Thursday 4 February 2016

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

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