Canterbury Music Hall

Theatre in/near Lambeth, existing between 1852 and now

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Theatre · Lambeth · SE1 ·
December
14
2017

The Canterbury Music Hall was established in 1852 by Charles Morton on the site of a former skittle alley adjacent to the Canterbury Tavern at 143 Westminster Bridge Road.

1893 programme cover - Canterbury Theatre
Credit: London Borough of Lambeth
It was the first purpose-built music hall in London, and Morton came to be dubbed the Father of the Halls as hundreds of imitators were built within the next several years. The theatre was rebuilt three times, and the last theatre on the site was destroyed by bombing in 1942.

Morton and Frederick Stanley, his brother in law, purchased the Canterbury Arms, in Upper Marsh, Lambeth, in 1849. Morton was experienced in presenting ’Gentlemen Only’ entertainments in his other pubs, and he had been impressed with the entertainments at Evans Music-and-Supper Rooms in Covent Garden and decided to offer a harmonic meeting, held on Saturdays, in the back room of the public house. He brought in smart tables, with candlesticks, allowing audiences to sit and eat comfortably while watching concerts known as ’Sing-Songs’ or ’Free and Easys’ on Mondays and Saturdays. Soon, a Thursday evening programme was added to accommodate the crowds. Morton encouraged women to attend the entertainments, giving the venue wider appeal than the old time song and supper rooms, which were male preserves. Entry was free, but the profits from the sale of food and drink allowed the construction of a larger hall on the site of the former skittle alley, at the back of the public house.

This 700 seat hall took a year to build and opened as the Canterbury Hall on 17 May 1852, described as "the most significant date in all the history of music hall". The hall charged a modest admission and looked like most contemporary concert rooms within public houses of the period. It specialised in programmes of light music and ballads. Professional performers could earn high fees, and this attracted performances of selections from opera, including the first performances of Jacques Offenbach’s music in England.

The venture was profitable, and a new theatre was built in 1856, of unprecedented size, seating 1500. In order not to interrupt the flow of profits, the theatre was constructed around the walls of the 1852 hall, and when it was complete, the old building within was demolished in a single weekend. This new theatre was the first purpose-built tavern music hall and opened in December 1856, as the New Canterbury Hall.

The building had a grand entrance with extensive windows and a glazed roof that could be withdrawn to let the cigar and pipe smoke out. The bar was installed on a balcony over the hall, reached by ascending a grand staircase. The fittings were luxurious, with chandeliers and painted walls. At the end of the main hall there was a simple stage with a grand piano and harmonium to provide entertainment between the acts. The ’chairman’ sat on the stage, introduced the acts, provided his own ’patter’ and exhorted the patrons to drink. The entrance fee was 6 pence downstairs, and 9 pence upstairs. Customers sat at small tables, and waiters brought food and drink to them. The 1859 expansion of the viaducts carrying trains to Waterloo railway station separated the theatre entrance from the auditorium, and patrons entered through a long arched tunnel under the railway, entertained by an aquarium. In 1861, Blondin walked a tightrope fixed between the balconies of the hall.

Their success at the Canterbury allowed Stanley and Morton to build The Oxford, in Holborn, as a competitor to the nearby Weston’s Music Hall, opening on 26 March 1861. The pair managed both halls, with acts moving between the halls in coaches.

On Boxing Night 1867, William Holland took over management of the Canterbury and refurbished the hall at considerable cost. When informed that his purchase of a 1000 Guineas carpet was too good for his clientele, he invited them "to come in and spit on it". Further popularity accrued to the venue when classical music was removed from the bill and George Leybourne was engaged at £20 a week as lion comique. Leybourne remained top of the bill for some twenty years, before succumbing to the effects of the champagne he promoted here under the guise of "Champagne Charlie".

R. E. Villiers took over the management in 1876 and spent £40,000 to enlarge the theatre. He reintroduced a popular ballet item featuring the dancers Phyllis Broughton and Florence Powell. Topical ballets, such as Plevna and Trafalgar (both by the Belgian choreographer Henri Leopold De Winne), drew in the crowds, including the Prince of Wales. In 1877, the Queen’s theatre in Long Acre and the Canterbury were joined by overhead wires, and public demonstrations of the Cromwell Varley telephone were given. Several simple tunes were transmitted and emitted softly from a large drum-like apparatus suspended over the proscenium. Robert W. Paul’s Theatrograph was used at the theatre from 27 April 1896, a year after it had first been demonstrated at the Alhambra in Leicester Square. The film programme included Boxers and Lady Gymnast. These early experiments in films were only a partial success.

In his autobiography, former Lambeth resident Charlie Chaplin recalls seeing his father, Charles Chaplin Senior, performing at the Canterbury. Later Chaplin, himself, played there.

The hall was rebuilt as the 3000 seater Canterbury Theatre of Varieties in 1890 by Frank Matcham; and alterations were made in 1902. By 1915, this theatre came to be used as a cinema and was extensively damaged by bombing in 1942. The remains were finally demolished in 1955.

xxx

1893 programme cover - Canterbury Theatre
London Borough of Lambeth


Christobel Warren-Jones
Christobel Warren-Jones   
Added: 26 Feb 2018 13:50 GMT   
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Post by Christobel Warren-Jones: Hurley Road, SE11

Hurley Road was off Kennington Lane, just west of Renfrew Raod, not where indicated on this map. My Dad was born at number 4 in 1912. It no longer exists but the name is remembered in Hurley House, Hurley Clinic and Hurley Pre-School

Evelyn Johnson
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I lived at 105 Sturgeon Road in 1956 went to st Paul’s church Lorrimore sqN8DvL

Pauline jones
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Post by Pauline jones: Bessborough Place, SW1V

I grew up in bessborough place at the back of our house and Grosvenor road and bessborough gardens was a fantastic playground called trinity mews it had a paddling pool sandpit football area and various things to climb on, such as a train , slide also as Wendy house. There were plants surrounding this wonderful play area, two playground attendants ,also a shelter for when it rained. The children were constantly told off by the playground keepers for touching the plants or kicking the ball out of the permitted area, there was hopscotch as well, all these play items were brick apart from the slide. Pollock was the centre of my universe and I felt sorry and still do for anyone not being born there. To this day I miss it and constantly look for images of the streets around there, my sister and me often go back to take a clumped of our beloved L

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Johnshort
Johnshort   
Added: 7 Oct 2017 21:07 GMT   
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Post by Johnshort: Hurley Road, SE11

There were stables in the road mid way also Danny reading had coal delivery lorry.n

peter hiller
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Post by peter hiller: Sancroft Street, SE11

what is the history of tresco house 2 sancroft street ,it looks older than a 1990s site

Robert smitherman
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I was born in a prefab on Saunders street SE11 in the 60’s, when I lived there, the road consisted of a few prefab houses, the road originally ran from Lollard street all the way thru to Fitzalan street. I went back there to have a look back in the early 90’s but all that is left of the road is about 20m of road and the road sign.

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VIEW THE LAMBETH AREA IN THE 1750s
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VIEW THE LAMBETH AREA IN THE 1800s
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VIEW THE LAMBETH AREA IN THE 1830s
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VIEW THE LAMBETH AREA IN THE 1860s
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VIEW THE LAMBETH AREA IN THE 1900s
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Lambeth

The ’Lamb’ in Lambeth really means just that.

The name is recorded in 1062 as Lambehitha, meaning ’landing place for lambs’, and in 1255 as Lambeth. The name refers to a harbour where lambs were either shipped from or to. It is formed from the Old English ’lamb’ and ’hythe.

South Lambeth is recorded as Sutlamehethe in 1241 and North Lambeth is recorded in 1319 as North Lamhuth. The marshland in the area, known as Lambeth Marshe, was drained in the 18th century but is remembered in the Lower Marsh street name. Sometime after the opening of Waterloo railway station in 1848 the locality around the station and Lower Marsh became known as Waterloo.

Lambeth Palace is located opposite the Palace of Westminster. The two were linked by a horse ferry across the Thames.

Until the mid-18th Century the north of Lambeth was marshland, crossed by a number of roads raised against floods.

With the opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750, followed by the Blackfriars Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, a number of major thoroughfares were developed through Lambeth, such as Westminster Bridge Road, Kennington Road and Camberwell New Road.

In William Blake’s epic Milton a Poem, the poet John Milton leaves Heaven and travels to Lambeth, in the form of a falling comet, and enters Blake’s foot. This allows Blake to treat the ordinary world as perceived by the five senses as a sandal formed of "precious stones and gold" that he can now wear. Blake ties the sandal and, guided by Los, walks with it into the City of Art, inspired by the spirit of poetic creativity. The poem was written between 1804 and 1810.
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