Charing Cross Music Hall

The Charing Cross Music Hall was established beneath the arches of Charing Cross railway station in 1866 by brothers Giovanni and Carlo Gatti to replace the former Hungerford Hall. The site had been acquired, together with Hungerford Market, by the South Eastern Railway in 1862, and incorporated into the railway station, which opened on 11 January 1864, resulting in the demolition of the hall.[1]

Charing Cross Music Hall
1867 The Arches
1883 Hungerford Music Hall
1887 Gatti's under the Arches
1887 Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall
1910-1923 Arena Cinema
1928-1939 Forum Cinema
1939-1945 fire station
1946 Players' Theatre
AddressVilliers Street
Westminster, London
Coordinates51°30′27″N 0°07′23″W / 51.5075°N 0.1231°WCoordinates: 51°30′27″N 0°07′23″W / 51.5075°N 0.1231°W
OwnerGatti family
Capacity400 seated and standing
300 seated in 1945
270 seated in 2005
Current useTheatre and conference centre
ProductionVisiting productions
Years active1867 - 1910 Music hall
1946 - 2002 Music hall
2002 - Studio theatre


The music hall was built in the substantial two-level space formed by two of the arches of the undercroft of the station, and opened in 1867 as The Arches, renamed the Hungerford Music Hall in 1883, and in 1887 became known variously as the Charing Cross Music Hall, Gatti's under the Arches and Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall. By 1895, the hall boasted an attached grand cafe and billiard saloon.[1]

As a young man, Rudyard Kipling lived in Villiers Street, and visited Gatti's, and wrote My One and Only, for a Lion Comique[2] at the hall. His experiences in the hall formed the basis for his Barrack-Room Ballads.[3] Kipling also wrote a story called My Great and Only (1890) describing a visit he made to Gatti's.[4] He wrote that the hall held four hundred “when it’s all full, sir”. A weekly periodical for artistes, The Music Hall and Theatre, provides a review on 23 November 1889 of a variety performance:[5]

Twixt Love and Duty, Leo Dryden[6] has his hands full, to say nothing of his voice, which is equally full . . . Charles Ross, of Gaiety fame, so well known as the Dainty Champion,[7] secures rounds of applause by the rendering of his new characteristic song entitled She’s a real good mother . . . James Fawn[8] wants to know who cuts the policemen out? Why the soldier whom Fawn impersonated to the very life. He does like to be in the know, you know, equally so with his hearers, who would willingly sit out a whole night with him if he’d keep them in the know all the time, but James must draw the line somewhere, so he draws it at Gatti’s.[9]

Baroness Orczy, creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel, described a visit to the hall at the turn of the century in her autobiography:

The only hall which appealed to we two inveterate Bohemians was a funny little one under the arches of Charing Cross Bridge where aspirants to fame were given a trial with a view to a possible engagement in one or the other of the important halls. Thus they were 'tried on the dog', as the ordeal was called, and many a famous artiste started his or her career under the 'old arches'.
I remember seeing there the début of the Levy sisters, who became such favourites and made such fortunes afterwards. There was no stage at the 'Old Arches', only a platform in the centre of the hall, where sat enthroned the manager at a rostrum when he announced each item of the programme together with the name of the artiste about to perform and tapped the desk before him with a wooden hammer. The audience sat on seats and benches all round the central platform, very much as they do round a prize-ring. A few privileged members in the audience were permitted to sit on the platform with the manager, but this privilege entailed the obligation to pay for that gentleman's drinks.[10]

Notable acts

Not all performers were tried on the dog. Flyers show many established artists performing, for instance, Rose Hamilton, Marie Loftus (1857-1840, mother of noted film actress Cecilia Loftus), and Harry Randall (1857–1932),[11] performed in the Whitsuntide bill for 1895.[12]

Decline and new era

As the popularity of music hall declined, the theatre became the Arena Cinema between 1910 and 1923, and from 1928 to 1939 the Forum Cinema. During World War II it was used as a fire station, and a store for the Army Corps of Cinematography.[13]

Players' Theatre

After the war, it was acquired from the War Office by Leonard Sachs for the Players' Theatre. There were no fittings and none of the paraphernalia for a theatre, but it still opened within three weeks. Regular performers included Hattie Jacques, Bill Owen, Ian Carmichael, Clive Dunn, Ian Wallace and John Hewer, and featured newcomers including Daphne Anderson, Patsy Rowlands, Maggie Smith, Marian Studholme, Marion Grimaldi, and Margaret Burton. In 1953, Sandy Wilson provided a commissioned work for the theatre, The Boy Friend. In a full-length version this transferred to Wyndham's Theatre, and premièred in New York with Julie Andrews in the starring role.[14]

The Players' Theatre closed in 2002. New End Theatre attempted to revive the venue as the New Players' Theatre, but in 2005 relinquished the lease to The Pure Group, owners of the neighbouring Heaven. They continue to operate the 275-seat refurbished theatre for theatrical performance and as a conference centre.


  1. ^ a b Advertisement for the Grand Star Company for Xmas at the Charing Cross Music Hall (Collect Britain), British Library Archived 3 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine accessed 15 Oct 2007
  2. ^ A Lion Comique was a man dressed as a 'toff', who sang songs about drinking champagne, going to the races, going to the ball, womanising and gambling, and living the life of an Aristocrat.
  3. ^ Kipling and Music Hall Songs The Kipling Journal, March 1963 Archived 21 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 15 Oct 2007
  4. ^ "My Great and Only"
  5. ^ Playbill for 18 November 1889: Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall, Westminster. Variety Performance, 1889 (The British Library) accessed 17 October 2007
  6. ^ Leo Dryden was best known for patriotic songs.
  7. ^ Charles Ross had recently performed this role, in burlesque, at the Gaiety
  8. ^ James Fawn (1850-1923) was the originator of the well known music hall song, (If you want to know the time) Ask a Policeman
  9. ^ Kipling's My Great and Only (notes by David Page) accessed 17 Oct 2007
  10. ^ Links in the Chain of Life Baroness Orczy accessed 16 Oct 2007
  11. ^ Harry Randall first performed at "The Arches" on 28 September 1891 The Era 26 September 1891
  12. ^ Eavanion Catalogue (Theatre ephemera, British Library) Archived 4 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 16 Oct 2007
  13. ^ This is likely to be the Film Unit associated with the arches, as the station was a part of the Southern Railway. The Southern Railway Film Unit in The Exploiter and the Exploited: Railway Filmmaking 1930-1949 Paul Smith accessed 16 Oct 2007
  14. ^ History Of The Players' Theatre Club (Players Theatre, Victorian Music Hall) Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 15 Oct 2007

External links

Aline Waites

Aline Waites is an English actress, director, producer, reviewer and writer. She is widely known for a long spell playing Gwen, the daughter of Mrs Dale, the BBC's famous fictional diarist in Mrs Dale's Diary.

Bessie Bellwood

Bessie Bellwood (born Catherine Mahoney; 30 March 1856 – 24 September 1896) was a popular music hall performer of the Victorian era noted for her singing of 'Coster' songs, including "What Cheer Ria." Her on stage persona was that of an abrasive but loveable character with an ability to argue down even the toughest of hecklers.

Born in London, she made her music hall debut in Bermondsey, London. She became popular with cockney working-class audiences and went on to appear on the same bill as Jenny Hill at the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties and Vesta Tilley at Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall. Off-stage, she became a popular figure in London for her many charitable donations to the poor. In later life, Bellwood suffered from alcoholism as a result of her financial troubles and bankruptcy. With her health in decline, she died at her home in London, aged 40.

Folly Theatre

The Folly Theatre was a London theatre of the late 19th century, in William IV Street, near Charing Cross, in the City of Westminster. It was converted from the house of a religious order, and became a small theatre, with a capacity of 900 seated and standing. The theatre specialised in presenting music hall, burlesque and opera bouffe. The Beefsteak Club had quarters above the theatre.

As a stock company, under the direction first of Alexander Henderson and Lydia Thompson and then of John Lawrence Toole, the theatre was significant for beginning the professional careers of many Victorian era actors, writers and actor-managers. The theatre was demolished in 1895, possibly due to disturbance caused to the neighbouring Charing Cross Hospital.

Harry Lauder

Sir Henry Lauder (; 4 August 1870 – 26 February 1950) was a Scottish singer and comedian popular in both music hall and vaudevillian theatre traditions; he achieved international success.

He was described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador", who also wrote that Lauder, "... by his inspiring songs and valiant life, rendered measureless service to the Scottish race and to the British Empire." He became a familiar worldwide figure promoting images like the kilt and the cromach (walking stick) to huge acclaim, especially in America. Among his most popular songs were "Roamin' in the Gloamin", "A Wee Deoch-an-Doris", "The End of the Road" and, a particularly big hit for him, "I Love a Lassie".

Lauder's understanding of life, its pathos and joys, earned him his popularity. Beniamino Gigli commended his singing voice and clarity. Lauder usually performed in full Highland regalia—kilt, sporran, tam o' shanter, and twisted walking stick—and sung Scottish-themed songs, including Roamin' in the Gloamin'.By 1911 Lauder had become the highest-paid performer in the world, and was the first British artist to sell a million records; by 1928 he had sold double that. He raised vast amounts of money for the war effort during the First World War, for which he was knighted in 1919. He went into semi-retirement in the mid-1930s, but briefly emerged to entertain troops in the Second World War. By the late 1940s he was suffering from long periods of ill-health and died in Scotland in 1950.

Jack Lotto

Jack Lotto (1857–1944) was a music hall performer of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras whose speciality was a trick-cycling act. With entertainer Joe Elvin he co-founded the show business charity the Grand Order of Water Rats in 1889. Later he managed his children in the popular cycling act 'Lotto, Lilo and Otto'.

Lotto was born as John Egginton or Eginton in 1857 in Kinver in Staffordshire, the son of Elizabeth and Joseph Eggington, a Bundler of Iron.In 1877 in Sheffield he married Clara Parkin (1861-1904), the daughter of John Parkin and Martha Sutcliffe. Their children were Alfred (born 1878), Walter (born 1879), Ernest (born 1881), Annie (born 1883), John (1884), Clara (born 1886), Albert (born 1887), Arthur (born 1890), Joseph (1891), Daisy (1892), Charlotte (known as Lottie) (1893), John (1893), Edward (known as Val Lotto) (1895), May (born 1896), Victoria (born 1896), Bertie (1897) and Winnie (1898-1899). Several of the children were managed by their father in the music hall trick-cycling act 'The Lottos', or as 'Lotto, Lilo and Otto - The Champion Juvenile Bicyclists'.

In 1889 Lotto and entertainer Joe Elvin owned a trotting pony called The Magpie. On one occasion The Magpie was described as "looking like a drowned rat." As the pony was a regular race winner, its owners decided that they would use the profits to help performers who were less fortunate than themselves. Taking the name from their wet, bedraggled pony, the Grand Order of Water Rats was formed to collate their efforts, as well as to serve as a social club for performers.

In September 1899 'Lotto, Lilo and Otto' appeared at the Shoreditch Empire in London, at the Charing Cross Music Hall in Lambeth in May 1894, and at the Tivoli Music Hall on The Strand in March 1895.

'Lotto, Lilo and Otto' also appeared in the silent film Clever and Comic Cycle Act in 1900, directed by James Williamson and filmed at Hove in Sussex.On his death in Croydon in Surrey in 1944 he was buried next to his friends and fellow music hall entertainers Joe Elvin and Eugene Stratton at Bandon Hill Cemetery.

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