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Charles Morton

 

See Theatreland MapsBorn at Hackney on 15th August, 1819, Charles Morton's career is the history of music hall. As The Era (18th January, 1894) expressed it:

"it is not merely the fact of his having endowed the Canterbury with the grand style. Again and again - when he established the Oxford, when he renewed the record of the Alhambra as a variety theatre, when he assumed his present position as general manager of the Palace - has Mr. Morton been identified with an epoch in music hall history..."

Now it is possible to assess Charles Morton's role in the 'pothouse to palace of varieties' process, without accepting 'it owes him everything'. As he remained active in variety theatre management until his death on 18th October, 1904, he was regarded with respect as 'Father of the Halls'. He was the first music hall proprietor to get his advertisements for the Canterbury Hall accepted by The Times. Whilst encouraging all types of music and singing - he premiered Gounod's opera'Faust' long before Colonel Mapleson presented it at Her Majesty's Theatre ~ he was shrewd enough to know that the comic singers brought in the crowds. Mackney, Maclagan, and Cowell were his mainstays in the 'comic department'. Sam Cowell's weekly salary of £4 at Evans's swiftly rose to £30, such was his popularity at the Canterbury.

The success of the father-and-son team, Henry and Edward Weston with their High Holborn music hall, prompted Morton to move 'up west' and with his brother-in-law Frederick Stanley, open 'The Oxford' on 26th March, 1861. built on the site of the 'Boar & Castle' public house, this was the first of four Oxford Music Halls here between 1861 and 1893 - the first two were destroyed by fire. For six years, Morton and Stanley ran both halls, their artistes doubling by brougham. Later Morton extended his entertainment interests by creating a thriving centre of 'opera bouffe' at Islington's Philharmonic Hall. Emily Soldene was his star-artiste here.

In 1877, Morton agreed to become manager of the Alhambra, to bring that famous Leicester Square hall out of its financial problems following the Middlesex Magistrates refusal to grant a Music & Dancing Licence in October 1870. Fire also destroyed that Alhambra in December 1882, but it re-opened with Morton's style of variety presentations on 18th October, 1884. After he had announced his retirement in 1891, the Newson-Smith Syndicate persuaded him to return and revitalise the Tivoli.

He left his final mark on the Palace Theatre in Cambridge Circus. Charles Morton's 'starmaking' era pre-dated the Lion Comiques. It was as established stars that they worked the Oxford.

Text and Image from 'John Wilton's Music Hall' by Peter Honri.