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

When investors get over-excited, it’s time to worry – but we’re not there yet
Sponsored

When investors get over-excited, it’s time to worry – but we’re not there yet

When investors are pouring money into markets, it can be a warning sign of impending disaster, writes Max King. So how are fund flows looking right no…
26 Oct 2021
An investment trust that gives exposure to frontier markets
Investment trusts

An investment trust that gives exposure to frontier markets

An investment trust investing in small, illiquid emerging markets has disappointed, but deserves another chance, says Max King
26 Oct 2021
What does Rishi Sunak have in store for investors this Wednesday?
Budget

What does Rishi Sunak have in store for investors this Wednesday?

Rishi Sunak is unveiling his spending plans for the economy this week. John Stepek analyses areas which may be most hit by the budget.
25 Oct 2021
How rising interest rates could hurt big tech stocks
Tech stocks

How rising interest rates could hurt big tech stocks

Low interest rates have helped the biggest companies to entrench their positions. But what if rates rise?
25 Oct 2021

Most Popular

Properties for sale for around £1m
Houses for sale

Properties for sale for around £1m

From a stone-built farmhouse in the Snowdonia National Park, to a Victorian terraced house close to London’s Regent’s Canal, eight of the best propert…
15 Oct 2021
How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy
Energy

How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy

The government has started to roll out its plans for switching us over from fossil fuels to hydrogen and renewable energy. Should investors buy in? St…
8 Oct 2021
Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?
Emerging markets

Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?

Twenty years ago hopes were high for Brazil, Russia, India and China – the “Brics” emerging-market economies. But only China has beaten expectations. …
18 Oct 2021