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After 36 successful years managing York’s Theatre Royal, Tate Wilkinson died in 1803 at the age of 63. His son and heir inherited the theatre but sadly did not have his father’s business acumen or charisma. By the opening of the spring season in 1814, he was heading for bankruptcy.
1803 - 1864
Over the next 61 years, 26 managers took charge of the theatre – the shortest duration being one week in August 1851 by Harry Roxbey Beverley – short lived as he ended up in York Castle for debt! Later the theatre was managed by William Alfred Waddington, a music seller based in Stonegate. He, and later his sons, ran the theatre as a Touring House for “No 2 Tours” until 1910. The building went through a great many facelifts during this time; gas lighting was introduced which greatly improved the atmosphere inside the auditorium, a new frontage was built facing the newly-created St Leonard’s Place, the stage was rebuilt to include trap doors, the pit was enlarged, stage boxes were added and upholstered seats fitted in the Dress Circle.
In 1880 a new Victorian Gothic facade was added to the front of the building, decorated with carved heads representing Elizabeth I and characters from Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, Falstaff, Cleopatra). Eight years later the space beneath the Dress Circle was opened out to extend the pit (Stalls), which allowed the theatre to seat 1,400.
In 1862 the theatre delighted families around York with the very first Christmas Panto, The Sleeping Beauty.