Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre - Theatres - Alhambra 

The ROYAL ALHAMBRA PALACE, east side of Leicester Square, a handsome building of the Saracenic order of architecture, a style of building adopted as a novelty in this country, occupying a frontage of 104 feet, and consists of a centre and two wings. The centre contains the Rotunda, or great hall, 97 feet in diameter, and the same in height. On first entering the building, the eye is much taken by the decorations. Music, and other entertainments, are the chief attractions of the place.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]



VERY singular is the appearance of Leicester square, where are the resorts and lodgings of the foreign colonists of London. It is the dirtiest and darkest square in the city, with the exception of some of the fields in the outer suburbs. On every side you may behold traces of the foreign element which centres here. The people whom you meet in Leicester square, if you ask them a question, will be sure to answer you in a strange tongue, or else in a strange gibberish of English or Continental patois. There is an acre or two of sickly grass in the middle of the square which is guarded from the footsteps of pedestrians by a rickety and worn iron railing. In the middle of this patch of scanty grass is an equestrian statue of one of the Georges on an iron horse, the nose of which has been broken or has rotted off, and its appearance is in keeping with the buildings that tower all round it. The streets leading to and from the square are filled with foreign restaurants, and they are narrow and from them all issue forth smells such as the olfactories of a traveler encounter in the back slums of Paris or Vienna.
    The buildings are shabby, the windows are shabby, and the people sitting at the tables, whom you may see through the dusty windows, rattling dominoes and playing cards at little tables, are shabby. Were it not for the statue in the middle [-462-] of the square, it might be taken for the Gross Platz of a Continental town. Houses with strange names rise on every side, having signs in their windows of "Restaurant a la Carte," "Table d'hote a cinq heures," and are passed in quick succession, and the linen-drapers and other shopkeepers in the neighborhood take especial pains to inform all the passers-by that their employees can speak German, French, and Italian, and occasionally Spanish or Portuguese.
    The loungers in the square give visible such olfactory demonstration that they are not Cockneys; their tanned skins, long moustachios, military coats, and brigand-like hats, their polite and impressive bows, - all show the Frenchman, the Spaniard, the Polish exile, the Italian revolutionist, and the Greek wine merchant. The mingled fumes of tobacco and garlic, the peddlers who make desperate attempts to sell you copies of the Internationale, Patrie, Journal Pour Rire, and Diritto, all give ample evidence that you are in a strange quarter of London. The lodging-houses here are on the Parisian plan, and are let at five to ten shillings a week to mysterious men, who rise late, and are away all day in the cafés or gaming-houses to come home singing operatic airs at a late hour of the morning. Polish exiles, Italian supernumeraries of the opera, French figurantes of the inferior grades, German musicians, teachers and translators of languages, touters for gambling-dens - all [-463-] congregate here. This is their Arcadia - their place of meeting, eating, drinking and sleeping - and for a hundred years past it has been frequented by such parasites.
    Here in this very square in one of the houses which form the "Hotel Sabloniere," lived Peter the Great and his boon companion, the Marquis of Carmaerthen; and in this square they have reeled home night after night; the master of all the Russias half-crazy with his potations of strong brandy and red pepper, of which lie was passionately fond. Up yonder stairs passed Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in her powder, hoops, and patches, her train glistening under the glaring lights of the link boys who preceded her sedan chair, to the wedding of John Spencer, first Earl Spencer, and Miss Poyntz-bearing a case of jewels valued at £100,000, and a pair of shoe buckles valued at £30,000, for presentation to the beautiful bride.
    The old-fashioned house opposite was the abode of' Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the one at the corner of Sydney's Alley was the residence of William Hogarth, the bitterest and yet the truest caricaturist of his day. here nightly came Samuel Johnson with his huge bulk and big walking-stick, to dogmatize with Reynolds, and with him came his toady, Boswell; and here came Goldsmith to read his "Deserted Village" to his coterie of choice spirits - and here Frederick, the "Good Prince of Wales," as he has been called to distinguish him from all the rest of his title, came to die of a bad cold which he caught walking in Kew Gardens in 1751; and here resided John Hunter, in the house now occupied by a humbug keeping a Turkish bath. It is a place of strange, quaint memories of good and brave, base and ignoble men and women in the past; it is now the Alcedama of licensed vice, the festering spot of all London.
    It is now a place where wantons expose their shame; where social rottenness, winked at by the authorities, eats at the heart of a people who publish and read books condemning the depravity of Paris; who, in a pharisaical way, talk of the Mabille and the Quartier Breda, and yet in this very square is the "Royal Alhambra Palace," as it is called in the huge colored [- 464-] posters; and in the daily advertisements in all of the morning and evening papers of the metropolis, you may read such notices as these "The Alhambra-This evening at 8 o'clock,' Pierrot,' the grand ballet, by Mr. Harry Boleno and troupe."
    "The Alhambra-At 9 o'clock, the Christy Minstrels, by Riviere."
    "The Alhambra-At 10 o'clock, the magnificent spectacular ballet, ' The Spirit of the Deep;' 10:15, Pitteri, the graceful and world-renowned danseuse, in a new grand pas seul; 10:30, 'The home of the Naiads;' 11:15, grand Spanish ballet, 'Pepita.' ' God Save the Queen' at 11:45. Prices: Promenade, 1s.; stall and balcony, 2s.; gallery, 6d.; reserved seats, 4s.; new tier of private boxes, 2 guineas, 31s. 6d., and 21s. Closes at 12."
    It was a rainy, unpleasant night - such a night as is often met with in London - when I first paid a visit to the Alhambra. The streets were deserted, and few persons were out of their houses, and those who were out took to cover in the cabs, which went madly dashing by, or in the busses, with their advertising signs, that were visible as they passed a lamp - t he horses steaming and sweating, and the passengers inside grumbling and cursing their luck because of the bad air within and worse weather without.
    Nothing in the streets looked pleasant or cheerful, excepting the windows of the gin-shops with their bright brass and metal pumps, and the gaudy placards giving a list of the beverages for sale in the "publics," where men and women of the humbler class were consuming large quantities of beer and spirits. Passing through the Haymarket, I went down Coventry street, and in a few minutes stood before the gorgeous, gilded façade of the Alhambra. The building is about five stories high, painted of a cream-color, with minarets and gilt vanes and turrets in imitation of the manner of Owen Jones. The attempt to copy the Moresco style is rather absurd in the midst of common-place London. Indeed, it would be hard to find a Court of Lions in the building, and those who look for that most beautiful [- 465-] feature of the real Alhambra will go away disappointed. There is, however, a Court of Female Tigresses in the gallery up stairs which will compensate the curious for the absence of the Court of' Lions. Though the streets were deserted, a large number of cabs stood at the front of the building and crowds of people were getting in and getting out of them.
    The moon peeped just then from a bank of cloud, its rays breaking over the disfigured statue in the square, and threw a faint dead glare on the flaunting women who filled the passage leading to the Alhambra; the helmeted policemen; the porters in their black caps trimmed with red bands; the noisy, swearing cabmen disputing about their fares; the horses champing and biting, and the beggar boys and match-women who solicited languid swells to purchase their wares. It is the custom to give a penny to the men or boys who eagerly rush to open the door of your cab, and should you neglect them, they will follow until by wearying you they have achieved their object. There was a little hole in the wall, and a counter or desk, behind which was a sharp-looking young man, whose face seemed hard and cynical under the glare of the gas-jet over his head. Handing this man a shilling, I received a huge circular piece of tin, with a hole and letters punched in its surface. This was the ticket of admission, whelm I surrendered at the door to a big man in a red uniform, who looked like a Life Guardsman, his breast being all covered with service medals, but for what service I could not tell, or where performed.
    Passing a wooden barrier, I caught a glimpse of lights, a stage, and legs of ballet-girls - a noise of many voices came by my ears, a number of young ladies smoking cigarettes opened a way for me to pass, and I stood inside of the Alhambra. I found myself in the promenade, which encircled the ground floor of the house, leaving a large space which was railed in for the wives and families of decent people who wanted to hear the music and see the dancing and pantomime. To walk in and around the promenade costs one shilling. To go inside of the railing in the space - which corresponds with the parquette [-466-] at Niblo's, only that the whole floor is level and there is no descent here - will cost another shilling.
    I saw a bar and a bar-maid before I got actually into the place from whence the stage could be seen; there w as a bar and three bar-maids half-way down the promenade, and there was a bar and two bar-maids down before me in the alcove leading to the Canteen, with a corresponding number of bars and bar- maids in the same positions on the other side of the house.
    All these bars had splendid bottles, with various fluids in them, arranged with an eye to effect, making it look like a vast apothecary's window, and there were bright brass beer-pumps all in a row, and pewter and silver and metal pots and tankards, and oval glass frames with pies, sandwiches, and all kinds of lunches to satisfy the thirst and appetites of the audience. The promenade was choked with men and women, walking past each other, looking at the stage, drinking at the bars, chafing each other in a rough way, and laughing loudly. Although the night was stormy without, the revelry was high within.
    Perhaps in this audience of three thousand people, who filled the ground floor and galleries, standing and sitting, and eating and drinking, there might have been fifteen hundred women, all well, and many of them fashionably, dressed and gloved. A sergeant of police with me said: "If there are 1,500 women here to-night, as I believe there are, you may be sure that there are 1,200 women of the town among that number, Sir."
    Twelve hundred unfortunate women in one place of amusement - and half a dozen other places like this, but of an inferior class, are open this rainy, unpleasant night, with a like complement of wretched females recklessly passing the hours that intervene before the dens close at midnight. The crash of sixty pieces of fine music falls on the ear, the glare, the gas, the tinsel on the stage, the well-dressed, fine-faced women around cannot shut out my thoughts of the "Legion of the Lost" who are so merry, so thoughtless, so careless of the morrow - deep in the fallacies of sin and despair.
    [-467-] The men who are conversing with these women seem to be of a good class, and spend a good deal of money in refreshments and liquor upon their fair, frail acquaintances. These last are not allowed to go inside of the railing on the ground floor alone, but they do not care for that privilege, as there is plenty to drink outside and more of' the company of the male gender. Whenever a woman on the stage capers more vigorously, or flings her leg higher than the others, the applause is loud, long, and continued, and pewter amid metal pots are dented in the surfaces of' the tables that are ranged before each redcushioned seat.
    The comic singers are the favorites of the audience, however, and are always encored with vociferous enthusiasm. Th ese singers get in a place like the Alhambra as much as ten pounds a week, as the proprietors know well the value of their services. The pantomimes are of the very best kind I ever saw; the dancing is, of its kind, good; the orchestra excellent and full in numbers, the acrobatic performances very fine, and the picture at the close of the pantomime is really superb. Yet with all these excellences combined, if the Alhambra and every Music-Hall-Hell like it in London were suddenly scorched up by a fire from heaven, it would be the most incomparable benefit ever bestowed upon the English metropolis, and a saving grace to thousands of young English men and women -both in body and soul.
    And the reason for this is that women are allowed admission at the door on payment of the price, without the escort of a man. Consequently it is, with the exception of the Argyle, and Holborn Casino, the greatest place of infamy in all London. It is convenient, in a central location, and were women not admitted alone the business of the place would break up. The men under twenty-five years of age, who comprise the largest part of the male audience, would not come were these Formosas debarred from admission. The performance - a first-class one - is not needed. The chief attraction is the women.
    And are these women calculated, by their manner, dress or appearance, to shock or warn people by their degradation? 
    [-468-] On the contrary they are cheerful, pleasant-looking girls, of quite fair breeding, and of a far better taste in their dress than the honest wives and sweethearts of the mechanics and shopkeepers, who sit in the place of virtue, within the painted railing. These women are satisfied with their lot, and do not repine so long as they have male acquaintances or "friends," as they call them, to give them champagne, moselle, and late suppers of game and native oysters in the Café de l'Europe, or at Barnes's in the Haymarket. Despite the arguments of those who have sought to eradicate the evil, these women, to any great number, never forsake their calling for the life of an honest working-woman. They laugh at such an idea, and will tell you that they could not do without wine, rich food, and costly dresses, even at the fearful price they have given to obtain them.
    Besides, there is no field open to them, and suspicion follows every effort for reformation made by the few who have left the life of prostitution to go to hard work or service. They look down upon shop-girls and bar-maids with contempt, and many of them keep servants from the gains of their infamy. Whenever one of these girls happens to notice a stranger who does not seem to know the place, she will not hesitate to walk up to him, take his arm, and ask him: "Come, won't you give me my liquor?"
    Many of these women have had no education whatever; still they manage to conceal the fact as much as possible, while others will tell you that they came originally from the work- house, where they were sent as children, and being thrown on the streets when grown up, had no means of making a living but that which they were compelled to adopt. I spoke to one ladylike girl who seemed to be rather abstracted, and asked her if she were not tired of her present life, and anxious to leave it.
    "Tired of my life? You may believe it that I am but what of that. No one would take me by the hand after leav ing this life. I am not such a fool as to jump from the frying pan into the fire. I get tight about twice a week, and then I come here and talk and drink more, and that serves to pass [- 469-] away the time. My friend is in Paris, and he sends me money when I want it. My mother is dead and my father is in America. I don't know where, and I don't care much, for he never bothered himself about me. Are you going to treat?"
    I saw this girl walk up to the bar ten minutes after, pushing her way through the crowd, and saw her toss off nearly half a pint of raw gin, or "gin neat," as it is called here, without winking. Such is life. The detective told me that the girl had been one of the flashiest and best-dressed women who visited the Alhambra until a few months before, when she began drinking, and rapidly descended, when she had to pawn all her jewelry.
    The songs sung in the Alhambra are not quite as low as those heard in some of the music-halls, and chiefly derive their short popularity from the fact that there is a comic vein in each one. Sentimental songs are not so popular, and do not receive so many encores as the comic ones. A man came on the stage, dressed in the exaggerated costume of a Pall Mall lounger, who sang a song, of which the following is a verse, with a very affected voice and lisp, keeping his body bent in a painful position the while:


Now evewy sumwah's day
I always pass my the away;
Arm in arm with fwiends I go,
And stwoll awound sweet Wotten Wow; 
For that's the place, none can deny,
To see blooming aces and laughing eye;
And if your hawts with love would glow,
Why, patwonize sweet Wotten Wow.
So come young gents and dont be slow,
But stylish dwess and each day go,
And view the beauties to and fwo,
Who dwive and wide wound Wotten Wow.

The chief merit in the singing of this song to the audience was the affected lisp and farcical airs of the singer, who did his best to imitate the swells who lean over the railings in Rotten Row, when that fashionable drive is crowded within equestrians [-470-] and foot passengers in the regular London season. The mob liked the satire on the aristocrats and relished all the local hits of the speech and the dress of the ideal do-nothing. Something of a more grotesque nature, and more broadly funny, which was cheered to the echo, was a nonsensical song called the "Royal Beast Show," that seemed to please the men and women in the audience. This song was sung by a man in a blood-red scarf; a pea-green body coat, and green glass goggles. The costume was indicative of nothing under heaven or earth that I ever saw before, but the song was exactly suited to the comprehension of the people, as their shouts of laughter testified:


Come, stand aside, good people all, and hear vot I've got to say,
But let the little dears come hup, wot's going for to pay.
At all the coorts in Europe, we are reckoned quite the go:
Then pay yer sixpences, and see the Royal Wild Beast Show.

The cammomiles, the crockodiles, and all that you could wish;
The mice and rats, and tabby cats, and other kinds of fish;
A dozen sphinxes hupside down and standing hin a row;
Hits only sixpence heach to see the Royal Wild Beast Show.

The first one is the Kangaroo, you ought to see him jump;
The next one is the Ippopotymus, you ought to see ' is hump;
The third one is the Halligator, and he's such a one to crow,
He wakes hus hevery morning in the Royal Wild Beast Show.

The Donkey in the corner, with the Tiger hon is harm,
Comes from Hass-iriya, vere once his father kept a farm;
That Billy-Goat that's dressed in Pink and valking rayther slow,
He's very Horn-imental in a Royal Wild Beast show.

The cammomiles, &c.

After these choice ballads had been sung, there was a ballet in which about fifty young ladies capered and pranced in a Bower of Angels, with a lot of dolphins, just like dolphins and angels in their mutual festivities in the other world: and then the detective who accompanied me, said:
    "Would you like to see the Canteen? That's a werry 'igh old game is the Canteen; sort of priveet like."


    [- 471-] The Canteen of the Alhambra is situated on the lower floor of the building, under the stage, and has a dark entrance through a door which is supported on swinging hinges. The descent is by a spiral flight of stone steps, and on going through this door, the stranger receives the idea that he is going behind the scenes, which is a great mistake. The proprietors have made the entrance as dark and mysterious as possible, in order to throw a kind of green-room air about, it, which captivates simple people, and induces them to spend more money than they would otherwise. It is, in fact (this Canteen), nothing more than a subterranean bar-room, where men treat to Champagne wine and Moselle cup, the ballet-girls who come down, wrapped in travelling-cloaks; and after each ballet is concluded, flirt, drink, and make eligible acquaintances. The bar is in the form of a half circle, and two very largely framed women were behind it this night, serving [-472-] the customers, who sit around on wooden benches. The ceiling is supported by rude posts, and everything is as uncouth as possible ; and this gives it an additional charm to country- men. They feel that they are doing something sinful, something indiscreet, which they would not like to have their wives or relations hear of, and, with the natural perversity of human nature, it is enjoyable to a corresponding degree. The waiters who bring the drinks and cigars from the bar, wear black dress-coats and red plush waist coats.
    When I descended to the Canteen, the ballet was still on above us, and I could hear the tramping of the feet of the dancers as they bounded to and fro on the stage boards over my head. There were no ballet girls in the Canteen, but in a few minutes the strains of the dance music died away and down came the coryphees, trooping by twos and threes, their faces painted and chalked, and their white slippers and tights peeping out from the bottoms of the gray waterproof cloaks which they wore. They took their seats in the room on the wooden benches, and it was not long until each ballet girl found her male affinity, and of course the male affinity treated her to whatever the dear creature called for - however expensive. In such a moment, when these angels in tissue condescend to talk to mortals, who could think of expense.
    There were a number of soldiers in the room, wearing the uniforms of different regiments, chiefly of the Household troops, with here and there a line private in buff and blue ; a rifleman in dark green, or an artilleryman, with his gorgeous red facings and trimmings. But the angels of the ballet never wasted their time on such low people as common soldiers. Their game was much higher, and if they could not get a drink from an officer holding her Majesty's commission, they were content with stray Americans, who have a reputation for reckless liberality. In fact, Americans rank above par in the Canteen market, and are received with due honor.
    I saw one old gentleman, fully six feet high, with a venerable face amid white whiskers, evidently of a respectable position in society, with his arm around the chalked neck of a girl of [- 473-] fifteen, whose light brown curls fell in masses over her shoulders, and, while he talked with her, he supplied her quickly- emptied glass with a sparkling wine. The detective said, in explanation of the scene, to me: 
    "You see, sir, these gals as is down here in the Canteen only gets ten to sixteen shillin' a week for their right's work, and that isn't much. They is only the figurantys, and can't dance a bit ; but they gets a bad fashion from the swells who go behind the scenes a drinkin' champagne and such like, and that fashion leads them to wuss nor hannything that you'll see 'ere. They comes down here and drinks between the balley, and then goes hup on to the stage and dances again, and comes down hagain after the next balley, and by the time the Alhambra closes they are so blessed tight that they are ready for hanythink. I means, of course, the gals as is innocent yet; but the old hands are werry knowin' cards, so they is, bless you."
    "That little gal as is just now a takin' that gentleman's address is a werry downy gal, she is. They calls her the ' Daisy,' because she has a fondness for bokays, and she is hup to all sorts of games. She ' ad some kind of a heddykation, when she was a little gal, and I thinks she was a governess or sich like once, and went to the dogs through somebody's fault; and she writes a beautiful hand, she does, and her little game is to send letters to strangers who visit London for the first the and don't know what to do with their money, and full of affekshun and such gammon - and tells them in the writin' as ' ow she [- 474-] seed better days and axes their parding for givin' so much trouble - and ' opes they won't think the wuss of her for such freedom or liberty; and then she gets a few pun from the spooney, and she goes on a habsolutely hawful drunk for a few days and doesn't come to the rehearsal - and when the money is all spent she writes more letters and 'umbugs some other spoon. Ohm, she is werry deep, is the ' Daisy.'"
    The "Tulip," the other young girl, according to the story of the policeman, was famous for her aptitude in swearing and drinking " Stout" ; otherwise there was nothing of special interest in her character, and her face, though a pretty one, was strongly marked with lines of dissipation. By the time that I was ready to leave the Canteen, having seen all that was worth seeing in the den (for it is a den, and nothing else) which has been the cause of many a promising youth's ruin, it was nearly eleven o'clock.
    We paid another shilling to go up in the " Gallery," where there is not the slightest disguise in the conduct of the females who throng the place. Back of the gallery, in the corridors, where the performance can be seen over the heads of the men who stand in front, are ranged a number of bars, and at each end of this place, which forms a kind of saloon, small tables with marble tops. At these tables a number of men and women sat and drank and laughed, and told each other anecdotes more pointed than polished in their application. The clamor and the smoke made the place unbearable, and the strains of music from the orchestra, playing Weber's "Last Waltz," filled the vast building with its circular galleries, that were heaped one upon another, to the ceiling. Up in the highest gallery of all, where the admittance is only sixpence, the riffraff were collected. When a woman goes to the sixpenny gallery in the Alhambra she is indeed lost beyond all hope of rescue.
    I came down disgusted, and on going below stairs to the first tier I found there a kid glove, fan, and bouquet stand. It is the fashion for the young men of this pious city of London, who have more money than brains, when they visit the Alhambra, [- 475-] to buy kid gloves or fans for the unfortunates who throng the place. Quite a trade is done in this way, as some of the swells are not satisfied, when intoxicated, unless they can prevail upon their feminine friends to accept of a slight trifle of their esteem in the shape of a dozen pairs of fine kids in a gilt box. The man at the glove stand told me that business in the season - when people came home from the Continent - was very brisk, and he said that in one night he had sold as many as nineteen dozen kids to be presented to the Formosas of the place.
    The detective said to me as we went down stairs: "Suppose we go to the Argyle, in the 'Aymarket, and then finish with the Casino and Barnes's; they'll be very lively just now, I warrant ye, and the fun grows furious near midnight." I assented to this proposal, and we took a cab and went to the Argyle Rooms. The cabby put his tongue in his cheek when I said "Argyle Rooms," and drove us there. I gave hum eighteen pence, and he desired to know if I didn't want to borrow the price of admission, because I refused to give him half a crown for a ride of a thousand feet.

Daniel Joseph Kirwan, Palace and Hovel : Phases of London Life, 1878

Alhambra Theatre, Leicester-square, originally the Panopticon-, a rival institution to the Polytechnic, then altered into a music-hall, and finally licensed as a theatre. Comic operas of the broader type are here given in English, the low comedy element being usually developed to the utmost extent. The specialty of the performance, however, is ballet and spectacle, in the mounting of which no expense is spared. The band is large and good. The house is spacious. All the best portion of the floor is allotted to stalls, which occupy a square space from the orchestra very nearly to the line of the boxes; the pit, which is not much more than a promenade, skirting it-on the three sides; an entrance being obtained through a recently constructed passage which passes along the right hand side of the promenade from the private box entrance. The pit and promenade run back under the box tiers, the lowest of which is occupied entirely with private boxes, having a separate entrance in the extreme southern corner of the fa?ade. Above these comes the dress circle, which communicates with the large refreshment saloon, in which smoking is allowed. NEAREST Railway Stations, Charing cross (Dist. & S.E.); Omnibus Routes, Regent-street, Piccadilly, St. Martin?s-lane, Strand.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Old and New London, c.1880

     ?LONDON. The Alhambra Theatre destroyed by fire. No victims.? That was the startling announcement which I read in the telegraphic intelligence of the Fanfulla. But, respected Fanfulla, many scores of? victims? must necessarily be made through the burning down of the great theatre in Leicester Sqnare. It is towards Christmas-time that ? the ants behind the baize? are most laboriously busy. Scene-painters and scene-shifters, stage carpenters and property men, supernumeraries, ballet-girls, and ?extras? are all toiling and moilng night and day, with the intent of diverting you and your children at Christmas-time; and all for a little bit of bread. The burning down of a great theatre means not only the throwing out of employment of a great tribe of industrious and harmless folk, but the destruction of workmen?s tools and the dresses of poor young women, and the spreading far and wide of misery and destitution. But there is no calling more thoroughly and spontaneously charitable than the theatrical one; and if there are any victims in purse through the burning of the Alhambra, they will be helped at once, I hope and believe.
    The house has had a strange history. I mind it when it was ?a place with a Greek name,? as Cobbett nsed to say of Exeter Hall?a ?Panopticon,? or something of that kind, of Science and Art, started under illustrious auspices, which turned out a dead failure. I mind it as a circus, under the lesseeship of the late indefatigable E. T. Smith, and as an arena for Mr. Rarey?s exhibition of horse-taming??every stage in which process is represented on a repousse vase more than two thousand years old, found in the tomb of one of the ancient Scythian kings, which is now in the Kertch Museum of the Palace of the Hermitage at St. Petersburg. And I think that I once attended a revivalist service at the Alhambra.
    Its career as a Music Hall, and its disestablishment as such at the hands of the Middlesex magistrates, are matters of more recent history.

George Augustus Sala Living London 1882

    No place of amusement has passed through so many convulsions as the edifice now known as the Alhambra. Erected in the sixties, it began life as a species of polytechnic, where it was hoped that the instruction afforded by the contemplation of two electric batteries and a diving bell, in conjunction with the exhilirating air of the neighbourhood, would attract sufficient audiences to meet rent and expenses; but the venture not having fulfilled the expectations of its youth, its portals were closed, and it next came into prominence during the Franco-German war. Here "patriotic songs" were the piece de resistence, and towards 11 o'clock a dense throng waved flags and cheered and hooted indiscriminately the "Marseillaise," the "Wacht am Rhein" and everything and everybody. Jones, calmly smoking, would, without the slightest provocation, assault Brown, who was similarly innocently occupied, and who in turn resented the polite distinction. Stand-up fights took place nightly, and as was anticipated, drew all London to the Alhambra towards 11 o'clock.
    These indiscriminate nightly riots attracted, as may be assumed, all the bullies and sharpers in London, amongst whom stands prominently the "Kangaroo", a gigantic black, who was known to everybody in the sixties. This ruffian, who was admittedly an expert pugilis, was the biggest coward that hovered round Piccadilly. No place was free from his unwelcome visits, and his ubiquity showed itself by his nightly appearance at the Pavilion, the Alhambra, the Cafe Riche, Barnes's, the "Pic", the Blue Posts, the Argyll, and Cremorne. From such places as Evan's and Mott's he was absolutely barred, and the moral effect of the reception he would have received deterred him - in his wisdom - from making the attempt.
    His modus operandi was simplicity itself; seating himself at some inoffensive man's table, he helped himself to anything he might find within reach; if remonstrated with, he knocked the remonstrator down, and coolly walked out the room.
    On other occasions he would demand money and if refused, applied the same remedy; if a party were seated at the Alhambra watching the performance, a black arm would suddenly appear over one's shoulder, and glass by glass was lifted and coolly drained. Occasionally he met his match, when, having pocketed his thrashing, he commenced afresh in an adjoining night-house.

'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Leicester Square

Leicester Square - photograph


Few spots in London have such interesting associations as Leicester Square. It takes its name from Leicester House, more than once the residence of royalty; and Leicester Fields, as the place used to be styled, were a favourite resort of duellists. From early in the seventeenth century foreigners have patronised the Square. The figure of Shakespeare is a replica by Fontana of Kent's statue in Westminster Abbey; and on the pedestal is recorded the fact that the Fields were bought, laid out, and conveyed to the public by Baron Albert Grant, MP. At the angles of the garden are busts of Hunter, Newton, Reynolds, and Hogarth, who lived in or near the Square. The building on the east side is the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties. The red-brick house to the right, with a parapet, is Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School.

see also Music-Hall London - click here