The recent death of the once-popular Chief of
the Fire Brigade, Eyre Shaw, recalls many stirring scenes that lit up the West
End in the long-ago sixties, when theatres bore a considerable share of the
conflagrations that partially or entirely destroyed some of our most notable
It was in '65 that the old Surrey was in flames, to be replaced later on by the present structure, more familiar to the present generation as associated with the debut of such popular artistes as Lardy Wilson, Nelly Moon, Vale Reece (Lady Meux of the 20th century), Rose Mandeville, and others under the management of Bill Holland, and the distinguished patronage of names too sacred to mention save with bated breath and in reverential tones.
Three years later the Oxford Music Hall was burned down, but those caves of harmony were less pretentious in those days, and so the conflagration, except as a sight, did not provoke much interest. But a blaze that occurred in December '67, roused all London and as a "spectacle" surpassed anything that had ever been depicted on its stage, and put in the shade the Guy Fawkes celebrations of the previous month.
In that memorable year Her Majesty's Theatre, without any appearance rhyme or reason, burst into flame, and despite herculean efforts was soon a heap of cinders. For the construction, as may be supposed, was wood and old, and those chiefly interested were probably gainers by the drastic accident, except perhaps Mapleson, who was said to have lost £12,000, and Madame Tietjens, £2,000. But Tod Heatly, the ground landlord, could hardly have regretted it, for it opened up possibilities of improving the site which, after many years, culminated in the present establishment, with its profitable addenda of an hotel with its "lardy-da" luncheon and supper rooms.
In those remote days, the Metropolitan Board of Works was the controlling authority, and bone counters which emanated from them passed the holders within the cordon on any of these interesting occasions.
'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908