The St. Georges Hall, Langham Place, Regent Street, London
Also known as - St. George's Theatre / St. George's Opera House / Matinee Theatre / Maskelyne's Theatre of Mystery
Above The interior of the St. George's Hall, Langham Place - From the Illustrated London News 1867.
The St. George's Hall in Langham Place originally opened as a concert hall for the New Philharmonic Society on April the 24th 1867. Right from the start the Hall could also be used as a Theatre and in such a form it was known as St. George's Theatre. The first performance at the St. George's Theatre was 'A Woman's Whim' by Walter Stephens on the 3rd of December 1867.
Right - Programme for 'Maskelyne and Devant's Mysteries' at the St. George's Hall in August 1910 - Click to see the entire Programme. - For more information on Maskelyne see further down on this page.
In it's 23rd of April 1867 edition, the ERA wrote on the opening of St. George's Hall (Reprinted in Mander & Mitchenson's 'Lost Theatres of London') saying:
'On Wednesday night the new Hall, built for the New Philharmonic Society, was formally opened with a Conversazione. Dr. Wylde, the President, will conduct the first concert in the room on Wednesday next. The Council had issued a large number of invitations, and the Hall, with its galleries, will accommodate from twelve to fifteen hundred persons. The salon to be henceforth occupied by the Society is 110 feet in length, 50 in breadth, and 45 in height. The elliptical roof is of wood, the lighting is managed by sunlights, and proper ventilation is secured by double windows and a perforated frieze in communication with the lanterns in the roof. The balcony runs round three sides of the room, and is very shallow, space for two rows of seats only being allowed. Facilities for exit are provided, and occupants of seats on the ground floor will find no steps to ascend or descend. Colour is extensively made use of in the decorations, and the architect is Mr. John Taylor, of Whitehall. A combined entertainment was submitted to the visitors, the proceedings commencing with a poetical address, written by Mr. H. T. Braithwaite. This was read by Mrs. Stirling, and formed the prelude to a concert, in which Mdlle. Poellnitz, Miss Abbott (London Academy of Music), Miss Madeline Schiller, Miss Rose Hersee, Herr Ganz, Herr Reichardt, the Brothers Thern, and Messrs. T. H. Wright, Chipp, Paque, and Ould, appeared Works of art, comprising water-colour drawings, portraits, &c., were open for the inspection of visitors. St. George's Hall has three separate entrances, from Langham Place, Regent Street; Mortimer Street, and Great Portland Street.'
The Hall had a change of name in December 1867 to St. George's Opera House when Thomas German Read took over the management of the Theatre. He opened it with a production of 'The Contrabandista' by F. C. Burnand and Arthur Sullivan. The Hall's name was changed back to St. George's Hall again in March of the following year. Thomas retired in 1871 and his son, Alfred, took over with his mother. (Thomas Reed died in 1877.) Thomas Reed was previously a conductor for the Haymarket Theatre Orchestra, and his wife an actress and singer at the Covent Garden Theatre. Mrs. Reed retired in 1879.
Right - A Programme cover for 'Cherry Tree Farm' and 'All at Sea' from 'Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment' at the St. George's Hall in October 1881.
As a Theatre the building really came into its own when 'Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment,' as it was known, began regular seasons, beginning on the 20th of April 1874 and staying successful and very popular until March of 1895.
The ERA reviewed the opening night of this new entertainment in its 26th of April 1874 edition (Reprinted in Mander & Mitchenson's 'Lost Theatres of London') saying:
'Mrs. German Reed and her small but talented company have now taken possession of St. George's Hall, where during the season they propose to reintroduce to those in search of merriment a series of those charming little sketches with which they have already delighted thousands at the Gallery of Illustration. Two special favourites have seceded-Mr. Arthur Cecil going to the Globe and Miss Fanny Holland to the Criterion; but their places have been judiciously filled, and still everything goes 'merry as a marriage bell.' Mr. W. S. Gilbert's romantic legend Ages Ago, enlivened by Mr. F. Clay's lively and tasteful music, has been revived, and the applause with which it was greeted on the opening night fully testified to the fact that its popularity is far from being exhausted.
Left - Programme detail for 'Cherry Tree Farm' and 'All at Sea' from 'Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment' at the St. George's Hall in October 1881.
Mrs. Reed is equally amusing as Mistress Maggie McMotherly, the superstitious old Scotchwoman, and as Dame Cherry Maybud, the vivified portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller; and we need hardly say that to her artistic skill both as vocalist and actress much of the success attending the performance is still due. Miss Leonora Braham, who succeeds Miss Fanny Holland, is a charming singer and a pleasing actress, and she met with much favour as Rose and the vivified Lady Maud de Bohun, her rendering of 'So please you, sir, 'tis I' narrowly escaping an encore. Mr. Alfred Reed displayed considerable versatility as Sir Ebenezer Tare, the pompous alderman and tallow-chandler, and as Lord Carnaby Poppytop, Maud's great-great-great-great grandson. Mr. Stanley Betjeman's excellent voice was heard to advantage in the roles of Mr. Columbus Hebblethwaite and Sir Aubrey de Beaupre; and Mr. Corney Grain as usual proved thoroughly efficient as Angus MacTavish.. The last-named gentleman furnished the only novelty of the evening. This was a musical sketch entitled A Day in Town in fifteen Minutes. He introduced us to 'Ma,'' up from the country with the girls; described to us in amusing fashion how they shopped; how they walked in the 'Row;' how they visited the Royal Academy, the Soho Bazaar, and the Panorama; and then took us with them to Signor Scracci's annual concert, and showed us how easy it is to turn a comic song into a classical air; imitated the Italian gentleman whose object it is to get through the music allotted to him at railway speed; the French singer, whose mission it is to cry himself, and to make his hearers cry with him; the ballad vocalist, whose conundrums are always answered by the man with the trombone; the Spanish singer; and his sisters Georgie and Porgie in their duet. He introduced us to sundry specimens of the genus swell at Lord's, and illustrated the music and the 'fiery steeds,' at the Circus. Whether talking, singing, or playing Mr. Corney Grain was always in his element, and the fifteen minutes which were comprised in his Day in Town afforded fifteen minutes of irresistible mirth, followed by a double call to the footlights for himself. This sketch is certainly one of his happiest efforts, and is sure of protracted popularity. The concluding item was Charity Begins at Home, and once more, in the persons of Mrs. Reed, Miss Braham, and Mr. Corney Grain, Mr. Alfred Reed, and Mr. W. A. Law, did we make the acquaintance respectively of Mrs. Bumpus, the fisherwoman of the old school; of Rebecca Giles, with her awkward questions; of Susan Bumpus, with her pretty song of the pump, and Betsy Clark, taking a prominent share in the arithmetical duct; of Mr. Gorringe, the wandering photographer, anxious to take the village pump and 'make a carte of it'; of the parish beadle, horrified at the thought; and of the charity boy, 'dressed up such a guy'. The whole entertainment has lost none of its freshness, and the large and fashionable audience present sufficiently indicated that in their new home the clever little company will find a renewal of the patronage they so well deserve, and which hitherto they have never failed to command.'
Corney Grain, who was a piano entertainer, became a partner to Alfred Reed in 1877 and they leased the Hall for many years, letting the building to amateurs when they were not performing themselves. However, Alfred Reed died on the 10th of March 1895, and Corney Grain died on the 16th, and Mrs. German Reed died on the 18th and that was the end of 'Mr. & Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment.'
Right - Programme cover for 'An Odd Pair,' 'Piano on Tour,' and 'Box B' from 'Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment' at the St. George's Hall.
Shortly after this the building had a change of name again to the Matinee Theatre, on April the 17th 1897, presenting 'High Class' Vaudeville but it was not very successful. A series of German plays were introduced for a while but in 1904 the Hall closed down.
In 1905 John Nevil Maskelyne, who had previously run the Egyptian Hall until it was pulled down in 1904, took over and reopened the St. George's Hall after making improvements and adding the house next door to the building. The name was changed again, this time to Maskelyne's Theatre of Mystery, opening on January the 2nd 1905 with 'The Coming Race' by David Christie Murray and Nevil Maskelyne.
'The hall has been wonderfully improved, and now presents more the appearance of an immense drawing-room than of a theatre. The stage has been brought forward, and its capacity thereby much increased. There are no wings, their place being taken by an inner and outer proscenium. The curtain of the inner is a clever painting of the exterior of the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and what may be called the act-drop represents a pretty classic landscape. As the Messrs. Maskelyne contemplate producing a series of important magical pieces, the machinery and lighting of the stage have become naturally matters of the first importance.
Left - Programme detail for 'An Odd Pair,' 'Piano on Tour,' and 'Box B' from 'Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertainment' at the St. George's Hall.
Framing the outer proscenium are no less than 300 electric bulbs. This arrangement entirely disposes of unnecessary shadows, which are so difficult to get rid of. When the actor walks to the footlights he is surrounded by a ring of unseen lamps of which there are no less than two thousand on the stage, and the power can be lowered to the merest glimmer, or by insensible gradation increased to a potential glare. Thus all sorts of effects, from the feeble light of the breaking dawn to the blaze of noonday sunshine can be readily simulated. These results are obtained by the employment of Wirt dimmers, of which twenty-seven are required for the eight hundred lamps affixed to the battens, besides the movable lamps which will be used at special points.
In their new scheme of amusement the Maskelyne management come into line with the theatres, and in their production challenge criticism in serious drama with magical effects. For this purpose Lord Lytton's novel, The Coming Race has been fashioned into a play by Mr. David Christie Murray and Mr. Nevil Maskelyne.
Before the curtain rose on the drama, Mr. J. B. Hansard came through the inner proscenium, and in the dress of an ancient Crier, addressed the audience as follows:-'Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! It having been decreed that the ancient, and at one time refined thoroughfare, known as Piccadilly, shall henceforth be devoted to the consumption of grub-where you may upset your little Marys from the modest sum of one and six - science and art are constrained to seek a pure atmosphere. We have therefore turned our backs upon the old and dingy Egyptian Hall - we have left Isis and Osiris to the flesh pots, and have turned to St. George, purity, and truth. Be it known, therefore, that this hall, dedicated to our patron saint, shall henceforth receive the sub-title, 'England's New Home of Mystery.'
Right - Programme cover for the St. George's Hall, England's Home of Mystery, under the direction of Maskelynes Ltd in March 1917.
The lessee and his sons will continue to emulate St. George by giving death-thrusts to the dragon of superstition and imposture, in whatever guise he may appear, and by providing high-class, interesting, and wholesome amusement at reasonable prices they hope for a continuance of that patronage so liberally bestowed upon them for thirty-one years at the old home of mystery. Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! As loyal and dutiful subjects of his Majesty King Edward the Seventh, it is meet we inaugurate these proceedings by singing the National Anthem. Miss Iris Lincoln and Mr. Leslie Burgess will therefore appear upon the auxiliary stage and sing, 'God save the King.' Let us all join in the refrain with heart and voice, for our Teddy's a good one, and don't you forget it!' Miss Lincoln and Mr. Leslie Burgess then sang the soli, and the audience assisted with impressive cordiality. The small orchestra is under the direction of Mr. Cramer, and the accomplished 'cellist, Mr. Ivimey, and the clever violinist, Mr. Denti, played some capital solos during the entr'actes.'
Above - Programme detail for the St. George's Hall, England's Home of Mystery, under the direction of the Maskelynes Ltd in March 1917.
Various other changes of name on a variation of Maskelyne's Theatre followed and this new home of Magic became well known all over the world and very successful until in 1933 the BBC took over the building as a studio and concert hall.
The building was destroyed by enemy action on the 10th of May 1941 and the St. George's Hotel and Henry Wood House were later to be built on the site in 1963.
A Candid View of Maskelyne's 1916-17 by Anne Davenport and John Salisse is packed full of valuable information and wonderful photos and plans of this once famous venue. The book is based on Rupert Woodhouse Pitman and his sister Mabel's reports of Maskelyne's shows at the St. George's Hall, Maskelyn ran the Egyptian Hall and then the St. George's Hall for a total of 44 years. The book forms a kind of diary of events held at the Theatre and has details of many of the illusions performed there, and also later on in other venues around London. A fascinating read.
Copies of the book priced at a very reasonable £15 (including
St. George's Hall: Behind the Scenes at England's Home of Mystery by Anne Davenport and John Salisse, who invite you to join them backstage to peek into the Maskelyne workshop where so many classic illusions first saw the light of day, to eavesdrop on board meetings where egos and personalities often clashed, and to watch from the wings as the world's top conjurors entertain generations of London theatre goers. The story of St. George's Hall is the history of magic in England during its glorious golden age.
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