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The Canterbury continued

Sam Cowell, E. W. Mackney, and a host of other 'comics' appeared at the Canterbury, and the place was packed nightly. Later a new hall was constructed round the old one, and on a Saturday night the old one was finally demolished, the new one opening on the following Monday. It had a picture gallery, which Punch called 'The Royal Academy over the Water'. The entrance fee was 6d downstairs and 9d in the Circle. The audience sat at small tables, and had their food or drinks brought to them there.

In 1863 Stanley retired and Morton remained in sole charge until Boxing Night 1867, when William Holland took over. He had the hall redecorated regardless of cost, and when he was told that his 1,000 guinea carpet might make some of his humbler patrons feel awkward, he put out posters inviting them to come and spit on it.

Classical music vanished from the bill, and comedy predominated. George Leybourne, just coming into prominence, was engaged at £20 a week, which was soon increased, billed as the 'lion comique', and given a carriage and four to drive about in. He always drank champagne, as befitted the singer of 'Champagne Charlie'. In 1876 the house passed to Villiers, and was enlarged at a cost Of £40,000 The bills at this time included those friendly rivals, Leybourne and The Great Vance, Fred Coyne, Arthur Roberts, and numerous others, while Phyllis Broughton and Florence Powell were the chief dancers in the ballet which now became a popular feature.

One of the most successful was a spectacular and topical ballet called 'Plevna' followed by an equally successful 'Trafalgar'. The Canterbury was at that time the only hall where good ballet could be seen, and the public flocked to it. Edward VII (as Prince of Wales), the Duke of Cambridge, and the Duke and Duchess of Teck were among the royal visitors. Prices soared, but when the attendances began to slacken a drastic lowering of them brought success back again. For many years the Canterbury bar was a favourite place of call for the entire music-hall profession, as was only fitting in the hall that saw the birth of variety. It was later taken over by a limited company.

Edited from The Oxford Companion to Theatre (second edition)




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