For this month’s King’s Ginger expedition, I journeyed to the Far East, and the furthest corners of the Empire. Hackney, to be precise. The… er… Hackney Empire (d’you see what I did there?). To the music hall, by Jove!
In the 1800s, music hall used to be a form of entertainment for the working classes, and they alone. The shows were bawdy and considered highly inappropriate for lofty ladies and gentlemen of the upper and middle classes alike; and the performers themselves were deemed the very lowest of the low. Sounds like a whole lot of fun to be honest, especially when one compares the noise, colour, greasepaint and laughter that must have abounded in such establishments compared to the straight-laced Victorian values that would have epitomised the theatre of the time! But there was one particular, fun-loving upper crust sort who was around back then, and it was he who began to change the way that the rest of the world viewed the music hall. You guessed it… his Majesty King Edward VII!
It was during his rather long tenure as the Prince of Wales that our friend Bertie got into the more risqué end of the entertainment spectrum. Wednesday 19th, 1868 was the historic date, and the event was Lord Carrington’s party in Whitehall Gardens. The playbill itself can, rather fascinatingly, be seen here, on a site dedicated to Arthur Lloyd. Mr Lloyd himself appeared and indeed managed the performance, alongside music hall legends Alfred Vance and Jolly John Nash. It’s easy to picture the affable Prince laughing along with the performers, and the Royal seal of approval meant that Polite Society began to sit up and take notice of the genre for the first time.
It may be pure coincidence that his Highness also had a soft spot for the ladies of the music hall (I’m sure it wasn’t!). But there can be no doubt that his fondness for the famous Lillie Langtry helped many other starlets dream of royal patronage. The venue I chose to visit for this article is therefore one linked with La Langtry and so by association with Edward, though I am not sure if he ever visited it himself. But it’s a fascinating place nonetheless!
Believe me, the day was as dismal as it appears in this photo, but the building itself is enough to hold a gaze even in the sweeping rain. The new section does draw the eye, but the majestic old parts have a real grace. Not to mention a patina from their century standing proud in the grimy East End.
Well these drizzly photos are quite possibly the most uninspiring ever, but it’s much more impressive in person, I swear! Built in 1901 by one Frank Matcham, the most renowned of the theatre architects at the time, it was (and still is) incredibly grand. Fifteen hundred seats, a Grand Vestibule, marble staircases, and even a sliding roof to allow ventilation had it on a par with some of the most lavish West End venues.
Unfortunately, they opened for a matinee (the Tina Turner musical looks so much fun!) just as we arrived and so quick and ‘arty’ snaps as the punters came pouring in, it was.
I wish I could have had a look around inside the auditorium, but alas, even after asking politely on the phone beforehand, it was not to be. Stood outside on the still-vibrant mosaic tiles was nearly as good, though!
Dress c/o my sponsor Vivien of Holloway
Miss Langtry was, of course, not the only star of the Hackney Empire stage. Charlie
Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Little Titch and (much) later, even the great Liberace have
trodden the boards there. I’m not sure if that most famous showman of all – Dan Leno – ever appeared, but
he was surely King Edward’s favourite (non
female) star, having been summoned to perform for him at Sandringham
soon after the latter’s coronation. But even if there’s no clear record of his Majesty having visited the Empire, I feel sure he’d have been right at home relaxing on a fauteuil (or fancy French armchair – the word on this door panel) in the Grand Circle.
By this point, it was getting rather chilly in the drizzly rain, and if Bertie had in fact graced the Hackney Empire with his presence, there’s no doubt he would have headed back into Town for a slap up meal afterwards. Since I’m following in his footsteps, I did just that!
It may have sunk on its maiden voyage, two years after Edward shuffled off his mortal coil, but work began building the RMS Titanic in 1909. Selfridges, another grand relic of the Edwardian era also opened in that very year, and given that this is the centenary of that most famous of maritime disasters, it was appropriate that a memorial meal was being served there.
Here’s the epicurean friendly menu:
Four Lindisfarne rock oysters
Wye Valley asparagus vinaigrette
Duck liver parfait with toasted brioche and Kingston Black jelly
Poached Loch Duart salmon with mousseline sauce and stonecrop
Spring chicken sauté with morels and wild garlic
Chargrilled lamb cutlets with cucumber and mint
Waldorf Pudding with cider brandy ice cream
Peaches in Chartreuse jelly
… suffice to say, I had to have the Ice(cream)berg, and finished it off with a little snifter of digestive King’s Ginger. Delicious, and so tasty and dare I say Regal, that Edward would most definitely have approved.
Now for a little giveaway!
They didn’t have cocktails back in the 1900s, but if you could go back in time and invent one, what would your suggestions be for a Music Hall concoction? Something that involves copious champagne (sparkle) sounds like something that would get my (and Kind Edward’s!) vote, but anything goes! Leave suggestions below and the most delicious sounding will win a bottle of the ginger nectar.
I’ll close the competition ONE WEEK TODAY (8th May).
Unfortunately, only UK residents can enter… unfortunate booze laws and stuff. But comments welcomed by all!