Theatre Licencing

Government controlled drama in the 18th and 19th centuries

The original licence application from 1803. Click on the word document below for a transcription of the document.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1596/box 93/1/13

The Theatre Licensing Act of 1737 introduced government control over theatre companies and compelled any individual or group wishing to put on a theatrical production to obtain a licence. The  document pictured1 is a notice of application for a licence to stage a variety of entertaining performances in the government approved theatres of London. The request was submitted to the Mayor of Warwickshire County Council by E. Ray and George Collin Gibbons, who in 1803 became the managers of the Warwick Theatre company and its interests throughout England.

Plan of licence

Once an application had been sent to the County Council, a plan of licence was drawn up by the Town Clerk. To be awarded a licence, the applicants were also required to submit a verbal request to the Justices of the Peace at a Quarter Sessions meeting. If the Justices of the Peace approved an appeal, they could according to the 1737 Theatre Licensing Act grant a theatre company permission to stage performances for up to 60 nights.

The Licensing Act

The Theatre Licensing Act was developed because in the 18th century many politicians became anxious about dramas and plays being performed that were critical of the British government and monarch of the time. Once the legislation was passed, the Lord Chamberlain and his department gained the authority to establish government approved theatres and to vet or ban any new plays and additions to scripts. The Theatre Licensing Act of 1737 imposed these restrictions to prevent companies from staging any performances that might instigate dissatisfaction amongst certain sectors of society.

Theatre in Warwick

During the early 1800s theatre performances in Warwick were held throughout the year with a regular run of shows coinciding with events at the town’s racecourse. The theatre in Warwick had a broad appeal and audiences came from both the middle classes and the gentry. It is not clear whether there was a fixed location for the performances in Warwick in the early 1800s and in 1802 a request to establish a theatre in Market Place was refused by the Council.

These documents are part of the collection CR1596 held at the Warwickshire County Record Office of papers from a solicitor’s firm called William Ward Prickett. The company was located in High Street, Alcester and in the collection there are many records relating to cases and clients of the firm such as CR1596/box 93/1/13.

1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1596/box 93/1/13.

This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in December 2011. Further articles can be found on their website.

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