Thursday 4 February 2016

Early music hall in Liverpool

(From the Annual Report of the Rev.. Francis Bishop, the Minister to the Poor of the Liverpool Domestic Mission Society)

The youth mentioned in my last report as having ap plied to me when he left our borough prison, with a request that I would save him from a wicked home by helping him to obtain work, is, I rejoice to say, going on satisfactorily in America. And in this connexion I gladly avail myself of the opportunity of recording my deep obligations to the Rev. Dr. Bigelow, one of Dr. Tuckerman's successors in the ministry at large, in Boston, for the assistance he afforded me in this case. To his kindness is it owing, that, when every channel seemed closed against the penitent youth in this country, a way has been opened to him in America, enabling him to return to virtue and happiness. During the last year, also, I have availed myself of the same valuable co-operation, and in the case of a pupil teacher, who had been imprisoned for robbing the school in which he was employed, I have again found Dr. Bigelow ready to give judicious and effectual help to save the boy from the ruin that awaited him had he remained here, and afford him an opportunity of regaining a position of usefulness and respectability.
    It is remarkable that both the above youths were in the habit or attending the casinos and concert saloons that abound in Liverpool ; and since their arrival in America, though they have not the slightest knowledge of each other, and are living far apart, I have had letters from both, in which they rejoice that there are no such snares to entrap and corrupt the young in the towns where they are now living. Is it not wrong that such places should be permitted, and have the sanction of legal license? If it be not the duty of a government to make a people virtuous, it is surely its duty not to afford facilities for inducements to vice. That the dancing and singing rooms connected with spirit and beer shops are of this character, I cannot doubt. There is often, perhaps, much value talk and apprehension about popular amusement, originating in fear and suspicion, and not found on knowledge. From a sense of duty, I have been anxious to avoid this error, and, disagreeable as the task has been I have felt myself bound to ascertain, by personal and repeated observation, the character of the above places of popular resort. I have visited, from time to time, nearly the whole of them, and to some of them I have gone more than once. I sincerely wish I could give a favourable report of any of the number; but I cannot. With no desire to restrict popular amusements within austere or rigid limits, and no expectation that the rude and uneducated will show precisely the same taste in their choice of recreations as the refined and cultivated, I am compelled to regard the concert saloons as amongst the most powerful of the demoralising agencies at work in our town. They are not all equally bad. The largest are the least exceptionable. In them are sometimes to be seen and heard representations and music to which, in themselves, no objection can be made. But such performances are interspersed with others of a different character, in which, though there be no positive obscenity, only a flimsy veil is thrown over sensuality and vice to conceal their grossness; and the whole of these establishments may with truth be said to be schools of evil, sinking still lower the low tastes, and stimulating to greater activity and more decided supremacy the bad passions, of those who frequent them. They are not the resort of drunkards (to such persons the simple attraction of the drink is enough, and they will go where they can got the most for their money); but they are schools of intemperance, in which the young are unconsciously led on to the formation of the degrading habit. In their first visits to these places, ginger beer is a frequent drink of the juvenile portion of the audience; but they are soon induced to take what they consider the more wanly draught of porter or ale. Girls, too, who would not enter an ordinary public-house to drink, will go to the concert-room to hear the music; and to many of them the crossing of that threshold is the first step to disgrace and ruin. Whenever I ascertain that any of the scholars of our evening or Sunday schools frequent these rooms, I feel, from past experience, that all our efforts to do them good will be unavailing, if they are not speedily induced to withdraw themselves front such debasing scenes.
    Numerous expedients are resorted to by the proprietors of these establishments to overcome the objection of the scrupulous; and one of them impudently announced, a short time ago, that he had set apart an evening for the benefit of the Southern and Toxteth Hospital, on which occasion he promised his friends "a sterling (sic) and intellectual treat." I need not say that there was no truth in the announcement as far as the hospital was concerned and that it was evidently intended as a decoy. When visiting, on an evening in Christmas week, some of these resorts, I saw about two thousand people gathered together in one of them. Whilst I remained I observed a man so intoxicated that, in attempting to walk to a counter in the upper class refreshment-room attached to the place, he fell helplessly to the ground. Two little children—the eldest not more than five years old—were in the front seat of the gallery, looking down on the reeking and crowded scene beneath, with no one taking care of them but this drunken man, who, I was told, was their father. Many other persons were intoxicated; and one young man, near where I stood, to whose clouded vision there appeared to be two persons singing on the stage when there was only one, quarrelled with a man sitting next to him for attempting to set him right on the subject. A farcical dialogue was partly sung and partly recited before I left the place, full of double intendre, the impure meaning being significantly suggested by tone, gesture, or grimace. This is, I believe the least ill-conducted of all these places of entertainment in the town: the drunkenness I have mentioned is not usually observable there, and was probably owing on this occasion to its having been Christmas week.
    On another occasion I visited a much smaller place than the above, situated in the same neighbourhood. About one hundred and fifty persons were present, and amongst the numbers many prostitutes. A little girl was dancing, and at the close of the performance coppers were thrown on the stage by the admiring audience. "Fire away, boys!" cried one of the people belonging to the room and a shower of halfpence was the response. Afterwards there came a musical dialogue; the characters being a silly drunken deformed countryman, and a pert shrewish young woman, to whom he made proposals of marriage. The figure and appearance of the former, in his attempts at drollery, were painfully disgusting. An intelligent working man, who was with me, viewed the exhibition with feelings of loathing, and yet it seemed to be enjoyed by most of the audience. After this dialogue there came a song and recitative, purporting to be from a discharged prisoner recently returned from Kirkdale. He mimicked the motion of stepping on the treadmill with great gusto, and carried on imaginary dialogues with the other prisoners supposed to be on the wheel with him in which their various offences were described in a burlesque manner, and the admonitions of the judge, and the sermons of the chaplain, made the subject of low buffoonery and coarse jokes. In connexion with the part referring to the chaplain, witticisms were attempted on events in the history of Moses, Elijah and Jonah, and the whole affair excited great mirth and applause amongst the listeners. between these performances there was waltzing in a cleared space at the top of the room, several girls who apparently belonged to the establishment, taking part in it.
    In another of these rooms, which I visited between eleven and twelve o'clock at night, there were assembled about two hundred and fifty or three hundred persons. Many of the women present were wretched street wanderers, and a large proportion of the men bore unmistakeable marks, in their bloated and sinister faces, of having sunk to a low stale of dissipation. A number of sailors and some apprentice lads were also there, together with a few respectable-looking mechanics and their wives. On the walls down the whole length of each  side of the room were painted large portraits of well-known prize-fighters. The amusement going on was a stupid and nonsensical performance of dogs and monkeys', followed by what was called a pantomime, without grace, ingenuity or wit; but all these qualities were more that compensated for in the estimation of the audience by a large supply of grossness. Several poor little boys, from ten to twelve or thirteen years of age, want and sin imprinted on their young faces, were on the top of the stairs at the door of the room, selling canes. As I went out one of those boys was on the stairs, stamping with pain and crying bitterly, some one having given him a severe blow in the eye. It was a boisterous night, and the rain was falling in torrents, and, in leaving the place, just upon the midnight hour well protected with overcoat and umbrella, I could not refrain from asking myself—Who and what are the parents of these shoeless and miserable children, and what kind of a home have they to go to on this wet and wintry night? Alas! what must their future be?
    In the early part of the winter placards were posted on the walls, by the keeper of a concert saloon (now happily closed) situated near the mission-house, slating that they wanted fifty children. This announcement crested quite an excitement amongst the little ones in the neighbourhood; and much was the competition for the privilege of being engaged that at the hour named for applications, I saw children of almost all ages and both sexes flocking to the place. A few weeks of afterwards it was announced that the "Liverpool Children" were to appear. I looked in towards the close of the evening announced. The audience consisted of about seven hundred persons. Whilst waiting for what was kept till the last, as the great attraction of the night, I had to endure an absurd pantomimic representation, in which robbery, and an attempt at abduction, were prevented by the sudden appearance of a brave sailor - the performance being plentifully interspersed with firing of pistols, and fighting with swords, with daring fights, and sudden seizures, and miraculous escapes —a large dog taking a leading part in the performance as the deliverer of his master. A song followed, of a very low character, descriptive of matrimonial quarrel: and then a parody on "Happy Land " in which prisons and workhouses, the oppressions of the rich and the miseries of the poor. were the salient points. When the grand scene of the evening came on, I was relieved to see that, instead of fifty children, there were only nine, all girls, varying from about ten to fourteen years of age. They were dressed in operatic style, and had been trained to sing and dance, and form what were intended to be pleasing and picturesque groupings. The large number had no doubt been named in the advertisement for the double purpose of exciting interest, and giving a wider scope for the selection of the best looking children. It was, however, a sufficiently melancholy sight to see those nine poor children dancing and singing on such an occasion, in an atmosphere of tobacco smoke and amid fumes of beer. One could almost see the seeds of evil falling visibly on their guileless hearts :-

 "O Irreverent world,
ls't not enough that ye profane all else,
But must you steal the little ones also,
From the good Shepherd  those whom He has blessed,
And warned you. it were better, in the sea
With millstones round your necks, you made your beds,
Than to offend these chosen ones of His!"

It was impossible to forget the almost certain destiny of these little children thus ensnared. I felt that they were doomed, that they were being hurried along on the corrupting stream to the cataract's edge, and the fatal gulf beneath.
    What do we oppose to these polluting streams? Education would do much; but something more direct is required. To preach down all amusements is vain. The poor will have them as well as the rich; and if recreations pure and good are not within their reach, they will crowd to the debasing and the evil. Does not the action of religious men bound itself within too narrow a range? Would not a wise and far-seeing regard for the spiritual interests of society lead to the provision of amusements enlivening and cheerful, but free from the taint of corruption? It would be a delightful and blessed effort and, as it appears to me, a fitting outflow of the spirit of pure religion, if all denominations of Christians in the town were to form an alliance to supply this want, and so put down the agencies of evil, and prepare a highway through our moral deserts for the progress and triumph of Christian reformation. The promoters of the Saturday evening concerts are doing a good, I had almost said a holy, work. They have been successful public benefactors, and are entitled to the gratitude of the town. Many a congregation of devout worshippers has, I doubt not, been augmented on the Sunday morning by the healthful recreations thus afforded to the people on the Saturday evening. But more of such places and opportunities are needed. And, in the absence of such an effort as I have indicated would it not be a wise and appropriate expenditure of public money, if the town council were to build a hall at the north end of the town, and one at the south, where, under proper regulations, cheap concerts, and other innocent amusements, might be brought within the reach of the working population! (St. George's-hall and its magnificent organ will, it is to be hoped, be made promotive of the enjoyment and moral welfare of the people in this way.) Sure I am that the provision of such or similar recreations is a very essential work, in connexion with the moral elevation of the dense masses of people in the crowded towns and districts of our country.

Liverpool Mercury 16 March 1852

Manchester's early music hall

Sir, a few days ago, having been most earnestly requested by a foreign friend of mine, I accompanied him on a visit to one or two of the singing rooms or music saloons in Manchester, for the purpose of learning the real nature of the entertainments, and whence their popularity amongst the working classes. Having selected a Saturday evening as the most favourable—I may also say the most fashionable—one we sallied from home about seven O'clock; add paying our 3d each, as the price of admission, we found ourselves seated in the ———— saloon. When we first took our seats, there would probably be Some 40 persons only in the room, and it was evident we were early comers; but in a short time afterwards, the number had swelled to somewhere about 300 of both sexes. sitting in a position where I had a full view of the door, I took particular notice of the company an they entered, and to my surprise, I found that by far the great majority were young boys and girls, considerably under 20 years of age. with one or two exceptions, you might at once see they were parties who had been working hard all the week, and had smartened-up for their Saturday evening relaxation and enjoyment, and in what that enjoyment consisted I wilt endeavour to show In most cases the females came sidling into the room as if conscious of some impropriety; but once seated, their male friends took prompt means to remove their bashfulness. The waiter was called for - a glass of smoking hot spirits ordered "for this ere girl," and a "segar (or 'bacco' and pipes) and a glass of ale for me" - and then the happy couple sat down to enjoy themselves, and to be comfortable for the evening. During all this time (I mean the preliminary of charging the glasses of the customers) a talented artiste (?) executed all manner of ad libitum airs on the pianoforte, until the tinkling of a bell announced that a song was about to be given. Up to this moment, the leading female vocalists (three or four in number) had been seated at a table near the stage, but in the body of the room surrounded by an admiring group of young men, whom I suppose I must rank as the aristocracy of the room (as they were not mechanics, but shopmen), and who were paying their court to the ladies most devotedly. The bell I have mentioned was a signal for one of these females to throw off a large shawl, in which she had sat enveloped, and she stepped on to the stage In full dress, or rather undress, to favour the company with a song. Habited In a stylish-coloured dress, with a low-body—and it was low indeed (exhibiting nearly all the bust), she commenced to sing what I suppose I must call a love song, being a description of the multitude of beaux she had had, and how she had served them out! It is needless, perhaps, to say that all the young girls in the room sipped their hot punch and looked at their swains as much as to say "that's the way I'll serve you," and the singer was rewarded with thunders of applause. Some playing on the pianoforte ensued, followed by an interval in which more punch, ale, and pipes, were ordered and supplied, and then another lady made her appearance on the stage. Like the preceding one she wore a dress with a low body, but in her case the indelicacy of such a costume was more glaring. When I state that she attempts such songs as "All's Well," the " Standard Bearer,"—in fact sings none but songs written for a male voice—the exhibition she made will be readily imagined. In another house we visited, the same scenes were enacted over again. Young couples were drinking freely and listening to songs, if not positively indelicate, of the most lascivious and immoral tendency, some of them given by females dressed in Bloomer costume, others enunciated by Nigger melodists, but all opposed to good morals, and pernicious in the extreme. I will not, however, be guilty of offending public decency by attempting too close a description of all I heard and witnessed, but will ask what must be the impression produced on the minds of those young persons who nightly visit these temples ? The best answer I have as yet met with to such a question, has, I think, been furnished by the Chaplain of the Preston Gaol, the Rev. Mr. Clay, who says-
"From all I have seen of the criminality of young persons, I have reason to believe that the singing rooms and concert rooms, in which the sale of liquors is the chief source of profit, furnish the first temptations and stimulants to their criminality."
That this conclusion is a correct one, I fully believe, from an experience, the result of my own personal inquiries. A taste for the amusements provided being once acquired, must be gratified — by youths, at the sacrifice of their weekly earnings, how treat themselves and their sweethearts—and by the latter, at the expense of their virtue. How the evil is to be fairly coped with—whether by the efforts of the "Society for the Regulation of Public-houses," &c., or by legislative enactment. I know not, but it strikes me that our own local authorities might do something in the matter, If they would only bestir themselves. I see by our local police act, 7 and 8 Vic, C. 40, sec. 204, "That That every person licensed to deal in excisable liquors who shall knowingly supply any sort of distilled exciseable liquor to any boy or girl apparently under the age of 16 years to be drunk upon the premises shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding 2s." - with increased penalties for subsequent convictions. Armed with such power, then, why not send a policeman or two nightly to visit these pest-houses? Only let it be made public to these young people that they themselves were liable to be picked out by a policeman, and to be called upon to come into a public court as witnesses against the very landlords who harboured them, and I will engage many of them would never be seen in such houses again. Young servant girls, sent on errands, often contrive to spend half an hour in such places, unknown to their mistresses, as do other young people unknown to their parents; and once assured that a policeman had the power to make known their stolen visits they would be "far and few between" indeed. Apologising for the length I have trespassed on your space, I am, &c,

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser

29 November 1851