Theatre Royal Drury Lane is arguably the most famous Theatre in the world and the oldest working playhouse in London. In 1747, David Garrick and James Lacy shared the patent which had been granted by King Charles II to Thomas Killigrew in 1662. This meant that their Drury Lane company was allowed to perform 'legitimate' drama, a privilege shared only by Covent Garden, and later, the Haymarket, until there was a change in the law in 1843.
There have been four theatres on the site, the first opening in 1663; the second, designed by Wren in 1674, was Garrick's theatre which he ran from 1747 until his retirement in 1776.
Garrick's successor Sheridan built the 3rd theatre in 1794. It was designed by Holland, with seating for over 3,500 spectators. Unfortunately this building burnt down in 1809 and the current theatre opened on Saturday 10th October, 1812.
Newly refurbished Drury Lane auditorium.
Inside the third Theatre The Theatre Fire of 1809 The current Theatre in 1812
This is now the oldest Theatrical fund in existence for the benefit of actors. Covent Garden's Fund, which was one year older, came to an end about 1900. David Garrick was abroad when Thomas Hull instigated Covent Garden Theatrical Fund in 1765, but as soon as Garrick returned to London, he determined that Drury Lane should follow suit.
The Fund is a most unusual Charity in that it was Incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1776. Garrick was able to call on his friend Edmund Burke to assist him with the passage of the Bill through Parliament. The official title of the resulting Fund was "The Society for the Relief of Indigent Persons belonging to His Majesty's Company of Comedians of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane ". Actors, singers, dancers and prompters at the Theatre earning twenty shillings a week or more, were eligible to join. David Garrick personally paid for the Fund to be Incorporated by this Act of Parliament. Now known for the sake of simplicity as Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, its Registered Charity number is 209046.
The idea behind the Fund was a simple one; that the current Members, working at Drury Lane, would give money in the form of an Annual Subscription, to provide Annuities for their predecessors who had been forced to retire, through age or ill health. These Subscribing Members would then receive Annuities in their turn, when the time came for them to retire. Help could also be given in times of sickness and the widows and children of Subscribing Members could receive financial help. A substantial Funeral Grant would also be available following the death of a Member. In the days before the welfare state, these benefits actually prevented some families from starving.
The original Rule Book has, of course, been updated when necessary since Garrick's time but the basic ideas have remained the same. Currently, actors, singers, dancers and members of the stage management team who are under 40 years of age and have contracts for a minimum period of 6 months at Drury Lane are eligible to join. As well as giving Annuities to Members, the Fund is able to make small discretionary grants to non members who have a link to Theatre Royal Drury Lane.