The great gay glaring hall and balconies
were crammed in every part; there was barely standing room in the crowd, which
was chiefly made up of men; business men, clerks, & others, of no very
refined aspect ...
Socially speaking, the audience were a good deal higher than those I have seen in similar Halls at Islington and elsewhere. One result of this was, that the women present were whores, instead of respectable wives and sweethearts. Therefore, another result was, that there was nothing wholesome or genial in the folk's enjoyment: they drank their grog staring gloomily or lewdly grimacing; and the worthless dread of your neighbour which halfeducated respectability creates kept them silent and selfish. At Islington, for instance, the whole audience, men and women, joined heartily in the chorus of well-known songs, to the amusement of the singer; here, on the other hand, the popular favorite 'Sam Collins' did all he could to persuade the people to sing the chorus of his ditty, and yet scarcely a voice responded. As for the musical entertainment, it was exactly the same as at similar places of a much lower grade. Comparing these Halls with other and far nobler places of recreation, I am inclined to think that their sudden rise and immense popularity is simply due to their being free and easy, and yet having a certain pretence of refinement and splendour. The amusements are agreeably varied: your real taste is gratified by nigger songs & acrobats; & betweenwhiles, 'operatic selections' put you for the time on a level with your betters and please your vanity. Besides, you are not compelled to sit silent & cramped as at a theatre or a concert: you drink and smoke pipes alongside your woman or wife, and chat & 'chaff' to your heart's content . . . It is a great to know that, for sixpence, you may command admission to all this display of gilding and statuary and Trovatore-singing, and not be called upon to stint your own vulgar desires in the least . . .
Arthur Munby, Diary, 1862
see also Cruchley's list of halls - click here
Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]
We shall pass Rathbone Place (noted for its artists' shops; named after Captain Rathbone, who built it, 1718) and the Oxford Music Hall, perhaps one of the most popular of those large metropolitan houses of entertainment, where music and acrobatism, comic songs, grotesque dancing, tumbling, &c. are all combined with the accompaniments of drinking, smoking and conversational interludes on the partof the spectators.
Herbert Fry, London, 1889