Lamenting the disappearance of the pub music hall, Scott traces their influence back to the very origins of British theatre
Originally published in AR March 1949, this piece was republished online in February 2016
Of all the places of resort that formerly catered for the Londoner’s pleasures, the pub music hall is perhaps the one whose disappearance is most to be regretted; it was certainly the most purely indigenous. Not only did it offer wine and song at once, but its architectural decor had a rich ebullience that was as much an expression of a genuine popular culture as the performance that its patrons came to see.
It is no longer permitted by law to eat and to drink while watching a music hall performance, and the pub music hall is therefore disappearing from the London of today. Thus, the fact that we are becoming increasingly aware of London’s gloominess, and by implication of the need for something to take the place of the pub music hall, gives topical point to this article. The REVIEW prints it as a study of the past of London’s pleasures.
Tavern keepers have always had an eye to the amusement of their patrons, but effective entertainment, when not merely a question of convivial gatherings supplying their own, needs organization. In the emergence of the community from the restricted conditions of the middle ages, tavern life began to reflect the increasing demands of new classes. The large band of entertainers too humble or too numerous to find patronage in the great houses, provided an organizable professional body and the tavern keepers naturally turned to them for assistance. Moreover, the rape of the drama from its ecclesiastical sponsors, together with its literary rebirth, had made a foundation for a popular theatre, and this could also be housed by the tavern.
In short taverns had, in part, become theatres long before Burbage had built his house in Shoreditch in the year 1676; while in its popular adaptation, theatrical art had acquired important elements of a kind which would now be described as music hall entertainment. Not that an excuse for linking the Elizabethan and Jacobean inn with the matter of the present article needs much demonstration; for the many ‘activities’ practised by a large nomadic population of entertainers is very well known to have found as natural a home in the tavern precincts as it did in the open fair-grounds or commons.
CANTERBURRY theatre pub
Covent Garden Cider Cellars
I shall hope, on a future occasion, to suggest in more detail the circumstances and the physical features of the seventeenth century tavern entertainment and its general continuity with the nineteenth century revival; the subject is here introduced mainly to emphasize the existence of a mixture of dramatic with miscellaneous elements brought together at this distant time. For the entanglement has survived; and is of all factors the most important to bear in mind in reviewing the influences which are behind the modern music hall.
While it can be assumed that little popular drama existed in England before the sixteenth century, that little undoubtedly was greater than the slender evidence in our possession. Among this can be named the book of ‘Drolls’ published by Francis Kirkman in 1672. I should like to discuss later the song-sketches (identified by Baskervill as ‘jigs’) which form part of the volume. They are of much earlier date than the playlets and their presence gives an indication of the traditional flavour of Kirkman’s undertaking. But what of the latter - the playlets? They are contemporary or near-contemporary pieces boiled down to the length of a short dramatic interlude and recommended by Kirkman for performance on the platforms of mountebanks at fairs and markets.
Here we get the hint of an ancient practice: Kirkman is using the advantage of his times in adapting an already fully grown dramatic literature and in resorting to the medium of publication, which would have been out of the question with earlier and more primitive examples of the craft. ‘Out of nothing, nothing comes.’ A lost lineage of popular play-acting is suggested by this late publication of ‘drolls,’ stimulated to existence, maybe, by the desire to imitate in humble terms the manners of courtly life-for much of the material of early puppet and peep shows bears similar influences. There is also the uninterrupted line of folk-tradition to give colour to this inference. The ancient Latin habit of improvisation suffered in our northern climate, but there remains the fact that popular art always plays the sycophant. If there is the way courtly play-acting there is bound to be popular play-acting as well. Every theatre is a ‘Theatre Royal’-the smallest fair-booth is under the patronage of ‘the Nobility and Gentry.’
In this way we are able to surmise the tavern as the birthplace of the organized popular theatre.
In any case, it is certain that before 1580, several tavern theatres were in regular use (though occasionally suffering prohibition when they were within the City boundary). Such were the Bel Savage on Ludgate Hill, the Saracen’s Head in Islington and the Red Bull in Clerkenwell. The celebrated Richard Tarleton (besides being a comedian attached to the baronial companies, a famous entertainer in his own right) was associated with these places, which housed in addition, puppet shows and trained animals.
The taverns were thus both theatre and music hall and by becoming such, inaugurated an unbroken tradition, to which the pubs and pleasure haunts of the early nineteenth century and the subsequent music hall essentially belonged; the popular tradition, which cared little about lines of demarcation between the ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ stage, allowing full scope for interchangeability, a process actually fostered by the legislation which twice in history (though from differing motives) attempted the segregation of the drama. Once these traditional characteristics of the inn as an entertainment centre are established, the somewhat bewildering complexities of the developing Pub Music Hall begin to straighten themselves out.
‘The taverns were thus both theatre and music hall and by becoming such, inaugurated an unbroken tradition.’
To take the story very briefly into the eighteenth century, the principal factor to be noted is the outburst of theatre building in answer to the demands of a rapidly growing population. But the tendency to establish thus a definite line of development in popular drama was hindered and blurred by the Act of 1737 which reaffirmed the monopoly of the Patent Theatres and tightened governmental censorship. The result was an extraordinarily confused theatrical position; the minor theatres, as the houses holding no licence for presenting plays, hiding their dramatic pretensions under various disguises - the principal ruse being to embed the plays among a number of miscellaneous features. The necessity for this policy paved the way for a return of the tavern to quasitheatrical methods, whose tendency in the rising standard of living had been to house the ‘clubs’ and convivial coteries by which the newly inflated middle classes made their bid to emulate the fashionable coffee and chocolate houses.
Landsowne Tavern Islington Green Collins
This movement (and in its growth we reach the nineteenth century) came from some of those larger (or more fortunately situated) taverns which had succeeded in reaping profit by the exploitation of any garden ground they had, or could acquire, for al Tesco entertainment, in imitation of the large pleasure gardens which grew up from the end of the preceding century.
Some of these taverns had, at that time, converted themselves into ‘Music Houses’ in which the principal feature of entertainment was a ‘variety medley’ drawn from all available sources-notably from the fairs, and from the frenzied crop of very minor establishments which none the less boasted on their wood and canvas frontages the beloved phrase ‘Theatre Royal.’ But the growth of population decreed by the industrial revolution was responsible for a sharp rise in land values and a consequent contraction of the pleasure gardens of Islington, and other neighbourhoods in which these places had proliferated.
The surviving nucleus constituted itself as the ‘Saloon Theatre’; a title which came to describe those houses which, under legal compulsion, presented that very medley of entertainment which centuries before could have been seen at the Cross Keys or the Bel Savage.
Guide map to the pleasure gardens
Among the most noticeable of such places, already popular for a considerable period, was Sadler’s Wells. With its small plot of undeveloped ground and its fragile claim to the possession of a healing spring, it is said to have gained notoriety early in its career as a centre of disaffection to the Government and to have been a principal cause of an enactment in the reign of George II by which such places of entertainment were regulated and disciplined. At the end of the eighteenth century Sadler’s Wells joined the dramatic movement, bringing its stage and auditorium into line with current requirements; but it was compelled to maintain fully those elements of ‘variety’ which not only the rulings of the Act of 1787 but also the taste of its audiences dictated. Indeed, in 1804 it added a curious feature to its stage equipment, a tank of water; enabling the management to offer ‘aquatic spectacles’ - a move made in competition with Dibdin’s ‘Royal Circus’ on the south side of the Thames.
The development of such places was sometimes the work of speculative builders. John Rosoman who acquired the Islington house in 1746 was such a one, as also was Thomas Rouse who in the reign of William IV made a little cockney Vauxhall of the Eagle Tavern in the City Road. Rouse took over this inn (it was contiguous to another tavern, ‘The Adam and Eve’ in Shepherdess Walk, which had a garden and later developed its own Saloon Theatre) in 1831. There was already harmony in the Long Room above the bars; and he placed these musical evenings upon a professional footing.
Leviathan Platform Highbury Barn
He also began developing a small parcel of land adjoining the house (perhaps a bold move at this late date) as a pleasure garden. It was this move that gave the place its abiding character, for Rouse was a fanciful man and the buildings with which he surrounded his walks and grass plots had all the fantasy of the Vauxhall-Ranelagh manner. He is even said to have bought the arches and decorations erected at the entrance of Westminster.
Abbey for George IV’s coronation and recreated them on his premises. He, at any rate, gave his first premises, with separately built concert room, the title of ‘The Royal Eagle Coronation Pleasure Grounds and Grecian Saloon,’ as an early bill testifies.
The same bill, and a slightly later one announcing extensions and improvements, exhibits an attractive engraving (redrawn more elaborately in the second case) of the first Grecian Saloon, which stood at the south end of the lawn. This building had a semibaroque character, bearing a touch of the theatrical manner of Vanbrugh, flanked by its odd turreted pavilions which contained arched doorways with square mullioned windows above.
Metropolitan Poster White Lion 1862 Edgware Road
His further embellishment of the ground began with a ‘Moorish Saloon’ on the north side, used later for a time as a burletta theatre. The first Grecian Saloon was called by Dickens in his sketch Miss Ivins at the Eagle a Rotunda, for the concert room appears to have been roughly semi-circular. Its stage (described by Boz as an ‘orchestra’) was a curtainless platform, and the audience was seated round it, in Dickens’s words, ‘on elevated benches.’
Other ornamental buildings were added at later dates before the rebuilding of the ‘Rotunda’ as a theatre; and the lawns contained a bandstand surrounded by a platform for dancing, in which a ‘miscellaneous alfresco concert’ was also given late in the evening. Even in its early stages, Rouse claimed that ‘to attempt a description of the numerous and varied sources of entertainment given at this splendid place, would be vain.’ We note that the doors (of the concert room?) were opened at 6.30, that the performance began at 7 o’clock and that the prices of admission were ‘Upper and family stalls, Is., children half price’ (I shall have more to say about upper stalls in a moment); ‘Lower stalls and Upper and Lower Saloon seats also Is., children 6d.’
‘It would perhaps be well if those who seek to plan the amusement centres of the future, should pause to consider, in retrospect, these excursions into the fantastic, which must surely be related to a genuinely popular instinct.’
There are advertised in addition the Royal Victoria Pavilion (either a building which preceded, or itself the Moorish Pavilion) Vaudevilles, Cosmoramas, Fountains, Grottos, Dripping Rocks, Arcades and Statuary- rendering it ‘a fairy scene, a due intimation of which can only be formed by inspection.’ Indeed a courageous challenge to the humble realities of the surrounding neighbourhood - and all within the space of a small tavern garden! It would perhaps be well if those who seek to plan the amusement centres of the future, should pause to consider, in retrospect, these excursions into the fantastic, which must surely be related to a genuinely popular instinct.
Metropolitan White Lion 1862 Edgware Road
A glimpse at the transient characteristics of this typical Saloon Theatre (typical for its association with alfresco features) must be sufficient as an indication of such places as a whole; which included a well-known house of lower middle-class resort, the Yorkshire Stingo in the Marylebone Road; creation of the musical publican George Hodson (founder of a line of actresses), who is also to be traced presiding at the piano at the Bower Saloon and elsewhere. The Yorkshire Stingo is to be recalled with affection for more than one reason, not the least being that its arbours so often sheltered the indefatigable Augustus Sala. There was also the Albert (thus renamed) in Shepherdess Walk, close to the Eagle; the Globe Gardens and the Eagle in the Mile End Road, Highbury Barn, the eighteenth century resort on whose site Giovanelli built the Alexandra Theatre later on, and White Conduit House near Copenhagen Fields, known to the cockney as ‘Vite Condick.’ Finally the Britannia.
We will pause for a moment at the opening in 1841 of ‘The Royal Britannia Saloon and Britannia Tavern,’ Roxton Old Town, by Samuel Lane and his wife Sarah, on the Easter Monday of that year. Lane came of sturdy sea-going Devonshire folk; he was as much at home on the water as on land and nothing could be more surprising than that he should have been the founder of the most popular place of amusement of its kind in London, which earned, in its day, a somewhat patronizing encomium from Charles Dickens in All the Year Round; and the producer of pantomimes of splendour which survived into living memory. But one gets accustomed to such histories in considering the origins of the music hall. In a touching little memoir, masquerading as a novel, by Alfred Crauford, we are told that Sam Lane secured the lease of the tavern ‘and the building intended for a Saloon’ on a borrowed capital of £500.
He gives a copy of the first programme which, boldly advertising ‘splendid decorations a la ’Watteau,’ reveals that there was performed on this occasion ‘an entirely new Melodrama of extraordinary interest, The Red Lance or the Merrie Men of Roxton’; a ‘Grand Concert and Vaudeville’ including Miss Pearce, and a Ballet, introducing the famous Pantomimic dancer Flexmore, called ‘The Tailor of Tadworth.’ There was a Chorus Master (Mr. Radford), a Ballet Master (Mr. Smithers), and a Leader of the Band (Mr. Jackman). Not a bad beginning for the converted annexe of a public-house whose most expensive seats (in what was described as the Upper Circle) were one shilling, for which payment, moreover, a refreshment ticket was given.
Queen Poplar Apollo
Most of the places mentioned had entertainment histories of eighteenth century or earlier origin, the ‘boom’ period of development being the thirties and early forties of the nineteenth century-and it is perhaps true to say that all of them stood on traditional ground. The Bower Saloon in Stangate, for example, the inspiration of Philips - a scenic artist and painter of dioramas who had been employed at the Surrey Theatre - was based on a tavern with a garden, which had for a long time held ‘free and easy’ harmonic evenings. It began its career as a Variety Saloon by the exhibition of dioramic pictures shown to a musical accompaniment under the direction of John Blewitt the song writer. Later, under Hodson, himself a composer, it presented the usual Saloon Theatre medley of songs, sketches, vaudevilles and ballad operettas.
What is to be particularly noted of the Saloon Theatre movement is that the Act of 1843, which by granting automatically dramatic licences and by defining the terms under which they could be held, aimed a blow at its existence as such; but did little or nothing towards eliminating the hybrid form of entertainment for which that movement stood. Such houses as the Britannia eagerly sought the licence for legitimate drama and the bills of this Saloon in the latter months of 1843 (as are those of the Albert) are primly embellished with the words ‘Licensed by the Lord Chamberlain under the Act Vic. 68, 6 and 7’ in place of the familiar ‘Geo. II,. 25.’ This is understandable as a move for safety on the part of a management such as Henry Brading’s at the Albert, which had already sandwiched compressed versions of at least six of Shakespeare’s plays among its variety items.
(It might certainly appear that the Albert had been to some extent affected by its new status, in that its dramatic offerings in 1844 were extended to plays by Otway, Sheridan-Pizarro-and Lillo; but these were all performed to the accompaniment of fireworks, a vocal concert, a musical ‘spectacle’ and a performing elephant.) But the bills of the Britannia after the Act showed no change of policy-the same mixture of extravaganza, song, ballet and melodrama prevails. The single important exception to this state of affairs was Phelps’s tremendously successful experiment at Sadler’s Wells. On the other hand, the movement towards a distinctive music hall in the generally understood sense of the term was hardening. The sing-songs which had not attempted stage features were growing in importance under the increasing pressure of lower-middle and working-class influence. These, as was seen by the type of artist arising, were making their breakaway from obstinate ‘cultural’ importations (even the comic song had for a time dwindled into primness). Then again, houses like the admirable ‘Grapes’ in the Southwark Bridge Road continued under its manager Ward and under the name Surrey Music Hall to give a rich variety of entertainment without abrogating their right to sell food and drink in the auditorium by becoming theatres.
Ranelagh Gardens Chelsea eighteenth 18 century
Here ‘The Grapes’ certainly takes pride of place. Under the proprietorship of Richard Preece (whose name I have seen scratched on a window pane of the surviving ‘Winchester,’ by his diamond ring) the re-titled Hall, which was first erected about 1840, presented bills in which a strong family element prevailed. William Warde and his sons and daughters (intermarried with the D’Aubans) were responsible for the dances and miniature ballets. Until beyond 1854 the auditorium, built as an adjunct to the parent tavern, consisted only of an ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ Hall, the former priced at Is., the latter at 6d., this including an allowance for refreshments. These seating arrangements were typical of the early music hall.
Externally the Hall was seen as lying lengthwise to the street, presenting a blind wall broken by three depressed arches, the stage end surmounted by a small tower. A separate (and heavily ornamented) doorway next to the regular tavern door gave approach to the ‘Saloon’ Bar, which adjoined, or itself formed a section of, the ‘Upper Hall’ or Saloon. The ‘Upper Hall’ was that railed-off section of the Saloon overlooking the body of the auditorium which, perhaps to ensure the raised Saloon being level with its entrance, may have been lowered a few feet. Later, when the name had been changed from Surrey to Winchester, owing to the formidable competition caused by the title ‘Surrey Music Hall’ being given to the monster building in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, the place was reconstructed to some extent; for one reads then of a single low-priced balcony.
But until the middle fifties it presented a typical simplicity of structure - an oblong room with a flat roof, broken only by two features, the stage - with a recessed tableau curtain revealing two proscenium doors facing one another and the raised Saloon platform at the other end. But this intimacy was challenged by an equally typical effort for splendour, the side walls being arcaded and the intervening panels decorated with paintings. Jutting from the pilasters were curving gas brackets shaded by globes. Below the curved row of footlights was the Chairman’s table and the floor in front of him was covered by little supper tables for the use of the audience.
Ranelagh Gardens Chelsea eighteenth 18 century
Here was the characteristic Pub Music Hall of the early period, debased and finally destroyed from more than one cause - by the competition of large capitalized undertakings, by a change in outlook, a new and less localized approach to entertainment and by the regulations and recommendations of governing bodies. It was, essentially, a cabaret, not dissimilar from those on the Continent (and cabaret was a word in use in England in the seventeenth century); though it offered more elaborate stage presentations, for with its theatrical tradition (and tradition, as we have seen, is not too emphatic a word) there was no lack of ballets and musical burlettas. And these were performed to the accompaniment of a band, in which the house took much pride, and which the authors of The Variety Stage tell us was in early days in ‘the capable hands of Mr. Zeluti.’ These authors also remind us that the Vokes family, who were pantomimists, made early appearances there, and that Willie and Emma Ward ‘were most successful in their song The Gingham Umbrella.’ Mention of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Carroll, negro banjoists and dancers, supplies a possible identity for those ‘Diggers from the South’ mentioned in a bill of 1855.
This type of Hall was repeated almost endlessly in many quarters of London; the neighbourhood of Ratcliff Highway proliferated smaller and humbler versions. In now lost copies of Paul Pry there were many woodcuts of these places, a number of which was reproduced in a forgotten magazine called The King, copies of which at the British Museum were, alas, destroyed in the blitz. The little stages all had their painted back-cloths, footlights and curtained recesses but sometimes, in the Highway (as could be expected among a sailor community), the floor was partly cleared for dancing, an exercise not indulged by the respectable Grapes-Surrey-Winchester.
Sadlers Wells John Rosoman Variety Saloon Minor Theatre 1746
One amusing matter which links the pleasant with the subject next to be mentioned, is the fact that, in undoubted rivalry with Morton’s Canterbury Hall, Richard Preece acquired a collection of paintings for exhibition in the Upper Hall. The present writer was aware that this collection had been made (‘secured from M. Phillips, a French artist whom he was instrumental in introducing to the British Public’) when he paid a call in Southwark, and sure enough in the ‘long room’ above the bars, conducted thither by the kind manageress, were several large allegorical canvases - relics, without doubt, of Preece’s improving exhibit. A pity, perhaps, that it should have been thought necessary to introduce this note into the friendly cosiness of the Surrey but the patrons were perhaps proud of the collection and of the proprietor’s riposte to the pretensions of their larger and more sophisticated rival.
For with Charles Morton’s New Canterbury at the corner of the Lower Marsh in the Westminster Bridge Road, we enter a very different atmosphere. The evolution of the Canterbury Music Hall, like that of the West-end Sing Song Evans’s (late Joy’s), was a highly artificial one, aiming at the glorification of the primitive ‘free-and-easies’ whose ‘friendly leads’ were of a preponderantly male character and whose programmes were without theatrical ambition and only semi-professional in character. It was such a Sing Song that Morton found himself in charge of when he acquired the Canterbury public-house in the forties. It was his ambition and his achievement to transmute tills gathering and to enrich it; to give it the superficial characteristics of an institution devoted to raising the level of entertainment for the masses; and to create a rival to the high-class Evans’s Song and Supper Rooms, south of the Thames. His success in this attempt (carried out with the greatest astuteness and, it must be added, with the greatest hypocrisy) earned for him the title of ‘Father of the Halls’ and started him on a career crowned at his eightieth year by Jubilee celebrations at which an ode, written in his honour by Clement Scott, was recited by Mrs. Beerbohm Tree.
The Canterburry tavern gallery thatre
Early in the forties he had been employed at a public-house in the neighbourhood of ‘The Grapes’ and it was no doubt there that ambition seized him. By 1848 he was in possession of ‘The Canterbury Arms’ and its sing-song, where but a few years before a brook had meandered, and was making a local reputation by the expert personal attention he gave to the cooking and serving of the chops and steaks, a practice which he did not relinquish for a considerable time.
Next year (1849) he erected, with the financial assistance of his brother-in-law Mr. Stanley, the first Canterbury Hall on ground adjoining the building and we are told by Emily Soldene (who did much to establish Morton’s reputation as a presenter of Opera Bouffe) that the foundation-stone of this one storied edifice was laid by his daughter Lily, assisted by Marie Grey, the daughter of his landlord.
A year later the accommodation of seven hundred people was found to have become inadequate and the second Canterbury Hall, which sealed his fame, and whose appearance is known to many from a print frequently reproduced, arose in its bountiful proportions, complete with that ‘National Gallery across the water’ which was found equally inspiring by the editor of Punch, a learned judge, George Augustus Sala and E. L. Blanchard, but which has been treated realistically by such commentators as H. G. Hibbert; and which, it appears, was a stock supply from Gambart’s of Berners Street on sale or return. Among them, it is perhaps of interest to note, was Haydon’s enormous ‘Curtius leaping into the Gulf’ which had been exhibited by the painter at the Egyptian Hall five years before, at the time when Barnum was presenting his sensational attraction there, the dwarf ‘General Tom Thumb.’
Sadlers Wells John Rosoman Variety Saloon Minor Theatre 1746
The place was undoubtedly palatial and must at first have seemed a somewhat bleak and embarrassing environment to its humbler patrons. The hall was a wide oblong; magnificent gas chandeliers hung from the panelled ceiling and from its single balcony, which projected from three of its walls. The stage, rather similar to Evans’s, was backed by pseudo-classical decorations and had no tableau curtain. If the place under Morton discovered no new comic talent and brought no development to the Music Hall art, there were, in compensation, the concert performances of scenes from operas, such as ‘Faust,’ which Morton very ably discovered could be done (owing to some loophole in the copyright) without the payment of royalties.
‘On the ethical side Morton invited particular praise for the welcome offered to women of a respectable class, placing a strong emphasis on their absence from rival establishments.’
We have mentioned that the stage, or platform, was designed in the manner of that at Evans’s and this is significant; as also is Stuart and Park’s comment that the Canterbury opened with an entertainment ‘similar to that which prevailed’ there. For this is the gist of the matter. By what was, in fact, a retrogressive movement, Morton produced a ‘sing-song de luxe,’ a transformed Harmonic Evening for which he was able to make inspiring ethical and artistic claims, in distinction to the rougher and less sophisticated fare given in places of a related type; he thus ignored the legitimate evolution of the Music Hall as expressed by such houses as the Surrey, the Doctor Johnson, Moy’s, The Swallow Street Hall and, it can be added, such very old-established houses as the Coal Hole and the Cider Cellars.
The Dukes Arms at demolition v in 1840s
Britannia Theatre Hoxton Samuel Lane
On the ethical side he invited particular praise for the welcome offered to women of a respectable class, placing a strong emphasis on their absence from rival establishments. In this matter he can hardly be acquitted of willfully confusing the issue. Women of the most unquestionable respectability had never been absent from three of the above-mentioned houses and as to others, one has only to glance at ‘Boz’ in his sketch Miss Ivins at the Eagle to discover the hollowness of Morton’s implications. The Surrey, moreover, to which one feels the manager’s innuendo was particularly leveled, in a paragraph of an early bill informs us that ‘Mr. Cecil Hicks will preside and attend upon the ladies.’ The claim, however, was made in impassioned terms and a pamphlet issued by Morton contains (among much self-congratulation in which the Canterbury is seen as an experiment in social reform) the following paragraph:
‘When husbands who now frequent the Canterbury Hall used to tell their wives that they were going to hear a song … had the poor wives the slightest notion as to where their truant spouses were going or had been? … Need husbands be mysterious or wives suspicious any longer? … It is a disgrace to English civilization that toiling wives and sisters should be circumscribed in their enjoyments.’
More evidence of this disingenuous policy could be brought forward. It will be sufficient to say here that Morton, in his work of giving the Music Hall movement financial expansion and greatly increased publicity, exploited to the full the Victorian craze for ‘improving’ entertainment, which was a part of the general desire for reform in manners and educational standards; and that his policy was followed without relinquishing such inducements to profit (already abandoned at some of the other Halls) as ‘wet money,’ i.e., refreshment tickets; and the exhibition of betting lists-whatever that may exactly mean.
the south london poster 1860
In one respect, that of admission prices, Morton’s management remained genuinely democratic; not so moderate as, for example, the Britannia, where in 1846 the Boxes cost 8d. (though no person was admitted to them unless ‘suitably dressed’) but still very cheap. And on second thoughts, Morton is perhaps not to be criticized for the architectural splendour with which he surrounded his patrons (a splendour which has never been absent from Music Hall ‘back-cloths’) for therein he was giving rein to a fantasy of all humble audiences, that fantasy of dwelling in marble halls so well expressed in George Belcher’s ecstatic and dreaming bugler.
Seeing Morton’s success the Music Halls smelt money. Weston, of the ‘Seven Tankards and Punchbowl’ in Holborn, was not slow to take the hint and by 1860 was in possession of a large Hall-‘Weston’s’- later ‘The Royal’; an achievement which drew Morton to the West End, where in 1861 he opened ‘The Oxford,’ a conversion of the Boar and Castle Inn, which stood on a site adjacent to Lyons’ Oxford Corner House. Here, as at Weston’s, the Pavilion and elsewhere, the old-new manner quickly faded. The number of floor supper tables was soon halved; rear stalls took their place; long bars with smart and alluring bar-maids stretched down the sides of the auditorium; and the promenade (already an innocent feature at the Canterbury) became the haunt of a type of woman not envisaged in Morton’s pamphlet of ten years before.
In short, the Music Hall entered its ‘swell’ period, a period which was heralded by that famous quartette of comedians known as the ‘lions comiques’ - the compelling George Leybourne, the versatile Alfred Vance, the uncompromising G. H. Macdermott and the prolific Arthur Lloyd. The humble pint of porter was now supplanted by a magnum· of champagne gas and even perhaps gaiters prevailed in the glittering scene. As for champagne, the Music Hall became immersed in this beverage, which came to be regarded as almost symbolical. The songs echoed its praise, while waiters dashed about carrying bottles of it in their napkins or reverently lowering it into coolers: the entertainment world of the sixties was punctuated by the popping of corks, and as time marched on, England’s unexampled prosperity and power were reflected in ‘The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ and in Macdermott’s ‘Jingo’ song ‘Waiting for the Signal.’
Yorkshire Stingo New Road Marylebone 1830
There we will, for the present, leave the Public House Music Hall. It had conquered. The regular theatre before very long showed a tendency to wilt, as in early clays, under the formidable competition of this irregular and often completely illiterate form of entertainment; the vagabonds had securely come into their own and embedded within the walls of their lavish new quarters was still the parent tavern which had given them their first chance. Indeed the ancient characteristics of the tavern origin had not yet faded from the scene, for as late as 1875 Chambers’s Encyclopredia could describe music halls as ‘cheap places of entertainment where refreshments are supplied.’
But this aspect of survival was to come to an end. The same authority which completed the separation of the legitimate theatre from its age-old companion, gradually eased away (except from entertainment out of the rich of all but the rich) the privileges of serving food and drink in the auditorium. As a boy I observed myself the last flickerings of conviviality at the Empire, where glass of holders were still fixed to the backs of the seats in the stalls and dress circle.