Saturday 21 December 2013
London theatre disasters
Last Friday (the thirteenth, of December) I was watching a play at the Apollo Theatre in London. Six days later, the ceiling fell in on the dress circle, where I had been sitting, injuring 76 people.
Still, that was not nearly as bad as some of the earlier disasters that struck the capital's theatres. The first Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was burned down in 1672. The second was declared unsafe and closed, while the third lasted just 15 years before it too caught fire, and was razed to the ground in 1809.
In the 17 years from 1863, there were 14 major fires in London theatres, and the head of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, produced a report lambasting the inadequacy of their safety precautions.
Shaw was a great friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and would tip the prince off if there was a particularly 'good' fire, so he could tag along for a bit of amateur firefighting. One blaze at the Alhambra in Leicester Square almost cost the future king his life when a wall collapsed, narrowly missing him.
For more, see London's Disasters.