The Music Halls

  • 16 Jan 2012
  • Theatre
  • Back
The Music Halls developed in the 1850s from the Tavern Concert Rooms. At some of the better class inns professional singers were engaged and 'entertainers' from the travelling theatre companies assisted on special occasions; these evenings proving so popular that regular weekly entertainment nights became the standard practice.

Lesser inns too, often had a resident entertainer, whose job it was to keep the customers happy and the ale flowing, and by the 1850s the bar-room concert and the catch and glee nights in the back-room 'caves of harmony' were popular features, patronised by the lower classes in the taverns of the industrial towns. At the Wellington Vaults, in Stourport, the innkeeper, William Tilley, had been on the stage himself, with connections with Kean, Farren, and other stage personalities, and loved to do pieces for the customers.

The tavern concerts were first held for 'Men Only', but soon in some taverns, certain ladies were allowed to enjoy the proceedings from behind screens;. Then, demanding the privilages of sharing the pleasures of their 'lords and master's, special 'ladies nights' became a feature at the better-class inns, and at some, every evening was a 'Ladies Night'.

By the 1860s, the time was ripe for the more organised entertainment, and the Theatre Act of 1843 removed the monopoly of drama from the patent theatre. It gave the saloons the opportunity to develope in two ways; either to become legitimate theatres, but without being able to sell alcoholic refreshments in the auditorium; or of becoming a Tavern Concert Room with a drinking licence, but without the right to produce plays. It was the latter that were the parents of the Music Halls. In Worcester, the Railway Bell at St. Martin's Gate, and the Navigation Inn at the gates of the Port of Lowesmoor, developed in this way.

The music halls were seen as a means of luring the artisan class away from the less respectable haunts of the 'Caves of Harmony'  and 'Song and Supper Rooms' which opened very late in the evening and were for men only, and the entertainment consisted of songs of 'an errotic and baccanalian order' . The puritanical middle-class generally shunned the music hall, unless they wished to be considered 'fast' or 'bohemian', for they still retained an evil reputaion.

The Music Halls, unlike the theatres, were halls with tables, where customers could eat and drink while being entertained. There was a stage or platform, and usually, a balcony round the three sides. At the side sat the chairman, who conducted the affairs. In the late 1870s, the local authorities began to demand fire risk security, and the removal of tables and the sale of liquor from the body of the hall. Out went the chairman, and in came professional performers who gave shows twice nightly. It became the fashion to design halls of more elaborate design with plaster wreaths and cherubs, and tip-up seats.

Here the theatres came back into their own, though often with a new name, such as the Palace of Varieties. Soon, even the respectable middle-class families, who would never dream of going to a music-hall, would be seeing the Music Hall stars, for they were imported into the new-style Christmas pantomimes, to be the 'Dame' and the dashing 'Principal Boy', and other 'Knock-about' parts.