Let the deil’s hoose burn
Location of the Grahamston theatre,
An enduring myth about Grahamston is that the first theatre in Glasgow was located there. Not quite true. There was an earlier theatre erected against the wall of the Bishop’s Palace near the Cathedral around 1752. Also, Grahamston’s Alston Theatre built in 1764 was not, technically, in Glasgow. Grahamston was outside the city boundary until 1830, with the boundary marker on the west side of Union Place (later renamed Union Street).
Due to religious zeal, owning or patronising a theatre was fraught with controversy and danger right up to the middle of the 19th century. The roots of this can be traced back to the Reformation when theatrical performances and strolling players were banned from the streets of the city. This ban lasted until around 1752. All forms of entertainment were considered to be immoral and likely to expose the people to the temptations of the flesh.
Feelings often ran high against early theatre, and entertainments in general. The first theatre, near the Cathedral, was torn down by a mob in 1754.
The erection of the Alston Theatre (on a piece of land sold to the theatre company by a John Miller of Westerton) caused a great sensation and the controversy intensified as building progressed. The zealots grew increasingly determined to prevent its opening. It became obvious that the venture was to have a rough passage from the very beginning. On the opening night a disorderly crowd gathered at Anderston Cross and marched the short distance to the theatre, to disrupt the performance by setting fire to the stage and ransacking the premises. The crowd was urged on by a preacher who declared he had dreamed he was in the infernal regions and saw a grand entertainment at which Lucifer gave a toast in honour of Mr Miller, who had sold his ground to build him a house upon.
Mrs Bellamy who was to be the opening night’s star arranged for the damage to be repaired, with the help of financial donations totalling £400 from some of the more liberal Galsgow citizens. A temporary stage was erected and the first performance took place, a play called The Citizen followed by the Farce of the Mock Doctor.
William Shakespeare’s statue, part of
the Grahamston theatre
The theatre was eventually gutted by fire in highly suspicious circumstances early in the morning of 5 May 1780. Dr James Cleland who was 10 years old at the time and who lived in Alston Street, witnessed the conflagration and reported hearing the magistrates directing the firemen to play ther hoses on the adjoining houses with the injunction to save the ither folk’s hooses an’ let the Deil’s hoose burn.
And so, the zealots triumphed, for better or for worse, and the so-called first theatre in Glasgow came to an early demise, an omen for the village itself, which was to be purged less than a century later.