Drury Lane

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Drury Lane (London) takes its name from Sir Thomas Drury, who had a house there in Elizabeth I's reign. It was a fashionable street in the 17th cent. but rowdy by the 18th. The first theatre opened in 1663. Nell Gwyn made her début in 1665 and on May Day 1667 Pepys saw her outside her lodgings ‘in her smock-sleeves and bodice, looking upon one—she seemed a mighty pretty creature’. The theatre, burned down in 1672, was rebuilt by Wren. Garrick made his début there in 1742, became manager, and passed it on to Sheridan in 1776. His new theatre, built by Holland in 1794, was burned down in 1809 while Sheridan was at a debate in the Commons. The replacement was by Benjamin Wyatt and, much restored, is the present building. In the 1890s the theatre was famous for Dan Leno's pantomimes and in the 20th cent. for musicals.

J. A. Cannon

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Drury Lane, street and district of London, at first a place of fine residences, among which was that of the Drury family. It was the site of the original Drury Lane Theatre, which was built by Thomas Killigrew in 1663 under a charter from Charles II and called the Theatre Royal. After burning down (1672), the theater was rebuilt (1674) with Christopher Wren as architect. It was again rebuilt (1791–94) and again burned down (1809). The present Drury Lane Theatre was changed according to the design of Benjamin Wyatt in 1812. The oldest English theater still in use, it has at various times housed everything from a circus to opera.

See Reminiscences of Michael Kelly of the King's Theatre and Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2 vol., 2d ed. 1826, repr. 1968).

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Drury Lane the site in London of the Theatre Royal, one of London's most famous theatres, where Nell Gwyn (1650–87) is said to have sold oranges. While under Sheridan's managament in the late 18th century, it was demolished and rebuilt; the new theatre, however, burned down in 1809.

The present and fourth theatre on this site, dating from 1812, was not particularly successful until the 1880s, when it became famous for its melodramas and spectacles.