31st July 1863

Jersey’s Theatre Royal burns down

Jersey lost its theatre on the morning of 31 July 1863. It was discovered ablaze at 4am and, by 9am, nothing was left of the £5000 building. Worse, it wasn’t adequately insured. The building itself was covered to a value of £1000, and the contents for only a third of what they were worth. If only the fire had broken out sooner, it might not have been such a disaster.

The manager, Charles Harrison, had previously insured the building for £2000, but halved that a month earlier. He and his troupe had also only returned from Guernsey the day before, and had stowed all of their costumes, sets and props in the theatre, where they were destroyed. If they’d stayed a week longer, or the fire broken out just a few days earlier, they would have been saved.

No chance to save it

Four fire engines were dispatched to try and control the blaze, without great success, on account of an inadequate supply of water. By six o’clock, the roof had come down and flames had caught the neighbouring property, which was by then also ablaze.

Mr and Mrs Harrison had been resident in Exeter before moving to Jersey, and actors and theatre hands in that city staged a benefit show to raise funds to help them get back on their feet. Mrs Harrison took part in every part the show, which played to a packed house, and her husband joined for the last act before giving the acts and the audience, thanks for what they’d done.

Not one to sit around mourning his loss, in November 1863 Charles Harrison had taken over management of the Theatre Royal in Wolverhampton, which he opened for a winter season of plays on the 23rd of the month.

As for Jersey’s Theatre Royal, it was rebuilt over the next two years and opened as the Royal Amphitheatre in 1865 by Henry Cornwall.


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