The Bedford Music Hall, 93 - 95 Camden High Street, Camden Town
Also known as - The Bedford Theatre / The Bedford Palace of Varieties
The Bedford Theatre was originally built on part of the tea gardens which belonged to the Bedford Arms and opened as the Bedford Music Hall in 1861. The auditorium of this first Theatre had a capacity of 1,168 on three levels.
This first Bedford Music Hall was demolished in July 1898 to make way for a new Theatre to be built on the same, albeit enlarged, site.
The new Theatre was designed by the rising young architect Bertie Crewe, and building work began in the second week of August 1898. The new Theatre opened as the Bedford Palace of Varieties on Monday the 6th of February the following year, 1899.
Above - A notice in the ERA of the 26th of August 1899, the same year the new Bedford was built, reads 'Mr. Arthur Lloyd the Original Arthur Lloyd, an Immense Success with Son and Daughter at New Empires, Stratford and New-cross, The Bedford.'
'Messrs Lucas and Johnson, who are the owners of the new palace of varieties that has been erected on the site of the old Bedford, invited on Wednesday afternoon a large number of their friends to a private view of their property previous to the opening on Monday. The function was ushered in by the laying of the memorial stone by little Miss Marguerite Lucas, a dainty little maiden, the daughter of one of the proprietors. In true workmanlike style, using the presentation trowel given to her by the architect, Mr Bertie Crewe, she pushed the polished marble slab in its place in the wall of one of the vestibules, and declared it well and truly laid. The inscription read as follows:
Bedford Palace of Varieties.
At the luncheon, which was laid on tables placed on the stage in front of a rich Moorish interior painted by Mr Fred Storey, the healths of the proprietors were proposed informally by Mr Venner and acknowledged with a brief phrase of thanks. The acoustic properties of the new hall were tried by Mr Lester King. who sang "Tom Bowling," and Mr Lyons, one of the building staff, who gave the German drinking-song "In Cellar Cool." The Bedford orchestra, under the direction of Mr Thomas, played selections during luncheon and afterwards. The hall will open on Monday with a strong company, including the Craggs, Gus Elen, Slade Murray, Fred Russell, Texarkansas, the Collins Trio, Ernest Leader, Charles Milner, Marie Faudelle, the Leopolds, Wal Pink and company, Abel and Welsh, the Maddison Girls, W. P. Moss, the Dellers, Lizzie and Vinie Daly, Charles Seel, the Delevantis, the Vernon troupe, and others.
Right - An Early Programme for the Bedford Theatre - Courtesy Peter Charlton.
In the New Bedford Palace the proprietors have a building of which we think they may well be proud. As will be remembered, the old Bedford Music Hall was a small and inconvenient building, entered only from a court that ran between the High-street, Camden-town, and the Arlington-road. The property was purchased by the above gentlemen in June last, and its acquisition was followed by the purchase of four more houses in Arlington-road and also Nos. 93 and 95, High-street, Camden-town. There was wisdom in all this, for the new owners were able, not only to develop their property, but to give it the advantage of new approaches from the main High-street. They placed the designing of the new house in the hands of the rising young architect, Mr Bertie Crewe, who within four weeks from his appointment had his plans for the new Bedford unanimously approved without alteration by the London County Council. The old Bedford was pulled down late in July, and building operations only commenced the second week in August, so that the building of the new establishment is nearly a record as regards speed.
The new theatre presents a bold French Renaissance front to the High-street, and the facade that is now a conspicuous architectural feature has been executed in Doulting stone, with polished Labridite and red Shap granite pilasters, surmounted by slate mansard roofs, and a copper dome rising some 60ft. above street level. Entered by three Italian marble steps is a spacious entrance hall with fibrous plaster decorations, gilded ceiling and walls, and floor of marble mosaic. Thence by a noble corridor, some 14ft. in width, the spacious main crush-room is reached. This room is 20ft. by 22ft. and 18ft. in height, with walls and ceiling of paneled and enriched carton pierre and exceptionally handsome mosaic floor. From this a short flight of marble stairs leads to the balcony and a spacious lobby direct to the stalls. The auditorium, which, with a depth of 65ft., and clear width of 56ft., has been built without a column, Is treated entirely as the stalls on the ground floor, every person on this tier having a separate tip-up plush-covered seat, the same rule applying to the balcony. The shape of the circle on this tier in entirely novel, and thereby everyone seated in the centre or at the sides has an uninterrupted view of the stage.
The saloons are a special feature, each being at the side of the auditorium and separated therefrom only by a low brass rail, so that pleasant lounges with a full view of the stage have been secured. A decidedly novel idea is the treatment of the private boxes which, although on the circle level, are approached solely from the stalls by handsomely decorated coved entrances through the ante-proscenium, and thence by pretty little marble stairs. The style of decoration throughout is Louis Quatorze, with a plentiful introduction of free figure paintings in friezes and panels, the effect of gold and soft tints being singularly harmonious when backed up by the rich ruby tints of the plush curtains and seating. A special feature is the proscenium arch and box elevations, which were specially designed by the architect, and which he hopes are something entirely novel to this country. Standing on richly ornamental pilasters, two daintily modelled female figures of heroic size partially withdraw a magnificent canopy from the boxes, while, above, a group of Cupids display dramatic emblems. Another very beautiful group of female statuary surmounts the proscenium arch, a special feature of which is the magnificent plaster pediment. The chaste and charming embellishments of the Camden-town palace are by Los Saveraux and Co., who have painted just beneath the sliding-roof allegorical groups representing England Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. In the last-mentioned painting we note that a number of braw Cupids are not even skeered by a wee bit skirl of the pibroch, for they approach quite closely to the gracious looking lady - a sort of Highland Euterpe - who is performing on the pipes. The scheme of decoration is gold and softly subdued tints of chrome and yellow.
The ventilation of the house has received special care, and is in hot weather assisted by the sliding roof, which is worked on entirely novel lines, being controlled by an electric motor in connection with the fireproof curtain, so that by the simple movement of a switch at the prompt side of the stage the roof can be slid on or off, or the curtain raised or lowered, as occasion may require.
The lighting is by electricity, with gas and oil-lamps as a stand-by, and the fittings have all been specially designed to harmonise with the decoration. The heating is on the latest system of low pressure hot water, and is so arranged that any part of the house can be shut off without interfering with the remainder. Thoroughly airy and well-ventilated lavatory accommodation has been provided on each tier for both sexes.
Left - A Programme for 'Hamlet' at the Bedford Theatre in 1949 - The Theatre must have been going through hard times by then as the entire front cover of the programme is taken up by advertisements.
The house, although a variety theatre, has been fitted with a full working stage of the most modern description, and the comfort of the artists has been most thoroughly studied, as all the numerous dressing-rooms are lighted and ventilated direct to the open-air, and have hot and cold water laid on. A novel feature is a quick-change room at the prompt wings also fitted with hot and cold lavatory.
The premises, besides the palace of Varieties, also include a first-class public-house, the Bedford Arms, at the corner of St. Mary's-terrace and Arlington-road, a block of excellent flats over the entrance from High-street, and a scenic studio, let to Mr Fred Storey, containing two frames, one 50ft. in length.
The general contractors have been Messrs W. Johnson and Co. The electric light, gas, heating, fire appliances, &c., have been supplied by Messrs Vaughan and Brown; the decorations and fibrous plaster by Messrs Low Saveraux and Co. ; furnishing and upholstery by Messrs Wolfe and Hollander; bar fittings by Messrs W. Walker and Sons; marble mosaic by Messrs Diespeker and Co.; and the stage by Mr W. H. Wood. Mr George Sheen, from Mr Crewe's office, has been an able clerk of works, and the whole has been carried out under the immediate personal supervision of the architect.
Mr Charles Hector, who is manager of the Hammersmith Palace of Varieties, will be the general manager of the New Bedford, and Mr Thos. J. Noble will be the resident-manager.
The Bedford Theatre became a very popular and much loved variety Theatre, and remained so for most of its life.
Around 1929 to 1930 the great comic-actor Peter Sellers lived with his mother and grandmother in rented quarters upstairs at the Bedford. His mother was performing there in a revue called 'Ha!Ha!!Ha!!!' along with his father. When the revue finished, Peter's father Bill did a "bit of a runner" as the cockneys say, leaving poor Peter, his mother, and grandmother to fend for themselves, they carried on living upstairs at the Bedford Theatre for a short time after he departed. - Courtesy Thomas Potter.
Despite the Theatre's popularity though, and like Theatres all over the country, the Bedford's fortunes did eventually decline. The Theatre was used as a Cinema from 1933 (more on this below) until it was converted back to Variety in 1937 and remained in the business until it eventually succumbed to its eventual and inevitable fate when it closed down completely in 1959.
Right - A Cutting for the Bedford Theatre when it was in use as a cinema from 1933 until the end of 1937 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.
In the 1930s the Bedford, together with the Bristol Empire (also an ABC cinema during the 1930s,) was then owned by Harry Day, who in 1920 presented Revues on tour, and at the London Palladium. Both houses passed to Freddie Butterworth (FJB Theatres) who controlled a circuit of around a dozen number two Theatres. Both the Bedford and Bristol Empire returned to Live theatre on Boxing Day 1937. The Bedford passed out of the Butterworth Circuit circa 1950 and the Bristol Empire closed as a live theatre in 1953. - Alan Chudley.
Above - A Programme for a production of 'Hamlet' at the Bedford Theatre in April 1949.
Sir Donald Wolfit got quite a large national press coverage in 1949 when he took a season of Shakespeare into the delightful, but by then somewhat tatty twice nightly variety house, the Bedford, Camden Town. Sir Donald was not the easiest of persons to know or to work for, as indeed is the case with most perfectionists, the result was sometimes that he was not always able to employ the best backstage crew, and during the Bedford season a flat fell over during the performance, almost injuring several actors. - Courtesy Alan Chudley.
Right - The interior of the Bedford Theatre after it had closed in 1959 - Courtesy John Barber.
The Bedford Theatre Closed in 1959 and lay derelict for a decade before it was finally demolished in 1969. A new building and shops were erected on the site.
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Site of the Bedford Theatre today - Click to Interact
A visitor to the site, Erica Firth, has sent in some memories of the Bedford Theatre, Erica says: ''When I was a very little girl 1945 or so I used to visit my grandma who lived on Albert Street in Camden town. I used to meet my dad there, he and mummy were separated, and as a treat he would let me search through his wallet where I would find two tickets for the Bedford theatre where we would see a musical. It is so hard to describe the joy of seeing live dancers on a stage, I would be so thrilled and I recall keep asking my dad if these were real people in front of us dancing. As I grew these memories stayed with me and I became a dancer, ballet. I toured England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, but never ever forgot my beginning at the Bedford theatre. Am writing to say thank you for the lovely write up you gave the old place and for the pictures too' - Erica Mary Firth 2011.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.