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The Royal Aquarium, and Imperial Theatre, Westminster, London

 

The Royal Aquarium - from 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.

Above - The Royal Aquarium - from 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.

 

Royal Aquarium programme, printed on silk 1888 - Click to enlarge.The Royal Aquarium, on the site of the present Central Hall, was opened in 1876 as a place of general amusement. In spite of its many attractions (which did not include fish) it was popular only for a short time and was demolished in 1902.

Text from 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.

Right - Royal Aquarium programme, printed on silk 1888 - Click to enlarge.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Royal Aquarium in 1892

 

The Methodist Central Hall, built in 1912 on the Site of the Royal Aquarium. - Photo M.L. August 2008

Above - The Methodist Central Hall, built in 1912 on the Site of the Royal Aquarium. - Photo M.L. August 2008

 

Right - Floor plan of the Westminster Royal Aquarium in 1891 - Courtesy Chris Kearl. - Click to enlarge.Right - Floor plan of the Westminster Royal Aquarium in 1891 - Courtesy Chris Kearl. - Click to enlarge.Left and Right - Floor plans of the Westminster Royal Aquarium in 1891 - Courtesy Chris Kearl. - Click for an article on the Grand Organ at the Aquarium with plans and images enlarged.

 

A Song Sheet for 'The Rink Galop' by Charles D'Albert as performed at the Royal Aquarium Westminster - Courtesy Stephan James. Thomas Adair Masey was not only director of the Royal Aquarium, which opened in Westminster on 22 January 1876, but chairman of the company promoting the Great Yarmouth Aquarium and on the board of the Tynemouth Aquarium and Winter Garden Company at its inception in November 1875... ...Alfred Bedborough, who began his architectural practice in Southampton and later moved to London, also designed the Royal Aquarium, just to the west of Westminster Abbey on Tothill Street...

Above Text courtesy Lynn Pearson from her book 'The People's Palaces, Britain's Seaside Pleasure Buildings 1870-1914.'

Central Hall Westminster is located on Storey's Gate, across the road from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

Right - A Song Sheet for 'The Rink Galop' by Charles D'Albert as performed at the Royal Aquarium Westminster - Courtesy Stephan James.

 

Royal Aquarium programme 1890 (Printed on silk) generously donated by Mr. John MoffattThe Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876 along the north side of Tothill. Street (a few years after the Brighton Aquarium), was to be a sort of Crystal Palace in the centre of London. The original board of directors included Wybrow Robertson, the theatrical manager; Henry Labouchere, the financier (founder of Truth, and part owner of the Queen's Theatre, which stood in Long Acre, where Odhams' building now is); William Whiteley of Westbourne Grove; Arthur Sullivan, the composer; and Basano, the photographer. It started with high-minded ideals -art exhibitions under Millais, concerts under Sullivan, with Sims Reeves the tenor, Mrs Langtry in plays -you could even be elected a Fellow but before long it was being run on more popular lines.

Right - Royal Aquarium programme 1890 (Printed on silk) generously donated by Mr. John Moffatt

Its licence was often in peril on account of the dangerous and sensational acts shown there. The best-known was Zazel, a young lady shot from the mouth of a cannon. It was a mechanical trick, of course, but widespread protests led the Home Secretary to issue a warning. The enterprising manager retorted with an invitation to the Home Secretary to come and be shot from the Henry Jones (1822-1900) at 136 Fulham Road, West Brompton. The builder of the Grand Organ in the Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Gardens, Westminster. - Click for an article about the Grand Organ at the Aquarium with plans of the building. - Courtesy Chris Kearl.cannon's mouth himself, to prove that there was no danger. The invitation was not accepted, but it was a wonderful advertisement. Right - Floor plan of the Westminster Royal Aquarium in 1891 - Courtesy Chris Kearl. - Click to enlarge.

Left - Henry Jones (1822-1900) at 136 Fulham Road, West Brompton. The builder of the Grand Organ in the Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Gardens, Westminster. - Click for an article about the Grand Organ at the Aquarium with plans of the building. - Courtesy Chris Kearl.


Leybourne, whose famous song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze was based on another real-life acrobat of the time, Leotard (who first introduced the flying-trapeze act at the Alhambra in the sixties), had a song about Zazel, "the Human Cannon-ball" at the Aquarium:

It's wonderful fun when she's shot from a gun;
I could live and die for Zazel.

He also had a song Lounging in the Aq., following Vance's song Walking in the Zoo. (The rivalry was continuous: to The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue Vance retaliated with The Fair Girl Dressed in Check.)

This was the chorus of Leybourne's song about the Aquarium, written by T. C. Clay in 1880:

Lounging in the Aq.,
Lounging in the Aq.,
That against all other modes
Of killing time I'll back.
Fun that's never slack,
Eyes brown, blue, and black
Make one feel in Paradise
While lounging in the Aq.

At the Aquarium, lined with tanks, to which few people paid any attention, there was something on all day-variety entertainments, dancing Zulus, billiards matches, side-shows, and stalls selling perfumery and gloves; but it grew slightly disreputable.

Arthur Roberts sang:

I strolled one day to Westminster,
The Royal Aquarium to see;
But I had to stand a bottle
just to lubricate the throttle
Of a lady who was forty-three.

It was at the Aquarium that George Robey made his first professional appearance, as assistant to Professor Kennedy, a spoof mesmerist, in 1891.

It was popular with members of the House of Commons, being a handy place of adjournment. It lingered on, a dull and dingy glass house, Popularly known as "the Tank," until 1903, when the site was sold to the Wesleyan Methodists, and the Central Hall arose in its place.

Text from - 'They Were Singing' by Christopher Pulling 1952.

There is more information on the history of the Aquarium here.

 

Imperial Theatre, Aquarium Theatre / Royal Aquarium Theatre, Victoria London.

The Interior later becameinterior of the Imperial palace Theatre, also known as the Royal Albert Music Hall, Canning Town

An early postcard depicting the Imperial Theatre, Westminster, London.

Above - An early postcard depicting the Imperial Theatre, Westminster, London.

Programme picture album for 'The Perfect Lover' at the Imperial Theatre - 1905.The Imperial Theatre, formerly the Aquarium Theatre / Royal Aquarium Theatre, on Tothill Street at the west end of the Royal Aquarium, see top of page, opened on the 15th April 1876. The theatre was designed by A. Bedborough and built by Messrs. Lucas with a capacity of 1,293. Stalls - 244, Pit - 133, Balcony - 202, Upper Circle - 163, Gallery 214.

Walter Emden did extensive alterations to the Theatre in 1898 yet it was reconstructed in 1901 by F.T. Verity with a new capacity of 1,150. The stage was 62' wide by 40' deep.

Right - Programme picture album for 'The Perfect Lover' at the Imperial Theatre - 1905.

After the Royal Aquarium was demolished in 1903 the Imperial Theatre, which still had 4 years lease left to run, stood on its own, until on the 24th November 1907 it finally closed and was also demolished. The site, along with the Royal Aquarium site, becoming the new Central Hall.

Amazingly, the interior of the Imperial Theatre was saved and re-erected as the Imperial Palace in Canning Town, which was a rebuilding of the old Royal Albert Music Hall there. It opened in December 1909. This Theatre later became a cinema and was destroyed by fire in 1931. A new building on the site, the Imperial Cinema, later to become the Essoldo, opened in 1934 and was demolished in 1967.

 

The Auditorium, Stage and Royal Box of the Imperial Theatre, Westminster - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - The Auditorium, Stage and Royal Box of the Imperial Theatre, Westminster - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Imperial Theatre information gleaned from Diana Howard's book 'London Theatres and Music Halls - 1850-1950.' and Mander & Mitchenson's 'Lost Theatres of London' 1975.