Friday, October 17, 2008

Amusements in London: Astley's Amphitheatre

Okay, so my heroine didn’t jump out the window. She thought about it. She even opened the sash and sat on the sill, but the hero intervened before she could screw her courage to the sticking point. So, all is right with the world.

One of the suggestions from our birthday celebration for topics on Nineteen Teen was games and activities as well as cultural institutions for young ladies. I’m not entirely sure Astley’s Amphitheatre would be considered a cultural institution, but it was certainly one of the most popular places in London for young people.

Astley’s Amphitheatre, located on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, was a magical place where amazing things happened, with horses. As you can see from the picture, it boasted an arena and, at 130 feet wide, the largest stage in England at the time. Built in 1784, it held its first show on Easter and its last in October or November each year. Surrounded by 16 small chandeliers, audiences in the three tiers of seating watched while the huge center glass chandelier with 50 lamps was lowered each night through an opening in the ceiling. And as the music from the full orchestra soared, out came the horses.

Astley called his events spectacles, and it certainly sounds like they were, with trick riders, clowns, troops of horses swirling in battle formation, even a horse race and a fox hunt staged in the arena to the calls of “Tally ho!” from the audience. In 1807, he taught eight horses to do country dances, a sight that was so astonishing to his audience that it was replayed in over 100 performances.

Sounds like my idea of fun.


Gillian Layne said...

Amazing! I've never heard of this. And how wonderful you have a print to go with the descriptions.

Congrats on your heroine not breaking her ankle or destroying her reputation...:)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad your heroine finally made a decision and didn't injure herself or her reputation.

Thanks so much for the description of Astley's Amphitheatre. I've been reading Georgette Heyer's novels and Astley's is mentioned in some of the books.

Wealthy people in the 19th century sure knew how to have a good time!

Addie said...

It sounds like the Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna. I would love to go to one of the shows.