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Shoreditch Theatres and Halls

The Curtain Theatre and The Theatre - The Royal Cambridge Music Hall - The National Standard Theatre - The Olympia Theatre - The Shoreditch Empire, London Music Hall - The Grecian Saloon - Grecian Theatre - The Town Hall

See also in this area: The City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate - Wilton's Music Hall, Whitechapel - Hoxton Varieties, Shoreditch - The Hoxton Hall - The Royalty / Brunswick Theatres, Whitechapel - Britannia Theatre, Hoxton - The Garrick Theatre, Whitechapel - The Goodman's Fields Theatre, Whitechapel

 

The Curtain Theatre, Hewett Street and Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London

Also See - Theatres of Shakespeare's Time from the ERA, 1878 - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - The St. Georges Theatre, Tufnell Park

A Google StreetView Image of the site of the Curtain Theatre during redevelopment in 2016 - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the site of the Curtain Theatre during redevelopment in 2016 - Click to Interact

A Drawing showing the Curtain Theatre at the centre of the image with a flag flying - From 'A View of the Cittye of London from the North' Circa 1600.The Curtain Theatre's well preserved remains were uncovered in June 2012 by archaeologists from the Museum of London who had undertaken exploratory digs at what was thought to be the site of the Theatre, one of the earliest Elizabethan Playhouses in the Country. Earlier research had resulted in a commemorative plaque being placed on a building at 18 Hewett Street as early as 1993 and this latest dig in 2012 revealed that the Theatre was actually only a stones throw from this location.

Right - A Drawing showing the Curtain Theatre at the centre of the image with a flag flying - From 'A View of the Cittye of London from the North' Circa 1600.

At present only a small part of the Theatre has been revealed, including the yard and the gallery walls, but it is none the less an impressive find. It is thought that the Theatre would have been polygonal shaped with an external diameter of 22 metres. The Stage itself would have been situated on the eastern side of the building with the entrance on the West off Curtain Road itself.

The site itself is soon to be built on but Plough Yard Development, who have been granted planning permission to develop the site, will be excavating the site further, and featuring the remains as a major part of its £750m mixed commercial and residential development of the site.

It is thought that Shakespeare's 'Henry V' was first performed at the Curtain Theatre in 1598, indeed the play's prologue even refers to the Theatre mentioning 'this wooden O' in the text. At this time Shakespeare belonged to the Lord Chamberlain’s Company of actors, who had moved from The Theatre, only 200 yards north of the Curtain, in 1598 whilst their new Theatre, The Globe on the Southbank of the Thames, was being constructed.

The Curtain Theatre was built in 1577 and was the second playhouse in London after The Theatre, 200 yards to the north, which opened a year earlier. The Curtain Theatre seems to have been named after Curtain Road which was itself formed as the perimeter wall of Holywell Priory which was situated just to the road's north. In 1567 the area to the east of Curtain Road was known as the Curtain Estate. The Theatre is thought to have been built by Henry Lanman, or Laneman, who was described as a ‘gentleman’ and a minor courtier. He is known to have made a financial deal with the Burbage family who owned The Theatre which resulted in the profits from both playhouses being shared with each other.

Who actually played at the Curtain Theatre is a matter of some conjecture but it is known that Lord Arundell’s Players were there in 1584, the Lord Chamberlain’s Players in 1598 and 1599 , the Queen's Men in 1603, and a so called amateur ‘companie of young men’ performed The Travels of Three English Brothers by William Rowley, John Day and George Wilkins at the Curtain Theatre in 1607. There are also records of fencing matches and boxing tournaments being performed in the building in later years.

In 1638 the Theatre was converted into Tenements and seems to have been still standing as late as 1698 in this use.

The Stage, Shoreditch, and Galliard Homes, who are creating a world heritage site on the site of the Curtain Theatre, have produced an interesting Culture Map of Shoreditch which can be seen here. The Map shows historical and current cultural hotspots, from the branches of film, television, art, and theatre which can be found in Shoreditch. The Stage, Shoreditch say that 'the inspiration for the creation of this cultural map comes from the archaeological discovery of the remains of the Curtain Theatre.' and go on to say that 'The remains of the Curtain Theatre will not only be painstakingly preserved, but transformed into a focal centrepiece, with its own amphitheatre and heritage pavilion  - a testimony to the unrivalled history of London, its regeneration, and to the rebirth of this site as a place to create, relate and live.'

You may also be interested in a new Website called Shakespeare’s Buildings, a photographic resource detailing the buildings and places associated with William Shakespeare.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Royal Cambridge Music Hall, 136 Commercial Street, Shoreditch, London

Royal Cambridge Theatre - From 'The Architect' January 20th 1899.Also known as - The Cambridge Music Hall, this Theatre was built at a cost of £16,000 with a capacity of 2000. It was designed by Finch Hill (see details below) and opened in 1864 but by 1892 the capacity had been limited to 1,488. The building was destroyed by fire in 1896, and although it was rebuilt and opened again in 1898, see cuttings below, it was demolished in 1936 for the extension of a tobacco factory.

'The New Cambridge Music Hall in Commercial Street, Bishopsgate, is now nearing completion. The stage will be 41ft wide by 30ft deep . The premises will be heated throughout by hot water coils, and provision has been made for lighting the house by electric light.' - THE BUILDER December 4 1897 - Courtesy John Grice.

Right - The Royal Cambridge Theatre - From 'The Architect' January 20th 1899.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1879 and 1903.

Site of the Royal Cambridge Music Hall in 2004 M.L.'The New Cambridge Music Hall, Bishopsgate, which was burnt down some time ago, having been rebuilt, has now been opened to the public.

Left - The Site of the Royal Cambridge Music Hall in 2004 M.L.

There are eight entrances in Commercial Street, and four separate exits are provided for the pit and gallery, with an additional exit from the latter delivering into Vine Court. A saloon has been provided at the Commercial Street level. The pit and stalls floor is about 10ft below the level of Commercial Street. The total seating accommodation for the stalls, pit, private boxes, circle. and gallery is 2,000 persons, with standing room in the rear of each tier for another 300. Mr Harry Percival was the architect.' - THE BUILDER January 15 1898 - Courtesy John Grice.

Finch Hill went on to design Weston's Music Hall (1857), the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton (1858), the Oxford Music Hall (1861), the Royal Cambridge Music Hall (1864) and the Philharmonic Hall, Islington (1866) . The architecture of these halls was considerably chaster than the entertainments which took place in them. Finch Hill was a master of the opulent but never licentious classicism of the 1850s. Audiences knocked back their beer in sumptuous settings designed by an architect who knew the churches of Gibbs, Archer and Hawksmoor. With the exception of the Britannia none of them had any proper auditoria; this, incidentally, was the main reason why none of them survived, for in the course of the century the form of the music halls was to develop closer and closer to that of the theatre and they were rebuilt as a result. Finch Hill's inspiration was literally ecclesiastical; his halls had level floors and galleried isles leading the eye to a ceremonial culmination above a raised platform at what one is tempted to call the ritual east end. - Victorian Pubs by Mark Girouard. Studio Vista 1975. Courtesy John Grice.

 

Ada Reeve on The Cambridge Music Hall

My early appearances were usually in the East End Halls. These were the days of the 'Chairman' - Mr E V Page at the Cambridge - who used to introduce each turn in his sonorous voice. I was at the Cambridge at the height of the Jack the Ripper scare.

One of my songs had a chorus referring to the well know French system of the claque. Although very few people realise it, the claque actually existed in the London music halls in my very early days. I remember once being stopped outside the stage door of the Cambridge with the request that I would 'remember the Gallery Boys'. I innocently replied that I would always remember them. The spokesman then made it plain that I would have to give them a weekly sum, for which they were prepared to applaud me vigorously, or else.... the alternative would be most unpleasant. That was the only time I was approached by what was then a recognised thing in the Halls.

From - 'TAKE IT FOR A FACT' (A record of my seventy five years on the stage) by Ada Reeve - William Heinmann 1954 - Courtesy John Grice.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The National Standard Theatre, 2/3/4, Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch

Other Names - The Royal Standard Public House and Pleasure Gardens / The Royal Standard Theatre / The New Standard Theatre / The Standard Theatre / The Shoreditch Olympia / The Olympia, Shorditch

A Poster for a Benefit for T. C. King at the National Standard Theatre in 1887, with Arthur Lloyd, and Katty King both performing - Click to Enlarge. The National Standard Theatre was built on the site of the Royal Standard Public House and Pleasure Gardens, and first opened in 1837, it was situated opposite the Eastern Railway Station.

The Theatre was rebuilt in 1844 by Messrs Johnson and Nelson Lee, who was the former manager of the Pavilion Theatre, Whitechapel. They demolished the old Standard Theatre and rebuilt it on a much larger scale. The new Theatre had a duel purpose, that of a playhouse and a circus arena, and was decorated in the same style as the Franconi's Circus in Paris. The Theatre's normal stage could be made to travel out of the way, revealing underneath, a circus ring 400 feet in diameter, which could also be filled with water for water features.

Right - A Poster for a Benefit for T. C. King at the National Standard Theatre in 1887, with Arthur Lloyd, and Katty King both performing - Click to Enlarge.

The Theatre opened in January 1845 and a few months later the Illustrated London News reported on the Theatre in their 17th of May 1845 edition saying:- 'The East-enders have now their Amphitheatre, or Cirque Olympique, for equestrian performances, which the proprietors of the New Standard Theatre have just provided for, in a novel and ingenious manner.

This little Temple of the Drama was erected a few months since, on the site of twelve houses, adjoining "the Standard Theatre," by Mr. John Gibson, for the proprietors, Messrs. Johnson and Nelson Lee. It faces the Terminus of the Eastern Counties Railway, in Shoreditch.

The interior is of the horseshoe form, and a domed roof, a construction peculiarly well adapted for the transmission of sound. The proscenium is 30 feet wide by 30 feet in height; the auditory has a circle of ten private, and fourteen public boxes, which, with the pit and gallery, will accommodate 2200 persons. It is lit by a cut-glass chandelier; the fronts of the boxes are coloured in two drabs, relieved with gold mouldings, pilasters, equestrian medallions, &c.

The equestrian performances were the holiday novelty of Monday last: they are not given in the area of the auditory, but in the place of the stage; for which purpose the flooring is, by ingenious machinery removed upon a kind of railway, the proscenium boxes are made to recede, and a ring is presented 39 feet in diameter, wherein Mr. Cooke and his Stud first exhibited on Whit Monday. Our illustration is a scene from an Equestrian Spectacle, also then produced, and entitled "The Conquest of Tartary; or, The Eagle Rider of Circassia, and her Monarch Steed of the Desert!" wherein a Mrs. R. B. Taylor's performance is very striking.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Illustrated London News, 17th of May 1845.

Johnson and Nelson Lee relinquished control of the Standard Theatre in May 1848 at the end of the season. The new lessee and eventual owner was Mr John Douglass, previously of the Marylebone Theatre, who remodeled and redecorated the Standard Theatre during the recess from May to September, and reopened it on September the 30th 1848. Johnson and Lee Nelson later took over the lease of the City of London Theatre in Bishopsgate.

The Standard Theatre was destroyed by fire a few decades later, on October the 28th 1866, but was then rebuilt by John Douglas the following year and it reopened in December 1867 with a seating capacity of 3000. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the soon to be erected Theatre in their 5th of July 1867 edition saying:- 'The foundation stone of a new theatre upon the site of the Standard Theatre, burnt on October 28, 1866, took place yesterday afternoon.

Mr. John Douglass has since then purchased the freeholds of some adjoining property, and thus obtains room enough to build a theatre larger than any one in London, excepting Her Majesty's.

The main building is 149ft. long and 90ft. wide. The extreme height of the auditorium part is 84ft., and that of the stage 94ft., to give room for drawing up the scenery, which will not any of it be used from the sides. The stage from the footlights to the back is 61ft., and the widest part of the horseshoe is 56ft.

The lower part of the house will be the usual pit and stalls, but the other part of the house will differ from any theatre yet seen in London. It will have three tiers of boxes in the form of balconies supported upon iron brackets bolted into iron pillars, not seen from the front of the house. These run up to the gallery at the back of the boxes, and so support it.

Each tier of the boxes will be fitted with cushioned chairs. There will be 92 private boxes. All the passages and staircases are of stone, with iron rails. The outlets are numerous, and the auditorium is lighted by five sun burners above a ground-class ceiling painted in oil. Mr. Douglass opens the theatre in November.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 5th of July 1867.

A Programme for the National Standard Theatre for the week of 2nd of March 1885.The Building News and Engineering Journal reported again on the new Standard Theatre, after it had opened, in their 27th of December 1867 edition saying:- 'The newly erected Standard Theatre, Shoreditch has been opened. The entire length of the building is 167ft. by 90ft. wide. The ceiling is a low pitched dome 70ft. in diameter and 10ft. in depth, and the audience portion partakes of the well known horse-shoe form, whilst the height from the pit floor to the centre of the dome is 84ft.

Right - A Programme for the National Standard Theatre for the week of the 2nd of March 1885.

The house is lighted from the roof by a combination of sunlight and chandelier. For the purpose of egress, during a panic, a wide flight of stone steps leads from each tier of boxes and from the gallery into the street direct, without coming down the ordinary way through the interior of the theatre. There are four tiers of seats, and ninety-two private boxes. The materials used have been principally bricks, stone, and iron, wood having been practically eschewed as far as possible in what may be termed the vital parts of the building.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 27th of December 1867.

T. C. King, Arthur Lloyd, and Katty King are known to have performed at the National Standard Theatre in 1877, see poster top right.

In 1889 the Theatre was rebuilt for a third time, this time to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect Bertie Crewe, along with W. G. R. Sprague, and reopened as the Olympia Theatre, details below.

 

The Olympia Theatre, 2/3/4, Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch

Formerly - The National Standard Theatre - Later - The New Olympia Picturedrome

The Olympia Theatre, Shorditch - From - The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes, 1929The Standard Theatre was rebuilt for a third time in 1889, this time to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect Bertie Crewe, along with W. G. R. Sprague. The Theatre was reopened as a Variety Theatre called the Olympia Theatre, under the management of Andrew Melville. It had a capacity of 2,463 and a stage 60 feet deep, with a proscenium opening 38 feet wide, and was equipped with 12 dressing rooms.

Right - The Olympia Theatre, Shorditch - From - The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes, 1929, see article below.

Programme for 'High Explosives' at the Olympia Shoreditch 1917 - Click to see Entire Programme. By 1911 the Olympia had become part of the Walter Gibbons and Charles Gulliver chain of Theatres and it wasn't long before films began to be shown as part of the variety shows.

Left - A Programme for 'High Explosives' at the Olympia Shoreditch in 1917 - Click to see Entire Programme.

In December 1926 the Theatre was converted for full time Cinema use and renamed the New Olympia Picturedrome.

In 1930 the Theatre was taken over by ABC, Associated British Cinemas, who, in 1939, closed the Theatre so that it could be rebuilt along more modern lines. They planned to have the Theatre rebuilt as an Art Deco Cinema, designed by their in house architect William R. Glen, and demolition of the Olympia began the same year.

However, with the outbreak of war the demolition was halted and the plans to rebuild the Theatre were never restarted. The Partly demolished shell of the old Theatre remained well into the 1950s, see image below, until the site was finally cleared. Sadly the new ABC Cinema was never constructed and that was the end for this particular site's theatrical history.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Remains of The National Standard Theatre in the mid 50s after it's demolition and a failed start to build a new super cinema was halted by the war - ' A portfolio of photographs' by Colin Sorenson, 'Theatrephile' Vol22-No5 - Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute Reference Library.

Above - Remains of the former National Standard Theatre / Olympia Theatre, in the mid 1950s after its demolition and a failed start to build a new super cinema was halted by the war - From 'A portfolio of photographs' by Colin Sorenson, 'Theatrephile' Vol22-No5 - Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute Reference Library.

Another article on the Olympia Theatre and Standard Theatre, Shoreditch, by Ronald Mayes can be read below.

 

The Olympia-Shoreditch

From - The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes, 1929

The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald MAYESIn the High Street, Shoreditch, stands the Olympia, which is now devoted to the pictures and other entertainment. Nearly one hundred years ago the house was a popular East End home of the drama, known as the Royal Standard Theatre. It was opened shortly after the City Theatre, in 1835, and was for some years under the directorship of Johnson and Lee.

In 1845 it was sold to John Douglass, who had been for some years a showman. Douglass had a genius for stage effect - the pantomimes of the Standard ran those of Drury Lane very close, and in order, not only to retain the patronage of the district, but also to attract other clientele from the West End, he carefully watched Harris's productions at Drury Lane. He said that the latter house habitually reproduced his own sensations.

This jealousy is mirrored in a letter from Mr. Douglass to the Era after a Drury Lane first night, in which he says that "seeing that a hansom cab is used in the new drama at Drury Lane, I beg to state that a hansom cab, drawn by a live horse was used in my drama . . . . produced at the Standard Theatre in ....... - and so on- "with real rain, a real flood, and a real balloon." We are told that Douglass rebuilt the theatre without the aid of an architect.

The National Standard Theatre with Henry Irving on the Bill. From the book 'London Theatres and Music Halls 1850 - 1950' by Diana Howard.Under the regime of the Brothers Douglass at the Standard Theatre, there was produced a most popular and paying sketch, entitled "Humanity." It was so financially successful that the play came to be known as "The Money spinner."

Left - The National Standard Theatre with Henry Irving on the Bill. From the book 'London Theatres and Music Halls 1850 - 1950' by Diana Howard.

A particular feature of the Standard Theatre was that for many years it held an annual season of opera, usually by J. W. Turner's troupe, supported presumably by the large number of Jews in the neighbourhood.

The theatre was burnt down in 1867, and rebuilt on a much larger scale. It was re-opened as the New Standard the following year. It was asserted to be the largest theatre in London, and seated two thousand people. The pit was actually larger than that of Drury Lane.

A peculiarity of the house was that it had a convertible stage, which could be turned into a horse ring, and in order to render this more practicable, the boxes were removable.

Thirty or forty years ago all the best actors of the day appeared at various times at the New Standard, which rendered it unique amongst theatres.

A poster for The National Standard Theatre with image of the auditorium in 1867. From courtesy PeoplePlay UK.In the old days it was nearly always filled with enthusiastic audiences, but on one occasion we are told that H. J. Byron, seeing the house half empty, asked Douglass where all his audience had gone. Douglass replied, "Gone West, to Covent Garden," somewhat glumly. " To pick pockets, I suppose," was Byron's reply.

Right - A Poster for The National Standard Theatre with an image of the auditorium in 1867 - Courtesy PeoplePlay UK.

For many years the theatre was under the management of the Melvilles (father and sons) who produced many successful melodramas. Most of these plays were written by Walter Melville.

The theatre still has many strong attractions which draw patrons from all parts of the various suburbs.

The above text was first published in 'The Romance of London Theatres' By Ronald Mayes, and is from a Lewisham Hippodrome programme for the 1st April 1929.

 

The Grecian Theatre, City Road, Shoreditch

Formerly - The Grecian Saloon

The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch - Held in the Islington Public Library

Above - The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch - Held in the Islington Public Library

The Grecian Theatre was situated in City Road, Shoreditch and was originally opened in 1858 by Benjamin Conquest. The Theatre was a remodeling of an earlier 1841 building called the Grecian Saloon. (The well known Music Hall star Marie Lloyd was the daughter of John 'Brush' Wood an artificial flower maker and former waiter at the Grecian Saloon.)

The Grecian Theatre itself had a capacity of some 2,500 people when it first opened on Whit Monday, 24th of May 1858. The conversion from the Grecian Saloon included adding an extra tier of boxes and an additional gallery, with new entrances to the Pit, Boxes, and Stalls. The Theatre would go on to have several more reconstructions over the years, the last of which was in 1875. The 1875 Theatre was designed by J. T. Robinson and constructed by John Garrud of Spitalfields with a more modest capacity of 1,850.

The original Grecian Theatre as remodeled from the Grecian Saloon, in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898

Above - The original Grecian Theatre as remodeled from the Grecian Saloon, in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898

The site of the Theatre is interesting as the building was not only a reconstruction of the Grecian Saloon, originally built by Thomas Rouse in 1841, but was also attached to a public house called the Eagle Tavern which was named in the, still well known, song 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. The Eagle Tavern was constructed next to the pleasure Gardens known as the Shepherd and Shepherdess Gardens which had been created in 1825 and were later renamed the Coronation Pleasure Grounds in 1838 and survived until 1846.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at Mr. Holland's benefit at the Grecian Theatre on December the 4th 1862. He and his wife also performed there on the 29th of April 1882 for the Benefit of Herbert Campbell whilst Fred Fernandez, brother of James Fernandez, was working as the Box Office Treasurer at the Theatre. It was during this time when a false ‘Fire’ call was yelled by some miscreant in the Pit on the 27th of December 1881, this resulted in a mass exodus of some 5,000 people in the audience. As luck would have it no one was seriously hurt, however it was a tense time for all those involved. Mr Clynds was the Theatre Manager at the time.

The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898.The Grecian Theatre and the rest of the site of the former gardens were eventually bought by General Booth in 1882 for demolition and construction of grounds and buildings for the Salvation Army. However, it turned out that the deeds stated that the Eagle Tavern itself could not be demolished so Booth was forced to have a Public House selling alcohol right next to his Salvation Army quarters.

Right - The 1875 Grecian Theatre, Shoreditch in a photograph printed in 'The Sketch' December 21st, 1898.

The ERA printed a report on the sale of the land in their 4th of June 1898 edition saying: 'The Charity Commissioners have a scheme in respect of the "Bishopsgate Foundation" charity for granting building leases of the Eagle Tavern, the site of the Grecian Theatre, six alms houses, and the houses numbered 16-48 (even) in Shepherdess walk, Nos. 1-25 (odd), Nile-street, and some other adjacent property, at annual rents amounting to £3,500, the lessee agreeing to expend in building a sum to yield a rack rental of £17,500 per annum. The Eagle Tavern stands on the site of the Shepherd and Shepherdess tea-house and gardens, which was a popular resort in the closing years of the last century. The adjoining theatre was built by Thomas Rouse in 1841, and was reconstructed and enlarged in 1858 by Benjamin Conquest. In 1875-7 a larger house was erected, the site of the dancing hall being included, for his son, Conquest, by John Garrud, of Spitslfields, contractor, from Mr. .G. T. Robinson's plans and designs, with a stage, including the scene-dock, 60ft deep, a gallery with 1,500 seats, and a total capacity for more than 4,000 persons. In May, 1882, the lease of the tavern, the pleasure-grounds, and the theatre, expiring in the course of the current year, and held at a rent of £365, was offered for sale by auction, but withdrawn after a bid of £18,000, the reserve price being £21,000.'

The above text in quote was first published in the Era, 4th June 1898.

A large coloured print from 1846 of Rochez 'the celebrated Clown & Bottle Equilibrist in some of his wonderful performances at Astley's Royal Ampitheatre & late of the Vauxhall Gardens and now of the Grecian Saloon' - Courtesy John Jones

Above - A large coloured print from 1846 of Rochez 'the celebrated Clown & Bottle Equilibrist in some of his wonderful performances at Astley's Royal Ampitheatre & late of the Vauxhall Gardens and now of the Grecian Saloon' - Courtesy John Jones.

The Saloon Theatre - From the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition

'The “saloon theatres,” always being taverns or attached to taverns, created a public who liked to mix its dramatic amusements with smoking and light refreshments. The principal “saloons” were the Effingham in the Whitechapel Road, the Bower in the Lower Marsh, Lambeth, the Albert at Islington, the Britannia at Hoxton, the Grecian in the City Road, the Union in Shoreditch, the Stingo at Paddington and several others of less importance.

All these places had good companies, especially in the winter, and many of them nourished leading actors of exceptional merit. The dramas were chiefly rough adaptations from the contemporary French stage, occasionally flying as high as Alexandre Dumas the elder and Victor Hugo. Actors of real tragic power lived, worked and died in this confined area. Some went to America, and acquired fame and fortune; and among others, Frederick Robson, who was trained at the Grecian, first when it was the leading saloon theatre and afterwards when it became the leading music hall (a distinction with little difference), fought his way to the front after the abolition of the” patent rights “ and was accepted as the greatest tragi-comic actor of his time.

The Grecian saloon theatre, better known perhaps, with its pleasure garden or yard, as the Eagle Tavern, City Road, which formed the material of one of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz, was a place managed with much taste, enterprise and discretion by its proprietor, Mr Rouse. It was the "aloon" where the one and only attempt, with limited means, was ever made to import almost all the original repertory of the Opéra Comique in Paris, with the result that many musical works were presented to a sixpenny audience that had never been heard before nor since in England. Auber, Hérold, Adoiphe Adam, Boieldieu, Grétry, Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and a host of others gave some sort of advanced musical education, through the Grecian, to a rather depressing part of London, long before board schools were established.

The saloon theatres rarely offended the patent houses, and when they did the law was soon put in motion to show that Shakespeare could not be represented with impunity. The Union Saloon in Shoreditch, then under the direction of Mr Samuel Lane, who afterwards, with his wife, Mrs Sara Lane, at the Britannia Saloon, became the leading local theatrical manager of his day, was tempted in 1834 to give a performance of Othello. It was “raided “ by the then rather “new police,” and all the actors, servants, audience, directors and musicians were taken into custody and marched off to Worship Street police station, confined for the remainder of the night, and ~fined and warned in the morning. The same and only law still exists, for those who are helping to keep a “disorderly house,” but there are no holders of exclusive dramatic patent rights to set it in motion. The abolition of this privileged monopoly was effected about this time by a combination of distinguished literary men and dramatists, who were convinced, from observation and experience, that the patent theatres had failed to nurse the higher drama, while interfering with the beneficial freedom of public amusements.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Town Hall, 380 Old Street, Shoreditch

The Shoreditch Town Hall in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Shoreditch Town Hall in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

The Auditorium and Stage of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.The Shoreditch Town Hall is situated on Old Street and was built in 1865 to the designs of Caesar Augustus Long. It was said, on its opening in 1866, to be the grandest Vestry Hall to be built in London.

Right - The Auditorium and Stage of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

A Poster for a Benefit for Arthur Lloyd with his wife Katty King at the Town Hall Shoreditch in 1882 - Click to Enlarge and for more details. Left - A Poster for a Benefit for Arthur Lloyd with his wife Katty King at the Town Hall Shoreditch in 1882 - Click to Enlarge and for more details. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1879 and 1882.

The Town Hall has undergone many changes since it opened, especially in 1901 when it was subject to major expansion. The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the changes in their 13th of September 1901 edition saying:- ' On Wednesday the Mayoress of Shoreditch laid the foundation-stone of the Shoreditch Town-Hall extension. The cost of the new structure will be about £30,000. The area is 4,000sq.ft., and it will have a capacity of 80,000e.ft. Mr. W. G. Hunt, of Bedford-gardens, Kensington, is the architect. The extension is severely Classical in style, to correspond with the present town-hall, and a tower, erected at the juncture of the old and new structures, will give unity to the whole.' - The Building News and Engineering Journal, 13th of September 1901.

The Extended Town Hall reopened in 1902, but just a few years later a fire caused extensive damage to the Assembly Hall and the roof of the Council Chamber in 1904, however a new extended Assembly Hall was then constructed which opened in 1907. The Building was subject to major restoration work in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2004. And it was threatened with closure some years later, but was eventually saved and restored again in 2012, more on this below.

 

The Auditorium and Stage of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

The Auditorium of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Auditorium of the Assembly Hall, which is located on the first floor of the Shoreditch Town Hall, in a photograph taken in November 2016 - Photo M. L.

The Foundation Stone of the 1901 expansion to The Town Hall Shoreditch during renovation works M.L. 2004After a concerted effort by a local community campaign to prevent the building being converted into flats by developers, the Shoreditch Town Hall was reopened as a new Arts Centre in July 2012. Local people raised £1.6 million by staging various events and the venue is now used to stage artistic and live performances.

Right - The Foundation Stone of the 1901 expansion to The Town Hall Shoreditch seen here during renovation works in 2004 - Photo M.L. 2004.

You may like to visit the Town Hall's own website here.

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The Shoreditch Empire / Griffin Music Hall / The London Music Hall / London Theatre of Varieties, 95-99, Shoreditch High Street, Formerly Holywell Street.

Programme for the London Theatre of Varieties - Courtesy Catherine Kent.The Shoreditch Empire was built in 1856 and was later reconstructed by Frank Matcham in 1894 with a capacity of 2,332. It was known as the London Theatre of Varieties in 1895, and for a short while as the Griffin Music Hall and Public House until 1896 when it became The London Music Hall. The Theatre was demolished in 1935. 

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A Typical Music Hall Gallery. The photograph was taken at the "London" Music Hall, Shoreditch; the audience, who, at the time, were enjoying a chorus song, were not warned of the fact. - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon. - Click to Enlarge.Right - A Programme for the London Theatre of Varieties - Courtesy Catherine Kent.

Left - A Typical Music Hall Gallery. The photograph was taken at the "London" Music Hall, Shoreditch; the audience, who, at the time, were enjoying a chorus song, were not warned of the fact. - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon. - Click to Enlarge.

See also in this vicinity:

The City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate
Wilton's Music Hall, Whitechapel

 

Programme for the London Music Hall  - Courtesy Catherine Kent

Above - Programme for the London Music Hall with a young Charlie Chaplin on the Bill. Also appearing were Griffin and Dubois of which there are more details below - Programme Courtesy Catherine Kent, Great Grandaughter of William Griffin.

 

Cutting from the Kent Messenger - Courtesy Catherine Kent.Cutting from the Kent Messenger - Courtesy Catherine Kent.Catherine Kent, Great Grandaughter of William Griffin, writes:

William Griffin was a fascinating man - quite the dandy - he married a dancer from the East end of London called Elly or Ellen - very beautiful apparently.

They went all over the world but their home was in Syracuse NY State (it is still in situ!) and she used to visit and stay with family in Florida while he travelled performing.

They had one son also called William who they sent to boarding school over here and that is my grandfather (now deceased also).

He (called Dickie for some reason) was always doing acrobatic turns and lifting my father up as a baby and scaring everyone when he threw him about!

William Griffin was certainly known by Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin and was famous before they were. Charlie Chaplin even wrote to my great grandfather once asking if he could give him a job!

He called himself Griffin because his original name was Zimmerman - from Alsace Lorraine. The sensitivity was always there of the German sounding name so hence the change. He did have various partners from time to time - Dubois and Ardell - Dubois can be seen billed with Griffin in the programme above.

Right - Cuttings from the Kent Messenger - Courtesy Catherine Kent.

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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: