I used to think that the real Richmond was in Surrey, on the Thames, with a park full of wandering deer. But as we wandered northward, from Beccles towards Scotland, Mrs SG and I found ourselves near a little town called Richmond, not far from Scotch Corner. According to our guide book it has a Norman castle – not unusual in the UK – and the world’s only surviving working Georgian theatre. We were intrigued and aimed our little rental car in that direction.
A charming volunteer guide took us around the theatre, explaining things and giving us rich historical context. Apparently the people in the cheapest seats, in the gallery, really were uncouth and rowdy. They even peed on the floor so that the people in the choicest boxes below were rained upon. If the audience showed sufficient dislike of a performance the actors often called it off, changed their costumes and performed a different play – more of a crowd-pleaser.
And did you know that the process of reserving seats is quite new, and originally applied only to the boxes… hence the term ‘box office’?
The exterior of the Theatre Royal is pretty dull (see below) but the interior is a delight. It lacks the curlicues and gilt cherubs of the West End theatres and it seats only 261 patrons (and therefore was never obliged to have a fire curtain), but like the bluff North Yorkshire farmers who were its patrons when Samuel Butler opened in 1788 it is eminently fit-for-purpose.
The next time you’re in that part of the country, take the time to drop in and have a look. Better still, check online and time your visit when there’s a performance. We didn’t but we will next time. We may not be able to reserve the royal box (as patrons Charles and Camilla did) but the annual pantomime is not to be missed, we’re told.
Both Richmonds and much else besides formed part of the 250,000-acre land-holding (known as ‘the Honour of Richmond’) that William the Conqueror gave to his kinsman Alan Rufus of Brittany. Alan’s job was to keep North Yorkshire under control, which he seems to have done pretty well: the castle is dilapidated, but through neglect rather than bombardment. It played an interesting role in the First World War, which you may like to learn about here.