Camberwell Halls and Entertainment
Camberwell entertainement From 'The story of camberwell' by Mary Boast
Places of entertainment
the Marquis of Camberwell Green
Verse from a music hall song
In Victorian Camberwell there was no need to go to London's West End for a good night out. There was plenty of entertainment to be had locally. The earliest music halls were halls attached to pubs, such as The People's Palace of Varieties, or Lovejoys, at the Rosemary Branch, Southampton Way. In his book, Peace and dripping toast, memories of the 1890s, Frederick Willis recalled being taken to one of the last of the old tavern 'free and easies', from which the music hall sprang, at the Rosemary Branch, -- a long, shabby room adjoining the tavern, furnished with chairs and tables, and illuminated with flaming gas brackets. At one end -- a stage with footlights screened with blue painted glass. A Chairman sat in front of the stage facing the audience. He wore the most deplorable evening dress. Another gent sat at the piano on the stage. Everybody seemed to he drinking and talking while a man in shirt sleeves was dashing about with a tray loaded with glasses of beer. Each turn was announced by the Chair. He rapped with his hammer both to attract attention and to assist applause. A tall gent sang a song about his wife, his trouble and strife--.
The Rosemary Branch was finally demolished in 1971. The Castle, on the Castlemead Estate, Camberwell Road, carries on the name of an earlier pub that was the home from 1875 to 1889, of the Bijou Palace of Varieties or Godfrey's Castle Music Hall. One Victorian home of music hall is still standing, the Father Redcap, Camberwell Green. From the outside the pub looks much as when it was rebuilt in 1853. On 2nd December, 1867, the audience here could enjoy "the great W J Collins, a banjoist from America, a Shakespearean sketch, Professor Davis in the renowned rope trick, and Mr Mucus Hellmore in his great delineation of Mephistopholes"
The Athenaeum, the learned sounding pub in Camberwell New Road, suggests more high brow activities in that area Across the road was the Surrey Masonic Hall, home of the South London Institute of Music. Long before television, the Masonic Hall was also used to give people a glimpse of far-away places and events. For example, in 1881, there wason show a -magnificent work of art from the pencils of a number of artists, depicting a voyage around the world, visiting the gorgeous scenery and magnificent cities of China, Japan, India. Persia, Egypt, Australia - with splendid scenes of late events in Afghanistan".
By the 1890s, grand purpose-built theatres were being erected in many London suburbs. Camberwell excelled in having two of these, almost facing each other across Denmark Hill. On the east side was the Oriental Palace of Varieties, built in 1896 by a company under the famous comedian, Dan Leno. In 1899 it was rebuilt as the Camberwell Palace, with seating for over 2,000 people. Famous old timers who appeared here included Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder, Nellie Wallace and Harry Tate. No wonder Camberwell featured in song. Chalk Farm to Camberwell Green by Lionel Morrekton, 1915, is about a young lady who went for a ride on the top of a bus with "a fellow, a regular swell". on what is still the no. 68 bus route. Here is the chorus:
Chalk Farm to Camberwell Green
The Camberwell Palace finally closed in 1956. Only a small street named after Orpheus the musician of ancient Greek legend, marks the site of Camberwell's own music hall. The Metropole, (Shown Right from a Bill dated 1879) later renamed the Empire, at the corner of Denmark Hill and Coldharbour Lane, was not a music hall, but a high class theatre for plays and opera, opened in 1894 by J B Mulholland who aimed to bring West End successes to Camberwell. The theatre had a very ornate interior with private boxes, stalls, dress circle, balcony and gallery. Ladies who came in their fashionable hats were respectfully informed that hats and bonnets were not allowed in the stalls or first two rows of the dress circle---.
A little later, in the great days of the cinema, there was plenty of choice, around Camberwell Green for the weekly or twice weekly night out at the pictures. Both the Empire and the Camberwell Palace changed from live entertainment to films. The Empire was rebuilt in 1939 as one of the popular Odeon cinemas, with seating for 2,470. Also on Denmark Hill, on the site of Kwiksave, there was the Golden Domes, later known as the Rex and then as the Essoldo. Across the road, on the site of the Post Office, was the Bijou, known to locals as the Bye Joe. The New Grand Hall Cinematograph Theatre in Camberwell New Road, opened in 1912, had seating for 840 people. The Coronet was a small cinema in Wells Way.
With changing times, and the coming of television, all Camberwell's cinemas eventually closed. The Odeon, closed in 1975 and was finally demolished in 1994 to build the Foyer. Two cinema buildings are still standing. The Grand. which was closed in 1968, is now a snooker hall. The Regal, Camberwell Road, closed in 1961, is now the Jasmine Bingo Hall.
Finally to something more energetic. One of the first specially built roller-skating rinks in this country opened in 1876 in a large iron building on the cast side of Grove Lane, opposite Denmark Hill station. It became known as the Lava Rink when the floor was improved with a layer of lava from Vesuvius. Roller skating was then not just a craze for teenagers. The first English game of roller hockey or rink polo was played here in 1885. Crowds came to watch matches, until the 1914-1918 war, when the rink became a military depot. It was destroyed by fire in about 1920.
Text from 'The story of camberwell' by Mary Boast.