24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down

On this day in 1809, celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was effectively ruined when the Drury Lane theatre went up in smoke.

Celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was sitting at a table in Covent Garden quaffing port, when a friend came running up and asked what on earth he thought he was doing. "A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside", quipped Sheridan. For a stone's throw away on Catherine Street, his Drury Lane theatre was in flames and with it, all Sheridan's hopes of ever paying off his debts.

But it wasn't just the money the theatre represented the playwright's illustrious career. It was where, as a young man in 1775, he had had his first taste of fame, with the success of his first play, The Rivals

The following year, Sheridan and two friends negotiated to buy out David Garrick's half in the theatre. The famous actor agreed a sale price of £35,000 a huge sum. But Sheridan was only able to stump up £1,300 in cash for his share. The rest he had to borrow. Two years later, the trio bought Drury Lane outright for another £35,000.

And of course, moving in fashionable circles hardly comes cheap. Sheridan continued to take on debt. It was time, he thought, to enter politics. In 1780, Sheridan became the MP for Stafford. He followed the usual campaign protocol of buying the necessary votes at five guineas each. By law, that gave him protection from his creditors – a privilege he enjoyed for 32 years.

Meanwhile, the theatre, which had been designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in 1674, was showing its age. Sheridan had the building demolished and rebuilt from scratch. It reopened in 1794, but it would only stand for 15 years until that fateful day in 1809 when it burned down. And with the theatre went Sheridan's principle source of income.

Things got even worse when, three years later, Sheridan lost his parliamentary seat. Thanks to the fire, he couldn't afford to buy another one, and he was now at the mercy of his creditors. They hounded him until his death in 1816.

Recommended

Sterling crashes to its lowest since 1985 after mini-Budget
Currencies

Sterling crashes to its lowest since 1985 after mini-Budget

The pound has fallen hard and is heading towards parity with the US dollar. Saloni Sardana explains why, and what it means for the UK, for markets and…
23 Sep 2022
Earn 3.7% from the best savings accounts
Savings

Earn 3.7% from the best savings accounts

With inflation topping 10%, your savings won't keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which your money is los…
23 Sep 2022
Three top-notch Asian stocks to buy
Share tips

Three top-notch Asian stocks to buy

Professional investors Adrian Lim and Pruksa Iamthongthong, managers of the Asia Dragon Trust, pick three of their favourite Asian stocks to buy now.
23 Sep 2022
How to use Section 75 credit card protection for your purchases
Credit cards

How to use Section 75 credit card protection for your purchases

Your credit card can give you extra protection when the goods or services you purchase fall short of your expectations. Ruth Jackson-Kirby explains ho…
23 Sep 2022

Most Popular

Could gold be the basis for a new global currency?
Gold

Could gold be the basis for a new global currency?

Gold has always been the most reliable form of money. Now collaboration between China and Russia could lead to a new gold-backed means of exchange – g…
22 Sep 2022
Paypal, bitcoin, and the weaponisation of money
Bitcoin & crypto

Paypal, bitcoin, and the weaponisation of money

Recent events have shown how both business and governments can “weaponise” money and shut down dissent. What to do? Buy bitcoin, says Dominic Frisby.
22 Sep 2022
Why you should short this broadband satellite company
Trading

Why you should short this broadband satellite company

With an ill-considered business plan, broadband satellite company AST SpaceMobile is doomed to failure, says Matthew Partridge. Here's how to short th…
23 Sep 2022