One of the most popular forms of entertainment for the ordinary people of the East End of London, around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, was the Music Hall.
People flocked in their thousands to these places to enjoy the latest acts of the day, and, it must be said, the music halls of the district most certainly offered a much-needed respite from the everyday hardships of life in the districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.
A DANGER TO PUBLIC MORALS
But, there were some who saw the music halls as being a danger to the moral well-being of the people of the district, and, throughout the 1880’s, there were calls for these popular entertainment venues to be closed down and outlawed.
THE REVEREND REYNOLDS INVESTIGATES
One person who had initially been against the music halls was local vicar the Reverend George Reynolds.
However, he decided that, before he condemned them, he should at least pay a few a visit. And thus, from 1888, he began paying weekly visits o four East End music halls in order to witness first-hand whether or not they were, in fact, the dens of vice and infamy that many were portraying them as.
He had completed his investigation by 1890, and, on Saturday, 25th October, 1890, The Era, published his article about his findings:-
EAST-END MUSIC HALLS
Although I have resided in the east of London for over a quarter of a century (writes the Reverend George Reynolds) I had never been inside a music hall.
In fact, I was greatly prejudiced against them, and had, amongst other East-end clergy and ministers, signed a petition against one of the East-end music halls as “the nightly resort of prostitutes,” and thought that by so doing I was serving the cause of morality; for at that time I had been informed that the music halls were the “centre of all the brothels in the neighbourhood.”
About two years since, when the agitation against the music halls was at its height, I determined to pay a visit to the East-end halls, and see for myself, and robtain all the information I could respecting them.
DENS OF INFAMY
I fully expected to find them to be dens of infamy, and little hells upon earth, where “drink and lust reigned supreme;” “where the seducer was in his glory;” and “where the harlot walked unabashed;” where the lewd and filthy song defiled the mind and polluted the heart; and with this impression I first entered an East-end music hall.
I was very much astonished to find that such was not the case. I found them to be well-conducted places of amusement. The entertainment consisted of singing, dancing, and acrobatic performances, with a pretty little sketch or miniature play, and wholly free from coarseness and vulgarity.
I did not just pay one visit and no more, but made it a constant practice to visit them weekly, and so be in a position to form an accurate opinion of the case.
THE HALLS CHOSEN
The halls I selected to visit were;- 1, The Cambridge Music Hall, Commercial-street, Whitechapel; 2, the Foresters’ Music Hall, Cambridge-road; 3, The Paragon Music Hall, Mile-end-road; 4, Marlow’s Music Hall, Bow-road.
I wish it to be perfectly understood that I am describing the above four halls, and that my observations apply to these alone.
RESPECTABLE MANAGERS AND AUDIENCES
The proprietors and managers I found to be most respectable and well-conducted gentlemen, and extremely anxious to keep their establishments free from everything of an objectionable nature.
The audiences were composed of middle-class tradesmen and their families, with a considerable number of young men who appeared to be clerks, shop assistants, well dressed and very well behaved.
The upper galleries were generally packed with young working men of a rougher stamp, but who were very quiet and orderly.
NO DISORDERLY SCENES
Some of the halls have a chairman, who presides for the purpose of keeping order and announcing the items of the programme; but even where there is no chairman perfect order is maintained, and I have never seen any disorderly scenes; in fact, the order maintained is remarkable.
The artistes are well conducted and respectable, and their songs singularly free from low vulgarity and suggestions of an immoral nature. Whatever may have been the character of the songs in the past, I must say that at present there can be no cause of complaint.
The managers, I find, are one and all determined to put down everything of an objectionable character, and I know of one or two instances where they have cancelled a singer’s engagement, because of certain words they did not approve of.
THE SINGERS AND THE SONGS
Only a few days ago a singer used the adjective “damned,” and the manager at once informed him that he must not use that word again.
I was informed by a songwriter that it was not possible now to sell a song that contained anything vulgar or “racy;” that music hall artists would not look at them now. This simple fact certainly indicates improvement. I have also observed how good songs, such as “Love’s Golden Dream,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” “What is Love ?” and others of a similar kind are gradually displacing the serio-comic; but it is no easy matter for managers to introduce a better class of music and song.
A considerable portion of the audience want the lower class of song, and do not care very much for what I should call a good song.
The sentimental song is always better received in a sketch, but I am pleased to find that there is a gradual improvement, and the taste is being educated for a higher class of music.
In this matter, the managers should have every encouragement afforded to them in their endeavours to elevate the taste and provide a good entertainment.
THEY FULFIL A DEMAND
From what I have seen of these East End halls, I am bound to say that they are very different from what many good well-meaning persons think them to be.
They supply a want.
The people love music and like to hear a song, and if they did not go to a music hall many would go to very much worse places, and I consider it far better for the class of young men that I have seen at these halls to be there than to be found on the streets, or in low public-houses, or dancing-rooms, where they would be exposed to far greater temptations.
To suppress the music hall would do far more harm than good, for if the music hall was closed the public- house “sing-song” would be full, and greater evils created.
It is impossible to make people religious by force, and I am sure of this fact, that if you deprive them of all opportunities for rational amusements they will go from bad to worse.
This is seen in domestic life. When parents are too strict and rigid with their children they take the first opportunity to break through all moral and religious restraint.
Therefore, those who have the welfare of the people at heart will do well to use every endeavour to purify and elevate the amusements of the people, and avoid needless and reckless onslaughts upon the proprietors and managers of the London music halls.
OBJECTIONS ARE UNFOUNDED
The objections that are generally urged against music halls do not apply to those I have visited.
The chief one is that they are places where prostitutes meet their clients, and where young men are led away.
But such is not the case. No known prostitute is permitted to enter these halls, and the door-keepers have instructions not to admit them. I have closely watched this matter, but I have never seen any person whom I could say was a prostitute, and I have never seen one single act of solicitation.
IMMORALITY IN THE BOXES
It has been said that the boxes are used for immoral purposes, but this is simply impossible, as the boxes are all fully exposed to view.
At Marlow’s there are no boxes.
At the Cambridge, there is but one box, and that is on a level with the stage and fully exposed.
At the Foresters’ there are four boxes, but these are also exposed to the view of the audience; and at the Paragon they are all open, and a gas-burner in each box, and the occupants can be seen by the audience; and, besides this, no proprietor would permit anything of the kind to disgust his audience and imperil his licence.
NOTHING GOES ON “BEHIND THE SCENES”
Others appear to have an idea that there are immoral acts perpetrated “behind the scenes,” but there are no opportunities, even if there was the desire. There are no “green-rooms” in connection with music halls. I have seen behind the scenes for myself, and find that the males and females have separate dressing-rooms, and that the artists are continually coming and going, and as soon as their “turn” is over they are away to some other engagement.
THEY DO NOT ENCOURAGE DRUNKENNESS
It is also said that the music halls have a tendency to increase drunkenness, and that the waiters force the drink upon the people. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I consider that there is far less drinking in a music hall than in an ordinary public-house, and I have been astonished to find that a number of persons drink only mineral waters and temperance drinks.
The amount of money spent on drink in a music hall does not average over three farthings to each person. Take this as an argument in favour of the music hall, and contrast it with the ordinary public-house “sing-song,” where every song is interspersed with “Give your orders, gentlemen,” and where persons who really do not care for any drink feel that they must have some so as to help pay for the room.
In a music hall, there is a charge made for admission, and no one feels himself under any further obligation.
It is a singular fact, but it is true, that I have not seen a case of drunkenness in either of the halls I have visited.
GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF
I have now discharged my self-imposed task, and given the result of my own personal observations.
Doubtless, it will be misunderstood and misrepresented, but right is right, and I consider it but an act of simple justice; and to those who question my conclusions, I have only to say, do as I have done – Go and see for yourself.”