Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Night Side of London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858 - The Canterbury Hall

[back to menu for this book]

[-67-]

THE CANTERBURY HALL.

"GIVE me the songs of the people, and you may make its laws," said old Fletcher, of Saltoun, with a knowledge of human nature which statesmen do not frequently possess. Necessity is a stern taskmaster, and the workman in the factory, and the clerk in the counting-house, and the shopman behind the counter, are generally compelled to stick pretty close to work, and to the eye of the observer present very much the same appearance. They come at certain hours, they go at certain hours, and perform their daily toil with a certain amount of effectiveness and skill. Very little credit is due to them for this - their livelihood depends upon their being diligent and active - and hence I know little of the individual by merely witnessing him toiling for his daily bread. I must follow him home I must be with him, in his hours of relaxation; I must listen to the songs he sings and the jokes he attempts; I must see what is his idea of [-68-] pleasure, and thus only can I get at the man as he is. Even his church or chapel goings I cannot take as indications of his real nature. He may go because his parents go, because his master goes, because his friends go, because he has been trained to go, because society expects him to go, - for a hundred reasons all equally vain in the eyes of Him who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins of the children of men; but no man is a hypocrite where his pleasures are concerned. I can gather more about him from the way in which he spends his leisure hours than I can from his active employments of the day. They are poor miserable philosophers indeed, and guilty of an enormous blunder, who, in their investigation into the moral and social condition of the people, refuse to notice the amusements of the people in their hours of gaiety and ease. I make, then, no apology for introducing you to Canterbury Hall.
    The Upper Marsh, Westminster-road, is what is called a low neighbourhood. It is not far from Astley's Theatre. Right through it runs the South Western Railway, and everywhere about it are planted pawnbrokers' shops, with an indescribable amount of dirty second-hand [-69-] clothes, and monster gin-palaces, with unlimited plate-glass and gas. Go along there what hour of the day you will, these gin-palaces are full of ragged children, hideous old women, and drunken men. "The bane and the antidote," you may say, "are thus side by side." True, but you forget that youth in its search for pleasure is blind, and sees not the warning till it is too late; and of the hundreds rushing on to the Canterbury Hall for a quiet glass, none think they will fall so low as the victims of intemperance reeling, cursing, fighting, blaspheming, in their path. But let us pass on. A well-lighted entrance attached to a public-house indicates that we have reached our destination. We proceed up a few stairs, along a passage lined with handsome engravings, to a bar, where we pay sixpence if we take a seat in the body of the hall, and nine- pence if we do the nobby and ascend into the balcony. We make our way leisurely along the floor of the building, which is really a very handsome hall, well lighted, and capable of holding fifteen hundred persons; the balcony extends round the room in the form of a horseshoe. At the opposite end to which we enter is the platform, on which is placed a grand piano [-70-] and a harmonium, on which the performers play in the intervals when the professional singers have left the stage. The chairman sits just beneath them. It is dull work to him; but there he must sit every night smoking cigars and drinking, from seven till twelve o'clock. I fancy I detect a little touch of rouge just on the top of his cheek; he may well need it, for even on a fine summer night like this the room is crowded, and almost every gentleman present has a pipe or a cigar in his mouth. Let us look round us; evidently the majority present are respectable mechanics, or small tradesmen with their wives and daughters and sweethearts there. Now and then you see a midshipman, or a few fast clerks and warehousemen, who confidentially inform each other that there is "no end of talent here," and that Miss - "is a doosed fine gal;" and here, as elsewhere, we see a few of the class of unfortunates, whose staring eyes would fain extort an admiration which their persons do not justify. Every one is smoking, and every one has a glass before him ; but the class that come here are economical, and chiefly confine themselves to pipes and porter. The presence of the ladies has also a beneficial effect; I see no in-[-71-]dication of intoxication, and certainly none of the songs are obscene. I may question the worth of such stanzas as the following, sung by Mr R. Grover, Miss Pearce, and the whole of the company:-

ALFRED.

We'll drink to the beauty that s beaming around,
 Where Nature's own flowers are blooming;
Where none but the voices of happiness sound,
 And our pathway the love-light illumes.
We'll drink, too, to the rosy god,
 The god of love and beauty,
For all who are his vot'ries
 Must tender him their duty.
We'll drink while there s love in the cup which we quaff,
 Since t is love o'er the world reigns supreme.

CHORUS.

We'll drink to friendship firm and true,
 While love the cup shall crown.

VIOLETTA.

Come, bask in the pleasure that falls to our share,
 For Time on the wing's ever flying,
And flowers of love are exotics so rare,
 Their odour's scarce shed ere't is flown.
Be gay, for youth must soon depart,
 And even love will vanish,
The brightest scenes, alas will fade,
 And sweetest pleasures pall.
Be gay, then, while youth still untrammell'd by care
 Shall invite us to joy and to love.

[-72-]

CHORUS

Ah let us join in the toast,
In the song and the revelling,
Passing the night in mirthful pleasure,
While love shall teach us how to treasure
        This paradise on earth.

I may think I have heard sublimer composttions than the following, sung by Mrs Caulfield with great applause:-

Fare you well, my own Mary Anne,
 Fare you well for a while:
For the ship it is ready, and the wind it is fair,
 And I am bound for the sea, Mary Anne.
            Fare you well, &c.

Don't you see that turtle dove,
 A sitting on yonder pile,
Lamenting the loss of its own true love?-
 And so am I for mine, Mary Anne.
            Fare you well, &c.

A lobster in a lobster-pot,
 A blue-fish wriggling on a hook,
May suffer some, but, oh no not
 What I do feel for my Mary Anne.
            Fare you well, &c.

The pride of all the produce rare,
 That in our kitchen-garden grow'd,
Was pumpkins, but none could compare
 In angel-form to my Mary Anne.
            Fare you well, &c.

[-73-] or of the following, sung by Mrs Caulfield with still greater applause:-

Down in Skytown lived a maid,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
Churning butter was her trade,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
She loved a feller whose name was Will,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
His dad he used to own the mill,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?

CHORUS.

Kemo, kimo, -where? oh there! my high, my low,
 Then in came Sally singing,
Sometimes, Medley winkum lingtum nip cat.
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
She wanted Will for worse or better,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
She d have married, but dad wouldn't let her.
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
And so she went and got a knife,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
She broke her heart and lost her life,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
            Kemo, kimo, &c.
Then Josh he felt his dander risin'
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
So he went and swallow'd pisin,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
The village folks laugh'd in their sleeve,
  Sing song Polly won't you try me; oh?
For Jordan s a hard road to travel, I believe,
 Sing song Polly won't you try me, oh?
            Kemo, kimo, &c.

[-74-] But, compared with many of the places frequented by both sexes, Canterbury Hall is a respectable place. I may think that more rational amusement might be found than by sitting smoking and drinking in a large room on a hot summer's night. I may have my doubts whether all go home sober - the presence of a policeman in the room indicated that at times there was need for his services - but I believe the association of song and drinking and amusements pernicious in the extreme; and, knowing that man needs relaxation-that he must have his hour of amusement as well as of work - I cannot too earnestly press upon the advocates of Temperance reform the desirableness of their out-bidding the public-house in the attempts to cater for the entertainment of the people. That they do not do so, is clear. Where once we had a National Hall in Holborn, for the action of moral influences, a publican has erected a hall - for singing and drinking - capable, I should think, of holding 1200 people, and crammed every night. Then the "Lord Raglan" holds as many. Nor are these alone the only competitors for public patronage; their name is Legion.