Writing about a performance at the Hereford Theatre in 1824, the author of the Hereford Weekly Reporter, complained that he was ‘near being wounded by a piece of the glass chandelier which fell a sacrifice to the sabre of Mr. Henderson, who seemed to commence an attack in a truly soldier-like manner’. This was bad enough, but he also had to contend with peas thrown by unruly elements in the gallery – or ‘the gods’. He commented: ‘We were glad to see the seats of the gods so well filled and their excellencies in such good humour. Bye the bye, as we sometimes take our seats in the pit, we beg to address our prayers to the divinities above alluded to, that they will not be so profuse in their blessings in the form of pease, which are all very well in the shape of a pudding – or (in their element of soup) in the pit of the stomach; but are really very hard of digestion in their crude state in the pit of the theatre.’
As the birthplace of David Garrick, Roger Kemble and (probably) Nell Gwynn, Hereford has a theatrical heritage to be proud of, indeed the city had a reputation for supporting theatre out of proportion to its population. This book tells the story of the multitude of performers who have given entertainment over the years to the people of Herefordshire – from numerous players, and tightrope walkers at the Hereford Theatre (built in 1786) to Professor Crocker’s Educated Horses – involving no less than 30 horses and donkeys – who came to the Drill Hall in Hereford in 1899. Circuses were especially popular around the end of the 19th century, and when ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ came to Hereford in 1899 it attracted a staggering 25,000 people over the course of the day, whilst the elephants of the Sanger Circus took part in a football match in Leominster in May 1900. Among the performers at the Kemble Theatre between the wars were a one-armed motorcyclist who coaxed his machine around a series of obstacles on stage; and a man in evening dress who coaxed a flight of reluctant cockatoos into firing miniature cannon. Strangest of all the visitors, perhaps, was the Chevalière D’Eon, a transvestite French aristocrat who came to Hereford to give a fencing display in 1795.
This book is full of stories and anecdotes about the history of the theatres and other places of entertainment- barns, inns, coffee houses, assembly rooms, music halls and drill halls – throughout Herefordshire, and concludes with a chapter about the many performing groups and amateur dramatic societies based in the county.
Robin Haig has been involved in a number of amateur dramatic productions in Hereford and as a result became fascinated by performers of all types who have visited the county.
Paperback | 160 pages | 234 x 156 mm | 2002
Black & white illustrations