Lilian Baylis and Sadlers Wells:
By 1925 the Old Vic was struggling to house both the opera and drama companies, and Lilian Baylis began a campaign to take on, and renovate, the Sadler’s Wells theatre in Islington. The Sadler’s Wells had a history dating back to the Knights of St John, who had had a monastery at Clerkenwell. During the Reformation the wells were bricked up, but they were rediscovered by Mr Sadler in 1683 who built a music house there with entertainment and spa waters on offer. During the nineteenth century, rather like the Old Vic, the Wells had prestigious successes - such as appearances by Grimaldi and Edmund Kean, or actor manager Samuel Phelps's Shakespeare seasons – but lower status music hall predominated.
The Sadler’s Wells reopened in 1931 – on 6 January, with a production, appropriately enough, of Twelfth Night, starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Despite launching her new theatre just as the Western world plunged in economic recession, Lilian Baylis also chose this moment to start another brave new venture which was to have a huge impact on the history of Sadler’s Wells. In 1926 she had employed Ninette de Valois to choreograph and teach for her theatre and opera companies. With the opening of the Wells, Ninette de Valois had space for her school of dance to expand and the school became the basis of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, a company which was soon featuring stars such as Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, and Alicia Markova. This company eventually became the Royal Ballet.