The Civic Society’s 25th blue plaque adorns the wall of Brandon House, on Jacob’s Wells Road, and commemorates the site of the Jacob’s Wells Theatre, the first purpose-built playhouse in Bristol, which operated from 1729 to 1799.
When the theatre was built, the location was just outside the city boundary – a necessary and canny move at a time when Puritan sentiments had all but banned theatrical performances within the city itself. But although it was described by Bristol poet Thomas Chatterton as “…a hut in Jacob’s Well… A mean assembly-room absurdly built…”, it attracted Bristol residents of all classes, well-to-do visitors to the fashionable Hotwells spa, and both local players and stars of the London stage. The theatre was so small was it said that an actor who left the stage on one side and re-entered on the other had to walk round the outside of the house.… much to the delight of the regular crowds who gathered on the slope of Brandon Hill opposite to watch the spectacle.
The plaque was unveiled by the Lord Mayor after students from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, in splendid period costume, treated the gathered crowd to an extract from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera – one of the first plays performed on the stage of the Jacob’s Wells Theatre. They sang in beautiful harmony, their voices carrying across the busy road to the hillside beyond. As it would have been in the eighteenth century, but without the traffic. Tenants and residents from Brandon House and from the surrounding area joined members of the Civic Society, local theatre interest groups and others for the unveiling.
This plaque was proposed by Jacob’s Wells Community Hub. It was generously sponsored by Acorn Property Group to whom we express our sincere thanks. Without them, this plaque may not have happened.
Video: Tim Smart, chairman of the Bristol Film & Video Society.