Most of my series on London panoramas to this point has focused on Robert Barker’s panorama in Leicester Square. However, less than a decade before the Prince of Wales became Regent, there was another purpose-built panorama building in London, which had close, though not cordial, familial links to the Barker panorama. This situation would be resolved before the Regency had come to a close.
The second London panorama building …
Robert Barker had taken out a patent on his panorama concept in 1787, and for the next fourteen years he had a virtual monopoly on the exhibition of panorama paintings in England. But his patent and his exclusive right to exhibit panoramas expired in 1801. In anticipation of the expiration of the patent, a number of artists had already begun work on panoramic paintings of their own, including Robert Ker Porter, who would eventually exhibit several popular battle scenes and Thomas Girtin, whose panorama painting of London, the Eidometropolis, was the only panorama he was able to complete before his early death. Almost immediately after Robert Barker’s patent expired, these artists all began to exhibit their paintings in large rented rooms in various locations around the city. But there were no artists or entrepreneurs who were yet willing to gamble on opening their own panorama building. So, in 1801, Robert Barker still had the only purpose-built panorama building in London. However, it would not be long before a second building intended exclusively for the exhibition of panoramas was constructed in the city.
This new panorama building was conceived and developed by two men who were intimately familiar with the entire operation of Robert Barker’s Leicester Square panorama, his eldest son, Thomas Edward Barker, and Ramsay Richard Reinagle, who was the principal painter of a number of recent panorama paintings for the Leicester Square rotunda. It is not known for certain why Thomas Edward Barker chose to go into competition with the family business. He may simply have been tired of playing second fiddle to his younger brother, Henry Aston Barker, who was the draughtsman for most of the panorama views which went on display in the Leicester Square rotunda, as well as, from at least 1800, the de facto manager of the operation. Henry did appear to be his father’s favorite, from a very young age. It may be because he was a naturally talented artist, a skill much admired by his father, also an artist. Or, it may simply be because he was the youngest of Robert Barker’s sons and thus held a special place in his heart. For whatever reason, Thomas Edward Barker seems to have been confined to only a subordinate role in the running of the family firm. Thomas was determined to strike out on his own and clearly saw the expiration of his father’s exclusive right to the exhibition of panoramas as his opportunity. But he was not an artist himself, so if he intended to go into competition with his father and younger brother, he would need to partner with a competent panorama painter. By that time, Ramsay Reinagle had risen to become one of the principal panorama painters at Leicester Square. It is not known if Reinagle was discontented at Leicester Square or if Thomas Barker simply made him an offer he could not refuse. Regardless, probably by the end of 1801, Thomas Barker and Ramsay Reinagle had agreed to become partners in a new panorama venture.
By 1802, at the direction of Thomas Barker, a new panorama building was under construction in The Strand. The site chosen was west of the corner of The Strand and Surrey Street, on property which had been previously occupied by the Talbot Inn. The new panorama rotunda was very similar to the original Leicester Square rotunda building, except, initially, it had only one viewing circle. The roof of this rotunda also had a complex skylighting system built into it for the purpose of lighting the panorama painting on display below. In advertisements for the new panorama, the public was informed that the "machinery of the skylight" had been " … constructed on such a principle as to be able to admit a powerful addition of light in cloudy weather." Overcast days had always been problematical for panorama illumination. Robert Barker had reworked the skylighting system at the Leicester Square rotunda more than once to improve the lighting on cloudy days. It is not known if the system which Thomas Edward Barker installed in the roof of the rotunda in The Strand was his own invention or a derivative of his father’s, but there were references to it in a number of his advertisements for what was to become the Panorama in The Strand.
During the time the new rotunda in The Strand was under construction, Ramsay Reinagle was hard at work on the first panorama painting which would be exhibited in the new building. He had studied in Rome as a young man and, probably due to the popularity of classical subject matter in the early nineteenth century, Reinagle chose to paint a view of Rome with which he was familiar, in this case from the Villa Lodovisi, situated on one of the hills just outside the city. The Panorama in The Strand opened to the public on Monday, 11 July 1803, with the View of Rome from the Pincian Hill on display.
Thomas Barker clearly hoped to capitalize on his previous association with the very popular Leicester Square panorama and the power of his own family name when he advertised the opening of the Panorama in The Strand. One of his earliest advertisements notified the public that he was the "eldest son of Mr. Barker, of the Panorama, Leicester-square, whose long experience, since the first establishment of that concern, has, he trusts, enabled him to make considerable improvements." Of those improvements, he particularly emphasized the more advanced skylighting system which he had installed in the new building which supposedly overcame the problems of lighting on cloudy days.
Based on notes to his advertisements placed in the London newspapers, it seems clear that Robert Barker considered his son’s new Panorama a threat to his own business. While the new panorama building was under construction, Robert Barker added the following note to his own panorama advertisements: " Mr. Barker (sen.), the inventor and proprietor of the Panorama, Leicester-sq., has no connection with [the] Panorama erecting in the Strand, or any other exhibition in London." Just two days after the new Panorama in The Strand had opened, Robert Barker had a long notice printed in which he denied any rumors that his own Panorama in Leicester Square would be closing because he had changed his location to The Strand. He added a lengthy paean of praise for his younger son, Henry Aston Barker, and concluded by deprecating the abilities his eldest son had claimed: "Mr. Barker’s son, Thomas Edward Barker, connected with the Panorama in the Strand, never made drawings for, nor ever had the superintendence of any painting exhibited in Leicester-square."
At about the same time that he was working on his first panorama painting for the new rotunda, Reinagle was sharing rooms near Portland Place with the artist John Constable, newly arrived from his family home in Suffolk. The young Constable was still very much an idealist and he found Reinagle, though only a year his senior, to be a sly and rather unprincipled man. Nevertheless, the two artists did remain acquaintances, if not friends, for a few more years. Constable did go to see the new view of Rome painted by Reinagle in the Panorama in The Strand and he praised it, if only mildly. The new panorama painting did, however, receive mostly positive reviews in the London papers. For example, The Morning Chronicle reported that "… there is no public exhibition in the Metropolis which has received such general approbation."
Though the Panorama in Leicester Square continued to have the highest attendance, the Panorama in The Strand was able to draw enough visitors to remain in business. Barker and Reinagle followed a schedule similar to that of the Panorama at Leicester Square and exhibited a new panorama painting about once a year. By 1804, they were able to add a second viewing circle to the rotunda in The Strand. Though the exact dimensions are not known, the first viewing circle was almost certainly larger than the new one. In advertisements, they were referred to as the "Large Circle" and the "Lesser Circle." On Tuesday, 15 January 1805, the Lesser Circle opened with a view of Sir Sidney Smith’s naval action off the coast of Ostend, which had taken place on 16 May 1804.
Robert Barker died in April of 1806, at which time his son, Thomas, and Ramsay Reinagle were still partners in the rival Panorama in The Strand. However, within the year, there had been some quarrel between them and when the View of the City of Oxford opened in the Panorama in The Strand, in May of 1807, Ramsay Reinagle’s name was no longer mentioned in any advertisements nor was it included on the descriptive plans or keys which were made available to visitors. Perhaps Reinagle had withdrawn because this new panorama enterprise had not produced the substantial profits which he had expected. It is known that in August of 1807, John Constable told the artist Joseph Farington that " … young Reinagle lost a great deal of money by his panorama speculation in the Strand." Despite Reinagle’s withdrawal from the partnership, Thomas Edward Barker continued to operate the Panorama in The Strand for the next decade. He seems to have contracted with an number of artists during that time to create two new panoramas each year for display in the Large and Lesser Circles.
Thomas’s younger brother, Henry, had become the outright owner of the Panorama in Leicester Square upon Robert Barker’s death in 1806. Thus, for the next ten years, the brothers were in direct competition with one another. Both panoramas remained in business, though the Panorama in Leicester Square was considered to be the premier venue for the display of panoramas, certainly among the beau monde. However, those who truly loved the art form never missed a new exhibition at either panorama. Then, in December of 1816, Henry Aston Barker announced that he had purchased the Panorama in The Strand from his elder brother. It is not clear whether Thomas Edward was in financial difficulties or he was simply getting older and wished to retire from the pressures of his business. Though the date of birth of Thomas Barker is unknown, it is estimated that he was probably a decade or more older than Henry, who was born in 1774. Thus, Thomas was at least in his mid-fifties, if not older, by 1816. It is not known if there might have been some kind of reconciliation between the brothers prior to or during the sale of the Panorama in The Strand. What is certain is that there is no further record of Thomas Edward Barker after the sale of his panorama to his brother. Even the date of Thomas Barker’s death is unknown.
In that same year of 1816, Henry Barker had gone into partnership with John Burford, a pupil of his father, Robert Barker, and a fellow artist who had developed a number of panorama paintings for display in the rotunda in Leicester Square. From the time of the acquisition of The Strand property, the two panoramas were operated in conjunction with one another. Burford took over the day-to-day management of the Panorama in The Strand in 1817 and from that time it became known as Burford’s Panorama. For the next year or so, the panoramas on display in the Large and Lesser Circles of Burford’s Panorama were what might be considered Thomas Barker’s greatest hits, those panoramas that were still intact which had been most popular with the public. It was not until March of 1818, that a new panorama, View of Athens and the Surrounding Country, went on display at Burford’s Panorama.
Thus, from the last half of the Regency, both purpose-built London panorama rotundas were under the control of Robert Barker’s younger son, Henry Aston Barker. From that time, the panorama paintings on display at both venues were coordinated to ensure they did not directly conflict with one another, in order to provide the public with the most variety possible, and the panorama owners with the highest possible income. However, there were no panorama paintings exhibited in the Lesser Circle in the rotunda in The Strand within only a couple of years after the Barker/Burford acquisition. When Henry Aston Barker retired from the panorama business in 1822, John Burford took over the operation of both panorama buildings, with the assistance of his son, Robert Burford. In 1826, John Burford retired, at which point Robert Burford became the sole proprietor of both London panorama rotundas. Robert Burford continued to operate both venues under the name of Burford’s Panorama for the next six years.
By 1831, it was no longer cost-effective to maintain two venues for the display of panoramas and the rotunda in The Strand was closed. The building was used as a Dissenter’s chapel for a time before it was purchased by the celebrated Yorkshire comedian, Benjamin Lionel Rayner, in 1832. It was remodeled and opened as a theatre later that year, but the venture soon failed. There were a number of other attempts to establish a successful theatre in the building, but all eventually failed. Finally, in 1858, the old building was demolished and the Royal Strand Theatre opened on the site, in a new building, on 5 April 1851. This venture was fairly successful, but in 1905, the property was acquired by an Act of Parliament and the theatre was soon demolished to make way for what eventually became the Aldwych Underground Station. Many actors and actresses who had played at the Royal Strand vigorously protested this destruction, but to no avail. The station was closed in 1994, and is said to be haunted by an angry actress who does her best to frighten most people away. However, she is not known to have worked her wiles on the various film crews who have used the old station and its tunnels as sets for a number of popular movies and other films. Perhaps she has a soft spot for other members of her profession.
Below, due to the gracious permission of Dr. Scott Barnes Wilcox, is the schedule of views on display at the Panorama in The Strand during the years of the Regency:
c. March 27, 1809 — October 27, 1810
View of the Islands of Scilly
May, 1810 — early 1812
View of the City and the Bay of Cadiz
Late 1810 — early 1812
View of the City of Lisbon
Mid-1812 — January 30, 1813
View of Florence
Mid-1812 — mid-1814
View of the City of Moscow in Flames
c. February 23, 1813 — February 12, 1814
View of Berlin
March 1814 — September 1814
Battle of Corunna
Mid-1814 — late 1815
View of Paris from Montmarte
September 1814 — May 6, 1815
View of the Interior of the City of Paris Taken from the Tuileries
May 15, 1815 — late 1815
View of Ostend
Late 1815 — mid-1817
View of the Victory in Front of Waterloo
January 30, 1816 — late 1816
View of Paris from the Tuileries
December, 1816 — mid-1817
View of Dover
Mid-1817 — mid-1819
View of Rome Taken from the Tower of the Capitol
August, 1817 — early 1818
View of Athens and the Surrounding Country
c. March 18, 1818 — April, 1819
Venice from the Piazza di S. Marco
c. May 17, 1819 — November, 1820
View of Naples and Surrounding Scenery
December, 1820 — November 30, 1821
Island and City of Corfu with Part of the Coast of Greece
December, 1821 — November, 1823
The Regency schedule for the Panorama in The Strand was compiled by Scott Barnes Wilcox from the advertisements for the panoramas which were placed in The Times and The Morning Chronicle newspapers during those years. He compiled this list for his dissertation, The Panorama and Related Exhibitions in London, University of Edinburgh, 1976. The Regency portion of the Panorama in The Strand schedule is quoted here by kind permission of Dr. Wilcox, who is currently Chief Curator of Art Collections and Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art.
During the Regency there were two purpose-built panoramas in London, and for more than half of the decade, each was operated by a different Barker brother. For most of that time, both had two separate viewing platforms for the display of panorama paintings. There are no extant plans of the panorama rotunda built at The Strand. However, since it was designed by Thomas Edward Barker and he supervised the construction himself, it was probably similar to the panorama rotunda built by his father. The panorama in Leicester Square was the preferred venue for the enjoyment of this art form by many. But the panoramas on display in The Strand were of enough quality and interest that there were quite a lot of people who went to see those as well, thus making both panoramas profitable for their respective owners. Whether due to financial difficulties or the burden of his business as he was aging, Thomas sold his panorama to Henry in 1816. They were operated jointly from that time, with the Panorama in The Strand henceforth known as Burford’s Panorama. The Lesser Circle at Burford’s Panorama was open for most of the Regency, but appears to have been permanently closed a couple of years after the sale, as there were no further exhibits there after the View of Dover closed in the summer of 1819.
Authors of Regency novels can set scenes in their novels in either panorama rotunda at any time during the decade. However, they must be careful to refer to Thomas Barker’s panorama as the Panorama in The Strand only until early 1817, after which it became known as Burford’s Panorama, though it was still located in The Strand. But if a story is set near the end of the Regency, any time after the middle of 1819, how might an author take advantage of the vacant Lesser Circle at Burford’s Panorama? The rotunda building was still in use for the display of panorama paintings in the Large Circle. There would have been people in that part of the building during the day, though probably seldom would anyone go into the upper viewing circle. What clandestine activities might take place there, a large room with few windows, only a couple of blocks from the Thames? Or, might the hero and heroine, or another pair of characters in the story, argue over which panorama to attend? Perhaps because the day of their outing is overcast, and one of them has seen the claims made by Thomas Barker in his advertisements regarding his "improved" lighting system. Might one of the characters in the novel be an employee of Thomas Edward Barker who is set to spy on Thomas’s brother, Henry, at the Leicester Square Panorama? A little industrial espionage during the Regency?