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The Story behind Sadlers Wells Theater

Updated on May 16, 2015

Richard Sadler a surveyor and businessman opened the first theater the Mustick house in Islington, London. During the building in June 1683 an old medicine well was discovered while it was being built, Sadler saw the potential of offering a healing well to the general public. He employed musicians to play while people would use the water in the belief that it would heal them from illnesses such as green sickness and dropsy. Dr, Morton a fellow of the College of Physicians referred his patients to Sadlers Wells in the belief that the water contained healing properties. However, the surge of popularity of wealth individuals was short lived. With a dwindling number of people visiting Sadler Wells, Sadler turned his attention to showing theatrical acts and using the medicine well to brew beer instead.

Towards the end of the sixteenth and early seventh-century, comedy acts like The Hibernian Cannibal were popular acts which amused the crowds. Shakespearian plays like the Merchant of Venice and Macbeth starring Charles Macklin a popular actor at the time. Theaters in Covent Garden and Drury Lane had always attracted more respectable people, in comparison to Sadlers Wells theater which attracted unsavory drinkers to it. With alcohol being sold on the premises unlike other theaters, it wasn’t long before Sadler’s Wells had a bad reputation in the sixteen hundreds. However Sadlers Wells would open its theater throughout most of the year starting with Easter Monday, most other theaters in London would only be open during autumn and winter. In 1746, Thomas Rosoman, the manager at Sadlers Wells constructed a new theater which introduced Operatic performances. By the eighteenth-century competition from Covent Garden and Drury was drawing more audiences than Saddlers. On one occasion, an actor who yelled fire from the stage was heard by a gang of drunken brawlers took the words far too literary, tragedy occurred when the audience stampeded out of the theater. After the tragedy the management under pressure from critics, improve the reputation of the troubled theater. One of them was Charles Dickens who visited Sadler's Wells, voicing his disapproval of the drunken behavior of the audience. A new actor/manager was appointed to Sadler's; Samuel Phelps, who introduced Shakespearian plays to the theater. With the wide variety of acts from Jugglers, Musicians to Shakespeare play's popularity was once again was returning after its turbulent time. Sadler's reputation swung back and forth for the rest of the eighteenth century. In 1874, the theater was turned into a bath house for the general public; however the next year lead from the roof of Sadlers was stolen. When ice skating was invented the popularity spread across the country, Sanders were converted into an ice rink.

Early twentieth-century Saddlers reverted back into a playhouse with critics only disapproving of the theater. In 1931, an actress called Estelle Stead decided to buy the theater freehold from its current owner, a new design for the playhouse was created by Frank Thatcham. Shakespearian plays and for the first time in its history Opera were shown when the theater reopened to the public. One famous operatic singer was Joan Cross who sung in Madame Butterfly. Success at Sadlers carried on for the rest of the twentieth century. Ian Albery became Sadlers new Chief Executive in 1994, two years later the theater, which had stood for three hundred years was demolished with Albery observing the reconstruction.

The funding from the National Lottery contributed to the rebuilding of a new theater at Sadlers Wells, 11 October 1998 the theater reopened its doors to the general public. Jean-Luc Choplin took over as the new Chief Executive in 2004, appointing a new Artistic Director Alistair Spalding had by now developed soldiers to become a production house for visiting touring companies. March 2009, the new Global Dance Contest appeared at Sadlers and every year the theater runs the online competition for contestants to appear and win cash prizes.


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