Rosebery Avenue’s arts theatre Sadler’s Wells currently holds a revered reputation for world-class dance and performance. But it once stood as a rowdy and run-down music house, until the arrival of the fabled theatrical producer and manager Lilian Baylis was able to recreate Sadler’s Wells into the theatre we enjoy today.
The origins of Sadler’s Wells are shrouded in mystique. Named quite literally after a well found on the property in the mid-17th century, it was said by owner Edward Sadler that the water in the area held “extraordinary medicinal virtue”, including the ability to heal illnesses such as dropsy, jaundice and scurvy.
After several physicians recommended the water to patients, Sadler’s Wells was soon filled with Islingtonians. Quick to jump on this business opportunity, Sadler newly established a ‘musick house’ in the area – complete with a pub, showroom and dancing. While at first seen as a reputed enterprise, Sadler’s Wells later became a haunt for prostitutes and the dissolute, forming a reputation that multiple rebuildings (including its rebuilding as an aquatic theatre!) couldn’t solve.
“Haste hither, then, and take your fill. Let Parsons say whate’er they will, The ale that every ale excells Is only found at Sadler’s Wells.”An advertising jingle written for the theatre
Such a reputation could only be fixed by one person – Lilian Baylis. Although starting off shaky, through a stricter focus on theatre and a classier presentation of its deep-rooted history, Lilian Baylis was able to transform perceptions of Sadler’s Wells into modernity. Now recently redesigned, Sadler’s Wells sits as a theatre for contemporary dance, with a studio dedicated to Lilian Baylis. Hosting a multitude of shows, Sadler’s Wells has been able to explore the future while paying homage to its roots in its own elegant way.
Written by Chenoa Colaco