ONE of Richmond’s historic landmarks is the subject of a new booklet which charts how the building has changed over the centuries.

Richmond Georgian Theatre is regarded as one of the most important surviving theatres in the country, and the booklet shed lights for the first time on what was there before it was built in 1788.

It was built beside a 1677 Quaker Meeting House. Quakers often came from far and wide to attend meetings, and were often wealthy enough to afford a horse. Therefore, they needed somewhere to park their horse while they were at prayer, and it seems that the theatre was built on top of the Friends’ stables.

The theatre was built by Samuel Butler, who was born in 1750 in York where he became an apprentice corset-maker. His boss, though, failed to make him stay as a corset apprentice, and he became a travelling actor with MJ Wright’s touring theatre company.

When Mr Wright died in 1773, Butler took over the troupe and married his widow – the wonderfully named Tryphosa, who was 23 years older than him. He built up a circuit of theatres in Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Ulverston, Ripon, Northallerton and Whitby, to which he added Richmond in 1788.

After his death in 1812, his children took on the running of the theatre, but by the 1830s small theatres were waning in their popularity. The railways accelerated the decline, as they transported people to the big cities to see the big stars, and the curtain fell on the Richmond theatre in 1848.

It then suffered the indignity of a century of odd uses: church, court, auction room and warehouse for a wine merchant and a corn chandler.

Its history was forgotten until just before the Second World War when, behind the decades of neglect, the Georgian theatre was found to be almost intact. It still had the original kicking boards, upon which members of the audience could stamp their feet to show their disapproval. It still possessed a piece of woodland scenery that dates from pre-1836 and so is the oldest scenery in the country, and its rooftiles were still pegged on by sheep bones.

It was reopened as a theatre in 1943; there was a major restoration in 1963, and in 2003 a major modern extension was added to the side.

All of these building changes are chronicled in Doug Waugh’s new booklet, Richmond’s 18th Century Vernacular Playhouse, which is available from the theatre for £4 or for £5 by post from the author at 65 Frenchgate, Richmond, DL10 7AE. All proceeds go to the theatre.