Theatres in Ayrshire ~ 1800 - 2014

A small but neat theatre occasionally opens to gratify the admirers of dramatic representations; but the inhabitants being generally of a sedate turn of mind, it is but little encouraged.
Pigot's Ayrshire Directory,  1837

James Morris, banker and longtime resident of Ayr, published a book in 1872 under the title Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809.  He describes the development of theatre in the Royal Burgh and gives details of some of the performances.

In 1809, when he arrived in Ayr, Morris notes that there were theatrical performances in the Soap Works at Dalblair House.  By 1810 performances had been moved to premises in Content Street, in the Wallacetown area of the Burgh.  The great tragedian, Edmund Kean, appeared at these premises in 1811 and 1812, returning for further engagements in later years.  Kean appeared in the role of Othello and travelled from Ayr to Campbelltown and Bute, where he had a home, for further appearances in the role.  Morris notes that  these premises were under the management of Henry Erskine Johnston until they were replaced by the Theatre Royal or Queen's Room in 1815. 

The New Theatre opened on 30th October, 1815, with the 'admired comedy' of The Honeymoon and the farce of Raising the Wind'.  Henry Erskine Johnston was the acting manager and leading player in a company that included players from Edinburgh, Newcastle and London.  Press notices indicate that Mrs Clarke and Mrs Garrick, both from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would appear for a few nights

The origin and limited success of the theatre is recorded in the Post Office Directory for Ayr, published in 1830.   The Theatre . . . Was got up in the year 1812, under the supervision of Henry Erskine Johnston Esq. by a company of subscribers, consisting of foirty-four, at twenty-five pounds each. The Theatre has never rewarded the enterprising zeal and and exertions of the projectors, there being comparatively little encouragement in Ayr even for the first rate stars. The last lessee was Mr Seymour. The Theatre is lighted by gas, which through the excessive carelessness of the stage-managers is rendered perfectly intolerable. It is occasionally used as a place of worship, as a dancing and ball-room, and at times let out for the accommodation of lectures, magicians, and strolling adventurers.  (Ayr Directory 1830)

The theatre provided a home for music.  Both Braham and Templeton, noted tenors, appeared in the house.  In 1832 Paganini played two concerts at the theatre.  Tickets were priced at 7s 6d, 5s and 3s 6d.  Paganini was promised a fee of £100 for his appearance but it appears that the manager (Seymour) decamped with the funds.  Thereafter, Paganini always demanded a fee in advance, asserting that he would play better with the cash in his back pocket.

Building Details

The building is listed as Grade B.

Modest rectangular hall of sandstone rubble with a two storey façe of five bays, clad in cement stucco. Five arched windows to first floor with pediment containing infilled ocular window. Inevitably, the interior has been radically altered, although it is still possible to identify the original layout. The auditorium was decked over at circle height (a half storey up from ground level). The former pit, excavated to a depth of 3m (9ft 10in), became the crypt. The church is an unadorned rectangular space with a flat ceiling and one balcony with truncated slips. All evidence of the proscenium and stage has gone.  (THis description pre-dates alterations to the facade and interior in 3004.


Built  1815
Current state    Extant
Current use   Religious centre (Baptist Church)
Address    Fort Street, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland

Other names    Queen's Hall

Building information from The Theatres Trust©

The Church was renovated in 2004.  The Ayr Baptist Church web site includes a range of images prepared during the building work.

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Ayr Theatre Royal, with new entrance constructed in 2004. magnify   ©M.Bailey

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Ayr Theatre Royal, now a baptist church. magnify   ©M.Bailey

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Ayr Theatre Royal, from the Mews Lane. magnify  ©M.Bailey

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