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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Culture and Leisure


By John R Burnett

The Reformed Church disapproved of plays and after 1560 banned the most common kind of play, the religious dramas which the trade guilds acted out on religious holidays.

In the early eighteenth century sporadic attempts were made to reintroduce the stage. In 1728, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, fresh from London, was performed in the Weigh House. Plays were performed from time to time in public houses and in 1750 a dancing hall in Burrell's Close off the High Street was briefly used as a theatre. Three years later a lean-to against the wall of the Bishop's Palace was used for a short period.

Finally, in 1764 a theatre was built that lasted. A group of literary enthusiasts avoided civic hostility by building a playhouse at Grahamston, a village which lay beyond the city's western boundary on land now occupied by Glasgow Central Station. The Presbytery of Glasgow condemned it as "an improper and hurtful thing, with consequences very prejudicial to the interests of piety and virtue", and told ministers to discourage their flocks from attending. The mob made an attempt to burn it before it opened. The Council, however, in the interests of public order, had to stand by the proprietors and offered a reward of £100 for information about the miscreants. The theatre was small and it was used only once or twice a week for a couple of months in early summer. On its second evening the main attraction was a play by Richard Steele: the notice in the Glasgow Journal emphasised that he was author of "The Christian Hero and other valuable pieces" in an attempt to counteract the idea that the stage was immoral.

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