The London Playwright Who Drank Wine While His Theatre Burned Down

By London Historians Last edited 76 months ago
The London Playwright Who Drank Wine While His Theatre Burned Down

On 24 February 1809, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was destroyed by fire. Theatres were always burning down, so nothing really unusual in fact. What made this conflagration different, is the involvement of the magnificent Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Dublin-born, Harrow-educated Sheridan is one of my favourite Londoners. A duellist, MP, playwright, impresario and much besides, he obtained full ownership of Drury Lane in 1778. In 1791 he demolished the 120 year old building which had opened in 1674 (replacing the short-lived 1663 original), and built a fabulous modern theatre more to his liking and ambition.

Designed by Henry Holland, it opened in 1794, apparently with the latest fire-prevention features. The top image is Rowlandson and Pugin’s depiction of its interior, only a year before disaster struck.

Inside the modern Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2014. Photo: John Mugford

Sheridan himself witnessed the destruction of his beloved theatre from the street, glass of wine in hand, remarking laconically: “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

This article originally appeared on London Historians. You can become a London Historians member here.

Last Updated 03 August 2017