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Charles Morton's Canterbury Music Hall, 143 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, London

See also This Special Feature on the Canterbury Music Hall

The Canterbury Music Hall Interior

Above - The Canterbury Music Hall Interior

Canterbury programme - July 1913 - Courtesy Peter CharltonCANTERBURY MUSIC-HALL, London, in the Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth. The first of the great MUSIC-HALLS, it was erected by Charles MORTON in 1852 on the site of an old skittle-alley adjacent to his Canterbury Tavern, and paid for out of the profits on drink made during free entertainment formerly offered there.

Click to EnlargeRight - A Canterbury programme from July 1913 - Courtesy Peter Charlton

The Canterbury Hall, as it was originally called, proved so popular that in 1854 Morton was able to replace it by the larger New Canterbury Music-Hall, which had a large platform stage and accommodation for 1,500 people. By 1867, when Morton left to work elsewhere, the earlier programmes of light music and ballad singing had been dropped and comedy predominated.

Left - A Poster with Arthur Lloyd on the Bill for this special 9 hour Benefit performance at The Canterbury in 1885. The poster is from a large collection of original Lloyd / King Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family. To see all these posters click here...

In 1876 the building was reconstructed as a three-tier theatre, its bar being for many years the favourite rendezvous of music-hall performers. The Canterbury was well patronized by Royalty, being visited regularly by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Duke of Cambridge, and the Duke and Duchess of Teck. When the popularity of the 'halls' began to decline, drastic reductions in the price of seats brought audiences back for a while; but the heyday of the music-hall had long been over before the Canterbury was destroyed by bombing in 1942.

Above Text from 'The Oxford Companion To Theatre 4th edition' 1983.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1862, 1863, 1864, 1870, 1871, 1880, 1885 - See also This Playbill for Arthur Lloyd at The Canterbury and this Special Feature on the Canterbury Music Hall.

 

A piece of Mosaic from the proscenium arch of the Canterbury Music Hall - Courtesy Tony CraigLeft - A piece of Mosaic from the proscenium arch of the Canterbury Music Hall - Courtesy Tony Craig who says 'A very good family friend, Al Fuller, went down with a hammer & chisel and hacked off a couple of chunks many years ago, when what was left of the Theatre was open to the elements. He kept one piece, and gave the other piece to my Mom (Jessie Jewel). Al... when he was younger, took over Ronnie Tates' part, when Ronnie continued to do the acts of his Father... Harry Tate, Ronnie then called himself Harry Tate Jr. (hope that all makes sense!), Later Al formed a high energy comedy singing & dancing act with Jeanette (who he married) as Al Fuller & Jeanette.

Charles Morton was inspired by his enjoyment as a patron of Evans’s to start up a small ‘harmonic meeting’ in a large back room of the Canterbury Arms, Westminster Bridge Road. There was no admission charge, and a few professional paid singers performed alongside amateurs. Despite the fact that the ‘harmonic meeting’ was on Saturdays only, the early success of this venture – in the sale of drinks and food it encouraged – prompted Morton to build a larger hall. At the back of the Canterbury was an old skittle alley, a relic of the rural past of the area now swamped by the outgrowth of London. The new hall was up within a year, and seated 700 people. It had no stage but simply a platform for performers. Morton recreated some of the atmosphere of Evans’s, paying some of the stars unprecedentedly high fees. It was not all vulgar fare, but included selections from opera, and the first performances of Offenbach in this country. Morton re-built again – in one weekend. Anxious not to lose custom, he had the new hall built over the old one without stopping the performances. One Saturday evening the skittle alley hall was demolished, and a new hall opened on the Monday. Morton had added a picture gallery which Punch, the satirical magazine, called ‘The Royal Academy Over The Water’.

 

THE CANTERBURY
From 'The Sketch' of May 1879

A scene at the CanterburyThe Canterbury occupies a peculiar position. Whatever it may be it is neither regarded as a theatre nor a music hall. It is, in fact, a melange of the Aleazar, the Eldorado, and the London Oxford. A music hall to the British workman, who smokes his pipe and drinks his beer while listening to the humours of Arthur Lloyd and other star comiques. A pleasant lounge to the young man with the crush, crutch and toothpick, who would be bored to death by any particular dramatic entertainment. To one indeed, the Canterbury offers many attractions.If he does not wish to weary himself by going through the severe work of sitting through the performance, he has the alternative of smoking a cigarette in the pretiest saloon in London. If he wishes to listen to Mr. Frewin's orchestra without tiring his sight by looking over the footlights, the fauteuils are so comfortable that he can close his eyes and doze at his ease.

On Wednesday evening last-Derby night the Canterbury programme was more than usually attractive. The overture was Aubert's DominoNoir. Then Miss Emily Kean and Mr. Mills for a brief while amused the audience. To them succeeded our old favourite, Arthur Lloyd, the most deservedly popular of comic singers. There is a finesse about Arthur Lloyd's fun that is carefully studied, and it is never too broad. A certain amount of slang and double entendre a comic singer is obliged to indulge in, or he will hardly hit the taste of his audience. Yet, of most music-hall favourites, Arthur Lloyd is least given to attempts to win ill-merited applause by questionable methods.

But, at present, the chief and real attraction of the Canterbury programme is the carefully arranged and charmingly mounted ballet of Pat in Paradise. Miss Nelly Power, whose name has been so long associated with " the Hall over the water " that it would hardly seem the Canterbury at all if her name were not displayed upon the posters, sustains the part of Larry O'Leary with all that fun and vivacity which have invariably distinguished her among leading actresses of burlesque. The songs that fall to her share are delivered with the most dainty archness, and her dancing is as spirited as it is graceful. Larry finds a most fairy-like little Nora in Miss jonghmans. But the interest in the ballet commences with the Enchanted Scene in the Fairy Dell, when Erina, Kevin, and Shamroc accompanied by their fairy, court, appear under the lime-light. By a most careful contrivance the powerful rays of the electric lamp are tinted with divers hues, and flash across the stage in different directions, so that while from the right falls a vivid blaze of blue, from the left streams an equally dazzling flood of green. The effect is most bizarre and striking, and reflects the highest credit upon Mr. Sabin, the optician and electrician of the establishment. The dancing in the ballet is admirable. Mlle. Ada, the fair premiere danseuse has all the grace and marked finish of style of Mlle Gillert. Although somewhat apt to linger over each pose, she is yet never absolutely at rest, and her style is full of memories of the ballet in its older and better days She attempts no wonders, but thoroughly deserves the credit of never failing in what she does attempt. Miss Phyllis Broughton as Kevin, King of the Fairies, dances with much spirit, and is evidently a favourite with Mr. Villiers' audience. The setting of the ballet is as good as it can be, and the harmonies of colour effected by the aid of the variegated limelight are most artistic.

In the second ballet, Etherca, is introduced a new and Startling effect. Mlle Ariel, the danscuse, floats like a bird through the air, now mounting from the stage to the flies, now again descending, and now, crossing from right to left, or left to right, apparently without the least exertion. That mechanical assistance is somehow rendered to this most fascinating lady must be obvious; but the strongest field-glass fails to detect either rope or wire, and for the present, at any rate, the flight of Ariel is a "quaint apparition," the mystery of which is unsolved. With two such ballets, an evening can be very pleasantly passed. Indeed, the Canterbury is one of the pleasantest of our London lounges. The sliding roof preserves the atmosphere fresh, cool, and pleasant. The fauteuils ale Most comfortable The attendance is all that could, be wished. What better praise can one bestow upon a music-hall than to say that in it the visitor is cornpletely at his ease.

The above text was first published in 'The Sketch', May 1879.

A description of the new hall is given in J. E. Richie’s contemporary survey of the capital’s amusements, 'The Night Side Of London'

Nostalgia Postcard 1951. Courtesy Mr. John Moffatt. Back of card reads: 'Canterbury Music Hall, 1912 A large audience attend the last performance. The popularity of the music halls never recovered from the First World War and the rise of the cinema. Some music halls operated part-time as cinemas, but gradually they were converted to cinemas and the great live music hall tradition disappeared altogether.'...A well-lighted entrance attached to a public house indicates that we have reached our destination. We proceed up a few stairs lined with handsome engravings, to a bar, where we pay sixpence if we take a seat in the body of the hall, and ninepence if we ascend into the gallery. We make our way leisurely along the floor of the hall, which is well lighted, and capable of holding 1,500 people. A balcony extends round the room in the form of a horse-shoe. At the opposite end to that at which we enter is a platform, on which are placed a grand piano and a harmonium on which the performers play in the intervals when the previous singers have left the stage. The chairman sits just beneath them. It is dull work for him, but there he must sit drinking and smoking cigars from seven to twelve o’clock. The room is crowded, and almost every gentleman has a pipe or cigar in his mouth. Evidently the majority present are respectable mechanics or small tradesmen with their wives and daughters and sweethearts. Now and then you see a midshipman, or a few fast clerks and warehousemen. Everyone is smoking, and everyone has a glass before him; but the class that come here are economical and chiefly confine themselves to pipes and porter.

Right - Nostalgia Postcard from 1951. Courtesy Mr. John Moffatt. Back of card reads: 'Canterbury Music Hall, 1912 A large audience attend the last performance. The popularity of the music halls never recovered from the First World War and the rise of the cinema. Some music halls operated part-time as cinemas, but gradually they were converted to cinemas and the great live music hall tradition disappeared altogether.'

Bright Lights, Big City. London Entertained 1830-1950, by Gavin Weightman

...At this time new music halls, not necessarily on the lines of the Canterbury, were springing up on the sites of old singing saloons in many parts of London. The entertainment was a moveable feast – the same stars could do the rounds – and it was in the comfort and lavishness of the surroundings that the new impresarios competed. They came to draw more and more of their profits from the entrance fee, though the sale of drink and food remained important and was one reason why music halls were generally more profitable – and thus attracted greater investment – than theatres.

See also This Special Feature on the Canterbury Music Hall.