Sadler's Wells



  • A theater in Finsbury, London, formerly renowned for its productionsof opera and ballet. The name derives from a holy well that was oncelocated on this site; it was blocked up at the Reformation but rediscoveredby Thomas Sadler in 1683, when workmen were digging for gravel. (Itstill remains under a trap door beneath the theater's stalls.) Atfirst Sadler opened a medicinal spring here; when attendances declined,he erected a wooden 'Musick house' to provide entertainment, and fromthe 1690s this became the chief attraction under the management ofJames Miles.

    In 1765 a builder named Thomas Rosoman built a proper stonetheater, which became famous for burlettas, musical interludes, andpantomimes. Edmund Kean, Dibdin, and Grimaldi all appeared here. In1844 Samuel Phelps took over and specialized in productions of Shakespeare'splays but, after his retirement, the boom in West End theatersleft Sadler's Wells somewhat isolated. It became, in turn, a picklefactory and boxing arena, was revived as a music hall, and eventuallybecame a cinema, which closed in 1916.

    A new theater, built with the help of the Carnegie UnitedKingdom Trust, opened in 1931 under Lilian Baylis of the Old Vic.This became one of the leading houses in London for the productionof ballet and opera. In 1946 the ballet company transferred to theRoyal Opera House, Covent Garden, later (1956) combining with anothertroupe to form the Royal Ballet. In 1968 the opera company moved tothe London Coliseum, becoming known as the English National Opera(1974). After undergoing a hugely expensive redevelopment programmein the 1990s, Sadler's Wells reopened as a state-of-the-art dance theaterfor the new millennium in 1999. It also has a West End base at the PeacockTheatre (formerly the royalty).