Let’s all go Down the Strand
“Let’s All Go Down the Strand” is a popular British music hall song of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, written by Harry Castling and C. W. Murphy. It was first performed by Castling and was published in 1909. It was inspired by the Strand, a street in Westminster, Central London, that in the late 19th century became a centre for theatres, hotels and music halls. [Wikipedia]
It’s also the song that has the famous interjection, ‘Have a banana!’ Or, as I say here in Greece, ‘Have a moussaka.’ The interjection, however, was a later addition and apparently came from the audience, not the writer’s. The point of bringing this up is to introduce you to the setting for book three of my new Delamere Files series of Victorian, MM romantic mysteries. What happened to books one and two, you may ask?
Book one, ‘Finding a Way’ is already out on Amazon, and is doing very well. Book two, ‘A Fall from Grace’ should be available before the end of October. While that is being proofed, and while I wait for the illustration and cover, I have begun research and plotting for book three, currently titled, ‘Silence and Limelight.’
Silence and Limelight
Silence and Limelight was the title of a musical I wrote for an amateur theatre company donkey’s years ago, but this story is completely different. I always liked the title for its paradox (I think that’s what it is), and it fitted well with the story I have in mind for Delamere three. The story takes as its background the London Music Hall, a form of entertainment which rose during the 19th century and lasted into the 20th century when it became more commonly known as Variety (Vaudeville in America). From there, it can be said, we saw the rise of the stage musical which has now, tragically, become a vaguely creative retelling of Disney stories or biographies of musicians with the core stitched together using unoriginal songs. Don’t get me started on that! Instead, let me start with a few words by a chap called F. Anstey, written in 1891, the year before ‘Silence and Limelight’ is set. The piece I am quoting from is titled ‘London Musci Halls’ and it is his experience of viewing such theatrical establishments, not all of which he approved or enjoyed.
London Music Halls
Ansty starts with this:
LONDON music halls might be roughly grouped into four classes—first, the aristocratic variety theatre of the West End, chiefly found in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square; then the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls; next, the large bourgeois music halls of the less fashionable parts and in the suburbs; last, the minor music halls of the poor and squalid districts. The audiences, as might be expected, correspond to the social scale of the particular place of entertainment, but the differences in the performances provided by the four classes of music halls are far less strongly marked.
You have to understand the Victorian zeitgeist and not be offended by words such as ‘poor and squalid.’ If you are offended by such historical descriptions, you shouldn’t be reading about history. Only, you should, because without all the triumphs and horrors of history, we would not learn how to emulate or prevent them in our future. But don’t get me started on attempts to erase history and make everything ‘woke’ either!
Ansty then tells us about a first-class music hall venue and it sounds terribly smart and very you, and he approves. He even approves of the clog dancer and the ‘serpent man’ (a contortionist) perhaps because squeezed between the two was a young lady reciting Tennyson and other poets.
However, then he comes to the next tier of music hall venues, the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls of which he says:
It is unnecessary to describe the second class of music halls, in which neither audience nor entertainment presents any characteristic features.
Right, so that’s that then! What’s interesting to note is that he is as interested in the audience as he is in the entertainment.
The third tier of London’s music halls, he introduces thus:
Both externally and internally the bourgeois and suburban music hall differs considerably from its more fashionable rival. For one thing, it is generally dingier and gaudier of appearance; the entrance is covered with huge posters and adorned with tea-garden plaster statues bearing coloured lamps; the walls are lined with tarnished looking-glass, gilded trellis-work, or virgin cork. Sometimes there is a skittle-alley or a shooting-gallery in the “Grand Lounge.”
Then we come to the world of Jack Merrit’s father, that well-known (for all the wrong reasons) and not much lauded music hall entertainer, Samson Merrit, who famously died on stage in March 1891, and, according to the press, died while singing with Marie Lloyd.
As my first draft of my first paragraph of Silence and Limelight reads:
When, on the night of the thirteenth of March 1891, Samson Merrit dropped dead on stage, the only person in the Griffin Music Hall who knew it wasn’t part of his act was Mr Merrit himself.
As another aside, H. Chance Newton, writing in 1902, says of the Griffin, by then under a new name and management:
Round the corner in Shoreditch is the London Music-Hall, wherein the stranger who pays his first visit will undoubtedly fancy for the nonce that he has lost his way and has by accident strayed into one of the best West- End halls.
(In those days, for the nonce meant for the one purpose, and only meant what we now know it to mean in slang.)
Meanwhile, back to Mr Ansty. Having described various acts and venues of his first three tiers of the music hall, he comes to the lowest of the low (in his opinion), and the kind of music hall my character Samson Merrit appeared at. Mr Ansty says:
Music halls of the fourth and lowest class are perhaps the most characteristic, and certainly not the least entertaining, although a visit to one of them makes a stronger demand upon one’s powers of physical endurance.
He follows this with an often-amusing description of what he saw and heard while his nose was upturned, but also praises the place for its honesty and lack of pretention. Of the audience, he says:
They rock with laughter, the whole pit swaying like a field of wheat in a breeze. Those who assert that the London poor are a joyless class, incapable of merriment, should see this crowd when genuinely amused, and consider whether there is not some exaggeration in descriptions of their hopeless gloom.
This is all fodder for my research canon, and I am very much enjoying reading such articles. I am also reading a biography of Marie Lloyd, one of the most famous stars of the time, and awaiting an out-of-date copy of a book about the Gaiety Theatre in Aldwych, London, as more background reading.
Meanwhile, I have made a basic plot outline of ‘Silence and Limelight’, mapping not only the mystery but also the relationship between Jack Merrit and his attraction to men, Larkin Chase in particular. If you have read ‘Finding a Way’, you will be pleased to know that what was left hanging at the end is cut down and dissected in ‘A Fall from Grace.’
That’s all I am saying about book two, except: Its background world is a British public school, and I will write more about it on my blog on Wednesday as I continue to work on book three.
Dictionary of Victorian London
The above quotes are taken from Dictionary of Victorian London, a massively researched collection of all things Victorian in print, created by Lee Jackson, and launched in 2001. It is one of my main resources for writing of the time.
Lee Jackson has published many books about Victorian London, and you can find them on his Amazon Page.
The online resource quoted here can be found in Dictionary of Victorian London.