The Old Bedford Music Hall
At numbers 123-133 on the left hand side of Camden High Street looking towards Camden
Town Underground once stood the Old Bedford Music Hall.
The office building was named Bedford House but only a few of Camden's older residents
might still ask bus drivers to drop them off at 'the Bedford'.
The original Bedford Music Hall was built on part of the tea gardens belonging to
the Bedford Arms in 1861; in common with an increasing movement to provide a formal
structure for the entertainment once held in the public bars. The interior was a
splendid auditorium, capable of seating 1168 patrons on three tiers.
Although it was destroyed by fire in 1899, a second Music Hall was re-built on the
The Bedford Arms was sited on part of the estate owned by the Russell family who
later became the Dukes of Bedford. In 1669 William, grandson of Francis, 4th Earl
of Bedford married Lady Rachel, daughter and heiress to the 4th Earl of Southampton,
whose great grandfather had bequeathed parcels of land that are now known as Holborn
The estates that extended to Crowndale Road were once pastureland and orchards and
later Dukes of Bedford could be grateful for the foresight of William who began the
building work that was continued by his heirs up until the 1850's; many street names
in this part of Camden can be traced back to this family connection. The philosopher
Bertrand Russell was one famous descendant.
However, by 1933 all the estates had been sold but not before the housing that had
already been built was quickly taken up by the great migration to London of the new
industrial working classes looking for cheap accommodation. These same people flocked
to the new Palaces of Variety; and the Bedford Music Hall was no exception in its
ability to provide the kind of entertainment that the masses demanded.
The Bedford had also become a favourite haunt of the artists called the Camden Town
Group. Most lived near or in Mornington Crescent and the group was headed by Walter
Sickert (see Camden Town Murder), one of whose paintings was entitled Little Dot
Hetherington at The Old Bedford. The audiences did not go to see the likes of Sickert
but such stars as Marie Lloyd - 'Our Marie'.
She begun her career at the age of fifteen as Bella Delmere at the Royal Eagle where
she sang a song borrowed from Nellie Power - 'The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery.'
Marie placed her younger sister up in the balcony with instructions to wave her handkerchief
at the right moment in the chorus.
Soon, the waving of a handkerchief became a feature whenever she sang that song.
Nellie Power died in obscurity and poverty in 1887 whilst Marie Lloyd's career went
from strength to strength.
One of the other stars to appear at the Bedford was George Leybourne - 'Champagne
Charlie'. He came on stage in top hat and tails, dressed as the grand swell with
gloves and scarf waving a bottle of Moet & Chandon vintage as he sang the number.
Moet thus became the first commercial sponsor but faced competition when Leybourne's
great rival Alfred Vance introduced a number called 'Cliquot'. This started a fierce
competition between the two in which they quickly ran through any popular wine merchants
catalogue until Vance ended it all with Beautiful Beer'.
Just around the corner from the Bedford the Council completed the construction of
Goldington Buildings in 1904. One of the first tenants was Ethel le Neve, who found
infamy as Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen's mistress; in whose arms the latter most probably
nestled whilst his wife appeared on the stage of the Bedford.
Crippen was an American subject who was hanged for the murder of his wife in 1910
but is more famous for being the first criminal to be apprehended as a result of
the new invention - radio.
He was arrested as he tried to leave the Montrose liner at Quebec after the ship's
captain had been warned of his possible existence on board by means of a wireless
telegraph. Crippen lived a mile further up Camden Road in Hilldrop Crescent although
the house numbers were confused after his trial to deter the morbidly curious.
In 1912 both Gracie Fields and Charlie Chaplin appeared at the Bedford and in 1920
Marie Lloyd celebrated her 50th birthday in pantomime there.
Unfortunately the Bedford fared no better than any other as the cinema quickly overtook
it as the principal form of popular entertainment. The theatre fell into decay, escaped
major bomb damage during the Second World war but was re-opened in 1949 under new
There was a gala opening attended by amongst others George Robey who arrived in a
stage coach and had a pub named after him just a few miles up the road at Finsbury
Park, but now redeveloped. The first production was Lady Audley's Secret starring
Anne Crawford, followed by a succession of plays that are best left in anonymity.
In the same year 1949, the film Trottie True opened starring Jean Kent, Bill Owen
and Lana Morris. It tells the story of a young actress who is inspired to become
a gaiety girl after visiting the Bedford.
This was the shape of things to come. The arrival of Hollywood, colour films, radio
and eventually TV was the end of Music Hall. The management of the Bedford Theatre
went into liquidation, the theatre fell into terminal decay and was demolished in
1969. For many years there was just a wide gaping hole in the shopping facade, opening
out into what was probably the old tea gardens. Now nothing remains. The Bedford
is gone and with it Music Hall.
For anyone interested in the British Music Hall, there is no better site than that
run by Mathew Lloyd as a tribute to Arthur Lloyd.