Thursday, 1 May 2008

Wednesday 30th April 2008 - Media Culture & Sport

It was a cold, wet and windy day for our walk around Holborn’ sites related to Culture Media & Sport. We met as usual outside Holborn Tube Station, with our guide Aly. We set off and turned into High Holborn and walked a short distance through the bustling crowds with umbrellas to stop outside Clintons Cards and Blackwells Bookstore. It was here on this site that a series of Music Halls and theatres stood. It began with an old tavern called the ‘Six Cans and Punch Bowl’, where from the early 1800s sing-songs and harmonic meetings were held in the parlour. In 1835 a new licensee took over. His name was Henry Weston. In the late 1840’s he acquired the Holborn National Schools which stood next door and transformed it into a large and elegant Music Hall which opened in 1857 and which he called ‘Weston’s Music Hall’. In 1868 it was renamed the Royal Music Hall. Later incarnations included the Royal Holborn Empire and the Royal Holborn Theatre of Varieties.

Weston's Music Hall
(picture courtesy

In 1906 the auditorium was further developed at a cost of £30,000 by Frank Matcham. By 1921 it had become known as The Holborn Empire and this last surviving variety hall in the West End of London was finally closed by bombing in 1941 although it was not until 1961 that it was finally demolished. If you look up above Pret Sandwich shop, although not identical the building style is very similar to that of the Holborn Empire.

We then crossed High Holborn to visit Templar House. It was on this site that the Royal Amphitheatre and Circus stood. Part circus part arena, in 1867 the very first boxing bout under the Marquis of Queensbury Rules was fought. Some of the new regulations included regulating the size of gloves, wrestling and hugging were banned, the 10 second rule giving a boxer 10 seconds to recover after going down was introduced and shorter three minute rounds were adopted.

The Royal Amphitheatre

We then struggled through the crowds and road-works to cross back over High Holborn and eventually came to the Princess Louise pub. It has had a ballad and blues club run by James Miller who is also known as Ewen McCall who is famous for his song ’Dirty Old Town’ about his home town of Salford. The pub was also the haunt of a number of the musicians who were recording at De Lane Lea Studios in Kingsway. Pete Townsend of The Who, who were recoding their album ’Sellout’ at the Studios in 1967, sketched out spoof ads for the album in the pub. He was in fact sued when he used a jingle from Radio London without permission.

The Princess Louise Public House

We then walked back towards Kingsway and stopped outside Boots, which as I mentioned in our Hendrix walk was the site of the De Lane Lea Studios. A number of well known groups recorded there, apart from Hendrix, including The Who, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Beatles only appear to have recorded one track there - ’Its all too much’, but George Harrison recorded there on his own, including his first solo album Wonderwall Music. The Rolling Stones recorded a number of songs there in 1963 which included ‘Stoned’, ‘You Better Move On’ , ‘Bye Bye Johnny‘, ‘Money’ and ‘Poison Ivy’.

We then moved just a few metres further along to stand outside the building now housing The Foods Standard Authority. The cross at the top is a major clue to it’s original function however - it was of course a church. Originally the Little Queen Street Chapel, it was built in 1831, but during the building of the Piccadilly Line, the foundations were undermined and the Chapel was demolished in 1910. The church was rebuilt as Holy Trinity Church but this was badly damaged by fire in 1985 and was closed. In 1999 the building was renovated and turned into offices.

An old map of Holborn showing Little Queen Street leading north from Great Queen Street

Holy Trinity Church now Aviation House

Before the first church was built, this was the site of No. 7 Little Queen Street, which was the house where writer Mary Lamb stabbed her mother to death while suffering a breakdown. She was judged insane and eventually lived in the care of her brother Charles Lamb. Together they wrote a popular children’s book ‘Tales from Shakespeare’ and later collaborated on other books for children. On her own she wrote ‘Mrs. Leicester’s School’ which Samuel Coleridge believed should be “acknowledged as a rich jewel in the treasury of our permanent English literature.” Although critically acclaimed at the time, it has not outlived it’s era, however Tales from Shakespeare still remains in print.

Mary & Charles Lamb

We now walked down Kingsway then turned right into Great Queen Street to see The Connaught Rooms. Originally the Freemasons’ Tavern stood on this site, and it was here on 26th October 1863 that at a meeting between eleven representatives of football clubs The Football Association was formed. Prior to this meeting there were no universally accepted rules for the game, although the Cambridge Rules devised by members of Cambridge University in 1848 had been in use for some time and they were used as a basis for the new rules devised by the Football Association. The Sheffield Rules used by a number of clubs in the north were also incorporated into the new rules. The only original club of the eleven to remain in existence is Crystal Palace. The other clubs are now defunct or have become rugby clubs.

The Connaught Rooms

We now headed back to Kingsway and continued down towards Aldwych and then turned briefly into Wild Court. Now it is just a small back street it was once a much wider and more important street, but when Kingsway was built in 1905 Wild Court became cut off and lost a lot of it’s importance. One of it’s more famous residents was Susannah Mary Arne, also known as Susanna Maria Cibber (1714 - 1766) a famous English singer and actress and a sister of the composer Thomas Arne. She was a great favourite of George Frederick Handel, and he wrote parts for her in ‘Messiah‘ and ‘Samson‘. He patiently taught her parts note by note as she could not read music.

Susanna Cibber

She married Theophilus Cibber in 1734, who was reportedly abusive and profligate, he encouraged his wife to spend time with other men in the hope that they would shower her with presents of money and jewels from which he could benefit himself. However this plan misfired when Susanna became embroiled with one man, a William Sloper. A huge scandal ensued when Cibber accused them of adultery. Cibber was awarded £10 in damages. A year later he brought a second case accusing Sloper of “detaining”his wife. In fact Sloper and Susanna had run off together and had a child. This time Cibber was awarded £500. Susanna was forced to leave the country and went to Ireland, but in 1841 she joined the premiere performance of Handel’s Messiah. The scandal eventually died down and Susanna Cibber returned to London to follow a successful career as an actress at Drury Lane, which was managed by her father-in-law and she acted with David Garrick. She is one of the few actresses buried in Westminster Abbey.

We now crossed Kingsway and walked down Sardinia Street and into Lincoln’s Inn Fields towards the site of one of the first London theatres, The Duke’s Playhouse. Originally Lisle’s Tennis Court, a real tennis court built in 1656, it was used as a playhouse during 1661-1674 and then 1695-1705. Real Tennis courts were long high-ceilinged buildings with galleries for spectators and the dimensions (approx 75 feet by 30 feet) were similar to earlier theatres - far larger than modern tennis courts. The building was then demolished and a new purpose-built theatre opened and operated between 1714 and 1728. It was the first public playhouse to feature moveable scenery which would become a standard feature of Restoration theatre.

William Davenant

The theatre opened on 28th June 1861 by William Davenant and the first production was Davenant’s own opera “The Siege of Rhodes”. It was such a sensation that it brought Charles II to a public theatre for the first time. Davenant died in 1668 and the Duke’s Company, now managed by Thomas Betterton performed out of Lincoln’s Inn Fields until 1671, when they moved to the Dorset Garden Theatre. Following the fire of the theatre in Bridges Street, the King’s Company relocated to the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields until their new Theatre Royal opened in 1674. It was converted back into a Real tennis court until having split from his partner Christopher Rich, Thomas Betterton refurbished the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn and performed there from 1695 until love for 1705. The New Theatre opened in April 1695 with William Congreave’s ‘Love for Love’ and was later the venue for his plays ‘The Mourning Bride’ and ‘The Way of the World’.

The building then went unused as a theatre between 1705 and it’s demolition in 1714. The man behind the construction of the new theatre was none other than Christopher Rich, but he died in 1714 and his son John Rich led a company in the theatre until 1728. On 29th January 1728 the theatre hosted the very first performance of John Gay’s ‘The Beggars Opera’ (making “Rich gay and Gay rich”). The theatre was finally abandoned in December 1732 when the company moved to the new Covent Garden Theatre.

John Rich

The old building was used as a barracks, an auction room, a warehouse for china and then was finally demolished in 1848 to make way for an extension to the Royal College of Surgeons.

The Royal College of Surgeons

Until next time...

1 comment:

George said...

Very useful article. But the incorrect apostrophes in "its" are frequent and for pedants like me, annoying. (With apostrophe means "it is"!)