Category Archives: Dorset

Victorian Extravaganzas at The Shelley Theatre, Boscombe

“Scenery, Machinery & Decorations”

Shelley Theatre Rear view Theatre website Aug 2012
Shelley Theatre 2012 –

On 27th December 1851, a report in the Illustrated London News, headed “Private Theatricals”, stated that “on the 18th inst.” Sir Percy and Lady Shelley had “…opened their pretty little private theatre, at Boscombe…” to the surrounding nobility and gentry. The evening’s entertainment, at what is now called The Shelley Theatre , included The Gentleman over the Way, “a translation from the French, by Percy Shelley” and an “extravaganza” called Candaules, King of the Sardes,  co-written by Sir Percy and Hon. Grantley Berkeley. All of the “scenery, machinery and decorations” had been “painted and arranged” by Sir Percy.

“Beautifully Lighted with Gas”

Sir Percy Shelley
Sir Percy Shelley

The London Evening Standard reported on 5th February 1856 that, during the previous week, the vicinity of Christchurch had been “enlivened by a series of theatrical performances”, both at the home of Colonel and Mrs Waugh on “Branksea Island” and also at “Boscombe House“, the mansion of Sir Percy and Lady Shelley. One of the plays performed at Boscombe, The Wreck Ashore, was said to be a “serious business for any private company to attempt”. The latest extravaganza by Sir Percy, entitled A Comedy of Terrors, was “much in the usual fashion – all scenery, traps, changes and dress, not much to act, but a good deal to look at…” The theatre itself was described as “the most complete thing of the sort attached to any of the residences of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom”. It had a green room and dressing room and was “beautifully lighted with gas”. After each evenings’ entertainment, members of the audience were treated to a “splendid supper” at the mansion.

Amateur & Charitable Performances

1885 Illus Sporting & Dram News 7 February Cast List
Cast List for “Time Will Tell” by Mr Herbert Gardner – Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 7th February 1885

In the spring of 1867, “amateur theatricals” were being performed on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings “with much success”. It was noted that Sir Percy had composed most of the music for the productions. Many of the performances were given in aid of charity: in January and February 1872, money was raised for the building fund of the National Sanitorium, Bournemouth.

Sir Percy started building another theatre in 1879, close to his town house in Chelsea and opposite the studio of the artist, James Whistler. According to the Durham County Advertiser, the stage at Chelsea was going to be “fitted up with all those improved mechanical appliances so conspicuous at Boscombe”. Also, as at Boscombe, the Chelsea theatre was intended to be devoted chiefly to amateur and charitable performances.

Plays by Mr Herbert Gardner

1881 Our Bitterest Foe Programme 4 April Shoreditch
Extract from Shoreditch Theatre Programme for “Our Bitterest Foe”

At the end of January 1885, Sir Percy Shelley once again re-opened his private theatre, for a season of four nights. And again, much was made of the “scenery, machinery and mechanical effects”. The play itself, Mr Herbert Gardner‘s “excellent comedy”, Time Will Tell was given an enthusiastic write-up in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The stage management and “the finish of the performance” were highly praised. The troupe were favourably compared with the renowned amateur dramatic group: The Old Stagers and The Windsor Strollers. Mention was also made of Gardner’s earlier, much celebrated play, Our Bitterest Foe, which had been premiered previously at Boscombe and had gone on to enjoy “three distinct runs” on the London stage.

“No More Enthusiastic Supporter of the stage…”

In an obituary to Sir Percy Shelley, after his death on November 5th 1889, the Yorkshire Post said that “in the whole ranks of the leisured classes there was no more enthusiastic supporter of the stage than he”.

Go along to The Shelley Theatre to see what’s happening right now at this wonderful historic theatre.

Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your Home or Building: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated and leather-bound. Read Steph’s other blog posts at Woods for the Trees Blog

The Chine Hotel, Boscombe – Sun, Sea & the Stage in the late 1930s

Stars of Boscombe Pier & Hippodrome

During the late 1930s, The Chine Hotel was marketed very positively by the “Resident Proprietor”, Mr James Millar, especially in theatrical newspapers, such as The Sphere, The Era and The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The hotel was much favoured by actors and theatre companies, who dined and stayed at the hotel when they were performing at Boscombe Pier or The Boscombe Hippodrome (now the O2 Academy).

A Culinary Virtuoso

The Sphere 21st March 1936

Many of the ads themselves were theatrical. In 1936, The Sphere carried an advertisement headed “Good Living”, which painted a very romantic and appealing pen picture of the hotel’s ambience: “A glass of sherry and a cigarette before dinner…good company and conversation…colourful, comfortable surroundings and then dinner prepared by a culinary virtuoso. Such is a sample of life at the Chine Hotel.”

One of the Sunniest Hotels...

The Sphere 26th June 1937

The hotel advertised in two very different publications in the summer of 1937: The Sphere (on 26th June) and The Yorkshire Post (on 2nd July). The words are the same. Both describe The Chine Hotel as “one of the sunniest hotels on the South Coast…” but the layout changes the message. The long, lazy style and wavy lines in The Sphere give a much more “laid-back” feel that was presumably more appealing to the less traditional, more artistic set!

A Hotel for Every Season

The Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer 15th October 1937

The Chine Hotel was promoted as the ideal place to stay in every season, especially to people who lived in the colder climes of Scotland and the North East of England: “The Chine maintains at all times of the year a reputation for good food…”. On 3rd September 1937, The Scotsman encouraged readers to take an “Autumn Holiday” at The Chine Hotel with its “four acres of terraced gardens which lead direct to the water’s edge and the Undercliff Drive“. The “Winter?” advertisement in The Yorkshire Post of 15th October  1937 used single-word sentences to confidently extol the luxuries and pleasures to be found at The Chine Hotel and to sell it as the perfect antidote to winter.

Bournemouth’s 1,001 Entertainments

The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 2nd December 1938

The more dignified ad and article in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 2nd December 1938 seem to echo the less carefree national mood at a time when increasingly sinister events were taking place on the continent. The hotel is described by Mr Ashley Courtenay as “A Home from Home…” and the emphasis is on the consistency and quality of its food and wine, the long service of the staff, the splendid situation and its accessibility. The ad highlights “Bournemouth’s 1,001 entertainments”.

The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 2nd December 1938

A more upbeat style is back in February and March of 1939, when a repeated advertisement in The Scotsman is eager to persuade those north of the border that “It will be nice to get into a warm and sunny climate again”.

Visit The Chine Hotel to experience a gorgeous piece of Boscombe’s history first-hand.

Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your House or Hotel: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated and leather-bound. Read Steph’s other blog posts at Woods for the Trees Blog