The Fascinating History of Haymarket in London

The Fascinating History of Haymarket in London

History of Haymarket in London


Picture this – a bustling marketplace, brimming with life and colour, evolving into one of the most prestigious theatre districts in the world. This is the captivating story of the Haymarket in London. From its humble beginnings as a rural marketplace to its transformation into a hub of entertainment and culture, the history of Haymarket is a tale of resilience, evolution, and success.

The Haymarket’s Humble Beginnings

In the heart of the West End, nestled between Piccadilly Circus and Pall Mall, lies the vibrant street known as Haymarket. Its history traces back to the Elizabethan era when it served as a marketplace for selling hay and other farm produce. The street earned its name from this very function, a name that it proudly carries to this day.

During the reign of William III, the Haymarket was a rural spot, with the village of Charing being the closest settlement. The market was moved by an Act of Parliament to Cumberland Market near Regent’s Park in 1830. Today, the street is a far cry from its pastoral origins, bustling with restaurants, bars, a cinema complex, and, most notably, renowned theatres.

The Birth of Theatre in Haymarket

The seeds of Haymarket’s transformation into a theatre district were sown in 1705 with the opening of the Queen’s Theatre. Designed by the legendary architect John Vanbrugh, the theatre primarily hosted dramas. However, its acoustics were deemed more suitable for opera, and it soon began staging some of the most famous operas and oratorios of George Frederick Handel between 1710 and 1745.

The Queen’s Theatre underwent a name change to the King’s Theatre following the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Despite suffering from multiple fires that led to its rebuilding, the theatre stands to this day, known as Her Majesty’s Theatre and home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’.

The Emergence of the Haymarket Theatre

In 1720, another theatre emerged on the Haymarket in London scene – the Little Theatre. This quaint establishment, constructed by a skilled carpenter named John Potter, initially faced legal challenges due to the monopoly of the patent theatres. However, it finally opened its doors to the public in December 1720, thanks to the patronage of the Duke of Montague.

The Little Theatre faced its share of ups and downs, with several closures and changes in management. Notably, it was under the management of the Great Mogul’s Company of Comedians, led by Henry Fielding, that the theatre began to carve out its niche. Fielding’s series of crude comic pieces led to the introduction of censorship laws in 1737.

The Haymarket Theatre Gains Its Royal Status

The Little Theatre underwent a significant transformation in 1766. Under the management of actor Samuel Foote, it was granted a royal patent by the Duke of York. This allowed the theatre to hold performances during the summer when the other patent theatres were closed.

This royal patent marked a turning point in the theatre’s history. It was now recognised as the Theatre Royal in Haymarket in London. The granting of the patent was a stroke of luck, coming about after Foote suffered a leg amputation following an accident. The patent was issued as a form of recompense for his unfortunate mishap.

The Struggle for Theatrical Supremacy

Despite its royal status, the Theatre Royal Haymarket faced stiff competition from the other patent theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane. These theatres granted royal patents in the 1660s, had dominated the London theatre scene for decades. They enjoyed the exclusive right to perform spoken-word serious drama, which included the works of Shakespeare.

The Haymarket theatre, being unpatented, wasn’t allowed to perform Shakespeare’s plays. This restriction led to a turbulent time for the theatre, with fluctuating finances and uncertainty about its future. However, the theatre’s managers were not ones to back down. They continued to fight for their right to perform Shakespeare’s works, lobbying for an end to the monopoly of the patent theatres.

A Turning Point for the Haymarket in London Theatre

Haymarket’s battle for theatrical parity culminated in 1832 with the formation of the Select Committee on Dramatic Literature. The committee was tasked with investigating the laws governing legitimate drama and assessing their effectiveness. Theatre managers, playwrights, and actors were interviewed as part of this process.

The committee’s report was a game-changer for the Haymarket. It stated that the exclusive privileges of the patent theatres had failed to preserve the dignity of drama. The report also highlighted the financial struggles faced by the managers of Covent Garden and Drury Lane in maintaining high standards of talent and production.

The Haymarket in London Theatre Rises to Prominence

As confidence in the patent theatres waned, the Haymarket theatre seized its opportunity to shine. It strategically hosted celebrity actors like Charles Kean to boost its reputation. Kean’s performance as the title character in Shakespeare’s Richard III on June 30, 1843, marked a significant moment for the theatre. Just two months later, the Theatres Regulation Act was passed, officially ending the joint monopoly of the patent theatres. This allowed the Haymarket Theatre to perform Shakespeare during the regular season alongside Covent Garden and Drury Lane.

Another notable performance that marked the theatre’s rise in status was William Charles Macready’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1851. Macready, the “eminent tragedian” of his era, chose the Haymarket for his final performance before his retirement. This was a testament to the theatre’s growing prestige.

From Strength to Strength: The Haymarket Theatre Today

The Theatre Royal Haymarket has come a long way since its inception. Despite the challenges it faced, it has firmly established itself as a major player in London’s theatre scene. Today, it continues to captivate audiences with its high-quality productions, playing an integral part in London’s vibrant theatrical landscape.

As we reflect on the history of Haymarket, we see a story that mirrors the evolution of London itself. From its origins as a rural marketplace to its transformation into a theatre district, Haymarket has continually adapted and thrived. It embodies the spirit of resilience, innovation, and excellence that is characteristic of London, making it an essential part of the city’s rich cultural tapestry.

From its humble beginnings as a rural marketplace to its transformation into one of London’s most prestigious theatre districts, the evolution of Haymarket is a testament to London’s rich and dynamic history. As we walk down this vibrant street today, we are walking on the very ground where hay was once sold, where the first lines of Shakespeare were recited, and where the magic of theatre continues to captivate audiences from around the world.

The history of Haymarket is not just a tale of a single street in London. It is a reflection of the city’s resilience, its capacity for reinvention, and its unwavering commitment to culture and the arts. So, the next time you find yourself at a play in the Theatre Royal Haymarket, take a moment to appreciate the remarkable journey this street has made. From hay market to theatre royal, the story of Haymarket is truly a tale for the ages.


Frequently asked questions about Haymarket in London.

What is the nearest tube to Haymarket in London?

Haymarket is located in the West End of London, and there are a few nearby Tube stations you can use to access this area. The closest Tube stations are typically:
Piccadilly Circus Station, which is served by the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines.
Leicester Square Station, which is served by the Northern and Piccadilly lines.
Both of these stations are within a short walking distance of Haymarket. The best station to use may depend on your specific destination and the line you are travelling on, so it’s worth checking a map or journey planner to determine the most convenient option for your trip.

What is Haymarket famous for?

Haymarket in London is famous for its association with the entertainment industry, particularly theatre. It is located in the city’s West End, an area known for its vibrant theatre and entertainment scene.

The Haymarket Theatre Royal, also known simply as the Theatre Royal Haymarket, is one of the most famous and prestigious venues on the street. Opened in 1821, it’s one of Britain’s most historic theatres and has hosted countless significant performances.

In addition to its theatre connections, Haymarket has a variety of shops, restaurants, and other businesses, reflecting the broader commercial and cultural activity in the area. Its location near major attractions like Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery also makes it a significant thoroughfare for both Londoners and tourists alike.

What is the nearest mainline station to Haymarket?

The nearest mainline train station to Haymarket in London is Charing Cross Station. It’s within walking distance and serves as a significant hub for Southeastern services, connecting London with various destinations in southeast England. From Charing Cross, you can also easily access the Underground’s Northern and Bakerloo lines, providing further connectivity to the rest of London.

Which part of London is Haymarket?

Haymarket is located in the West End of London, in the City of Westminster. It runs from Piccadilly Circus in the north to Pall Mall in the south. This area is well-known for its theatres, entertainment venues, and vibrant cultural scene. Haymarket’s central location places it close to other significant landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Buckingham Palace, making it a prominent street in one of London’s most bustling and well-visited areas.

How early should I get to the theatre?

Arriving early at the theatre can ensure a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. Here’s a general guide, but please keep in mind that policies and times can vary depending on the specific theatre and production:

If You Need to Collect Tickets: Arriving 30 to 45 minutes before the performance is usually advisable if you need to pick up tickets at the box office. This allows for any unexpected delays or lines.

If You Already Have Tickets: If you already have your tickets, arriving around 20 to 30 minutes before the curtain time should provide enough time to find your seat, purchase refreshments, and read the program if available.

Special Considerations: If you have accessibility needs or if the theatre has specific security protocols that may slow down entry, it could be wise to arrive even earlier.

Pre-Show Activities: Some theatres offer pre-show talks, bars, or restaurants, so if you want to partake in these, you may wish to arrive even earlier.

Remember, theatres usually have strict policies about latecomers, and you may not be allowed to enter the auditorium until a suitable break in the performance if you arrive after the show has started. Always check the specific guidelines for the theatre or production you’re attending to ensure you arrive with plenty of time.

Can you take bags to London Theatres?

In most London theatres, you are allowed to take small bags and handbags into the auditorium with you. However, larger bags, backpacks, and suitcases might not be permitted due to space constraints and security concerns.

Many theatres have cloakrooms where you can leave larger items for a small fee or sometimes even free of charge. It is generally advisable to arrive a little earlier if you need to use these facilities to ensure you have enough time before the performance starts.

Security measures can vary between venues, and some theatres might conduct bag checks upon entry, especially in the wake of global security concerns. It’s a good idea to check the specific policies of the theatre you are attending on their official website or contact them directly if you have particular questions or needs related to bags or other personal items.

How big is Haymarket in London Station?

In London, the nearest Underground stations to Haymarket (the street) are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

Where is the best place to sit in the Haymarket Theatre?

The best seats at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, or any theatre for that matter, can depend on personal preferences, the production you’re seeing, and your budget. Here’s a general guide that might help:

Stalls: Often considered the best seats in the house, the centre of the stalls usually offers an excellent, unobstructed view of the stage. The front rows can provide an intimate experience, but keep in mind that they may require you to look up at the stage.

Royal Circle: The first few rows of the Royal Circle (sometimes called the Dress Circle) can provide excellent sightlines, especially if located in the centre. This area often strikes a balance between a great view and a sense of intimacy with the performance.

Upper Circles/Balconies: Seats in the higher levels can offer good value for money, especially if centrally located. However, they may feel a bit removed from the action, and the view can be more restricted, especially from the sides or behind pillars.

Boxes: These provide a unique and private viewing experience but can sometimes offer a restricted or side view of the stage.

Remember, individual preferences vary, and the “best” seats might differ depending on the staging of the particular production you’re seeing. It’s often helpful to consult the theatre’s seating chart, which may include pricing tiers that reflect the perceived quality of the view. Some theatres also provide virtual views from different seats or sections to help patrons choose. If in doubt, contacting the box office or reading online reviews from other theatregoers might provide more specific guidance for the show you plan to see.