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W.G.R. Sprague 1863-1933

Born in Australia, Sprague was the son of Dolores Drummond, an actress who became acclaimed in London after her return to the country in 1874. At 16, Sprague was articled to Frank Matcham for four years, then to Walter Emden for three years, after which he set up on his own. He went on to design a large number of theatres and music halls, almost all of them in London. At the height of his career he showed a productivity worthy of his mentor Frank Matcham, producing six theatres in Westminster alone in the space of less than four years. Unlike Matcham and Emden, Sprague studied architectural forms and conventions and used his knowledge in his designs, saying of himself that he ‘liked the Italian Renaissance’ as a style for his frontages, but would take liberties when needed ‘to get the best effects’.

By 1902, the theatre newspaper The Era was describing him as Britain’s youngest ‘theatrical designer, [with] more London houses to his credit than any other man in the same profession.’

None of Sprague’s music halls have survived, but several of his London theatres still stand. His work is known for its elegance, and for what he himself called ‘the free classic form’, which aimed to make use of classical architectural traditions ‘but tone down the severity.’

London theatres include:

1899 Wyndhams
1903 Albery
1905 Aldwych
1905 Strand
1906 Gielgud
1907 Queen’s
1913 Ambassadors
1916 St Martin’s

Sprague’s elevation drawing for the New Theatre,    Strand (later to be the Strand theatre), 1903
Sprague’s elevation drawing for the New Theatre, Strand (later to be the Strand theatre), 1903
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