Further Discoveries at the Old Vic Theatre

18th century door at the old vic theatre in bristol

Upper part of an 18th-century door between the upper box and the back of stage area at the Old Vic Theatre, Bristol

Building work within the auditorium has uncovered a hidden 18th-century door between the back-of-house and one of the boxes above the stage. This door is likely to have been used by rich patrons who wished to access the back of stage areas, a practice known as ‘freedom of the scenes’. This allowed rich men to meet the performers, or more specifically the actresses, in private. Prostitutes are also known to have worked in 18th-century theatres, though the line between actress and prostitute was, at least in the minds of their contemporaries, somewhat blurred.

By the 19th century the practice of allowing public access to the stage area had been abolished – no doubt much to the relief of the female performers, and it is likely that this is what lead to the door being nailed shut, plastered over and hidden beneath a later staircase. The door probably went out of use at the same time a raised wooden floor was built up against it, about 1m higher than the original floor level. It is likely that the floor level was changed when an additional tier was added to the auditorium in about 1800.

Groundwork outside the theatre has also uncovered the cellar of a late 18th or early 19th century stone-built building in Rackhay. By the late 19th century the building formed part of J. Turner’s fruit warehouse. The building remained standing until it was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. The bombsite was then levelled and use as a car park until it was redeveloped as part of a major extension to the theatre in 1972.

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Bristol Old Vic Theatre

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