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Steam leads the way to a music hall boom in Preston

Posted on - 1st May, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Preston Railway Station
Postcard of Preston station in the 1960s
Postcard of Preston station in the 1960s

The railway age in Preston led to a boom in music halls during ‘the good old days’ of the early 20th century.

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At this time, Preston boasted many halls and theatres. Internationally-renowned artists such as Marie Lloyd and Dame Clara Butt graced the stage. The railways played a large part in moving both stars and the public.

Preston’s railways

The heyday of the railways was around 1910 when the network was at its largest. It was the age of elegance and spotless railway engines. Many different liveries plied the lines and virtually every town had a station. 

Motor cars were exclusive to the upper classes while working people used the railways for work and to get to entertainment venues.

The LNWR served Preston with crack expresses.

A typical Edwardian station Pic: Mary Evans
A typical Edwardian station Pic: Mary Evans

The Park Hotel had a footbridge directly from the station. As a result the hotel was used by Paul Robeson, the renowned singer. Robeson performed in the town in the 1930s.

The railways also had special rates for performing artists. Robeson used the new Coronation Scott train to travel from London, as a signed menu testifies.

LMS poster from 1938 Pic: LMS
LMS poster from 1938 Pic: London Midland and Scottish Railway

Theatre Royal

The Preston Theatre Royal Pic: Red Rose Collection
The Preston Theatre Royal Pic: Red Rose Collection

The Theatre Royal had a long history, first opening in 1802 for the Preston Guild, and undergoing various rebuilds until 1956. It was later demolished and a new cinema built on the site. 

Early Theatre Royal poster from 1819 Pic: George Richmond and Gerrard Shannon
Early Theatre Royal poster from 1819 Pic: George Richmond and Gerrard Shannon

If you wanted to trade in Preston you had to be a member of the Guild Merchant. The Guild is the only one still celebrated in the UK and began in 1179. It is held every 20 years. The next Preston Guild is not due until 2032!

Arthur Lloyd stated:

“The new Preston Theatre opened on Friday the 27th of August 1802 and its opening productions were ‘Mountaineers’ featuring both Mr and Mrs Siddons, and ‘Wedding Day’ or ‘The Meeting of old Friends’. On Saturday the 28th of August ‘Hamlet’ was performed.”

The theatre was an early user of gas lighting, having a gas chandelier. A report in the Era magazine of 1857 stated that ”the gaseliers were re-burnished and beautified”. 

Gas chandelier Pic: Denton Antiques
Gas chandelier Pic: Denton Antiques

The Preston Royal Hippodrome

The Preston Hippodrome 1905-59 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Preston Hippodrome 1905-59 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Another Edwardian wonder was the Preston Royal Hippodrome. The building was situated in Friargate and opened in 1905. The theatre was constructed by local builders and was part of a variety chain owned by a Mr William Broadhead.

The theatre was renowned as one of the safest in the country with an iron safety curtain, fire hydrants and a sprinkler system. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1959.

Marie Lloyd Pic: Wikimedia
Marie Lloyd Pic: Wikimedia

Marie Lloyd, who was born in 1870 died 100 years ago in 1922, appeared at the Preston Hippodrome in 1911. Also on the bill were comedians, Carl Mysto the magician, and acrobats. This fare appealed to all classes.

One of Marie Lloyds best known songs was Oh Mr Porter! about the railways. The song was considered a bit risqué and she never recorded it. One verse reads:

On his clean old shirtfront then I laid my trembling head
“Do take it easy, rest awhile,” the dear old chappie said
“If you make a fuss of me, and on me do not frown
You shall have my mansion, dear, away in London Town.”

The era of variety theatres and the dominance of the railways ended in the 1960s as TV and private motoring took off.



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