a congregation of all creeds and classes in the open air, when visiting Edinburgh in the course of his evangelical tours. On his coming thither for the first time after the Act had passed for the extension of the royalty, great was his horror, surprise, and indignation, to find the green slope which he had deemed to be rendered almost sacred by his prelections, enclosed by fences and sheds, amid which a theatre was in course of erection.
The ground was being “appropriated to the service of Satan. The frantic astonishment of the Nixie who finds her shrine and fountain desolated in her absence, was nothing to that of Whitefield. He went raging about the spot, and contemplated the rising walls of the playhouse with a sort of grim despair. He is said to have considered the circumstance as a positive mark of the increasing wickedness of society, and to have termed it a plucking up of God’s standard, and a planting of the devil’s in its place.”
The edifice which he then saw in course of erection was destined, for ninety years, to be inseparably connected with the more recent rise of the drama in Scotland generally, in Edinburgh in particular, and to be closely identified with all the artistic and scenic glories of the stage. It was long a place replete with interest, and yet recalls happy reminiscences and bright associations in the minds of thousands; and it was one of the very few theatres that, escaping the ravages of fire, attain to a good old age.
Prior to the reign of George III. there was not a single theatre in Scotland countenanced by the law of the land. One which was erected in Glasgow in 1752, and on which a military guard mounted nightly, was demolished about two years after, by a mob when returning from one of Whitefield’s sermons; but when the New Town of Edinburgh was projected, a clause was introduced into the Act empowering the Crown to grant royal letters patent for the establishment of a theatre in Edinburgh.
Mr. David Ross, manager of a small one then existing, amid many difficulties, in the Canongate, and latterly of Covent Garden Theatre – a respectable man, who had managed two houses in London – obtained the patent, and the foundation-stone of the new theatre was laid on the 16th of March, 1768. In the stone was laid a silver plate, inscribed thus:-
“The first stone of this new theatre was laid on the 16th day of March, in the year of our Lord 1768, by David Ross, patentee and first proprietor of a licensed stage in Scotland. May this theatre tend to promote every moral and every virtuous principle, and may the representations be such
“To make mankind in conscious virtue bold,
Live on each scene and be what they behold.”
But Mr. Ross’s first legitimate performances as a licensed manager took place in the old theatre, which opened unusually late in the season, owing to a dreadful riot that happened in January, and the repairs incident to which occupied ten months, during which there were no representations whatever. Ross opened then, with the patented company on the 9th of December, 1767, with the tragedy of the Earl of Essex. He spoke the prologue, which was written by James Boswell, who, in the following lines, referred to the new theatre as the first one licensed in Scotland:-
“Whilst in all points with other lands she vied,
The stage alone to Scotland was denied:
Mistaken zeal, in times of darkness bred,
O’er the best minds its gloomy vapours spread;
Taste and religion were opposed in strife,
And ’twas a sin to view this glass of life!
When the muse ventured the ungracious task,
To play elusion with unlicensed mask,
Mirth was restrained by statutory awe,
And tragic greatness feared the scourge of law;
Illustrious heroes errant vagrants seemed,
And gentlest nymphs were sturdy beggars deemed.”
By the proposals for building this new theatre, according to the Scots Magazine for 1768, Mr. Ross had to raise £2,500 by twenty-five shares, at £100 per share, for which the subscribers were to receive 3 per cent., and free access to all performances and every part of the house, except behind the scenes. “The house is to be 100 feet in length by 50 broad. To furnish new scenes, wardrobe, and necessary decorations will, it is computed, cost £1,500 more, and the whole building, &c., is to be insured for £4,000, and mortgaged as security to pay the interest. As it would be impossible to procure good performers should the tickets continue at the low prices now paid, it is proposed to make the boxes 4s., the pit 3s., the first gallery 2s., and the upper 1s. For these prices, says Mr. Ross, this stage shall vie with those of London and Dublin. There shall be five capital men-actors, one good man-singer, one second ditto; three capital women-actresses, two capital women-singers, one capital man-dancer, and one woman ditto; the rest as good as can be had: the orchestra shall be conducted with a good first fiddler, as a leader, a harpsichord, and the rest of the band persons of merit.”
Soon after, Mr. Ross advertised that he found “the general voice incline that the boxes and pit should be an equal price. As that id the case, no more than sixpence will be added to the tickets: boxes and pit 3s., galleries 2s. and 1s. The manager’s first plan must therefore be in some degree contracted; but no pains, care, or expense, will be spared to open the new theatre on the 14th of November next with as complete a company as can be got together.”
Arnot, writing of the view of the edifice as seen from the bridge, truly averred that “it produces the double effect of disgusting spectators by its own deformity, and obstructing the view of the Register Office, perhaps the handsomest building in the nation.”
Its front was somewhat better, being entirely of polished ashlar, presenting a gable and moulded pediment, with three large circular-headed windows, opening upon a spacious balcony and balustrade, which crowned the portico. The latter consisted of six plain Doric pillars with a cornice. This faced the green slope of Multree’s Hill, on which the Register House was not built till 1772.
The theatre was opened in December, 1769, at the total expense of £5,000, and at the then rates of admission the house held £140. Its rival in the Canongate, when the prices were 2s. 6d., 1s. 6., and 1s., held from £70 to £80.
The downfall of the bridge was the first difficulty with which Mr. Ross had to contend, as it cut off the only tolerable communication with the city; so there stood the theatre on the lonely slope, no New Town whatever beside it; only a straggling house or two at wide intervals; and the ladies and gentlemen obliged to come from the High Street by the way of Leith Wynd, or by Halkerston’s Wynd, which, in the slippery nights of winter, had to be thickly strewn with ashes, for the bearers of sedan chairs. Moreover, the house was often so indifferently lighted, that when a box was engaged by a gentleman he usually sent a pound or so of additional candles.
Owing to these and other reasons Mr. Ross had two unsuccessful seasons. “The indifference of the company which the manager provided,” says Arnot, “gave little inducement to people at the expense of such disagreeable access to visit his theatre; but he loudly exclaimed in his own defence that good performers were so discouraged by the fall of the bridge that they would not engage with him, and his popularity not being equal to his merit as an actor, but rather proportioned to his indolence as a manager, he made but an unsuccessful campaign. The fact is,” adds Arnot, and his remark suits the present hour, “Edinburgh does not give encouragement to the stage proportionable to the populousness of the city.”
Losing heart, Mr. Ross leased the house for three years to the celebrated Samuel Foote, patentee of the Haymarket Theatre, at 500 guineas per annum, and he was the first great theatrical star that ever appeared on the Edinburgh stage. Co-operating with Messrs. Woodward and Weston, and a good company, he opened the house for the next season, and, after paying the proprietor his rent, cleared £1,000. He opened it on the 17th of November, 1770, with his own comedy, entitled, The Commissary. “The audience was numerous and splendid, and the performance highly relished. The plays are regularly continued every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.”1
On the 24th of the same month, before Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court, and a distinguished audience, he produced his comedy of The Mirror, in which the characters of Whitefield and other zealous ministers are held up to a ridicule amounting almost to blasphemy, particularly in the case of the former, who figures under the name of Dr. Squintum. On the following day Dr. Walker of the High Church, from the pulpit, made a keen and bitter attack upon Foote “for the gross profanation of the theatre on the preceding evening.” The difficulty of managing two theatres so far apart as one in London and another in Edinburgh, induced Foote to think of getting rid of his lease of the latter, prior to which he had a dispute with Ross, requiring legal interference, in which he had the worst of it. Ross’s agent called on Foote in London, to receive payment of his bill, adding that he was about to return to Edinburgh.
“How do you mean to travel?” Asked Foote, with a sneer. “I suppose, like most of your countrymen, you will do it in the most economical manner?”
“Yes,” replied the Scot, putting the cash laughingly into his pocket; “I shall travel on foot (Foote).”*
And he left the wit looking doubly rueful and angry.
Foote conveyed the lease to Messrs. West, Digges, and Bland, who at its expiry obtained a renewal of it from Ross for five years, at 500 guineas per annum. They made a good hit at first, and cleared £1,400 the first season, having opened with the well-known Mrs. Hartley. Digges had once been in the army, was a man of good connections, but a spendthrift. He was an admirable performer in fashionable comedy, and had been long a favourite at the Canongate Theatre.
Bland was also well connected; he had been a Templar, an officer in the army at Fontenoy, and in the repulse of the British cavalry by the Highlanders on Cliftonmoor in 1745. For twenty-three years he continued to be a prime favourite on these old boards; he was the uncle of Mrs. Jordan; and Edmund Glover, so long a favourite also in Edinburgh and Glasgow, was nearly related to him. In 1774 Foote came from Dublin to perform here again. “We hear,” says Ruddiman’s Magazine, “hat he is to perform seven nights, for which he is to receive £250. The Nabob, The Bankrupt, The Maid of Bath, and Piety in Pattens, all of which have been written by our modern Aristophanes, are the four pieces that will be exhibited.”
In these new hands the theatre became prosperous, and the grim little enclosure named Shakespeare Square sprang up near it; but the west side was simply the rough rubble wall of the bridge, terminating in later years, till 1860, by a kind of kiosk named “The Box,” in which papers and periodicals were sold. It was simply a place of lodging-houses, a humble inn or two, like the Red Lion tavern and oyster shop.
At intervals between 1773 and 1815 Mr. Moss was a prime favourite at the Royal. One of his cherished characters was Lovegold in The Miser; but that in which he never failed to “bring down the house” was Caleb, in He would be a Soldier, especially when in the military costume of the early part of George III.’s reign, he sang his song, “I’m the Dandy O.”
Donaldson, in his “Recollections,” speaks of acting for the benefit of poor Moss in 1851, at Stirling, when he – who had delighted the audience of the then capital in the Merchant of Venice – was an aged cripple, penniless and poor. “Moss,” he adds, “caught the inspiration from the renowned Macklin, whose Jew, by Pope’s acknowledgment, was unrivalled, even in the days of David Garrick, and he bequeathed to his protégé Moss that conception which descended to the most original and extraordinary Shylock of any period – Edmund Kean.”
During the management of West Digges most of the then London stars, save Garrick, appeared in the old Royal. Among them were Mr. Bellamy, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Barry, Mr. And Mrs. Yates, and, occasionally, Foote.
Of Mrs. Yates Kay gives an etching in the character of the Duchess of Braganza, a play by an obscure author named Henry Crisp. The period to which his print refers was 1785, when – though she was well advanced in years, having been born in 1729 (in London, but of Scottish parents) – she was paid at the rate of a hundred guineas per night by Mr. Jackson. From Mr. Digges she and her husband received seven hundred guineas at the end of one season. “The gentlemen of the bar and some even of the bench had been zealous patrons of the drama since the Canongate days, even to the taking a personal concern in its affairs. They continued to do this for many years after this time. Dining being then an act performed at four o’clock, the aristocracy were free to give their attendance at half past six, and did so in great numbers whenever there was any tolerable attraction. So fashionable, indeed, had the theatre become, that a man of birth and fashion named Mr. Nicholson Stewart came forward one night, in the character of Richard III., to raise funds for the building of a bridge over the Carron, at a ford where many lives had been lost. On this occasion the admission to all parts of the house was five shillings, and it was crowded by what the journals of the day tell us was a polite audience. The gentleman’s action was allowed to be just, but his voice too weak.”2
In 1781 the theatre passed into the hands of Mr. John Jackson, author of a rather dull “History of the Scottish Stage, with a Narrative of Recent Theatrical Transactions.” It was published at Edinburgh in 1793. Like his predecessors in the management he was a man of good education, and well connected, and had chosen the stage as the profession he loved best. In the second year of his rule Siddons appeared in the full power of her talent and beauty as Portia, at Drury Lane; and Jackson, anxious to secure her for Edinburgh, hastened to London, and succeeded in inducing her to make an engagement, then somewhat of an undertaking when the mode of travel in those days is considered; and on the 22nd of May, 1784, she made her appearance at the Theatre Royal, when, as the Edinburgh Weekly Magazine records, “the manager took the precaution, after the first night, to have an officer’s guard of soldiers at the principal door. But several scuffles having ensued, through the eagerness of the people to get places, and the soldiers having been rash enough to use their bayonets, it was thought advisable to withdraw the guard on the third night, lest any accident had happened from the pressure of the crowd, who began to assemble round the doors at eleven in the forenoon.”
Her part was Belvidera, Jaffier being performed by Mr. Joseph Wood, a very reputable actor, long well-known on the Edinburgh stage. Thomas Campbell thus relates the reception, memorable in the annals of the Drama, of Mrs. Siddons, as he learned it from her own lips:- “The grave attention of my Scottish countrymen,” he writes, “and their canny reservation of praise till they were sure she had deserved it, had well-nigh worn out her patience. She had been used to speak to animated audiences, but now she felt that she had been speaking to stones. Successive flashes of her elocution that had always been sure to electrify the South, fell in vain on these Northern flints. At last, as I well remember, she told me she coiled up all her power to the most emphatic possible utterance of one passage, having previously vowed in her heart, that if this could not touch the Scots she would never again cross the Tweed! When it was finished she paused, and looked to the audience. The deep silence was broken only by a single voice exclaiming, ‘That’s no bad!‘ This ludicrous parsimony of praise convulsed the audience with laughter. But the laugh was followed by such thunders of applause, that, amidst her stunned and nervous agitation, she was not without fear of the galleries coming down.”
Mr. Yates, and other players, had remarked the extreme coldness or quietness of the Edinburgh audience, and while they thought it might indicate a deep and appreciative feeling regarding the play, they deprecated the loss of those bursts of hearty applause which greeted their efforts elsewhere. In her first engagement the appearances of Mrs. Siddons were as follows:-
Kay gives us an etching of her appearance as Lady Randolph, in a powdered toupee; but costume was not a study then, nor for long after. Indeed, Donaldson, in his “Recollections of an Actor,” mentions, “In 1815, in Scotland, I have seen Macbeth dressed in a red officer’s coat, sash, blue pants, Hessian boots, and cocked hat!”
On the 12th of June Mrs. Siddons departed for Dublin. She had shared £50 for ten nights; at her benefit she drew £350, and was presented with a magnificent piece of plate. The Courant tells us that during her performance of Lady Randolph “there was not a dry eye in the whole house.” During the summer of 1785 she was again in Edinburgh, and played on eighteen nights, her receipts being more than handsome, averaging about £120 per night, and £200 for the Gamester.
Never did the old theatre behold such a furore as Mrs. Siddons excited, and during the time of her second engagement nothing was thought of or talked of but her wondrous power as an actress, and vast crowds gathered not at night, but in the day, hours before the doors were open, to secure places. It became necessary to admit them at three in the afternoon; then the crowds began to gather at twelve to obtain admittance at three; and a certain set of gentlemen, by subscribing £200 as a guarantee beforehand, considered themselves very fortunate in securing a private and early entrance to the pit; and eventually the General Assembly of the Church, then in session, were compelled to arrange their meetings with reference to the appearance of Mrs. Siddons. “People came from distant places, even from Newcastle, to witness what all spoke of with wonder. There were one day applications for 2,557 places, while there were only 630 of that kind in the house. Porters and servants had to bivouac for a night in the streets, on mats and palliasses, in order that they might get an early chance to the box-office next day. The gallery doors had to be guarded by detachments of military, and the bayonets, it is alleged, did not remain unacquainted with blood. One day a sailor climbed to a window in front of the house, for a professional and more expeditious mode of admission; but he told afterwards that he no sooner got into the port-hole than he was knocked on the head, and tumbled down the hatchway. Great quantities of hats, wigs, and shoes, pocket-books, and watches, were lost in the throng, and it was alleged that a deputation of London thieves, hearing of the business, came down to ply their trade.”3
So much were the audience moved and thrilled, that many ladies fainted, particularly when Mrs. Siddons impersonated Isabella in the Fatal Marriage, and she had to portray the agony of a wife, on finding, after a second marriage, that her first and most loved husband, Biron, is alive; and concerning this a curious story is told. A young Aberdeenshire heiress, Miss Gordon of Gicht, was borne out of her box in hysterics, screaming the last words she had caught from the great actress, “Oh, my Biron! my Biron!” There was something of an omen in this. In the course of a short time after she was married to a gentleman whom she had neither seen nor heard of at the epoch of Mrs. Siddons’ performance, the Honourable John Byron, and to her it proved a “fatal marriage,” in many respects, though she became the mother of the great Lord Byron. A lady who was present in the theatre on that night died so recently as 1855.
In 1786 there died in her apartments in Shakespeare Square an actress who had come to fulfil an engagement, Mrs. Baddeley, a lady famous in those days for her theatrical abilities, her beauty, and the miseries into which she plunged herself by her imprudence. Her Ophelia and many other characters won the admiration of Garrick; but her greatest performances were Fanny in the Clandestine Marriage, and Mrs. Beverley in the Gamester.
In 1788 a new patent was procured in the names of the Duke of Hamilton and Henry Dundas, afterwards Viscount Melville, with the consent of Mr. Jackson, at the expense of whom it was taken out.
Mr. Jackson, the patentee, having become bankrupt, Mr. Stephen Kemble leased the theatre for one year, and among those he engaged in 1792 were Mr. And Mrs. Lee Lewes, of whom Kay gives us a curious sketch, as “Widow Brisk” and the “Tight Lad” in the Road to Ruin. They had previously appeared in Edinburgh in 1787, and became marked favourites. Towards the close of their second season Kemble played for a few nights, while Mrs. Lewes took the parts of Lady Macbeth and Lady Randolph.
Mrs. Esten, and actress greatly admired, now became lessee and patentee, while Stephen Kemble, disappointed in his efforts to obtain entirely the Theatre Royal, procured leave to erect a rival house, which he called a circus, at the head of Leith Walk, the future site of many successive theatres. Mrs. Esten succeeded in obtaining a decree of the Court of Session to restrain Kemble from producing plays; but the circus was nevertheless permanently detrimental to the old theatre, as it furnished entertainments for many years too closely akin to theatrical amusements.
The “Annual Register” for 1794 records a riot, of which this theatre was the scene, at the time when the French Revolution was at its height. The play being Charles the First, it excited keenly the controversial spirit of the audience, among whom a batch of Irish medical students in the pit made some of their sentiments too audible. Some gentlemen whose ideas were more monarchical, rose in the boxes, and insisted that the orchestra should play God Save the King, and that all should hear it standing and uncovered; but the young Irish democrats sat still, with their hats on, and much violence ensued.
Two nights afterwards a great noise was made all over the house, and it became evident that much hostility was being engendered. On the subsequent Saturday the two sets of people having each found adherents, met in the house for the express purpose of having a “row,” and came armed with heavy sticks, for there was a wild feeling abroad then, and it required an outlet.
When the democrats refused to pay obeisance to the National Anthem and respond to the cry of “Off hats,” they were at once attacked with vigour – chiefly by officers of the Argyleshire Fencibles – and a desperate fray ensued; heads were broken and jaws smashed on both sides, and many were borne out bleeding, and conveyed away in sedans; and conspicuous in the conflict on the Tory side towered the figure of young Walter Scott, then a newly-fledged advocate. “He never after ceased to feel a glow of pleasure at the recollection of this youthful frolic; and it was a rich treat to hear him tell of a Highland solicitor’s apprentice, who, on hearing some one express a hope there would be no blows, exclaimed, “Plows, by Got!” And fell on. At a distance of thirty years, on an opportunity occurring of speaking a good word in favour of an application of this person for a situation in the Exchequer, Scott felt bound to use his influence, from a friendly feeling about the Playhouse Row.”
In 1797 there appeared in the Edinburgh Theatre Henry Erskine Johnston, known in his time as “The Scottish Roscius,” from the circumstance of his having been born in the High Street, where his father was a barber; the latter happened to be shaving Henry Erskine, when intelligence was brought that his wife had just presented him with a son, whom he named from the learned barrister then under his hands. Old Johnston afterwards kept an oyster tavern in Shakespeare Square, where he died in 1826.
Quitting a writer’s office in which he was a clerk, his son came forth as an actor, his favourite parts being those of Hamlet and Norval, and he was nightly the attraction of Scottish playgoers, whom he was wont to astonish by playing the Danish Prince and Harlequin alternately. A young lady who saw him acting in a piece called The Storming of Seringapatan fell deeply in love with him, “and after a short, albeit impassioned courtship, she became Mrs. Johnston, although at that period only about fifteen.” From Edinburgh he went to Dublin and elsewhere. We shall have to recur to him as manager of the rival theatre in the city. Prior to that his story was a painful one. His young wife became, as an actress, the rage in London, and, unhappily for him, yielded to the temptations thrown in her way – she shone for a few short years in the theatrical atmosphere of the English metropolis, and then sank into insignificance, while poor Johnston became a houseless and heart-broken wanderer.
The old Theatre Royal had an unpleasant tenant in the shape of a ghost, which made its appearance, or rather made itself heard first during the management of Mr. Jackson. His family occupied a small house over the box-office and immediately adjoining the theatre, and it was alleged that long after the latter had closed and the last candle been snuffed out, strange noises pervaded the entire building, as if the mimic scenes of the plays were being acted over again by phantoms none could see. As the story spread and grew, it caused some consternation. What the real cause of this was has never been explained, but it occurred for nights at a time.
Between 1794 and 1809 the old theatre was in a very struggling condition. The debts that encumbered it prevented the management from bringing to it really good actors, and the want of these prevented the debts from being paid off.
For the sum of £8,020 Mr. Jackson, the old manager, became the ostensible purchaser of the house in 1800, and for several years after that date it was conducted by Mr. Rock, who, though an able and excellent actor, could never succeed in making it an attractive or paying concern. “One of the few points of his reign worthy of notice was the appearance here of the Young Roscius, a boy who, for a brief space, passed as a great actor. The Edinburgh public viewed with intense interest this lad playing young Norval on the stage, and the venerable author of the play blubbering in the boxes, and declaring that until now his conception of the character had never been realised.”
Many old favourites came in succession, whose names are forgotten now. Among these was Mrs. Charters, a sustainer, with success, of old lady parts. Her husband, who died in 1798, had been a comic actor on the same boards, in conjunction with Mr. Henderson, in 1784. He had by nature an enormous nose, and was deemed the perfection of a Bardolph, in which character Kay depicts him, with a three-cocked hat and knee breeches; and Henderson, as Falstaff, in long slop-trousers, and armed with a claymore! Mrs. Charters died in 1807, and her obituary is thus recorded in the Edinburgh papers of the day:-
“Died here on Monday last, with the well-merited reputation of an honest and inoffensive woman, Mrs. Charters, who has been in this theatre for more than thirty years. She succeeded the much-admired Mrs. Webb, and for many years after that actress left the city was an excellent substitute in Lady Dacre, Juliet’s Nurse, Deborah Woodcock, Dorcas, Mrs. Bunale, &c.”
In her own line she was worthily succeeded by Mrs. Nicol, who retired from the Theatre Royal in 1834, after a brilliant career of twenty-seven years, and died in 1835. In her old lady parts she was ably succeeded by her daughter, Miss Nicol, whose name is still remembered with honour and regard by all the old playgoers of Edinburgh.
Another Edinburgh favourite for upwards of thirty years was Mr. Woods, the leading actor, whom the public strenuously opposed every attempt on the part of the management to change. He retired from the boards in April, 1802, intending to open an elocution class in the city, but died in the December of that year. For his benefit in 1784, he appeared as “Young Riot” in a local musical farce, entitled Hallow Fair, which is not included in the “Biographia Dramatica.” Burns wrote a prologue for him, attracted to him by his having been a friend of his own predecessor, Robert Ferguson.
With the old house whose history we have been recording all the eminent literary men of Edinburgh whose names have been of note between 1769 and 1859 have been intimately associated, and none more than he who was the monarch of them all – Sir Walter Scott. A lover of the drama from his earliest years, as soon as he had a home of his own the chief objects of his lavish hospitality were the leading actors, and among the first of his theatrical friends was the famous tragedian Charles Young; and soon after he was on intimate terms with Mrs. Siddons and Mr. John Kemble. When the twenty-one years of the patent expired in 1809, it was transferred to certain assignees, two of whom were Mr. Walter Scott, and Henry Mackenzie author of “The Man of Feeling;” and it was at the suggestion of the former that Mr. Henry Siddons, only son of the great tragedienne, applied for the patent, which was readily granted to him and at the same time an arrangement was entered into for the possession of the house.
Now, indeed, commenced the first part of the most brilliant history of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, the second being unquestionably that of the management of Mr. R. H. Wyndham.