When I think of all the times the prices have gone up in my life and I haven’t done anything about it, but moaned – rent, train tickets, coffee, food or literally anything else – I’m slightly embarrassed to read about the Old Price riots.

Londoners revolted for three months because theater ticket prices rose by six pence.

How embarrassing. Look at the garbage we’re taking out now.

READ MORE: The time Londoners interrupted a group of fascists preaching with an ‘explosive’ sack of flour

In the early 1800s, two theaters in London were the most popular: the Covent Garden Theater and the Drury Lane Theater.

Sadly, in September 1808, the Covent Garden Theater – now the site of the Royal Opera House – burned down, along with the costumes, scripts and sets.

The damage was estimated at £ 250,000 – which, in today’s money, would be well over £ 20million.



Interior of the Covent Garden Theater, London, 1808.

The theater was rebuilt and reopened a year later almost to the day – but to cover the huge expenses of the rebuilding, they decided to raise the prices.

People who could afford a box would now have to pay seven shillings instead of six, but the poor in the pit who had previously paid three shillings and six pence now had to pay four shillings.

Proportionally, it was certainly a much larger price increase.



'Theater beggars, relieved ...', 1809. John Kemble, with his brother Charles and sister Sarah Siddons in tears, beggar outside Northumberland House and receiving a 10,000 pound project.  The Covent Garden Theater is burning in the background.
‘Theater beggars, relieved …’, 1809. John Kemble, with his brother Charles and sister Sarah Siddons in tears, beggar outside Northumberland House and receiving a 10,000 pound project. The Covent Garden Theater is burning in the background.

Worse yet, the third floor of the theater, which was previously reserved for the public, was now off-limits and has been converted into private boxes costing £ 300 a year.

The only prize that remained the same was the gallery or “pigeon lofts” where only the legs of the performers could be seen.

On opening night, Macbeth’s performance was would have “Drowned by the whistles, the cries, the calls, the songs and the stamps of the paying public”.



Pidgeon Hole.  After a fire destroyed the old building in 1808, Robert Smirke designed an auditorium that could seat over three thousand people and replaced many inexpensive seats with private boxes.
Pidgeon Hole. After a fire destroyed the old building in 1808, Robert Smirke designed an auditorium that could seat over three thousand people and replaced many inexpensive seats with private boxes.

It seems that this method of protest was to break the social contract: we will pay, but if that’s what you charge, we won’t behave.

The other end of the social contract that the rioters broke was the understanding that after the show was over you would come home.

They didn’t, so manager John Philip Kemble called the police.



A parody on Macbeth's Soliloquy at Covent Garden Theater, engraving 1809, Kemble as Macbeth, in Highland attire.
A parody on Macbeth’s Soliloquy at Covent Garden Theater, engraving 1809, Kemble as Macbeth, in Highland attire.

But the situation got much worse and it lasted until 2 a.m.

After the first night, the rioters only started to enter at half price and covered the place with banners and slogans, such as the coffin on which was written: “Here lies the body of the new prize, which is death of whooping cough on September 23, 1809, at the age of 6 days “.

But the new price was a bit tougher than that – the riots continued for another 64 days before Kemble was forced to cut prices and apologize.



John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) English actor at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane where he became director in 1778 and at the Theater Royal, Covent Garden, from 1803 where following a fire, he inflated the prices which led to riots in 'Old Price.
John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) English actor at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane where he became director in 1778 and at the Theater Royal, Covent Garden, from 1803 where following a fire, he inflated the prices which led to riots in ‘Old Price.

The riots of the previous century had been much more destructive, with damage done to the theater itself – some sources claim that these riots, with their cheeky signs and whistles as the actors tried to work, were all done in “l ‘spirit of pleasure’. .

Unfortunately, this was not the case – an anti-Semitic medal was handed out.

While their aim was to tackle the rising prices, for many it follows that the Jews must be the ones protecting it, even if there was no one Jew in sight.



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During the riots, many were injured and more than 20 died.

Maybe I shouldn’t be embarrassed by the reactions of Londoners to the price hikes today.

Injury, death and unfounded racism? Look at the garbage we took then.

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