DRURY LANE THEATRE, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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Sixteen letters from Thomas Dibdin to the proprietors of Drury Lane Theatre in 1819 regarding his proposal to take over the lease. A remarkable and detailed view of the negotations over a very limited time-period (all the letters date from 1819); together with other Dibdin-relating material. In generally good condition with only light soiling, seal tears etc.

Enquiring as to the terms for renting the theatre, suggesting that his figure of £10,000 per annum to include all the costumes and fixtures and fittings was quite sufficient; asking for a list of the present engagements and expenses; offering a further £3,000 to refurbish the theatre; vouching for the integrity of his backers ('their sole motive is the placing me unconditionally and without controul as entire Manager & Conductor & principal Partner in the concern'); informing the committee sub rosa that Mr [Abraham] Walker of [Doyley's Warehouse] the Strand would give security, expecting to take £200 for 200 nights [i.e. £40,000]; suggesting in July that he may be able to make a more advantageous offer; inviting Ward to lunch and dinner and to discuss business with Walker, and the following day putting forward the new proposal: ('... I agree to pay the Taxes for the whole term in addition to a Rent of £9000 per An: for the first Two years and £10,000 per An: for the Remainder of the Term to be agreed on, which Term (considering the very discouraging and totally reduced state of the Theatre at present and that it will take a very long time to re-establish it) ought to be at the option of the Lessee, for seven, fourteen or twenty one years. ...'). Dibdin continues the correspondence on 23 July by questioning why he has received no response to the proposition, and on the 31st putting forward to the committee a further offer of a loan from Walker (also included is Walker's own proposition, dated 22 July); with two incompletely dated letters of 1919 to R. Peatre complaining that he (Peatre) should not have been given confidential information relating to the offer for the lease.

Dibdin's account of his (ultimately abortive) negotiations are to be found on pages 165 to 168 of 'The Reminiscences of Thomas Dibdin, of the Theatres Royal, Covent-Garden, Drury-Lane, Haymarket, etc., and Author of The Cabinet, etc., London, Henry Colburn, 2 vols., 1837.

'Drury-Lane Theatre was now to be let to the best bidder, when a highly respectable and wealthy tradesman called on me to say, that if I would undertake the management of the theatre, and take it jointly with him, he would provide all monies necessary, and authorised me immediately to make a bidding for the lease in his name and my own. As soon as I had done so the late Mr. Ward, secretary, and Mr. Burgess, solicitor to the committee, or rather to the theatre of Drury-Lane, called on me, and professed themselves delighted at the idea of my becoming a lessee. I had, as I have already observed, examined the treasury-books, and found the scale of necessary nightly expense within five or six pounds of what I had, from observation calculated. About the time of my sending in my last sealed bidding Mr. Walker, Mr. Ward and Mr. Burgess did me the favour to dine with me: a question arose as to what would be the probable nightly expenses of Drury-Lane theatre: I enumerated my estimates of them, and Mr. Ward wrote them down. When we had finished, he asked, "but where is my salary?" I replied: "Sir, the committee are to have a sort of overseer in the theatre to prevent deterioration of the property; and, as the secretary, I presume you are to the placed in that situation: I, therefore, think it but fair that the committee, on behalf of the theatre, should pay their own officer; for after the sum I have agreed to bid, I cannot." Mr. Ward instantly threw down his pen, and distinctly said, - "Then you won't have the theatre." I repeated, I could not think of paying either the secretary or the solicitor to the theatre. My guests departed: Mr. Elliston, by an extraordinary instance of luck, (whether good or bad I do not know,) bid exactly one hundred per annum more than my offer for Mr. Walker and myself, which was £10,100 per annum, as advised by Mr. Ward; and although my friend's security was of the very first class, yet there were 'Reasons and causes, look you!' why those who would not pay a great deal more than the nominal rentage could not be accepted. It is usual, I believe, for sealed proposals to be opened in the presence of the bidders, or a least with some degree of publicity; but this was not done, nor did my friend's offer even meet with the honour of an answer, though the theatre was at that time very considerably indebted to him; and when I went to the committee-room to state the solid grounds on which I became a candidate, and asked to inspect the treasury account of receipts and expenses, - though I was readily permitted to do so, I received rather a repellent hint from a gentleman of "the board," that they did not wish a tenant backed by gentlemen of "the committee," supposing that to be my case. At the same time, it is well known that the committee, if not immediately concerned with the gentleman who did obtain the lease, did back him, as one of those gentlemen termed it, although not permitted to back me. I beg leave to add, that the committee I am speaking of, did not consist of the Earl of Essex, Lord Byron, the Hon. Douglas Kinnaird, the Hon. George Lamb, or Peter Moore, M.P.'

With three Autograph Letters Signed from the dramatist Cecil Pitt to Winstone (?James Winston) and the Board of Management of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, (watermarked 1801 and postmarked 1804) concerning his own productions, and particularly Zingara, or the Heroine of China, for which he includes the printed playbill; also three letters of George Dibdin Pitt (1795-1855 - 'I am the elder brother of Mr Pitt the Painter - and nephew of the Dibdins'), offering his services and those of Miss Pitt-Phillips ('of the Worthing and Leicester Theatres') to Elliston and Drury Lane, and elaborating on his theatrical achievements, 1826 and 1830 where dated.
[No: 26629]

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