Curtain Up!

The 75th accession received in 1995 was a collection of theatre programmes.  As part of the Curtain Up! project currently running at Glamorgan Archives, theatre playbills advertising performances at Cardiff’s Theatre Royal are in the process of being catalogued. The playbills date from the years 1885-1895 and advertise a wide range of performances, including Victorian burlesques, Gilbert and Sullivan classics and the annual Cardiff Christmas pantomimes!


The Theatre Royal was situated on the corner of St Mary’s Street and Wood Street and was built in 1878. It was referred to as the second Theatre Royal, as the first, situated in Crockherbtown (now known as Queen Street) had burnt down the previous year, on 11th December 1877. The fire was thought to have originated in the theatre’s store sheds which were storing straw for a production of ‘The Scamps of London’.

The new Theatre Royal was constructed by Webb & Sons of Birmingham to the designs of Waring and Blesaley. The theatre was built as a playhouse with an auditorium consisting of pit, pit stalls, boxes and gallery. It had increased accommodation, seating up to 2000 people compared to the 1000 that could be seated in the old Theatre Royal.


The new Theatre Royal officially opened on Monday 7th October 1878 with W. Gilbert’s ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’, a production that would feature again over the coming years.

A large variety of travelling shows performed at the Theatre Royal. Operas were the most popular form of entertainment, with free lists being frequently suspended and the Taff Vale Railway and Great Western Railway running special trains to accommodate the theatre goers. Novelty acts also drew in the crowds, with performances from a ‘Band of Real Indians’, ’16 Educated Horses’  and ‘King Barney the St Bernard Dog’.

Sadly, the second Theatre Royal also burned down, in 1899, but was rebuilt immediately in the same style. The theatre still stands in Cardiff today but now functions as a well known public house, ‘The Prince of Wales’.

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