Tag Archives: Drury Lane

Interesting times (2)

December 2016 version of Sgt Pepper cover, by Chris Barker There’s an ancient Chinese curse or proverb: “May you live in interesting times…”

Well, there isn’t actually (it dates all the way back to the politician Austen Chamberlain in 1936) but I think we can all agree that 2016 has been… interesting!
Most of us would probably wish that 2017 is a little less so.

While Westminster Libraries can’t promise world peace or political stability, we can promise you some interesting anniversaries and the resources for interested people to carry out further research.

January

The year kicks off in January with the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, which was first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It continues to this day with guests (rather tweely known as ‘castaways’) being asked to discuss the eight pieces of music they would take to a desert island. Later on, guests were allowed to choose a book and a luxury too. The first castaway was the ‘comedian, lightning club manipulator, violinist and comedy trick cyclist’, Vic Oliver. Oliver was not only a major star on the radio but also the son-in-law of Winston Churchill (something Churchill wasn’t too thrilled about, though Oliver never traded on the relationship). Though this episode doesn’t survive in the BBC archives, many hundreds of others do and  are available to listen online or download as podcasts. The earliest surviving episode has the actress Margaret Lockwood as a guest and other castaways include seven prime ministers, dozens of Oscar winners, a bunch of Olympic medallists, a few Royals and several criminals.

February

19 February brings the 300th anniversary of the birth of the actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick. Though he was a native of Lichfield (and former pupil of another Lichfield resident-turned-London-devotee, Samuel Johnson) by the age of 23, Garrick was acclaimed as the greatest actor on the English stage. He was a noted playwright but most famous for his Shakespearean roles – though he was not averse to ‘improving’ on the text – his adaptations included a Hamlet without the funeral of Ophelia and the need for the gravediggers, a ‘King Lear’ without the Fool and a Cordelia who lives on, an interpolated dying speech for Macbeth and a scene between the two lovers in the tomb before they die in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Be honest – who wouldn’t want to see those? He ran the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for nearly 30 years and he is now commemorated by a theatre and a pub (with Charing Cross Library neatly sandwiched in between).

March

1717 wasn’t just a significant year in the history of ‘legitimate’ theatre. 2 March that year saw the first performance (at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)  of The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver, generally regarded as the  first ballet performed in Britain. While there had been English masques and French ballets before this, Weaver was the first person to tell a story through the medium of dance without the need for songs or dialogue. Weaver was the son of the dancing master at Shrewsbury School (public school curricula must have been rather different in the 1600s).

Mrs Hester BoothIn 1703 he had staged (at Drury Lane) a performance called The Tavern Bilkers, usually regarded as the first English pantomime (he described it as “the first entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing Action and Motion only”) but it was The Loves of Mars and Venus (the choreography of which survives) which established Weaver as the major figure in English dance until the twentieth century. Venus was played by Hester Santlow (shown dressed as a harlequin), one of the leading ballerinas of the day, who created many roles for Weaver.

April

Readers of a certain age will remember adverts for Memorex tapes (other brands are available) in which a singer shattered a glass with a high note and the trick was repeated when the tape was played back. Depending on exactly how certain your age is, you may have identified the singer as the great Ella Fitzgerald whose centenary is commemorated on 25 April 2017.

Growing up in a poor district of New York and orphaned in her early teens, Ella spent time in a reformatory but soon escaped and began to enter show business via talent competitions and amateur nights, becoming an established band singer. At the age of 21 she recorded a version of the children’s nursery rhyme A Tisket A Tasket which went on to sell over a million copies. She went on to become one of the greatest of all jazz singers, developing her own idiosyncratic style of ‘scat singing’. All through her career she fought prejudice, refusing to accept any discrimination in hotels and concert venues even when such treatment was  standard in the Southern USA.

You can listen to some of her greatest recordings via the Naxos Music Library and learn more about her career in Oxford Music Online (log in to each with your Westminster library card number).

May

May Day has long been a festival associated with dancing and celebration and more recently with political demonstrations. But 1 May 1517 has become known as Evil May Day. Tensions between native Londoners and foreigners lead one John Lincoln to persuade Dr Bell, the vicar of St Mary’s, Spitalfields to preach against incomers and to call upon “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal.”. Even though the Under-Sherriff of London (none other than Sir Thomas More)  patrolled the streets, a riot broke out when they tried to arrest an apprentice for breaking the curfew. Soon afterwards, a crowd of young men began to attack foreigners and burn their houses. The rioting continued throughout May Day – fortunately, while some houses were burned down there were no fatalities. More than a thousand soldiers were needed to put down the riot. Lincoln and the other leaders were executed, but most were spared at the instigation of Cardinal Wolsey, who according to Edward Hall

‘fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out “Mercy, Mercy!” Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and “jumped for joy”.’

Sadly this was not the last outburst of anti-foreign feeling in London’s history but such incidents are thankfully rare.

June

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK RowlingA happier event took place on 30 June 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.  It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t all wish we’d received our letter to Hogwarts instead of going to a boring Muggle school.

But we all know about Harry so let’s move on.

July

To 12 July and first documented ride, in 1817, of the ‘dandy horse’ or ‘running machine’ or, to you and me, a bicycle without chains or pedals. This was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheel principle and the creator was Baron Karl Drais , perhaps the most successful inventor you’ve never heard of, and he managed an impressive 10 miles in an hour. While it looks pretty clunky by today’s standards, Drais was inspired by the Year without a Summer of 1816 when crops failed and there weren’t enough oats to feed horses.

Dandy horse

Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances may remember thar Jessamy in Frederica was very proud of his skill with the ‘pedestrian curricle’. The Observer newspaper was enthralled by the invention of  ‘the velocipede or swift walker’ claiming in 1819 that, on a descent, ‘it equalled a horse at full-speed’ and suggesting that

‘on the  pavements of the Metropolis it might be impelled with great velocity, but this is forbidden. One conviction, under Mr Taylor’s Paving Act, took place on Tuesday. The individual was fined 2/-.’

When he wasn’t inventing bicycles Karl Drais was making an early typewriter, a haybox cooker and a meat grinder.

And on 27 July 1967, we note the 50th anniversary of the decriminalistion of homosexuality.  This will be celebrated with many events throughout the year such as this one at Benjamin Britten’s home and others at various National Trust properties.

August

Most of us can probably remember what we were doing on 31 August 1997 when we heard of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and she will be on many people’s minds as the 20th anniversary of this event approaches.

A slightly more auspicious event took place on 17 August 1917, when the two war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, an event written about by Pat Barker in her novel Regeneration, as well as Stephen Macdonald’s play Not about Heroes. Owen wrote two of his most beloved poems – Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth while he was in hospital (he also edited The Hydra, the patients’ magazine) and was tragically killed the following year at the very end of the war. Sassoon survived the war and wrote about his hospital experiences in the autobiographical novel Sherston’s Progress. You can read more about the lives of Owen, Sassoon and the other war poets in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card).

Wilfred Owen 

September

Another literary anniversary is upon us on 21 September, when we note the publication of one of the bestselling fantasy books of all time – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, about a small, shy creature who becomes involved in a quest for a dragon’s hoard. It was offered first to the publisher Stanley Unwin who asked his 10 year old son Raynor to review it for him,

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home – rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienThe book was an instant success thanks to glowing newspaper reviews (The Manchester Guardian wrote ‘The quest of the dragon’s treasure  – rightfully the dwarves treasure – makes an exciting epic of travel, magical adventures, and – working up to a devastating climax, war. Not a story for pacifist children. Or is it?’) and has never been out of print. While embarking on the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, is a pretty daunting task, The Hobbit is still funny and exciting and highly recommended to that clichéd group – children of all ages.

October

The audience at Warner’s Theatre in New York on 6 October 1927 knew they were going to see an exciting new movie, but none of them could have predicted that motion pictures would never be the same again. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronised singing – no dialogue had been planned but the star, Al Jolson, couldn’t resist adlibbing on set and his ‘Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet’ (in fact, his stage catchphrase) has electrified audiences ever since.

The film was a huge hit making over $2,000,000 (having cost only $400,000) and Jolson became an international star. The movies didn’t look back and within three years, silent film was a thing of the past.

The Jazz singer posterTo be honest, seen now, the film (about a Jewish boy who defies his father to sing jazz) is slow, sentimental and creaky, and the less said about Al Jolson’s penchant for blackface the better, but it’s worth checking out his performance to see the sort of charisma that sold out Broadway theatres for 20 years.

You can also see how fan magazines reported it at the time by checking out the Lantern site – a fantastic archive of Hollywood magazines that will keep film buffs busy for days…

November

As of 2015 there were 5640 female clergy in the Church of England (with 14,820 men) and it’s predicted that women will make up 43% of the clergy by 2035. Yet the General Synod only voted to allow women priests (against fierce opposition from conservatives) on 25 November 1992. Now they are central to the life of the Church of England  and most of their opponents have been won over. Some of this can, of course, be attributed to The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French as the eponymous lady priest, but they’re now so much part of the landscape that even Ambridge, home of the Archers has had a woman vicar.

December

3 December will be the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant operationperformed by the South African surgeon Christian Barnard. The first patient, Lewis Washkansky, died 18 days after the operation (though he was  able to walk and talk after the transplant). The second patient to receive a heart was a baby who sadly didn’t survive the operation, but the third patient, Philip Blaiberg lived for another nineteen months. Six months later, in May 1968, the first British heart transplant took place at the National Heart Hospital in  Westmoreland Street, Marylebone. Now about 3,500 heart transplants take place each year and 50% of patients live for at least 10 years. So while none of us want one, it’s good to know they’re available.

Christiaan Barnard

You can find out more about these events and many more in our 24/7 library and of course the in the libraries themselves. Happy 2017!

[Nicky]

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“Pass along, pass along”:  the London Proms

The First Night of the Proms is almost within earshot. The Proms are now in their 122nd year, the first being held in August 1895 at the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place.

Proms programme cover 1936. Image property fo Westminster City Archives.But London promenade concerts pre-date this by at least 60 years. Their early history can be pieced together in Robert Altick’s wondrous The Shows of London, a comprehensive survey of the myriad edifications, spectacles and entertainments enjoyed by Londoners from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century – and it’s a history that can be well illustrated from the fine collection of playbills, programmes and prints to be found in the large West End theatre collection held at Westminster City Archives.

Promenade concerts (of sorts) were a feature of the London pleasure gardens of the eighteenth century. The music was one of several attractions: dining, dancing, fireworks and masquerades were other draws. The Marylebone Gardens was the most notable example in Westminster – both Thomas Arne and George Frideric Handel conducted their work here. The Gardens closed in 1778; the current Marylebone Library in Beaumont Street now occupies part of the site.

Marylebone Gardens, c1770, with the “orchestra” (bandstand) on the right. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marylebone Gardens, c1770, with the “orchestra” (bandstand) on the right. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

But the first promenade concert so called in the capital appears to have been amid Madame Tussauds costumed wax figures, then temporarily billeted in the Assembly Rooms of the Royal London Bazaar in the Gray’s Inn Road.  The Romance of Madame Tussauds quotes from a poster of 1833:

“there will be a Musical Promenade every Evening from Half-past Seven till Ten, when a selection of Music will be performed … the Promenade will be lighted with a profusion of lamps, producing, with the variety of rich costumes, special decorations, etc., an unequalled coup d’œil”

The fashion for promenade concerts became established at the Colosseum in Regent’s Park, a huge rotunda designed by Decimus Burton to house a giant panorama of London as envisaged from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral. To stem the fall in visitors to the panorama, promenade concerts were introduced, following their popularity in France where they were known as concerts a la Musard. The musical programme largely comprised overtures, quadrilles and waltzes.  The Colosseum was demolished in 1875 and the Royal College of Physicians now stands on its site.

View of Colosseum, Regent’s Park, c1840. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

View of Colosseum, Regent’s Park, c1840. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Colosseum playbill, 1835. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Colosseum playbill, 1835. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

By 1839 promenade concerts were given at the cavernous Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand.  A poster of 1843 offered “a series of grand instrumental Promenade Concerts a la Valentino” – denoting that the concerts were in the style of those held in Paris under the direction of the French conductor Henri Valentino.

Crown and Anchor poster, 1843. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Crown and Anchor poster, 1843. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

By the 1840s, proms had become established at several London venues devoted to entertainment or instruction. In 1842 the Royal Adelaide Gallery, in the Lowther Arcade off the west Strand invited Londoners to a “Grand Musical Promenade Concert, Vocal and Instrumental”.  The Gallery was originally dedicated to the display and demonstration of popular science and technology for the “Intellectual Recreation and Scientific Improvement in every Member of the Community” but within a few years music, dance and other amusements were added to the billing. During the concert intermissions popular science demonstrations and lectures were offered,  including “magical illusions” and lectures on “Animal Mechanics” and “Laughing Gas”.  The head office of Coutts Bank now stands on the site of the Lowther Arcade.

Royal Adelaide Gallery poster, 1842. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Royal Adelaide Gallery poster, 1842. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In the later nineteenth century, Drury Lane, the Albert Hall and, pre-eminently, Covent Garden were favoured venues for prom concerts.  They became a regular fixture at Covent Garden by the late 1850s, with Louis Antione Jullien and later Arthur Sullivan among their celebrated conductors.  In Thirty Years of Musical Life in London 1870-1900, Hermann Klein notes

“in central London, during the “seventies”, the best medium for good orchestral music were the Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden. These were held in August and September, under the management of Messrs. A. and S. Gatti.  Much that was interesting and instructive the shilling habitué could  hear at these “Promenades”.

Detail from a lithograph depicting Jullien’s promenade concert at Covent Garden. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Detail from a lithograph depicting Jullien’s promenade concert at Covent Garden. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Another observer evokes the bustle of an 1889 prom:

“On New Year’s night at the Albert Hall, [the] Messiah is the affair of the shilling gallery, and not of the seven-and-sixpence stalls. Up there you find every chair occupied, and people standing two or three deep behind the chairs.  These sitters and standers are the gallery vanguard, consisting of prima donna worshippers who are bent on obtaining a bird’s-eye view of Madame Albani [link?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Albani ] for their money. At the back are those who are content to hear Handel’s music. They sit on the floor against the wall, with their legs converging straight towards the centre of the dome, and terminating in an inner circumference of boot soles in various stages of wear and tear. Between the circle of boots and the circle of sightseers moves a ceaseless procession of promenaders to whom the performance is as the sounding brass and tinkling cymbals of a military band on a pier. The police take this view, and deal with the gallery as with a thoroughfare … calling out “Pass along, pass along” and even going the length of a decisive shove when the promenade is at all narrowed by too many unreasonable persons stopping to listen to the music. The crowd is a motley one, including many mechanics, who have bought Novello’s vocal score of the oratorio and are following it diligently; professional men who cannot afford that luxury and are fain to peep enviously over the mechanics shoulders; musicians in the Bohemian  phase of artistic life; masses of “shilling people”.
(from George Bernard Shaw’s London Music in 1888-89)

From 1895, under the management of Robert Newman and the baton of Henry Wood, the Proms became an annual festival of the new and the best in classical music at the Queen’s Hall. They began as a private venture but in 1927 came under the patronage of the young BBC. The decoratively rich and acoustically fine Queen’s Hall was damaged beyond repair by enemy action in 1941, after which the Proms moved to the Albert Hall.  The story of the Hall’s destruction is told at the West End at War website, drawing on the WW2 civil defence archive held at Westminster City Archives.

Queen’s Hall: Programme cover 1936; Playbill, 1906; engraved portrait of Sir Henry Wood, 1934. Images property of Westminster City Archives.

Queen’s Hall: Programme cover 1936; Playbill, 1906; engraved portrait of Sir Henry Wood, 1934. Images property of Westminster City Archives.

Busts of Wagner, Brahms and Weber, salvaged from the debris of the Queen’s Hall, c1953. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Busts of Wagner, Brahms and Weber, salvaged from the debris of the Queen’s Hall, c1953. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

[Rory]

Bardolatry in the Archives

Housed under the umbrella of Shakespeare 400 is a panoply of exhibitions, readings, performances, talks, tours and films marking this year’s quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Among the stand-outs are the offerings from the British Library, the National Archives/King’s College London,  , and the Corporation of London.

A sift through the collections at Westminster City Archives finds some earlier tributes to the Bard.

David Garrick as Richard II. Image property of Westminster City Archives

David Garrick as Richard II. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The Annual Register and Gentleman’s Magazine (available to view at the Archives Centre) of 1769 provide a commentary on the Shakespeare Jubilee of that year and on its enthusiastic promoter, the great Shakespearean actor David Garrick. Rebuilding their town hall, the Corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon sought the help of Garrick to fund the raising of a statue of the poet to beautify the new civic building. Garrick, a Shakespeare devotee (and of whom it’s been said that the Bard was “the only man he honestly believed to be more talented than himself”) answered the Corporation’s petition – and went much further in devising a grand ‘Jubilee’ to commemorate (a few years late) the bi-centenary of his hero’s birth in 1564.

“Sketch of Stratford Jubilee Booth or Amphitheatre”, Gentleman’s Magazine, 1769 p344. Image property of Westminster city Archives

“Sketch of Stratford Jubilee Booth or Amphitheatre”, Gentleman’s Magazine, 1769 p344. Image property of Westminster city Archives

The Jubilee took place 6-9 September 1769, and saw the construction of a rotunda to house festivities, the dedication of the new town hall, and the unveiling of the statue – together with a portrait of Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough as a companion piece. The three days events included 30 canons sounding from the banks of the Avon, serial bell-ringing, fireworks, musical performances directed by Thomas Arne (a hundred musicians from Garrick’s Drury Lane Theatre had been coached-in), a pageant of Shakespearean characters in costume, a horse race, a banquet and masked ball. No play was produced. Torrential rain on the last two days compelled the cancellation of most of the planned outdoor events, not least the colourful pageant. The Jubilee and Garrick were roundly mocked in the press.  And whilst the venture was well-attended by the London beau-monde and theatre world it saw Garrick £2000 out of pocket. But he was to more than re-coup his losses by successfully re-staging a version of the pageant under the shelter of the Drury Lane Theatre.

Shakespeare commemorations, Primrose Hill, 1864. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Shakespeare commemorations, Primrose Hill, 1864. Image property of Westminster City Archives

A newspaper cutting in our Ashbridge Collection of St Marylebone local history depicts a celebration held on Primrose Hill in 1864, part of the wider tercentenary (of birth) commemorations taking place in Stratford, London and other British towns. The events were organised by sundry bodies, including the National Shakespeare Committee and the Working Men’s Shakespeare Committee – the latter championing him as the people’s playwright and satirist of kings and courts. In London, concerts and readings were held in the Royal Agricultural Hall, St James’s Hall and the Crystal Palace. Several of the plays were performed at the Haymarket, Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells theatres. The largest gathering was for a tree planting (an oak sapling donated by Queen Victoria), speeches and much cheering on Primrose Hill. The crowd was estimated at 15-20 thousand (by the press) and 70-100 thousand (by the Working Men’s Shakespeare Committee).

The planting was performed “in the name of the workmen of England” by the highly regarded Shakespearean actor Samuel Phelps – who had revived the Sadler’s Wells theatre with productions which were faithful to the original texts. Following the ceremonies a splinter group of several thousand massed for a rally in support of another people’s hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had just left Britain, it was believed, under government duress…

Shakespeare Tercentenary at Drury Lane, programme cover, 1916. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Shakespeare Tercentenary at Drury Lane, programme cover, 1916. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death was marked at Drury Lane on 2 May 1916 by

“A tribute to the genius of William Shakespeare …. humbly offered by the players and their fellow-workers in the kindred arts of music & painting”.

The eulogy in the programme’s preface acknowledged the shadow cast by the Great War:

“In honour of Shakespeare this performance has been arranged by actors, painters and musicians who have united in paying such tribute as lies in their power to the Master-Intellect of the ages. To all artists the memory of the Great Englishman is as dear as to those who recall with gratitude his patriotic love of his native land … for all his countrymen alike the deathless art of Shakespeare – especially at a time like this, so unpropitious to the higher levels of imaginative creation – is at once a vindication and a pledge that Art itself is immortal”.

The evening included a performance of Julius Caesar, a programme of music arranged by Sir Hubert Parry, and a Shakespeare pageant.

Shakespeare Birthday Festival at the Old Vic, programme cover, 1938. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Shakespeare Birthday Festival at the Old Vic, programme cover, 1938. Image property of Westminster City Archives

A ‘Shakespeare Birthday Festival’ held on 25 April 1938 at the Old Vic (People’s Opera and Playhouse) presented scenes from a dozen of the plays and George Bernard Shaw’s one-act comedy The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.  Among the Festival’s better remembered actors performing were Marius Goring, Jessica Tandy, Michael Redgrave, Donald Wolfit,  Sybil Thorndike, William Devlin and Tyrone Guthrie.

The Archives Centre, keen to join bardolators past and present, is currently displaying a selection of portraits and likenesses, views of Tudor and Jacobean Bankside and its theatres, London memorials to Shakespeare, theatre programmes and playbills of historic West End productions, and a gallery of noted Shakespearean players.

[Rory]