Opera Scotland

Royal Colosseum and Opera House Glasgow

James Bayliss opened this big theatre on 28 November 1867 on the corner of Hope Street and Cowcaddens Street. In 1869, when the old Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street was flattened to allow the construction of St Enoch's Station, the Colosseum took over the Theatre Royal patent. It was completely gutted by fire in 1879, with the rebuild containing many adjustments to convert it into the present Theatre Royal building.

In his book Scotland's Splendid Theatres (Polygon 1999, p80), Bruce Peter describes it. 'The Royal Colosseum was a solid building, designed by George Bell and made of sandstone quarried on site. The architect was known for his imposing neo-classical facades - the Justiciary Courthouses in Saltmarket and the magnificent Merchant's House and Courthouses in the Merchant City, for example. The new theatre looked prosperous with a fine Corinthian portico topped with an Italianate tower facing Cowcaddens Street. Inside, it had three horseshow tiers and space for 4,000. It was reportedly rather sombre and classical with little of the fine plaster and drapes found in its contemporaries, although it cost the high price of £30,000. Bayliss intended the Royal Colosseum to be Glasgow's number one venue for straight drama and opera - this was Glasgow's answer to Covent Garden and a vast improvement over the ageing Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street. Unfortunately it appears that Bayliss did not have as sure a hand with the 'legitimate' theatre business as he had with music halls. Apart from the hugely popular pantomime Let Glasgow Flourish, which played to capacity houses for three months, the Colosseum was a financial disaster. Bayliss sold out to Messrs William Glover, son of Edmond, and George Francis in 1869. With the Dunlop Street theatre site sold for redevelopment as part of St Enoch railway station, they were able to transfer the coveted Letters Patent to the Royal Colosseum. First, the theatre was closed for two months from the end of May for radical alterations to redecorate the interior' and enlarge the stage and fly tower, before a grand re-opening on 12 June as Glasgow's third Theatre Royal when the  English Opera Company staged Il trovatore. This time it was to be a success; Francis retired in 1878 and his place was taken by Edward J Knapp.'

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Cowcaddens Street

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