The people of East London were certainly not short of entertainment to help them while away their leisure time in the late 19th century. From the penny gaffs to theatres such as The Pavillion, on Whitechapel Road, from pubs to illicit gambling dens, there were all manner of ways that off-duty Victorian Eastenders could enjoy themselves.
In the mid-1890’s, a new venue opened on Whitechapel Road to present Londonersners with a wide selection of entertainments, and, given the tremendous variety that was on display within, the proprietor chose to call it – “Wonderland.”
Here, people could enjoy freak shows, musicals and plays; and, they could also enjoy boxing matches, when the main stage was not being used for more erudite offerings.
“WONDERLAND” AT WHITECHAPEL
On Saturday 16th May, 1896, The Era published the following article about a visit to “Wonderland” and what the writer had witnessed therein:-
“Enterprise in the world of amusement has never been wanting in the East, as its large and well-equipped variety temples and its elegant and up-to-date theatres amply testify.
It is something, nevertheless, to have the courage of one’s opinions and to appeal to the public with an entertainment of a special kind; and every credit is, therefore, due to the company known as “Wonderland, Limited,” and to Mr J. Woolf, its managing director, for their spirited bid for popularity in the teeming neighbourhood of Whitechapel.
“Wonderland” stands on the site of the ancient Effingham Theatre.
VERY WELL PLACED
It is excellently well placed in the Whitechapel main road, next to St. Mary’s Station, and convenient rail, bus, and tram services from all parts of the metropolis bring visitors to its doors.
On the building, a large square one with a span roof, the large sum of £5,000 has been expended to bring it up to the requirements of the London County Council, and no place of amusement in London is better provided with exits.
CAPTAIN MURPHY THE GIANT
“Wonderland” has other attractions besides the variety performance on a large and well-appointed stage.
Seated on a dais in the centre of the building is Captain Murphy, a good-humoured giant, who holds receptions, and is ready to enter into conversation with the frank affability of a man of the world.
Murphy was born at Carlough, in the county of Antrim, in 1866.
His parents were ordinary sized people.
The giant has spent many of his thirty years in America, travelling through the States with the great Barnum’s show, and has toured Canada with Mr. Sam Hague, of St. James’s Hall, Liverpool.
MISS VIRGINIE BRISOU
Near to the burly Anak is seated Miss Virginie Brisou, the lady with the lobster claws – an extraordinary freak of nature.
She was born in Paris in 1870.
The claws in the place of hands are over ten inches in length, the left claw in the place of the left foot is useless, but the right has tremendous strength.
She can sew, embroider, and play the piano.
THE TATTOOED LADY
Miss Flo Riley, another interesting personage, who wears a décolleté costume [this was a low-cut dress], shows some exceedingly ingenious tattooing on her arms, shoulders, and bust, and is ready to explain to the curious the remarkable designs so beautifully worked.
In the promenade there are to be seen glass blowing, sweet manufacturing, lampshade making, glass engraving, Turkish cigarette making, and cartooning; and when the visitor is tired he can sit down to enjoy an excellent variety programme, which is capitally accompanied throughout by the band under Mr. F. Venton, formerly musical director of the Cambridge, who has brought several of his orchestra with him.
A MUSICAL TURN
An excellent turn is that contributed by Miss Lillie Western, who is known as “La Cantiniére Musicale.”
She is mistress of a large number of instruments, and would have easily complied with Hamlet’s request to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, for she tootles prettily on the Milanese pipe, and produces melody, too, from the ocarina.
The glockenspiel, with its bell-like tones, answers to her artistic touch, and, using the banjo as an accompaniment, the smart and agreeable cantiniére sings and dances prettily and smartly.
She wins the heartiest recognition for her efforts to amuse.
THE COMEDIAN AND THE ACTRESS
Great favourites with the audience, too, are Mr Newman Maurice and Miss Rose Moncrieff, the former a droll comedian and the latter a bright little burlesque actress.
Mr. Maurice is a capital dancer, and his burlesque of a sailor “half-seas-over” brings down the house.
In a final duet and dance, the pair round off a very successful turn.
THE RIGHT TO BE BEAUTIFUL
Atalanta, whose graceful figure and charming face give her a right to the title of beautiful, speeds her way on the wire first in the tunic and bloomers of the new woman.
She is wise, however, in dispensing with such unnecessary impedimenta to the play of limb, and presents quite an attractive picture in tights.
THE VENTRILOQUIST AND THE DIVER
Professor Golding ventriloquises capably, but his entertainment would be improved with a little more sparkling dialogue.
His coster lad, his old man, and his old woman are all favourite characters, and his entertainment gives pleasure.
A great sensation is caused at the end of the programme by the feat of Professor J. Bracken, who, greatly daring, drops from the roof into a tank of water 4ft. deep and 8ft. in diameter.
Bracken has accomplished the feat at the Coliseum, Leeds, and challenges the world as a diver.
A special turn on the night of our visit was Miss Blanche Barrow, a well-trained juvenile dauseuse; and a contribution to the programme that mystifies the shrewdest is the effective illusion “Mercury.”
A MINIATURE EXTRAVAGANZA
On Monday was produced on the spacious and well-appointed stage the miniature extravaganza entitled “DOLLUSIONS; OR, THE MAGICIAN, THE MAIDEN, AND THE MARIONETTE.”
The little play is written by William Muskerry, the well-known dramatist.
The scene is the Magician’s Laboratory, where Merlin is discovered and explains that he is the guardian of a female ward [Elsie] who has never yet beheld a man, except in the venerable but unattractive form of her tutor.
Merlin’s son, Fortunio, enters, and is informed by his father that he is under a spell by which he (Fortunio) is doomed to death unless, before be attains man’s estate, he is beloved by a maiden for himself alone.
Naturally, Elsie is suggested as the most suitable match, and the plot turns upon the various travesties adopted by Fortunio in prosecuting his suit, which he does successfully under the disguise of a dancing doll.
The plot affords scope for some capital dancing and singing on the part of Miss Rose Moncrieff, nicely assisted by Miss Ada Topholme, while the comic gyrations and quaint acting of Mr. Newman Maurice, as the Magician, help to bring the little play to a merry conclusion.
In short, Dollusions, to judge by the applause and laughter it evoked, seemed to exactly hit the taste of the audience, and a better piece for the display of terpsichorean and vocal abilities of a trio of clever artistes as a lever de rideau or a music hall sketch could scarcely be conceived.
A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT
Mr Woolf is making a successful experiment with matinees for children, and his efforts to provide the toilers of the East with a liberal entertainment at a cheap rate should meet with their reward.
Wonderland, with its varied entertainment and curious exhibitions of freaks and excellent stage show, marks a distinctly new departure.”