II THE EMPIRE THEATRE'S BEGINNINGS

M ANY VARIED associations with the world of entertainment clung to the site from which the walls of the new theatre arose in 1884. In Ailesbury House, built there in the seventeenth century, when it was on the very fringe of London, Peter the Great had been entertained during his visit to England in 1698. Passing into the possession of the Saville family, the mansion then became known as Saville House, and this name was retained after it was rebuilt early in the nineteenth century and became 'a sort of "Noah's Ark" for exhibition purposes'.1 For many years its eastern wing was occupied by Miss Linwood's exhibition of needlework, which long rivalled Madame Tussaud's waxworks in popularity. On Miss Linwood's death in 1845, her needlework copies of famous paintings were dispersed and Saville House was given over to a succession of bizarre entertainments, from a panorama of the Mississippi to giants and dwarfs, monstrosities and strong men, and, last but not least, the tableaux vivants and poses plastiques of Madame Wharton.

Madame Wharton and her troupe of shapely women in their pink fleshings were to be seen over a number of years exhibiting themselves in a room of Saville House, variously known as the Walhalla and the London Eldorado. A playbill of the London Eldorado 2 gives a hint of the Empire's future position as a centre of the dance when it announced the double attraction of 'Madame Warton's (sic) grand new tableau of Giselle & the Night Dancers'3 and 'the celebrated Spanish dancers -- Senor, Senora y Senorita Escudero'.4

On a cold February evening in 1865 Saville House caught fire.

____________________
1
Edward Walford, Old and New London, n.d. vol. III, p. 165.
2
Broadley Collection, Westminster City Library.
3
The Night Dancers was an opera by Edward Loder, based on the ballet Giselle. Presumably this playbill of the London Eldorado may be dated shortly after the revival of this opera at the Royal English Opera, Covent Garden, on Nov. 10, 1960. See 'Parodies of Giselle on the English Stage' by Ivor Guest, in Theatre Notebook, vol. IX, pp. 38-46.
4
Escudero is a distinguished name in the Spanish dance today, but I have been unable to discover any connection between the Escuderos of the London Eldorado and the great Spanish dancer, Vicente Escudero ( 1892-).

-15-

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