An insight into the types of people who bet on sport is provided in a 19th-century court case in which a Mr Thomas A’Court (aka ‘Tom A’Court’) was accused of ‘a frequent repetition of betting to the amount of £1000’. He was caught out when Lord Advocate Lord Stanley told the High Court that ‘His Lordship was instructed that a bond of £500 had been taken by A’Court for betting against King’s Theatre football’ (the football game in question, on 4 September 1874, was the Oldham v Stockport County game that ended in a 0–0 draw).
A committee of inquiry was set up in which ‘the principal directors of the Company were examined and statements taken by the Court of Vice-presidents.
If the directors could not swear to the truth of these statements it was stated that “they knew too much” and therefore there was no justification for keeping them’.
The directors of the theatre were given notice of the board’s intention to dismiss them and in addition £300 compensation.
A subsequent show on 5 November, at which both music and the play were bad, prompted the play’s director, James D’Alton, to write ‘In furtherance of the sentiments of the “Opinion” now published, the directors have discharged me of my charge and have expressed a desire that I remain where I am until they are compelled to reinstate me.
On that day the performance of Simeon in W. S. Gilbert’s Prince Hal was finished in disgrace, and the Royalty Theatre is at present a ruinous wreck.’
In 1881 A’Court’s licence was cancelled, and in March 1883 he was found guilty of bankruptcy, for which he was fined £500.
The players complained that their pay was withheld for months after the show’s opening, and when their union took them to court to claim back the wages they were awarded just £100.
This resulted in the resignation of Gilbert as musical director.
Gilbert was then paid by a company that was not yet registered, in addition to his other employment as a dramatist.
Eventually the story of the demise of the Royalty was told by Gilbert himself in a memoir called ‘What Has Begun in Oldham’.
The Oldham Royalty theatre was the second of the three Victorian theatres at the centre of a financial scandal.
The first was the Theatre Royal, Manchester, which had been established in 1866.
In December 1875, shortly after the Oldham theatre opened, the Manchester City Council auditors discovered that £20,000 had been ‘illegally deducted from the (city council) building fund, (was) spent on other private interests, and was due to be paid back.
So far as the Council can make out, there is no trace of the money at present’.
The funds were then frozen by the Court of Chancery.
One director of the Manchester Theatre Royal, George Betts, was also the brother of the new theatre’s managing director, Edward Betts.
He was ordered to refund the money.
He too was found guilty of bankruptcy in June 1876, fined £1,000, and sent to prison for two years.
Edward Betts died in 1881, the same year as Thomas A’Court.