A guest post by Chelsea Phillips
With the cherry trees blooming (almost), the sun shining (sometimes), and tax season looming, there is no more delightful time to consider the vagaries of 18th-century theatrical accounting practice.
The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a wealth of financial records for the major theatres of 18th- and 19th-century London, and particularly for Drury Lane. Judith Milhous has provided an excellent overview of surviving financial records, and their utility for theatre historians.1 These records speak directly to topics such as revenue and expenditures, budgeting, box office pricing, salaries, organization, and personnel. They also yield insight into popularity (of plays and performers), benefit seasons, hierarchy (salary, benefit order), and sometimes the interpersonal relationships of theatrical employees.
I was recently at the Folger and working with these records to answer questions about women’s pay during absences related to pregnancy and childbirth in the latter half of the 18th century. What I discovered along the way were some intruiging differences in the level and organization of each theatre’s accounts. I’ll touch on those a bit here first, before offering one example of the use to which these records can be put for understanding more personal, rather than economic, aspects of theatrical life.
W.b.436 is described as a “journal” for the Covent Garden season of 1793-94.2 While double-entry accounting was not yet in practice, the records are orderly, logical, and thoughtfully structured. Each set of pages lists the date, the mainpiece that was performed, and the income generated on the left, with the afterpiece and any expenses paid out on the right. Actor pay is recorded each Saturday on its own page in neat columns by last name. All of the male actors are listed first, ranked in hierarchy of pay. The actresses follow, also in order of earnings. The third and final column includes house servants. Most of the latter are listed individually, though some are listed by function (“W[omen’s]. Dressers” and “Barbers,” for example).
This item is undoubtedly a fair copy compiled from a variety of records, themselves perhaps organized quite differently and kept by different personnel within the theatre. In this compilation, gender and hierarchy are the primary organizational strategies applied to performance personnel. This mimics the organization of casting information in printed plays, and to some degree on playbills. We can see immediately that William “Gentleman” Lewis (l.20) and Elizabeth Pope (l.18) are the highest-paid performers, and the rates at which various tiers below them cluster.
The Drury Lane Journals held at the Folger span nearly fifty uninterrupted years. W.b.300 is the journal for Drury Lane’s 1797-98 season. While still orderly, and similar to Covent Garden in many respects, this journal shows a different level of detail in regard to salary payments.
When we flip to a Saturday, in this case 23 September 1797, instead of a neat listing of those paid by gender, hierachy, and position as in W.b.436, what is recorded here is a lump sum for salaries beneath a list of miscellaneous additional payments. The lump sum is based on a per diem rate multiplied by the number of nights the theatre was open (in this case, two). To understand salary and hierarchy for Drury Lane, then, we need additional information.
W.b.348 is described as a “Pay Book” for the years 1797-99, and was kept by Richard Peake, the sub-treasurer under Thomas Westley. In it we find a different level of accounting, including the salary breakdown that results in the lump sum amount then transferred to the journal (l.170.16.4).
Looking closer, we also see something else: this seemingly complete list is not actually complete. Within this list is nested other lists, under the name of Dale: they read “Dale’s List of Performers,” “D[itt]o Band,” and “D[itt]o Servants.” This appears to refer to William Dale, whom the Biographical Dictionary of Actors describes as a boxkeeper and supervisor of other house servants. They do not mention something this list makes clear: that this supervision apparently extended to certain performers, whom he was in charge of paying. Fortunately, a breakdown of Dale’s List of Performers is provided in the very front in W.b.348, though the individuals encompassed by “band” and “servants” are not included.3
By compiling this information we can piece together something like the list present in the Covent Garden book, but it takes considerably more work, and relies on the survival of a wider variety of material.4
Still, what remains of each theatre’s accounting offers some interesting provocations about how each may have conceived of the labor of the company. In this sample, the Covent Garden journal ordered weekly pay by gender and hierarchy and from actors to house servants; the Drury Lane journal and pay book lumped all employees on a per diem salary into a single figure.5 Does this suggest something of the culture of each theatre? Or simply a different set of accounting practices? There is no clear answer, but it is potentially quite a different thing for salaries to be recorded with individual names and hierarchy denoted and reinforced each week at Covent Garden, then it does for all salaried personnel to be represented equally, and equally anonymously, in the Drury Lane journals.
The relatively chaotic records at Drury Lane can make them difficult to work with, and they often raise as many questions as they answer; sometimes, however, the lack of uniformity also provides insight into the lived experiences of its personnel that is more difficult to see in Covent Garden’s records.
As we move through the pay lists within W.b.348, for example, we find salary payments that appear to be based on the order in which personnel presented themselves at the box to request payment. Here, we get a new kind of information: relational.
In 1797, Maria Bland (neé Romanzini), sister-in-law to Dorothy Jordan, was engaged in an extra-marital affair with actor Thomas Caulfield. It was an open secret, but in this year, when she would have her second child by Caulfield and her husband George Bland had officially left the company, there is a slight change in the way their salaries are accounted for in financial records. This change, perhaps, mirrors a larger change in the perception and reception of their relationship within the theatre.
On 23 September, Bland has her own line entry, while Caulfield is theoretically on Dale’s List.6 However, shortly after this (27 October) they begin to appear on the list one right after the other, indicating they received their pay at the same time. They then move to occupy a single line item with regularity (starting 18 November), including all throughout Bland’s absence for the birth of their second child that spring.7 In Bland’s absence, Caulfield received her (considerably larger) salary on her behalf. What might appear to be only practical, however, is endowed with larger significance when understood in context. Visually, the pair now resemble those with legal ties within the company: married couples and parents and children.
That the theatre acquiesced to pay Caulfield both salaries may mean that Bland sanctioned this mode of dispersal, for technically one had to apply for payment of salary in person. It may also, however, suggest a tacit acceptance of their domestic arrangement.8
The financial records housed at the Folger provide invaluable insight into matters both large and small. In particular, the often messy but endlessly fascinating Drury Lane records offer not simply more detailed financial information than that recorded in The London Stage, but also small windows into the culture of the institution and the lives of its employees.
Chelsea Phillips is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Villanova University in Philadelphia. She is currently completing her first book, Carrying All Before Her: Celebrity Pregnancy, Repertory, and the London Stage 1689-1800. In 2018-19, she was the recipient of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies-Folger Institute Short-Term Fellowship.
- Judith Milhous, “Reading Theatre History from Account Books,” Players, Playwrights, Playhouses: Investigating Performance 1660-1800, ed. Michael Cordner and Peter Holland (Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan, 2007), pg. 101-131.
- The majority of the journals for Covent Garden, especially post-1760, are held at the British Library (and available on microfilm at the Folger). The volume at the Folger for 1793-94, however, is reflective of those from surrounding seasons.
- The history and evolution of Dale’s List would be an article unto itself. By 1797 it has become far simpler and more organized than in earlier years. The number of performers who are noted “off” (meaning they are being removed from the list and either paid in other ways or permanently let go) may suggest that the theatre was moving to a different system.
- Folger Y.d.266 is a list of all salaried personnel from the 1774 season, when the theatre was still under Garrick’s management. It is broken down by job description (Music Band, Men’s Dressers, Box-Keepers, etc.) and ordered by hierarchy in the company, including “Men” (actors) and “Women” (actresses), who are the first two categories recorded. It is very likely that such lists existed for these later seasons but have not survived.
- Per diem salaries did not reflect the nights an individual worked, only the number of nights the theatre was open. A performer on a l.1 per week salary would earn l.6 in a week when the theatre was open six nights, and l.3 a week if the theatre opened only three nights regardless of the number of nights they actually acted. Dressers, stage hands, and box keepers were also paid in this manner. Other personnel, such as managers, some singers and dancers, and prominent performers were often paid by other arrangements, and so not included in these lump salary lists.
- As his name is listed with no salary, it would suggest that he arranged to go off list before the official opening of the season. He was given back pay in October to cover what may have been some initial confusion about where he was meant to draw his salary.
- One way I was able to pinpoint the date of this birth, which was previously unknown or unrecorded in the BDA and DNB, was through these financial records and the repertory records in The London Stage.
- A similar example is Michael Kelly and Anna Maria Crouch, also in a long-term relationship and frequently listed as a single line item despite never marrying.