Monument record MYO4164 - Theatre Royal folly/ gateway


A folly or eye-catcher (as popularised in the early-mid C18 by such architects as Sanderson Miller; this is very reminiscent of his work). Probably incorporated in 1744 theatre by unknown architect/designer of the 1744 theatre.


Grid reference SE 6013 5214 (point)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

Analysis provided by Colin Briden:

"First of all, the map evidence. We agree that the 1750 map (which I have not yet looked at) and the 1852 map both show the lane. By 1750 Mrs Keregan had already built the first Theatre Royal on the present site - in 1744. Her theatre is known to have been reached off Blake St via Mint Lane (see Hugh Murray, in his commentary on Nathaniel Whitlock's view). To achieve this the lane must therefore have turned through ninety degrees to pass through the stone boundary wall. This situation is that recorded on the 1852 map, which also shows Mrs Keregan's theatre; although by then the theatre had been slightly remodelled to include a Gothick facade (Harper 1834; this facade is now in Fishergate where it was re-erected in c.1880). So the later facade appears on the 1852 map, with the lane passing through its northernmost bay which has been carried beyond the building line to accommodate it. Hence the lane was also in theatre ownership and lay within Mrs Keregan's north boundary (also clearly shown). I believe the lane access was required as St Leonard's Place did not exist in 1744 (check Chassereau for me please!) and so the theatre could not then be reached from that side. Surviving pintles (see below) show that the gateway has been constructed in such a way that the paired doors open outwards, to the east; that is, they were intended to be closed and secured from the theatre side of the boundary wall. Access through the gates to the theatre was thus wholly under the control of the theatre owner/manager.

The 1744 theatre survived until the 1879 rebuild by the city engineer, George Styas, and as a result appears on Nathaniel Whittock's birds-eye view of c.1850: it is not easy to make out detail, but it does appear to have Gothick windows. This would explain Harper's choice of the same style in 1834.

Secondly, the fabric. Here is why the arch itself cannot be mediaeval:

It is elliptical (or three-centred);
It is thin (not a major point but observable);
It is constructed of rock-faced masonry, much of it re-used mediaeval stone irregularly and inappropriately used;
The outer (ie eastern) elevation incorporates rebates for the doors, evidently of primary construction, which are almost entirely built of 2" red brick in a white lime mortar;
It has a projecting key-block; this key-block is also of rock-faced or rusticated masonry;
All the voussoirs of the arch break forward of the wall-line;
The 'wall-walk' rests on a chamfered mediaeval string-course placed upside-down;
The arrow-loops look the wrong way (they imply splays on the outer face of the wall);
The iron pintles are of a characteristic C18/C19 pattern and were embedded in the fabric during construction and not inserted into it.

It is, in other words, profoundly unhistorical. The style, in fact, is that of a typical early C18 folly or eye-catcher (and so is the well-meant but ham-fisted execution). This impression is heightened, quite literally, by the huge column of masonry, rectangular in cross-section, which towers up over the south end of the 'wall-walk'. I would not be at all surprised if it were matched by another, at the other end, now disguised by the fabric of the 1879 widening and rebuilding of the theatre.

Eyecatchers and follies of just this kind were popularised in the early-mid C18 by such architects as Sanderson Miller; this is very reminiscent of his work. I think it likely that the unknown designer of the 1744 theatre also appreciated their romantic and theatrical appeal (and perhaps their rather louche reputation); and this is why such a building, on a small scale, was used to advertise the entrance to a place of entertainment.

Seen in this light I think this could be a much more interesting discovery than that of yet another mediaeval arch. It raises all sorts of questions of attribution, cultural significance, and social awareness. It was also bang up-to-date for its age. Altogether, a great find."

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Record last edited

Jul 30 2015 11:02AM


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