Reg Mayhew's Family History



"The following year (1794) the Theatre was opened under new auspices; Mr. Cobb, an attorney, of Clement's Inn, London, having since the last season become the proprietor. Mr. Cobb's proprietorship of the Brighton Theatre came about in a curious way. He happened to be in Brighton in 1793, for the Races; when a "good natured friend" (who knew Mrs. Fox , the owner) asked him to endeavour to procure a purchaser for the Theatre, as the creditors (Mr. Fox dying £2,700 in debt) had resolved to sell it. He did not succeed, owing to the incumbrances connected with the purchase; but, eventually, having taken an interest in the affair, he consented to advance £1,600 himself by way of mortgage. Poor Mr. Cobb! He knew as much about a Theatre as he did of the other side of the moon; but, like the "triple pillar" of old Rome, woman's tears (Miss Nelly Fox joined her mother in entreaties) were too much for him; and, unable to resist, he took an "old man" on his back, which he never wholly shook off. He first compounded with the creditors; then he paid (under arbitration) £150 to Mr. Paine (the previous license-holder of the Theatre); but was still refused a license to the Theatre, unless he paid off Mr. Fox's mortgage! He first agreed; then refused, thinking it an extortion; an action was the consequence, and the verdict was against him. The next year he allowed Mrs. Fox a benefit and £100; but, finding himself at the close of the season £200 behind, he reduced Mrs. Fox's annuity to £75 for the future. Some time after Mrs. Fox's death (at Bath, July, 1798), the annuity being continued to the family, he bought it up, and the Theatre then became his own property.

The theatrical campaign of 1796 was expected to have been a brilliant one. The frequent visits of the Princess Caroline in the previous year induced the Proprietor to hope that these would be repeated.; accordingly, during the recess, the interior of the Theatre was remodelled (its original square form being converted into that of a horse-shoe) and re-decorated, a Royal box newly fitted, etc., the alterations involving an expenditure of nearly £600. But, alas for Mr. Cobb's hopes - and his pocket! the Princess never visited Brighton again. The improvements effected, however, rendered the Theatre, in the opinion of connoisseurs, "the completest provincial Theatre in the Kingdom". The scenery .... was deemed equal to that of Covent-garden.

The season of 1798 may be regarded as among the most memorable in the annals of the local stage; for , on September 4, the great tragic actress, Mrs. Sarah Siddons, appeared in Brighton, at the Duke-street Theatre, for the first time. She was then in the zenith of her fame - the most brilliant luminary in the then theatrical sphere - and was, of course, not to be had "for the asking".

In 1802, ....on more than one occasion the Prince of Wales , with the Russian Princess Galitzen, the Countess Sarebzoff, and Mrs. Fitzherbert were present. In 1805 the Prince of Wales gave his patronage for Miss Brunton's benefit (August 19), ensuring her an overflowing house. In the previous week he had visited it, with the Duke of Orleans and the Prince of Conde: Mrs. Fitzherbert being also present.

The last performance in the house took place on November 1, 1806. On Tuesday 21st April, 1807, "the whole of the building materials of the OLD THEATRE, in Duke-street, Brighton" were sold by auction and, a few weeks later, the Theatre was no more!"


The foundations of the new Theatre in New Road were laid on September 10th, 1806, and the first performance in the new building took place on June 27th, 1807.

The Brighton Theatre cost £12,000 (including scenery and wardrobe, and the manager's cottage). A short description will help to visualize the Theatre. There were two tiers of boxes. The pit extended to the orchestra, as usual in those days, the gallery being above the dress circle. The Prince Regent's box was on the left of the stage, divided from other boxes by richly-gilded iron lattice work. The auditorium was illuminated by nine cut-glass chandeliers, and a range of patent lamps as footlights. Over the centre of the pit was an elegant chandelier, that could be raised or lowered as desired. The ceiling was divided into nine panels, wherein were represented Comedy, Tragedy, Terpsichore, Music, Love, Poetry, Geography, Astronomy, and History. These were surrounded by ornamental scrolls of gold, interlaced with flowers. The face of the boxes was richly moulded. There was accommodation for 1400 spectators: Dress Circle, 100; Boxes, 100: Upper Slips, 250; Pit, 250; Gallery, 700."

Brighton Theatre(1814-19)


As it appeared 1814-19


"But Hewitt Cobb seems to have overtaxed his resources in building the theatre for, no sooner was it completed and open, than he disposed of a share in it. On 13th August 1807 he sold by auction at the Castle Hotel, Brighton, a half-share in the theatre, its contents, properties and costumes. This was bought for £5,512 10s 0d by Sir Thomas Clarges, Baronet, of Sutton-upon-Derwent, Yorkshire, and was conveyed to him on 30th August.

Cobb died on 21st January 1822 and left the residue of his estate to his nephew, George, eldest son of his brother George Cobb Senior. Sir Thomas Clarges died in February 1834. His wife predeceased him, and his financial affairs seem to have been very involved. It was not until 1842 that anything was done about the Theatre Royal. ......Clarges's half-share was sold by auction on 27th October 1842. It fetched £1,650 and was bought by George Cobb who already owned the other half-share, inherited from his uncle, Hewitt Cobb, in 1822.

George Cobb Junior had been born in 1787 and was an attorney of Clements Inn, though he may never have practised as such (note:- George himself did say "I was his (Turner's) solicitor from 1822 up to 1837....My uncle whom I succeeded in business was his solicitor before me"). He was a friend of J.M.W. Turner and is said to have drawn up Turner's will. If he did so, then he was involuntarily the cause of much contention and dissatisfaction even after the case was settled and Turner's pictures had been lodged in the National Gallery. Turner left Cobb his palette. This Cobb later gave to the Brighton marine artist, R.H.Nibbs, whose father had been a member of the orchestra at the Brighton Theatre Royal. Nibbs subsequently passed on the palette to the National Gallery. Cobb was also a Brighton Councillor and later an Alderman. He lived, at any rate at the end of his life, at No. 1 Hampton Terrace, Brighton. He survived until 1877.

In 1866, Henry John Nye Chart was able to persuade George Cobb, who was then 79 years old, to sell the theatre to him, so that it could be enlarged and rebuilt. The purchase price was £7,500."

The Family Name of Cobb(e)



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