Scotch Dances on the London Stage, 1660-1760

In 1725-1726, the London theatre season for which I am looking at dance in detail, there were more than a dozen billings for a solo Scottish Dance by Mrs Bullock at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, as well as a handful of performances of a Scottish duet by Newhouse and Mrs Ogden. By the mid-1720s, Scotch (or Scots, or Scottish) Dances were a regular feature in the entr’actes at London’s theatres.

The very first edition of Playford’s collection of country dances, The English Dancing-Master of 1651, includes a tune with the title ‘Scotch Cap or Edinburgh Castle’, while the third edition of 1657 added the ‘Highlander’s March’. These highlight a much longer history of Scotch dances than the one I will explore here.

Theatre in London had come back to life shortly after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, although records of performances over the next forty years are very incomplete. It is particularly difficult to trace the history of dancing in the playhouses over this period. One of the earliest Restoration plays to feature a Scots character was John Lacy’s Shakespeare adaptation The Taming of the Shrew; or, Sauny the Scot. Lacy took the role of Sauny, Petruchio’s Scots servant. Samuel Pepys was not impressed when he saw the comedy at the Bridges Street Theatre on 9 April 1667, calling it ‘but a mean play: and the best part, “Sawny”, done by Lacy, hath not half its life’. John Lacy was one of the greatest comic actors of the time, and a favourite with Pepys, but he played Sauny with a Scots dialect that the diarist could hardly understand. He also played on English ideas of the Scots as poverty-stricken, dirty and with repulsive habits, to the delight of audiences. As well as being an actor, Lacy danced (he had been trained by the dancing master John Ogilby) and Sauny the Scot ends with a dance, although we do not know whether Lacy used a Scots tune. Lacy was depicted in three of his comic roles by John Michael Wright in the late 1660s or early 1670s. There is ongoing debate about which roles are shown, but the one on the left could perhaps be Sauny.

The 1686 seventh edition of Playford’s The Dancing Master had a number of pages added at the end in 1687. These have among them ‘The Scotch-man’s Dance, in The Northern Lass’. Richard Brome’s play The Northern Lass, given in 1629, was revived soon after the Restoration and quickly found a place in the repertory. There are two dances in the 1663 edition of the play, one by ‘Masquers’ in act 2 and the other a ‘Round’ in act 3. Perhaps the ‘Scotchman’ was one of the masquers? Here is the music.

Most historical country dance enthusiasts will know the ‘Scotch Measure’ included in Thomas Bray’s 1699 collection Country Dances.

Bray was apparently a dancer and dancing master with the United Company during the 1690s, so this particular Scotch Dance could possibly have been performed on the London stage.

From the 1670s to the early 1700s, 25 musical suites for plays given in London’s theatres include ‘Scotch’ tunes, showing their popularity over this period. Information about these can be found in Music in the Restoration Theatre by Curtis Price (the full reference is given at the end of this post). I confess that I have not looked at the play texts to see if they mention ‘Scotch’ dances, but Price tells us that the ‘Scotts’ tune’ or ‘Scotch Measure’ was very popular in the 1690s.

This brings us to the 18th century. I compiled a list of the various Scotch Dances given in London’s theatres between 1700 and 1760 a while ago and it provides some interesting statistics. The earliest advertisement transcribed in The London Stage after 1700 is for a solo Scotch Dance performed by Margaret Bicknell at Drury Lane on 20 August 1702. She was actually from Edinburgh and this was probably not the first time she had danced this particular solo. Between 1701-1702 and 1705-1706 there were a handful of Scotch Dances given. This is unlikely to represent their true popularity for, like the Restoration period, performances during the first few years of the 18th century are far from fully recorded. No Scotch Dances were advertised in the entr’actes from 1706-1707 to 1715-1716 (a period during which newspaper advertisements first provide extensive performance details). I cannot explain this gap, although disruptions in London’s theatres during the first decade of the 18th century, the Hanoverian accession in 1714 and then the Jacobite rebellion in 1715 must all have something to do with their absence.

There were relatively few Scotch Dances each season from 1716-1717 to 1723-1724, then in 1724-1725 there were 20 performances with Scotch Dances. With a few exceptions, 16-18 Scotch Dances were given performances each season until 1731-1732 when there were 25. Then, in 1732-1733, there were 96 billings for entr’acte Scotch Dances! This total was not exceeded during the period I am exploring, although the figures did not drop away immediately – there were more than 70 performances of Scotch Dances in 1733-1734 and more than 60 in 1734-1735. The numbers decline to around 20 each season, more or less and with wide variations from season to season, by the late 1740s. It will come as no surprise to learn that no Scotch Dances were given in 1745-1746 and few or none over the following two seasons. Scotch Dances then recovered to around 20 each season until the early 1750s, but from 1753-1754 to 1759-1760 they all but disappeared from the entr’acte repertoire.

I am not going to try to look at all these ups and downs in detail, but I was curious to know what was going on in 1732-1733 to cause such a boom in Scotch Dances. In fact, there were five different Scotch Dances performed in the entr’actes at Drury Lane, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Goodman’s Fields Theatre that season. The first was the solo Scotch Dance given by Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 7 October 1732. She had been advertised in a solo Scotch Dance since 1719-1720, which had been popular for much of the 1720s. In 1732-1733, she danced it more than 30 times – contributing significantly to the total of Scotch Dances that season. The second dance was the ‘new Scot’s Dance’, a duet performed by Haughton and Mrs Walter at Drury Lane on 14 October 1732 which may have been a revival of the duet given at this theatre in August 1732 by Holt and Mrs Walter. This Scotch Dance was performed seven times in 1732-1733 and then disappeared from the bills. The ‘New Scotch Dance’ given by Glover, Mrs Laguerre, Dupré, Mrs Pelling, Delagarde Jr and Mrs Ogden at Covent Garden on 16 January 1733 was the first group Scotch Dance to be performed in the entr’actes for nearly thirty years, but it proved so popular that there would be more such choreographies in future seasons. Advertisements in 1733-1734 identify Glover as the choreographer and it would remain in repertoire until 1740-1741. Glover’s Scotch Dance was performed 46 times in 1732-1733. So, Mrs Bullock’s long established solo and Glover’s new group dance were the choreographies that made 1732-1733 the season of Scotch Dances.

There were three more Scotch Dances in 1732-1733. The Scottish Dance performed by Young Weeks ‘Scholar to Dupre’ was given three times, at Covent Garden on 30 April 1733 (a benefit for Dupré and Miss La Tour) and then again at Goodman’s Fields on 11 and 14 May. Miss Wherrit performed her ‘new’ solo Scotch Dance once, at Goodman’s Fields on 10 May 1733 (a benefit for herself and two others). Finally, there was another Scotch Dance duet, by Davenport and Miss Baston at Covent Garden on 9 August 1733 – they gave this six times during the theatre’s summer season.

So far as I can tell, there were no particular social or political reasons for the emphasis on Scotch Dances during 1732-1733. There were, though, several possible reasons relating to events affecting London’s theatre world. The first (and possibly the most significant one) was the opening of the first Covent Garden Theatre on 7 December 1732. John Rich had long been a rival to Drury Lane from his theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but the opening of a brand-new theatre on their doorstep took competition to new heights. At the same time, the Drury Lane company was beginning a particularly troubled period in its history. It had been run very successfully for around twenty years by a triumvirate of actor-managers – Barton Booth, Colley Cibber and Robert Wilks. Booth had been in ill-health for some time and in the summer of 1732 had sold out to the wealthy gentleman amateur John Highmore. Then, Wilks died in September 1732 and his management responsibilities passed to the painter John Ellys, also a theatrical amateur. Finally, in November 1732, Colley Cibber passed his management role to his son Theophilus – the only member of the new triumvirate with any knowledge and experience of the theatre. Tensions between the new managers soon mounted and the season ended in chaos with a rebellion by many of the actors, who the patentees locked out of the theatre on 26 May 1733. As if that was not enough, theatre rivalries had also been intensified by a third (unlicensed) playhouse – Goodman’s Fields had been offering performances in the Whitechapel area of London since 1729, but a new theatre opened there on 2 October 1732 under management determined to make the venture a success. Goodman’s Fields immediately began to emulate Covent Garden by including much entr’acte dancing in its bills. These events go some way towards explaining the large number of billings this season for Scotch Dances, which were obviously exploited for their popularity by both Covent Garden and Goodman’s Fields.

While Mrs Bullock’s solo may have drawn on ‘Scotch’ music familiar from earlier periods, there are few clues to the music that Glover used. My guess is that the success of his Scotch Dance had much to do with its music. There were certainly at least two collections of ‘Scots’ tunes published around this time, which suggest the popularity of ‘Scottish’ music in the early 1730s. One of them was William Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius, first published in the mid-1720s and then given a second two-volume enlarged edition in 1733.

The dancers of these choreographies may well have worn a form of ‘Scotch’ dress. There are a couple of clues in a 1744 inventory of Covent Garden properties, where reference is made to ‘6 Scotch jacketts and caps 2 stuff plaid sashes and 6 bonnets to do. [ditto]’. ‘Stuff’ is a woollen, usually worsted, cloth. There is also reference to a ‘Highlander’s jacket’.  There is no certainty that these references are to dancers’ costumes (Macbeth was given every season at Covent Garden) but other information makes it likely. References for the inventory are at the end of this post. There are many 18th-century portraits showing various versions of ‘Scotch’ dress, although I have found it difficult to discover anything from the early 1700s. These two images are actually of a Highland Gentleman and Lady, ascribed to 1745 and printed in A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations: Antient and Modern published in two volumes over the period 1757-1772. They may, perhaps, provide clues to the costuming of Scotch Dances in London’s theatres before the Jacobite rebellion.

Apart from the mid-1740s, Scotch Dances were frequently billed in the entr’actes into the late 1750s and some new titles were introduced from the late 1740s. Among these were the Scotch Measure danced with a Highland Reel by Froment and Mlle de la Cointrie within a ‘New Scotch Dance’ given alongside The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden on 24 April 1749. Froment had first been billed in a solo Scotch Dance in London in 1742-1743, with no mention of these other dances. In the ensuing years he had spent time in Edinburgh where he may have extended his knowledge of Scottish dancing (my thanks to Alena Shmakova, who is researching dancing in Edinburgh and brought this to my attention). Froment apparently continued his London career until the late 1770s, although he seems not to have been billed in further Scotch Dances. There was also a Grand Scottish Ballet, first performed by Cooke and Miss Hillyard at Covent Garden on 31 January 1750. They were presumably accompanied by a group of supporting dancers, as indicated by advertisements in later seasons. This choreography continued in repertoire until 1752-1753, when it was given at least 24 performances, after which it disappeared from the bills.

I will look at Highland Dances in a separate post as, for the earlier period at least, they seem to be different to Scotch Dances.

During the final decades of the 18th century, ideas about Scotland and the Scots changed markedly and Scotch Dances on the London stage underwent a transformation. I hope to write a post about these at a later date.

References

Much of the data in this post has been gathered from:

The London Stage, 1660-1800. 5 volumes (Carbondale, Ill., 1960-1968)

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel, 1660-1800. 16 vols (Carbondale, Ill., 1973-1993)

For country dance tunes in the editions of Playford, I turned to:

The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1651-ca.1728), edited by Jeremy Barlow (London, 1985)

For musical suites associated with plays during the late 17th century, see:

Curtis Price, Music in the Restoration Theatre ([Ann Arbor, Mich.], 1979)

For the 1744 Covent Garden Inventory, see:

Philip H. Highfill Jr, ‘Rich’s 1744 Inventory of Covent Garden Properties’, Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research, 5.1 (1966)

This provides a complete transcript of the inventory.

Ana Martinez, ‘Scenographies behind the Scenes: Mapping, Classifying, and Interpreting John Rich’s 1744 Inventory of Covent Garden’, in “The Stage’s Glory” John Rich, 1692-1761, edited by Berta Joncus and Jeremy Barlow (Newark, NJ, 2011)

The original inventory is held in the British Library as Additional MS 12201.

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