Shakespeare, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and the Theatre

Collections - Posted 22-04-2016




Sir Watkin loved masquerades and theatre. In September 1769 he attended the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford, organised by David Garrick. Garrick was a great promoter of Shakespeare and he advocated a more natural style of acting.  Not content with just watching, Sir Watkin had his own theatre built at Wynnstay [by Gandon].   An annual week of amateur dramatics took place, featuring Sir Watkin,  his family and the staff. One of the performers was Juba Vincent, the black boy servant.  Sheridan and David Garrick both visited Wynnstay, though Garrick snootily declined to perform with amateurs. A bill for theatre equipment by Alexander Johnston for 4 weeks at Wynnstay and for work in London included:

  • 24 yds fine Irish linnen for the transparency
  •  6 yds white sarcenet for the Temple of Apollo
  • 23 yds canvis sent to Wynnstay for Mr Sandby to paint on
  • Painting a pallace flate with a sett of collumn wings and sky……
  • A piece of fine green shelloon for the great curtain & rings etc…..
  • Pullys, box holes & cleets…
  • A tin lightning box & macheen
  • Lamp and cover for the transparency….
  • A fancy’d dress for Mr Cassie to speak to the poppets in….
  • 2 busts of Shakespeare

Other scenes were painted by George Wilkinson who apparently performed at the play.  A detailed inventory provides us with a virtual tour of the theatre storerooms30.

Wardrobe in ladies’ dressing room, 2nd shelf:

  • A black velvet gown and apron
  • A blue silk gown and petticoat trimmed with silver…
  • A jacket and petticoat of plaid stuff once wore by Miss Grenville in Masquerade..
  • 4 helmets made of pasteboard
  • Old boots & shoes….in an old hamper:
  • A pair of old high topped boots wore by Mr Foot in the character of Major Sturgeon
  • An old pair of boot wore by John Moody in ye Journey to London
  • Wardrobe in gentlemen’s dressing room, shelf 1:
  • A soldier’s coat, waistcoat and breeches…
  • A pearl coloured silk coat laced with gold…

Shelf 4:

  • Suit for the character of Pistol

Shelf 7:

  • Punche’s suit
  • Falstaff’s belly
  • Falstaff’s breeches & remnant of his coat….

The seats were upholstered in crimson padua to match the wallpaper and the auditorium was illuminated by dozens of spermaceti candles.  The audience was composed mostly of local gentry.  Mrs Owen of Brogyntyn received a letter from her agent and friend John Jones who had attended in 1784:.

Sir Watkin being summon’d to London, We had only four nights Plays: The Tragedy was very well perform’d….After the Saturday Night’s play, Sir Watkin supp’d with his company & then sett out to attend his parliamentary duty, on Monday the 12th instant.56

Hilary Peters

Wynnstay by Ingleby (NLW)

Wynnstay by Ingleby (NLW)

3 responses

I am writing a history of Sir Watkin’s theatre at Wynnstay. I was born in the village of Ruabon. I have a great deal of original information.


Commented April 25, 2016 / 13:19:24

I am writing a history of Sir Watkin’s theatre at Wynnstay and have a great deal of original material. I was born in the Village of Ruabon. Any information you have would be most welcome and, if used, acknowledged.

Rachel Bowen

Commented April 25, 2016 / 13:23:36

I am interested with Juba Vincent. I know a certain amount about him but where did he come from, and where did he go after being taken to Liverpool to join a merchant ship the Mary Anne?


Commented June 8, 2016 / 17:16:10




About this blog

A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

About the blog