The Theatre in Jersey
The first regular theatre in Jersey was opened at Regent Road, St Helier, on 4 August 1802 by James Shatford. Before then the Long Room above the old Corn Market had served as a theatre when occasion demanded. Although it is true that in various advertisements appearing in La Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey between 14 and 30 July 1796 references are made to Theatre Royal, it is more than doubtful that there was any sort of purpose-built theatre in the island at that time.
Shatford was a well known actor-manager of the period and a friend of Henry Lee, also an actor-manager, who had visited Jersey in 1796. In fact it may have been Lee who gave Shatford the idea of visiting the island. In his Memoirs of a Manager, or Life's Stage with New Scenery (1830) Lee has left us with this vivid description of his friend:
- My old friend Shatford, though a man of such good sense and practical talent, ... had many ... unaccountable whims to contend with. He had at all times an utter dislike to umbrellas: would maintain that none but effeminate coxcombs used them; and would get wet to the skin sooner than hoist one over his head. During the early part of his life he was obliged to dress according to the fashion; generally wore very good clothes, but seldom properly put on, or consistent with one another. He would dress himself in such apparel as might happen to fall in his way: always partial to clean and fine linen; but his shirts had on them large frills, deep ruffles at the hands, even after such things had got out of fashion. You might see him about ten in the morning at breakfast: but oftener about eleven or twelve. Perhaps he would read the newspaper and write haIf¬a-dozen letters while under the hands of the barber; always turning and twisting about, with - "Haven't you done? confound it! how slow you are". Then he'd often rise from his seat, before he was half-shaved; the lather still on his cheeks, and his chin still bleeding: "Come, why don't you finish," (he'd say) sitting down again to be powdered, though without gown or cloth, and in his best black coat just brought home from the tailor's shop. As soon as this process was over- his shoulders covered with pomatum and powder, he would put on, perhaps, a handsome cocked hat, with a silver loop and gold tassels, then tie round his neck one of Mrs Shatford's coarse blue coloured calico handkerchiefs, then with spangled waistcoast, satin small-clothes, white or peach-blossom silk stockings; he'd draw over them his new top-boots, or slip on his red morocco slippers; and off he'd march to the theatre or more probably into the shops of some poulterers, or pastry cooks, to purchase seasonable rarities for himself and friends at dinner, not forgetting good wine, excellent spirits, and choice fruits for the dessert.
Apparently he had met with or was anticipating difficulty which caused him to enlist the aid of Sir Francis Freeling, the Postmaster General. Shatford had evidently approached him on the matter either by letter or otherwise and had received a reply asking how he could help. Shatford wrote to Freeling on 3 February 1800 stating that he had sent his application to Thomas Pipon, the Lieut-Bailiff, and requesting that letters be sent to the Jurats, Dr Heriot or any leading islanders asking for their support.
Shatford went on to say that he believed that General Gordon approved of a theatre but that his assistance would be unlikely as the civil authorities were said to be jealous of the military. He concluded by saying that it would be helpful if any letters were to leave London on Friday night as otherwise a week would be lost. Freeling merely forwarded Shatford's letter to Heriot with a note endorsed on it in his own hand commending Shatford as 'a good fellow' and asking for help on Shatford's behalf. Whether Shatford's application was successful or whether he had to reapply on one or more occasions is not known. However, by the beginning of June 1802 he had obtained the necessary permission to present theatrical performances in Jersey.
There appear to be no Jersey newspapers covering theatrical events in the island during 1802. Fortunately, however, Shatford was well known in Salisbury and his activities in Jersey were reported in the Salisbury Journal from time to time. In the issue of 14 June 1802 appeared the following:
- The Island of Jersey has ever been considered a profitable object of theatrical speculation; it will therefore give pleasure to a numerous body of our readers to be informed that Mr Shatford has obtained, against a host of competitors, the licence of the Governor and Royal Court to perform there. The grant is announced in the Jersey Gazette of the 5th instant, in the following terms:
- We are happy to announce that Mr Shatford, manager of the Salisbury Theatre, a gentleman respectably recommended to the Island, has obtained permission of the Governor and the Royal Court to open a Theatre in St Helier's; and from his long-tried ability the lovers of the Drama may with pleasure anticipate the enjoyment of that rational and moral amusement in great perfection. We understand that the company will arrive in about six weeks.
The following account of the opening of the theatre appears in the issue of 16 August:
- The Theatre in St Helier's, Jersey, was opened on the 4th inst under the management of Mr. Shatford; and so delighted are the inhabitants of the Island with the renovation of their favourite amusement, and the appearance and performance of the Company, that the house was crowded almost immediately on the opening of the doors, and the close of almost every scene met with warm acclamations. The Poor Gentleman and Jew and Doctor were the performances; Ollapod and Abednego by Shatford; with recruits in several of the characters, and other auxiliaries are about to join the corps.
The first play mentioned, The Poor Gentleman (1801), was by George Colman the younger, and the second, The Jew and the Doctor (1798), was by T. J. Dibden.
The third and last report of the year on theatrical activities in Jersey appeared on 27th September and read thus:
- Shatford's Company of Comedians draw every night of their performance in this Island genteel and crowded houses. As a theatre is quite a novelty in Jersey, it is not only full of the town beauties, but of the elegantes compagnardes, who are delighted with the comic scenes, the poetical illusions, and the tragic ends of the immortal Shakespeare. For a provincial company, Mr. Shatford's stands in high estimation; and the encouragement they meet with in this delightful sejour is a convincing proof.
In Stead's Gazette de Jersey and Weekly Advertiser for Saturday 1 January 1803 Shatford returned his sincere thanks to the public of the island for their hospitality and the liberal manner in which they had received himself and the company, assured the public that in the event of his being responsible for further presentations he would ensure they would be worthy of their approbation and, finally, he requested all those to whom he was indebted to send in their accounts on or before the following Monday.
In the same issue of the newspaper it was announced that the theatre fittings were to be offered for sale by auction on the following Tuesday.
In passing it should be mentioned that there is a reference in Allardyce Nicoll's A History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama 1800-1850 to the presentation in Jersey in 1802 of Archibald Maclaren's musical entertainment The First of April or The Fool's Errand by what are described as 'strolling players', a term which would scarcely have applied to Shatford's Company. In any case the piece mentioned does not appear in his repertoire. It should also be mentioned that Maclaren went to Guernsey in 1794 as a sergeant in the Dumbarton Highlanders and while in that island was engaged as a prompter in the theatre.
Three reports on Shatford's Company in Jersey appeared in the Salisbury Journal during 1803. The first in the issue of 10 January was somewhat longer than any which had appeared the previous year and ran as follows:
- JERSEY Jan 1 Shatford's Company of Comedians concluded the season yesterday evening in this Island, and returned thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Island for their liberal support and encouragement. No company was ever received with such heartfelt applause, or experienced so distinguished a patronage. They have reaped a full and copious harvest, and their performances have been highly pleasing, and given general satisfaction to the inhabitants of the Island. The benefits of the different performers were always full, and respectably attended. The inhabitants vied one with the other who should be foremost to evince his patronage and protection. In short, nothing was wanting to give a proper dignity and encouragement to the Drama, and to shew that the Island, which had produced a Dupre, a Valpy, a Bandinel, a Lawrence, a Lempriere, and a Dumaresq, was equally anxious to reward merit in any station, and to imprint in the minds of Englishmen the comforts that are to be met with in this delightful sejour.
The second in the issue of 22 August, merely stated that Shatford's Company had 'embarked for Jersey, under the patronage of the Governor, the Commander in Chief, the High Bailiff, and most of the first personages in the Island’.
The third and final report of the year appeared in the issue of 5th December and ran thus:
- The Salisbury Company of Comedians, which has been some months in Jersey, closed a most successful season there on Tuesday evening last. During the whole time, they have performed to crowded houses, with great and continued applause; and the Manager is so highly esteemed, that he had four be-speaks in one week. The benefits were all successful. The company embarked for Lymington, to perform there about a month.
Two longish reports appeared in the Salisbury Journal during 1804. The first in the issue of 24 September had this to say:
- JERSEY Sept 18 Shatford and his company are arrived here, but not without danger, their packet having been closely chased by a French privateer. In this peril, the Dram Pers shewed the most determined resolution to defend themselves, one mock heroine alone excepted, who was for an immediate surrender, alleging that she had nothing worth defending. Our gallant Governor laughs at the tale; but the Manager swears the chase lasted three hours "by Shrewsbury clock"; and in proof of it a Jersey vessel was taken just after by the privateer, and has since been retaken by the Alcmene frigate.
- Our new theatre, consisting of three brilliant circles, is finished, and fitted up in a style of elegance far beyond what we have ever seen here. The public are impatient for its opening, which is fixed for to-morrow evening, with every promise of remuneration to the Manager for his spirited exertions, since our gaiety is not disturbed by idle dreams of the enemy. We feel all security and thorough confidence in the excellent dispositions of our brave Commander in Chief.
Evidently the 'new Theatre' was either a reconstruction of the theatre opened in 1802 or a new building, presumably on the same site.
The second report of 1804 appeared in the issue of 19 November and ran thus:
JERSEY Nov 10 Mr. Shatford's company of comedians give general satisfaction. - Our theatre is crowded every night, not only with the town beauties, but with the elegantes compagnardes, who profess themselves great admirers of the sons and daughters of the Sock and Buskin. The Lieut-Governor, whose vigilance for the public weal cannot be exceeded, and whose principles are above all praise, gives us his constant attendance; and even the Clergy cannot escape the attractive charms, the lively wit, and the masculine eloquence of the immortal Shakespeare. We sincerely hope that the company will long continue to delight and please the inhabitants, and that nothing will prevent Mr. Shatford from visiting every year this delightful sejour.
At the conclusion of the season Shatford took his company to Gibraltar, possibly travelling direct from Jersey.
No reports appeared in 1805 and only two brief notes in 1806. The first in the issue of 14 April reported that 'The company remove immediately to Jersey, and return to the Isle of Wight in September'; the second in the issue of 8 September reported that 'Mr Shatford's company concluded a most successful season at Jersey on Thursday, and early in the next week they perform in the Isle of Wight.'
In the advertisement appearing in J. Stead's Gazette de Jersey and Weekly Advertiser of Saturday 17 May 1806 Shatford announced the opening that evening of the Theatre Royal with a presentation of The Heir at Law, a comedy by George Colman the younger, and Rosina, stated to be a farce, but possibly more correctly described as a musical entertainment adapted from The Seasons by James Thomson. Days of performance were to be Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; doors were to open at 6 o'clock and the performance was to start promptly at 7 o'clock. Boxes were three shillings, seats in the pit two shillings and those in the gallery one shilling. Second prices for the boxes at half¬past eight were two shillings. Season tickets warranted for forty-five nights were also obtainable, for the boxes four pounds and for the pit three pounds. Tickets could be purchased from Mr Stead. The advertisement ended with a request that no one was to attempt to go behind the scenes in any circumstances whatever.
The season of 1806 was almost certainly the last that Shatford had in Jersey. He died in 1809 at Newport, Isle of Wight, after a long and painful illness. A report of his death appeared in the November issue of Stead's Jersey Magazine, or Monthly Recorder. Sara Shatford survived her husband and held the lease of the Theatre Royal, Regent Road, for a number of years after his death.
In Stead's A Picture of Jersey published in 1809 appears the following reference to the Theatre Royal and its manager, which might well serve as an epitaph to the man who obviously gave so much pleasure to Jersey theatregoers between 1802 and 1806.
- The Theatre is a neat and sufficiently extensive Building. The present Manager is Mr. Shatford, Proprietor of the Salisbury, Newport, and other Theatres; whose well known elegant Taste and professional Judgement exercised in the Selection of Performers, render him no less deserving of the Public's Estimation as a judicious and liberal Director of their theatrical Recreations than he is valuable for the Qualities most endearing in private Life. A well-educated well-informed Man, with an unimpeachable Integrity of Mind and a most happy Vein of inoffensive Pleasantry that "ever set the Table in a Roar ," cannot fail of being appreciated according to his Deserts by the Enlightened, nor of having the sincere good Wishes of all but the Vicious or the Envious.
Editor's note: Although the article above is slightly vague on whether the theatre opened by James Shatford in 1802 was called the Theatre Royal, as were subsequent establishments, it is clear from the advertisements below that the Theatre Royal was operating in 1803, the the first of those advertisements gives 27 August 1803 as the opening night. This Theatre Royal was in Regent Road, and was superseded by the New Theatre Royal, in the centre of Don Road Royal Crescent in 1828. This building was destroyed by fire in 1868 and the name was taken by Wybert Rousby for his Royal Amphitheatre and Circus in Gloucester Street. Today that building, twice destroyed by fire, is known as Jersey Opera House.