Prior to its opening next to the White Swan, in what was then Commercial Road, the Theatre Royal had a different life in the High Street, Old Portsmouth. The original theatre was built by John Arthur of the Bath Company in 1761, bought by Thomas Ellis Owen in 1830, mentioned in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, and sold to the War Office in 1854. It was variously known as Portsmouth Theatre, Portsmouth and Portsea Theatre and finally as the Theatre Royal. The last Actor Manager, William Shalders, moved to the new site of the Theatre Royal when it opened under the management of Henry Rutley in 1856.
But our story starts in 1854, when ex travelling circus owner Henry Rutley became licensee of the White Swan and leased the Landport Hall next to it, hoping to create “a place of entertainment to which the middle classes of the borough might resort”. Landport Hall was converted into a theatre, a theatre license was granted on the condition that the doorways between the theatre and the White Swan be permanently bricked up, and the Theatre Royal was secured.
Find out more in our History of the New Theatre Royal leaflet.