Although this engraving by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin is available online in the public domain, mine is actually a scan from an original print published as Plate 69 of Microcosm of London (1810) which my parents had bought from a local antique dealer in the 1960s.
I have not been able to discover what’s being performed but it looks something of a spectacular production what with the horse and carriage, the Boadicea-like figure and gigantic pillars! If anyone has any ideas, let me know.
While the following quote is not from the early 19th century, it describes what Sadler’s Wells had become by the 1840s:
‘Without, the theatre, by night, was like the worst part of the worst kind of Fair in the worst kind of town. Within, it was a bear-garden, resounding with foul language, oaths, catcalls, shrieks, yells, blasphemy, obscenity – a truly diabolical clamour. Fights took place anywhere, at any period of the performance… Sickly children in arms were squeezed out of shape, in all parts of the house. Fish was fried at the entrance doors. Barricades of oyster shells encumbered the pavement. Expectant half-price visitors to the gallery, howled defiant impatience up the stairs, and danced a sort of Carmagnole all round the building.’
A description in Household Words, October 1851, of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in the 1840s, cited by Claire Tomalin in her book, The Invisible Woman. Tomalin writes of the theatre as being in a state of ‘Hogarthian brutishness’.
Incidentally, if you haven’t read The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, it is a riveting read about the actress who became the mistress of Charles Dickens.
There is also a new film version starring Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones: The Invisible Woman [DVD] .
Take care and keep laughing!