At numbers 93-95 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 site.
The new industrial working classes of London were looking for cheap accommodation but these were the same people that 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 management.
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. I received an email this week (January 2017) from an an on-line contact which says that the George Robey is now gone, demolished. The story from the Islington Gazette.
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 signalled 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.
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