The Foundation Stone
is now in the foyer of
the Royal Opera House
The London theatre now known as the
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, home
of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, is the
third theatre on this site. The first Covent
Garden Theatre, built by John Rich, opened
in 1732, but burnt down in 1808.
The second, designed by Robert Smirke,
opened the following year but suffered the
same fate and was destroyed by fire in 1856.
It was quickly replaced by the present
building, which opened in 1858.
Constructed at great speed, by the 1990s
the fabric of the building was in serious need
of extensive renovation and repair, while its
technical facilities had advanced little since
the 1930s. Mounting opera and ballet
performances had become increasingly
difficult and costly due to the theatreís
technical limitations, and it could soon have
been in danger of being closed on health and
safety grounds alone.
The opportunity was therefore taken not
only to bring the building up to current
standards of safety, but to redevelop the
whole site as a more appropriate home for
two large resident companies, including all
the technical facilities that are now taken for
granted in a modern opera house.
In the course of this redevelopment, it
was decided that an object of considerable
historic interest, hitherto visible only to
those working inside the theatre, should be
restored to view not far from its original
position on the exterior.
When it was decided to rebuild after the
loss of the first theatre in 1808, the Prince of
Wales, later George IV, was invited to lay
the foundation stone of the new building on
31 December that year. This was a major
public event in which Freemasonry played a
prominent role. The ceremony is described
in detail in The Gentlemanís Magazine for