Durham town’s population in the middle of the eighteenth-century is estimated to have been between 4,000 and 5,000. Much local life centred around the bishops, deans and prebendaries associated with the town’s cathedral. William Hutchinson‘s second volume of the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham published in 1785 contains 320 pages dedicated to the city and its immediate surroundings. Robert Henry Allan (grandson of the antiquary George Allan) published his Historical and Descriptive View of the City of Durham and its Environs in 1824 upon which later town guides have relied. However, the records of eighteenth-century social life in Durham are relatively limited and there was no local newspaper.

The earliest record of Thomas Bates’ Durham Theatre Company performing in the town appears in an advertisement in the Newcastle Journal in the form of a playbill for a performance of Nathaniel Lee’s Theodosius: or the Force of Love at the Durham theatre in Drury Lane on 18 July 1763. To ensure as large an audience as possible, the company visited Durham in July during race week and the playbill states that performances began each night “as soon as the race is over.”

Image by Unknown, Durham, date unknown