|China Hall, 1916|
In 1719 a pub on the site was called the "Cock and Pye Ale House." It later became the "Marsh Gate" and records show that in 1776 it was leased to Jonathan Oldfield, at which time it was called the "Green Man." Oldfield was a trader, dealing in tea and china, a classic example of a late 18th century entrepreneur. He built a theatre on land next to the pub, a wooden building that could hold 500 people and staged plays and hosted musical concerts; this was named the China Hall. The prices for seats were 3s for boxes, 3s for the pits and 1s for the gallery.
|George Frederick Cooke|
emoirs of an Unfortunate Son of Thespis was published in 1818. According to the book Eagan to Garrett: Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 (Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1991), Everard performed in numerous plays at the China Hall including The Devil to Pay, The Busy Body, The Clandestine Marriage, Romeo and Juliet, Venice Preserv'd, High Life Below Stairs, The Earl of Essex, The Fashionable Lover, Cross Purposes, The Irish Widow and The London Merchant. Other plays that were performed there, according to Edward Walford, were The Wonder, Love in a Village, Comical Courtship, and The Lying Valet.
The theatre burned down on 26th June in 1778 or 1779 (the various sources are in dispute) but according to Everard, a temporary wooden structure was erected in the gardens in which The Merchant of Venice was performed only four days later on 30th June. The temporary theatre, apparently little more than a large shed, remained in place for at least six weeks. Oldfield was not deterred and re-opened again, but the new building was destroyed in a storm, after which Oldfied threw in the theatrical towel. However, the China Hall re-opened in 1787 as a tavern. Writing in 1872, Edward Walford says that it had been "a picturesque building partly surrounded by an external gallery."
The China Hall obviously suffered some other terminal indignity and for reasons unknown was rebuilt in the 1860s, albeit with the same sign that had adorned the previous building.
The site of the theatre became a well known tea-gardens, with the during the Victorian period. By the mid 1800s China Hall Road has been established, which later became Rotherhithe New Road.
|Map of the Rotherhithe Estates in 1849 |
(from Codrington) showing China Hall Road,
now Rotherhithe New Road
By 1920s the tea gardens that had originally belonged to the China Hall were absorbed into the Surrey Commercial Docks as part of a timber yard. Tea gardens were a popular feature of late 19th and early 20th Century Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, but like the more famous Bermondsey Cherry Gardens, they all fell out of fashion.
Although the 1916 photograph clearly shows the China Hall as an end-of-terrace unpainted brick-built building, today the brick has been painted and is now invisible and the building, with an extension to the rear, is detached from its neighbours. There used to be a road along the side of the pub, once known as Providence Row, shown in the photograph below as the stump where two cars are parked. Just to the right of the picture is a narrow passage called China Hall Mews. Providence Row is still shown on the 1868 and 1914 Ordnance Survey maps, terminated by a railway cutting, a siding of the East London Railway that ran along the end of the docks and under the Thames via the Thames Tunnel.
|The China Hall today, by Chris Lordan |
(under Creative Commons licence)