In 1809, Old Price Riots (also known as the O.P. or OP riots) happened due to rising prices at the newly re-constructed Covent Garden Theatre in London after being destroyed by fire. Covent Garden was one of two theatres in London patented to show a full-play back in the 19th century along with the Drury Lane Theatre. When Drury Lane Theatre was burned down, the Covent Garden Theatre became the premier theatre in London. These riots lasted nearly 3 months and ended when John Philip Kemble, the Covent Garden Theatre manager, was forced to make a public apology. It’s said that nearly 20 people died, and many were wounded during these riots.
Causes of the riots
It was 20th September 1808, the day when Covent Garden Theatre was all destroyed due to fire along with most of the set, scripts, and costumes. The damage caused by the fire is estimated to be nearly £250,000. However, with the help of donations from Duke of York, King George III and the Duke of Northumberland, the new theatre was opened again on 18th September 1809.
However, the expenses were so high that the management was forced to raise the prices. The price for a pit was raised from 3 shillings and sixpence to four shillings. A box price was increased from six shillings to seven. The third tier, usually reserved for the general public, was made private boxes for the rich. The gallery price was unchanged, but it was often known as pigeon holes since people inside the gallery were only able to see the legs of the performers.
On the opening night, riots broke out during a performance of Macbeth, and the riots continued throughout the play. At the end of the show, the audience refused to leave, so Kemble called the street police, but this worsened the situation, and the rioters didn’t disperse until 2 am.
After the first night, the inside of the Covent Garden Theatre was covered with slogans and banners.
At one point during riots, a coffin was carried by the rioters who had a message written: Here is the body of the new prices, which died of the cough on 23 September 1809, aged just 6 days. The riots lasted for 64 days more. However, unlike the beginnings of riots, little damage was done to the theatre, and a spirit of fun characterized the whole riots.
The rioter even had given themselves a nickname: the OPs. These rioters forced Kemble to lower the prices, and Kemble did so. He also issued a public apology, and the situation was finally under control and back to normal after nearly 3 months. But the next year, again, riots started when he tried to maintain half the number of private boxes at the beginning of the next season. But Kemble was forced to withdraw this plan too.