Monday 28 February 2011

Or is it indigestion?

Collins Music Hall survived from 1863 until a fire in late 1950s. The Waterstones bookshop at Islington Green (and a plaque) marks the location, and the shop retains some of its facade. See the excellent Arthur Lloyd site for more details. Here's an account of the (fairly staid) amusements available in 1890 from Pick Me Up:


Collins's Music Hall lives at Islington. It is bounded on the north by several large buildings, on the south by Islington Green, on the east by a policeman, and on the west by a whelk-stall. It is called Collins's because it belongs to Mr. Herbert Sprake. As soon as it was quite dark I crept round by Islington Green, and, after successfully dodging the policeman, I walked boldly into the front entrance, and asked to be shorn into the Royal Box. There was a faint cheer as I took my seat, the audience being engaged in encoring Mr. Fred Herbert, who, in response came on and sang about Gladstone, Salisbury & Co., Limited, the well-known firm of soap-makers in the City.


    The next turn was by Miss Alice Harris, who sang sweet ditties of love and of sweethearts who threw each other out of window for love of her; after which came the inevitable "London Day by Day" song in which bare-footed beggars and homeless cats and dogs were wonderfully mixed. A reasonable amount of that sort of thing is of course very right and proper, but as it is getting near the end of the silly season, haven't we had about enough of it for the present?

We're told of "eyes that sorrow dims,"
And tons of " aching, weary limbs,"
And Gospel a la George R. Sims,
In " London Day by Day"
And agony piled up so thick,
We yearn to write its "iacet hic,"
For just now we've got pretty sick
Of " London Day by Day."


Collins's is evidently a wonderfully popular Hall. That night the house was packed from roof to floor ; and in the gallery there were quite a number of soldiers in undress uniform—at least, I suppose that's what they call it when a soldier takes off his coat and sits in his flannel shirt. The next attraction on the stage was M. Edgeio, who is described as a "comic juggler," after whom came Miss Fanny Guyton, who explained her liking for taking strolls beneath the moonlight. As a matter of fact, few people take strolls above the moonlight, but that doesn't matter.


Fanny told us that when she heard the singing of the nightingale she knew that her lover was coming. That's all right, of course, as far as poetry goes: but now-a-days I believe the approach of the young man is most frequently heralded by that pronounced aroma peculiar to cheap cigarettes. Fanny then vows by the stars above that she'll be true. The stars are pretty safe things to swear by, because they're always winking at each other, you know. After she has done her song Fanny begins to dance. I took up my programme and read it through, and when I got to the end she was still dancing. I went out and strolled up and down the corridor, and when I came back she was still at it. She seemed to me to have been wound up to go a certain time, and she was solemnly determined to do that or bust.

The next turn was extra. I couldn't catch its name, as I was busy explaining to the waiter that I didn't drink, and he was wondering what on earth I did to pass the time. But there were two of it, and they were of the Irish American variety so popular just now. After the usual amount of funny dialogue, they volunteered an American nigger hymn, which they chanted in the melodious tones of a short-winded concertina with a flat-iron inside it.


The appearance of Mr. James Fawn, modestly described as a "Comedian," was the signal for wild cheers. The grace and agility of the fawn are hardly with James now, but his great popularity is evidently on the increase, and he is quite as funny as ever. In answer to repeated calls for encores, Mr. Fawn explained that Miss Katie Seymour was coming on next, and the lady had threatened to dance all over him if he kept the floor much longer.

When Mr. Fawn's substantial shadow had quite followed him out, Miss Katie Seymour brings on a song in the usual strain, about sweethearts yearning to go and die for her somewhere; and she told us that her name was Marjorie, and that even the policeman in the street called her by name as she passed, and vowed eternal love. I can sympathise with Miss Seymour, for I blush to say I have known what it is to trifle with the truth myself. After this Katie comes on and wants to know what love is, as there is something about her she can't understand, and she thinks she's got it.

It keeps me waking half the night
with wondrous fancies teeming;
It steals upon my slumbers bright,
And sets me wildly dreaming.
Is it a message from above?
Is it—ah! that's the question—
The eager whispering of Love?
Or is it—indigestion?

Miss Seymour's chief attraction is, however, her dancing. She floats on in all the colours of the rainbow, and in the distance you observe at the wings a lady watching with an anxious face, apparently waiting in case any of the safety pins should go wrong. The dancing is extremely graceful, and its studied propriety would lift the hair even of the County Council. There is a host of other talent at Collins's well calculated to sustain the bright reputation earned in the past, and that is probably why this music-hall appears to be the best known place of entertainment in the North of London.


  1. Love this as my family worked (not performed) in the music halls of Islington at that time but I have no idea how to find out how or when. Great background for me though, thanks.

  2. I Loved this too Lee, as my grandmother, Dulcie Dalmar, performed in the Music Halls.

    So far, I've only found her in the Empress Brixton (in "I've seen the 'Arem") and the Poplar Hippodrome (in "Follow the Frill") but I like to think she did more than that.

  3. The premises of the old Colins's music hall is just up the road from us at Islington Green and I often go there to browse through the books in Waterstone's.

    I researched Colins's for a post on my blog but did not have any account of the sort of fare served up so this one from Pick Me Up was interesting. It's just a pity the author needed to be quite such a wag when I was more interested in the performance on stage than in his. Still, we get something of the flavour of it.

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  5. Hearing more about the music halls really is such a pleasure. I need to get myself down to some of these old haunts in London town!