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Among our collection of theatrical and entertainment themed images is a variety of pictures that depict the popular music hall scene of the 19th and early 20th century.
'Music hall' refers to both a form of entertainment, encompassing a range of musical theatre, and the venues that housed such entertainment. Initially constructed in the early 19th century as venues where theatre-goers could enjoy performances while seated at a table with refreshments, music halls evolved to become exuberant variety theatres, with catchy songs created with the performers in mind. These spacious halls were also sometimes used for other purposes, such as the meeting held in Dublin's Music Hall, below, which seated thousands.
Our images include programmes for events and photographs of individual renowned performers such as Marie Lloyd, as well as entire musical troupes. Popular performers are also depicted in cartoons – here the English comedian and pantomime dame George Robey’s face is featured on a bust as a Queen, showing his respected status and possibly reflecting his role as ‘The Queen of Hearts’.
In 1907 a battle broke out between artists and stage hands and the theatre managers over pay and working conditions - this was known as the ‘Music Hall War’. Supported by the trade union and Labour movement, a two-week strike by performers, including high-profile entertainers such as Joe Elvin, led to some improvements including additional payments for matinee performances.
Following a brief decline in favour, music halls reached new heights of popularity during the First World War, with many performances featuring rousing songs of support for their country. Music played a crucial role at this time and similar musical performances were even set up in detention camps for allied civilians abroad - see the programme for Ruhleben camp's music hall below.
Music halls eventually fell back into permanent decline in the mid-20th century with the rise of other forms of entertainment, including cinema and television.