A clash of beliefs as religion and the Music hall collide in the East End

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For a change of scene today’s case comes not from the Police courts but from the High Courts of Justice on the Strand. It was a civil case, brought by the owners of William Lusby’s Music Hall, in the Mile End Road, who were represented by Mr Ince QC.

The complaint here was that a local preacher named Charrington had been attempting to prevent people going into the Hall because he believed the entertainments there were immoral and unsuitable. Charrington, accompanied by a number of his acolytes, was in the habit of ‘parading in front of [the hall], and intercepting persons going in by handing them leaflets and warning them that by going in to that place they were going straight to perdition’ [to hell in other words].

If any one wanted to go to perdition they could do so without paying sixpence’, they added.

The leaflets were fairly graphic and pictured ‘an unfortunate man walking along between an angel and a devil’. The message was pretty clear and not at all good for business.

Not content with the leaflets the priest and his followers serenaded the visitors with a stream of poetic verse which blamed the venue for:

Sowing the seed of a lingering pain,

Sowing the seed of a maddened brain,

Sowing the seed of a tarnished name,

Sowing the seed of eternal shame,

and asked the question:

Oh! What shall the harvest be?

Having presented the case Mr Ince produced a number of affidavits signed by local people to testify that the area around the Hall was peaceful and the only disturbance caused were those orchestrated by Carrington and his followers. The High Court also heard an allegation that those women that refused to take one of the preacher’s leaflets were labeled as prostitutes and as a result, ‘many respectable women’ were staying away.

In defence of his client, Charrington’s barrister declared that the preacher was well meaning and was trying to ‘do good’ in an area that needed it. Lusby’s was ‘in the worst part of Tower Hamlets’ where there were severe problems with poverty, alcoholism and prostitution. However, he conceded that his client had acted against the interests of the proprietors and would (mostly) desist.

Mr Ince wanted Charrington to give ‘an undertaking not to address the people going to and from within ten houses on each side of the hall’. Mr Romer (QC for Charrington) agreed that his client would not stand right outside, but refused to agree to much more. This was accepted without prejudice, with the proprietors reserving the right to return to court if there was any breach of the agreement.

The presiding judge summed up the arrangement (to the amusement of those present) by suggesting ‘that Mr Charrington would take to keep away from the mouth of the pit’.

William Lusby had bought the hall in 1868 when it was a pub called The Eagle. Lusby refurbished it as a Music Hall and opened his ‘Summer and Winter Palace’ in April 1877. It could take an audience of up to 5,000 people who could watch a variety of acts popular at the time. Moral reformers generally hated the music hall, seeing them as a places where alcohol was served, crude jokes were told, and risqué dancing took place. There were also close associations between the music halls and prostitution.

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A year after Lusby opened his Hall he sold it to Crowder and Payne (the plaintiffs in the case we’ve heard). In January 1884, just six months after the case, the hall burned down and rebuilt, opening as the Paragon Theatre in May 1885. It served the area for many years afterwards and most of the stars of the Victorian and Edwardian music hall performed there including Dan Leno, Little Tich, and Daisy Le Row.

So, unlike Wilton’s near Cable Street, it survived the attempts of reformers to close it down and it was only the coming of the moving picture that finally brought its long run to an end. Even that was not a disaster for the premises, as the Paragon changed its name to the Mile End Empire and started to show films. That building was demolished in 1938 and a new ‘picture palace’ (The Empire Cinema) opened in June 1939 on the eve of the Second World War. The Empire survived the war, and later years of neglect and still exists as the Genesis Cinema today.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper , Sunday, July 15, 1883]

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