During the 1830s, Thomas Dudgeon was working diligently to become a respected scenic artist and make a respectable living. The art of scene painting was being embraced and refined in the theatre during the 19th century to a standard never seen again. "The mechanical stage schemes of the Baroque were perfected, theatre stages became larger than ever, and scores of painters were employed to fill these stages with their imaginary landscapes and architecture. Scenic artists recognised the effect of lighting and colour, and through this achieved stage imagery that entranced and captivated audiences." (Rosenfeld, 1981, p. 4)
Thomas Dudgeon's paintings were shown by the Dilettante Society in 1828, when the Society first started exhibiting. It is interesting that many notable British artists began their career as house painters and decorators and at some point they chose the career path they wanted to take whether it be continuing with house painting, or extending their talents to decorating, theatre scene painting, or landscape painting. David Roberts RA (1796-1864) and William Leighton Leitch, (1804-1883), both renowned Scottish artists began their careers as house painters and decorators. Both these artists became scene painters for the Theatre Royal, Queen Street in Glasgow, Roberts in 1819 and Leitch in 1824. At the same time Thomas Dudgeon was also developing a reputation as a fine scenic artist. According to the Dilettante Society records, when Thomas exhibited his painting "Portrait of John Ure Esq." in 1834 he was living at the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street. Around the same time, Roberts and Leitch left to further their respective careers in England. Thomas Dudgeon most likely knew Leitch as they were the same generation of fine young artists.
From 1828, during the early years of his career, it is hard to know exactly how Thomas's landscape and portrait painting career, his association with Bogle & Co., his book illustrating career, his theatre scene painting career and the management of his own business, all actually meshed together to carve a successful living and lifestyle. As early as 1837 he was presumably painting at the Theatre Royal, which was his recorded address on the Dilettante Records. One thing for sure is that he was a very prolific painter during this time. He may not have been the principal scenic artist in 1837 at the Theatre Royal, just an assistant. However, it was usual for several scenic artists to work on one play, creating their own individual style and scenery, based on rough sketches, which may differ from the overall style of the play. "They were expected to be thoroughly knowledgeable of architecture, history, mythology, and the exotic, to be better prepared to decorate a play." (Rosenfeld, 1981, p. 6). "Top scenic artists were walking encyclopedias of history and styles and could call on that knowledge to create stunning dramatic images meant to be viewed under peculiar lighting." In 1840, a milestone was reached, and Thomas was announced as the principal scenic artist at the Theatre Royal on it's playbills.
If the obituary details for Thomas are correct, he had an association with the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, well before 1837 and possibly as early as 1821. John Henry Alexander was associated with the Theatre Royal from 1825 until his death in 1851. Alexander was already managing two theatres (one in Dumfries and the other in Carlisle) both called the Theatre Royal,when he appeared on the Glasgow scene in the early 1820's. He rented the basement of the Caledonian Theatre in Dunlop street, and ran it as a theatre called "The Dominion of Fancy". He bought the whole building in 1825. "Mr. Dudgeon commenced his career as a scenic artist while a very young man with the late John Henry Alexander, and continued in his service for upwards of thirty years in the Theatre in Dunlop Street." Thomas Dudgeon, [Obituary, 1880]. Many colourful characters and famous events affected the development and lives of the actors, artists and theatres in Glasgow during the 19th century. This can all be traced back through prolific newspaper coverage and other well written accounts. The focus here is on how certain people and events affected Thomas's artistic adventures and to showcase his work. One thing is for sure, life was never dull in the theatrical world.
On Saturday, March 28, 1840, the New Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street reopened for the Season following the restoration of the building after a fire in the same year. The Theatre Playbill content pays tribute to all those involved in the design, building and artistry of the completed building including Michael Bogle & Co. and Thomas Dudgeon."The DECORATIVE PAINTING, by Messrs. Michael Bogle & Co.. the whole of the Scenery, by Mr. Dudgeon, of that firm." In the 19th century, scenic artists were advertised prominently on Playbills, and reviewed along with the actors. In England and Scotland, scenic artists sometimes worked for specific theatres for decades at a time, causing financial hardship for the manager if they left. In lavishing praise on the quality of the Theatre Royal building, the Proprietor said that "this Edifice has been erected with a splendour and magnificence (regardless of cost) , and will bear comparison, it is presumed, with anything of a Theatrical nature in this country." The Playbill advertised the tragedy play, "Jane Shore: Or, the Unfortunate Favourite." starring Mrs. Fisher as Jane Shore.
|Portrait of Miss Helen Faucit.|
National Portrait Gallery, London
Miss Helen Faucit made her first appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, on 9th December, 1843, seven years after her first appearance at Covent Garden, and where her father had also once played. She took Glasgow by storm, and played to crowded houses during an engagement of seventeen nights. The Glasgow press pronounced her an artist of supereminent talent. (Baynham, W. 1892) The character she opened the season with for four nights was Pauline, in "the Lady of Lyons", being the original performer of that role. She then played such roles as Juliet, Rosalind, and Lady Macbeth. During the future Edmund Glover management at the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, she reached the height of her popularity and became the darling of Glasgow theatre goers. Shakespeare played an important part in the acting careers of female actors such as Helen Faucit, Sarah Bernhardt and Fanny Kemble. Shakespeare was important in women's education, because of its indirect influence on the visual arts. (Marshall, 2009, p. 207). For aspiring female actors during the Victorian period, Marshall (2009) says that women "translated" Shakespeare through their reading, writing, and performances, as a means to countering prevailing gender stereotypes, and to facilitate their own careers. " Ophelia was a popular choice of Shakespearean character by Victorians, made more popular by actors such as Helen Faucit and Ellen Terry who played her. (Rhodes, 2008).
From a genealogical perspective, it is interesting to note Thomas Dudgeon's daughter to Agnes Pollock, my Great-Grandmother was named Helen Stella Fawcett Dudgeon. The spelling of Faucit was interchangeable with Fawcett and was spelled both ways on Playbills and in newspaper articles. Thomas may not have had a direct association with Helen Faucit, although I think he probably did, however he was certainly in a position to admire her as a person, and respect her talents, and her successes. Is Granny's name a result of this connection? There is no other reason that we can find for Granny to have Fawcett in her name.
In January 1844, during what should have been the height of the season at any reputable theatre, the press gave the New Theatre Royal very mixed reviews. These reviews also followed the brief departure of Miss Faucit, an actress who was a real draw card for theatre audiences in Glasgow. The production of a Pantomime at any theatre during the holiday season was always successful, however the Theatre Royal received scathing reviews in the Glasgow Herald on Friday, January 12, 1844, because there wasn't a pantomime being produced for the enjoyment of the young in particular, and "every variety of taste and temper." However, amongst this backlash, Thomas Dudgeon, received very favourable reviews for his series of panoramic views of the Queen Victoria's latest trip to Belgium. "Since the departure of Miss Faucit, the principal feature of attraction at this place of amusement has been a series of panoramic views representing her Majesty's late trip to Belgium. The views and tableaux are effective, and the painting is extremely creditable to the talents of the artist, Mr. Dudgeon. But the whole is a poor apology for the lack of a pantomime...". G.H., Friday, January 12, 1844). It appears that Thomas saved the day.
In 1845, Mr John Henry Alexander became proprietor as well as manager of the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street. Thomas was still working at the theatre as the scenic artist, and as we all know the reputation and mood of a premises is often determined by the person at the top. A brief insight into Mr. John Henry's Alexander illustrious persona should set the mood of the theatre at that time. For many years, Alexander leased the Old Theatre in Dunlop Street, Glasgow. Through sheer hard work and ambition, he became comparatively wealthy, and built at his own expense, the elegant New Theatre Royal. He saw himself as a comedian and a talented actor, and his substantial ego became evident when he commissioned three statues on the top of the Theatre Royal, representing Shakespeare, supported on one side by David Garrick, and on the other side by John Henry Alexander. "An Old Actress" remembers him as being eccentric and whimsical, and also shrewd and clever. "People went to the theatre almost as much to witness some peculiar display of eccentricity on the part of the manager, as to be amused by the acting." (The Era, Jan. 14, 1855) He was frequently also a member of the cast. Apparently, he was known to abruptly interrupt the business of a scene on stage, and to hold an altercation with members of the audience. The audience was often in fits of laughter at Alexander because of his antics on stage, and young men outside the theatre would often create a disturbance, if he wasn't listed on the playbill, to draw him out and incite his antics. This is an impression of the Manager of the Theatre that Thomas Dudgeon was working for as the scenic artist. Never a dull moment.
In 1846-47, Thomas, of Thomas Dudgeon & Co., and his family, are residing at 95 North Hanover Street, Glasgow. His house painting and paper hanging business, Thomas Dudgeon & Co. is located at 12 Gordon Street. Thomas's mother, Janet Dudgeon following Andrew's, Thomas's father's death by drowning on 6th April, 1846, aged 72, has taken over the Spirit Dealership and is living and working at the Old Castle Tavern, 3 Castle Street. William, Thomas's younger brother, owns a remnant shop at 73 Bell Street, William Dudgeon & Co. Andrew's death was a great shock for the family, thought to be an accidental drowning, they would have been totally unprepared. A successful gardener for most of his life, before becoming a Spirit Dealer, he moved the family away from Bannachra to Glasgow ensuring better opportunities for the family's future. Thomas and William, living nearby and still in Glasgow, along with their sisters, would have been enormously supportive of their Mother, and helped her with the transition to taking over the Spirit Dealership at the Tavern. Following Andrew's funeral, he was buried at the Calton cemetary in Glasgow. In 1847, Susan, Thomas's sister, is living at 3 Castle Street, with her mother, Janet and working at the Tavern helping Janet.
At 8pm, on Saturday evening, the 17th February, 1849, during the performance of the drama, the "Surrender of Calais", a huge catastrophe occurred at the Theatre Royal, in the upper gallery. It began with a small fire being noticed in the north-west corner of the upper gallery, caused by a careless person lighting his pipe above a small gas leak, which at the time was extinguished by a workman and treated as insignificant. However, when a fireman appeared, there are mixed reports about what ensued, but the result was that the audience in the upper gallery panicked, and rushed down the winding stone staircase from high in the roof, towards the main stair heading for the open street door. In their panic they tripped, and fell over each other, landing in a heap, resulting in 65 people being crushed to death. There was no way to escape. An appalling event in history. That night, the whole Gallery was filled with 500 people, mainly from the "working classes" as the gallery admission price had been reduced to 3d, it was a leisure night for the working classes, the show was advertised as a pantomime starring Bailie Nicol Jarvie, and there were many young men in attendance. Most of those killed were apprentice boys, who had saved 3d from their week's wages to go to the theatre. It was the Upper Gallery that panicked. People in the upper and lower boxes, in the pit, and the lower gallery kept their seats until they realised what was happening, and then couldn't lend assistance anyway because the stairway was jammed full of the people trying to escape. The flight of stairs was likened to "a second Black Hole of Calcutta from the intensity of heat which was soon generated, and partially from the want of fresh air." (G.H., February 19, 1849). Had the audience realised that there were two additional exit doors from the upper gallery leading by descending stairs to the stage, the calamitousness of the event could have been averted. Workplace, health and safety regulations have come a long way since then.
Whilst Thomas probably wasn't at the performance that dreadful evening, he was still the resident scenic artist, and although property, scenes and costumes weren't ruined, the distress from the event would have had a massive impact on everyone associated with the theatre. Following the investigations by the authorities, and an inspection that afternoon by architects, tradesman and the Court, the theatre reopened on 21st and 22nd February, 1849, for a benefit concert in aid of the families of the victims. The pieces selected were "The Rivals", a Scottish interlude called "Jamie of Aberdeen" and "His Last Legs", a comedy featuring Mr. Hudson, an Irish comedian. When John Henry Alexander addressed the respectable audiences after the concerts, he appeared quite feeble, when expressing his regret over what had happened. What an unforgettable year 1849 was for Glasgow. The dreadful Theatre Royal events, and then an outbreak of cholera in the city, claiming 3,777 lives. In 1854, the mid 19th century, Glasgow was described as possibly the filthiest and unhealthiest of all British towns. Is it any wonder that the residents looked for refuge from the difficult living conditions and found escapism at the theatre.
During the summer of 1849, Thomas was in Glasgow at least during June, and working at 12 Gordon Street, although he probably needed a well earned holiday following the fire and the consequent fallout earlier in the year. He was commissioned to do the painting for the Banquet to the Naval and Military Heroes, held on Thursday, June 21st, 1849. The banquet commemorated the anniversary of the battle of Vittoria , the most decisive battle of the Peninsular War, held on 21st June, 1813, and which was the last major battle against Napoleon's forces in Spain, opening the way for the British forces under Lord Wellington to invade France. The banquet took place in honour of the naval and military officers in her Majesty's service, connected with Glasgow and the neighbourhood, to whom medals had been granted under the General Order of 1st July,1847. The festival was held in the City Hall, which was beautifully adorned, and arranged to accommodate a select party of between three and four hundred invited guests. The social pages reported that it was most difficult to draw together a large body of the better classes, because of the lure to travel to the British Isles or the Continent. "The whole arrangements, under the committee, were placed in the hands of Mr. Forrester of London Street, who called to his aid most competent assistants, [including] Mr. Dudgeon, in the painting...". (G.H., June 22, 1849) During the summer, it was and still is customary for the more affluent members of society, to be enticed away from the city to travel to the country, through the British Isles, or over to the Continent.
The show must go on, and we see Thomas given credit on the Playbill, dated 29th April, 1850, for the last play of the season. "ON MONDAY EVENING NEXT, 29th April, 1850, Will be presented, for the First Time in this City, the successful Tragic Play, written expressively for Mr. and Mrs. C. KEAN, ENTITLED, STRATHMORE". "Every Scene of the Play will be entirely new, painted by Mr. Dudgeon and Assistants, from models of the original representation.The Dresses and Decorations will be also in keeping with the Costume, in use during one of the most eventful periods of Scottish History - 1679." (G.H. April 26th, 1850).
During September, into early October 1850, Thomas and his staff, were busily repainting St. Andrew's Parish Church, in Glasgow, in preparation for the reopening of the Church for public worship on the first Sabbath in October. There was a lovely report of Thomas's work in Friday's Glasgow Herald. "St. Andrew's Church, which, according to an advertisement in our columns is to be re-opened for public worship on Sabbath first, has recently been entirely painted anew, and has received some internal decorations reflecting great credit on the taste of Mr. Dudgeon, to whom the work was committed, rendering the Church a model, of what a Parish Church in a great city like Glasgow should be." (October 4, 1850) The roof was richly embossed and lightened by a lot of gilding on the stucco work, interlaced with blue. The capitals of the pillars were also gilded.All of the work, which also included revarnishing of the woodwork in the church, was achieved in just three weeks at a cost of 160 pounds. I hope that Thomas attended the first service at St. Andrew's on 6th October, 1850. He raised his daughter, my Great Grandmother as a Presbyterian, so presumably he was also Presbyterian and may have attended St. Andrew's Church when at home in Glasgow. It would also have been very nice for him to enjoy the praise bestowed upon the craftsmen from the pulpit and from the congregation. The theatre season then commenced at the Theatre Royal and Thomas was engaged in scenic painting until the conclusion of the season in the early months of 1851.
In 1851, Thomas and his wife Agnes, were living with their two daughters Agnes and Thomina at Killermont Street, Glasgow. He had his own business as a Master House Painter, employing 8 men and an apprentice. (Census, 1851) During March to April 1851, he was preparing installations for the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the new Victoria Bridge, a highlight of the Masonic Year for Thomas and the St. Marks Lodge. No. 102. As 1851 unfolded, and Thomas was busily working accepting various commissions and running his own business, the effects of the tragic events of 1849 were still reverberating throughout the Theatre Royal.
John Henry Alexander never really recovered following the dreadful events of 17th February, 1849. He died on the 15th December, 1851. His death notice read: "On the 15th inst., at Glasgow, John Henry Alexander, Esq., aged 55." (Morning Chronicle, December 18, 1851 He is now buried at the Necropolis cemetery amongst very fine company, in Glasgow. It seems appropriate that Thomas Dudgeon, as his old employee and resident scenic artist at the Theatre Royal designed a handsome monument which now marks the spot where the remains of John Alexander are laid to rest. The inscription records that he died on the fifteenth day of December 1851, aged fifty-five years. (MacKintosh, Matthew, 1871). Under the management of John Henry Alexander, the Theatre Royal became Glasgow's premier theatre. Following his death, the Royal was leased to Mr. Simpson of Birmingham. The death of John Henry Alexander heralds the conclusion of the first chapter of Thomas's artistic adventures at the New Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street.
- New Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, Glasgow. [Playbill] Saturday, March 28, 1940.
- Death of a Scenic Artist ,Thomas Dudgeon, [Obituary], in The London Theatres, 1880, The Era (London, England), Sunday, November 7, Issue 2198.
- Rosenfeld, 1981, The Romantic Theatre and the Modern Theatre: 1800 to the present, (in) Crabtree, Susan and Beudert, Peter, Scenic Art for the Theatre: history, tools, and techniques. 2nd ed. Oxford, Focus Press/Elsevier, c.2005.
- Glasgow Herald, (Glasgow, Scotland) Friday, January 12, 1844; Issue 4273.
- Recollections of the Late John Henry Alexander, by "an Old Actress", The Era (London, England), Sunday, January 14, 1855, Issue 851.
- Glasgow Herald, (Glasgow Scotland) Monday, February 19, 1849, Issue 4806.
- Glasgow Herald, (Glasgow Scotland), Advertisements Notices, Friday, April 26, 1850, Issue 4929.
- Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries, The Morning Chronicle (London England), Thursday, December 18, 1851, Issue 262525.
- Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, October 4, 1850, Issue 4975.
- An Old Stager (MacKintosh, Matthew, Stage Carpenter), 1866. Stage reminiscences : being recollections, chiefly personal, of celebrated theatrical & musical performers during the last forty years. Glasgow, James Hedderwick & Son.
- Banquet to the Naval and Military Heroes, Glasgow Herald, Friday, June 22, 1849, Issue 4841.
- Baynham, Walter, 1892. A brief history of the Glasgow Stage. Glasgow, Robert Forrester.
- Marshall, Gail.  "Shakespeare and Victorian women. C.U.P.
- Rhodes, Kimberley.  Ophelia and Victorian visual culture: representing body politics in the Nineteenth Century. Lond., Ashgate, 2008.
This article is Copyright (c) 2014 by Hope Pauline McNee, All rights Reserved.