The Old Vic

Since its foundation, writes Ian Bradley, the Old Vic theatre became in turn a drinking den, a temperance hall, and the home of serious ballet and drama.

With the departure of the National Theatre Company to their new home on the South Bank, another chapter has closed in the long history of the Old Vic. Whatever new use is now found for the theatre, it is unlikely to be any more bizarre than some of those to which it has been put in the hundred-and-sixty years since it was built. The Old Vic was, in turn, one of the most notorious drinking dens in London, a combined temperance music hall and adult education college, and the home of Britain’s leading opera, ballet, and serious drama companies.

The Royal Coburg Theatre, as the Old Vic was first known, opened in May 1818. It took its name from Leopold, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and husband of Princess Charlotte, the granddaughter of George III, who laid the first stone. The theatre was built on the swampy wasteland of Lambeth marshes.

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