DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Trip to Bury-St-Edmunds for Tours of the Theatre Royal and the Greene King Brewery

Saturday 13th October 2012 Return to Alumni Events

William Wilkinson, a student studying at Cambridge University, went on a Mediterranean tour to Italy, Greece and Turkey between 1801 and 1803 and he was hugely attracted to the Greco-Roman style of architecture which influenced the rest of his life. He graduated and became an architect specialising in this style eventually designing buildings for Downing College and several other Cambridge Colleges as well as University College, London. In parallel to his work he had resolved to build a new theatre in his home town of Bury-St-Edmunds in the Greco-Roman style. Bury was very prosperous in those days so raising the money went well but the cost kept going up and so he put some of his own fortune in to make up the difference. The building was finished in 1819 and it became part of the Norwich Circuit of Theatres around which productions toured. All this and much more was explained to an enthralled group of "Evolved Darwinians" by Rory our guide for their morning tour of the Theatre Royal. The tour was fascinating and our guide was marvellously knowledgeable about the building, the style of theatre and production and how it changed over the years.

The Theatre Royal Stage

The Theatre Royal Stage and Ceiling

A theatre only licenced for 350 today held 700-800 in it's early days and the whole show consisting of several separate entertainments would start at 5.50 pm and finish at 11.00 pm with people going in and out during the evening. The theatre was designed to look like a stone building in the open air (see the sky painted on the roof in the picture) with a proscenium arch over the stage, a forestage which was where all the action took place and which was the centre of the theatre such that the curve of the stall seats etc being on the circumference of a circle centred there. It was explained that the only lighting was from oil lamps and tallow candles which were around these seats not with the stage and which smelt. People did not wash much in those days and there was lots of smoke from tobacco - a heady mix in the crowded theatre. People from different classes were separated from the moment they went through the appropriate door up to and including the type of seat they sat in, the poorest in the gods. Rotten fuit was thrown during acts not approved of and the richest were protected from such an occurrence.

Theatre Royal Seating

Looking Back at the Seating

Our Group On the Stage

The DCS Party on the Stage Listening to Our Guide


In the Backstage Actors waiting Room

Over the years, changes in lighting to electricity altered where on the stage the plays could be acted so they became more realistic to see. However competition from cinemas and cheap railway journeys to London theatres put a strain on the theatre finances until in 1920 Greene King bought it to store barrels in without fundamentally changing it. As a result, a new restoration project in 1965 brought it back to close to it's original looks and the theatre has continued since then as the only working regency theatre. Our guide was so good and our interest so great that from a prompt 10.30 start we only just arrived on time for our 12.30 lunch next door at the Greene King public house, The Brewery Tap.

Our buffet lunch completed, our guide for the brewery tour took us across the road firstly into the small museum where he told us the history of the company. Benjamin Greene who moved to Bury to start a brewing business, the Westgate Brewery in 1799 and which merged with the St Edmunds Brewery of Frederick King in 1887 and the changes in the new Greene King company over the years were described by our guide. From there we took the short walk into the brewery building where he explained the brewing process and how different types of beer are brewed. We tasted the difference between the grain before and after roasting and smelt the different types of hops used and heard that their beers used ingredients only sourced in this country. As we progressed upwards we learnt that the process runs under gravity so that earlier stages drop into later stages and so, as you might expect, to the roof where there are water storage tanks filled from natural underground sources. By now we were high above the other buildings and the views were stupendous. at this stage there was only one way to proceed which was downwards retracing our steps to the Brewery Tap where there was the traditional tasting of beers.


Our Greene King Guide Introducing the Tour
in the Company Museum

Brewery Vats

Looking at the Huge Vats

Beer Recipe

Our Guide Introduces Us to Grain and Hops

View from the Roof

A View from the Roof

It had been a long day which seemed to race by and thanks are due to our 2 excellent guides, to the 2 organisations for making our trip so easy and also for Greene King for allowing us to park in their staff car-park and thanks go to Helen Moore for taking all the photographs above.

Chris Sparey-Green has sent extra photographs, three of which are shown for you to enjoy. Thank you Chris.



The Auditorium from the Stage


The Introduction to the Greene King Tour


View Over the Theatre from the Top of the Geene King Building

(Click on the pictures for larger versions) Return to Alumni Events


Close menu
Site navigation mobile menu