Collins' Music Hall, 10/11 Islington Green, London
Formerly - The Lansdowne Arms - Later - Collins' Theatre
Above - An image of the original frontage of Collins' Music Hall - Courtesy Peter Charlton
Collins' Music Hall in London's Islington Green was a conversion of a public house called the Lansdowne Arms and was created by the Irish Vocalist and Music Hall entertainer Sam Collins, whose real name was Sam Vagg. It opened on Wednesday the 4th of November 1863 and was situated at the rear of the pub. Sadly Sam Collins only ran it for two and a half years before his death in 1865.
The ERA printed a report on the new music hall in their 8th of November 1863 edition saying: 'If the good character of a man may be guessed from the number of his friends, then must Mr. Sam Collins be indeed a "broth of a boy," for on Wednesday evening last, on the occasion of the opening of his new Music Hall at Islington-green, he was literally hemmed in by well-wishers, and those who assembled to do him honour comprised many of the people whose faces are familiar to the patrons of the new class of Concert Rooms that now-a-days attract so many of the amusement-seekers of the Metropolis. That Music Hall Proprietors were not jealous of a new comer was evidenced by their being there in strong force, and among those that immediately surrounded Mr. Collins - it sounds strange to leave the "Sam" out, for the patronymic is as familiar as that of the mythical but immortalised Weller - were Messrs . Sanders and Lacy, Mr. Wilton, Messrs. John and George Turnham, Mr. Williams, Mr, Winder, Mr. Loibl, Mr. Thornton, Mr. J. Robinson, and Messrs. Whittet and Sell. The last named gentlemen had put off their benefit at the Spread Eagle, for which the bills and tickets had been printed, in order that Mr. Collins might have a good house-warming, and this showed good feeling, as did the presence of Messrs. Sanders and Lacy, whose establishment is scarcely more than a stone's throw from the new one, which stands on the site of the old Lansdowne Music Hall opposite the Green.
It has been re-built to accommodate between seven and eight hundred people, and is different in shape to the majority of Music Halls, being seventy feet long, forty-five feet wide, and thirty feet high, and the balcony only extends along the side opposite the stage.
Right - Collins' Music Hall auditorium and stage - From an original engraving by D. J. Higgins - Courtesy 'Alexandra O'Connor' and Sue Sokhan.
It may be pronounced one of the handsomest in the Metropolis, the decorations being of a chaste end elegant character, and it is lighted by eleven drop jets similar to those in use at Weston's and the Oxford, and is approached through a wide and lofty hall. Attached are supper and retiring rooms, &c., and it is worthy of mention that Mr. Collins had everything completed before he threw his new establishment open to the public, and being well ventilated, there was no smell of paint or other disagreables. The doors were opened shortly before six o'clock, and two hours later there was not standing room - in fact, the mass of people in the stalls became firmly wedged, and a passage could not be made without great difficulty.
A strong array of artistes had volunteered their services in addition to the excellent company engaged by Mr. Collins, and the concert commenced with a new "Sam Collins Galop," composed for the occasion by Mr. H. Fitchett, jann and which was admirably performed by the band under the direction of liar. H. W, Fitchett. jun., followed by "The National Anthem," the solos being sung by Miss Lacelle and Mr. Lawrence Davis, and after this a round of entertainments went on without hitch till nearly one o'clock, among those who contributed to the amusements being Mr. J, G. Forde, Paddy Fannin, Mr. C. Wilkins, Mr. Newman and Miss Mortimer, Miss Thornton, Miss Carolina Julian, Miss Nelly Power, Madame Losebini, and Miss Constance, Miss Cantrell, Mr. de Brenner, Mr, Wyndham Clarke, Mr. Lawrence Davis, Miss Clara King, Mr George Hutchinson, Mr. G. W. Jester, Professor Koenig, the Brothers Leopold (with their clever horizontal bar feats), Christy's Coloured Comedians, and Sam Collins himself, who thanked his patrons heartily, and who promised to deserve their kindness and support. He has entered on another career fairly loaded with good wishes, and, with the best of his friends, we trust that he may have no cause to regret his second venture in Music Hall Proprietorship.'
The 1897 Reconstruction of Collin's Music Hall
Sam Collins only ran the Music Hall for two and a half years before he died in 1865. The Hall was then bought by a syndicate and reconstructed to the designs of the Theatre Architect A. E. Woodrow in 1897. Construction took only four months and the new Collin's Theatre as it was to be called, opened on Monday the 27th of December the same year with a variety show. The name would revert to Collin's Music Hall later but furthur extension of the building would no longer be possible as the Theatre backed onto a former burial ground called New Bunhill Fields. (This burial ground was originally called the Gaskin Street cemetery but when the former Bunhill Cemetery in the City Road / Golden Lane area became full and building was proposed for the site the bodies were moved to the Gaskin Street cemetery behind Collin's and this burial ground was then renamed New Bunhill Fields. In 1995 / 1996 even this cemetery was cleared, again for building on the land, and the bodies were moved once again, this time to other cemeteries in the area.)
Right - A Programme for 'Strippingly Saucy' at Collins' Music Hall in March 1950 - Click to see entire programme.
The ERA reported on the newly reconstructed Theatre in their 25th of December 1897 edition saying: 'On the site of the little hall on the Green has been reared a new temple of varieties that reflects the spirit of luxury and good taste that are the all-prevailing signs in our end-of-century entertainment houses.
As we all know, Mr Herbert Sprake in the early summer of this year sold the property to a syndicate, including Messrs Richards, Burney, Grimes, and Dearing, who determined on reconstruction. Within a few weeks of entering into possession they accepted the plans prepared by Mr Ernest A. E. Woodrow, A.R.I.B.A., for the entire rebuilding of the hall, and appointed him their architect. The pulling down of the old and the building of the new have been most expeditiously done by Mr Charles Dearing, and the fates have been propitious in that there have been no delays caused by strikes and other matters that principally concern the British workman.
At the private view on Thursday evening Mr E. S. Barnes, who is the manager of the new Collins's, accompanied by those financially interested in the venture, piloted a large party of visitors over the building, which evoked expressions of admiration from everybody. In the short space of four months the builders have pulled down the old premises and erected the present modern and luxuriously fitted and furnished theatre of varieties, which will be opened to the public on Monday next.
Left - A Bill advertising 'Easter Parade' at Collins' Music Hall in April 1950.
This work has been carried out under the personal direction of the architect, who for many years was an architect in the theatres branch of the London County Council, and consequently has a very full knowledge of their requirements for ensuring the safety of the public, and has indeed gone so far in advance of them as to provide new, additional, and separate exits for gallery, balcony, and stalls, thus ensuring a free and double exit from every part of the house, which can be emptied in an extremely short space of time.
The constructional steel work has been carried out by Messrs Drew-Bear, Perks, and Co.; the installation for electric lighting by the Electrical Supply Company; the plastic work by the Plastic Decoration Company; the decorations by Messrs Campbell, Smith, and Co.; the furnishing and seating by Messrs Fred Harper and Co.; the heating by Mr Geo. Hopkins.
Right - Collins' Music Hall Bill for 1944 - Courtesy Colin Charman whose Grandmother, Little Ena Dayne, was on the Bill for that week, along with Joe Murgatroyd, Marie Lloyd and De Haven & Page.
Above - A photograph of the stage manager, his staff, and some performers on stage at Collins' Music Hall - Courtesy Christine Heels, who says 'My Great Grandfather was a scenery painter at Collins' Music Hall and I believe this is a photo of the stage manager and his staff including my Great Grandfather, Henry Thomas Collins.' - Another visitor to the site, Diane Keel, says: 'The guy in the clown's hat in the photo is my grandfather Henry Albert Keel. He and his sister Lotte or charlotte worked the music halls. - If you know who any of the people in this photograph are, or can date the photograph, please Contact Me.
A feature in this hall which will be much appreciated is that there is only one column at the back of the auditorium, the tiers being carried on the modern cantilever system. The auditorium is decorated in the Louis Quatorze style, and the prevailing tints are old gold, blue, and terra cotta. The general colouring is carried out in the most delicate shades, and, with its blue draperies and old gold plush covered seats, will make this hall one of the prettiest in London. Every part of the auditorium and entrance passages is heated by hot-water radiators. The stage has been made double its former size, and widened, fitted with tableau and fireproof curtains, and every modern requirement. The comfort of the artists has been studied by providing well-fitted dressing-rooms, and the entrance to the stage will be in Essex-road.
Right - A photograph of the auditorium of Collins' Music Hall - Courtesy Peter Charlton.
The seating accommodation is excellent, the ground floor being divided into fauteuils, stalls, and pit stalls, the whole of which are tip-up seats, upholstered in velvet plush. It is carpeted throughout with a handsome pile carpet, and this, with the wood block flooring, will render it most comfortable and warm. The audience, no matter in which part of the hall they may be, will have an entirely uninterrupted view of the stage, and the acoustic properties are perfect.
In. conclusion we may expect Islington's newest variety theatre to maintain those traditions for refined and wholesome entertainment that under the banner of Mr Herbert Sprake did so much for the reputation of the little hall on the green. The new directors and the manager Mr Barnes, who returns to renew many pleasant reminiscences, are eminently practical men, who know the needs of their public.
Left - Collins' Music Hall stage and elaborate proscenium arch. The image also shows part of the orchestra pit and has a backdrop depicting Piccadilly Circus and the London Pavilion to the right. Image - Courtesy Peter Charlton.
We understand that all the leading variety people are engaged, and that the excellent programme to be given on Monday will include a novelty called Dottiboy's Dream, written by Geoffrey Thorn, and in which Mr Charles Godfrey will appear. Others contributing to the Christmas bill will be Vesta Victoria, Pat Rafferty Amy Lester, G. W. Hunter, Frank Travis, Millie Lindon, Arthur Leonard, Cora Caselli, Harry Tate, Virto, Paul Pelham, Madge Graham, Charles Pastor, the Leonards, Lily Marney, Bellonini, Harry Anderson, Rosie May, Charles Russell, and Tom White and Company.'
Some footage of Collins' Music Hall featured in two television programs, both released some time after the Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1958. The first of these was a Granada TV production of 'Man of the World' entitled 'The Mindreader' (first broadcast in November 1962). The second, using the same footage but this time in colour, was an episode of 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased' entitled 'It's Supposed to be Thicker Than Water' made in September / October 1968. These stills, which are screen grabs from the 'Man of the World' production, were kindly sent in by Anthony McKay. The production is Copyright © Granada Ventures.
Above - Three Stills from the Granada TV production of 'Man of the World' entitled 'The Mindreader' (first broadcast in November 1962) but shot at Collins' Music Hall prior to the 1958 fire.
This footage may have been originally created
for some other production, if you know any more about this please Contact
From 'Clubs' Vol.1 No.1, June, 1957
If you want to see music hall do what the Oliviers did
- go to Islington, pay 4s.
For a peep behind the scenes of music hall, I went along to Collins at Islington. Collins is Music Hall and Music Hall is Collins - the world's oldest. Like the Windmill, it never closed - except for a fortnight in 1898 when electric lights were installed! It carried on all through the bombing, even through the worst night of the Blitz when Hitler tried to flatten Islington and the Artistes played to an audience of ten when Hitler tried to flatten Islington and the Artistes played to an audience of ten.
Right - Contortionist Eliza Rae in action at Collin's musical Hall, Islington.
"The Guvner" - Lew Lake - was in his favourite seat beside the theatre bar, being ministered to by Evelyn who is almost a fixture at Collins. Many were the stories Lew had to tell; stories of old favourites like Dan Leno, George Robey, Harry Lauder, Nellie Wallace, Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, Max Miller and Charles Chaplin, all of whom appeared in their time.
But Collins does not live on its past. Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom, Tommy Trinder and Benny Hill all had a start at Collins, and the much-loved Tommy Handley never forgot his old friend Lew Lake.
Lew, who comes from an old theatrical family, has stubbornly refused to turn his Music Hall over to any other form of entertainment. If you want to see authentic Music Hall today, then do what the Oliviers did recently; go up to Islington and pay your 4/- for a seat in the Stalls.
Left - Friend and adviser to her showgirls is Billie Roche (left). A male impersonator, Billie has been on the stage since she was twelve. And this great veteran of the halls wouldn't exchange her life for any other, despite the fact that hers is no easy way of earning a living.
Any night of the week you will see, non-stop, a rapid succession of singers, dancers, trick cyclists, jugglers, contortionists, comedians and tellers-of-tales; tales which are often "blue" but rarely malicious.
These tales, which are the back-bone of variety, follow a stock pattern. We find the same ever-recurring themes; the lodger and the landlady; the mother-in-law; the hen-pecked husband; the drudge with her dreams; or Nellie aged 16 and "expecting" again.
The approach might vary from the sly snigger to the huge belly-laugh, but there always is a laugh and it is the true genius of Music Hall which turns these tragedies into something we can laugh at.
But Collins does make one concession to modern trends - nudes. We talked to the current nude - Blondie Haigh - the saucy lass who rode through Piccadilly on a white horse dressed (or undressed) as Lady Godiva. Blondie, with her golden hair, peachy skin and long legs looked like a beautiful peacock in her untidy little dressing room, surrounded by swirling skirts, feather fans, powder puffs and all the paraphernalia of the theatre. Blondie is 22, comes from Manchester, and loves the life.
Between acts I snatched a word with Billie Roche. Billie has been on the stage since she was 12 and now travels round with her own all-girls show. She is compere, business manager, friend and adviser to her showgirls, as well as male impersonator.
In the wings, I came across a tangle of bare arms and legs which sorted itself out into Eliza Rae, an attractive contortionist from St. Helens, Lancs. Ask Eliza to do a somersault, and in a moment she will be a whirling twirling comet of lightning speed.
All this and more can be seen every night at Collins, and if you can't find something you like then you're certainly hard to please.
The above article was first published in 'Clubs' Vol.1 No.1, June, 1957 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.
Shortly after the above article was published a major fire engulfed the building in 1958 and resulted in the destruction of almost everything apart from its frontage and side walls, although according to the Theatres Trust there are apparently some traces of the original escape staircases still in existence, but there is nothing left of the original music hall or the reconstructed Theatre itself other than the facade today.
Above - A Collins Music Hall Bill from 1949 - Courtesy Tony Craig whose mother Jessie Jewel was on the Bill
Above - A Google Streetview image showing the former Collin's Music Hall - Click to Interact
In 2008 it was announced that the site of the former Collin's Music Hall, then in use as a branch of Waterstones Book Shops, was to be redeveloped into a 600 seat Theatre, bars, restaurants, and 72 flats at a cost of £26m and that work was expected to be finished the following year. However this never came to pass and the building is still a branch of Waterstones at the moment.
Above - Collin's Music Hall Bill for the week commencing Monday January the 3rd 1944, with Wally Patch, the film character comedian, Rex Harte and June, the versatile comedy dancing team, Joan Leggett with her accordion, Tommy Lloyd, Reg and Ray, Sam Bennie, and Memories of an old time Music Hall. - Courtesy Phil Jackman, whose mother's cousin was Wally Patch, of whom he has written below.
Wally Patch was born Walter Sydney Vinnicombe in north London in 1888, he was a prolific actor almost until his death in 1970.
Wally started on the Music Hall stages in 1912 and moved to the regular theatre in 1938 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. His theatre career continued until 1960 and included two years in the 1950s at the Whitehall Theatre in Reluctant Heroes.
Right - Signed Photograph of Wally Patch from 'Reluctant Heroes' - Courtesy Phil Jackman.
His first film role was in 1928 and his film career included over 230 appearances. In television his first part was in 1937 and his last in 1970 in Doctor in the House.
Wally was a character actor and comedian and often supported people like Will Hay, George Formby, Arthur Askey and the Crazy Gang.
Above Text, Collin's Bill, and Photo - Courtesy Phil Jackman, whose mother's cousin was Wally Patch.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.