Weston's Music Hall

Last updated

Weston's Music Hall
1868 Royal Music Hall
Royal Holborn Empire
1892 Royal Holborn Theatre of Varieties
1906 Holborn Empire
Weston's Music Hall
Address High Holborn
Camden, London
Coordinates 51°31′03″N0°07′12″W / 51.5174°N 0.1201°W / 51.5174; -0.1201 Coordinates: 51°31′03″N0°07′12″W / 51.5174°N 0.1201°W / 51.5174; -0.1201
OwnerHenry Weston
DesignationDemolished 1960
Type Music hall
Capacity 2000 (1906)
Opened16 November 1857
Closed12 May 1941
Rebuilt1886-1890 Lander and Bedells
1906 Frank Matcham
Years active1857 - 1941
Architect Finch Hill and Edward Lewis Paraire

Weston's Music Hall was a music hall and theatre that opened on 16 November 1857 at 242-245 High Holborn in London, England. In 1906, the theatre became known as the Holborn Empire.



Early years

The theatre was constructed on the site of the Six Cans and Punch Bowl Tavern. Edward Weston, nephew of the previous licensee of the pub, bought the former Holborn National Schoolrooms immediately behind the pub and rebuilt it as a music hall in six months. [1] This purpose built hall was his response to the success of Charles Morton's Canterbury Music Hall in Lambeth. In 1861, Morton struck back by opening the Oxford Music Hall, nearby in Oxford Street; a development Weston opposed on the grounds there were already too many music halls in the area. [2]

The theatre was renamed the Royal Music Hall in 1868, and then changed names again in 1892 under the management of Arthur Swanborough (Smith) (1838-1895) and George Burgess (1843-1908), becoming the Royal Holborn Theatre of Varieties. So successful was it in that decade it began to rival Morton's Canterbury Theatre, which was the most popular and profitable in London. [3]

The hall's early and most influential years were presided over by an exacting chairman and master of ceremonies, W. B. Fair, famous for the song Tommy, Make Room for Your Uncle. [2] He chose the acts, warmed the audience up for each succeeding performance, and encouraged them at all times to interact with the performers throughout the evening. Fair was thus responsible for introducing to the London stage some of the most famous music hall acts, including Bessie Bellwood and JH Stead. [4]

The theatre became moribund at the beginning of the 20th century, but was rescued by George Cray, with sketches such as The Fighting Parson.

Holborn Empire

In 1905 the theatre was bought by the variety impresario Walter Gibbons [5] and in 1906 he had the theatre auditorium remodelled by Frank Matcham at a cost of £30,000; [6] the theatre was renamed the Holborn Empire. [7] The Holborn Empire was the last surviving variety theatre in the West End, [8] also performing special theatrical matinees.

1907 poster from the Music Hall War between artists and theatre managers 1907 Music hall strike poster.jpg
1907 poster from the Music Hall War between artists and theatre managers

On 22 January 1907, a long brewing dispute between artists, stage hands and managers of the theatres came to a head at the Holborn Empire. The artists, musicians and stage hands went on strike. Strikes in other London and suburban halls followed, organised by the Variety Artistes' Federation. The strike came to be known as the Music Hall Wars , and was against the conditions imposed by the managers. These included sole rights to a star and the ability to include additional matinee performances in the schedule without pay, or notice. Eventually the managements were forced to give in, in the face of solidarity by major stars like Marie Lloyd, and additional payments for matinee performances were introduced. [9]

The theatre premièred the first full-length feature film in 1914, The World, the Flesh and the Devil, a 50-minute melodrama filmed in Kinemacolor. [10] [11] In 1926, comedians Flanagan and Allen were booked by Val Parnell for a début at the theatre, [12] and Margaret Lockwood made her first stage appearance at the age of 12, in 1928, as a fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream .

The Holborn Empire was where Max Miller was taken on by impresario Tom Arnold in 1926, and also where he starred in the George Black revues Haw Haw! (1939), followed by Apple Sauce (1940) featuring Florence Desmond, Jack Stanford and Vera Lynn. The theatre was closed as a result of an unexploded time bomb near the stage door, [13] during the Blitz on the night of 11–12 May 1941, and the show transferred to the London Palladium. [14]

The building was hit the following night by another bomb and too badly damaged to reopen. It was finally pulled down in 1960.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palace Theatre, London</span> West End theatre in the City of Westminster in London

The Palace Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster in London. Its red-brick facade dominates the west side of Cambridge Circus behind a small plaza near the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road. The Palace Theatre seats 1,400.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music hall</span> Type of British theatrical entertainment popular between 1850 and 1960

Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment that was popular from the early Victorian era, beginning around 1850. It faded away after 1918 as the halls rebranded their entertainment as variety. Perceptions of a distinction in Britain between bold and scandalous Music Hall and subsequent, more respectable Variety differ. Music hall involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts, and variety entertainment. The term is derived from a type of theatre or venue in which such entertainment took place. In North America vaudeville was in some ways analogous to British music hall, featuring rousing songs and comic acts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">London Palladium</span> West End theatre in London

The London Palladium is a Grade II* West End theatre located on Argyll Street, London, in Soho. The auditorium holds 2,286 people. Hundreds of stars have played there, many with televised performances. Between 1955 and 1969 Sunday Night at the London Palladium was staged at the venue, produced for the ITV network. The show included a performance by The Beatles on 13 October 1963. One national paper's headlines in the following days coined the term "Beatlemania" to describe the increasingly hysterical interest in the band.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Max Miller (comedian)</span> English music hall comedian and actor

Thomas Henry Sargent, known professionally by his stage name Max Miller and billed as The Cheeky Chappie, was an English comedian often considered the greatest stand-up of his generation. He came from humble beginnings and left school at the age of twelve. At the outbreak of the First World War, he volunteered for the army. During his time in the forces, he started a troupe concert party. On leaving the army, he took up work as a light comedian, dancer, and singer. He toured extensively, appearing in variety, revues and by the early 1930s reached the top of the bill in the large music halls including the London Palladium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">London Coliseum</span> Theatre in London, home to the English National Opera

The London Coliseum is a theatre in St Martin's Lane, Westminster, built as one of London's largest and most luxurious "family" variety theatres. Opened on 24 December 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties, it was designed by the theatrical architect Frank Matcham for the impresario Oswald Stoll. Their ambition was to build the largest and finest music hall, described as the "people's palace of entertainment" of its age.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aldwych Theatre</span> Theatre in London

The Aldwych Theatre is a West End theatre, located in Aldwych in the City of Westminster, central London. It was listed Grade II on 20 July 1971. Its seating capacity is 1,200 on three levels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shepherd's Bush Empire</span> Music venue in West London, England

Shepherd's Bush Empire (currently known as O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire for sponsorship reasons, and formerly known as the BBC Television Theatre) is a music venue in Shepherd's Bush, West London, run by the Academy Music Group. It was originally built in 1903 as a music hall for impresario Oswald Stoll, designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham; among its early performers was Charlie Chaplin. In 1953 it became the BBC Television Theatre. Since 1994, it has operated as a music venue. It is a Grade II listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Victoria Palace Theatre</span> West End theatre in London, England

The Victoria Palace Theatre is a West End theatre in Victoria Street, in the City of Westminster, opposite Victoria Station. The structure is categorised as a Grade II* listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alhambra Theatre of Variety</span>

The Alhambra was a popular theatre and music hall located on the east side of Leicester Square, in the West End of London. It was built originally as the Royal Panopticon of Science and Arts opening on 18 March 1854. It was closed after two years and reopened as the Alhambra. The building was demolished in 1936. The name was also adopted by many other British music hall theatres located elsewhere; in Bradford, in Hull and in Glasgow etc. The name comes from association with the Moorish splendour of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St. George's Hall, London</span> Former theatre in Langham Place, London

St. George's Hall was a theatre located in Langham Place, off Regent Street in the West End of London. It was built in 1867 and closed in 1966. The hall could accommodate between 800 and 900 persons, or up to 1,500 persons including the galleries. The architect was John Taylor of Whitehall.

George Black was a British theatrical impresario who controlled many entertainment venues during the 1930s and 1940s and was a pioneer of the motion picture business.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canterbury Music Hall</span>

The Canterbury Music Hall was established in 1852 by Charles Morton on the site of a former skittle alley adjacent to the Canterbury Tavern at 143 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth. It was one of the first purpose-built music halls in London, and "probably the largest and grandest concert-room ever attached to a public house" in London. Morton came to be dubbed the Father of the Halls as hundreds of imitators were built within the next several years. The theatre was rebuilt three times, and the last theatre on the site was destroyed by bombing in 1942.

Charles Morton was a music hall and theatre manager. Born in Hackney, east London, he built the first purpose-built Tavern Music hall, the Canterbury Music Hall, and became known as the Father of the Halls.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oxford Music Hall</span>

Oxford Music Hall was a music hall located in Westminster, London at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. It was established on the site of a former public house, the Boar and Castle, by Charles Morton, in 1861. In 1917 the music hall was converted into a legitimate theatre, and in 1921 it was renamed the New Oxford Theatre. In May 1926 it closed and was demolished.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music Hall Strike of 1907</span>

The Music Hall Strike of 1907 was a theatrical dispute which took place between music hall employees, stage artistes and London theatre proprietors. The catalyst for the strikes were the employees' lack of pay, the scrapping of perks, and an increase in working hours, and matinée performances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tivoli Theatre of Varieties</span>

The Tivoli Theatre of Varieties was a popular English theatre based in the Strand, West London. It was designed by Charles Phipps and was built during 1889–90 at a cost of £300,000. It was constructed on the former site of the Tivoli Beer Garden and Restaurant. In the consortium that financed the project was the actor Edward O'Connor Terry. The hall opened on 24 May 1890 and was located opposite the Adelphi Theatre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Katie Seymour</span>

Katie Seymour was a British Victorian burlesque and Edwardian musical comedy entertainer who was remembered primarily for her dancing. She was considered, if not the first, one of the first to perform a style of dance called the skirt dance. Seymour began in song and dance routines at a very young age and would go on to appear in a string of highly successful long-running musicals staged at London's Gaiety Theatre during the 1890s. She fell ill in 1903 while on a theatrical tour of British South Africa and died not long after her return voyage home.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chiswick Empire</span>

The Chiswick Empire was a theatre facing Turnham Green in Chiswick that opened in 1912 and closed and was demolished in 1959. A venue for touring artists, some of the greatest names in drama, variety and music hall performed there including George Formby, Laurel and Hardy, Chico Marx, Peter Sellers and Liberace.

William Burnham Fair was an English music hall performer.


  1. Morning Advertiser, 27 March and 6 November 1857
  2. 1 2 Weston's Music Hall, at Arthur Lloyd music hall history 31 Mar 2007
  3. Stuart, Charles Douglass; Park, A.J. (1895). The Variety Stage: A History of The Music Halls From The Earliest Period Period To The Present Times (PDF). London: T Fisher Unwin. p. 62. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  4. British Library on Weston's accessed 31 Mar 2007
  5. "An A-Z Encyclopaedia of London Theatres and Music Halls". Over The Footlights. Vivyan Ellacott. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  6. "The Holborn Empire". The Era: 21. 27 January 1906.
  7. Theatre Collection at the University of Kent accessed 13 Oct 2007
  8. Museum of London accessed 31 Mar 2007
  9. Music Hall Strike of 1907 (Theatre Museum London) accessed 15 Nov 2007
  10. "Programme for the Kinemacolor Season at the Holborn Empire". Science Museum Group. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  11. The World, the Flesh and the Devil at IMDb
  12. Flanagan and Allen (The Crazy Gang) accessed 15 Nov 2007
  13. Dame Vera Lynn's Tribute to the 93rd Searchlight Battalion (BBC People's War) accessed 15 Nov 2007
  14. Notable Stage Appearances (Miller's the name, lady) accessed 15 Nov 2007