Covent Garden,Old Price Riots,
The O.P. Riots began on the opening of the new Covent Garden Threatre which had burnt down the previous year, killing thirty people.. At the opening, the so-called OPs, protested against the rise in seat prices, the reduction of the gallery (where most poor people were admitted), and the increase in the size of private boxes taken by the rich.
The audience divided themselves into the supporters of the cheaper Old Price tickets, the OPs and those who supported the management, the NPs. The campaign went on for 62 days and was completely successful in its aims.
The auditorium of a Georgian theatre was encircled with tiers of enclosed seats known as boxes, with a gallery above. The gallery was the cheapest; the first row of the boxes the most expensive.
A crowd of thousands was waiting to get into the theatre when it opened on 18 September 1809. Perhaps only a quarter managed to do so. When Kemble appeared he was received with applause, but when he began to speak he was drowned out by roars, hisses, and hoots which continued right through Macbeth.
Magistrates were called to read the Riot Act, which would have allowed them to force the crowd to leave. But only a few were removed. The rest stayed, singing God Save the King and Rule Britannia.
After that, the magistrates ceased to be involved. There was a question of whether they could legally force people to leave a theatre when they had paid for a ticket.
On the succeeding nights, the disturbances continued. The OPs arrived with musical instruments, frying pans, tongs, and a dustman's bell. They began the OP dance a kind of welly dance on the benches, accompanied by shouts of OP.
Kemble closed the theatre for six days to allow a neutral committee to decide on the prices. But they supported the new prices, so when the theatre re-opened the OPs returned with banners, placards, songs and chants. They were running races on the benches and staging mock fights, and they now started using the kind of rattle that watchmen carried the OP rattle.
With this kind of noise going on throughout the performance, Kemble employed boxers, including Daniel Mendoza, to throw people out. There were arrests. This was a disaster: when his doorkeeper, Brandon, arrested a well-known radical barrister, Henry Clifford, he was found guilty of false arrest.
The OPs now had a moral triumph. Although Kemble had originally vowed not to give in, by 14 December 1809 he had met Clifford for dinner and agreed peace terms. The following night Kemble apologised for raising the prices, and for employing the boxers. Charges against the rioters were dropped. The OPs had won a famous victory.
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