The Canterbury

Canterbury Hall, Lambeth. Image Source :
The above image is reproduced by the kind permission of Matthew Lloyd
and the excellent and very interesting Arthur Lloyd website.

The following article is reproduced from a 1991 booklet "Lambeth's Theatrical Heritage" with the kind permission of the Streatham Society. Copies of this very interesting booklet are still available from the Streatham Society Website.

The passing of a law of 1843 allowed a modest growth in proto-music halls, probably the most important being the Cyder Cellars in Maiden Lane and Evan's (late Joy's) in Covent Garden. Venues outside the congested central London were able to expand and experiment. Charles Morton, a young and ambitious man of 30, took the Canterbury Anus in Lambeth at the end of 1849. It already possessed a room for semi-professional singers to perform which Morton refurbished. After being granted a music licence, Morton quickly built a new concert room which opened in May 1852. It was a fairly ordinary place, measuring some 60ft by 24ft, but Morton had great flair in bringing together first class singers and comedians.

After two years, Morton built a second hall on land used for skittles adjoining the pub, encompassing the earlier hall which continued until the new venue was completed on 15th January 1855. A few years later - in 1858 - an ante-room was added, plus a supper room and a grand staircase -but most importantly was an art gallery. Such innovations aroused envy in, and plagiarisation by, his rivals and, although not strictly correct, Morton is regarded as the "Father of the Halls". He established Music Hall on equal footing with the legitimate theatre, but had the advantage of liquor sales within the building. Designed by Samuel field, the new Canterbury was a handsome hall capable of holding over 1500 persons. The auditorium measured 93ft long by 45ft wide, with a balcony extending around three sides of the room. The stage was situated by the fourth side on which stood the piano. The turns played from 7pm to midnight. The audience sat mostly at supper tables, eating and drinking -Morton, himself, often attending to their meals. The large stage could accommodate a sizable choir, and although the law did not permit spoken dialogue, copyright did not exist to prevent operatic presentations.

Entrance was 6d (3p) for the hall and 9d (4p) for the balcony in 1858. The main support came from the local working classes and tradesmen, but Morton preferred a worthier clientele. His ambitions were realised when, in partnership with his brother-in-law, Frederick Stanley, he opened the Oxford Music Hall in Oxford Street in 1861. Morton then lost interest in the Canterbury and sold it for �21,000.

In 1867 the Hall was leased to William Holland. He engaged leading acrobats and was himself carried on the high wire by Blondin. But the major stars were the singers, including Alfred Vance and George Leyboume. Edwin Villiers took over the Canterbury in December 1870, running both this and the South London Palace. Although he feh constrained by the old hall, he presented ambitious ballets and scenas. He acquired more land, demolished the old building in 1875 and rebuilt it as the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties. The new theatre was designed by Albert Bridgman. A novel feature was the sliding roof, claimed by Villiers as his own devising, to extract the smell of smoking, beer and gas fumes. Immediately inside the main entrance was an aquarium and beyond that a fernery or "grotto".

In 1902 a biograph box for the showing of moving pictures was installed. From about 1914 films became the main diet of the house. Decline was rapid, and by 1921 the presentation amounted to a couple of films and three live acts. The Canterbury was then purchased by the Hyams brothers for �16,000. It was refurbished and the quality of the films and the stage shows improved.

In 1942 the theatre was bombed, and the site was cleared by the mid 1950s.

John Cresswell