Passages of a Working Life

Published in Windlesora 01 (2008)

… Our theatre was only open at Eton vacations … That honoured playhouse no longer exists … It was not an exclusive theatre. Three shillings gave the entrance to the boxes, two shillings to the pit, and one shilling to the gallery. One side of the lower tier of boxes was occupied by the Court. The King (George III) and Queen sat in capacious armchairs with satin playbills spread before them. The orchestra, which would hold half a dozen fiddlers, and the pit, where some dozen persons might be closely packed on each bench, separated the royal circle from the genteel parties in the opposite tier of boxes. With the plebeians in the pit the Royal Family might have shaken hands; and when they left, there was always a scramble for their satin bills, which would be afterwards duly framed and glazed as spoils of peace. As the King laughed and cried, ‘Bravo, Quick’ or ‘Bravo Suett’ for he had rejoiced in their well-known mirth-provoking faces many a time before, the pit and gallery clapped and roared in loyal sympathy: the boxes were too genteel for such emotional feelings. As the King, Queen and Princesses retired at the end of the third act, to sip their coffee, the pot of Windsor ale, called Queen’s ale, circulated in the gallery. At eleven o’clock the curtain dropped. The fiddles struck up ‘God save the King’, their Majesties bowed around as the house clapped; and the gouty manager, Mr. Thornton, leading the way to the entrance (carrying wax lights and walking backwards with the well practised steps of a Lord Chamberlain) the flambeaux of three or four carriages gleamed through the dimly lighted streets, and Royalty was quickly at rest.

by Charles Knight, 1864

To find out more about Charles Knight, and his son, visit our page dedicated to them.

Contributed by Beryl Hedges